Ecclesiastes (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom & Psalms) Hardcover – 24 Jul 2009
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From the Inside Flap
"Bartholomew has made a major breakthrough in providing an integrated, holistic reading that recognizes the tensions within the book but regards them as intentional. The author provides a dialogue between two opposing poles--a confessional one of Israelite wisdom whose starting point is God and an autonomous one based on Greek thought with a human starting point. The book lets both positions forcefully contradict each other throughout so that the weight of each can be felt and evaluated. Bartholomew writes creatively and passionately with full awareness of every major and minor work written on Ecclesiastes and has an excellent grasp of contemporary theological and philosophical currents. Calling it a welcome addition to the commentaries on Ecclesiastes would be to understate the significance of Bartholomew's work. I think it is a landmark!"--Stephen Dempster, Stuart E. Murray Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Atlantic Baptist University
"Bartholomew's commentary is an extraordinary achievement, in many ways a unique contribution to the vast literature on this enigmatic biblical book. It combines an intimate knowledge of the biblical text and the secondary literature on it with a passionate commitment to reading the text as Scripture, that is, the living voice of God to believers today. In addition, Bartholomew brings to his commentary a wide knowledge of the history of interpretation and of the hermeneutical issues involved in the appropriation of Ecclesiastes for today. Beyond these excellences, however, he also brings a prophetic awareness of the cultural and religious challenges facing the worldwide church today, and he is not afraid to make direct connections from the biblical text to the personal and global crises of our times. Rarely has the Preacher been made so preachable."--Al Wolters, professor of religion and theology, Redeemer University College --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
In this addition to the Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms series, Craig Bartholomew combines a careful exegetical reading of the book of Ecclesiastes with keen theological insights. The series is tailored to the distinctives of poetry and Wisdom literature, featuring emphasis on the message of the biblical book; special attention to poetic structure and literary devices; incisive comments based on the author's translation of the Hebrew text; exegetical rigor that incorporates linguistic, historical, and canonical insights; closing reflections on each section that explore the text's theological dimensions; and textual notes that highlight important features of the Hebrew text.
"Elegant and clear in presentation, with masterful control of the history of interpretation, Bartholomew has made a significant contribution to Ecclesiastes studies. He handles all the critical issues with care and insight and has given us a readable and penetrating portrayal of this enigmatic witness. A new standard."--Christopher R. Seitz, professor of biblical interpretation, University of Toronto, Wycliffe College
"Bartholomew provides an exegetically accurate, theologically sensitive, and culturally relevant reading of the enigmatic Qoheleth. For Bartholomew, Ecclesiastes is neither a dusty museum piece confined to ancient history nor an alien treatise limited to a past religious era. Instead, by combining the best historical, linguistic, literary, canonical, theological, and hermeneutical perspectives on this text, Bartholomew treats Ecclesiastes as a dynamic text that speaks powerfully into the (post)modern context of church and culture."--Mark J. Boda, professor of Old Testament, McMaster Divinity College, McMaster University
"It is a rare commentary that is both readable and learned. Even rarer is one that immerses readers in the deep questions of life. Bartholomew's new book helps us to think our way through Ecclesiastes and its mazes. More than that, it confronts us anew with the mystery and responsibility of human existence before the face of God."--Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, professor of biblical studies, Eastern University --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Bartholomew's commentary starts with an 84-page introduction that covers standard topics such as the title, canonicity, and history of interpretation. The commentary proper is divided into 21 sections, each section covering from 3 to 20 verses. Each section consists of Bartholomew's own translation, translation notes, commentary, and a subsection entitled Theological Implications. These Theological Implications provide insights into, and applications of, the biblical text, and cover topics including the problem of evil, injustice, solitude, civil religion, the value of short prayers (excellent!), love of money, joy, possessions, and suffering, among others. These alone are worth the price of the book.
Ecclesiastes is very difficult to understand properly, and the reason this commentary is so good is that Bartholomew correctly interprets Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes there is a strong tension between vanity and faith, which causes some commentators to see Qohelet as a disgruntled skeptic venting or a confused old man ranting (downplaying the faith aspect of Ecclesiastes), while others see him as a preacher of joy who wears blinders to the vanity of the world (downplaying the vanity aspect of Ecclesiastes). Bartholomew says keeping that tension intact is crucial to understanding the book. He sees Qohelet as a profound sage, a man of faith and intelligence, reflecting on his observations and experiments while searching for the meaning of life. Bartholomew writes, "Ecclesiastes is a fascinating model of teaching" that "exemplified the quality and depth of the sort of education wise men like Qohelet offered to their contemporaries."
Qohelet teaches us how to find meaning and joy in a world of vanity, and Bartholomew helps us in our quest. He is theological, philosophical, scholarly, and practical. It is a truly fabulous commentary. Very highly recommended.
Other commentaries on Ecclesiastes to consider include Seow's Anchor Bible Commentary; Murphy's Word Biblical Commentary (WBC); Fox's "A Time To Tear Down and A Time To Build Up: A Rereading of Ecclesiastes"; and Lohfink's Continental Commentary.
Those who study Ecclesiastes usually emphasize one or the other. Liberals emphasize the pessimistic passages treating Ecclesiastes as an iconoclast challenging traditional teachings. Conservatives emphasize the positive passages and relegate the negative ones to someone viewing the world without reference to God. The liberal approach makes Ecclesiastes incoherent and essentially banishes it from the canon. The conservative approach tames Ecclesiastes to the point of irrelevance. The problem is Ecclesiastes won't let you get away with this so easy. Both the pessimistic passages and the optimistic passages reference God's hand.
This is the strength of Batholomew's approach. He holds both views in tension in what he calls contradictory juxtaposition. The tension creates a gap for the reader that demands to be filled. The process of filling this gap is the author of Ecclesiastes' journey. It is not a journey that can be summed up in bullet points on a power point slide. It is a journey that must be experienced and felt. What you then have is an interpretation that takes the work as a whole seriously. Ecclesiastes is the work of a first rate genius and you get that sense as you read Barthlomew's commentary because Barthlomew forces you to confront the text in its entirety. He does not make it easy for anyone with preconceived ideas and I find this approach preserves the mystery and beauty of Ecclesiastes.
Although, not the most technical commentary (get Seow's commentary for the technical stuff), Bartholomew interacts with the other big commentaries (Seow, Crenshaw,Longman, Fox). He also helps Ecclesiastes engage in conversation with philosophy, other contemporary thinkers like Wendell Barry, and even psychology. The last chapter is especially helpful in this regard.
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