vrijdag 25 januari 2013

Review of: C.L. Seow, Ecclesiastes: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB), Doubleday, 1997

C.L. Seow, Ecclesiastes: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB), Doubleday, 1997.

Review in: Theological Studies

ECCLESIASTES: A NEW TRANSLATION WITH INTRODUCTION AND COMMENTARY. By C. L. Seow. Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Pp. xxiv + 419. $39.95. 

The Anchor Bible series began in the early 60s. In the early 90s, flush with the success of The Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992) and of the early volumes of the auxiliary series, the Anchor Bible Reference Library, the publisher consented to begin commissioning replacements for some of the volumes. Whether there will ever be a full set of the Anchor Bible remains an open question. The series was originally addressed to the much-sought-after general reader, but it quickly moved in the direction of more technical exposition; some of the resulting volumes combine the interests of general and scholarly readers, while others do not even try. Seow's Ecclesiastes belongs in the group of those that make an effort to address a broad audience.

Seow's new commentary on Ecclesiastes, whose Hebrew title is Qoheleth, is the first of the Old Testament replacements to appear, and it is only a partial replacement for R. B. Y. Scott's Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (1965). Scott treated the little book of Ecclesiastes in a commensurately brief compass, 20 pages of introduction and 45 pages of text and commentary. Seow's new volume has more pages in its introduction alone and 300 further pages for text and commentary.

Ecclesiastes is a hard book to read and to think with, and S. provides much valuable assistance. The book is so laconic that some scholars have found multiple, conflicting voices. S. rather understands it to be broadly coherent; he follows the lead of Michael V. Fox in opposing theories of quotations or actual dialogue, though it is impossible to deny either the dialogic texture of some passages (e.g., "7:1-12 [is] a parody of the verbosity of all those who readily ... tell others what they should do in every situation" [241]) or the more important fact that "there are contradictory truths in life" (135).

The setting of the book is difficult. S.'s commentary is full of apt and revealing comparisons to other ancient Near Eastern literature. Like many, S. dates the book to the Persian period and finds no Greek influence, though he does not make clear to the general reader what such influence would look like, apart from the absence of Greek loan words. More importantly, S. does not consider the Jewish Wisdom texts of the late Second Temple period (including Ben Sira and the Wisdom of Solomon) in his comments on dating Qoheleth or in his general consideration of its contents.

The Comments on each section of the translation, intended for the general reader, are generally apt. Two major sections of the Introduction are both accessible to the general reader and well done. In his treatment of the economic and social setting of the book, S. proposes that the book is addressed to "people facing a new world of money and finance" (22). He establishes that the text is more concerned with money and social structure than with the abiding questions of undergraduate discussions of metaphysics, even if these questions do play a part. S.'s paraphrase of the book under the heading "Message" is a useful guide to the overall shape of various arguments; e.g., "Qohelet does not leave the reader with the impression that wisdom is of no use whatsoever.... Practical wisdom is not a formula for success, but it yet may do some good. It yet may win one some favor" (52). In other respects, the Introduction is disappointing. The treatment of the distinctive language of Qoheleth is a series of notes, and there is no discussion of the verse sections of the book, although S. treats more of the book as verse than most commentators and translators; this deficit is not remedied in the commentary proper.

S.'s Ecclesiastes is sober and cautious, and so is S.'s volume. The insistence on the coherence of the book is matched by an insistence on its role as part of Scripture. S. firmly resists the popular view that Qoheleth is just outside the canon, just a little too cool to involve theological thought, and his exegetical work supports such an appropriation.

Catholic University of America, D.C.

Geen opmerkingen:

Een reactie posten