''Why were the former days better than these?'': An examination of temporal horizons in Ecclesiastes.
White, Shawn Patrick
A number of studies explore temporal vocabulary in the Old Testament generally and Ecclesiastes particularly, yet few attempt a holistic approach of reading Ecclesiastes through its presentation of time. Scholars have long recognized the work’s tensions, but the link that holds the tensions together in a unified reading has received less attention. This unifying idea is the presentation of time. Time is not a singular concept, however, and this project undertakes a sustained engagement with the broad presentation of time both to examine Ecclesiastes’ inquiry after what is good for human beings and its often-identified tensions. As such, this study fills a considerable gap in current Ecclesiastes scholarship. Part One, consisting of chapters two and three, examines terms for time, including ʽEt, yom, dor, ʽolam, shanah, zekher/zikhron, through a close examination of these words in their contexts. It becomes clear that time in Ecclesiastes is a mixture of reflections on the main character’s present, the past, and the passing of time over the course of generations. The project argues in Part Two that approaching time with an awareness of how Ecclesiastes creates, compares, and contrasts time horizons aids the reader to comprehend the contradictions and tensions. Chapter four demonstrates the presence of identifiable and quantifiable horizons in what is widely regarded as the introduction of Ecclesiastes, 1:1-2:26. These horizons, identified as nature’s time, generation time, lifespan time and event time, are juxtaposed in order to point toward the benefit of short-duration thinking for life under the sun. Chapter five examines Ecclesiastes 3:1-12:14 according to the categories of nature’s time, generation time, and lifespan time to ascertain characteristics common to these horizons. Consistently, Ecclesiastes presents these horizons of time as impenetrable and inaccessible to human endeavour. Chapter six examines the same material but from the perspective of what occurs in defined situations, which are designated event time. Ecclesiastes presents event time as partially controllable thereby suggesting proper and improper uses within this horizon. The chapter concludes with a discussion of wisdom and event time, demonstrating that wisdom in Ecclesiastes is not focused on success over one’s whole life (lifespan time), but focuses upon capturing the potential of the present moment to provide rest, companionship, and enjoyment in the short-term. The exploration of time as temporal horizons suggests an opportunity to observe similar phenomena in other works associated with wisdom and in other non-narrative works within the Hebrew Bible.