Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 4 (2002-2003) - Review

Marie Maussion, Le mal, le bien et le jugement de Dieu dans le livre de Qohélet (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis 190; Göttingen/ Fribourg, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003). Pp. viii + 199. Cloth. ISBN: 3-7278-1425-X. Fr. 58.

This book, written under the supervision of Eberhard Bons, is the result of a doctoral thesis presented to the Faculty of Catholic Theology of the Marc Block University of Strasburg in March 2002. Maussion adopts a clear methodology: for each text studied, she proposes a textual and philological analysis to support her literary translation; she then presents contextual commentaries in which she explicates and argues her delimitation of the pericopes and in some cases, their structure. Maussion works, therefore, on a finalized text produced by a single author with the exceptions of Qoh 1:1 and 12:9-14. By adopting a synchronic method, she argues the words "contradictions" and "non-contradictions" belong to a logic foreign to the ensemble of Qoheleth. She adopts the "theory of implicit citations" (p. 4). As such, a number of verses are identified as citations: Qoh 2:14 (p. 34), Qoh 7:26 (pp. 75; 77), Qoh 7:5-6.8 (pp. 93-94), etc. Moreover, Maussion is often of the opinion that Qoheleth, far from being in disagreement with the tenor of the citation, actually attempts to reconcile the apparently divergent opinions; this is the case with, for example, Qoh 6:9ab; 7:4.11-12 (pp. 92; 97; 115; 158-160). As well, concerning Qoh 3:16; 8:5,12-13, she asserts that we have here citations that Qoheleth restates in its own logic (pp. 60; 66-67; 80; 105; 158; 165-166). Obviously, the choice of the citations is based on the type of thinking the author ascribes to Qoheleth and the arbitrariness is more flagrant when these citations are considered to be implicit. In the final analysis, this "theory of implicit citations" presents the same type of problems inherent in the theory of glosses, namely their number, their delimitation, and their function.

As the title suggests, the book is divided into three major chapters. The first deals with evil (pp. 11-70). After an analysis of the usages of the word rc and the vocabulary of madness, wickedness, sin, suffering and sadness, Maussion concludes that evil comes essentially from human beings and God is never placed into question; although there does exist an evil whose source is not made clear that Qoheleth invites humans to reflect upon (Qoh 7:14). Entitled "The Good," the second chapter is divided into two parts (pp. 71-122 and 122-150). The first part systematically examines all the words connoting the idea of good, happiness and pleasure; the second part analyses the seven refrains on happiness (Qoh 2:24-25; 3:12-13; 3:22; 5:17-19; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:9-12:1). Through the course of her investigation, the author affirms that happiness is the underlying principle of the book and that Qoheleth, far from being pessimistic, is actually a bard of joy. The next chapter is reserved for the third axis of the dialectic of Qoheleth: good and evil in the light of the God's judgment (pp. 151-173). Maussion argues that the four passages concerning the judgment (Qoh 3:16-22; 8:5-7; 8:11 and 11:9) are thematically linked in an implacable internal progression leading to the judgment of God. Therefore Qoh 11:9 is considered as the second of two climaxes of the book, the first being in Qoh 5:19 where Qoheleth affirms that God reveals Himself in the joy He brings humans. Moreover, convinced of the authenticity of Qoh 3:17 and 11:9, the author argues that Qoheleth believes that divine justice exists and that the Divine Tribunal will deal with the shortcomings of humans. However, she recognizes that Qoheleth does not know how, or when, the divine justice will be exercised. Whether it is down here or in an afterlife -- an insignificant detail for the author (p. 161)! -- humans will be held accountable for the divine gifts of life, and its wonders in their daily lives, before God. In the guise of a conclusion (pp. 174-182), Maussion argues the overall ethic of Qoheleth is a fear of God manifest in its fundamental faith. This fear ties together a respect of transcendence (Qoh 3:14) with a love of a God at once good, close and present, revealed in the joy of the hearts of humans (Qoh 5:17-19), and Who can be heard (Qoh 4:17) because He responds. A rather short bibliography (pp. 183-195) indicates the works consulted and three indexes (pp. 195-199) end the book and making its consultation easier.

A better knowledge of the numerous publications on Qoheleth would have forced the author to better defend her thesis. As it stands, her argumentation is not always convincing especially where it touches upon the translation of certain words (for example, hbl rendered as "vanity" or again the verb cnh in Qoh 5:19 translated by "to answer"), or her delimitation of some pericopes (for example, Qoh 3:1-15; 4:17-5:6). It is precisely here that we find the crucial elements to grasp the singularity of the theology proposed by Qoheleth, a theology that Maussion has a tendency to reduce to a Jewish piety of the First Testament. This said, my disagreement with a number of the interpretations proposed by this thesis indicates the immense merit of renewed debates, which we can only hope will become the source of new insights into our comprehension of this marvelous book of wisdom.

Jean-Jacques Lavoie,
University of Quebec in Montreal