In this past fall semester and again in January, I had the opportunity to go through the book of Ecclesiastes. One of the benefits of my two recent excursions through this book was the opportunity to examine Enns’ 2011 commentary in the Eerdmans’ series, The Two Horizons Old Testament Commentary. An objective of this series is to bridge the gap between exegesis and theology. This commentary is a significant model of this goal.
Enns’ work is divided into five sections: introduction (1-29), commentary (30-116), theological horizons of Ecclesiastes (117–35), the contribution of Ecclesiastes to biblical theology and vice versa (136-91), and the significance of Ecclesiastes for theology and praxis today (192-219). This is followed by a bibliography (220-27) and indexes of authors (228-30) and ancient literature (231-38).
In the introduction Enns discusses the normal introductory issues for writing Ecclesiastes, such as subject, reason for writing, authorship, date, 12:13-14 as a key for the book, important lexemes for the theology of the book, reading Ecclesiastes Christianly. In terms of authorship and date, the author of Ecclesiastes is a postexilic frame narrator, reflected in the third person of 1:1-11 and 12:8-14 (6, 16-22). The frame narrative encases the words of Qohelet (1:12-12:7). Qohelet is the author’s literary creation to represent his theological emphasis (6, 17). In keeping with a postexilic author, Enns maintains that Ecclesiastes has a postexilic setting (18–19). The issues treated in the introduction are the presuppositions that undergird his exegetical and theological discussion.
A summary for his discussion in the commentary per se is found in 1:2: “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (ESV). As opposed to the translation of hebel as “vanity” with the ESV as well as many other translations, Enns follows Fox’s lead by translating it as “absurd” (Time to Tear Down, 133). As such, he maintains that 1:2 should be rendered, “Absolutely absurd,’ says Qohelet. ‘Absolutely absurd. Everything is absurd” (31). Ecclesiastes 1:2 in effect serves as a thesis around which the commentary develops (5, 31, 43, etc.). While I find his rendering of hebel as “absurd” and the way this understanding gives a negative perspective to Ecclesiastes as debatable, what I find profitable in his commentary is his interaction with the Hebrew text, rather than an English translation. In keeping with a pessimistic view of this book, Enns interprets the recurring carpe diem motifs (aka, enjoyment-of-life passages) as notes of “resignation” (26, 92), “despair” (73), and despondency (96). His understanding of the carpe diem motifs does not seriously consider the alternative that this is Qohelet’s positive recommendation to assist God’s people while living in an enigmatic world (for example, see Ogden, Qoheleth, 52–54).
In line with the objective of this series of commentaries, Enns bridges the gap between his exegesis of the text (30–116) and theology in the latter portion of his book (117–219). Much could be said about the final three chapters, but I will mention only one item. In the book’s introduction, Enns mentions that Ecclesiastes should have a “Christotelic reading. Rather than placing Christ ‘in’ the book of Ecclesiastes, a Christotelic reading sees Christ as the climactic end of Israel’s story, which is the vantage point from which we engage the book” (29). He fully develops this point in the final two parts of his work, “The Contribution of Ecclesiastes to Biblical Theology” (136–91) and “The Significance of Ecclesiastes for Theology and Praxis Today” (192–219). While I remain unconvinced of his Christotelic reading, the nature of Qohelet’s message can be used to show us our need for Christ.
While there are areas where I have reservations with Enns’ commentary, his lucid and graphic style, nevertheless, provides an engaging connection between the exegesis of Ecclesiastes and theology. This volume is a helpful addition to Qohelethine studies.