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Old Testament Essays

On-line version ISSN 2312-3621
Print version ISSN 1010-9919

Old testam. essays vol.23 n.2 Pretoria  2010


When it all falls apart: A survey of the interpretational maze concerning the "final poem" of the book of Qohelet (Qoh 12:1-7)



Hans Debel*

K.U. Leuven





For many centuries, readers of the Book of Qohelet have been puzzled by the words of this ancient wisdom teacher. Particularly the masterly finale of the book, conventionally called the "final poem" (Qoh 12:1-7), has given rise to a divergence of interpretations. Beginning with the early Jewish rabbi's, several attempts have been made to connect each of the respective images with particular parts of the old man's deteriorating body. In the end, however, this reading of the poem as an "allegory of old age " proved incapable of solving all the ambiguities. Therefore, ancient and modern commentators alike have proposed alternative interpretations, but they have equally met with the poem's resistance to being encapsulated in a single explanation. The present contribution intends to provide a critical survey of the major lines of development in the interpretation of this pericope, pointing out the inconsistencies, textual difficulties, and conjectural elements in each of them. After having discussed each of them, it will make a plea to appreciate the poem as a remarkable piece of poetry that will always remain open to multiple interpretations.



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Hans Debel
Research Fellow of the FWO-Vlaanderen
4 Sint-Michiels Street
P. O. Box 3101
BE-3000 Leuven



* The author of this contribution is a Research Fellow of the Research Foundation -Flanders (FWO-Vlaanderen). He is working at the Centre for Septuagint Studies and Textual Criticism (CCSTC), Faculty of Theology, K.U. Leuven (, where he is currently preparing a doctoral dissertation on the methodology of textual criticism after the discoveries in the Judean Desert. This dissertation is part of a larger FWO-research project on textual criticism and LXX translation technique in the book of Qohelet under the supervision of prof. dr. Bénédicte Lemmelijn, staff member of the CSSTC (K.U.Leuven, BE) and research fellow at the Faculty of Theology of the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, ZA).

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