Dialogues with Kohelet: The Book of EcclesiastesT.A. Perry, translator and commentator (Penn State Press, 1993), 225pp., $25.
Perry has written widely on the literature of the Jews in Spain, but has more recently turned his attention to the biblical Wisdom texts. Here he defends an intriguing hypothesis regarding the structure and message of Ecclesiastes. As the title indicates, Perry views the book as a set of dialogues between Kohelet (the preacher) and someone whom he calls the Presenter. It is unlikely that everything said in Ecclesiastes comes from one voice, since it usually offers two opinions on a subject. Kohelet presents himself, in Perry’s words, as “King (Solomon?), wealthy entrepreneur, anti-sage (and, thus, sage), teacher, pessimist, autobiographer, essayist, and perhaps traversing them all: collector.” The Presenter preserves Kohelet’s words but responds to and challenges the points he makes. The major implication that the resigned, pessimistic statements of the book, such as “vanity of vanities, all vanity,” are set out as an option, an arguable position; but they are now placed within the context of rejoinders and counterexamples. Perry’s commentary is brief, with frequent acknowledgments of his dependence on standard modern commentaries. He also includes material drawn from the classical Hebrew sources. Readers may at times dispute which voice—Kohelet or the Presenter—is speaking, but Perry offers a creative, appealing explanation of an enigmatic biblical book.
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