The book of “Ecclesiastes” is the result of a long process of interpretation; it is a booklet of wisdom that has gone through two important and successive remodelings. The methodological approach defined by the concept of “relecture” or “rereading” requires not limiting oneself to a work of literary criticism with the sole objective of isolating a few redactional elements in this biblical book. It thus becomes urgent to place a particular accent on the study of the global structure that has marked the work at each stage of this transmission. The present book consequently proposes a distinct literary and theological interpretation for each form found in this writing.
The first part expounds the initial booklet which is the work of the master of a school of wisdom, called “Qoheleth the Wise”. In a clearly structured argumentative procedure this teacher develops a “dialectical” thought that gives an account of the negative aspects of life on the one hand and the joy of living on the other. This first literary form may be dated at the Persian era, during the Vth Century B.C.
The first rereading (by the “Disciple”) modifies the book in a fundamental way: it sets its pessimistic key of interpretation at the very start, in 1,2, and uses it regularly as a leitmotiv in the new structuring of the received passages and supplementary paragraphs, as well as in the conclusion of 12,8. The prevalence of a resignated thought may easily be explained by the chaotic situation of the first decades of the Hellenistic period.
The tension thus brought about between the praise of joy and the profound pessimism gave rise to a problem of interpretation for the later readers of the book. A second rereading (that of the “Redactor-Theologian”) proposes the following solution: it attributes the negative aspects exclusively to the world of humans and places all hopes in God and eternity. This thought can be the best brought out in view of the theological tendencies expressed in the latter part of the IIIrd Century B.C.