Abel-ness March 27, 2013

In his contribution to The Words of the Wise are like Goads (Eisenbrauns, 2013), Russell L. Meek explores the intertextual connections between Ecclesiastes and Genesis. He shows that:

“(1) Qohelet relies on the language used to describe the Garden of Eden to describe his own building projects; (2) Qohelet borrows the ‘dust’ . . . imagery from Genesis to describe the origin and destination of people; and (2) Qohelet adopts Genesis’s description of life in the Garden of Eden to project his own idea of the good in life after Eden” (256).

This leads him to conclude that the key term hebel (“vapor, vanity”) echoes the name of Adam’s second son, Abel (also hebel ) to teach wisdom about the “‘Abel-ness’ of all things.” By that he means a number of things: the transience of life, but more than that. Abel is the Bible’s first indication that there is no “one-to-one relationship between disobedience and curses, obedience and blessing” (253).

This subversion of commonsense justice is central to Solomon’s wisdom: “Each situation that Qohelet deems hebel is in some way related to the reversal found in Abel’s story . . . Abel’s transience, the lack of congruence between actions and rewards, the injustice that he suffers, or his inability to attain lasting value” (254).

In such a world, we find joy “in capturing a small part of Eden – enjoyment in the fleeting gifts of God” (252).

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