Is Ecclesiastes’ Epilogue Greek or Kosher? Exploring the Origins of Eccl 12:13

The book of Ecclesiastes infamously uses the language “fear God” (ירא אלהים) instead of the recognized phrase “fear of the Lord” (יראת יהוה). This has led to a heated debate over whether these phrases convey the same meaning. Additionally, the epilogue adds the phrase “and keep his commandments” which compounds the problem’s complexity. Ever since Gerald Sheppard’s works “Epilogue to Qoheleth as Theological Commentary,” CBQ (1977) and Wisdom as a Hermeneutical Construct (1980), many scholars have accepted as verified that Eccl 12:13 reflects Second Temple thought. In response, this article examines Sheppard’s arguments, walks through proposed Sirach parallels, and explores alternative sources for Eccl 12:13.
The paper begins by going through the four basic points of Sheppard’s argument: 1) Ecclesiastes has no intrinsic ties to Proverbs; 2) there is evidence of interdependency between Qohelet and the epilogue that excludes Proverbs; 3) the epilogue contains content that goes beyond Qohelet’s argument; and 4) only Sirach provides a legitimate parallel for the combination of “fear God” and “keep the commandments” (Sir 23:27; 10:19; along with 15:1; 19:20). It is this fourth point that is the focus of the second part.
The second section explores the alleged parallels between Sirach and Eccl 12:13. It examines the passages identified by Sheppard but also other passages where “fear of God” language occurs in direct connection with legal and covenantal language. The argument will be put forth that Sirach does not stop at just having “fear of God” in parallel to legal obligation to God (as Ecclesiastes’ epilogue does). Instead, Sirach includes wisdom language (similar to Proverbs) along with commentary uncharacteristic of Ecclesiastes’ epilogue.
The final section examines passages in Deuteronomy where “fear of God” language occurs in direct connection with legal and covenantal language. The argument will be put forth that the wisdom language along with commentary (present in Sirach) is absent in Deuteronomy and Ecclesiastes’ epilogue. This means that Deuteronomy is a closer parallel to Eccl 12:13 than Sirach.

6 thoughts on “Is Ecclesiastes’ Epilogue Greek or Kosher? Exploring the Origins of Eccl 12:13”

  1. Good Fit, Good Contribution
    Having served as an outside reader for James’ dissertation (Fear of God in Ecclesiastes), I need to acknowledge the possible conflict of interests. But I can say that James has done much thinking on this subject. While the connections with Sirach might be far afield from the ETS audience, his connections to Deuteronomy would be a good complement to the other two papers on Ecclesiastes (Bradley & Josh).

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  2. Good Wisdom Fit Drawing on Deuteronomy & Sirach
    I think that a detailed critique of Gerald Sheppard’s assessment of the compositional date and contents of Ecclesiastes 12:13(-14), recently affirmed by Tremper Longman, is warranted. In referring to Sirach and Proverbs, as well as to thematic parallels in Deuteronomy, James’s proposed paper is a good fit for our Wisdom session and addresses an issue that potentially has both biblical-theological and canonical import. I have addressed the issue of the relationship between Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 and Deuteronomy in my contribution to the Daniel Block FS, but I did not engage Sheppard’s relevant publications in any detail. My only concern is James’ reference to “this article” in the final sentence of the first paragraph. If that is NOT a slip-up, I am assuming that one normally is not expected to deliver as an annual meeting “paper” something that already has been published.I also would not describe the discussion concerning Eccl 12:13 as a “heated debate,” since the vast majority of contemporary Ecclesiastes interpreters date the book to the last post-exilic period and consider 12:13-14 to be redactional.The title is also somewhat misleading, since he never really addresses the question of whether Eccl 12:13 is actually “Greek” rather than merely LATE.

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    • Good suggestions!
      Richard, I think James is likely preparing for later publication, using the ETS presentation as a first step. I think we can suggest he tweak his title to better represent his ideas.

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  3. Good fit, constructive intertextual dialogue
    In the light of Sheppard’s work, the proposal stages a constructive dialogue among Ecclesiastes 12:13, Sirach, and Deuteronomy that promises to deliver exegetical and canonical implications for one’s reading of Ecclesiastes. The paper has the potential to advance the thesis that Ecclesiastes is more at home in a kosher/Hebrew context.

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  4. Good contribution, with fit with other proposals
    We seem to be getting some good proposals on Ecclesiastes, and that could give a unified theme to the session. I think from time to time there is merit in revisiting positions that have become regarded as givens, as this presentation proposes. It could generate some vigorous discussion.

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  5. Great fit
    I agree with others, that this is quality proposal, that fits well with the theme and other paper proposals for our session. It also has the advantage of being at the forefront of a current debate among secondary scholars.

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