The “Whole of Humanity”: The Role of the Fear of God in Qohelet’s Anthropology

TITLE: The “Whole of Humanity”:
The Role of the Fear of God in Qohelet’s Anthropology

On the topic of Qohelet’s worldview and theological perspective on reality, much has been written about his anthropological focus on human experience “under the sun.” Furthermore, much has been written about Qohelet’s emphasis on the “fear of God,” especially given the frame narrator’s summary of the book’s message in 12:13–14. However, there has been surprisingly little scholarly effort to connect these two major themes in the book. The proposed paper will address the topic of the “fear of God” in the book of Ecclesiastes with the aim of discovering how this concept shapes Qohelet’s theological anthropology. In other words, how does Qohelet’s affinity for grounding the human-divine relationship in the emotion of fear affect his vision of what it means to be human coram Deo? It will be argued that humans are defined apophatically by their ontological distance from God—that is, that humans are not God. As a consequence, because humans live their lives de facto ‘to the face of God’ (coram Deo), Qohelet advocates for fear as the natural, correct, and best response of created beings to their sovereign Creator. This fear is not abject terror before a capricious, unknown, and unknowable Deity on the one hand, nor is it merely “respect” or “reverence” on the other. Rather, it is full-bodied, emotional fear that places humans squarely—in their embodied thinking, feeling, and behavior—before their Creator, whom they cannot control nor fully comprehend. In sum, Qohelet’s vision of what it means to be human is founded on his conviction that God is uniquely God and therefore worthy of “fear.”

1. Brief Review of Scholarship on Qohelet’s Theological Anthropology
2. Brief Review of Scholarship on Qohelet’s “Fear of God”
3. The Role of the “Fear of God” in Qohelet’s Theological Anthropology
a. God: Who Humans Are Not (Ontology)
b. Fear: What Humans Should Do (Ethics)
4. Conclusions

6 thoughts on “The “Whole of Humanity”: The Role of the Fear of God in Qohelet’s Anthropology”

  1. Good Fit, Good Contribution
    Bradley has done a great job in the past for the OT Wisdom session, and this paper looks like a great fit for the annual meeting theme and offers a good contribution to the field.

  2. Fits Wisdom Session and Meeting Theme, Integrative Approach
    True disclosure: Bradley is my third-year doctoral student and I helped him edit this proposal, so, not surprisingly, I am going to rate it highly–but not for that reason alone. This paper is a follow-up to his ETS 2022 paper and is based on his in-depth research of the “fear of God” topic for his doctoral dissertation. It fits both our wisdom session and annual meeting theme well. I agree with Bradley that little effort has been made to relate the “under the sun” theme to the “fear of God” theme in Ecclesiastes. This proposal, however, goes beyond an exegetical (i.e., biblical-theological)
    synthesis to draw on considerations from the fields of the psychology of emotions and theological anthropology in a sophisticated manner.

  3. Good fit, interdisciplinary approach
    This is an excellent proposal that places two prominent concepts across Ecclesiastes in conversation with one another and construes them through theological, ontological, psychological, and ethical frames of reference.

  4. Excellent proposal
    Bradley is a superb emerging scholar on Ecclesiastes, and he has proven himself in his past presentation to our group. By all means, we should include him in the program. In future years, he might be on our short list for the invited session.


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