[b-hebrew] Ecclesiastes 3:11

Martin Shields enkidu at bigpond.net.au
Thu Nov 15 08:13:16 EST 2007


Thanks for sharing this information. I've already commented on the  
Greek and I don't think my understanding has changed, so I'll leave  
that. I will make a few comments on Stuart Weeks' understanding of the  

> None of these, I think, is readily construed in terms of double  
> negation, and I
> would take the point to be that God has 'put eternity in their  
> heart, without
> that which the human cannot discover (for himself) - the work which  
> God has
> done'. In other words, humans have been given incomplete knowledge,  
> with a
> deficit which they cannot fill for themselves. I think this fits in  
> well with
> 8.17, which includes a rather similar statement. Overall, I would  
> understand Q.
> to be suggesting that God has given humans a glimpse of how much  
> there is to
> know, but not knowledge of his own actions, so that they are driven  
> to occupy
> themselves in a quest for an understanding which they are not, in  
> fact, capable
> of achieving.
> In short, then, I don't think that there's a double negation here,  
> but 'without'
> + a negative relative clause, all qualifying the preceding  
> statement. The
> relative clause is in the 'backward' form 'what is y ... (that is),  
> x' (e.g. in
> English 'I like what I'm reading, a book by ...).

First, it is worth noting that HALOT says of בלי that it means "2.  
negation, meaning without" and that I'd call the English preposition  
"without" a negative. To some extent this is just quibbling over  
terminology, but I don't think "negative" need be restricted to adverbs.

Second, if I correctly understand what Stuart Weeks has written, his  
proposal also differs from the primary two interpretations found among  
the majority of commentators on this verse. One major point of  
difference is that he appears to be proposing that the relative אשר  
has a prospective referent (i.e. it refers to the final clause: "what  
God has done from beginning to end," and then that has to be  
understood somewhat elliptically). Now I may have misunderstood him,  
but ISTM he's arguing that the verse means "[God] has put eternity in  
their mind/heart without (relative = '[knowledge of?] what God has  
done from beginning to end')..." So while I agree that opting for the  
normal sense of מבלי is appropriate, I think that an antecedent  
referent for the relative is far more likely (I'm trying to think of  
examples where the relative has a prospective referent, but none  
spring to mind). IIRC most commentators either take העלם to be the  
antecedent referent of אשר (as I do), or else treat ‏מבלי  
אשר לא as an expression somewhat akin to מבלי אין.

I think that the object marker on המעשה also counts against Weeks'  
reading, because he seems to be taking המעשה אשר השלהים  
as part of a prepositional phrase rather than the object of the verb  

Finally, although 8:17 sounds similar, I think it is saying something  
slightly different. Aside from this, Qohelet does have a propensity to  
contradict himself!

All this is not to say that there are not difficulties with any of the  
other views: I think there are difficulties with all interpretations  
of this verse that I've seen (including my own, I just don't think  
mine are insurmountable although the opinion of others will differ).


Martin Shields,
Sydney, Australia.

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