Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ecclesiastes 12: Of Making Many Blogs, There Is No End ...

A miniature milestone has crept up on me as I've been working my way through this meandering Bible blog. Today is my hundredth post. Are you proud of me?

So I thought I'd celebrate by diving into one of my favorite Bible books, Ecclesiastes. I love the author's canny wit, his stark ironies, and his painfully honest sense of the real. The Ecclesiastes author pulls no punches.

But I find that my selection is ill-timed. Because I think that the Ecclesiastes author, if he came to my 100th-post party, would deliver a depressing message: Please stop writing your blog. Ouch.

Early rabbis believed that King Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, along with the Song of Songs and Proverbs. They argued--sensibly if not correctly--that he composed the Song, an erotic love ballad, in his lusty youth; Proverbs, an collection of wisdom sayings, in his mature adulthood; and Ecclesiastes, a darker paean to human grasping, in his old age. ("Dark paean" may be an oxymoron.)

And Ecclesiastes is somber reading, indeed--grim nursing-home fodder. In it, "the Teacher"--the book's ostensible speaker--gives us such bright urgings as "those who increase knowledge increase sorrow" and "there is nothing new under the sun" and "dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a foul odour."

These are not hopeful messages, but the Ecclesiastes author could have had a great career as an ironic greeting card writer. "Happy graduation! But remember, 'the wise die just like fools'." (The world would be a better place if there really were ironic greeting card writers.)

The Teacher's cheery aphorisms aside, the book's last chapter is the one that gives me pause. This epilogue, chapter 12, opens with a despair-inducing portrait of old age giving way to apocalypse: "Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain" (12:1-3). Such passages helped inspire Eliot to write "The Waste Land."

Now I'm not too old, so these verses don't sting much (yet) ... though the teens I teach make me dwell a little longer in the mirror over the darkening bags under my eyes. ("All is vanity," says the Teacher.)

But the last few verses of Ecclesiastes are especially painful to me. There, the author writes, "The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd. Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh" (12:11-12).

Can this blog, into which I have put time and effort and energy, be the mindless "book-making" the Teacher discourages? Is the "goading" wisdom of the Bible--or of Ecclesiastes--"all ye know on earth," to quote Keats, "and all ye need to know"? Should I simply take the word of the Teacher in verse 13--"Fear God, and keep his commandments"--and stop all this cyberspatial bloviating? Perhaps.

But I'm too invested in my sinking ship of a project. Studying is my job, and "making of many books" will get me tenure someday, perhaps. So my blog will continue past 100 posts. But it will do so, I think, in spite of the Teacher's wise advice.

1 comment:

  1. Keep writing, esteemed blogger. May you live to post a thousand posts.


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