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Ironic Representation, Authorial Voice, and Meaning in Qohelet

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image of Biblical Interpretation

The book of Qohelet presents a literarily noteworthy double voicing and differing perspectives by means of the sage "Qohelet" and the Epilogist. Interpreters have responded with redactional schemas, on the one hand, and with literary defenses of the rhetorical unity of the book, on the other. Aligned with literary studies that discern a rhetorical purpose underlying the fictional character of the sage, the present essay argues for a governing metanarratological irony mediated by the construction of the persona of "Qohelet." Building on appraisals of key functions of irony by Kierkegaard, Booth, and Hutcheon, this study analyzes ways in which ironic representation and authorial voice work rhetorically in the book of Qohelet. Clues to the pervasive irony informing the representation of the persona of "Qohelet" can be discerned in the unreliability of "Qohelet's" voice, in the hyperbole that shades over into caricature regarding "Qohelet's" claims about himself, and in the epistemologically illegitimate way in which "Qohelet" grounds his global skepticism in his avowedly unique and un(con)testable personal experience. Intertextual allusions to the Garden of Eden story are mustered in support of the position that the book's ironic perspective inscribes in the body of "Qohelet" and in the corpus of the text the catastrophic effects of the human choice to privilege the sapiential quest over halakhic obedience. Implications of the present analysis press a challenge to postmodernist hermeneutical strategies that fail to address adequately the issue of the competent decoding of authorial intention in ironic texts.


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