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Qoheleth Among the Sociologists

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Seeking to understand the radical pessimism of Qoheleth, interpreters have often shied away from examining the social-historical circumstances of Qoheleth's world. Here Qoheleth's thought is set in the context of the sociological milieu of third century BCE Judea. That milieu-which drew forth Qoheleth's skepticism and created an audience for it-can be placed in context and elaborated by paradigms drawn from the discipline of comparative sociology. This paper explores three independent but complementary macro-sociological models (world-system theory, the comparative study of empires, and patterns of change among axial civilizations) to show that Qoheleth's era was marked by extreme disturbances of social resources in the realms of economics, class structure, and culture. In combination, world events and their social repercussions can be seen as having had a profound influence on the development of Qoheleth's essentially negative world view.


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