Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Bible As Fiction (?)

I'm currently taking a class on Ecclesiastes at Western. The teachers are my Hebrew teacher and the pastor from my church. The class is split in two... during the first hour my Hebrew professor walks us through the Hebrew exegesis, and in the second hour my pastor talks about how to present these things to your congregation.

One of the interesting things that we talked about this week is that Ecclesiastes may not have been written by Solomon. It seems reasonably clear that there is a "frame narrator" (i.e. someone who wrote the first and last chunks of the book, which refer to the main voice of the book in the third person). There are a wide variety of opinions on this question, and there are respected evangelical voices on both the pro- and anti-Solomon authorship question.

My professor thinks it was probably Solomon, but he said that the Hebrew style and vocabulary is a good argument for it being written later. He thinks that maybe it was edited at a later day to make the language more accessible to a later audience. He admits that this is a dangerous assertion.

What interests me is that *if* Solomon is not the author and some later wisdom author wrote Ecclesiastes, then what we have here is a work of fiction. I don't think this impacts its canonicity or its truth. I believe that some fictional accounts have more truth in them than historical accounts. It is interesting to consider, though. If the genre of fiction is something that God chose to use in the scriptures (and I think there may be other places we could argue that this is the case) then it introduces an interesting point into questions about the role of fiction and story in spiritual instruction. Of course, Jesus told parables which could easily fit the definition of fiction (although some have argued that they were his actual life experiences), but they are short, quick little stories. Ecclesiastes is on another scale entirely.

Tremper Longman III has an interesting discussion of the "genre" of Ecclesiastes in his commentary (required for our class) in which he compares Ecclesiastes with ancient Akkadian "ficitonal autobiographies", meaning biographies in first person written about famous people by someone other than those famous people. It appears to fit pretty well.

So, anyway, I'm mulling all this over today. I know this wasn't a fully detailed explanation of all the reasoning behind why Solomon may not be the author of Ecclesiastes, but what I'm more interested in for now is this question... did God use fiction at all in the scriptures? What do you think?