How Much of Ecclesiastes is Poetry?

When people are shopping for a Bible the issue of translation is always a factor. Other features people look for are red letter editions, cross references, concordance, study notes etc. Every translation involves a certain amount of interpretation but few people are aware that how the text is laid out is also an interpretive decision. I was browsing through a new book from IVP Academic called Old Testament Wisdom Literature by Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd and was surprised by this paragraph.

“Scholars differ about how much of Ecclesiastes is poetry. In fact, Ecclesiastes is a wonderful example of the difficulty of distinguishing prose from poetry. The NIV considers 60 percent of Ecclesiastes to be poetry, the NRSV 25 percent, and the Good News Bible/Today’s English Version and the Revised English Bible regard Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 as the only poetic passage in the book!” (210)

The percentages “are based on the layout of the text in the different versions.” The next time you’re reading your Bible take a minute to note how the text is laid out. Bibles that employ a verse format (as opposed to paragraph format) essentially reduce everything to prose.

Old Testament Wisdom Literature

Old Testament Wisdom Literature is a hardcover with 336 pages and sells for $30.00.

Craig Bartholomew is H. Evan Runner Professor of Philosophy and professor of religion and theology at Redeemer University College and is on the faculty of the Paideia Center for Public Theology.

Ryan P. O’Dowd is senior visiting lecturer in aerospace studies at Cornell University. Previously he taught Old Testament at Redeemer University College and was on the faculty of the Paideia Center for Public Theology.

 

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