Saturday, July 08, 2017

Living dogs and dead lions

4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten (Eccl 9:4-5).

This is a prooftext for annihilationism. But bracketing other objections, a basic problem with that interpretation is that it fails to take the epistemological viewpoint of the narrator into account. A common refrain in Ecclesiastes is the narrator's appeal to what he saw, viz. Eccl 2:13,24; 3:16,22; 4:1,4,7,15; 8:9-10,17; 9:11. So he's speaking from experience. His statements and generalizations are literally observations. 

What he says is true from that perspective. And that accounts for the pessimism and cynicism which pervades the book. If you judge the world by appearances, then reality is pretty depressing. 

But that frame of reference, while true insofar as it goes, has decided limitations. There's more to reality than meets the eye. Existence doesn't begin and end with the physical and sensory dimension of existence. Empirical knowledge is informative and indispensable within the inherent limitations of empirical knowledge. That's just a sample of reality. 

The annihilationist interpretation overlooks the epistemological reference frame of the narrator. Throughout the book, he is speaking from the standpoint of an observer. Judging by appearances. By this life. 

1 comment:

  1. The annihilationist interpretation is also so laughably out of touch with the ancient Near Eastern religious milieu. Can they give a single example of any culture from that general time and place that held death to be the end? Of course not; belief in the afterlife was universally held. That puts a heck of a damper on efforts to say that original readers would have taken this one ambiguous verse as the annihilationist does.