Parallels: Epic of Gilgamesh and Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes)

Published April 16, 2016 by amaic

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Nili Samet has, in her article:

“The Gilgamesh Epic and the Book of Qohelet: A New Look”

drawn some very solid parallels between these two ancient texts.

But she favours the Epic of Gilgamesh as the influence upon the Hebrew book.

Here is her beginning:


The study of Qohelet in light of ancient Near Eastern literature has yielded dozens of different suggestions for connections between Qohelet and the literature of the ancient world. For more than a century, scholars have failed to heed Qohelet’s own warning against the making of “many books without limit”. Various studies have suggested parallels between Qohelet and Egyptian, Mesopotamian, West-Semitic or Hellenistic texts …. The contribution of these parallels to our understanding of the context and content of the book of Qohelet is often indirect. In some of these cases, the texts under discussion share with Qohelet the theme of vanity and a carpe diem spirit …. However, as a rule, they do not betray unique similarities to specific phrases in Qohelet. Their analogy with Qohelet is therefore typological in nature. In other cases, scholars have identified close parallels to individual saying in Qohelet in Egyptian  or Egyptian-Aramaic sources. There are two striking examples of such parallels: an admonition against cursing which uses birds as a metaphor for rumors occurs in Qoh 10,20 and in Ahiqar ….; and the image of finding bread that was thrown into water is found in Qoh 11,1 and in the Instructions of Ankhsheshonq …. On the surface, these cases seem more promising in that they display a close phraseological similarity to the relevant maxim in Qohelet. Yet upon closer inspection it turns out that these parallels do not necessarily point to a literary dependence between the relevant ancient texts and the biblical book. The few examples of such parallels never go beyond an isolated proverb. There are no examples of intensive, multi-component analogies between Qohelet and any known extra-biblical wisdom collection. When adding to this consideration the oral nature of proverbial sayings, it is difficult to establish a literary dependence in these cases. ….


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