Decomposing Qohelet

  • Jennifer L. Koosed
Part of the Religion/Culture/Critique book series (RCCR)


This essay presents the book of Qohelet as an exploration of the limits of signification, limits imposed on meaning through the gift of death. Death in Qohelet entails two themes: (1) the loss of memory, and (2) and leveling of differences. At the level of the physical body, no one is remembered after death and there is no differentiation made in death between the wise and the foolish, or even between the human and the animal. Death comes for all. Qohelet then enacts this inevitable decay of the body through a decay of the text. The physical body and the body of the book are intertwined. At the level of the textual body, meaning requires both repeatability and differentiation (Jacques Derrida’s concept of “iterability”), two things extinguished by death. Qohelet enacts this through an incoherent structure, the positioning of “a time to die” in Qoh. 3:2—8, and the puzzling final poem in Qohelet 12:1—8. Finally, what is left after the disruption of death in life and in the text? Using Derrida’s analysis of the gift of death, this article argues that what is left is responsibility.


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© Yvonne Sherwood 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer L. Koosed

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