Does Qohelet in the book of Ecclesiastes use the epic of Gilgamesh as a literary source for its so-called “carpe diem” texts? Not according to my article, “Sources of Contention and the Emerging Reality Concerning Qohelet’s Carpe Diem Advice”* published in the journal Antiguo Oriente (available here). Gilgamesh (Mesopotamia) is no more present than King Intef or Ptahotep (Egypt) or Siraš (Emar). The “carpe diem” motif is pervasive throughout the ancient Near East, and its ubiquity makes me skeptical that we should be investigating a literary precursor. Those who want to make sense of the spectrum of “carpe diem” texts in the ancient Near East would be better served by exploring it intertextually (following Kristeva, Barthes, and other post-structuralist practitioners).
The abstract reads:
When Qohelet declares “there is nothing new under the sun,” his own words are no exception. It has been known for a century now that not all of Qohelet’s material is original to his own genius, and the idea that Qohelet is directly dependent on a literary source(s) is standard fare. The hallmark example continues to be Siduri the alewife’s advice to Gilgamesh which displays remarkable correspondence with Ecclesiastes 9: 7-9. However, what may have been construed as an instance of clear literary dependency a century ago cannot be maintained in light of the data that continues to emerge from the ancient Near East. New sources have risen that contend with the Gilgamesh Epic, and there has yet to emerge a definitive victor. This paper calls into question the very idea that Qohelet was directly dependent on a literary precursor and joins with a few select voices both past and present in suggesting an alternate interpretation of the data.
*Note that some editorial mistakes were preserved in the final product. For starters, my name is Joseph Ryan Kelly, not “John Ryan Kelly” per the table of contents. Additionally, the final sentence of the first paragraph on page 130 reads: “The real contribution of Fischer’s study is in how he focuses not on 9: 7-9 not by itself, but as a part of the collection of carpe diem passages as a whole.” It is supposed to read: “The real contribution of Fischer’s study is in how he focuses on 9: 7-9, not by itself, but as a part of the collection of carpe diem passages as a whole.” There are a few other editorial mistakes that I noticed when the proof was sent to me, but I have since lost track of what they were.