Pete Seeger RIP



Today on Radio 2 I note that the lament for Pete Seeger, the political activist and folk singer continues. I'm not sure why his death (at the grand old age of 94) is having such an effect on people, but it's nice to know that he has touched so many lives and had such an impact on music.

One of his greatest hits, Turn!, Turn!, Turn!, was made famous by The Byrds who released it in 1965. The song was actually written by Seeger in the late 1950's. But did you know that the lyrics, except for the title which is repeated throughout the song, and the final verse of the song, are adapted word-for-word from Chapter 3 of the Book of Ecclesiastes?
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Ecclesiastes is an Old Testament book of the Wisdom Literature, part of the Ketuvim in the TaNaK (the Hebrew Bible). Ecclesiates is a name which is a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Koheleth, or Qoheleth, meaning "Gatherer", but traditionally translated as "Teacher" or "Preacher".

Perhaps my affection for Qoheleth is born of the fact that he is the biblical skeptic, (if you're puzzled, think on the title of my blog!). 

Qoheleth articulates the reflections of ordinary people regarding life, death and the relationship between God and the individual. Qoheleth's skepticism prompted debate over the holiness of his text among rabbis until the end of the first century A.D. Nevertheless, the book of Qoheleth eventually became traditional reading on the third day of the feast of Tabernacles.

There is great parity between Job and Qoheleth as both investigate the question of retribution and reject traditional solutions. There is a profound difference, however; the author of Job was a poet whereas the Qoheleth, the biblical sceptic, is a philosopher who discusses his subject matter with detachment. The work is a collection of the sage’s seminal thoughts and comes complete with an introduction and conclusion (1:2; 12:8) which announces “Sheer futility, Qoheleth says,…everything is futile”.

It seems to me that this book (along with Job to a certain extent), holds great importance, especially in the present day, because it unflinchingly confronts the concerns of many people about faith in a God who can seem distant and remote from our everyday existence. Qoheleth examines everything, weighing it carefully; material things, riches, wisdom, toil, and finds that they are ultimately unable to give meaning to life. 

He considers life’s vicissitudes and the finality of death and ultimately reaches his most essential insight: happiness is a gift one must receive from God (2:24-26; 3:12-13, 22; 5:17; 8:15; 9:7-8) and he exhorts his students to enjoy life, not in an overindulgent fashion, but seemingly understanding of the importance of hospitality and the communal dimension essential to everyone’s life as expounded in Gaudium et Spes § 25 and taught by Pope Paul VI.


 


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