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similar to Thus spake Zarathustraby Friedrich Nietzsche, Cast your bread over the waters (over Qohelet / Ecclesiastes), the latest work by the philosopher Maria Filomena Molder, recently featured in Edições do Saguão, is a book for everyone and a book for no one. Not because Maria Filomena Molder (MFM), in the manner of the «head of dynamite», the name that the German thinker gave himself, aspires in this work to some «philology of the future», but only because the deciphering of Qohelet it does not allow him to get rid of the “questions of philology”, the title of the first chapter and a recurring motto throughout the work. By philology here is meant a kind of – very exact and very subtle formulation – «physiology that comes from the relationship between the mouth and the word that is being said» (p. 42), and which the author considers «the highest way of answer questions about the what and how of life” (p. 136).
Comparing and manipulating some of the best contemporary translations of Qoheletand aware that the pointed questions of translation that the poem raises inevitably refer to the problems of its deciphering, MFM warns: «Qohelet it was not written to be commented on by philosophers or theologians, but to be deciphered” (p. 24).
Qoheletwhich in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, called Septuagintcame to be known as Ecclesiastesterm that the Vulgate consecrated, is a sapiential poem written by an anonymous person in the so-called Hellenistic period, probably in the 3rd century BC, strongly marked by the Greek culture and philosophy that then prevailed in Judea. Its author is an anonymous person who, through an extraordinary rhetorical artifice, presents himself as “son of David, king of Israel in Jerusalem”. Qohelettherefore, is a pseudo-Solomon – with all that the biblical figure of Solomon, prototype of the sage (Hakam) and patron of wisdom for the Hebrews, means: the sage who insists on not being deceived. “The wisdom of Qohelet it is the wisdom of lucidity that makes one go crazy” (p. 180).
Despite the perplexing nature of his teaching, or because of it, Qohelet belongs to a body of manuscripts whose complex the medieval Hebrew Kabbalists called Clavicula Salomonis. If we add that in Latin clavicle means “little key”, and that in anatomy clavicle is the name of the bone that in the human skeleton connects the upper limbs to the trunk, it becomes easier to understand the analogy between the key that opens the wisdom of Solomon and the hebrew root QaHaLwhich contains the act of linking, joining, gathering, congregating. Qohelet it is the wise man who gathers the assembly or the congregation and who, taking the word, addresses it with words that hurt and harass, with words that are like “prongs and nails well-nailed, so that we can be taught and indoctrinated by them” (Ecclesiastes, chap. XII, version by Damião de Góis, Venice, 1538).
the word of Qohelet it is whip, whip, whip. It is always the merciless and fearless word of a parrhesiast, the name given by the culture of the Hellenistic period (332-143 BC) to the orator who uses the word. parrhesia (παρρησία), a Greek term that means to speak frankly and courageously, without backing down from anything, without hiding anything, without fear of anything.Qohelet it says and retells that painful and unacceptable truth that hurts the eardrum of the assembly, without dissimulation or reservation, without a clause of style or rhetorical ornament that can encrypt, veil or mask it. Qohelet he is the one who has the courage to tell the lucid truth, the truth that hurts and the truth that hurts, to the assembly, undoing and annulling all the illusions of the community. His word is counter-flattery and his knowledge is harsh, implacable, cruel, but for that very reason all the more necessary: man knows nothing, and the more he thinks he knows, the more he suffers; everything perishes, and death makes everyone equal, the rich and the poor, the just and the unjust, the beautiful and the ugly.
“Nothing new under the sun”, repeats Qohelet. «Smoke of fumes, said Qohélet, smoke of fumes, everything is smoke». In the version of the Biblia de Ferrara (1553), also known as the «Bible of the Marranos» of the Iberian Peninsula, one reads, in an undoubtedly bold and unusual translation: «Nothing at all, said Qohélet, nothing at all, everything it’s nothing”.
It’s extraordinary. It is not by chance that MFM reminds us that Qohelet “it is a writing by a man” (p. 17). «As we know, the speaker is a man (a man who likes women)» (p. 30). For he who calls himself Qohelet he is an old man, perhaps even a very old man. In any case, the author of Qohelet is necessarily a man, because, asks MFM, «what woman would say: ‘Nothing new under the sun’? A child is always something new under the sun” (p. 17).
“I am a woman and I had to take up arms with the Qohelet until you can come to a (conditioned) understanding with him” (p. 142). And it is precisely with the weapons of a woman, and with the weapons of a mother, that MFM guides us through the laconic verses of the poem.
But the man who says (always in the Renaissance Portuguese of Damião de Góis): «I found myself to be a woman more bitter and worse than death, which is like a snare for hunters, and her heart is a net, and her hands are chains», he is exactly the same man who a few steps further on orders: “enjoy and enjoy your life with the woman you love, all the days that you are allowed to live, and that are given to you under the sun”.
The uncompromising and radical sermonism of Qohelet, who sees nothing but smoke and emptiness in the actions of men and who screams and cries with rage at the condemnation of living, does not prevent him, on the contrary, from enjoying the sunrise and the sunset . Furiously approving of life – not trying to fix it. “Nothing new under the sun” is an injunction that the Qohelet suspends and denies whenever he follows the shudders of his heart, the true organ of man’s knowledge: “The opposition between a woman as “bitter than death” and the pleasure of living with the woman one loves, all this it comes from the lucidity of seeing oneself and not looking away, whose seat is the heart” (p. 75).
Deeply anti-idolatric, Qohelet he knows very well that God is absolutely inaccessible, that God remains obstinately hidden, and that he is truly unfathomable. Edmond Jabès, a French-speaking poet and tireless reader of the wisdom books of the Hebrew Bible, formulated this abyssal dissimilarity between God and man as perhaps no one else could: “It is not the image that is the object of divine interdiction; but resemblance that the whole image opens. “God wants to be without face to face”».
Qohelet sniffs out death and the precariousness of human life everywhere. And yet that is not why he fails to approve and extol life – here and now. And we can appreciate the radical disbelief in the face of the immortality and spirituality of the soul in a pregnant image of ch. IX of the poem: “There is no one who always lives, nor who can rely on it, so a live dog is better than a dead lion”. there is not in Qohelet strictly no difference between men and animals, both subject to the power of death and oblivion. This motto was extolled in the Averroist tradition, and in particular in the Marrana tradition: «in this world there is no longer to be born and die; there is no other paradise»; “there is no paradise or glory for the good, nor hell for the bad, there is nothing more than to be born and die”, “in this world you will not see me suffer, in the next you will not see me suffer”, and so on. That’s why the old man who takes the floor in Qohelet warns the assembled assembly that the urge to know is an inglorious drama and a useless excess. This is also why he advises the young to be young – and not old – when they are young and while they are young: “Rejoice therefore, O young man, in your youth, and give your heart to delights and pastimes in the days from your youth… Take away the anger from your heart, and pluck the evil from your flesh: that youth, freshness and delights are but vanity”.
“Cast your bread upon the running waters, for after many times you will find it” – this is the formula and the password of the calm wisdom of Qohelet.
So far, I have limited myself to paraphrasing some topics of the immense wealth of Maria Filomena Molder’s reflection on the Qohelet / Ecclesiastes. But enough. Once here, the time has come for the potential reader of the work to quickly relieve themselves of this mound of words and face, with wide open eyes, the philosopher’s book, which speaks for itself and does not need interpreters.
One last thing. Chapter III of Qohelet (Ecclesiastes), the best known and glossed, is perhaps one of the best poems about time ever written. Every reader knows at least its first verses: “All things have their time, and all pass through their spaces under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build up. A time to cry, and a time to laugh. A time to acquire, and a time to lose. A time to keep, and a time to spend. Carving time, and sewing time. A time to speak, and a time to be silent”, etc., etc., etc.
“There is a time for everything” has become today a phrase so vulgarized, abused and emptied of a concrete and palpable meaning, that it is possible that we are no longer in a position to truly understand it.
One thing is certain: we now know why we were forced to wait for the philosopher Maria Filomena Molder to be old enough to enjoy a book like this. “There is a time for everything”.
Against all historical and documentary evidence, it is not a mere chance that some rabbinical tradition still attributes the Qohelet the antiquity of Solomon himself. Solomon would have written the Song of Songs when I was young, the proverbs at mature age, and Qohelet when he was an elder. For, as the Midrash says, when a man is young he sings; when he is an adult he utters his maxims; and, as he gets older, he talks about the emptiness of things.
“There is a time for everything”. A time to write this book, and a time to read this book. That time is now. In fact, only old age, with the wisdom and detachment that it can bring – “cast your bread on the waters, for after a long time you will find it”…” – could provide us with a reflection of this caliber, reflected in a thoughtful prose with a unique breath and a powerful rhythm, which forbid any inattention to a committed reader. With a weaver’s hand and a strong resistance to the professionalizing use of technical philosophical vocabulary, Maria Filomena Molder skillfully guides the reader through the tight knots that entwine the rough fabric of Qohelet. The author presents her task as a patient and time-consuming work of «deciphering», always subject to unexpected clashes, which are, in fact, all the salt and pepper of this work. No verbiage vain. Because they too, above all them, the professorial words, are “smoke of fumes”, “mist of nothing”, “vanity of vanities”. Cleanliness and frugality in the word, therefore. Asceticism of the word which is here condition sine qua non of the asceticism of thought.
This is the invitation, this is the challenge, this is the bread that the philosopher throws at the reader.