Vain Rhetoric explores how Ecclesiastes manipulates various strategies from the arsenal of ambiguity to communicate the strengths and limitations of both private insight and public knowledge. The Book of Ecclesiastes, like many ancient and modern first-person discourses, generates ambivalent responses in its readers. The book's rhetorical strategy produces both acceptance of, and suspicion towards, the major positions argued by the author. 'Vain rhetoric' aptly describes the persuasive and dissuasive properties of the narrator's peculiar characterization. It also describes how the Book of Ecclesiates, with its abundant use of rhetorical questions, constant gapping techniques, and other strategies from the arsenal of ambiguity, is a stunning testimony to the power of the various strategies of indirection to communicate to the reader something of his or her own rhetorical liabilities and limitations, as well as those of the religious community in general.
Gary Salyer is Adjunct Professor of Biblical Interpretation, Fuller Theological Seminary of Northern California, Menlo Park, California.