Wednesday, May 20, 2015

ANF VI: Gregory Thaumaturgus Metaphrase

Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume VI

Gregory Thaumaturgus: Part I: Acknowledged Writings:  A Metaphrase of the Book of Ecclesiastes

If a "paraphrase" is a summary of a longer work, a "metaphrase" takes a shorter work and lengthens it. In this case, Gregory's Metaphrase of Ecclesiastes is related to, but not exactly the same as, a commentary. (The word "metaphrase" itself means a "literal translation," but that's clearly not what Gregory is doing here.) Gregory summarizes each idea in each chapter of Ecclesiastes in his own words, offering slight expansions and extensions where he thinks appropriate.

Does he succeed? Is this a good interpretation of Ecclesiastes? Well, yes and no. I think he does a good job with each individual idea in the book. You can take any single verse and compare it with Gregory's metaphrase of that verse and get a pretty good interpretation. Not that I've done this, mind you, just that nothing particularly jumped out at me as crazy wrong or off.
Yet, I think the overall feel of the text is somewhat misleading. It's true that Gregory seems to handle each individual idea well, but the whole picture he makes out of them has a different feel from Ecclesiastes itself. When I'm done reading Ecclesiastes, I walk away with a sense that life sucks and then you die, and the only small bright part might be that you can worship God, but there's the sense that even that might deep down be meaningless (but probably not, though everything else is). The sense Gregory gives us is that darn it, this is a pretty attractive lifestyle that you and I can live with a little bit of faith in God and hard work. Which I'm pretty sure is not the point of this bleakest of books of the Bible. It is wisdom literature, but in this case I think Gregory has confused Ecclesiastes with Proverbs.

With that said, it's still an interesting and worthwhile read. Just take it for what it's worth.

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