It is “a pity that so few biblical scholars have been poets” laments Brother LG Sargent in Ecclesiastes and Other Studies. Brother Sargent was a highly competent poet, as can be appreciated in the soaring poetry of Hymn 91 (“High over lash­ing waves our God is throned”) and for that reason he is especially competent for the task he performs in Ecclesiastes and Other Studies.

First published in 1965, this book is a com­pilation of studies in poetical books of the Old Testament which had originally appeared in The Christadelphian magazine in the 1950s. It brings together the author’s commentary on Ecclesiastes with three essays under the theme of The Questions of the Book of Job and two essays on The Two Women of Proverbs 1-9. Many older readers will have long enjoyed the lofty but highly readable writings of Brother Sargent but his works may not be as well known to younger readers, which is a great pity. For that reason, it is very pleasing to see that The Christadelphian recently reprinted this valuable book.

The Quality of Poetry

Poetry appeals to many people but there are others who find it intimidating and inaccessible. It needs to be read and interpreted along lines which dif­fer from those we apply when reading prose. As Brother Sargent says in his foreword: “It is the quality of poetry that the thought is to be found in the whole rather than the part”. Often the same symbol can be used to express different truths in different contexts. In his comments on Ecclesiastes Brother Sargent brings this out several times, on one occasion illustrating the point by the use of an example from the poetic writings of David and his son, Solomon. Similarly, different truths are revealed to different readers from the one passage; our own personal appreciation of a passage may vary over time depending on our circumstances of life.

Familiarity with the Views of Many Scholars

Throughout the book Brother Sargent demonstrates familiarity with the views of many scholars over many centuries, including Sir Walter Raleigh and Christadelphian writers such as Brother John Thomas and Brother CC Walker. He is not an uncritical student, however, and never hesitates to say when he disagrees with the position of certain writers, including in one instance the view of Brother Roberts.

Brother Sargent also reveals an appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of many transla­tors. In this context his comments on Bullinger’s Companion Bible and RG Moulton’s Modern Reader’s Bible and Moffatt will interest – and may even surprise – Bible students.

Books of Ecclesiastes and Job Subject of Much Debate

Books like Ecclesiastes and Job are the subject of much debate in scholarly circles with regard to lit­erary criticism and structural integrity. At all times Brother Sargent’s deep respect for the inspiration shines through as he navigates the shoals created by these debates while recognising the challenges posed by a biblical text which at times can be cryptic. A good example of this is his handling of the debate about to whom the words of Job 27 should be attributed.

The author approaches Ecclesiastes as a suite of essays which “probes the problem of man’s relation to his own life. What is it worth when lived as an end in itself? What other end is there by which life can be related to something outside itself?” In the course of addressing these themes Brother Sargent never loses sight of the Lord Jesus Christ as he emphasises how the book “raises fundamental questions to which only partial answers can be given within the book’s own limits; the final answers are in Christ”.

Brother Sargent concludes his analysis of Ecclesiastes with words which are almost as poetical as those of the text: With all its apparent meander­ings, its alternations and seeming contradictions, the Book of Ecclesiastes has an essential unity of character and purpose. To follow through the thought is like tracing a stream from its earthly beginnings through all its turns and twists till with a full and even flow it merges with the sea; and it is a rich experience.

Job Fascinates Many Readers

Job is a book which fascinates many readers and Brother Sargent’s three essays in this volume ad­dress questions which have long intrigued students. By dealing with the text as a whole he disposes of most of the dross which complicates an analysis of Job. The book provides much for the reader to contemplate even if he finds himself at times disagreeing with Brother Sargent. Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects in any analysis of Job is the role of Elihu in the drama. Brother Sargent makes a compelling case which will challenge the prejudices of many readers (especially from this reviewer’s experience, many Australian readers). The case made is well worth considering.

The Two Women of Proverbs

The essays on the two women of Proverbs 1-9 with which the book concludes brings out both the beauty and power of the text. The author’s comments on the “strange woman” are particularly informative and have an interesting bearing on cur­rent debates about the role of sisters in the ecclesia. Also of great interest in these essays are the links Brother Sargent brings out between these chapters and the record of creation in Genesis. As with the comments on Ecclesiastes and Job, the analysis draws attention to the relevance of these chapters to the truth as it is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Although the book deals specifically with passages in Ecclesiastes, Job and Proverbs it also includes insightful comments on several other biblical passages, including Psalm 19:5, John 12:3 and 19:5 and 1 Timothy 2:14. All these are worth considering.

A Classic in our Literature

The reprinting of Ecclesiastes and Other Studies is a welcome initiative. It should rekindle interest in and awareness of what could be regarded as a (perhaps minor) classic in our literature and – it might be hoped – the writings of Brother Sargent more generally. Those who have read the book before will enjoy becoming reacquainted with a helpful friend, while those who have not previously read the work have a treat in store.

Footnote

The reprinted book is available for $22.00 from the Christadelphian Scripture Study Service. Website: www.csss.org.au