L’ensemble des Cinq Rouleaux. Cinq femmes ensemble, RBSem 40

R. Meynet, L’ensemble des Cinq Rouleaux, RBSem 40, Peeters, Leuven 2022 (151 p.)

The Song of Songs is read in the synagogue at Passover, Ruth at the Feast of Weeks, Lamentations on the 9th of the month of Ab, Qohelet at the Tents and Esther at Purim. This liturgical order is external to the texts.

The order of the Tiberias textual tradition follows another logic, an internal one. At the ends, two stories, Ruth and Esther, the only two books in the Hebrew Bible that bear the name of a woman: a foreigner who comes to integrate herself into the people of Israel, a Jewess exiled in Persia, integrated to the point of having become the wife of the Persian king.

On either side of the central book, two poems: one that sings of the passionate and exclusive love between a woman and her beloved, between God and his people, the other mourns God’s disappointed love for his unfaithful wife, Jerusalem, whom he had to punish harshly by delivering her to death and exile.

At the centre of the whole is a fifth book, very different from the other four. Qohelet is a long meditation with a double theme: that of vanity, of the emptiness of life which leads to death, and that of the happiness, limited but real, of eating and drinking, of tasting the satisfaction of work and, in the end, of seeing life with the woman one loves. It is therefore the presence of the woman that animates, above all, the Five Scrolls.

This is the first time that the Five Scrolls have been analysed as a strongly structured and coherent whole. Contrary to the image that is often given of the place of women in ancient Israel, their role is decisive. This is a cause for reflection for today’s men. Especially in the Church, where it is beginning to be felt that her voice should be better heard and her functions better recognised.