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Albert Camus, Ecclesiastes, Absurd, Qohelet


In one of the most influential works of the twentieth century, The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus writes this: “This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world I can touch, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction.” Here, Camus addresses what he believes to be one of the main sources of the absurd: the limitations of human reason. He claims that his inability to fully understand human reality creates a gap between his existence and its meaning, and, in effect, renders the whole of human experience as absurd. Because Camus makes these conclusions from a purely atheistic position, it would seem that his notion of the absurd is incompatible with a theistic understanding of the human condition. Interestingly, however, the main speaker of the ancient Hebrew wisdom book Ecclesiastes, Qohelet, also concludes that the limits of human knowledge give life a sense of absurdity. Although Camus (an atheist) and Qohelet (a theist) begin with different assumptions regarding the existence of God—the very Being who gives meaning and clarity to his creation—their similar conclusions reveal an unlikely compatibility between atheistic and theistic attitudes towards the human predicament. While Camus and Qohelet recognize that the world cannot be explained by human reasoning, and is therefore absurd, they each conclude that uncertainty and human limitations may prompt a certain liberation and solace that allows them to move beyond the absurd. This curious parallel between Camus’s modern existential attitudes in The Myth of Sisyphus and the ancient Hebraic wisdom of Ecclesiastes show that the awareness of the limitation of human reason may compel man to live authentically and passionately despite the seeming unreasonableness of his life.