This book examines the relationship between divine in/activity and human agency in the five books of the Megilloth—the books of Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther. As works of literature dating to the early Second Temple period (ca. 6th–3rd centuries BCE), these books and the implicit interpretation of these particular themes reflect the diverse cultural and theological dynamics of the time. Megan Fullerton Strollo contends that the themes themselves as well as the correlation between them should be interpreted as implicit theology insofar as they represent reflective interpretation of earlier theological traditions. With regard to divine in/activity, she argues that the Megilloth presents a certain level of skepticism or critical analysis of the Deity. From doubt to protest, the books of the Megilloth grapple with received traditions of divine providence and present experiences of absence, abandonment, and distance. As a correlative to divine in/activity, human agency is presented as consequential. In addition, the portrayal of human agency serves as a theological response insofar as the books advance the theme through specific references to and reevaluations of earlier theocentric traditions.
Megan Fullerton Strollo is assistant professor of biblical languages at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA.
Chapter 1: “Such A Time As This” (Esth 4:14): The Megilloth and the Sociocultural Landscape of the Second Temple Period
Chapter 2: A Lover and a Fighter: Interpreting Divine In/Activity in the Megilloth
Chapter 3: Divine Uncertainty: Interpreting Divine In/Activity among the Megilloth
Chapter 4: “So Both of Them Went Along” (Ruth 1:19): Human Agency in the Megilloth
Chapter 5: “We Can Do It!”: Female Agency among the Megilloth
The God we meet in the later works of the Hebrew Bible often seems distant and mysterious, and Megan Fullerton Strollo’s innovative, lucid study examines divine in/activity and corresponding human agency in the books of the Megilloth. Her careful intertextual readings of key terms and thoughtful historical analysis demonstrate that Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther are not merely an incidental or liturgical grouping. She shows that these five books wrestle with the nature of the sacred in the midst of sweeping historical changes. While not collapsing real differences, Strollo’s discussion of implicit theology and human agency in these works illuminates their content in new and profound ways.
Megan Fullerton Strollo’s study of the Megilloth is a pioneering work of biblical theology in a new key. Rather than impose systematic categories on the text, she provides a sensitive literary reading of the treatment of the themes of divine absence and human initiative. She sets this reading against the historical setting of Judah in the Persian and early Hellenistic periods, an era of foreign, colonial, rule. The result is a new appreciation of the theological innovation that animates these too often neglected books.
Megan Fullerton Strollo has advanced theology of the Hebrew Bible in a vital direction, leaving behind the old paradigm dominated by the idea of dramatic divine action and shaping a theology for the books; this approach often ignored. She has constructed a theological framework for the books of the Megilloth, grounded in the tension between divine inactivity and human agency. The illumination of these concerns against the backdrop of social turmoil during the Second Temple period offers abundant resources for bringing modern concerns to a new kind of conversation around these texts.
In this lucid and erudite book, Megan Fullerton Strollo tackles one of the more confounding issues of the Bible: What are we to make theologically of the books of Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther which contain few, if any, direct references to God? Combining sensitive literary treatments of each with attention to their historical contents, Strollo discerns a recalibration of the relationship between divine in/activity and human agency in light of lived realities. In so doing, Strollo offers new access to the thought-world of som of these most well-loved books of the Bible—allowing her reader to sense anew how the perspectives of these books are, indeed, freshly relevant.