[PAST EVENT] Seeger or Spinoza: Who is the Better Reader of Ecclesiastes? [Leora Batnitzky]

November 1, 2023
4pm - 8pm
Ewell Hall, Room 107
221 Jamestown Rd
Williamsburg, VA 23185Map this location
Access & Features
  • Open to the public
Seeger or Spinoza
Seeger or Spinoza

Professor Leora Batnitzky of Princeton University visits W&M for a featured presentation!

The lyrics of Pete Seeger’s 1959 song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!,” popularized by the Byrds, are taken directly from chapter 3 of the book of Ecclesiastes. Seeger only added the title (“Turn! Turn! Turn!”) and the last line, “I swear it’s not too late.” Strikingly, these additions reflect a long debate in Ecclesiastes’ reception history about the meaning of time (??). A cry for peace at the time of the Vietnam war, Seeger’s interpretation of chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes suggests that human understanding has a decisive role in determining the right time for the right human action. This talk contrasts Seeger’s view, which has ancient precedents, with another reading of Ecclesiastes, Baruch Spinoza’s, which also has ancient precedents. For Spinoza, time, or what happens in human life, is determined by God whose own nature is one of necessity. According to Spinoza, we do not have the freedom to determine our fate but only the freedom to respond to our fortunes. The talk reflects on the broad question of the nature and limitations of human freedom, while also considering the relationship between Ecclesiastes’ use of (??) time/season with the text’s use of occurrence (????) and meeting (???) to decide who is a better reader of Ecclesiastes, Seeger or Spinoza.