Musee du Louvre, Paris

With a stare of steely resolve, a putative statue of Gilgamesh mastering a lion once towered over visitors to the Assyrian palace at Khorsabad, in northern Iraq. (Today, the statue is in the Louvre; its identification as Gilgamesh has come under dispute.)

Some scholars have suggested that the parallels between Gilgamesh and Ecclesiastes could only have resulted from direct borrowing. Qoheleth himself, they speculated, may have sojourned in Mesopotamia. Others have detected Greek and Egyptian parallels, leading them to add these countries to Qoheleth’s itinerary. But author van der Toorn concludes that only brief passages in the biblical book were directly influenced by Mesopotamian Wisdom traditions, and that there is little in Ecclesiastes that can be certified as solely Egyptian. The correspondence with Greek writings is found not in direct quotations, but in the spirit of the writings. Qoheleth thereby exhibits his cosmopolitan nature—the philosophic currents of Greece and of Hellenistic Egypt flowed through Jerusalem, with snippets of Egyptian and Mesopotamian ideas following in their wake.