This is not a book of light reading, but I was drawn to the title as a possible source of insight in one of the most problematic books of the Bible- Ecclesiastes or Qohelet as it is known to Jewish scholars. In fact Fox intended "A Time to Tear Down and a Time to Build Up: A Rereading of Ecclesiastes" for Jewish scholars. I am not Jewish or a scholar of biblical texts, but a curious biological scientist, so be warned.
Qohelet is not precisely equal to Ecclesiastes, as Fox points out, but the two books are essentially just different versions of the same writing. How old it is is debatable- possibly 3rd Century BCE- but we do not know for sure. It is unlikely to have been written by Solomon, even though "Qohelet" identifies himself as a king in Jerusalem and a son of David. The book starts with the statement "Utterly absurd, said Qohelet, utterly absurd. All is absurd" or in Ecclesiastes "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." This starting point sets the tone of a very strange statement of faith. The world is sometimes unfair, even though in a just world the wicked would be punished and the good would live long happy lives. Still one should enjoy the pleasures one has and fear God. That is the message of Qohelet and if it seems to resemble some Egyptian or Greek philosophy one should not be surprised for the author almost was certainly aware of these ideas. Qohelet is struck with the absurdity of life and the fact that God's actions sometimes (if not often) seem absurd. Yet there is some sort of system- "A time to for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die....." as the well-known verses go. Yet "the race does not belong to the swift, nor war to the mighty...for a time of mishap befalls them all".
Qohelet was under some suspicion by early scholars and was almost removed from scripture. The book seems to question God and says that we know nothing of what may or may not lay beyond the grave. However the loss of this book would have been a great tragedy as it would have robbed us of some of the most beautiful quotes in the Bible. In my opinion, for what it is worth, Qohelet states the obvious, but often conveniently overlooked, fact that life is often hard and unfair. Ignoring that fact does not, in my opinion, lead to solid faith. I can state this from experience because the assurance that God would always make things right in spite of obvious pain eventually helped make me an agnostic. Still I cannot discount the possibility of God's existence- I just do not know. Thus Qohelet's observations ring true to me and it comes down to a more complex reality. Indeed, this is a major bone that I have to pick with much of modern religiosity in that it tends to simplify and express itself in sound bites, not with the deeper understanding of man's inability to really know the nature of whatever is meant by "God."
Again, this is not an easy book, but it is well worth the exploration. Those who will take the time will find a deeper understanding of Ecclesiastes in what Christians call the Old Testament.