A Case For Solomonic Authorship of Ecclesiastes

The traditional view of the authorship of Ecclesiastes is that Solomon wrote it at the end of his life, reflecting on his life and mistakes and coming to a conclusion that obedience to God is the duty and obligation of mankind. However, there are many people who claim that Ecclesiastes was instead a second temple forgery by a scribe who wrote as if he was Solomon. This view is troublesome because the Bible has the harshest opinion of forged letters (see Paul’s comments in 2 Thessalonians 2:2), and nowhere includes a forgery among the canon of scripture.

Nonetheless, in the absence of Solomonic autographs (which we do not possess and are not likely to possess) for Ecclesiastes, the best way to demonstrate the Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes is to examine the internal evidence of the material to see how it squares with Solomon’s perspective, and to see if we can create a sound case on internal evidence for Solomon writing Ecclesiastes. That is the point of this particular entry, to at least provide a way to square the distinctive nature of Ecclesiastes with the life of Solomon.

Let us pursue three avenues of demonstrating Solomonic authorship by inference from the internal evidence. First, let us look at the distinctive name by which Solomon calls himself. The word “ecclesiastes” in Latin means “speaker before an assembly.” The title that Solomon uses for himself in the book is Qoheleth, a word that only appears in Ecclesiastes (in 1:1, 2 12; 7:27; 12:8-10) in the entire Hebrew scriptures, and which is often translated “Preacher.” Let us note, though, that the author (Solomon) is pictured as writing a book on the wisdom of kings that is spoken to an assembly. There is only one kingly assembly that we know of in the entire era of the Israelite monarchies, and that occurs in 1 Kings 12. We may therefore take Ecclesiastes as the position of Solomon at the end of his life, which would explain the mild advice given to Rehoboam by Solomon’s counselors (see 1 Kings 12:7) about serving the people rather than exploiting them. Ecclesiastes may therefore be seen as a part of the tradition of ethical and constitutional monarchy within Israel rather than the heathen and satanic model of authoritarian rule. The similarity between Ecclesiastes’ view and that of Solomon’s advisers right after his death would indicate that Ecclesiastes represents his “last words” on the subject of kingship in a specific historical context where an assembly was taking place to determine the next king. Let us also note that Solomon very well may have called this assembly specifically to ensure the continuity of the Davidic line.

Second, let us note some concerns that Solomon shows about his heir that are recorded that accord very well with what the Bible has to say about the foolish Rehoboam. Ecclesiastes 2:18-21: “Then I hated all my labor in which I had toiled under the sun, because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will rule over all my labor in which I toiled and in which I have shown myself wise under the sun. This also is vanity. Therefore I turned my heart and despaired of all the labor in which I had toiled under the sun. For there is a man whose labor is with wisdom, knowledge, and skill; yet he must leave his heritage to a man who has not labored for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.” Here is the “succession” problem of leaders and organizations (and nations) dealt with openly and squarely. The passage would be of special relevance to a wise father of a son whose wisdom he doubts and is concerned about (with good reason).

Finally, let us note a passage that would seem to indicate Solomon’s own bitterly ironic view of his response to the warning of God, expressed in Ecclesiastes 4:13-16: “Better is a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more. For he comes out of prison to be king, although he was born poor in hi kingdom. I saw all the living who walk under the sun; they were with the second youth who stands in his place. There was no end over all the people over whom he was made king; yet those who come afterward will not rejoice in him. Surely this also is vanity and grasping for the wind.” This is a fitting prophecy of the reign of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who was “in prison” as a youth in Egypt for his rebellion against Solomon (given by the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite), and whose rule began with great popularity and the support of “all Israel” at Shechem, but whose name became a byword for sin, as all of the kings of Israel in the divided kingdom “followed in the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin” through the establishment of an official state religion with heathen golden calves and a counterfeit religious festival around the time of Halloween.

The bitter tone of Ecclesiastes and the knowledge it speaks of the politics of the 10th century BC, during the time when Israel divided into two hostile and warring states, ending their brief “mini-empire” of glory that they had known under the reign of David and Solomon, reflects better the times that they describe, where the ironic references to the division of Israel are particularly powerful, rather than to centuries later when the monarchy was a distant and fading memory, and when Solomon’s greatness was being consigned to the oblivion that he feared. If Ecclesiastes really is Solomon’s last words as a king, and his parting advice to his son, one wishes that his son had not been such a fool as to give it so little respect, for Ecclesiastes is truly a wealth of wisdom, even if it is wisdom gained at the price of much weariness and sorrow.

About nathanalbright

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16 Responses to A Case For Solomonic Authorship of Ecclesiastes

  1. Pingback: A Case For Solomonic Authorship of Ecclesiastes, Part Two | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: A Case For Solomonic Authorship of Ecclesiastes, Part Three | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Cathy Martin says:

    I had just completed the book of Ecclesiastes as part of the daily Bible reading and, in addition to the excellent points you brought up, it occurred to me that the author wrote this bitter commentary because it dawned on him so late in life that he had wasted his incredible spiritual gifts in physical pursuits. He finally realized that true wisdom comes with focusing on the spiritual and infusing one’s life with that element. By neglecting the basic essentials, he fell into the trap of being drawn away from the Source thereof–to his deepest regret. As a result, he saw his life as wasted time.

    • Indeed, I happen to think it is very likely that Solomon write this at the end of his life, embittered at his mistakes and his folly (a fact which I talked about in parts two and three in particular. That said, I don’t see why focusing on and paying attention on the spiritual would require him to neglect the physical. Physical experiences (even, perhaps especially, bad ones), have spiritual lessons. Solomon’s fatal flaw was to indulge in the lusts of the flesh to the point where he lost sight of his duty to obey God.

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