A Case For Solomonic Authorship of Ecclesiastes, Part Two

Previously, we looked at some arguments from internal evidence in the first part of Ecclesiastes for Solomon’s authorship of Ecclesiastes [1]. Let us now do the same for the middle part of Ecclesiastes, to give more indication that it was Solomon, and not some 5th century post-exilic scribe, who actually wrote Ecclesiastes. Let us examine three more passage and explain the internal evidence they describe about the authorship of this most curious and intriguing book of wisdom.

First, let us examine Ecclesiastes 5:8-9 and what it says about the behavior of rulers: “If you see the oppression of the poor and the violent perversion of justice and righteousness in a province, do not marvel at the matter; for high official watches over high official, and higher officials are over them. Moreover the profit of the land is for all; even the king is served from the field.” This verse gives at best an enigmatic look at the institutions of monarchy. In fact, it would seem to suggest that kings live by the exploitation of their people. Though some have considered this eyewitness of the folly of kings as an argument against Solomonic authorship, let us note that Solomon himself set up provincial offices and offices above offices in a hierarchy (see 1 Kings 4:1-19), and that Solomon himself had oppressed the people of Israel to build cities to glorify himself and strengthen his rule in such places as Gezer, Megiddo, Hazor, Lower Beth Horon, and Tadmor (see 1 Kings 9:15-19), and that Solomon also depended on the produce of the land of Israel for his own table (see 1 Kings 4:22-23). Again, Solomon would have been in a place to know the corruption of his own government officials and the way in which the produce of ordinary farmers was important for “reasons of national security.” For Samuel himself had warned Israel when they wanted a king that it would lead to the exploitation of the common citizen (see 1 Samuel 8:11-18), and so it did.

Let us also note the curious (to us) advice of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:15-16: “I have seen everything in my days of vanity: there is a just man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs life in his wickedness. Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: why should you destroy yourself?” These questions strike most readers of the book of Ecclesiastes as shocking. Why would it be a bad thing to be “overly righteous” or “overly wise?” Many people cannot understand why someone would warn against such a thing. And surely it would be odd for a very religious scribe to warn against such a thing himself, but it would be more in character for a repentant ruler of a nation, especially one who had punished the righteous for their hostility to his oppression (see 1 Kings 11:40), to warn people that the price of being overly wise (and recognized as such) and overly righteous in a wicked world could be death and suffering. This is a lesson the author is well aware of–being overly righteous (which means overly sensitive to wickedness) would make it impossible for a righteous man to keep silent in the face of wicked rulers or the oppression of the weak and powerless, and would make such a person who spoke out against evil the target of hostility, abuse, and repressive action, including prison, exile, torture, and death. The life of a righteous man in a wicked land is very dangerous, and Solomon’s worldly wise knowledge of the behavior of kings (including himself) would have made him sensitive to this fact in a way that most people do not understand.

Let us examine one more passage that would indicate Solomonic authorship in the middle section of Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 7:26-29: “And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and net, whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God will escape from her, but the sinner shall be trapped by her. “Here is what I have found,” say the preacher, “Adding one thing to the other to find out the reason, which my soul still seeks but I cannot find; one man among a thousand I have found, but a woman among all these I have not found. Truly, this only I have found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” This passage indicates several separate lines of internal evidence that links this passage to Solomon. For one, this passage gives advice about avoiding the evil woman that mirrors what is known and recognized to be other works of Solomon (see Proverbs 7), giving the same advice about the fate of those who fall for the “evil woman.” Second, the Bible elsewhere provides information that explains why Solomon (especially at the end of his life) would be somewhat embittered by his own folly in being trapped by evil and scheming women who turned his heart astray from the faithful worship of God (see 1 Kings 11:1-13). Let us also note that 1 Kings 11:3 tells us that Solomon had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines, and though Solomon had found 1 man in a thousand who was faithful, he could not find one woman in a thousand who was in his harem who was faithful to God, but all were scheming.

Lest we be too harsh on the women, though, let us understand that Solomon was not a faithful man either–he was the only king of Israel who had both the wealth and the inclination to marry (for reasons of state, no doubt) women from many nations to seal alliances with them. No doubt the women constantly schemed about how to focus Solomon’s attention on them rather than his 999 other wives, or tried to make their son his heir (as it turned out, Solomon’s heir, Rehoboam, was the son of an Ammonite princess, see 1 Chronicles 12:13). But the scheming of the women was at least partly (if not mostly) the fault of Solomon himself. God forbade His kings to multiply wives, gold and silver for themselves, lest their heart turn away (see Deuteronomy 17:17), and this is precisely what Solomon himself foolishly did. If he seems a bit bitter towards women, perhaps he would have been better served to have turned some of that criticism towards himself. A godly man is happy to have one good woman in his life (if he can find her!), rather than a thousand scheming gold-diggers. Solomon, sadly, was not a godly man. Nonetheless, his bitterness about women is such that only he would have had experience with among all of the kings of Israel, and thus provides more evidence that it was an old and gloomy Solomon who in fact wrote Ecclesiastes out of all of the wisdom he had learned at great cost to his own peace of mind.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/20/a-case-for-solomonic-authorship-of-ecclesiastes/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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