A Case For Solomonic Authorship of Ecclesiastes, Part Three

For the first two parts of this examination, please see the following links: [1] [2].

Having examined a case for Solomonic authorship via internal evidence from Ecclesiastes in the first two parts of Ecclesiastes in two previous posts, let us close our case for Solomonic authorship by examining the last four chapters of Ecclesiastes, where we will find some more concerns of a king that make sense coming from Solomon but that would be inappropriate for a later forger who merely sought to pretend to be Solomon.

Let us start with the attitude towards kingship that Ecclesiastes takes. The attitude expressed here about kings (and the respect due to them) is very similar to the view expressed in Romans 13:1-7, a view that is easy to twist into divine right monarchial theories, but more nuanced than that. Ecclesiastes 8:1-3 states that one should keep the king’s commandment for the sake of our oath to God. By obeying and respecting physical leaders, we show respect to the God who places people in office and removes them (Romans 13:1-2). Furthermore, Solomon equates an ethical monarchy (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20) with the avoidance of evil by courtiers (see also Romans 13:3-5). The fact that Solomon’s view of rulership is identical with that of Paul in Romans 13, seeing kings as God’s servants with the power of the sword to prosecute evil, we may understand that a biblical ruler is in fact a viceroy, subject to God, but having authority over others. Solomon continues this theme of ethical rulership and the avoidance of evil by subjects in Ecclesiastes 10:20, which warns subjects not to curse the powerful (like kings) or wealthy even in one’s own private homes, lest “a little bird” tell the king of the matter and make one a target for treason charges and government abuse. In an age of blogging and free expression by people of opinions that border on (if not cross the line into) treason, this advice is well-needed, if extremely difficult to follow. This advice would be very appropriate coming from a prickly and thin-skinned king like Solomon, though.

A concern of Ecclesiastes not merely at the end of the book but throughout, is the problem of death. While one would not expect a sage to reflect so obsessively on death, a dying king who was about to bequeath his empire to a foolish son in whom he placed little trust would tend to muse on this subject more than most people. Throughout the entire book, Solomon reflects grimly and morbidly on death. In Ecclesiastes 2:12-16 he complains that both the wise and the foolish suffer oblivion and the same end, that is, death. In Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 he says that all living, whether animals or man, go to dust, even though the “spirit” in man goes upward to God to await consciousness again at the resurrection. In Ecclesiastes 4:2-3 he praises the dead as better off than the living, and those who were never born as better than either, because the dead do not suffer anymore. However, reflecting in a different vein elsewhere, he considers a live dog (an unloved animal in biblical times) as better off than a dead lion in Ecclesiastes 9:4, because the living still have hope of repentance and salvation, while the dead lie forgotten and asleep. Ecclesiastes 6:3 reflects on the pointlessness of one who lives a long life but who has no burial as worse off than the stillborn. Ecclesiastes 8:10-17 talks about the contrasting fates, eternal and within this lie, of the wicked and the righteous, again musing on death. Ecclesiastes 9:1-12 talks about the living knowing that they will die, but no one really knowing exactly when or how they will die according to the times God places them in. Time and chance happen to us all. One thing that remains constant within Ecclesiastes is that Solomon, its author, talks over and over again about death, as if he feared death more than anything else, but knew that he could not prolong his life beyond the days that God allotted for him.

What makes the case for Solomon’s authorship of Ecclesiastes is more than merely the obsessiveness about death (which is striking enough) but also the poetic descriptions of the perils of aging, which take up the first part of Ecclesiastes 12 and serve as a chilling reminder that we are far better off living God’s way during our youth (if we can) than waiting until we are old and our health is failing. Listen to the complaints of Solomon about aging, and reflect on whether a young person (unless the young person were a very morbid one) would write like this: before the keepers of the house tremble (shaking arms, probably because of Parkinson’s), strong men bow down (bad posture), grinders cease because they are few (almost no teeth left to chew with), those that look through the windows grow dim (eyes are failing), the doors are shut in the streets (blindness), the sound of grinding is low (the person can’t eat solid food because of the lack of teeth, so there is no sound of chewing), the daughters of music are brought low (the person is growing deaf), they are afraid of height and of terrors in the way (arthritis and a loss of balance makes it impossible for them to climb stairs easily or run), almond tree blossoms (the person’s hair turns white), grasshopper is a burden (the person slouches with a bent over back), or desire fails (no more sexual desire). The person writing Ecclesiastes was a poetic person who knew, first hand, the perils of aging, and mourned its effects on himself personally–Solomon would have been keenly aware of all of those aspects of aging, having been a wise and musical man full of sexual desire and zest for life in his younger days.

Finally, let us look at a couple of elements that make the end of Eccleiastes a fitting “royal account.” For one, Ecclesiastes 9:13-18 tells the story of how a poor man saved a small city from the wrath of a great king, using the lesson (appropriate to kings) that history tends to forget the deeds of the poor and the obscure and remember only the wealthy and the powerful. This is a common compliant that people have in general about history. Now, as a historian, I would have liked to have known the name of the city and the name of the great king (or great kingdom) they withstood, as it would have provided some historical details about the 10th century world of personal interest. Nonetheless, Solomon sought to use the example merely as an object lesson, not to provide historical data, from what he would have known as a king who dealt very notably with foreign powers like Egypt, Tyre, Sheba, Arabia, and the neo-Hittite kingdoms (see 1 Kings 5, 9:10-28, and 10:1-29).

Additionally, let us note that Ecclesiastes 12:9-14 ends with a post-script that sets it as a guide to kingship written by Solomon for his son. The reminders of mortality, corruption, and judgment within Ecclesiastes seem to have been designed for a royal heir of dubious wisdom, who should have followed these wise words but (see 1 Kings 12) clearly did not. That said, despite the failure of the book’s original purpose, the fact that all of Israel (see Exodus 19:5-6) and all of the Church of God (see 1 Peter 2:9-10) are called to be kings and priests in God’s kingdom means that Ecclesiastes serves as a fitting reminder of the ethical requirements of godly rule, a lesson that all of us who read it can stand to learn from if we seek to be kings and priests like Jesus Christ, and not bullying tyrants like the heathen.

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

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/a-case-for-solomonic-authorship-of-ecclesiastes-part-two/

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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