Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


Additional Links

the fourth of the poetical books in the English arrangement of the O.T., and one of those usually attributed to Solomon. In the Hebrews Bible it is the seventh and last of the first part of the Hagio.graphi,כְּתוּבַים , or fourth division of the Jewish Scriptures. In the Sept. and Vulg. it is placed between Proverbs and Canticles, as in the A.V. (See BIBLE). It is the fourth of the five Megilloth (q.v.) or Rolls, as they are called by the Jews, being appointed to be read at the Feast of Tabernacles. The form of the book is poetico-didactic. Without the sublimity of the beautiful parallelism and rhythm which characterize the older poetic effusions of the inspired writings. The absence of vigor and charm is manifest even in the grandest portion of this book (Ecclesiastes 12:1-7), where the sacred writer rises above his usual level. (See generally, Bergst, in Eichhorn's Bibliothek, 10:955-84; Paulus, in his Neues Repertorium, 1:201-65; Zirkel, Ueb. der Prediger, Wurzb, 1792; Umbreit, Coheleth scepticus, Gott. 1820; Stiebriz, Vindiciae Solomonis, Halle, 1760; Henzi, Ecclesiastes argumentum, Dorpat, 1827; Muhlert, Palaogr. Beitrage, page 182 sq.; Hartmann, in the Wien. Zeitschr. 1:29, 71; Ewald, Ueb. d. Prediger, Gott. 1826; Umbreit, in the Stud. u. Krit. 1849; Bruch, Weisheits-Lehre der Hebraer, Strasburg, 1851.) (See SOLOMON).

I. Title. The Hebrew name is קֹהֶלֶת Kohe'leth, and is evidently taken from the designation which the writer himself assumes (Ecclesiastes 1:2; Ecclesiastes 1:2; Ecclesiastes 7:27; Ecclesiastes 12:8-10; Sept. ἐκκλησιαστής , Vulg. ecclesiastes, Auth. Vers. "preacher"). It is the participle of קָהִל, kahal' (cognate with קוֹל, voice, Greek καλέω, Eng. call), which properly signifies to call together a religious assembly (hence קְהַלָּה קָהָל, a congregation). The apparent anomaly of the feminine termination ת indicates that the abstract noun has been transferred from the office to the person holding it (so the Arab. caliph, etc.; see Gesenius, Thes. Hebrews page 1199, 1200), and has thus become capable of use as a masculine proper name, a change of meaning of which we find other instances in Sophereth (Nehemiah 7:57), Pochereth (Ezra 2:57); and hence, with the single exception of Ecclesiastes 7:27, the noun, notwithstanding its form, is used throughout in the masculine. Ewald, however (Poet. Buch. 4:189), connects the feminine termination with the noun חָכְמָה (wisdom), understood, and supposes a poetic license in the use of the word as a kind of symbolic proper name appealing to Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1, as examples of a like usage. As connected with the root קַהִל the word has been applied to one who speaks in an assembly, and there is, to say the least, a tolerable agreement in favor of this interpretation. Thus we have the comment of the Midrash, stating that the writer thus designates himself "because his words were spoken in the assembly (quoted in Preston's Ecclesiastes, note on 1:1); the rendering Ε᾿κκλησιαστής by the Sept.; the adoption of this title by Jerome (Praf. in Eccl.), as meaning "qui catum, i.e., ecclesiam congregat, quem nos nuncupare possumus Concionatorem;" the use of "Prediger" by Luther; of "Preacher" in the A.V. On the other hand, taking קָהִל in the sense of collecting things, not of summoning persons, and led perhaps by his inability to see in the book itself any greater unity of design than in the chapters of Proverbs, Grotius (in Ecclesiastes 1:1) has suggested Συναθροιστής (compiler) as a better equivalent. In this he has been followed by Herder and Jahn, and Mendelssohn has adopted the same rendering (notes on Ecclesiastes 1:1, and Ecclesiastes 7:27, in Preston), seeing in it the statement partly that the writer had compiled the sayings of wise men who had gone before him, partly that he was, by an inductive process, gathering truths from the facts of a wide experience. The title of the hook, however, indicates that the author did not write only for a literary public, but that he had in view the whole congregation of the Lord; and that his doctrine was not confined within the narrow bounds of a school, but belonged to the Church in its whole extent (comp. Psalms 49:2-4). Solomon, who in 1 Kings 8:1-66 is described as gathering ( יִקְהֵל ) the people to hold communion with the Most High in the place which he erected for this purpose, is here again represented as the gatherer (קֹהֶלֶת ) of the people to the assembly of God. It must, however, be borne in mind that, though Solomon is animated by and represents Wisdom he does not lose his individuality. Hence he sometimes describes his own experience (compare Ecclesiastes 1:16-17; Ecclesiastes 2:9; Ecclesiastes 2:12; Ecclesiastes 7:23, etc.), and sometimes utters the words of Wisdom, whose organ he is, just as the apostles are sometimes the organs of the Holy Ghost (compare Acts 15:28).

Against the common rendering of קֹהֶלֶת by preacher or Ecclesiastes, which is supported by Desvoeux, Gesenius, Knobel, Herzfeld, Stuart, etc., it has been urged:

1. The verb קָהִל does not properly include the idea of preaching: such, however, would naturally be its derived import, inasmuch as popular assemblies are usually convened for the purpose of being addressed.

2. It ascribes to Solomon the office of preacher, which is nowhere mentioned in the Bible; it is too modern a title, and is inconsistent with his character, if not with the contents of the book: this, however, only applies to the title in its modern sense, and not to the above generic view.

3. It destroys the connection between the design of the book and the import of this symbolic name: this again depends upon the preconception as to the design of the book; the import, as above explained, is not unsuitable. Moreover,

a. Coheleth is neither a name of rank nor of office, but simply describes the act of gathering the people together, and can, therefore, not come within the rule which the advocates of the rendering preacher or Ecclesiastes are obliged to urge.

b. The construction of the feminine verb with it in Ecclesiastes 7:27, is incompatible with this view.

c. Abstracts are never formed from the active participle; and, d. There is not a single instance to be found where a concrete is first made an abract, and then again taken in a personal sense. These objections are too minute to be of much force, and are overruled by the peculiar use and application of this word, which occurs nowhere else.

The other explanations of Koheleth, viz., Gatherer or Acquirer of wisdom, and Solomon is called by this name because he gathered much wisdom (Rashi, Rashbam, etc.); Collector, Compiler, because he collected in this book divers experience, views, and maxims for the good of mankind (Grotius, Mayer, Mendelssohn, etc.); Eclectic, ἐκλεκτικός , a name given to him in this place because of his skill in selecting and purifying from the systems of different philosophers the amassed sentiments in this book (Rosenthal); Accumulated wisdom and this appellation is given to him because wisdom was accumulated in him (Aben-Ezra); The Reunited, the Gathered Soul and it describes his re-admission into the Church in consequence of his repentance (Cartwright, Bishop Reynolds, Granger, etc.); The Penitent and describes the contrite state of his heart for his apostasy (Cocceius, Schultens, etc.); An assembly, an academy and the first verse is to be translated "The sayings of the academy of the son of David" (Doderlein, Nachtigal, etc.); An old man and Solomon indicates by the name Koheleth his weakness of mind when, yielding to his wives, he worshipped idols (Simonis Lex. Hebrews s.v.; Schmidt, etc.); Exclaiming Voice, analogous to the title assumed by John the Baptist and the words of the inscription ought to be rendered, "The words of the voice of one exclaiming" (De Dieu); Sophist, according to the primitive signification of the word, which implied a combination of philosophy and rhetoric (Desvoeux); Philosopher or Moralist (Spohn, Gaab, etc.); The departed spirit of Solomon introduced as speaking throughout this book in the form of a shadow (Augusti, Einleit in d. A.T. page 240); Koheleth is the feminine gender, because it refers to נפש, the intellectual soul, which is understood (Rashi, Rashbam, Ewald, etc.); it is to show the great excellency of the preacher, or his charming style which this gender indicates (Lorinus, Zirkel, etc.), because a preacher travails, as it were, like a mother, in the spiritual birth of his children, and has tender and motherly affection for his people, a similar expression being found in Galatians 4:19 (Pineda, Mayer, etc.); it is to describe the infirmity of Solomon, who appears here as worn out by old age (Mercer, Simonis, etc.); it is used in a neuter sense, because departed spirits have no specific gender (Augusti); the termination ת is not at all feminine, but, as in Arabic, is used as an auxesis; etc., etc., etc. We believe that the simple enumeration of these views will tend to show their vagueness, fancifulness, and inappropriateness. (See Dindorf, Quomodo nomen Cohelet Salomoni tribuatur, Lpz. 1791.)

II. Author and Date. These have usually been regarded as determined by the account that the writer gives of himself in chapter 1 and 2, that it was written by the only " son of David" (Ecclesiastes 1:1), who was " king over Israel in Jerusalem" (Ecclesiastes 1:12). According to this, we have in it what may well be called the Confessions of king Solomon, the utterance of a repentance which some have even ventured to compare with that of the 51st psalm. This authorship is corroborated by the unquestionable allusions made throughout the book to particular circumstances connected with the life of the great monarch (compare Ecclesiastes 1:16, etc., with 1 Kings 3:12; Ecclesiastes 2:4-10, with 1 Kings 5:27-32; 1 Kings 7:1-8; 1 Kings 9:7-19; 1 Kings 10:14-29; Ecclesiastes 7:20, with 1 Kings 8:46; Ecclesiastes 12:9, with 1 Kings 4:32). Additional internal evidence has been found for this belief in the language of Ecclesiastes 7:26-28, as harmonizing with the history of 1 Kings 11:3, and in an interpretation (somewhat forced perhaps) which refers Ecclesiastes 4:13-15 to the murmurs of the people against Solomon, and the popularity of Jeroboam as the leader of the people, already recognized as their future king (Mendelssohn and Preston in loc.). The belief that Solomon was actually the author was, it need hardly be said, received generally by the Rabbinic commentators, and the whole series of Patristic writers. The apparent exceptions to this in the passages by Talmudic writers, which ascribe it to Hezekiah (Baba Bathra, c. 1, fol. 15) or Isaiah (Shalsh. Hakkab. fol. 66 b, quoted by Michaelis), can hardly be understood as implying more than a share in the work of editing, like that claimed for the "men of Hezekiah" in Proverbs 25:1. Grotius (Praef. in Eccles.) was indeed almost the first writer who called it in question, and started a different hypothesis.

It may seem as if the whole question were settled for all who recognize the inspiration of Scripture by the statement, in a canonical and inspired book, as to its own authorship. The book purports, it is said (Preston, Proleg. in Ecclesiastes page 5), to be written by Solomon, and to doubt the literal accuracy of this statement is to call in question the truth and authority of Scripture. To many it has appeared questionable, however, whether we can admit an a priori argument of this character to be decisive. The hypothesis that every such statement in a canonical book must be received as literally true, is, in fact, an assumption that inspired writers were debarred from forms of composition which were open without blame to others. In the literature of every other nation the form of personated authorship, where there is no animus decipiendi, has been recognized as a legitimate channel for the expression of opinions or the quasi-dramatic representation of character. Hence it has been asked, Why should we venture on the assertion that, if adopted by the writers of the Old Testament, it would have made them guilty of a falsehood, and been inconsistent with their inspiration? The question of authorship does not involve that of canonical authority. A book written by Solomon would not necessarily be inspired and canonical. It is said that there is nothing that need startle us in the thought that an inspired writer might use a liberty which has been granted without hesitation to the teachers of mankind in every age and country. Accordingly, the advocates of a different authorship for the book in question than that of Solomon feel themselves at liberty to discard these statements of the text as mere literary devices.

They argue that in like manner the book which bears the title of the "Wisdom of Solomon" asserts, both by its title and its language (Ecclesiastes 7:1-21), a claim to the same authorship, and, though the absence of a Hebrew original led to its exclusion from the Jewish canon, the authorship of Solomon was taken for granted by all the early Christian writers who quote it or refer to it, till Jerome had asserted the authority of the Hebrew text as the standard of canonicity, and by not a few afterwards. But in reply to this it may justly be said that the traditional character of the two books is so different as to debar any comparison of this kind. (See WISDOM, BOOK OF).

The following specific objections have been urged against the Solomonic and for the personated authorship of this book.

1. All the other reputed writings of Solomon have his name in the inscription (compare Proverbs 1:1; Song of Solomon 1:1; Psalms 78:1-72), whereas in this book the name of Solomon is studiously avoided, thus showing that it does not claim him as its actual author. Yet he gives other equally decisive intimations of his identity, and the peculiar character of the work sufficiently accounts for this partial concealment. Moreover, in some of his other undoubted writings he employs similar noms de plume (Proverbs 30:1; Proverbs 31:1).

2. The symbolic and impersonal name Koheleth shows that Solomon is simply introduced in an ideal sense as the representative of wisdom. On the other hand, it appears to have an equally tangible application to him historically.

3. This is indicated by the sacred writer himself, who represents Solomon as belonging to the past, inasmuch as he makes this great monarch say, "I was (הָיַיתַי ) king," but had long ago ceased to be king when this was written. That this is intended by the praeterite has been acknowledged from time immemorial (comp. Midrash Rabba, Midrash Jalkut in loc.; Talmud, Gittin, 68 b; the Chaldee paraphrase, 1:12; Midrash, Maase, Bi-Shloma, Ha-Melech, ed. Jellinek in Beth Ha-Midrash, 2:35; Rashi on 1:12). Yet it does not necessarily require that interpretation, but may naturally be understood as simply referring to past incidents, e.g. "I have been [and still am] king." The passage certainly gives no support to the idea of a fanciful authorship.

4. This is moreover corroborated by various statements in the book, which would otherwise be irreconcilable, e.g. Koheleth comparing himself with a long succession of kings who reigned over Israel in Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 1:16; Ecclesiastes 2:7): the term king in Jerusalem (ibid.) showing that at the time when this was written there was a royal residence in Samaria; the recommendation to individuals not to attempt to resent the oppression of a tyrannical ruler, but to wait for a general revolt (Ecclesiastes 8:2-9) a doctrine which a monarch like Solomon is not likely to propound; the description of a royal spendthrift, and of the misery he inflicts upon the land (Ecclesiastes 10:16-19), which Solomon would not give unless he intended to write a satire upon himself. These historical allusions are too vague to be thus pressed into service. As to the political references, we know (1 Kings 11:14; 1 Kings 11:23) that insurrectionary manifestations did exist in Solomon's reign, and were aggravated by his rigid and exacting government (1 Kings 12:4). It has been asked whether Solomon would have been likely to speak of himself as in Ecclesiastes 1:12, or to describe with bitterness the misery and wrong of which his own misgovernment had been the cause, as in Ecclesiastes 3:16; Ecclesiastes 4:1 (Jahn, Einl. 2:840). On the hypothesis that he was the writer, the whole book is in acknowledgment of evils which he had occasioned, while yet there is no distinct confession and repentance. There are forms of satiety and self- reproach, of which this half sad, half scornful retrospect of a man's own life this utterance of bitter words by which he is condemned out of his own mouth is the most natural expression. Any individual judgment on this point cannot, from the nature of the case, be otherwise than subjective, and ought therefore to bias our estimate of other evidence as little as possible.

5. The state of oppression, sufferings, and misery depicted in this book (Ecclesiastes 4:1-4; Ecclesiastes 5:7; Ecclesiastes 8:1-4; Ecclesiastes 8:10-11; Ecclesiastes 10:5-7; Ecclesiastes 10:20, etc.) cannot be reconciled with the age of Solomon, and unquestionably shows that the Jews were then groaning under the grinding tyranny of Persia. There are sudden and violent changes, the servant of today becoming the ruler of tomorrow (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7). All this, it is said, agrees with the glimpses into the condition of the Jews under the Persian empire in Ezra and Nehemiah, and with what we know as to the general condition of the provinces under its satraps. But we cannot suppose that these evils, which have been prevalent in all times, were alluded to as specially characteristic of the writer's day.

6. The fact that Koheleth is represented as indulging in sensual enjoyments, and acquiring riches and fame in order to ascertain what is good for the children of men (Ecclesiastes 2:3-9; Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:22, etc.), making philosophical experiments to discover the summum bonum is held to be at variance with the conduct of the historical Solomon, and to be an idea of a much later period. In like manner, the admonition not to seek divine things in the profane books of the philosophers (Ecclesiastes 12:12) are thought to show that this book was written when the speculation of Greece and Alexandria had found their way into Palestine. In short, the doctrine of a future bar of judgment, whereby Koheleth solves the grand problem of this book, when compared with the vague and dim intimations respecting a. future state in the pre-exilian portions of the O.T., is regarded as proving that it is apost-exilian production. But the untrustworthy character of these arguments is evinced by the parallel case of the book of Job (q.v.). It is also urged that the indications of the religious condition of the people, their formalism and much speaking (Ecclesiastes 5:1-2), their readiness to evade the performance of their Vows by casuistic excuses (Ecclesiastes 5:5), represent in like manner the growth of evils, the germs of which appeared soon after the captivity, and which we find in a fully-developed form in the prophecy of Malachi. In addition to this general resemblance, there is the agreement between the use of הִמִּלְאָךְ for the "angel" or priest of God (Ecclesiastes 5:6, Ewald, in loc.), and the recurrence in Malachi of the terms יְהוַֹה מִלְאָךְ, the "angel" or messenger of the Lord, as a synonym for the priest (Malachi 2:7), the true priest being the great agent in accomplishing God's purposes. Significant, though not conclusive in either direction, is the absence of all reference to any contemporaneous prophetic activity or to any Messianic hopes. This might indicate a time before such hopes had become prevalent, or after they were for a time extinguished. It might, on the other hand, be the natural result of the experience through which the son of David had passed, or fitly take its place in the dramatic personation of such a character. The use throughout the book of Elohim instead of Jehovah as the divine name, though characteristic of the book as dealing with the problems of the universe rather than with the relations between the Lord God of Israel and his people, and therefore striking as an idiosyncrasy, leaves the question as to date nearly where it was. The indications of rising questions as to the end of man's life and the constitution of his nature, of doubts like those which afterwards developed into Sadduceeism (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21), of a copious literature connected with those questions, confirm, it is urged (Ewald), the hypothesis of the later date. It may be added, too, that the absence of any reference to such a work as this in the enumeration of Solomon's writings in 1 Kings 4:32, tends, at least, to the same conclusion. But such considerations drawn a silentio are highly inconclusive.

7. The strongest argument, however, against the Solomonic authorship of this book is its vitiated language and style. It is written throughout with peculiarities of phraseology which developed themselves about the time of the Babylonian captivity. So convincing is this fact, that not only have Grotius, J.D. Michaelis, Eichhorn, Doderlein, Spohn, Jahn, J.E.C. Schmidt, Nachtigal, Kaiser, Rosenmuller, Ewald, Knobel, Gesenius, De Wette, Noyes, Hitzig, Heiligstedt, Davidson, Meier, etc., relinquished the Solomonic authorship, but even such unquestionably orthodox writers as Umbreit, Hengstenberg, Gerlach, Vaihinger, Stuart, Keil, Elster, etc., declare most emphatically that the book was written after the Babylonian captivity; and there is hardly a chief rabbi or a literary Jew to be found who would have the courage to maintain that Solomon wrote Koheleth. Dr. Herzfeld, chief rabbi of Brunswick; Dr. Philippson, chief rabbi of Magdeburg; Dr. Geiger, rabbi of Breslau; Dar. Zunz, Professor Luzzatto, Dr. Krochmal, Steinschneider, Jost, Gratz, Furst, and a host of others, affirm that this book is one of the latest productions in the O.T. canon. We are moreover reminded that these are men to whom the Hebrew is almost vernacular, and that some of them write better Hebrew, and in a purer style, than that of Koheleth. With most readers, however, a single intimation of the text itself will weigh more than the opinion of these or all other learned men. On the other hand, the Rabbinical scholars, who certainly were not inferior in a knowledge of Hebrew, appear to have found no difficulty in attributing this book to Solomon. Most of those above enumerated are of very questionable sentiments on a point like this, and it must be borne in mind that a very large, if not equal, amount of learning has been arrayed on the opposite side. The last of the above objections, however, deserves a more minute consideration.

Many opponents of the Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes have certainly gone much too far in their assertions respecting the impurity of its language. The Graecisms which Zirkle thought that he had found have now generally been given up. The Rabbinisms likewise could not stand the proof. The words, significations, and forms which seem to appertain to a later period of Hebrew literature, and the Chaldaisms, an abundance of which Knobel gathered, require, as Herzfeld has shown (in his Commentary, published at Braunschweig, 1838, page 13 sq.), to be much sifted. According to Herzfeld, there are in Ecclesiastes not more than between eleven and fifteen "young Hebrew" expressions and constructions, and between eight and ten Chaldaisms. Nevertheless, it is certain that the book does not belong to the productions of the first, but rather to the second period of the Hebrew language. This alone would not fully disprove the authorship of Solomon, for it would not necessarily throw the production into the latest period of Hebrew literature. We could suppose that Solomon, in a philosophical work, found the pure Hebrew language to be insufficient, and had, therefore, recourse to the Chaldaizing popular dialect, by which, at a later period, the book-language was entirely displaced. This supposition could not be rejected a priori, since almost every one of the Hebrew authors before the exile did the same, although in a less degree. It has been thought, however, that the striking difference between the language of Ecclesiastes and the language of the Proverbs renders that explanation quite inadmissible. This difference would prove little if the two books belonged to two entirely different classes of literature that is, if Ecclesiastes bore the same relation to the Proverbs as the Song of Solomon does; but since Ecclesiastes and the Proverbs belong essentially to the same class, the argument taken from the difference of style, can only be avoided by attributing it to the effect of greater age in the writer. The occurrence of Chaldee words and forms in any Hebrew document is by no means a certain and invariable indication of lateness of composition. We must be careful to distinguish archaisms, and words and forms peculiar to the poetic style, from Chaldaisms of the later period. Moreover, the Hebrew writings which have been transmitted to us being so few in number, it is of course much more difficult decisively to determine the period to which any of these writings belongs by the peculiar form of language which it presents, than it would have been had there been preserved to us a larger number of documents of different ages to assist us in forming our decision. Still, from the materials within our reach, scanty though they are, we would naturally draw a conclusion as to the age of the book of Ecclesiastes, not altogether certain, indeed, but decidedly unfavorable to an early date; for it needs but a cursory survey of the book to convince us that in language and style it not only differs widely from the other writings of the age of Solomon, but bears a very marked resemblance to the latest books of the Old Testament.

1. One class of words employed by the writer of Ecclesiastes we find rarely employed in the earlier books of Scripture, frequently in the later, i.e., in those written during or after the Babylonish captivity. Thus shalat', שָׁלִט, he ruled (Ecclesiastes 2:19; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 6:2; Ecclesiastes 8:9), is found elsewhere only in Nehemiah and Esther. The derived noun שַׁלְטוֹן, shilton', rule (Ecclesiastes 8:4; Ecclesiastes 8:8), is found only in the Chaldee of Daniel; but שִׁלַּיט, shallit', ruler, appears once in the earlier Scriptures (Genesis 42:6). Under this head may also be mentioned מִלְכוּת, malkuth', kingdom (Ecclesiastes 4:14), rare in the earlier Scriptures, but found above forty times in Esther and Daniel; and מְדַינָה, medinah', province (Ecclesiastes 2:8; Ecclesiastes 5:7), which appears also in Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and likewise in 1 Kings 20:14-19, where "princes of the provinces" are mentioned among the officers of king Ahab, but in none of the earlier Scriptures.

2. A second class includes those words which are never found in any Hebrew writing of earlier date than the Babylonian captivity, but are found in the later books: as זְמָן, zesnan', set time (Ecclesiastes 3:1) = מֹועֵד, which we meet with in Hebrew only in Nehemiah 2:6 and Esther 9:27; Esther 9:31, but in the biblical Chaldee and in the Targums frequently; פַּתְגָּם, pithyam', sentence (Ecclesiastes 8:11), which appears in Hebrew only in Esther 1:20, but in Chaldee frequently. (If this word be, as is commonly supposed, of Persian origin, its appearance only in the later Jewish writings is at once accounted for. See Rediger's Additions to Gesenius' Thesaurus.) מִדָּע madda' (Ecclesiastes 10:20), a derivative of יָדִע, to know, found only in 2 Chronicles and Daniel, and also in Chaldee; and the particles אַלּוּ illu', if (Ecclesiastes 6:6), and בְּכֵן beken', then, so (Ecclesiastes 8:10), found in no earlier Hebrew book than Esther. From this enumeration it appears that the book of Ecclesiastes resembles the book of Esther in some of the most distinctive peculiarities of its language.

3. A third class embraces those words which are not found even in the Hebrew writings of the latest period, but only in the Chaldee of Daniel and Ezra, or in the Targums, as יַתְרוֹן yithron', profit, which is used nine times in Ecclesiastes, never in any other scriptural writing, but frequently in the Targums, under the slightly modified form yuthran; so also כְּבָר kebar', already, long ago, which recurs eight times in this book; תָּקִן, takan' (Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 7:13; Ecclesiastes 12:9), found also in Chaldee (Daniel 4:33, etc.); רְעוּת reuth', desire, recurring five times, and also in the Chaldee portions of Ezra; רִעְיוֹן (Ecclesiastes 1:17, etc.), עַנְיָן (Ecclesiastes 1:13, etc.), גּוּמָוֹ (Ecclesiastes 10:8).

4. Other peculiarities, such as the frequent use of the participle, the rare appearance of the "vav consecutive," the various uses of the relative particle, concur with the characteristics already noted in affixing to the language and style of this book the stamp of that transition period when the Hebrew language, soon about to give place to the Chaldee, had already lost its ancient purity, and become debased by the absorption of many Chaldee elements. The prevalence of abstract forms again, characteristic of the language of Ecclesiastes, is urged as belonging to a later period than that of Solomon in the development of Hebrew thought and language. The answers given to these objections by the defenders of the received belief are (Preston, Ecclesiastes page 7),

(a) that many of what we call Aramaic or Chaldee forms may have belonged to the period of pure Hebrew, though they have not come down to us in any extant writings; and

(b) that so far as they are foreign to the Hebrew of the time of Solomon, he may have learned them from his "strange wives," or from the men who came as ambassadors from other countries. (See Davidson, Horne's Introd. new ed. 2:787).

As to the date of Ecclesiastes, these arguments of recent criticism are stronger against the traditional belief than in support of any rival theory, and the advocates of that belief might almost be content to rest their case upon the discordant hypotheses of their opponents. On the assumption that the book belongs, not to the time of Solomon, but to the period subsequent to the captivity, the dates which have been assigned to it occupy a range of more than 300 years. Grotius supposes Zerubbabel to be referred to in Ecclesiastes 12:11, as the "One Shepherd" (Comm. in Ecclesiastes in loc.), and so far agrees with Keil (Einleitung in das A.T.). who fixes it in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ewald and De Wette conjecture the close of the period of Persian or the commencement of that of Macedonian rule; Bertholdt, the period between Alexander the Great and Antiochus Epiphanes; Hitzig, circ. B.C. 204; Hartmann, the time of the Maccabees, etc. The following table will show the different periods to which it has been assigned:

(B.C.) Nachtigal, between Solomon and Jeremiah 975-588 Schmidt, Jahn, etc., between Manasseh and Zedekiah 699-588 Grotius, Kaiser, Eichhorn, etc., shortly after the exile 536-500 Umbreit, the Persian period 538-333 Van der Hardt, in the reign of Xerxes II and Darius 464-404 Rosenmuller, between Nehemiah and Alexander the Great 450-333 Hengstenberg, Stuart, Keil 433 Ewald, a century before Alexander the Great 430 Gerlach, about the year 400 De Wette, Nobel, etc., at the end of the Persian and the beginning of the Macedonian period 350-300 Bergst, during Alexander's sojourn in Palestine 333 Bertholdt, between Alexander and Ant. Epiphanes 333-164 Zirkel, the Syrian period 312-164 Hitzig, about the year 204 Supposing it were proved that Solomon is only introduced as the speaker, the question arises why the another adopted this form. The usual reply is, that Solomon, among the Israelites, had, as it were, the prerogative of wisdom, and hence the author was induced to put into Solomon's mouth that wisdom which he intended to proclaim, without the slightest intention of forging a supposititious volume. This reply contains some truth, but it does not exhaust the matter. The chief object of the author was to communicate wisdom in general; but next to this, as appears from Ecclesiastes 1:12 sq., he intended to inculcate the vanity of human pursuits. Now, from the mouth of no one could more aptly proceed the proclamation of the nothingness of all earthly things than from the mouth of Solomon, who had possessed them in all their fullness; at whose command were wisdom, riches, and pleasures in abundance, and who had therefore full opportunity to experience the nothingness of all that is earthly. On the other hand, if we adopt the traditional view that Solomon was the author, we avoid all these doubtful expedients and pious frauds; and, as no other candidate appears, we shall be safest in coinciding with that ancient opinion. The peculiarities of diction may be explained (as in the book of Job) by supposing that the work was written by Solomon during a season of penitence at the close of his life, and edited in its present form, at a later period, perhaps by Ezra.

III. Canonicity. The earliest catalogues which the Jews have transmitted to us of their sacred writings give this book as forming part of the canon (Mishna, Yadaim, 3:5; Talmud, Baba Bathra, 14). All the ancient versions, therefore viz. the Septuagint, which was made before the Christian aera; the versions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, which belong to the second century of Christianity, as well as the catalogue of Melito, bishop of Sardis (fl. A.D. 170) include Ecclesiastes. Some singular passages in the Talmud indicate, however, that the recognition was not altogether unhesitating, and that it was at least questioned how far the book was one which it was expedient to place among the Scriptures that were read publicly. Thus we find the statements (Mishna, Shabbath, c.x, quoted by Mendelssohn in Preston, page 74; Midrash, fol. 114 a; Preston, page 13) that "the wise men sought to secrete the book Koheleth, because they found in it words tending to heresy," and " words contradictory to each other;" that the reason they did not secrete it was "because its beginning and end were consistent with the law;" that when they examined it more carefully they came to the conclusion, "We have looked closely into the book Koheleth, and discovered a meaning in it." The chief interest of such passages is of course connected with the inquiry into the plan and teaching of the book, but they ate of some importance also as indicating that it must have commended itself to the teachers of an earlier generation either on account of the external authority by which it was sanctioned, or because they had a clearer insight into its meaning, and were less startled by its apparent difficulties. (See Bab. Megilla, 7, a; Bab. Talm. Sabbath, 30, a; Midrash, Vayikra Rabba, 28; Mishna, Edayoth, Ecclesiastes 1:3; Jerome, Comment. 12:13.) Traces of this controversy are to be found in a singular discussion between the schools of Shammai and Hillel, turning on the question whether the book Koheleth were inspired, and in the comments on that question by R. Ob. de Bartenora and Maimonides (Surenhus. 4:349).

Within the Christian Church, the divine inspiration of Ecclesiastes, the Proverbs, and the Song of Solomon was denied by Theodorus of Mopsuestia. In recent times, the accusers of Ecclesiastes have been Augusti, De Wette, and Knobel; but their accusations are based on mere misunderstandings. They are especially as follows:

1. The author is said to incline towards a moral epicurism. All his ethical admonitions and doctrines tend to promote the comforts and enjoyments' of life. But let us consider above all what tendency and disposition it is to which the author addresses his admonition, serenely and contentedly to enjoy God's gifts. He addresses this admonition to that speculation which will not rest before it has penetrated the: whole depth of the inscrutable councils of God; to that murmuring which bewails the badness of times, and quarrels with God about the sufferings of our terrene existence; to that gloomy piety which wearies itself in imaginary good works and external strictness, with a view to wrest salvation from God; to that avarice which gathers, not knowing for whom; making the means of existence our highest aim; building upon an uncertain futurity which is in the hand of God alone. When the author addresses levity he speaks: quite otherwise. For instance, in Ecclesiastes 7:2; Ecclesiastes 7:4, " It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting; for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise man is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth." The nature of the joy recommended by the author is also misunderstood. Unrestrained merriment and giddy sensuality belong to those vanities which our author enumerates. He says to laughter, Thou art mad, and to joy, What art thou doing? He says, Ecclesiastes 7:5-6, "It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools.' For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of a fool; this also is vanity." That joy which he recommends is joy in God. It is not the opposite, but the fruit of the fear of God. How inseparable these are is shown in passages like Ecclesiastes 5:6; Ecclesiastes 7:18; Ecclesiastes 3:12 : "I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life," and in many similar passages, but especially Ecclesiastes 11:9-10; Ecclesiastes 12:1, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth," etc. In reference to these passages Ewald says (page 186), "Finally, in order to remove every doubt, and to speak with perfect clearness, he directs us to the eternal judgment of God, concerning all the doings of man, and inculcates that man, in the midst of momentary enjoyment, should never forget the whole futurity, the account and the consequences of his doings, the Creator and the Judge." Ewald adds (page 227), in reference to the conclusion, " In order to obviate every possible misunderstanding of this writing, there is, Ecclesiastes 12:13, once more briefly indicated that its tendency is not, by the condemnation of murmuring, to recommend an unbridled life, but rather to teach, in harmony with the best old books, the fear of God, in which the whole man consists, or that true singleness of life, satisfying the whole man, and which comprehends everything else that is truly human. It is very necessary to limit the principle of joy which this book recommends again and again in various ways and in the most impressive manner, and to refer this joy to a still higher truth, since it is so liable to be misunderstood.

2. It is objected that in his views concerning the government of the world the author was strongly inclined to fatalism, according to which everything in this world progresses with an eternally unchangeable step; and that he by this fatalism was

3. misled into a moral skepticism, having attained on his dogmatical basis the conviction of the inability of man, notwithstanding all his efforts, to reach his aim. However, this so-called fatalism of our author is nothing else but what our Lord teaches (Matthew 6:25): 'Take no thought,' etc. And as to the moral skepticism, our author certainly inculcates that man with all his endeavors can do nothing; but at the same time he recommends the fear of God as the never-failing means of salvation. Man in himself can do nothing, but in God he can do all. It is quite clear from Ecclesiastes 7:16; Ecclesiastes 7:18, where both self-righteousness and wisdom, when separated from God, are described as equally destructive, and opposite to them is placed the fear of God, as being their common antithesis, that our author, by pointing to the sovereignty of God, did not mean to undermine morality: 'He that feareth God comes out from them all.' If our author were given to moral skepticism, it would be impossible for him to teach retribution, which he inculcates in numerous passages, and which are not contradicted by others, in which he says that the retribution in individual circumstances is frequently obscure and enigmatical. Where is that advocate for retribution who is not compelled to confess this as well as our author?

4. This book has given offense also, by Ecclesiastes 3:21, and similar passages, concerning immortality. But the assertion that there is expressed here some doubt concerning the immortality of the soul is based on a wrong grammatical perception. The ה cannot, according to its punctuation, be the interrogative, but must be the article, and our author elsewhere asserts positively hiss belief in the doctrine of immortality (Ecclesiastes 12:7). How it happens that he did not give to this doctrine a prevailing influence upon his mode of treating his subject has lately been investigated by Heyder, in his essay entitled Ecclesiastae de imortalitate Animi Sententia (Erlangen, 1838)." (See Dr. Nordheimer, on The Philosophy of Ecclesiastes, in the Amer. Bib. Repos. July, 1838.)

IV. Plan and Contents. The book of Ecclesiastes comes before us as being conspicuously, among the writings of the O.T., the great stumbling- block of commentators. Elsewhere there are different opinions as to the meaning of different passages. Here there is the widest possible divergence as to the plan and purpose of the whole book. The passages already quoted from the Mishna show that some, at least, of the Rabbinical writers were perplexed by its teaching did not know what to make of it but gave way to the authority of men more discerning than themselves. The traditional statement, however, that this was among the Scriptures which were not read by any one under the age of thirty (Crit. Sac. Amama in Eccles., but with a "nescio ubi" as to his authority), indicates the continuance of the old difficulty, and the remarks of Jerome (Praef. in Eccles., Comm. in Ecclesiastes 12:13) show that it was not forgotten. Little can be gathered from the series of Patristic interpreters. The book is comparatively seldom quoted by them. No attempt is made to master its plan and to enter into the spirit of its writer. The charge brought by Philastrius of Brescia (circ. A.D. 380) against some heretics who rejected it as teaching a false morality, shows that the, obscurity which had been a stumbling-block to Jewish teachers was not removed for Christians. The fact that Theodore of Mopsuestia was accused at the fifth general council of calling in question the authority and inspiration of this book, as well as of the Canticles, indicates that in this respect, as in others, he was the precursor of the spirit of modern criticism. But, with these exceptions, there are no traces that men's minds were drawn to examine the teachings of this book. When, however, we descend to the more recent developments of criticism, we meet with an almost incredible divergence of opinion. Luther, with his broad, clear insight into the workings of a man's heart sees in it (Praef. in Eccle.) a noble "Politica vel OEconomica," leading men in the midst of all the troubles' and disorders of human society to a true endurance and reasonable enjoyment. Grotius (Praef. in Eccles.) gives up the attempt to trace in it a plan or order of thought, and finds in it only a collection of many maxims, connected more or less closely with the great problems of human life, analogous to the discussion of the different definitions of happiness at the opening of the Nicomachean Ethics. Some (of whom Warburton may be taken as the type, Works, 4:154) have seen in the language of Ecclesiastes 2:18-21, a proof that the belief in the immortality of the soul was no part of the transmitted creed of Israel. Others (Patrick, Des Voeux, Davidson, Mendelssohn) contend that the special purpose of the book was to assert that truth against the denial of a sensual skepticism. Others, the later Germans critics, of whom Ewald may be taken as the highest and best type, reject these views as partial and one- sided; and, while admitting that the book contains the germs of later systems, both Pharisaic and Sadducaean, assert that the object of the writer was to point out the secret of a true blessedness, in the midst of all the distractions and sorrows of the world, as consisting in a tranquil, calm enjoyment of the good that comes from God (Poet. Buch. 4:180).

The variety of these opinions indicates sufficiently that the book is as far removed as possible from the character of a formal treatise. It is simply what it professes to be the confession of a man of wide experience looking back upon his past life, and looking out upon the disorders and calamities which surround him. Such a man does not set forth his premises and conclusions with a logical completeness. While it may be true that the absence of a formal arrangement is characteristic of the Hebrew mind in all stages of its development (Lowth, De Sac. Poet. Heb. Proel. 24), or that it was the special mark of the declining literature of the period that followed the captivity (Ewald, Poet. Buch. 4:177), it is also true that it belongs generally to all writings that are addressed to the spiritual rather than the intellectual element in man's nature, and that it is found accordingly in many of the greatest works that have influenced the spiritual life of mankind. In proportion as a man has passed out of the region of traditional, easily-systematized knowledge, and has lived under the influence of great thoughts possessed by them, yet hardly mastering them so as to bring them under a scientific classification are we likely to find this apparent want of method. The true utterances of such a man are the records of his struggles after truth, of his occasional glimpses of it, of his ultimate discovery. The treatise De imitatione Christi, the Pensees of Pascal, Augustine's Confessions, widely as they differ in other points, have this feature in common. If the writer consciously reproduces the stages through which he has passed, the form he adopts may either be essentially dramatic, or it may record a statement of the changes which have brought him to his present state, or it may repeat and renew the oscillations from one extreme to another which had marked that earlier experience. The writer of Ecclesiastes has adopted and interwoven both the latter methods, and hence, in part, the obscurity which has made it so pre-eminently the stumbling-block of commentators. He is not a didactic moralist writing a homily on virtue. He is not a prophet delivering a message from the Lord of Hosts to a sinful people. He is a man who has sinned in giving way to selfishness and sensuality, who has paid the penalty of that sin in satiety and weariness of life; in Whom the mood of spirit, over-reflective, indisposed to action, of which Shakespeare has given us in Hamlet, Jacques, Richard II, three distinct examples, has become dominant in its darkest form, but who has through all this been under the discipline of a divine education, and has learnt from it the lesson which God meant to teach him. What that lesson was will be seen from an examination of the book itself.

Leaving it an open question whether it is possible to arrange the contents of this book (as Koster and Vaihinger have done) in a carefully balanced series of strophes and antistrophes, it is tolerably clear that the recurring burden of "Vanity of vanities" and the teaching which recommends a life of calm enjoyment, mark, whenever they occur, a kind of halting-place in the succession of thoughts. It is the summing up of one cycle of experience; the sentence passed upon one phase of life. Taking this, accordingly, as our guide, we may look upon the whole book as falling into four divisions, each, to a certain extent, running parallel with the others in its order and results, and closing with that which, in its position no less than its substance, is "the conclusion of the whole matter."

1. Ecclesiastes 1:1-18; Ecclesiastes 2:1-26. This portion of the book, more than any other, has the character of a personal confession; The Preacher starts with reproducing the phase of despair and weariness into which his experience had led him (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3). To the man who is thus satiated with life, the order and regularity of nature are oppressive (Ecclesiastes 1:4-7); nor is he led, as in the 90th Psalm, from the things that are transitory to the thought of One whose years are from eternity. In the midst of the ever- recurring changes he finds no progress. That which seems to be new is but the repetition of the old (Ecclesiastes 1:8-11). Then, having laid bare the depth to which he had fallen, he retraces the path by which he had traveled thitherward. First he had sought after wisdom as that to which God seemed to call him (Ecclesiastes 1:13) but the pursuit of it was a sore travail, and there was no satisfaction in its possession. It could not remedy the least real evil, nor make the crooked straight (

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ecclesiastes'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

Search for…
Enter query in the box below:
Choose a letter to browse: