Ecclesiastes, Book of
Ecclesiastes, Book Of A somewhat fuller discussion of the points relating to the authorship of this composition is appropriate, in view of the confident assertion of many critics, especially in Germany, that the contents forbid its ascription to Solomon. We might fairly offset these opinions of modern scholars by that of the ancient Hebraists, certainly in nowise their inferiors, who seem to have found no such difficulty even in the linguistic peculiarities of the book as to require a later than the Solomonic age for its production. The direct evidence of the writer himself, in the opening verse, has not been fairly treated by these rationalizing critics, for while most of them are compelled to admit that "the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem," can only point to Solotnon, they yet evade the argument as if this were merely a none de plume; and Plumptre (Cambridge Bible, introd. ad loc.) does not hesitate to compare this with the pious fraud in the apocryphal book of "The Wisdom of Solomon." The attempt to justify this pseudonym by the modern practice of fictitious authorship will apply very well so far as the assumption of the fancy title Koheleth is concerned, but is a total failure as to the more definite addition "son of David, king in Jerusalem;" for such a precise and misleading designation is unprecedented in the history of trustworthy literature. The book is either Solomon's or a forgery.
The anonymous author of The Authorship of Ecclesiastes (Lond. 1880, 8vo) has nearly exhausted the arguments in favor of the Solomonic date, as derived from a comparison of Solomon's other writings, and he extends the inquiry into the minutiae of style and phraseology with a thoroughness that ought to shake the confidence of the holders of the opposite view. As to alleged Aramaisms in Ecclesiastes, there are certainly none more decided than appear in Deborah's ode (Judges 5; pure Chaldaism ירִד, verse 13; בִּר, Ps 2:12).
Delitzsch, in his Commentary on this book (Clark's translation, Edinb. 1877, page 190 sq.) has collected a formidable list of the Hapaxlegomena, and of the Words and Forms in the Book of Koheleth belonging to a more recent Period of the Language" than Solomon; and this has been pointed to by later critics generally as conclusive against the Solomonic authorship. The writer of the above monograph justly remarks (page 32), "A cursory glance at the list, however, seems sufficient to shake one's confidence in it; and if it be faithfully scrutinized, it shrinks down to almost nothing." Accordingly he examines several of these words, as specimens, and shows conclusively that they do not sustain the position. It is worth our while to analyze this "list," and we shall see what a slender basis it affords for the conclusion based upon it. There are ninety-five of these words enumerated by Delitzsch, of which, by his own showing, fifteen (besides one which he has overlooked) are found, in the same form and sense, more or less frequently, in writings of the early or middle Hebrew (Moses to Isaiah), and may therefore be set aside as wholly irrelevant. Of the rest, twenty-six words occur elsewhere only in the Talmudic writers or the Targums, in the same form and sense, and therefore, if they prove anything, prove entirely too much, for they would argue a rabbinical date, which we know is impossible, since the Sept. translation of Ecclesiastes, now extant, carries the original up to the time of the Ptolemies at least. Still further we may reduce the list by excluding nineteen words which appear in substantially the same or some closely cognate form in confessedly earlier writers, and thirteen others which are. used by them in a slightly different sense. Deducting all these immaterial peculiarities, there remain only twenty-one words, or less than one fourth in the list, that are really pertinent to the question. Of these, again, eleven are found in this book only (strictly hapaxlegomena), and therefore determine nothing as to its age, being such forms as, for aught we know, might have been employed by any writer., Once more, we ought in fairness to exclude certain particles and dubious forms (ראוּת, רעוּת, אַלּוּ, בּכֵן),which .are vague and inconclusive. The actual residuum available thus dwindles down to six words only, namely, בָּטִל (12:3), זמָן (3:1), כָּשֵׁר (10:10; 11:6), פֵּשֶׁר (8:1), פַּתגָּם (ibid.) and, רִעיוֹן (1:17; 2:22; 4:16), which is no greater number than can be pointed out in Job and some other pre-exilian books. None of these half-dozen words is sufficiently distinctive in known origin and history to determine the date of the writing. The evidence is too negative. They are not like some modern terms, which we can trace to a specific source and occasion when they were first coined or introduced. The cognate dialects exhibit all of them in the same or similar signification, and of most of them (perhaps even the last two are no exceptions) the Hebrew itself has the root in no very remote sense. They are neither foreign nor technical terms. The same line of argument is applicableto the peculiar inflections and constructions adduced by Delitzsch in the same connection. They have been greatly exaggerated in relative mumber and importance. That the book of Ecclesiastes is singular in many ofits forms and phrases no one can doubt, but that these peculiarities are such as specially belong to the later Hebrew has not been made out. We have several books written in the post-exilian period, but Koheleth does not wear their impress, either in general or in particular. The only other book in the canonical Hebrew Scriptures analogous to it in teaching is Proverbs, and we have nothing in apocryphal Jewish literature that compares.with it, except perhaps The Wisdom of Solomon, which is only extant in Greek (being apparently the original), and was evidently modelled after Koheleth That Solomon was a perfectly classical writer is not to be assumed, either from his aera or what else we know of him. The effort to express philosophical ideas in the inadequate Shemitic tongue may well explain many of the harsh terms and strange constructions of Ecclesiastes. Certainly we gain nothing by attributing the book to some unknown writer of some indefinite age, concerning whom nothing can be proved or disproved. Subjective arguments on a question of authorship are of the most deceptive character, as the well-known attempt to determine who wrote The Letters of Junius has proved. One good historical statement, whether made in the writing itself or by traditionary testimony, outweighs all such speculative and conjectural dicta. Until some candidate better accredited than Solomon shall be brought forward, in deserting him we shall be forsaking the substance for a shadow.