Book of Ecclesiastes

I. Title:

       The title of the book comes from the the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. The word "Ecclesiastes" is an attempt to translate the Hebrew Qohelet on the analogy of the rendering of qahal, "congregation", by the Greek word ekklesia, "assembly, church." The ekklesiastes is then understood as the leader or speaker of an assembly.

II. Author:

       A. Arguments Against Solomonic Authorship:

1. The words "I the preacher was king over Israel" (1:12), seeming to indicate that his reign was in the past, could not have been written by Solomon, who never ceased to be king as long as he was alive.
2. It seems odd that a book purportedly coming from the son of David should omit the divine name Yahweh which appears commonly in the books of Psalms and Proverbs. It also seems odd that there should be no mention of the history of Israel, Solomon's work in building the Temple, or his palaces and gardens.
3. If written during Solomon's old age it seems puzzling that he merely sighs over the emptiness of life instead of repenting of his apostacy.
4. As merely the second king of his dynasty, it seems odd that he should speak of "all that had been before him" as if there had been a bunch.
5. The book describes the disorder and corruption of the government (4:1, 5:8, 8:9, 10:5). This seems unexpected, since if such evils existed, then Solomon was responsible for them.
6. The book seems to present striking parallels with the language of Malachi, which is generally dated to a time after the Babylonian Captivity, perhaps as late as 390 BC.
7. The book seems to contain allusions to events in the history of Persia. Some think it may even refer to the history of Egypt under the Ptolomies (4:13, 5:8, 9:14, 10:7, 16, 17, 20)
8. Some scholars see the germs of three tendencies which later developed in Judaism: Pharisaism, Sadducaism, and the asceticism of the Essenes (3:19-21, 7:1-6, 16).
9. Several passages seem to betray a writer influenced by Greek philosophy and literature ( 1:3-11, 2:24, 3:20, 5:18, 6:6, 12:11-12).

       B. Arguments In Favor of Solomonic Authorship

1. The book identifies itself as having been written by Solomon. "I am a teacher, I was king over Israel in Jerusalem." (1:12). Only David, Solomon, and for a very short time, Rehoboam would have been able to make such a statement, that he was king over Israel, in Jerusalem. After Jeroboam's rebellion, the king in Jerusalem was only the king of Judah. Israel had its own kings.
2. Hebrew does not have past, present or future tenses, only completed or uncompleted aspects. It would not necessarily be inappropriate to use completed aspect "I was".
3. The nature of the book and the perspective from which the author is writing would make the use of the divine name inappropriate, since he is seeking to discover knowledge of God appart from his revelation to the nation of Israel. Hense also, the lack of mention of the temple, Moses, or Israel's history.
4. Likewise, the fact he is not repenting for apostacy is because he is still aposticised, unable to find God or know what God wants, since he has purposely turned his back on divine revelation (see 1:13-14)
5. The similarities to Greek philosophy and literature are more simply explained by a general similarity in topics than any conscious borrowing. The differences in perspective between Ecclesiastes and Greek thought are far more profound and obvious than the supposed points of confluence.
6. Certainly it is to be expected that the Pharisees, Saducees and Essenes would have been influenced by Ecclesiastes; but they were also influenced by the rest of the Old Testament. We are dealing with Jewish people, after all. Such influence is no proof of a late, non-Solomonic authorship.
7. Supposed historical allusions are weak evidence at best, since they rely on the assumption that the book is late and are never explicit. Other possibilities are available.
8. The language used by Ecclesiastes is not the best evidence for late authorship since the Masoretes have obscured whatever historical development might have at one time existed in the Hebrew of the Bible. They regularized and standardized usage, so that few differences exist between so-called "early" and "late" books.
9. David had no problem repenting of his role with Bathsheba, and modern politicians are often quite forward in admitting errors of judgement in their memoirs. Why should it surprise us to find Solomon able to admit that his administration is not doing well -- especially considering the depressive nature of the book. Depressed people will tend to exagerate the bad at the espense of the good. His discouragement at conditions are consistent with the tenor of the book as a whole.

III. Ecclesiastes Outline

I. Introduction 1:1-11
A. Prologue 1:1-2
B. Nothing New 1:3-11

II. Experiments 1:12-2:26
A. Wisdom 1:12-18
B. Expansion of the Search for Meaning 2:1-16
C. Conclusion of the Experiments 2:17-26

III. A Time for Everything 3:1-12:8
A. Times and Seasons 3:1-6:6
1. Introduction 3:1-9
2. The Burden on Men 3:10-12
3. Oppression 4:1-3
4. Labor 4:4-6
5. Alone 4:7-12
6. Parable 4:13-16
7. Sacrifice of Fools 5:1-7
8. Wealth 5:8-6:6
a. Corruption 5:8-12
b. Wealth and Its Owner 5:13-15
c. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry 5:16-20
d. Inability to Enjoy Wealth 6:1-6

B. Summary 6:7-12
C. Times and Seasons, Part 2 7:1-12:8
1. Sorrow vs. Laughter 7:1-7
2. The End is Better 7:8-10
3. Wisdom is Good, But... 7:11-14
4. Morality is Useless 7:15-22
5. Wisdom is Unattainable 7:23-8:1
6. The Proper Time 8:2-8
7. Inability to Understand 8:9-17
8. Common Destiny for All 9:1-12
9. Wisdom is Better Than Folly 9:13-10:1
10. God's Work is Beyond Understanding 10:2-11:6
11. A Rising Crescendo of Despair 11:7-12:8

IV. Conclusion 12:9-14

Questions on Ecclesiastes

1. Who is the author of Ecclesiastes? Give evidence to support your position.
2. What is your understanding of Ecclesiastes 7:15-18?
3. What view of God does the author of Ecclesiastes have?
4. What explanation for the meaning of human existence does the author of Ecclesiastes give?
5. Interpret Ecclesiastes 12:1-5.
6. Is it difficult to harmonize the ideas in Ecclesiastes with the rest of Scripture? Why or why not?