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Ecc, authorship

The author of Ecclesiastes is often assumed to be Solomon (Ecc 1:1,12), who was widely known for his wisdom -- in fact, the man to whom God gave wisdom far above all that were before him (1Ki 4:29,30,34; 10:1-5).

Of Solomon as the author, Henry wrote: "His fall is a proof of the weakness of man's nature: Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, nor say, 'I shall never be such a fool as to do so and so,' when Solomon himself, the wisest of men, played the fool so egregiously; nor let the rich man glory in his riches, since Solomon's wealth was so great a snare to him, and did him a great deal more hurt than Job's poverty did him."

But there may be difficulties in the way of Solomon being the author -- for example, in Ecc 1:16, the writer speaks of those -- plural -- "who have ruled Jerusalem before me" (cp Ecc 2:7,9), in a way that would seem to suggest a line of Jewish kings. If Solomon were the author, then there would be only one Jewish king in Jerusalem before him -- his father David. (Of course, it is possible that, if Solomon spoke or wrote these words, he in fact had in mind Melchizedek and his line -- and was comparing himself with the like of these.)

A further weakness of the Solomonic authorship is "the need to import into the life of Solomon that for which there is no vestige of evidence, namely, a sensational repentance in the closing years of his life" (HAW, Tes 30:226). Was it true, however, that -- even in old age -- "[Solomon's] wisdom stayed with [him]" (Ecc 2:9)? Nothing else in the Bible gives credence to this... unless, of course, it is Ecclesiastes itself.

It should be emphasized that, while there may be difficulties in the way of Solomon's authorship of Ecclesiastes, the above should not be seen as conclusively against such an idea.

However, since the author of the Book is not specifically named, other possibilities besides Solomon might also be considered.


This is suggested by HA Whittaker (Tes 30:226-229; also in WBS 217,218). "How appropriate that the one who thought to appoint himself as the promised priest-king Messiah [referring to Uzziah's attempt to offer incense in the Temple: Psa 110; Gen 14:18; Zec 6:12,13] should live to write his own disillusioned commentary on the failure of the man who makes flesh his arm" (p 229).

Notice the implication of "was" in "I WAS king" (Ecc 1:12): Uzziah's leprosy had caused him to forfeit the throne, and then live out his remaining years in quarantine as a leper, while remembering past glories.

[There is, perhaps, a poignancy in the "I WAS king in Jerusalem" too for this reason: Uzziah had in a sense occupied the same throne as the illustrious, and somewhat mysterious, Melchizedek, king of Salem. And it was in a misguided attempt to appropriate to himself all the rights and privileges of this predecessor (in effect, to become the promised "priest after the order of Melchizedek)         that he had overstepped his prerogatives and had been ousted from his throne of power.]

This same feature -- of a king "retired" from his throne -- is suggested in Ecc 4:1: "I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun: I saw the tears of the oppressed -- and they have no comforter; power was on the side of their oppressors -- and they have no comforter." How could a reigning king see such abuses in his kingdom and lament the fact, and then do nothing about it? But if, like Uzziah, he was without power at the time, such an observation makes sense (cp Ecc 2:18,19; 3:16, from which the same point may be deduced).

So perhaps "it was during those long weary and bitter days of solitary confinement and suffering that [Uzziah] wrote these impressions of the vanity of life and of the futility of all human endeavour and achievement" (HAW, p 227).

Other points in favor of Uzziah's authorship:

  1. His great material achievements (see 2Ch 26 in detail -- "towers... wells... cattle... husbandmen... vine dressers" (2Ch 26:10)         -- answer to the description of Ecc 2:4-10.
  2. Also cp Ecc 7:29 with 2Ch 26:15. The "schemes" (NIV)         or "inventions" (AV)         is the same word that occurs 3 times, in various forms, in 2Ch 26:15, where Uzziah is said to have made "engines, invented by cunning men" (or "engines engineered by the ingenious"!).
  3. Ecc 4:13-15 could be a thinly veiled outline of the life of Uzziah himself (see the notes there).
  4. Likewise, Ecc 5:1 could be Uzziah's reference to his proud attempt to assume the priestly function, which led to his being afflicted with leprosy and losing his throne.
  5. Uzziah lived past his kingship, seeing others enjoying his wealth and power (Ecc 6:2).

NP Lunn suggests that the author, or compiler, of Ecclesiastes was Hezekiah (BS 15:16-18), for various reasons:

  1. Elsewhere he is said to have collected the proverbs of Solomon (Pro 25:1). "Qoheleth" (translated "Teacher" and "Preacher")         can also mean "collector", ie "one who assembles" (BDB). This assembling, or compiling, of wisdom from others seems to be described in Ecc 12:9-11.
  2. The author has a marked preoccupation with death (cp, for example Ecc 8:8 with 2Ki 20:1-3, and Ecc 9:5 with Isa 38:18).
  3. Hezekiah wrote other scriptures (eg, Isa 38:9-20).
  4. Hezekiah was responsible for great building projects (cp Ecc 2:4 with 2Ch 32:5,27-29)         and even vineyards (cp Ecc 2:4 with 2Ki 19:29).
  5. Hezekiah's tunnel and pool were quite notable (2Ki 20:20; cp Ecc 2:6).
  6. Hezekiah, like Qoheleth, had great wealth (cp 2Ch 32:29; 30:24 with Ecc 2:7). Gold and silver and other treasures are listed among the possessions of Hezekiah (2Ki 20:13; 2Ch 32:27). The "treasure of kings and provinces" could also refer to the "gifts" brought to Hezekiah by Gentile kings, after the great defeat of Sennacherib (2Ch 32:23).
  7. The siege of a city by a great king (Ecc 9:14)         points strongly toward Jerusalem in the days of Sennacherib's invasion.
  8. "Men and women singers" (Ecc 2:8)         were also organized by Hezekiah, and used presumably in the temple worship (see 2Ch 29:28).
  9. Hezekiah's greatness (2Ch 32:23)         may be alluded to in Ecc 2:9.
  10. Qoheleth imparted wisdom to the people (Ecc 12:9), as did Hezekiah, through the Levites (2Ch 30:22,27).
  11. Hezekiah's reign is compared with Solomon's in 2Ch 30:26.
  12. Solomon was given wisdom by God (1Ki 3:12; 5:12), but Qoheleth pursued wisdom on his own (Ecc 1:13; 7:25; 12:9,10)         (BS 15:16-18).
  13. Qoheleth commanded his listeners to "fear God, and keep His commandments" (Ecc 12:13). Of all the kings of Israel after David, this work is attributed only to Hezekiah (2Ki 18:5,6). By contrast, Solomon failed in this very respect (1Ki 11:31-33).
  14. It was prophesied that Hezekiah's wealth would ultimately go to strangers, in the king of Babylon, in 2Ki 20:17. This may be compared with Ecc 6:2.
The bitter disillusionment apparent in Ecclesiastes might accord better with the last days of the fifteen-year extension of life allotted to Hezekiah, after his error with the Babylonians and the LORD's rebuke. Hezekiah was a man waiting to pass off the scene -- knowing that a horror storm was churning its way toward his descendants, according to the word of the LORD. Yes, truly, it was all "vanity" and "meaningless".

Composite authorship?

The Jewish Talmud (the authoritative body of Jewish tradition comprising the Mishnah and Gemara)         attributes the book to Solomon but suggests that Hezekiah's scribes may have edited the text (cp Pro 25:1). Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes has been the majority opinion, although some scholars, along with the Talmud, believe the work was later edited during the time of Hezekiah or possibly Ezra.

And so another possibility may be put forward, if only tentatively. We know that Hezekiah acted as a compiler (and editor?)         of other writings of his forefathers. Therefore, the book we know as "Ecclesiastes" might be a compilation of the "wisdom" learned and committed to writing (or even passed along orally)         by Solomon, Uzziah, and Hezekiah alike -- and put in the form that we now have by the latest of these "sons of David", who were all "kings in Jerusalem" (cp Ecc 1:2). In this scenario, then, the use of the title "Qoheleth", the "Teacher" or "Preacher" (or even the "Compiler"!)         may have been a sort of literary device to keep the authors in the background, whilst putting forward their Holy Spirit-guided observations on the human condition.

It need scarcely be mentioned that some other books of the Bible have this sort of composite authorship:

  1. Psalms were composed by many hands;
  2. Proverbs has words of Agur and Lemuel as well as Solomon;
  3. At least some parts of the five books of Moses could not have been composed by him;
  4. The books that bear Samuel's name could have been written by him only in small part.
The reader of Ecclesiastes ought, then, to be on the alert for clues and hints that might point to one or another of these three kings (were there others besides?)         as having each -- under divine inspiration -- contributed his part to the whole of the book.

An authorship "outline"

The flow and development of the whole book -- and some idea as to the author or authors -- might be seen from the following outline. Bear in mind that this is in no way intended to be conclusive, but to suggest certain possibilities:

Ecc 1:

Vv 1,2: The title and theme statement would have come from the Compiler (Hezekiah?).

Vv 3-11: A general observation on the sameness, weariness, and vanity of life on earth could have easily come from Solomon.

V 12: "I WAS king in Jerusalem" suggests Uzziah, who forfeited his throne, due to the leprosy he contracted.

Ecc 1:13--2:26: Building projects, agricultural projects, choir and singers, etc, could point to Uzziah and/or Hezekiah. Reference to "those in Jerusalem before me" (1:16; 2:7,9)         -- as well as "my wisdom stayed with me" (2:9)         -- would seem to exclude Solomon. [But 2:1-3, and its pursuit of pleasure, does seem to point to Solomon.]

Ecc 3:

V 16: Uzziah sees that wickedness is in the place of judgment, but can do nothing about it (now that he is isolated and quarantined by his disease).

Ecc 4:

Vv 1-5: Uzziah would seem to be the man who no longer rules, but sees his successor -- Ahaz (who is the "fool")         -- oppressing others, while he can do nothing.

Vv 13-15: An outline of the life of Uzziah himself (see the notes there).

Ecc 5:

V 1: Uzziah's reference to his proud attempt to assume the priestly function, which led to his being afflicted with leprosy and losing his throne.

Vv 2-20: Uzziah sees grievous wickedness around him, and feels a great disillusionment and frustration, dwelling in darkness (v 17).

Ecc 6:

V 2: Is it Uzziah who sees others enjoying his wealth, or is it Hezekiah who "sees" it, after receiving the prophecy of 2Ki 20:17?

V 12: A possible reference to the "shadow" of the sun-dial, which marked the declining years of Hezekiah.

Ecc 7:

Vv 1-15: An almost morbid fascination with death: could this be Uzziah, enduring the "living death" of leprosy; or Hezekiah, at the time he is told he must set his affairs in order to prepare for death (cp Isa 38)?

V 29: The "schemes" (NIV)         or "inventions" (AV)         is the same word that occurs 3 times, in various forms, in 2Ch 26:15, where Uzziah is said to have made "engines, invented by cunning men" (or "engines engineered by the ingenious"!).

Ecc 8: More dwelling on death: Uzziah and/or Hezekiah.

Ecc 9:

Vv 5,6,10: These verses are quite parallel to Isa 38:9-19 (Hezekiah's psalm about death).

Vv 13-18: This section, with its siege of a city by a great king, points strongly toward Jerusalem in the days of Sennacherib's invasion.

Ecc 10:

Vv 1,2: The stench of death: Uzziah's living death of leprosy, with its putrefaction?

Vv 3-7,16,17: Uzziah, in his quarantined condition, sees his son and grandson ruling like "fools".

Vv 8-15,18-20: Individual "proverbs" quite characteristic of Solomon's other writing.

Ecc 11:

Vv 1-6: The Preacher counsels the planting of crops, and the trusting in God for an increase. This was a significant feature of the aftermath of the Sennacherib invasion, of Hezekiah's day: his hordes had devastated the land and ruined the crops, but God would restore them to Judah (2Ki 19:29,30).

Ecc 12:

Vv 1-7: More dwelling upon death, from one who seems to know much about it. Uzziah, or Hezekiah?

V 8: The final theme statement, echoing 1:8, should be attributed to Hezekiah.

Vv 9-11: An apparent description of how the "Compiler" (Hezekiah?)         went about to produce the finished work, Ecclesiastes.

Vv 12-14: The conclusion: "Fear God, and keep His commandments" -- which would point to Hezekiah: he did this (2Ki 18:6), while Solomon did not (1Ki 11:31-33).

Four different "Ecclesiastes"?

As a simple exercise, one might try reading Ecclesiastes after this fashion:

Firstly, Solomon's "Ecclesiastes":
  1. Ecc 1:3-11
  2. Ecc 10:8-15,18-20
Secondly, Uzziah's "Ecclesiastes":
  1. Ecc 1:12 -- 8:16
  2. Ecc 10:1-7,16,17
Thirdly, Hezekiah's "Ecclesiastes":
  1. Ecc 1:1
  2. Ecc 9
  3. Ecc 11
  4. Ecc 12
Finally, Hezekiah has been much moved by the "Ecclesiastes" of his great-grandfather Uzziah, and words from his earlier ancestor Solomon. Hezekiah sees in their wisdom and experiences echoes of his own when confronting the circumstances of his own impending death. And so he adds certain of his own thoughts (which ones?)         to the body of his predecessors' work, and then appends his very own writings. Also adding a suitable title, introduction, and conclusion to the whole, he finalizes what we now know as "Ecclesiastes": a compilation (by an inspired "Compiler")         of the life-and-death wisdom of these several men who were all "sons of David" and "kings in Jerusalem".

Rabbinical authorities inform us, moreover, that Ecclesiastes was traditionally read at the Feast of Tabernacles. The special readings organized by Ezra, as described in Neh 8, may be the prototype of this. So it is even possible that the book itself was given its final form -- even later than the time of Hezekiah -- by the prophet Ezra or some anonymous "compiler" and "reader"... and that, as stated above, it contained the compiled "wisdom" of several previous kings who reigned in Jerusalem.


Once more, it must be stressed that these theories can be no more than conjecture. They are offered with the utmost diffidence -- and also with the full conviction that, whether written by one human author, or three, or more -- Ecclesiastes is nevertheless the inspired word of Almighty God, given for our instruction and exhortation.
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