ECCLESIASTES: KOHELETH'S QUEST FOR LIFE'S MEANING
Weston W. Fields
Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements
for the degree of Master of Theology in
Grace Theological Seminary
Digitized by Ted Hildebrandt
and Dr. Perry Phillips,
It was during a series of lectures given in Grace
Theological Seminary by Professor Thomas V. Taylor on the
book of Ecclesiastes that the writer's own interest in the
book was first stirred. The words of Koheleth are remark-
ably suited to the solution of questions and problems which
arise for the Christian in the twentieth century. Indeed,
the message of the book is so appropriate for the contem-
porary world, and the book so cogently analyzes the purpose
and value of life, that he who reads it wants to study it;
and he who studies it finds himself thoroughly attached to
it: one cannot come away from the book unchanged.
For the completion of this study the writer is
greatly indebted to his advisors, Dr. John C. Whitcomb, Jr.
and Professor James R. Battenfield, without whose patient
help and valuable suggestions this thesis would have been
To my wife Beverly, who has once again patiently
and graciously endured a writing project, I say thank you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
GRADE PAGE iii
TABLE OF CONTENTS v
I. INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE 1
II. THE TITLE 5
Meaning of tl,h,qo 6
Zimmermann's Interpretation 7
Historical Interpretations 9
Linguistic Analysis 9
What did Solomon collect? 12
Why does Solomon bear this name? 12
The feminine gender 13
III. DATE, AUTHORSHIP, AND LINGUISTIC BACKGROUND 16
Authorship and Linguistic Background 16
The Traditional View 16
Arguments Against Solomonic Authorship 17
A literary device 18
Aramaic background 22
Definition of "Aramaisms" 23
History of Aramaic 26
Late-dating by Aramaisms 30
Limited vocabulary 32
Later documents 33
Reasons for Aramaisms 36
Noun formations 37
Reasons for non-routine terms 38
Conclusion on Aramaisms 40
An Aramaic original 41
Proofs for an Aramaic original 42
Ecclesiastes 7:12 42
Ecclesiastes 10:15 44
Ecclesiastes 11:1 45
Proofs for a Hebrew original 47
Two Hebrew dialects 47
Canaanite parallels 49
Ben Sira 49
Characteristics of a translation 50
Conclusion on an Aramaic original 52
Ecclesiastes 1:12 52
Ecclesiastes 1:16 54
The Sitz im Leben of the book 55
Arguments for Solomonic Authorship 56
Phoenician background 56
Linguistic uniqueness 58
A literary genre 59
Dahood's arguments 63
Ecclesiastes 1:10 63
Ecclesiastes 1:16 64
Ecclesiastes 2:2 64
Ecclesiastes 2:24 65
Other examples 65
Use of Ugaritic 71
Evaluation of Dahood 73
Building and commerce 74
Internal arguments 77
IV. KOHELETH'S THEME AND DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT 82
Unsympathetic Interpretations 83
Sympathetic Interpretations 90
A Suggested Theme 91
Development of Thought 94
V. SELECTED DIFFICULTIES 100
Vanity of Vanities 101
Usage of lb,h, 105
Relationship of the Name "Abel" 108
Jewish Interpretations 109
Conclusion on lb,h, 111
Under the Sun 111
Occurrences of the Phrase 112
Definition of the Phrase 114
Significance of the Phrase 115
The Relationship of Inspiration and Revelation 116
Definition of revelation and inspiration 117
Correlation of inspiration and revelation 118
Koheleth's revelational teachings 120
Conclusion on revelation and inspiration 122
The Meaning and Place of Pleasure 127
Consideration of the Texts 127
Ecclesiastes 2:1-11 127
Description of the experiment 127
Linguistic analysis 128
Ecclesiastes 2:1 128
Ecclesiastes 2:3 130
Ecclesiastes 2:8 133
Conclusion on 2:1-11 134
Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 135
Description of the passage 135
Linguistic analysis 138
Ecclesiastes 2:24 138
Ecclesiastes 2:25 139
Conclusion on 2:24-26 140
Ecclesiastes 4:8 140
Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 142
Description of the passage 142
Linguistic analysis 142
Ecclesiastes 7:16 143
Ecclesiastes 8:15 147
Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10 149
Death and Immortality 152
Consideration of the Texts 153
Ecclesiastes 2:12-17 153
Ecclesiastes 3:15-22 154
Figures of speech 154
Psychology of man and animals 155
Ecclesiastes 4:1-3 163
Ecclesiastes 6:3, 12 166
Ecclesiastes 9:1-12 168
Old Testament doctrine of Sheol 169
Interpretation of the passage 173
Word meanings 174
Conclusion on this passage 178
A suggested translation of 9:10 180
Ecclesiastes 12:7, 13, 14 180
VI. A SUMMARY OF THE THEOLOGICAL MESSAGE OF KOHELETH 181
Consideration of the Topics 181
Insufficiency of Human Endeavor 181
The problem of knowledge 181
The emptiness of things 183
Unthinking materialism 184
Lack of personal importance 185
Conclusion on human endeavor 186
God's Supply of Life's Needs 186
Physical requirements 188
Moral requirements 189
Life's values 190
Sovereignty of God 191
VII. NEW TESTAMENT PARALLELS 193
The Parallels 193
VIII. NEAR EASTERN PARALLELS 197
Some Parallels 197
IX. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION 204
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF WORKS CITED 211
INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
Few books of the Bible have suffered in recent years
from so much neglect as the book of Ecclesiastes. Further-
more, a large portion of those who have studied it have
unsympathetically criticized and maligned both its author
and its message, until it has come to be all but ignored by
even those who accept its canonicity and inspiration. The
author of this book has been accused of scepticism, of
fatalism, and of Epicureanism. His words have been denounced
as "not revelation" and human only.1 It is contended that
"anyone who essays to explain Coheleth is doomed to failure;
it is vanity and a chase after wind."2 Another has called
it "the strangest book in the Bible."3 Suspected in days of
orthodoxy,4 neglected in periods of optimism, treasured in
1E. Schuyler English, et al., eds., The New Scofield
Reference Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967),
pp. 696, 702.
2Roland E. Murphy, "The Penseés of Coheleth," The
Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 17 (1955), 314.
3R. B. Y. Scott, Proverbs-Ecclesiastes (hereinafter
referred to as Ecclesiastes), in The Anchor Bible, ed. by
F. Albright and David Noel Freedman, et
Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1965), p. 191.
4Robert Gordis, Poets, Prophets and Sages (Blooming-
days of frustration and disillusionment, the writings of
Koheleth have always drawn men, yet somehow eluded them.
Still, the enigmatic writing of
the king of
endures, the symbol of the ache of disillusion and of the
peace that is possible afterwards. "Whoever has dreamt
great dreams in his youth and seen the vision flee, or has
loved and lost, or has beaten barehanded at the fortress of
injustice and come back bleeding and broken, has passed Kohe-
leth's door, and tarried awhile beneath the shadow of his
The book is unworthy of the abuse it has often
received at the hands of commentators, for it consists of,
as John Trapp said more than three hundred fifty years ago,
golden words, weighty, and worthy of all acceptation;
grave and gracious apophthegms, or rather oracles, meet
to be well remembered . . . compiled and composed with
such a picked frame of words, with such pithy strength
of sentences, with such a thick series of demonstrative
arguments, that the sharp wit of all the philosophers,
compared with this divine discourse, seems to be utterly
cold, and of small account.2
It is not, and probably never will be, among the
most popular books in the Bible. Yet, after one has studied
this book, it is difficult for him to regard it with indif-
ference. It will either be distrusted and minimized, or it
lIbid., p. 325.
2John Trapp, A Commentary on the Old and New Testa-
ments, Vol. III (5 vols.:
reprinted, 1868), p. 155.
will be accepted and utilized.1 It is from this book that
many Christians, though separated in time from its author by
several thousand years, and much richer than its author in
available theological knowledge, could gain a very needed
message: that a life lived for self and the world is "vanity"
and that nothing "under the sun" every really satisfies.2
The book is not, however, without its problems and
obscurities, and the problems posed by Koheleth seem to take
on increased proportion as they cut across contemporary
concepts of thinking. But if the reader will approach the
book with an open mind, divest himself of unfavorable presup-
positions, and seek to understand the book for what Koheleth
meant it to be, he will see what he is being warned against,
and how wise that warning is for this age.3 All that is
needful is to read Koheleth himself with sympathy and imagi-
nation. "Then the dry bones will take on flesh and his
lArthur Maltby, "The Book of Ecclesiastes and the
After-Life," The Evangelical Quarterly, XXXV:1 (January-
March, 1963), 39.
2Ecclesiastes is included among the "Wisdom" litera-
ture of the Bible. For an excellent discussion of this
see W. O.
the Son of Sirach or
for Schools and Colleges (
Press, 1912), p. xlvii.
lished mimeographed material for lectures in Grace Theologi-
cal Seminary, March, 1972), p. 8. The page numbers of the
material were added by the writer of this thesis.
spirit will live again."1
It is the purpose of this thesis to examine the book
of Ecclesiastes in order to determine the veracity of its
teachings and the cogency of its argument; to understand its
outstanding teachings; and to explain some of the more prom-
inent difficulties. Included as
sions are the problems of authorship and date (and the under
lying problem of the linguistic background of the book), the
theme and development of thought in the book, explanations
of significant problems, a summary of the prominent theolog-
ical teachings, New Testament parallels to the teachings of
Ecclesiastes, and parallels in other Near Eastern literature.
Bible quotations are the writer's own translation,
unless otherwise annotated.
1Gordis, Poets, Prophets, and Sages, p. 329.
The English title, "Ecclesiastes," comes from the
first line of the book in the Septuagint: [Rh<mata ]Ekklhsi-
astou? ui[ou? Dauid.1 ]Ekklhsiastou? is a translation of the
Hebrew tl,h,qo, the Hebrew title of the author which is also
used for the book, and usually transliterated, Koheleth or
Qoheleth. Both the derivation and the meaning of this word
are enigmatic. The word occurs seven times in the book:
three times in the first part (1:1, 2, 12). and three times
in the conclusion (12:8, 9, 10), with one occurrence in the
middle (7:27). It is not a proper name, but an appellative,
a fact evident both from its having the article in 12:8 and
its being construed with a feminine verb in 7:27.2 This fact
has been recognized by major translators over the centuries,
as evidenced in the LXX translation (meaning, "one who par-
ticipates in a popular assembly"), the title of Luther ("Der
lAlfred Rahlfs, ed., Septuaginta, Vol. II (2 vols:
p. 238. This is the text of the LXX used throughout the
2Christian David Ginsberg, The Song of Songs and
Coheleth (hereinafter referred to as Coheleth) (2 vols. in
Prediger"),1 and Jerome's title "Concionator."2 Actually,
the English title "Ecclesiastes" is a direct carry-over from
the Vulgate, which merely transliterated the LXX.3
Meaning of hl,h,qo
"The precise signification of this appelation has,
from time immemorial, been a matter of great contention, and
the occasion of numerous and most conflicting opinions."4
While some feel that the meaning of the name is truly lost
and will be forever unknown,5 others, notably Renan and
Zimmermann, have suggested ingenious solutions to the meaning
of the word. Renan's guess was that hl,h,qo is an abbreviation,
much as Mbmr is an abbreviation for Maimonides, but Gordis
contends that this "explains nothing."6 Jastrow suggests
that "Koheleth" is a nom de plume for Solomon and that the
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Ecclesiastes (herein-
referred to as Ecclesiastes) (
Book House, 1974), p. 38
3Robertus Weber, et al., eds., Biblia Sacra Iuxta
Vulgatam Versionem, Vol. II (2 vols.:
bergische Bibelanstalt, 1969), p. 986.
4Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 1.
5Gordis, Poets, Prophets and Sages, p. 326.
6Idem., Koheleth, the Man and His World: A Study
of Ecclesiastes (hereinafter referred to as Koheleth) (New
word was arrived at by substituting the root lhaqA, "assem-
ble," for MlewA, "complete," and by having a t replace the h
of hmolow;.1 This suggestion Gordis labels "too ingenious to
Zimmermann has a much more involved argument for the
derivation of the word.3 He contends that the equivalent of
tl,h,qo in Aramaic is the feminine participle of hwAn;KA, since
wnaK; is a very frequent translation word for lhaqA in the Tar-
gumim.4 According to him, the writer of the book used this
pseudonym with dviDA-rBA to attract attention to his work. It
is assumed that he knew of the name rUgxA (Prov. 30:1) and
modeled his pseudonym upon it (rgx=wnk=gather).5 rUgxA is
regarded in rabbinic tradition as one of the names of Solo-
mon. It is fairly certain as well (according to Zimmermann)
1Morris Jastrow, Jr., A Gentle Cynic: Being a Trans-
lation of the Book of Koheleth, Commonly Known as Ecclesias-
tes, Stripped of Later Additions (hereinafter referred to as
A Gentle Cynic) (
1919), p. 68.
2Gordis, Koheleth, p. 204.
3Frank Zimmermann, "The Aramaic Provenance of Qohe-
leth," Jewish Quarterly Review, XXXVI:1 (July, 1945), 43-5.
4Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the
Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature
(hereinafter referred to as Dictionary), Vol. I (2 vols.:
5This would be the original according to Zimmer-
that hl,h,qo must mean "Solomon," perhaps cryptically, as Renan
long suspected. It is Zimmermann's hypothesis of an Aramaic
provenance of Koheleth which supplies his key here, for he
finds his answer to the cryptogram in numerology. hwAn;KA adds
up arithmetically to hmolow; (k=20; n=50; w=300; h=5; total,
375. w=300; l=30; m=40; h=5; total, 375).1
While C. C. Torrey speaks of Zimmermann's hypothesis
as "convincing,"2 the writer is unconvinced not only because
such a theory presupposes an Aramaic original for the book,
which is doubtful enough in itself (and must preclude Solo-
monic authorship), but also because of the untenability of
such numerological interpretations generally.3 It must not
go unnoticed that Targum Jonathon uses tl,h,qo not hwAn;KA.5
1Zimmermann, "The Aramaic Provenance of Qoheleth,"
2Charles C. Torrey, "The Question of the original
Language of Qoheleth," Jewish Quarterly Review, XXXIX:2
(October, 1948), 156-7. For the numerical value of all the
Hebrew letters, cf. J. Weingreen, A Practical Grammar for
Classical Hebrew (
edition, 1959), p. 1.
3Cf. John J. Davis, Biblical Numerology (Grand
Rapids: Baker Book House, 1968).
4tvlvdg tvxrqm reads: xUh tl,h,qo xBenat;xid; hxAUbin; ymegAtuPi
. . . dvidA rBa hmolow; (tvlvdg tvxrqm, Vol. 1 [NewYork: Parses
Publishing House, Inc., 1951]). This is translated, "The
words of the prophecy which Koheleth who is Solomon, the son
of David, prophesied." Sperber also has tlhq, but does not
point it (rbrpw rdnsklx, ed., tymrxb wdqh ybtk, x-d jrk
[Ndyyl: lyrb . y . x, 1968), p. 150).
5Jastrow states that the Targum thought of Solomon
as tl,h,qo (Jastrow, Dictionary, Vol. II, p. 1322).
There have been numerous other explanations for the
word, including suggestions that the word means "preacher,"
"gatherer of wisdom," "collector," (as of a compiler of a
book), "eclectic" (because of his supposed skill in select-
ing and purifying the best of the systems of different philo-
sophers), "accumulated wisdom," "reunited soul" (describing
Solomon's readmission into the
sequence of his repentance), "penitent" (describing the con-
trite state of Solomon for his apostasy), "assembly," "acad-
emy," "old man," "exclaiming voice," "Sophist," "philo-
sopher," and "departed spirit."1 Most of these suggestions,
however, are better discarded. Perhaps the best explanation
is one which finds its roots in a linguistic and historical
explanation of the word within Hebrew itself.
tl,h,qo is the Qal active participle, feminine singular,
from the root lhaqA, meaning "to assemble."2 This verb is
1Ginsburg, Coheleth, pp. 3-7.
2F. Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, eds.,
A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (herein-
referred to as BDB, Lexicon) (
don Press, 1968), p. 874; cf. Ludwig Koehler and Walter
Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros (herein-
referred to as KB, Lexicon) (
1968), p. 829.
the root to which Albright traces the word lOq, "voice,"
rather than to the root lvq, since in the Siloam inscription
the word is written lq, not lvq.l lhaqA can be compared with
the Arabic qalah, the Ethiopic kaleha, the Aramaic xlAqA, and
the Syriac all with the idea of "to call," from the
original idea of "sound."2 The ambiguity, however, is not
in the verbal root, but in the participle as used in the
context of the book. The feminine participle refers to the
author of the book, who is obviously masculine if Solomon is
meant, and who is to be construed as masculine in any case,
since the word is qualified by MilAwAUryBi j`l,m, dviDA-NB,.
Some, in fact, trace the Hebrew word back to an
Aramaic original, most of those being adherents to the theory
of an Aramaic original for the book. One of the reasons for
supposing that tl,h,qo was originally an Aramaic term is that
the verb lhaqA is not used in the simple conjugation in Hebrew,
but is so used in Syriac, where it is supposed, "it can only
1W. F. Albright, "The High Place in Ancient Pales-
tine," in Supplements to Vetus Testamentus, Vol. IV, ed.
by G. W. Anderson, et al. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1957), p.
256. Cf. Loren Fisher, ed., Ras Shamra Parallels, in Ana-
lecta Orientalia, 49 (Roma: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum,
1972), II 497 a-g, p. 329; II 94 g, p. 136. For the Siloam
see H. Donner and
Aramaische Inschriften, Band I (3 Bände:
Harrassowitz, 1971), text 183, line 3, p. 34.
2BDB, Lexicon, p. 874; KB, Lexicon, p. 831. Cf.
also the discussion of lq in Charles-F. Jean and Jacob
Hoftijzer, Dictionnaire des Inscriptions Sémitiques de
l'Ouest (hereinafter referred
to as DISO) (
Brill, 1965), p. 258.
represent an old heritage once common to all Aramaic."1
Edward Ullendorff has likewise suggested that tl,h,qo is actu-
ally a translation of an Aramaic form, xlAhEqA. He blames the
translator for some of the confusion when he states that
"the translator was apparently not quite clear about the
function of the status emphaticus in Aramaic (hence tl,h,qo
appears in Hebrew with or without the definite article)."2
He further states that in Aramaic-Syriac lhq not only
connotes "to summon an assembly" (=lyhqh [the Hiph'il]), but
also means "litigiosus, pertinax."3 "It would be hard to
imagine a more suitable name for the putative author of the
book of Ecclesiastes than the 'arguer.'"4 tl,h,qo is variously
defined among the lexicons as "a collector" (of sentences)
or "a preacher,"5 as well as "speaker (in an assembly)."6
Since the verb means primarily "to gather together into an
assembly," or "to assemble," it is doubtless best to relate
it directly to the meaning, "collecting" or "assembling."
If this definition is accepted, then there are three ques-
tions about this collecting which must be answered: (1)
1H. L. Ginsberg,"Ecclesiastes," Encyclopaedia
Judaica, 1971 ed., VI, 353.
2Edward Ullendorff, "The Meaning of tl,h,qo," Vetus
Testamentum, 12 (April, 1962), 215. The status emphaticus,
however, is most elemental in Aramaic, and it is incredible
that any translator worthy of the name should be "unfamiliar"
5BDB, Lexicon, p. 875. 6KB, Lexicon, p. 829.
What did Solomon collect? (2) Why does he bear this name
here?1 (3) Why is the word in the feminine gender?
What did Solomon collect?
An examination of the passages in which the verb lhaqA
is used, either in the Niph'al or the Hiph'il, reveals that
the word is invariably used for collecting or gathering
persons, especially for religious purposes. Likewise, its
derivatives, lhAqA, hl.Ahiq;, Myliheq;ma, and tOlheq;ma, without excep-
tion denote assemblies or gatherings of people.1 "The
natural signification of tl,h,qo therefore is, an assembler of
scattered people into the more immediate presence of God; a
gatherer of those afar off unto God."2
Why does Solomon bear this name?
The historical event which gave rise to the name is
probably that recorded in 1 Kings 8 (cf. 2 Chr. 5), where
the writer records that Solomon
for the dedication of the temple, that epoch-making assembly
which was among the most important in all the history of
Israel.3 On this occasion, Solomon not only called the
1KB, Lexicon, p. 829; BDB, Lexicon, pp. 874-5.
2Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 2."
3C. H. H. Wright, The Book of Koheleth, Commonly
Called Ecclesiastes (hereinafter referred to as Koheleth)
(London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1883), p. 85.
people together, but he also preached to them indirectly
through the prayer in which he consecrated the temple, and
directly through his blessing and exhortation of the people.
It is not without significance that the root lhaqA appears in
this chapter no less than 5 times (1 Ki. 8:1, 2, 14, 22, and
55). It is entirely possible that Solomon was named tl,h,qo as
a result of this temple dedication.1
The feminine gender
There have been numerous explanations for the femi-
nine gender of tl,h,qo. Wright explains it on the analogy of
Arabic formations as an intensive feminine formation.2
Others have suggested that there is really no problem in-
volved in this usage since there are other instances in
which an individual occupying a post of honor is designated
by a name descriptive of the functions he discharges or the
dignity he enjoys.3 Some examples are tr,p,so, "scribe" (Neh.
7:57), and tr,k,po in the compound name MyibAc;.ha tr,k,
1Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Song of Songs
and Ecclesiastes (hereinafter referred to as Ecclesiastes),
by M. G. Easton (
Publishing Company, reprint, 1970), p. 202.
2W. Wright, ed. and trans. from the German of
Caspari, A Grammar of the Arabic Language, revised by.W. R.
and M. J. de Goeje, Vol. I (2 vols.:
the University Press, 1955), p. 137, sect. 233.
3Duncan H. Weir, "Ecclesiastes," Fairbairn's Impe-
rial Standard Bible Encyclopedia, reprint, 1957, II, 184.
gazelles" (Ezra 2:47).1 Apparently these names were first
extended to people holding the office and finally became
personal names.2 A further parallel can be seen in Arabic
nomenclature where the feminine form of the word may be used
to denote an activity, office or function. Thus, Friday is
known as the Yaum al-Jum'ah, the Day of Gathering (for
prayer). The word Khalīfah is used for the supreme ruler of
the Islamic world. It is only in transliteration that the
word has been "masculinized" into "Caliph." "Here is an
invariable use of the feminine to indicate a masculine of-
fice Similarly, for the leading divine or a first-rate
scholar, the feminine 'Allamāh is employed."3
On the other hand, Ginsburg maintains that the femi-
nine gender is employed because Solomon personifies wisdom,
a view which he feels finds confirmation in Ecclesiastes
7:27, where tl,h,qo is used with a feminine verb (tl,h,qo hrAm;xA), a
usage even Rashi and Ibn Ezra, though interpreting tl,h,qo dif-
ferently, explained by the fact that "wisdom is being spoken
of."4 Yet, the explanation offered for the word in
lWright, Koheleth, p. 279.
2Georg Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament,
trans. by David E. Green (Nashville: Abingdon Press,1968),
3Eric F. F. Bishop,
"A Pessimist in
4Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 7.
connection with the feminine gender as used in other Semitic
languages seems to have the most force.1
It is the conclusion of the writer, therefore, that
the translation "assembler" is probably most accurate. Any-
one who assembles will probably also speak to the assembly,
and therefore the meaning "preacher" is logical by exten-
sion. Throughout this thesis, however, the writer prefers
to follow the example of most authors by simply transliter-
ating the word "Koheleth."2
1For further examples see E. Kautzsch, ed., Gesenius'
Hebrew Grammar, ed. and trans. by A. E. Cowley (hereinafter
to as GKC, Grammar) (
Press, 1970), p. 393, sect. 122r.
2The precise transliteration would be qōhelet, but
initial K and C are so widely used in place of Q, that the
most common transliteration, Koheleth, is employed.
DATE, AUTHORSHIP, AND LINGUISTIC BACKGROUND
The matter of the date and authorship of Ecclesiastes
is an extremely complex subject, not only because the date
and authorship are inevitably interrelated, but also because
one's view of the linguistic background of the book also
determines the boundaries for fixing the authorship and the
date. These three subjects are therefore considered togeth-
er in this chapter.
Authorship and Linguistic Background
The Traditional View
Ecclesiastes has traditionally been ascribed to
Solomon. This tradition finds its basis in a number of
indications in the book, not the least of which is that Solo-
mon was the only immediate dviDA-NB, who was lxerAW;yi-lfa j`l,m,
MilAwAUryBi (Eccl. 1:1, 12).1 The significance of this fact
should not be overlooked, for this categorical statement
1This tradition is evidenced in the title of the
book in the Targum and the Syriac Peshitta. For the rela-
tionship of the Targumim and the Peshitta, cf. R. K.
to as Introduction) (
Publishing Company, 1969), pp. 240-42.
must be honestly explained by any who attempt to circumvent
Solomonic authorship. Such Solomonic authorship has, begin-
ning with Luther and accelerating in the last century, been
almost universally abandoned. Liberal and orthodox alike
have concluded that it is a late document, and therefore
could not have been composed by Solomon toward the end of
the tenth century B.C.
Arguments Against Solomonic Authorship
It is said that one of the first to question the
Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes was Luther, who in his
Table-Talk explained the book as one of the more recent of
the Old Testament. He supposed that the book was written by
Sirach rather than Solomon, and that it might be "a Talmud,
collected from many books, perhaps from the library of King
Ptolemy Euergetes, in
Solomonic authorship he was followed by Hugo Grotius (1644),
who based his argument of lateness on the language of the
book. Finally, in the present, many scholars have complete-
ly discarded Solomonic authorship. Scott, for example,
states: "It is quite out of the question that the king
1Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, p. 204. Though the writer
was unable to find the edition of Table-Talk which included
this statement, it is well to note that Luther seems to sup-
port Solomonic authorship in "Defense and Explanation of All
the Articles" (in Luther's Works, Vol. 32, ed. by George W.
[Solomon] was in fact the composer of the whole book of
Proverbs, of Ecclesiastes and Wisdom . . . .”1
A literary device
It is first of all suggested that Solomon was
to be a mere artistic device designed to present more
effectively the message of the unknown late author.
Since Solomon was known to have experienced the satis-
faction of every human ambition and had drunk to the
full every possibility of earthly pleasure, he would
serve as an admirable test case in evaluating hedonistic
enjoyment and intellectual achievement as over against a
life entirely devoted to God.2
Fohrer, accordingly, states that "actual Solomonic
authorship is out of the question. The association with
Solomon is a mere literary form, only slightly disguised and
not carried out systematically."3
While Muilenburg contends that "a Solomonic origin
has been given up by all modern scholars, and it [Ecclesias-
tes] has subsequently been dated as early as the fourth cen-
tury B.C. and as late as the time of Herod,"4 it appears
1R. B. Y. Scott,
"Solomon and the Beginnings of
East, Vol. III of Supplements to Vetus Testamentum (
E. J. Brill, 1969), p. 262.
2Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of Old Testament
Introduction (hereinafter referred to as Introduction)
(Chicago: Moody Press, revised ed., 1974), pp. 478-9.
3Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 336.
"A Qoheleth Scroll From
Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 135
(October, 1954), 20-21.
that the sequence of events was just the opposite. On the
basis of its language, it was dated later than the time of
Solomon;. consequently, Solomonic authorship was given up.
Scott is among the most adamant in his denial of the Solo-
monic authorship. He glibly assures his readers that "there
is of course no possibility that the Solomon of history com-
posed this book; to claim this is like claiming that a book
about Marxism in modern English idiom and spelling was writ-
ten by Henry VIII."1 He feels so certain that the role of
Solomon is assumed for literary effect that he states that
"no-observant reader could suppose otherwise."2
Appeal is often made to other books where such a
literary device is apparently used. The most notable is the
apocryphal book known as the Wisdom of Solomon. It is gen-
erally believed that this book was written in Greek during
the first century B.C., even though the superscription of
the book claims for it Solomonic authorship.3 The appeals
1Scott, Ecclesiastes, pp. 95-6. 2Ibid., p. 96.
3Cf. Rahlfs, Septuaginta, Vol. II, p. 345, where the
title reads SOFIA SALWMWNOS. The Peshitta extended the
superscription to "The Book of the Great Wisdom of Solomon,
Son of David" (W. O.
the Books of the
Christian Knowledge, 1935], p. 196). Also see W. J. Ferrar,
The Uncanonical Jewish
Christian Knowledge, 1918), p. 33; and especially, R. H.
Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testa-
ment, Vol. I (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1913), p.
to such a book, however, are not valid, for this apocryphal
book is not inspired and whatever falsehoods it might perpe-
trate are really of little concern.1 On the other hand,
Ecclesiastes is inspired, and while Wright is certain that
"the authority and trustworthiness of the book of Ecclesias-
tes are not imperilled by the denial of its Solomonic au-
thorship,"2 such a denial appears, in fact, to be accom-
plishing that very peril. The book states that the author
was (1) a son of David, and (2)
King over (in)
No one fits this description except Solomon. Therefore, a
denial of Solomonic authorship necessarily involves a denial
of the integrity of at least two verses in Ecclesiastes
(1:1, 12), for there could not be a more explicit descrip-
tion of Solomon, unless his name were used. Only if one
concedes that such a literary idiom is legitimate can it be
concluded that "its author was not Solomon, but one of 'the
wise' whose name can no longer be recovered;"3 and that it
was written "not in the time of Solomon, i.e. about 930
1Zimmermann argues that most of the Apocryphal books,
including the Wisdom. of Solomon, were originally written in
Hebrew or Aramaic (Frank Zimmermann, The Inner World of Qo-
2Wright, Koheleth, p. 110.
3Samuel Cox, The Book of Ecclesiastes in The Exposi-
tor's Bible, ed. by W. Robertson
B.C., but some five or six centuries later."1 Only then can
one agree with Wright that
the author had not the slightest idea of committing any
fraud whatever, but simply sought to assert in the
strongest manner possible that the views he advocated,
in direct opposition to the Jewish sensualist school of
of that heavenly wisdom which had been bestowed upon the
Barton, for instance, is so certain about the non-
Solomonic authorship that he makes this asseveration: "The
fact that Solomon is not the author, but is introduced in a
literary figure, has become such an axiom of the present day
interpretation of the book, that no extended argument is
necessary to prove it."3 He further asserts that upon the
basis of the book's linguistic features, Solomonic author-
ship is "unthinkable. "4
There are other arguments against Solomonic author-
ship of the book which shall be taken up below. All who
deny his authorship would agree with Ginsburg, who, after
enumerating several other proofs against it, proposed that
2Wright, Koheleth, p. 80.
3George Aaron Barton, A Critical and Exegetical Com-
mentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes (hereinafter referred to
as Ecclesiastes), in The International Critical Commentary,
by S. R. Driver, et al. (
1908), p. 68.
4Ibid., p. 59. Also cf. Otto Eissfeldt, The Old
Testament, An Introduction, trans. by Peter A. Ackroyd (New
"the strongest argument, however, against the Solomonic
authorship of this book, is its vitiated language and
style."1 There is, however, little agreement about these
phenomena, consisting of many supposed Aramaisms and affini-
ties with other books which are late and/or partly Aramaic,
such as Nehemiah, Daniel, Ezra, and Malachi.2 But it is
primarily out of respect for these linguistic features of the
book that the date of composition is lowered, and Solomon's
authorship is denied. The linguistic background of the book
is therefore considered next.
Those who argue that the language of Koheleth can be
explained upon the basis of Aramaic influence can be divided
into two groups. There are those, first of all, who view
the language of the book as a reflection of post-exilic
times, when the Jews were speaking Aramaic increasingly, and
when Hebrew began to be influenced as a consequence. Many
contend that the Hebrew of Koheleth bears strong resemblances
to the Hebrew of the later Mishnah.3 The second group asserts
that the book was originally written in Aramaic.
1Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 253.
2E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1952),
3Ibid., p. 40.
Definition of "Aramaisms"
The use of "Aramaisms" for dating a book is one of
the most tenuous procedures in biblical linguistic study.
For many years such arguments were proposed to support a
late date for such books as Daniel, Jonah, and Chronicles.
However, in recent times such a position has generally been
abandoned, for from the earliest times Hebrews and Arameans
were in constant and intimate contact.1 Yet, Wright, Gins-
burg, Delitzsch, and others of their era, though not des-
tructively critical, felt that the Aramaisms of Ecclesiastes
indisputably rendered it late.2 Lamentably, Gordis is
correct when he states that "one still encounters the sim-
plistic argument that the existence of an alleged 'Aramaism'
is evidence of a late date for the document."3 On the other
hand, a more balanced and sophisticated analysis of Arama-
isms has been recently emerging, as evidenced by Barr's di-
vision of Aramaisms into four categories:
1. "Aramaism" may mean a statistical displacement
towards what is more frequent in Aramaic, and more
1Raymond A. Bowman, "Arameans, Aramaic, and the Bi-
ble," Journal of Near Eastern Studies, VII:2 (April, 1948),
2Cf. Wright, Koheleth, p. 120; Ginsburg, Coheleth,
p. 253; and Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, pp. 210-17.
3Robert Gordis, "On Methodology in Biblical Exege-
sis," The Jewish Quarterly Review, XLI:2 (October, 1970),
infrequent in Hebrew. It is common knowledge, for instance,
that xtAxE is the normal Aramaic word for the verb "come."
This word does occur, however, in the Hebrew of the Old
Testament in about twenty instances, mostly in poetry. But
if xtAxE is found to occur more frequently for "come" in a
certain text, and especially outside a poetical context,
then "the situation in this regard is more like that which
exists in Aramaic, and someone may say that this is an 'Ara-
maism."'1 This is a most unfortunate circumstance in termi-
nology, for there is no question that the phenomenon itself
is real Hebrew; "the only difference is in the distribution
and frequency."2 It is of incalculable importance that any
discussion of such phenomena distinguishes between what is
not normal Hebrew, and what is only statistically unusual.
2. "Usage may be identified by means of an appeal
to Aramaic, where this usage has not previously been recog-
nized as existing in Hebrew though it is well known in Ara-
maic."3 This is meant to be an identification of a normal,
if uncommon usage in Hebrew, not an identification of an
Aramaic word which does not appear in Hebrew. Here, too,
the term "Aramaism" is unfortunate. In such cases, the
1James Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of
the Old Testament (hereinafter referred to as Philology)
(Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 121.
3Ibid., p. 122.
usage is a native Hebrew one, inherited from earlier Semit-
ic, but when it is called an "Aramaism" this only means that
the sense was discovered in Aramaic, because through its
sparse usage in extant Hebrew literature, its meaning had
3. "'Aramaism' may mean that an expression of Ara-
maic type was deliberately used, or that, if not deliberate-
ly, at least in fact, the existence of an Aramaic phenomenon
is actually affecting the choice and the character of Old
Testament usage."2 It is possible, for instance, to explain
unusual locutions by northern Israelite speakers such as
Hosea on this basis,3 and it might also be possible to ex-
plain many of Koheleth's unusual expressions upon the basis
of all the contact he had with foreign, Semitic-speaking
peoples such as the Arameans, the Moabites, and especially,
4. Lastly, the term "Aramaism" is sometimes "used
when scholars hold that a text was originally written in one
language and then translated into another, and that the
characteristics of the diction of the former state have been
carried over into the latter."4 This has been argued for
both Job and Ecclesiastes, but, as Barr and Gordis point out,
2Ibid., pp. 122-3.
3Ibid., p. 123.
if they were translations, they were rather poor ones.1
Gordis characterizes Aramaisms in a slightly differ-
(1) examples of the North-West Semitic vocabulary and
usage indigenous to both Aramaic and Hebrew, which be-
came frequent in Aramaic but remaining rare (or poetic)
in Hebrew. Such forms are generally early and cannot be
invoked for a late date and are not really "Aramaisms"
at all; (2) Hebrew borrowings from nearby Aramaic during
the pre-Exilic period, especially during the heyday of
the Babylonian Exile and the early post-Exilic period,
when Aramaic became the lingua franca of the
(4) idioms and morphological forms introduced into He-
brew and patterned after Aramaic usage, with which the
Hebrew writer or speaker was familiar, because Aramaic
had become the vernacular of the Jewish community.2
History of Aramaic
Old Aramaic is the language (with some dialectical
variants) of the most ancient
able and widespread group whose earliest manifestations (in
extant inscriptions) go back to at least the first millen-
nium, and survives in a few places to the present.3 It is no
doubt true that "l'araméen fortement influencé par le
1Ibid.; cf. Gordis, Koheleth, p. 414.
2Gordis, "On Methodology in Biblical Exegesis," 107.
3Sabatino Moscati, ed., An Introduction to the Com-
parative Grammar of the Semitic Languages in Porta Linguarum
Orientalium, Neue Serie, VI, ed. by Bertold Spuler and Hans
Wehr (hereinafter referred to as Comparative Grammar)
(Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1969), pp. 10-11.
cananéen."1 Old Aramaic, was, essentially, an unknown lan-
guage before the end of the 19th century. Then several in-
scriptions were discovered at Zinčirli: the Panammu II In-
scription in 1888, the Panammu I in 1890, and the Bir-RKB in
1891. In 1891 the inscriptions of Sin-zer-ibni were dis-
covered at Nerab, and in 1898 Peiser published the enigmatic
inscription on a stele from Ördek-burnu. In 1908 Pognon
published the important Zakir Stele, which he had previously
Because of its affinities with contemporary Canaanite,
and its considerable divergences from later Aramaic,
the language of these inscriptions was regarded by most
scholars as an artificial mixture of some kind. The two
Panammu Inscriptions, moreover, presented so many spe-
cial problems in orthography and morphology when com-
pared with the other inscriptions, that it became neces-
sary to suppose a separate Zincirli dialect.
With the discoveries of more recent years, suffi-
cient data accumulated to classify the language of the
inscriptions as Old Aramaic.3
The relationship of Aramaic to the Hebrew of the
Bible is not always clear. It is known that from the very
beginning of the Hebrew nation (Abraham) there was a relation-
ship with the Arameans
(Abraham's stay in
1Henri Fleisch, Introduction a 1'Étude des Langues
Sémitiques (Paris: Librairie d'Amérique et d'Orient, 1947),
2Frank M. Cross and David N. Freedman, Early Hebrew
Orthography in American Oriental Series, ed. by James B.
Vol. 36 (
1952), p. 21.
3Ibid., p. 22.
11:31). Laban, of course, used Aramaic in his encounter
with Jacob, recorded in Genesis 31:47. From the time of
David forward there was widespread contact with Arameans.
David married an Aramean (Maacah, 2 Sam. 3:3; 1 Chr. 7:14),
and Solomon ruled over much of
4:21).1 It is not to be supposed strange, therefore, that
there should be cultural (and therefore linguistic) inter-
changes. "The mutual influence of the two languages [Hebrew
and Aramaic] reaches back to early times: Aramaisms occur
in the earliest part of the Old Testament."2 Driver has
argued that Hebrew is not pure Canaanite, but a mixed lan-
guage in which traces of the original Aramaic substratum are
still perceptible.3 Even in "Old Aramaic" several cultural
strains are observable.
diverse cultures, Semitic and non-Semitic, of the adja-
cent areas have blended into curious mixtures. It is
thus with the so-called "Old Aramaic" of the region,
which is almost completely Canaanite rather than Ara-
maic. In the Kilamwa inscription it is only the word
"son" (bar), used in the royal genealogy, that can be
recognized as Aramaic. Syntax and vocabulary are
1For the extent of Solomon's kingdom, see the maps
in Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, Macmillan Bible
Atlas (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., 1973),
p. 74, maps 113 and 115.
2R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament
(New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1941), p. 687. Cf.
also GKC, Grammar, pp.. 16-17, sect. 2u, w.
3G. R. Driver, "Hebrew Language," Encyclopaedia
Britannica, 1972, XI, 279-80.
usually Canaanite; there are even instances of the waw-
consecutive usually associated with Hebrew. The spel-
ling of words manifests the defective short forms fre-
quently encountered in Phoenician. The alphabet too is
distinctly Canaanite; the letters are quite similar to
those of contemporary Phoenician but with the odd dif-
ference that the characters are not incised but carved
in relief and in such fat and pudgy shape that the gen-
eral appearance of such writing resembles Hittite hiero-
glyphs. In some instances even the shape of the monu-
ment suggests a Hittite prototype. Indeed, such royal
names as Quril, Kilamwa, and Panamwa, found in these in-
scriptions are non-Semitic, apparently Anatolian. Thus,
in most "Old Aramaic writing, several cultural strains
are observable, and there is almost nothing distinctly
These characteristics of the "Old Aramaic" are ex-
tremely important to the discussion of the Solomonic author-
ship, because the period from which these apparently very
homogeneous inscriptions date, is approximately the time in
which Solomon lived.
It may also be that the language of Ecclesiastes
differs somewhat from other biblical literature because the
style most of the books were written in was apparently a
"specialized literary genre which was studied and cultivated
by the artists and writers of that period."2 According to
Chomsky, furthermore, it may be
safely announced that the classical models of the bibli-
cal language are not typical of the daily conversational
language employed by "the butcher, the baker, and the
candlestick maker." Undoubtedly, the conversational
1Bowman, "Arameans, Aramaic and the Bible," 70.
2William Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language
1969), p. 48.
language was simpler, more flexible, and lacking the
artistry characteristic of the biblical style. It had
more in common with the so-called mishnaic or post-bib-
lical Hebrew. It made up in simplicity, flexibility,
and dynamic qualities for what it lacked in grandeur
Chomsky concludes that there seems to have existed
Side by side there were the literary or classical tradition
and the popular or conversational tradition.
The first tradition followed generally the Canaanitic or
Ugaritic literary models, which date back to the pre-
biblical days. In its poetic style, its parallelisms,
vocabulary, metaphors, and locutions, the Bible fre-
quently evinces a striking resemblance to these ancient
documents. The second tradition had its roots, appar-
ently, in the vernacular, which the early Hebrew ances-
tors had brought with them from their native homeland in
ditions admitted, on occasion, of free intercrossing and
mutual influence, as will be pointed out in Chapter IX
of this volume. It is nonetheless quite probable, as
will be indicated later, that the Canaanite influence
was prevalent in literary Hebrew, while the Aramaic in-
fluence was preponderant in the vulgar or conversational
The possible influence of Canaanite on the language
of Koheleth is taken up below. For the present, however,
the reader should notice that at least part of the linguis-
tic peculiarities of the book may be a reflection of a more
conversational than literary Hebrew.
Late-dating by Aramaisms
In his commentary on Ecclesiastes, Wright compiled
lIbid., pp. 48-9.
2Ibid., p. 49.
at least 98 expressions which he said were "worthy of notice
as belonging mainly to the modern period of the Hebrew lan-
guage,"1 and which, therefore, supported the contention that
the Aramaisms of the book make a late date certain. Others,
such as Hengstenberg, who allowed only ten Aramaisms in the
book, are much more modest.2 It is, unfortunately, beyond
the scope of this thesis to discuss each of these instances
individually, but the methodology of such procedures must be
When one speaks of "Aramaisms" he must first of all
define which of the types of Aramaisms he means.3 If it is
an "Aramaism" so named because it is statistically unusual,
but perfectly normal Hebrew, its bearing on the date of the
book is negligible. If an Aramaism is used to date Ecclesi-
astes, it must be proven that (1) the word was borrowed at
a time subsequent to Solomon, and that (2) Hebrew did not
have and would not have used such an expression. These two
criteria seem reasonable enough, but they make it very
1Wright, Koheleth, pp. 488 ff.
2Ernest W. Hengstenberg, A Commentary on Ecclesi-
astes (n.p.: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1960), p. 9.
3Cf. the distinctions of Barr and Gordis above. On
the relationship of Hebrew and Aramaic, cf. Zellig S. Harris,
Development of the Canaanite Dialects, Vol. 16 in the Ameri-
can Oriental Series, ed. by W. Norman Brown
Kraus Reprint Corporation, reprint, 1967), pp. 1-28.
difficult for the late-date theory of Ecclesiastes, predi-
cated upon the language of the book, to stand. This is for
Limited vocabulary.--While it is true that there is
presently extant a vast Hebrew vocabulary, it is not true
that the Hebrew of the Bible represents all the Hebrew words
which must have been in use in ancient times. It is true,
for example, that the word hfAwA does not appear in biblical
Hebrew, though it does appear in biblical Aramaic and in
modern Hebrew.1 One must nevertheless be very cautious in
pronouncing on these grounds that it did not exist in Hebrew
during biblical times, for the word appears as a Canaanite
gloss in the Amarna letters.2 One here reaches the limits
which are set for linguistic assertions about a dead lan-
guage which has left only a very restricted body of litera-
ture. There are numerous objects and realities of Hebrew
life for which biblical Hebrew has no known name. The non-
occurrence of the word in the literature presently extant is
not proof that it was unknown.3 The same applies to
lBDB, Lexicon, p. 1116.
2It is listed as "šêtu, Stande [hour], kanaan.?
[canaanite?]" in J. A. Knudtzon, Herausgegeber, Die El-Amar-
na-Tafeln, Band II (zwei Bände: Aallen: Otto Zeller
Verlagsbuchhandlung, Neudruck, 1964), p. 1521; 138:76.
3James Barr, Biblical Words for Time (
instances of hapax legomena, whose only parallels can be
found in Aramaic. It is almost inconceivable
that the seven or eight vocables found in the Hebrew
Bible constituted all the words that were current in
the language during that period, just as it would be ab-
surd to assume that the 25,000 words used by Shakespeare
or the 12,000 words employed by
total vocabulary in vogue in their respective periods.l
Later documents.--Furthermore, one may not legiti-
mately maintain that a document is late merely because it
contains words which do not occur in the earlier ones pres-
find of Egyptian Aramaic papyri gives us words not known be-
fore--except, if at all, in documents written hundreds of
of proof that will prove almost everything to be late, and
especially the parts considered late to be early, is absurd
and inadmissable as evidence in a case designed to prove
that some documents are later than others because they con-
tain words of this kind."3 By statistical analysis of the
books of the Old Testament he demonstrated that some of the
later books (Ezra 1-6, Malachi, Ezekiel) have a far smaller
1Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language, p. 209.
2Robert Dick Wilson, A Scientific Investigation of
the Old Testament (hereinafter referred to as Investigation)
(Philadelphia: The Sunday School Times Co., 1926), p. 132.
3Ibid., p. 133.
percentage of words occurring 5 times or less, and also oc-
curring in the Talmud, than do some of the earlier writings
("J," "E," Sam. --Kings, "P," and the "Deuteronomist").1 The
presence of "rare" words in a document is no proof of its
relative lateness. Many of these "rare" words were labeled
"Aramaisms" in previous years because they were more common
in Aramaic than in Biblical Hebrew, but the argument is not
H. L. Ginsberg alleges that the Hebrew of Koheleth
must represent "the latest stage in the evolution of bibli-
cal Hebrew"3 because the root JqaTA (4:12; 6:10) "can only be
borrowed from Aramaic; and not before the seventh century
B.C.E., since the initial consonant represents a Proto-Se-
mitic t which was only shifted to t in Aramaic in the sev-
enth century B.C.E."4 He also argues that the nouns MysiDer;Pa
and MgAt;Pi must be late because they are borrowed from Persian
sixth century B.C.E."5
In these statements, however, he has made some basic
lIbid., p. 135.
2But see GKC, Grammar, where upon this basis these
are late-dated: Joshua, Ruth, Jonah, Ecclesiastes, Job, et
al. (p. 16, sect 2u).
3Ginsberg, "Ecclesiastes," p. 350.
methodological errors. He has assumed that the word JqeTA
could not have been known earlier than the Aramaic inscrip-
tions in which it is now extant (the word originated only
just prior to the inscription?) and he assumes that the pre-
cise date of the phonetic shift of which he speaks is known
(it originated just prior to the inscriptions?). As to the
"Persian" words, Ginsberg again assumes too much. He not
only supposes that the words could not have been adopted
earlier than the period of Persian domination, he also sup-
poses that they could not have been shared by Hebrew as
words common to both. From a purely linguistic standpoint,
there is nothing about the words which is necessarily
strange or foreign. It is true that the usual Hebrew pat-
tern is formed with a triconsonantal root, but
forms are attested over the entire Semitic area on the
pattern C1aC2C3aC4u: e.g. Heb. 'aqrāb, Syr. ‘əqarbā,
(Eth. 'aqrab "scorpion." Examples of other four-radical
patterns are Akk. humsīru "mouse," Heb. 'akkabīš "spi-
der," Syr. 'uqbərā "mouse," Ar. qunfud "hedgehog," Eth.
It is one thing to make assertions like Ginsberg's;
it is another to substantiate them. In view of the very
scanty inscriptional evidence available for Aramaic from the
early part of the first millennium B.C., it seems better to
resist generalizations about what words were or were not in
the language, and when they originated.
1Moscati, Comparative Grammar, p. 84.
Reasons for Aramaisms.--There are yet other factors
in deciding the impact of the supposed Aramaisms of Ecclesi-
astes. A Hebrew writer could have used an Aramaic word to
denote a thing, or to express a thought,"either because
there was no Hebrew word that he could equally well employ
[at least from his own vocabulary], or because he was him-
self strongly under Aramaic influence, or because he wanted
to show off his acquaintance with foreign tongues."1 Both
the former and the latter of these are distinct possibili-
ties for Solomon. Certainly they are just as possible as
the overworked second one.
It should not escape the reader's notice that Solo-
mon had every opportunity to imbibe foreign expressions. As
was previously pointed out, he had a step-mother who was an
Aramean, Maacah (2 Sam. 3:3), of which union with David were
born Tamar and Solomon's notorious brother Absalom (2 Sam.
13:2). When difficulties beset
his Aramean grandfather in Geshur that Absalom fled for pro-
tection.2 A certain close relationship is therefore as-
sumed, and it is not improbable that Solomon himself may
have at times visited this step-grandfather as a child, not
to speak of the contact he probably had with the Aramaic-
1Wilson, Investigation, p. 140.
2Bowman, "Arameans, Aramaic, and the Bible," 70.
speaking Maacah. Furthermore, Solomon himself married an
Aramean (1 Kings 3:1, 11:3). He also had other wives from
the Ammonite, Moabite, Hittite, Phoenician, and Egyptian
kingdoms.1 He even
built store-towns in Hamath.3 Consequently, one would not
be surprised that he might choose to write something spiced
with foreign expressions and words. This is only a conjec-
ture, but it is a possibility.
Noun formations.--It has also been alleged that
nouns ending in N are Aramaisms. The same is argued for
many of those ending in tU. However, it has been demon-
strated that such nouns are found throughout Semitic lan-
guages at all stages of their development.4
1Heinrich Graetz, History of the Jews, Vol. I (Phil-
adelpia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, re-
print, 1967), p. 161. Also see Charles Foster Kent, The
Founders and Rulers of
Scribner's Sons, 1908), p. 1.
2Theodore H. Robinson, A History of
cus (London: James Clarke and Co., Ltd., 1957), p. 54.
4Moscati, Comparative Grammar, pp. 82-3; 96 ff. Cf.
lists of Thutmes [sic.] III have seventeen nouns ending in
n out of 119 all told. The Sendscherli Inscriptions have no
nouns in n but the Sachau papyri have scores. They are
found also in the Sabean and Minean Inscriptions and are
common in Arabic and Syriac. There are 14 in the code of
Hammurabi alone and 26 in the Babylonian of the Amarna
Exclusive of proper names, about one hundred and forty
nouns ending in n are found in Biblical Hebrew. Sixty-
three of these are met with in the Pentateuch. Of the
sixty-three, the Targum of Onkelos renders twelve by the
same nouns ending in n, and fifty-one by other nouns,
most of them ending in n. It will thus be seen that
where the subject-matter is exactly the same, the Hebrew
original and the Aramaic version have exactly the same
number of words ending in n. Judging from this fact, it
is left to our readers to determine, if they can, wheth-
er the ending n is more characteristic of Aramaic than
There are several specific instances of supposed
Aramaisms in Ecclesiastes which
is true that the word NOFl;wi is found only in Ecclesiastes
(8:4, 8), it is also true that its root occurs in Akkadian,
as well as in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, and Syriac.2 Some-
times "rare" words are "rare" only in the sense that they
appear few times in the biblical text. This does not mean
that they were not common in the Hebrew language.
Reasons for non-routine terms.--Besides the fact
that some of the terms in Ecclesiastes may be strange only
because such a small amount of literature from Solomon's
time is presently extant, there are other reasons which can
1Wilson, Investigation, pp. 147-8. It is also in-
teresting that in the Mesha inscription, the plural ending
in is consistently used, instead of the more Hebraic im.
Yet, in many respects the Mesha inscription is very similar
to Hebrew (Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language, p. 67;
cf. Cross and Freedman, Early Hebrew Orthography, pp. 39,
A. H. Van Zyl, The Moabites [
1960], p. 171-2).
2Wilson, Investigation, p. 151.
be adduced for their peculiarity. One may be that the char-
acter of the subject matter, rather than the lateness of the
time of composition, has made the language somewhat differ-
ent.1 Furthermore, it is difficult to see why it would be
more likely that the thoughts of the unconventional writer
would find expression in the language of every day, or the
language of the historian or prophet. Koheleth was a so-
phisticated writer who may have written for learned readers
and, who, in any event, wrote for some audience who would be
able to understand and appreciate his language.2 Moreover,
if Solomonic authorship is accepted for Ecclesiastes, and
Davidic authorship for many of the Psalms, Solomon would
certainly have had an exceedingly rich literary heritage
from his father, which may have had the effect of making his
own writing (especially if he chose to let it) singularly
distinctive. Who, having translated the Psalms can gainsay
In addition, the task of the writer of Ecclesiastes
was rendered difficult by two other facts. The Hebrew lan-
guage has rather simple structure, and only a relatively few
syntactic devices are available to express all possible nu-
ances of meaning. Moods of verbs must be inferred from the
lIbid., p. 150.
2Mitchell J. Dahood, "Canaanite-Phoenician Influence
in Qoheleth," (hereinafter referred to as "Qoheleth")
Biblica, 33:1 (1952), 31, note 1.
context, and subordinate clauses of all varieties are exter-
nally indistinguishable from coordinate clauses. These fac-
tors obviously complicate the understanding where precision
is essential.1 Yet another difficulty in the understanding
of Koheleth, his modes of expression, and his vocabulary, is
that he was struggling to use Hebrew for philosophic pur-
poses, a use to which the language was not normally applied.
A millennium and a half later, "medieval translators still
found that Hebrew had not yet fully developed the flexibili-
ty, precision and vocabulary necessary for the treatment of
philosophic themes."2 Koheleth's comparative success in
this respect is a tribute to his literary skill.
Conclusion on Aramaisms
It is, therefore, the conclusion of the writer that
the date, and the limits it places upon the authorship, must
be decided by means other than inferences drawn from the
literary style or linguistic peculiarities of the book.
Aramaisms may be used to prove or to disprove Solomonic
authorship, depending upon one's presuppositions and biases.
In any event, one cannot but
firms that "the presence of Aramaisms is no necessary
1Gordis, Poets, Prophets and Sages, p. 343.
indication of late date."1
An Aramaic, original
In addition to those who view the language of Ec-
clesiastes as heavily influenced by Aramaic, and therefore
late, there are those who argue strongly for an Aramaic
original for the book, of which the presently extant Hebrew
Koheleth is apparently a rather poor translation. This
theory was first raised as a question by Burkitt, has been
maintained by Zimmermann, and vigorously defended by H. L.
Ginsberg.2 Burkitt published his brief analysis of the
style of Ecclesiastes in 1921, in which he concluded that
the style was neither natural nor correct, and therefore
must be a translation from Aramaic.3 There are numerous
arguments from the Aramaic offered as solutions to the vari-
ous enigmas of the book. Representative samples will suf-
fice to demonstrate the methodology.
There are many verses which those who propose an
1Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p.
2Gordis, Koheleth, pp. 374, 413. Cf. F. C. Burkitt,
"Is Ecclesiastes a Translation?" Journal of Theological
Studies, 22 (1921), 23 ff.; F. Zimmermann, "The Aramaic
Provenance of Koheleth," 17-46; and H. L. Ginsberg, Studies
in Koheleth in Texts and Studies of the Jewish Theological
logical Seminary of America, 1950), pp. 16-40.
3Dahood, "Qoheleth," 31.
Aramaic original feel are much more easily translated upon
the basis of that theory. Following is a discussion of
three of them.
Ecclesiastes 7:12.--The NASB translation of this
verse is "wisdom is protection just as money is protection."
The margin is, "lit., in a shadow." The Hebrew reads: yKi
Js,KAha lceB; hmAk;HAha lcEB;. Rowley says, in reviewing the reasons
for an Aramaic original, that "the strongest individual ar-
gument [for such an original] in the reviewer's opinion, is
the claim [of Ginsberg and Zimmermann] that lceB; in 7:12 goes
back to the Aramaic tlaFiB; in the first case and lFeB; in the
second, and that these were wrongly taken to be nouns when
they should have been regarded as verbs, yielding the sense
‘when the wisdom goes, the money goes.’"1
There are several problems with this argument, how-
ever. First of all, if the "original Aramaic" had lFEB; in
7:12, why did the translator not use the same Hebrew word
for it (lFaBA) as he did in 12:3. To be sure, this is the
only occurrence of the word in the Hebrew Old Testament, but
it appears to have a legitimate Hebrew usage, attested in
Akkadian as batâlu.2 It is passing strange that the
1H. H. Rowley, "The Problems of Ecclesiastes," The
Jewish Quarterly Review, XLII (1951-2), 88.
2KB, Lexicon, p. 119. Cf. also Riekele Borger,
Babylonisch-Assyrische Lesestücke, Heft I (3 Hefte: Roma:
Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1963), p. LI.
supposed translator would have used another word, when the
Hebrew and Aramaic words were identical both in spelling
and meaning. It is true that c and F are both emphatic
phonemes and therefore closely akin, something which, no
doubt, points to two related proto-Semitic roots.1 This
fact does not, however, support the Aramaic original hypoth-
esis. It should also be noticed that Symmachus, the Peshit-
ta, Jerome, and the Vulgate seem to support another reading:
lceK; hmAk;HA lceK;, while the LXX and others support a variant of
this: lck hmkH lcb.2 The word lceK; would consist of the
inseparable preposition K and lce, from the verbal root III.
llacA, meaning "to be or grow dark."3 lce here would mean
"shadow."4 The targum seems to support the NASB translation
above, rather than the one based on an Aramaic original.
While it is true that the written targum material
is rather late, it is also true that it preserves a
tradition, probably dating at least to the time from which
the supporters of the Aramaic original hypothesis would
say that the book of Ecclesiastes should be dated (third or
1Cf. several other Semitic languages which have a
cognate beginning with t in KB, Lexicon, p. 804.
2Rudolf Kittel, ed., Biblia Hebraica (
Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1966), p. 1220.
3KB, Lexicon, p. 804; cf. BDB, Lexicon, 853.
4KB, Lexicon, p. 803.
fourth centuries B.C.). The targum seems to be much easier
to explain in terms of an original written in Hebrew, rather
than one written in Aramaic. One wonders why the targum
would differ so much from what the Aramaic original was
supposed to have been. Is one to suppose that the Aramaic
was translated into Hebrew, and then the Hebrew was trans-
lated back into Aramaic for the targum? If Ginsberg's and
Zimmermann's hypothesis were correct, for instance, one
would have expected to have found lFeBA, "to be void,
abolished, suspended; to cease to exist" in the present
Finally, the translation of this verse suggested
by Ginsberg and Zimmermann does not fit the context. Such
a circumstance makes any suggested translation very doubt-
ful. The Aramaic original hypothesis does not seem to offer
a valid solution to the
problems of this verse.
Ecclesiastes 10:15.--Perhaps the most striking ex-
ample of the difficulties created by the Aramaic original
hypothesis of Zimmermann is to be found in this verse,
translated, "the toil of a fool tires him so that he does
not know to go to a city." It reads in Hebrew: MyliysiK;ha lmafE
ryfi-lf, tk,l,lA fdayA-xlo rw,xE Unf,G;yaT;.
1Jastrow, Dictionary, Vol. I, p. 157.
He [Zimmermann] confesses that he cannot solve the last
part of the verse, but undertakes to explain the changes
of gender and number in the first half. The Aramaic
reads hnyhlwt xyFwd xtvHfF. The translator rendered
xtvHrF by lmf. The next moment, in translating hnyFlwt,
he forgot that his Hebrew read lmf, a masculine noun,
and so he mechanically wrote the verb in the feminine
fgyt. But his lapses were not yet at an end. He mis-
read xyFwd as a plural and rendered it Mylyskh, but, at
the very next word, forgot that he had rendered it thus
and recognized it as a singular, hence the singular suf-
fix in vxfgyt.
That this passage is difficult is clear. That this
explanation meets the situation seems considerably less
certain. The illustration is only one of many indicat-
ing the depths of stupidity and incompetence which must
be assumed for the translator who, judging by Chapter
XII, was not as inept as the theory cheerfully assumes.1
Again, this observation by Gordis seems to be sup-
ported by the targum.2 Even though the actual composition
of Targum Onkelos is somewhat later than the Aramaic original
was written, one would have expected in the targum a reflec-
tion of a good deal more of the reconstructed Aramaic origi-
nal than one finds.
Ecclesiastes 11:1.--It is also suggested that this
verse, translated in the NASB, "Cast your bread upon the
surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days,"
is an instance in which an Aramaic original explains an
otherwise inexplicable enigma. Zimmermann's argument is
1Robert Gordis, "The Original Language of Qoheleth,"
The Jewish Quarterly Review, XXXVII:l (July, 1946), 70-1.
2Cf. the text of rbrpw, tymrxb wdqh ybtk, d jrk,
that the translators confused
the "original Aramaic"
(spread, as a sail, garment, etc.) and II. srp (break, as in
breaking bread).1 Thus, the Hebrew "translators" rendered
the phrase MyimAha yneP;-lfa j~m;H;la Hla.wa (according to II. srp), us-
ing the word MH,l,. Again, however, the roots for both I and
II srp appear in Hebrew (although
wraPA.2 Why would a translator have used words other than
those completely cognate, however, especially when the re-
sultant sense of his translation in Hebrew is apparently so
strange? A good translator would have used Hebrew sraPA,
which has the same meaning as Aramaic sraP;. There must have
been a reason for this circumstance, and the explanation one
finds most satisfying is that which posits a Hebrew original,
which, when written had a clear meaning, but which now is
lost. The targum interprets the verse in the sense of
giving MHal; (alms, help) to the poor, for which one would
eventually be rewarded. Perhaps the explanation is to be
1Zimmermann, "The Question of Hebrew in Qoheleth,"
92. Cf. also Frank Zimmermann, The Inner World of Qoheleth
(New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1973), pp. 111-12.
2BDB, Lexicon, pp.828, 831. This same root is found
in relation to food in Ugaritic. Cf. Cyrus H. Gordon, Ugar-
itic Textbook (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1965),
470, #2110. DISO gives a meaning for
siéger," ("to beseige, to dun"), found in the Mesha inscrip-
tion, but this does not seem to help much (p. 137). Dalman
suggests "Unterhalt," ("support") and "Masse," ("assets"),
which would fit this context (Gustaf H. Dalman, Aramäisch-
Neuhebräisches Handwörterbuch zu Targum, Talmud and Midrasch
(Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1967), p. 216.
found in such a different shade of meaning for the word MH,l,,
as the targum has done.1
Proofs for a Hebrew original
Besides the failure of the Aramaic original hypoth-
esis in these specific instances to account for completely
cognate Hebrew words which could have been used, and were
not, there are several other difficulties which seem to make
a Hebrew original more probable.
Two Hebrew dialects.--Chomsky makes an interesting
observation about different dialects in Hebrew, which may
not always have been reflected in the biblical style:
It must therefore be assumed, as has already been point-
ed out, that alongside the literary classical style
there existed a simple conversational style, employed
especially by the peasants and simple folk of the back-
woods, particularly in the northern
where these erotic pastoral idylls [i.e. the Song of
Songs] must have been in vogue. It is inconceivable
that even in
even during the heyday of the classical period, spoke
the noble and majestic prose typical of Amos and Isaiah,
or even of Genesis and Deuteronomy. More probably, men
like Amos and Isaiah, after writing down or delivering
their lofty and noble messages in the classical style,
addressed their acquaintances or members of their family
in the simple conversational dialect, including col-
loquialisms and slang, current among the rest of the
people. This non-classical style must have gained cur-
rency during the exilic and post-exilic periods, owing
especially to the unsettled and transmigratory condi-
tions of the people of those days. It often takes cen-
turies for a new word-coinage to take root and be widely
lrbrpw, tymrxb wdqh ybtk, x-d Jrk, p. 166.
employed. Little wonder, then, that many of the so-
called mishnaic words, grammatical forms and syntactical
constructions, are already in evidence in the Bible, to
a greater or lesser degree.1
It has already been suggested that Solomon may have
been influenced by his Aramean relatives, as well as his
foreign wives. Both the intended recipients and the con-
tents of the book may also have affected his style. It will
also be suggested below that he may have been influenced by
a Phoenician literary genre of the philosophic discourse.
Finally, his style may have been influenced by the common
conversational language of the people. It is easily seen,
therefore, that no one solution may totally solve the prob-
lems with the peculiarities of the language of Ecclesiastes.
The best solution seems to be one which finds a number of
different influences at work upon the author.
Paronomasia.--The phenomenon of paronomasia, which
exist in the present Hebrew text, and which would not have
existed in an Aramaic text, also argues against an Aramaic
original. "Thus in 7:1, the play on šem and šemen would be
lost in the Aramaic sum and misha."2 This same paronomasia
occurs in Song of Solomon 1:3: j~m,w; qraUT Nm,w,. Other in-
stances of paronomasia in the book are "7:6, hassīrīm,
1Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language, p. 161.
2Gordis, Koheleth, p. 413.
'thorns,' and hassīr, 'pot'; and 9:5 zēkher, 'remember,' and
sākhār, 'reward' (rather than the usual yithrōn)."1 Gins-
berg counters by offering an example of a supposed parono-
masia in the "alleged Aramaic of 3:4, raqed, 'dance,' and
‘arqed, 'mourn,’”2 but as Gordis states, "this rhetorical
usage among fourteen pairs of verbs in the Catalogue of
Seasons is hardly impressive."3
Canaanite parallels.--The vocabulary of Koheleth
reflects a very ancient Canaanite literary background.
"That the singularly inept translator whom the theory [of an
Aramaic original] creates would render the Aramaic original
into Hebrew, using words and phrases derived from a very
ancient Northwest Semitic literary tradition, is another
extreme coincidence difficult to accept."4
Ben Sira.--Ben Sira's verbal dependence on Ecclesi-
astes also strengthens the case for the Hebrew original.
"It would surely be remarkable that Ben Sira (c. 190 B.C.E.)
could use the Aramaic 'original' of Koheleth and translate
its phraseology into Hebrew which resembles the independent
translation of Koheleth, not produced until much later!"5
lIbid. 2lbid. 3Ibid. 4Ibid., p. 414.
5Ibid. Later, that is, according to their theory.
Characteristics of a translation.--There is a very
fundamental objection to the widely-held theory that a dif-
ficult text ipso facto presupposes a translation from anoth-
er language. When faced with a difficult original a trans-
lator may misread it for lack of an adequate knowledge of
the vocabulary, and he may misconstrue the grammar. He may
tacitly emend the text, fail to penetrate its meaning, and
add irrelevant thoughts to it. But ultimately he decides
upon some view of the passage, which he then expresses in
his own idiom. "His version may be incorrect, but it will
be clear and intelligible far more so than the original, all
the difficulties and alternatives of which will have been
ignored or obscured in the process."1
Other things being equal, it may therefore be maintained
that a difficult text may be presumed to be the original
rather than a translation. In general, the translation
hypothesis may be described as visiting the sins, real
or imaginary, of the author, upon an unlucky translator.
To him no folly or stupidity is deemed impossible. Thus
Dr. Zimmermann asks us to believe that in 9:1 the "trans-
lator slipped, thoughtlessly incorporating the Aramaic
Mhydbf into the text instead of the usual hWfm" (p. 20).
But the word hWfm occurs in the book sixteen times be-
fore this passage, and four times thereafter, all with-
in 222 verses. This would be a remarkable lapse of
memory, since the translator had rendered it correctly
in the verse immediately preceding and had then rapidly
recovered, nine verses later.2
A translator is always conscious of the distinctions
between the two languages on which he is engaged, for that
lIbid., p.. 69.
2Ibid., p. 70.
is, after all, the purpose of his task. He is trying to
take a document written for the speakers of one language and
render it in a language and idiom intelligible to the speak-
ers of another language. If it were really a Hebrew trans-
lation of an Aramaic original, it is not unreasonable to
suppose that in such a case the supposed Aramaisms would
have been Hebraized as well.1
On the other hand, a creative writer, familiar with
two closely related languages, and "struggling to express
his original thought, might unconsciously [or consciously]
employ a word or even a usage from the other language."2
Such has been a common practice in every age, even up to
the present time, in which scholarly English writers employ
especially descriptive and concise foreign terms from Latin,
French, and German quite frequently.
Finally, no one suggests why such a Hebrew transla-
tion world have been made in the first place. Other canoni-
cal works were left in Aramaic. Moreover, if the book does
date from the post-Exilic period (which the Aramaic original
theory assumes), in which Aramaic had become the lingua
the language of the people?
1Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 338.
2Gordis, "'The original Language of Koheleth," 83.
Conclusion on an Aramaic original
On the basis of the above evidence, it is the con-
clusion of the writer that the theory of an Aramaic original
for Koheleth invents more problems than it solves. It seems
best to view the present Hebrew Koheleth as the original.1
It is generally argued by those rejecting Solomonic
authorship that the words j`l,m, ytyyihA tl,h,qo ynixE should be
translated, "I, Koheleth, was king." In this statement, the
writer is allegedly reflecting on a time when he was mon-
arch, but is not at the time of his statement.2 The Talmud
has joined to this verse a fable in which Solomon is com-
pelled to descend from his throne on account of his sins.
An angel bearing his likeness takes his place upon the
throne and Solomon wanders throughout the land, claiming
that he is really the king, but is disbelieved and belittled
by the people. While he goes about begging, this is what he
says: "I, Koheleth, was
1Cf. Robert Gordis, "The Translation Theory of Qo-
heleth Re-Examined," The Jewish Quarterly Review, XL:1
(July, 1949), 116..
2Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, pp. 205-6.
his repentance, he is reinstated.1
There is no proof from Scripture for this story, and
some of its details are ludicrous. It does demonstrate,
however, the difficulty some have seen in maintaining Solo-
monic authorship in the face of Ecclesiastes 1:12. De-
litzsch argues at length that such a statement could not
have been made by a man who was still king.2 ytiyyihA is the
Qal perfect, first person, common, singular, of hyAhA. Archer
has suggested that a fitting translation might be, "I became
king,"3 but one would have expected to find a l; following
hyAhA for this translation, though the translation is not pre-
cluded by its absence. The NASB translates it I "have been"
king, while the ASV translates it "was." But the problem is
not really the translation; it is the interpretation of the
translation which presents the ambiguity. It is helpful in
this instance to compare Jonah 3:3, where the perfect of hyAhA
is used to describe the state
sense of the verse. The verse
cannot mean, "
1Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, Vol. 4 (4
2Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, pp. 205-6.
3Archer, Introduction, pp. 485-6.
4Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 255.
[and is no longer] a great city," for such a statement would
be meaningless for Jonah. Likewise, the meaning of Ecclesi-
astes is: "I, Koheleth,
was [and still am] king over
derstanding of the verse.
Another objection to the Solomonic authorship is
that 1:16, "Behold I have magnified and increased wisdom
above all who were over
ronism and is inexplicable in terms of Solomonic author-
ship.l This objection is apparently grounded in the sup-
position that the author is here referring only to former
kings, and since David and Solomon had been the only Isra-
elite kings in
misplaced. There are two answers to this, however. First
of all, if Solomon were speaking only of kings, he could
have been referring to the long line of non-Israelite kings
which had preceded him, two of the most notable of which
were Melchizedek (Gen. 14:18) and Adonai-Zedek (Josh. 10:1,
lOtto Zöckler, "Ecclesiastes," trans. by William
Wells, in vol. V of Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, ed.
John P. Lange (12 vols., reprinted:
dervan Publishing House, 1971), p. 13.
26).1 But the best explanation is probably that Solomon is
referring to all (i.e., anyone and everyone), not just
kings, who had preceded him in
therefore completely proper and understandable. 1 Kings
4:31 speaks of Solomon's superiority and draws a comparison
with Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, who may very well have been
sages in pre-Davidic Jerusalem.2
The Sitz im Leben of the book
It has been contended that whereas Ecclesiastes
seems to reflect a time when misfortune, misery, and oppres-
sion prevailed, the time of Solomon was one of prosperity
and happiness. Nevertheless, it is questionable whether the
book really does reflect a period of dissatisfaction and
oppression. In any event, it is difficult to make general-
izations about the state of the common people, when so lit-
tle is told about the period in the Bible, and when most of
what is told is concerned with the monarchy. It is, however,
a misconception to maintain that Solomon's period was one of
prosperity and happiness. It may very well not have been,
1Cf. the letters of
'Abdu-Heba, prince of
requesting Egyptian assistance in his struggles with the
'Apiru (W. F. Albright, trans., "The Amarna Letters," in
Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament,
ed. by James B. Pritchard [hereinafter referred to as ANET]
2Archer, Introduction, p. 485.
considering the taxes necessary to support Solomon's extrav-
gances, and considering Solomon's institution of "compulsory
or statute labor."1 Furthermore, prosperity does not equal
happiness, and this is the very point that the author of
Ecclesiastes seems to be arguing. There is nothing in the
tone of the book which precludes its being written during
Arguments for Solomonic Authorship
Mitchell Dahood is the primary advocate of the view
that Koheleth was written in the fourth century B.C. in He-
brew, but using Phoenician orthography, and that it shows
literary influence.2 The
tial difference between Hebrew and Phoenician orthography, a
difference which became more pronounced in the post-exilic
era, was the use of final and medial vowel letters by the
Hebrew and the total lack of them in standard Phoenician
1Martin Noth, The History of
1958), p. 209.
2By "literary influence" is meant the morphological,
syntactical, and lexical phases of the author's style. Cf.
Dahood, "Qoheleth," 22. Cf. the many points of similarity
in Zellig S. Harris, A Grammar of the Phoenician Language
in the American Oriental Series, ed. by W. Norman Brown, et
al., Vol. 8 (
orthography.1 According to Dahood, the medial matres lec-
tiones were introduced into Biblical Hebrew about the sixth
century B.C. under Aramaic influence.2 The use of matres
lectiones became more and more common until by the time of
the Dead Sea Scrolls (first and second centuries B.C.) even
short vowels were represented sometimes by vowel letters.
Thus, while a work composed in Hebrew in the fourth-
third centuries would have been amply supplied with final
and internal matres lectiones, a work composed in the stan-
dard Phoenician orthography of the corresponding period
would not have had these vowel letters, and the possibility
of confusing the singular and the plural of nouns in the
construct chain, unless the context unambiguously determined
the meaning, would have been much greater.3 Dahood's thesis
arises from the fact that the variant readings in Qoheleth
reveal that they are mostly of the type which would have
arisen from the editing or copying of an original text which
1Ibid., 35-6. Cf. GKC, Grammar, p. 5, sect. 2k; and
E. Arbez, "Notes on the New Hebrew Manuscripts," The Catho-
Biblical Quarterly, 12:1 (January, 1950), 173-8. Also cf.
Cross and Freedman, Early Hebrew Orthography, pp. 11-20.
2Dahood, "Qoheleth," 35. On the development of
matres lectiones in Aramaic, cf. Cross and Freedman, Early
Hebrew Orthography, pp. 31-4.
3Dahood, "Qoheleth," 36. For an extensive discus-
sion of the Phoenician script of the later periods, see J.
Brian Peckham, The Development of the Late Phoenician Scripts
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968).
lacked all vowel letters.
If this is proven correct, there are two choices
which may be made about the origin of Koheleth. One may
either say that (1) the book is still to be late-dated, but
that the variants and problems are to be explained on the
basis of Phoenician orthography, as it would have been cur-
rent in the third or fourth centuries B.C., or (2) that the
book was written at a much earlier time in the history of
the Hebrew language when normal Hebrew orthography would not
have included matres lectiones.
It is important to recognize that "linguistically
the book [of Ecclesiastes] is unique."1 All the linguistic
data, including vocabulary, morphology, syntax, and style of
the book have convinced Archer that the text of Ecclesiastes
fits into none of the periods of the history of the Hebrew
language. He states that
no significant affinities may be traced between this
work and any of those canonical books which rationalis-
tic higher criticism has assigned to the Greek period
(Daniel, Zechariah II, Joel, and portions of Deutero-
Isaiah). So far as the early post-Exilic period is con-
cerned, the Heb. of Ecclesiastes is quite as dissimilar
to that of Malachi, Nehemiah, Ezra and Esther as to any
of the pre-Exilic books. This raises insuperable diffi-
culties for the theory of Delitzsch and Young, who date
1Gleason L. Archer, Jr., "The Linguistic Evidence
for the Date of Ecclesiastes," Journal of the Evangelical
Theological Society, XII:3 (Summer, 1969), 167.
it around 430 B.C., and of
makes it 400.1
Furthermore, the linguistic problem is not solved by
moving the date forward to the Greek period or the Intertes-
tamental period. There are "absolutely no affinities be-
tween the language of
Ecclesiastes and that of the
sectarian literature."2 An actual comparison of this text
with the Hebrew of the Talmud and the Midrash shows fully as
great a dissimilarity as to any book of the Old Testament
Canon. "No truly objective or scientific examination of
these linguistic data can come out to any other result than
that present evidence fails to establish the contemporaneity
of Ecclesiastes with any period whatever in the history of
Hebrew literature, on the basis of the documents now ex-
A literary genre
Gordis asserts that "the concept of a ‘normal lit-
erary Hebrew’ has little or no meaning except within the
context of specific literary genres."4 It is the feeling of
Archer that Ecclesiastes belongs to a particular literary
genre, that of the philosophic discourse. There is increas-
ing evidence that in the
Style," Biblica, 41:4 (1960), 402.
often be classified according to differing literary genres.
"Modern discovery makes completely justifiable the position
that the ancient Semitic cultures cultivated differing
styles and choices of vocabulary according to the conven-
tions of each genre such as demonstrably obtained in the an-
cient Hellenic culture."1
Just as in Akkadian literature, legal codes and con-
tract tablets present a great contrast to each other both in
technique and style, and these in turn differ from the epis-
tolary or historical prose coming from about the same peri-
od, so also in Hebrew a conventional language in style came
to be used, which was felt to be peculiarly fitting for each
literary genre.2 This same phenomenon can be observed in
Greek literature, where it is found that once a genre was
developed in a particular locality or city-state, the dia-
lect and lexical stock of the original perfecters of this
genre became standard for all subsequent composers in it
from that time forward, regardless of the idiom and style
lArcher, "The Linguistic Evidence for the Date of
2Idem, Introduction, p. 482. For examples of the
of a legal code, cf. Codex Hammurabi in
Babylonisch-Assyrische Lesestücke, Hefte II, III; and G. R.
Driver and John C. Miles, eds., The Babylonian Laws, Vol. II
English translation of Akkadian prose, cf. A. Leo Oppenheim,
trans., "Babylonian and Assyrian Historical Texts," in ANET,
prevailing in the composer's own area. "Thus, since it was
Homer who first brought the epic to its classical perfection
and did so in the Old Ionic dialect (with some admixtures of
other dialects spoken in his locality), it became the con-
vention from then on for all composers of epics to employ
his Old Ionic, regardless of what their own native tongue
might be."1 Likewise, the Dorian Greeks were the perfecters
of choral poetry, so all choral poetry from that time for-
ward had to be in Doric, even in the midst of Attic dramas.
The same held true for lyric love poetry, which was written
in the Aeolic dialect.2
It is, therefore, not impossible that Ecclesiastes
belonged to a special genre just as distinct as the Psalm,
the Historical Narrative, and the Levitical Code. It had,
consequently, a distinct literary tradition behind it, which
was apparently derived from a segment of the Canaanite cul-
ture which had first developed it as a literary form.
This was the genre of the philosophical treatise, a type
of literature with which a genius of wide-ranging inter-
ests like Solomon would undoubtedly have encountered in
Phoenician circles. During his reign there were close
commercial and political relations with King Hiram of
dom would naturally incline him in this direction. As a
careful observer of literary form and tradition, it is
only to be expected that he preserved a distinct style
1Archer, "The Linguistic Evidence for the Date of
and vocabulary for a love poem like Canticles and a
collection of apothegms like Proverbs. This variety of
treatment and style is no more striking than that ob-
servable in the later prophets, such as Hosea and Isa-
iah, when they shifted from oratorical prose to emotion-
ally charged poetry, with its omission of the definite
article and its adoption of parallelistic structure.1
One of the first to point out the foreign nature of
the Hebrew of Ecclesiastes was Professor Margoliouth of
Oxford.2 He offered a rebuttal to those who were explaining
the linguistic peculiarities of Koheleth on the basis of Ara-
maic or Mishnaic traits. He pointed to the frequency of the
participial present, the unintelligibility of certain
phrases which are apparently not garbled in transmission,
the lack of sharpness in some of the aphorisms, the complete
omission of the name hvhy, the utter lack of reference to
distinctive Jewish matters as pointing to foreign Hebrew,
and yet he asserted a late date (about 400. B.C.), though not
as late as some of his contemporaries were proposing.3
It is possible that the "philsophical discourse
genre" used a dialect more similar to conversational Hebrew,
the Hebrew Chomsky argues was ultimately the foundation of
2David Samuel Margoliouth, "Ecclesiastes," The Jew-
ish Encyclopaedia, V, 32-4.
4Chomsky, Hebrew: The Eternal Language, pp. 49, 161.
As stated previously, Dahood's hypothesis is that
the book was originally composed by an author who wrote in
Hebrew, but who employed Phoenician orthography, and whose
composition shows heavy Canaanite--Phoenician influence.1 He
is supported in this opinion by W. F. Albright.2 The cases
he lists in support of his arguments are too numerous to
cite exhaustively. However, several of them are discussed
so that his theory as a whole may be evaluated.
Ecclesiastes 1:10.--This verse affords an example
characteristic of several textual problems, which Dahood
cites as originating in scripto defectiva. The Massoretic
text reads: Unn,pAl;mi hyAhA rw,xE MymilAfol; while several other
manuscripts read: UnnepAl;.mi UyhA rw,xE MymilAfol;. Though some have
attempted to justify the singular verb on the ground that
the Hebrew Bible is not always exact in the agreement be-
tween the subject and the verb, even when the subject comes
1Dahood, "Qoheleth," 32. These ideas were original-
ly formulated by Dahood in his doctoral dissertation at the
Influence in Qoheleth." Cf. also Mitchell Dahood, "Phoeni-
cian Elements in Isaiah 52:13-53:12," in Near Eastern
Studies in Honor of William Foxwell Albright, ed. by Hans
Goedicke (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1971), p. 73.
2"[Ecclesiastes] betrays Phoenician influence in
spelling, morphology, syntax, vocabulary and content" (W. F.
Albright, "Some Canaanite-Phoenician Sources of Hebrew
in Wisdom in
in Supplements to Vetus
Vol. III [
Brill, reprint, 1969]), p. 6.
first, Dahood feels that there are too many discrepancies of
this kind to ascribe them to the grammatical imprecision of
the author. He feels that it is much more reasonable to
suppose that the original reading was a purely consonantal
yh, which could have been taken as the singular, or as the
plural.1 In the same manner Dahood explains most of the
variants in the book.
Ecclesiastes 1:16.--The Massoretic text reads: -lKA
hyAhA-rw,xE, while several other manuscripts read: UyhA-rw,xE-lKA,2
though this is not reflected in Kittel's apparatus.3 This
would have been a very easy mistake to make, for a copyist,
who would probably have been inclined to write the simplest
form of the consonants yh.
Ecclesiastes 2:2.--The Massoretic text reads: hzo.,
while some other manuscripts have txz and vz,4 though,
again, this is not reflected in Kittel's apparatus. It
would have been difficult for these variants to have arisen
1Dahood, "Qoheleth," 43. By the time of the Siloam
inscription (c. 700 B.C.) , the word appears as (hyh)
(cf. Donner and Röllig, Kanaanäische: und Aramäische
Inschriften, Band I, text 189, p. 134.
2Dahood, "Qoheleth," 37.
3Rudolf Kittel, ed., Biblia Hebraica (
Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1966), p. 1212.
4Dahood, "Qoheleth." Cf. Harris, A Grammar of the
Phoenician Language, p. 53.
had Koheleth been composed in the scriptio plena of the
fourth century Hebrew orthography; but in Phoenician spel-
ling (and possibly in Solomon's time) the masculine and the
feminine demonstrative pronoun "this" was spelled merely by
the letter z.1
Ecclesiastes 2:24.--The Massoretic text reads xyhi,
while many other manuscripts read xUh. In Phoenician spel-
ling both the feminine and masculine third person pronouns
are written xh.2 Since in this context either gender is
grammatically justifiable, the present differences resulted.
It is reasonable, therefore, that the Vorlage may not have
been provided with vowel letters.
Other examples.--Dahood lists many more examples.
While it is, regrettably, beyond the scope of this thesis to
be more specific, it should be noted that Dahood also finds
Phoenician parallels in several other areas. Koheleth em-
ploys the masculine plural suffix: Mh,- for a feminine ante-
cedent no less than five times, and the feminine plural
suffix Nh,- is not to be found in the book at all. The femi-
nine demonstrative pronoun is hz, instead of the normal
lA form Nz is found only on an
but it is not known which Phoenician dialect this repre-
sents (Harris, A Grammar of the Phoenician Language, p. 53).
2Ibid., p. 47.
Dahood also finds a parallel in the relative pronoun
w, often used in Ecclesiastes instead of rwAxE. w is probably
closely related to Phoenician wx and Akkadian ša.2 It
occurs, in fact, as early as the ninth century B.C. in the
Nora inscription from Sardinia.3 It occurs in the Song of
Deborah (yTim;q.awa, Jud. 5:7), and in several other pieces of
literature, all, including the song of Deborah, associated
Now, whatever the relation of the two forms to each
other, there can be no doubt that w, is just as old as
rw,xE, if not older. Its confinement in the earlier books
of the Bible to North Israelitish documents would prove
that its use must have been common in the colloquial
some extent at least, of the Phoenician wx, w, the As-
syrian ša, and, perhaps, also the
scarcity of its occurrence even in these documents must
be explained by the assumption that it was regarded as a
vulgarism which the literary language had to avoid. Its
use gradually extended to
the shorter and more pliable form, it must in the course
of time have entirely supplanted the longer rw,xE in the
language of the common people, and from this it de-
scended directly to MH. But the literary prejudice
lIbid., p. 54. Cf. Dahood, "Qoheleth," 38.
2Harris says: “One can only guess at the origin of
its initial x” (Harris, A Grammar of the Phoenician Lan-
guage, p. 55). He also notes, however, that in some indi-
vidual Semitic and especially Phoenician words, a prothetic
x is used before a sibilant followed by a consonant (Ibid.,
3Donner and Röllig, Kanaanäische and Aramäische
Inschriften, Band II, p. 63; cf. Band III, p. 23.
against it seems to have remained even after BH had
ceased to be a living speech. Hence its nonoccurrence
in Esther, its scarcity in Chronicles, and the anxiety
to avoid it which is displayed by a studious imitator of
the ancients like Sirach, and even by such an indepen-
dent mind as the author of Qoheleth.l
Yet another similarity Dahood finds is the use of
the indefinite pronoun. The development of the indefinite
pronominal combination w hm is peculiar to Koheleth, but is
attested in the Kilamuwa inscription (ninth century B.C.),
which contains the "etymologically identical compound wxm,
which has the meaning 'that which.'"2
Further similarities which Dahood adduces include
the non-syncopated use of the article, nominal formations,
the use of prepositions, the use of adverbs, and the use of
conjunctions. Syntactical similarities include the use of
the infinitive absolute followed by the independent personal
pronoun, the periphrastic future, the accusative of time,
and the accusative of place.3
1M. H. Segal, A Grammar of Mishnaic Hebrew (
At the Clarendon Press, 1958), p. 43.
2Dahood, "Qoheleth," 45. Cf. Donner and Röllig,
Kanaanäische and Aramäische Inschriften, Band I, p. 5,
Inscription 24, line 4; Band II, p. 32.
3For an excellent summary of Dahood's arguments, cf.
Archer, "Linguistic Evidence for the Date of Ecclesiastes."
For the complete arguments see Mitchell Dahood, "Canaanite-
Phoenician Influence in Qoheleth," Biblica 33:2 (1952), 191-
201. This is a continuation of his first article, and is
differentiated hereinafter only by the page numbers, since
it is cited as "Qoheleth" as well.
There are also a number of lexical borrowings. For
instance, the term MdAxA, normally the generic term for man-
kind or for the population of a locality, is the predominant
word in Koheleth (49 times; 7 times for wyxi ), a ratio of
preference which cannot be duplicated in any other book of
the Old Testament.1 In some instances the word is even used
where an individual man is intended (2:18 21). Such a ratio
of preference can, however, be roughly duplicated in the
ninth century Phoenician Azitawadda inscription.2
It is particularly significant that the key phrase
of the book, wm,w.,ha tHaTa (under the sun), which occurs 27 times
in Ecclesiastes, has, in all of ancient Northwest Semitic
literature thus far discovered, been found only in Phoeni-
cian, in the inscriptions of Tabnit and Eshmun'azar of
Sidon.3 There are many other instances of parallels with
1Solomon Mandelkern, Veteris Testamenti Concordan-
tiae, Vol. I (2 vols.:
anstalt, 1955), pp. 12, 13, 51-2.
2Dahood,"Qoheleth," 202-3. Cf. Donner and Röllig,
Kanaanäische and Aramäische Inschriften, Band I, pp. 5-6,
text 26; Band II, pp. 35-43. Azitawadda is the prominent
person of the inscription. It is also known as "Karatepe,"
after the place where it was found. Cf. also Cyrus H. Gor-
don, "Azitawadda's Phoenician Inscription," Journal of Near
Eastern Studies, VIII:2 (April, 1949), 108-115.
3Cf. Donner and Röllig, Kanaanäische and Aramäische
Inschriften, Band I, p. 3, text 14; pp. 3-4, text 13; Band
II, pp. 17-19, 19-23. Cf. also Franz Rosenthal, trans.,
"Canaanite and Aramaic Inscriptions," in ANET, pp. 653-4;
Tabnit and Eshmun'azar are translated in Ibid., p. 662.
Phoenician words, and even cases of attestations of words in
Ugaritic (fifteenth to twelfth centuries B.C.), which had
formerly been called Aramaisms.1
Because of the great similarity between the vocabu-
lary of Koheleth and Phoenician and Ugaritic, Dahood de-
Glares that "lexically, the book of Ecclesiastes stands
alone in the old Testament."2 Of the 29 Aramaisms claimed
by Kautzsch (Die Aramaismen im AT), for example, Dahood
feels that at least a dozen of them can be shown to be not
direct Aramaic borrowings at all, but "derived from the rich
Canaanite-Phoenician vocabulary in use along the eastern
Mediterranean seaboard."3 Dahood also cites 29 commercial
terms which are used throughout the book, showing that who-
ever the author was, he was probably very acquainted with
the business world, and very interested in commerce.4
Gordon also sees Ugaritic parallels in Ecclesiastes,
though he would not draw from them the same inferences that
Dahood does. For example, the phrase Js,KAha lceB; (Eccl. 7:12),
is also found in Ugaritic, in Text 51:II:27:5
(zl ksp). Gordon suggests the translation "shade" for zl,
1Dahood, "Qoheleth," 203-4. 2Ibid., 201.
3Ibid., 202. 4Ibid., 221.
5Gordon, Ugaritic Textbook, p. 170.
and "shelter, house," for a derived form, mzll.l This com-
pares favorably with the NASB translation, "money is protec-
Gordon further points out that not only are northern
idioms to be found in Ecclesiastes, but also northern gram-
matical and lexical features. He feels that the northern
character of Ecclesiastes should be stressed rather than its
reputed "very late" or "Greek" character.2
There is a further Ugaritic parallel in Ecclesiastes
which should be considered:
(hlh tšpl hlh trm). This is translated by Dahood, "Behold
it is slack, behold it is erect" (Text 52:32).3 The pairing
špl // rm equals the balance found in Ecclesiastes 10:6.4
lIbid., p. 407, #1052; cf. p. 422, #1284.
2Ibid. Since he dates the book late, he attributes
the northernisms to "the impact of northern exiles on the
Hebrew language" (p. 99, note 1). He also attributes such
things as the Ny masculine plural suffix, so common in post-
biblical Hebrew, "normal in Moabite and dialectal in non-
Judean O.T. compositions such as Prov. 31:3 (Nyklm) and Job
18:2; 26:4; 34:3; 38:2 etc. (Nylm)” not to Aramaic, but to
dialectal Canaanite (Ibid.).
3Mitchell Dahood, "Northwest Semitic Philology and
Three Biblical Texts," Journal of Northwest Semitic Lan-
guages, II (1972), 19, note 3.
This, of course, neither proves dependence, nor interrela-
tionship, but it is well at least to notice the similarity.1
Use of Ugaritic
It is, perhaps, well to say a word about the use of
Ugaritic. Some have objected, for instance, that the use of
Ugaritic to help illumine the biblical text is invalid be-
cause Ugaritic word meanings are so often uncertain. But
Dahood is correct when he contends that "Cartesian clarity
is not demanded of a Ugaritic text before it can be called
upon to elucidate in some manner a biblical verse."2 The
Ras Shamra materials bear upon the present problem, because
they have revealed that Hebrew poetry (Ecclesiastes in-
cluded) is more archaic, sophisticated, subtle, and complex
than earlier generations of scholars could have imagined.3
It is true that one must exercise great caution in
comparative studies. Often a scholar will see the whole
field of Near Eastern studies through the lenses of his
1Cf. Psalms 113:6-7 and 138:6. It is difficult to
fix the date of Psalm 113, since it is ascribed to no one.
Psalm 138, however, is ascribed to David. lpw is also found
in the Aramaic proverbs of Ahiqar (A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri
of the Fifth Century B.C. [
1923], p. 217, col. X, lines 149, 150; translated on p.
225); cf. DISO, p. 317.
2Dahood, "Northwest Semitic Philology and Three
Biblical Texts," 19.
3Idem, "Hebrew-Ugaritic Lexicography V," Biblica,
48:3 (1967), 423.
particular specialty. Thus, in some ways Dahood is justly
criticized for relating too much to Northwest Semitic.
Gordis has reacted very strongly against this, and complains
that "today it is Pan Ugariticism which holds the field.
The uncertainties of interpretation with regard to the ex-
tra-biblical texts being adduced are all too often ignored."1
He further asserts that little or no attention is being paid
to the problem of channels of communication, which are as-
sumed to have existed between
the Hebrew psalmists and Wisdom sages, which, he says, were
nearly a millennium later. He is assuming, however, that
they were really that much later (when there is good evi-
dence they were not), and he is forgetting that there is
good evidence that at least in the time of Solomon such
intercourse was extensive. Gordis greatly overstates his
case when he declares that in some quarters the Bible has
become "little more than a poorly transmitted corpus of
Ugaritic literature, which for two millennia has been mis-
understood at hundreds of points by those unfamiliar with
the 'original' language."2
1Gordis, "On Methodology in Biblical Exegesis,"
94-5. For similar sentiments see P. Wernberg-Møller, review
of Zephanja. Versuch einer Neuübersetzung mit philologischem
Kommentar, by L. Sabottka, in Journal of Semitic Studies,
XIX:l (Spring, 1974), 105-7.
2Gordis, "On Methodology in Biblical Exegesis,"
Rainey, while preferring to reject the main points
of Dahood's work on Ecclesiastes, nevertheless finds some
validity to it in certain particulars. He states, for exam-
ple, that Dahood has drawn a good parallel with reference to
the absolute infinitive followed by a personal pronoun to
express a past action, something which is shared by Eccles-
iastes only with Esther in biblical literature, but which is
a common feature in Ugaritic and Phoenician. He also feels
that the phrase mentioned above, "shadow of silver," which
occurs in Ugaritic and therefore obviates what was once la-
beled an Aramaism, is a valid parallel.1
Evaluation of Dahood
Gordis remains totally unconvinced by Dahood's work.
He feels that his arguments from orthography are overdrawn,
and that the problem is better solved by assuming continued
mixed orthography down to the second century A.D. It does
not appear, however, that he musters sufficient evidence to
overthrow the fact that the text of Koheleth is most easily
explained on the basis of original consonantal spellings.
Gordis feels that the primary weakness of the theory is that
it postulates Phoenician influence where the Hebrew literary
1A. F. Rainey, "A Study of Ecclesiastes," Concordia
Theological Monthly, XXXV:3 (March, 1964), 149.
tradition itself offers a thoroughly satisfactory explana-
tion.1 He prefers to explain the phenomena of the text on
the basis of the various elements of Koheleth's style as he
sees them: (1) biblical; (2) proto-Mishnaic; and (3) Ara-
maic influence. The writer is inclined, however, to agree
with Archer's estimation of Gordis' criticisms of the Phoe-
nician theory: "If this, then, is the ablest rebuttal that
can be brought against the theory of a Phoenician background
for Ecclesiastes, it is only reasonable to conclude that it
stands confirmed and vindicated."2 This statement is not
meant, either by Archer or by the writer, to include the
totality of Dahood's argument (late date, etc.), but to show
the validity of his main point: that many of the textual
variants and difficulties can be explained on the basis of a
Vorlage written defectively, and on the basis of the book's
reflection of a Canaanite literary genre. Unknowingly,
Dahood offers arguments which substantiate both an early
date for the book, and, consequently, Solomonic authorship.
Building and commerce
If there is one activity which characterized the
reign of Solomon, it was building. It is doubtless as a
1Gordis, Koheleth, pp. 416-17.
2Archer, "Linguistic Evidence for the Date of
builder that Solomon himself would probably have desired to
be known.1 He spent
seven years building the
Kings 6:38), and thirteen years building his own house (7:
1). He built stables, fortresses and cities. A reading of
1 Kings 1-13 gives one the impression that Solomon's chief
occupation was building and commerce. When he was not
building, he was sending convoys distant points of the
world. It is not without significance, therefore, that the
book of Ecclesiastes abounds with references to building,
labor, and commerce. Dahood's long list of commercial terms
occurring in the book constitutes a most compelling evidence
in favor of Solomonic authorship.2 Building was Solomon's
life, and it is not surprising that building, labor, and
commerce are often the main backdrop against which Koheleth
discusses the real value of life.
It is often overlooked that tradition is itself an
historical phenomenon with which the true historian must
grapple. Tradition should not be believed just because it
is tradition; but neither should it for that reason be re-
jected. It is true that from the standpoint of biblical
1Theodore H. Robinson, A History of
2Dahood, "Qoheleth," 221.
scholarship, tradition is inferior in trustworthiness, since
it is not inspired as the Bible is. It is also true that
much of Jewish tradition is ridiculous and extravagant. Yet
uninspired history and tradition cannot be ipso facto dis-
carded. The universal ascription of Solomonic authorship to
the book of Ecclesiastes cannot, therefore, be precipitately
It was taught by Jewish tradition "that Solomon
wrote Canticles, with its stress on love, in his youth; Pro-
verbs, with its emphasis upon practical problems, in mid-
life; and Ecclesiastes, with its characteristic pessimism,
in old age."2 It was the general opinion of the church,
based upon many of the sayings of Ecclesiastes, that Solomon
repented in later life of many sins he had committed, and
that before he died he left this book as a memorial to the
folly of sin.3 Though there is no specific indication else-
where in Scripture about such a repentance, the book of
Ecclesiastes makes such a thing possible. It is true that
if he did repent, it is a matter of surprise that there is
1Such authorship is assumed, for instance, in I. Ep-
stein, ed., The Hebrew-English Edition of the Babylonian
Talmud, trans. by H. Freedman,
Vol. I (
cino Press, 1972), tractate Shabbath, pp. 30a-30b.
2Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, p.
3George Gilfillan, The Bards of the Bible (
Harper and Brothers, 1851), p. 133.
not the least intimation of so interesting and important a
circumstance, either in the books of Kings and Chronicles,
or in Josephus.1 Yet such an argument ex silentio is not
conclusive. It would be little wonder if Solomon were
finally brought to his senses in the last days of his reign.
He had lived as high as any--and as sinfully--and had dis-
covered that life lived only for self and possessions is in
the end nothing but utter futility. Could not Ecclesiastes
be the recording of his turning to God in the end?
There are also several strong indications within the
book that it is Solomonic. These are the references to: (1)
unrivaled wisdom (1:16); (2) unequaled wealth (2:8); (3) a
tremendous retinue of servants (2:7); and (4) opportunities
for carnal pleasure (2:3). "No other descendant of David
lJosephus, Antiquities of the Jews, in vol. V of 9
vols. of Josephus in the Loeb Classical Library, trans. by
Ralph Marcus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1937),
Book VIII, Chapters 1-7. Josephus does, however, give an
interesting insight into the relationship between Solomon
and Hiram of Tyre: "In return Solomon, among many other
made him a present of land in
called Chabulon. But the main bond of friendship between
them was their passion for learning. They used to send each
other problems to solve; in these Solomon showed the greater
proficiency, as in general, he was the cleverer of the two.
of the letters they exchanged are preserved at
this day" (Josephus, Against Apion, in vol. I of 9 vols. of
Josephus in the Loeb Classical Library, trans. by H. St. J.
measures up to these specifications"1 as well as does Solo-
mon. The book's reflection of the practice of polygamy (2:
8) also argues for at least a pre-Exilic date. It is very
doubtful that a post-Exilic book would have reflected such
a practice, for it had fallen, by that time, into disrepute,
and largely, therefore, into disuse.2
One's view of the date is, as with the authorship of
the book, closely connected with one's estimate of the lin-
guistic features of the book. Pfeiffer confidently main-
tained in 1934 that "Ecclesiastes wrote his book sometime
between 250 B.C. and 150 B.C."3 Others were even bolder and
asserted that the book showed "Sadducean influence" and thus
would have dated from a time closer to Christ.4 Cyrus Gor-
don discerns in the book Babylonian influence, and would
date it late in post-Exilic times. He says that it was
1Archer, "The Linguistic Evidence for the Date of
2Paul Heinisch, Theology of the Old Testament,
by William Heidt (
cal Press, 1950), p. 191. Cf. the discussion of Eccl. 2:8
3Robert H. Pfeiffer, "The Peculiar Skepticism of
Ecclesiastes," Journal of Biblical Literature, LIII (March-
December, 1934), 100.
4Hermann Schultz, Old Testament Theology, Vol. I
written in "Achaemenian Babylonia before Alexander's con-
quest."1 Most contemporary scholars, however, now set the
lower limit for the book's date in the third century, a pos-
ition virtually forced upon them by the discovery of part of
a copy of Ecclesiastes at
the upshot of our comparison with 4Q, DSIa, and the
Manual [of Discipline], on the one hand, and the Edfu
papyri, on the other, makes it clear that 4Q lies be-
tween the former and the latter. From a paleographic
standpoint, therefore, one must date our fragments about
the middle of the second century B.C. This gives the
coup de grâce to earlier views of the date of composi-
tion, such as those of Graetz, Renan, Leimdorfer, Konig,
and others, and makes unlikely a dating in the second
One must assume that the book had been written and
had been in circulation for some time, and that it was ei-
ther accepted as Scripture, or had at least attained some
degree of respect, to have been
copied and preserved at
ran at this early date. Thus, from this standpoint alone,
third century date is as late as one may legitimately date
Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that there is
every possibility that the book represents a literary genre
dating back to the tenth century. Since there are so many
1C. H. Gordon, "North Israelite Influence on Post-
exilic Hebrew," Israel Exploration Journal, 5:2 (1955), 87.
"A Qoheleth Scroll from
Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 135
(October, 1954), 23-4.
other convincing proofs for Solomonic authorship, a tenth
century date is chosen. The book was probably written dur-
ing the later part of Solomon's life, and reflects his view
of life after having departed from the Lord and indulged in
many sins. If it was written by Solomon in later life, it
reflects a repentant heart--something anyone who reads the
narratives of his life must surely hope he had.
The purpose of the rather detailed discussion of the
linguistic background of Ecclesiastes has been to find what
limits that puts on authorship and date. It was shown that
the supposed Aramaisms are mostly non-existent, and, at all
events, are insignificant. The hypothesis of an Aramaic
original was likewise rejected. The close relationship Da-
hood shows between the Ugaritic literature of Moses' time
and the language of Ecclesiastes leads one to deduce that it
may reflect a literary genre cultivated among Phoenician-
speaking peoples and adopted from them by the gifted author
of the Hebrew Koheleth, whose style was also affected by
other dialectical influences.1 It is the writer's opinion
that the best solution is one which explains the linguistic
peculiarities of the book on the basis of several factors,
1Archer, "Linguistic Evidence for the Date of Eccles-
the most important of which are: (1) a Canaanite literary
genre; (2) tenth century defective Hebrew orthography; and
(3) Northern Israelite dialectical influence.
This seems to be a most reasonable deduction to make
from the linguistic evidence presently at hand. The gram-
mar, language, and style of Koheleth cannot support an argu-
ment for the spuriousness of the book as a work of Solomon.
Koheleth, then, was Solomon.
KOHELETH'S THEME AND DEVELOPMENT OF THOUGHT
Opinions concerning the theme, aim, development of
thought, and value of Ecclesiastes are almost as varied as
its interpreters. The estimations of it have ranged all the
way from Luther, who thought it was so worthwhile that it
should be read every day1 to Hartmann, who said, "This book
which contains almost as many contradictions as verses, may
be regarded as the Breviary of the most modern materialism
and of extreme licentiousness."2 One would expect little
more than the above conclusion from what Hengstenberg has
labeled "soulless, spiritless, vulgar rationalism,"3 but for
the student who has presupposed before examination of the
book, that by virtue of its inclusion in Scripture it must
certainly be more than "the work of a morose Hebrew philoso-
pher, composed when he was in a dismal mood, and in places
1Hengstenberg, A Commentary on Ecclesiastes, pp.
2Hartmann, Das Lied vom Ewigen (St. Galle, 1859),
p. 12, cited by Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, p. 183.
3Hengstenberg, A Commentary on Ecclesiastes, p. 33.
thoroughly tedious,"1 a higher and more noble estimation
must of necessity be sought and found ("All Scripture is
. . . profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction,
for training in righteousness," 2 Tim. 3:16). It is only
upon the basis of a correct understanding of Koheleth's
theme and development of thought that the book can be right-
Almost every commentator on the book of Ecclesiastes
has proposed a theme for Koheleth different from every other
commentator,2 but in general, these commentators may be di-
vided into two large groups: those unsympathetic with the
book, and those who are sympathetic.
It is the opinion of some that Koheleth was facing a
problem on which he did not have sufficient light to solve.
He saw great injustice in the world; he saw the wicked go
unpunished and the righteous unrewarded. The author of this
book, it is alleged, speaks only from the standpoint of one
who is observing the world, and what is done "under the
2For the most thorough summary of all the interpret-
ers of Koheleth up through the middle of the nineteenth cen-
tury, cf. Ginsburg, Coheleth, pp. 27-243.
sun,"1 for that is all he knows.2 This position is sum-
marized in the New Scofield Reference Bible, which states
that "Ecclesiastes is the book of man 'under the sun' rea-
soning about life. The philosophy it sets forth, which
makes no claim to revelation, but which inspiration records
for our instruction represents the view of one of the wisest
of men . . . . "3 In another publication Scofield makes his
view clear when he states:
The student should notice that it is not at all the will
of God which is developed, but that of man "under the
sun" forming his own code. It is, therefore, as idle
to quote such passages as ii.24, iii.22, etc., as ex-
pressions of the divine will as it would be to apply
Job ii.4, 5 or Gen. iii.4. The constant repetition of
such expressions as "I perceived," "I said in my heart,"
"then I saw," etc., sufficiently indicate that here the
Holy Spirit is showing us the
workings of man's own
dom and his reaction in weariness and disgust.4
1Cf. the discussion of this phrase below.
2John Howard Raven, Old Testament Introduction (New
3English, The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 696.
It is noteworthy that most of the revisers felt that the ap-
proach of the book was rather pessimistic. Gaebelein, in
fact, said that there was "no hope of immortality in this
book. It's a cynical volume, and is sometimes entitled 'The
Gentle Cynic.' . . . it is human earthly philosophy, and I
feel that it is here by inspiration to show us the best that
natural man can do." (Transcript of the Proceedings of the
New Scofield Reference Bible Committee, Trans. G., #155,
Rev. 1, Eccl. #lA, SRB 696, Disc 23a [examined by the writer
in the rare book room of Grace Theological Seminary Library,
Nov., 1973]). Cf. also J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), p. 143.
School, Vol. I (
les, 1907), p. 111.
Another contends that "Coheleth would be the first
to admit that he has not presented a finished Weltanschauung
[world view]. He is groping through the conflicting facts
of experience and belief."1 Another asserts that "Ecclesi-
astes is not only a skeptic with reference to the philosoph-
ical systems of his day, but also with reference to the pur-
suit of a summum bonum of abiding truth."2 Pfeiffer feels
that the concept of divine revelation is totally foreign to
Ecclesiastes. Koheleth refuses to accept anything on faith.
"He tests the validity of doctrines and value judgments and,
like Bertrand Russell, he thinks 'that it is undesirable to
believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for
supposing it true.'"3 Another maintains that "L'auteur se
demande si 1'homme retire un profit réel de toute sa peine
(1:3). La méthode employée pour élucider ce problème est
cele de la sagéese humaine (5:13)."4 Skehan says that a man
for whom prophecy was apparently no more, for whom the king-
1Roland E. Murphy, "The Pensées of Coheleth," 306.
2Pfeiffer, "The Peculiar Skepticism of Ecclesias-
4René Paché, ed., Nouveau Dictionnaire Biblique
(Lausanne: Editions Emmaüs, 1961), p. 205. The translation
is: "The author asks himself if man derives a real profit
from all his work. The method employed to elucidate this
problem is that of human wisdom."
book is post-Exilic), and for whom the Christian message to
the individual soul did not exist, should have said what Ko-
heleth did say: "vanity of vanities, all is vanity."1 Von
Rad rather cavalierly dismisses the book as a "sceptical
marginal note on the tradition of the wise men, although of
course it is a very bitter one."2 He further states that
when it is so taken, one is "delivered from the hopeless
task of understanding its content as a consistent unity of
thought, because it rests wholly upon the traditional themes
of the Wisdom literature, though freely glossing them."3
Yet another feels that the doubts expressed in it are no
mere dialectic show, but doubts that are honestly felt.4
Stadelmann asserts that the author of the book views the
world as moving aimlessly and human activity as advancing
similarly, in a perpetual cycle, without producing anything
with meaning. The author of` Ecclesiastes is disillusioned
with the world and feels that it lacks specific purpose. He
1Patrick W. Skehan, Studies in Israelite Poetry and
Wisdom (Washington, D. C.: The Catholic Biblical Associa-
2Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol. I
4Schultz, Old Testament Theology, Vol. I, p. 434.
therefore views the world with a certain skepticism.l John
Bright also takes a similar "low" view of the book.2 Still
another commentator feels that Ecclesiastes shares with Job
a rather deep pessimism with regard to man's knowing and
understanding the nature and purposes of God. "This posi-
tion, representing late Jewish thought, contrasts sharply
with the earlier prophetic conviction that God is known di-
rectly and fully in vision and the spoken word."3
Another author avers that Koheleth can find no mean-
ing in life, that life to him is empty, vain, and profit-
less. "Neither material possessions, human friendship, nor
religious devotion alter the fact that nature is oppressive,
that death is the negation of all good, that God is there-
fore untouched by the plight of creatures."4 Koheleth's ad-
vice, therefore, is a form of Epicureanism.5 It is asserted
that the God of Koheleth is a completely transcendent God,
remote, inscrutable, unknowable. This God, it is said,
World (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1970), p. 8.
2John Bright, The Authority of the Old Testament
(New York: Abingdon Press, 1967), pp. 136, 152, 157-8.
of God (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1968), p. 17.
4J. L. Crenshaw, "Popular Questioning of the Justice
of God in Ancient Israel," Zeitschrift fur die Alttestament-
liche Wissenschaft, 82:3 (1970), 389.
"deliberately withholds from man knowledge of his ways in
order to keep man in his place."1 With this estimation
Scott agrees when he maintains that "in Ecclesiastes God is
not only unknown to man through revelation; he is unknowable
through reason, the only means by which the author believes
knowledge is attainable."2 The mood of the writer, he fur-
ther asserts, is one of disillusionment and resignation.
"His ethic has no relationship to divine commandments, for
there are none."3 He further states that the only satisfac-
tion open to man is the enjoyment of being alive. The au-
thor, Scott boldly asserts, is a rationalist, an agnostic,
a skeptic, a pessimist, and a fatalist. "In most respects
his views run counter to those of his fellow Jews. The
title of a modern autobiography, Treadmill to oblivion,
seems to sum up most (though not quite all) of his conclu-
sions about life."4 Though not quite so radical in his view
of the book, Driver also feels that the primary assertion of
the book is that life under all its aspects is unsatisfying
and disappointing and that the most man can do is enjoy it--
1Charles C. Forman, "Koheleth's Use of Genesis,"
Journal of Semitic Studies, 5 (July, 1960), 262.
2Scott, Ecclesiastes, p. 191. 3Ibid.
4Ibid., p. 192.
though in moderation.1 Some Jews, in fact, misunderstanding
the inherent balance of the book, "tried to store away the
book because they found in it words they felt tended to
Many more such opinions could be gathered; their
number is almost limitless, especially among those inclined,
in accordance with their basic working presuppositions, to
treat the Bible with less respect.3 Yet such estimations of
Ecclesiastes are not the only ones which have been made, and
they are not to be supposed to be the correct ones. It is
the opinion of the writer that when each of Koheleth's
statements are taken in their context, and understood ac-
cording to the avowed purpose of the author of the book,
these statements are true, and applicable even to the con-
temporary Christian who has the advantage of much more reve-
lation than Koheleth had.
1S. R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of
the Old Testament (
1923), p. 470.
2C. G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology
(New York: Schocken Books, 1974), p. 206.
3Cf. W. O.
Hebrew Religion: Its
Origin and Development (
ety for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1931), p. 332; and
George A. F. Knight, A Christian Theology of the Old Testa-
ment (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1959), pp. 87, 337.
One writer suggests that the book is a sermon de-
scriptive of Solomon's fall into great sin, his discovery of
the absolute uselessness of a sinful and self-centered life,
and his subsequent recovery of his fear of God.l Leupold at
least partially supports Oehler and others who believe that
the aim of the book is to inculcate resignation, a "resigna-
tion coupled with a clear and intelligent faith."2 Another
sees the theme of the book in the form of a question: "What
is the chief good?"3 Hendry suggests that
Qoheleth writes from concealed premises, and his book
is in reality a major work of apologetic or "eristic"
theology. Its apparent worldliness is dictated by its
aim: Qoheleth is addressing the general public whose
view is bounded by the horizons of this world; he meets
them on their own ground, and proceeds to convict them
of its inherent vanity.4
Of all the commentaries written on Koheleth, perhaps
the one of Ginsburg is the most thorough, and in many re-
spects, the best. There is much truth in his view of the
1Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the
Whole Bible, Vol. III (6 vols.:
Revell Co., n.d.), pp. 979-80.
2Leupold, Ecclesiastes, p. 20.
3Baxter, Explore the Book, p. 143.
tary, ed. by F. Davidson (
Publishing Company, 1968), p. 538.
theme of the book, which he feels is
to gather together the desponding people of God from the
various expediences to which they have resorted, in con-
sequence of the inexplicable difficulties and perplexi-
ties in the moral government of God, into the community
of the Lord, by shewing them the utter insufficiency of
all human efforts to obtain real happiness, which cannot
be secured by wisdom, pleasure, industry, wealth, &c.,
but consists in the calm enjoyment of life, in the
resignation to the dealings of
vice of God, and in the belief in a future state of re-
tribution, when all the mysteries in the present course
of the world shall be solved.1
Eichrodt urges that "the author of Ecclesiastes, by
the relentless use of reductio ad absurdum demolished all
attempts to make the divine power manageable by the cate-
gories of human reason, and taught men to worship the incom-
prehensible greatness of God their Creator by humble resig-
nation to the relativity of human existence."2
A Suggested Theme
In each of these sympathetic statements there is
some truth. Assuming that Solomon is the author, the book
does, indeed, describe some of his past sins and it does
record his personal faith in God. It is true that underly-
ing the entire book is the question: "What is the chief
good?" At the end of his life (which seems to be the
1Ginsburg, Coheleth, pp. 16-17.
2Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament,
I, translated by J. A. Baker (
minster Press, 1961), p. 263.
perspective of the author), he is asking an open question to
any who may answer: what is most worthwhile for a man to do
while yet on the earth? It is true, as well, that he coun-
sels resignation to the will of God, for, as he wisely
states, in such a resignation to and reliance on the fact
that God is sovereign there is to be found true consolation
and peace. "We are anything but masters of our fate, and
God has decreed it so."1 It cannot be disputed, moreover,
that he does in some instances bound his comments by the
world of the seen, but great caution should be used in ap-
plying this generalization to every particular in the book.
He does not limit every statement by the world of the seen.
Most of all, it must be remembered that the writer is not,
as some have imagined, a gloomy misanthrope, who looks on
everything with a jaundiced eye; but a believer in God who
is striving to behold everything in the light of God, and
who seeks to lead men to the true good by leading them to a
life of faith in God.
Among those who have best apprehended the message of
the book are Thomas Taylor and
J. Stafford Wright.
summarizes the theme of the book in terms of what it claims
itself to be. He feels that the book aims to present
1Derek Kidner, "Wisdom Literature of the Old Testa-
ment," in New Perspectives on the Old Testament, ed. by J.
Barton Payne (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1970), p. 126.
--an empirical analysis (1:13, 17; 2:1-8; 2:12; 4:1;
--of the affairs (1:17; 2:1-8; 4:1, etc.)
--that most interest man as executed by one
--thoroughly capable (1:16; 2:9-10; etc.)
--of full indulgence and guided in the conclusionary
--by the wisdom of God (3:14; 12:11)1
Wright most ably discusses all the divergent opin-
ions about the theme of Ecclesiastes, and lands on a very
sympathetic, and in the estimation of the writer, a very
correct one. He is careful to remind his readers that when
one is trying to understand any book or composition, it is
first of all important to survey the preface or introduction
and the conclusion.2
The conclusion of Ecclesiastes is found in 12:13,
14: The conclusion, when all has been heard is: fear God
and keep his commandments, because this applies to every
person; for God will bring every work into judgment, every-
thing which is hidden, whether it is good or evil."
1Taylor, "Studies in Ecclesiastes," p. 8.
iastes," (hereinafter referred to as "Ecclesiastes" and to
be carefully distinguished from Wright, Koheleth), in Clas-
sical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation,
by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (
House, 1972), p. 137.
The orthodoxy of this statement is beyond question.
Matthew 19:17 records Christ's statement that "if you wish
to enter into life, keep the commandments." 1 Corinthians
3:13 says, "and the fire itself will test the quality of
every man's work." It is very important to understand the
significance of this conclusion, for
if the book is a unity, it stands to reason that no
statement elsewhere in the book can be interpreted as a
final conclusion if it contradicts the statement at the
end of the book. Or, to put it from another angle, if
any statement in the course of the book is given as a
final conclusion, it must be interpreted in the light of
the ultimate conclusion at the end. This is not a mat-
ter of inspiration or non-inspiration; it is the treat-
ment that we should give to any book written by a rea-
The phrase, "vanity of vanities, all is vanity," and
its variations, for instance, must be interpreted in light
of the entire book, and in light of the conclusion. Because
the theme of the book is best understood by a proper recog-
nition of the development of thought by the writer, this
topic is considered before a conclusion regarding the theme
Development of Thought
One of the difficulties that the book of Koheleth
presents, particularly to the occidental mind, is its devel-
opment of thought. The book is not organized as one might
1Ibid., p. 138.
organize a similar work in his own contemporary culture, and
it does not pursue a format even remotely similar to that of
present Western literature. Many suggestions about Kohe-
leth's development of thought have been offered. One writer
states that he is "convinced that the golden key and the
Ariadne-thread through this seeming labyrinth is to be found
in the assumption that the author is conducting a dialogue
with himself, just as the book of Job contains dialogues be-
tween Job and his friends."1 Ginsburg, in his characteris-
tically elegant style, states that the development of
which the sacred writer adopts to carry out this design
is most striking and effective. Instead of writing an
elaborate metaphysical disquisition, logically analysing
and refuting, or denouncing ex cathedra, the various
systems of happiness which the different orders of minds
and temperaments had constructed for themselves, Solomon
is introduced as recounting his painful experience in
all these attempts. Thus, by laying open, as it were,
to the gaze of the people the struggles of a man of like
feelings with themselves, who could fully sympathise
with all their difficulties, having passed through them
himself, and found the true clue to their solution, the
sacred writer carries out this design far more touching-
ly and effectively than an Aristotelian treatise, or the
Another suggests that Koheleth's purpose was merely
to collect current proverbs, and mold them into some sort of
1S. DuToit, "Ecclesiastes," Christianity Today, 5:21
(July 17, 1961), 32-3.
2Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 17.
a pattern, citing 12:9, 10, and. 11 as proof.l While it is
virtually certain that Koheleth did employ some aphorisms
current in his own day, the book certainly is not only a
collection of wise sayings. A simple reading of the book
will demonstrate that. Maltby affirms that the seeming con-
tradictions of the book can be resolved in one of the fol-
lowing ways, by assuming:
(a) that the author was including objections to his own
ideas and endeavouring to answer them, [or] (b) that the
book reflects the struggle between his higher and lower
nature, [or] (c) that the work reveals the development
of his own outlook and philosophy, beginning at the
start of his quest and leading us through to the end.2
He accepts the last view. There is a certain attraction to
this view, but it is not, in the opinion of the writer, com-
pletely correct. Furthermore, if one precisely apprehends
the development of the book, there are no contradictions.
Another suggestion is made by Zockler, who says that
Koheleth first places man in a dilemma by stating something
favorable to the world, and then balancing his statement
with the biblical view in order to show the "vanity, unrest,
and joylessness of a consciousness detached from God and de-
voted solely to the impressions of worldly vanity."3
1Cox, The Book of Ecclesiastes, p. 23.
2Arthur Maltby, "The Book of Ecclesiastes and the
After-Life," The Evangelical Quarterly, XXXV:1 (January-
March, 1963), 39-44.
3Zockler,"Ecclesiastes," p. 23.
Certainly, one of the most remarkable features of
the book is the way in which one statement is balanced by
another, and in which any one statement cannot be separated
from the context of the thrust of the entire book, if it is
to be rightly understood. Hendry has termed this phenomenon
While the writer hesitates to agree completely with
Zockler in saying that a number of statements are made by
Koheleth which are favorable to the world, he agrees that
the most important aspect of the development of the book is
that of balance. Isolated from their context, and thus from
their inherent balance, some passages seem, indeed, to be
little more than reflections of worldly thinking. Taken in
their context, however, and thus modified by all other
statements in the book, all of Koheleth's statements are
found to be completely true in the context in which he made
them, and in the sense in which he meant them. Examples of
this balance are demonstrated below in the discussion of
This concept of "balance" is, after all, only the
principle of interpreting a verse in its context. It is
most unreasonable to extricate verses from a book like
Ecclesiastes, interpret them devoid of their literary envi-
ronment, and expect to arrive at a legitimate
1Hendry, "Ecclesiastes," p. 539.
If one remembers, then, what the book of Ecclesias-
tes aims to be: "an empirical analysis . . . by one . . .
guided in the conclusionary processes by the wisdom of
God,"2 and what is the outstanding characteristic of its
method: balance, he will find much less difficulty in Kohe-
leth's words and will not have to resort to interpretations
which seem to circumvent supposed problems by a completely
unwarranted discarding of Koheleth's words as merely human
and non-revelatory. It "does not seem worthy of God to oc-
cupy valuable space in the Bible with the arguments of the
skeptic and of the natural man . . . . That is the diffi-
culty with Scofield's theory."3
Based on a proper understanding of the development
of thought of the book, it can be seen that Solomon's theme
is to show his readers the total and unmitigated insuffi-
ciency of every human effort to obtain real and lasting hap-
piness, which cannot be secured by wisdom, pleasure,
(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), pp.
99-113; Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation
(Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969), pp. 135-8; and
S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (
dervan Publishing House, 1966), pp. 182-210.
2Taylor, "Studies in Ecclesiastes," p 3.
3Wright, "Ecclesiastes," p. 137.
industry, wealth, success, or any other human endeavor
(though there is nothing sinful in them), but consists in
the calm enjoyment of life (itself a gift from God to be
enjoyed), in the resignation to the dealings of a Sovereign
God, in a life spent in serving God, and in a belief in a
future state and retribution, when not only shall all the
mysteries in the present world be solved, but all the wrongs
shall be righted.1
1Ginsburg, Coheleth, pp. 16-17.
To any reader of Ecclesiastes who is also familiar
with the other parts of Scripture, it is immediately appar-
ent that Koheleth says things, which upon a cursory examina-
tion, appear to be difficult to harmonize and explain. For
this reason it was for many years among those books whose
place in the canon was disputed: it was an "antilegomen-
on."1 Some have suggested that the work was originally a
book of unrelieved pessimism, and that the original has now
been interpolated and adorned "with orthodox allusions to
God and judgment, and a happy conclusion, in order to bring
it into harmony with the canon of Scripture."2 Morris Jas-
trow, in fact, in his A Gentle Cynic, has as his last chap-
ter one which he entitles "The Words of Koheleth in Their
Original Form, Stripped of Subsequent Interpolations, Maxims
In an appendix he includes: "
by the 'pious' commentators; II. additions by the 'maxim'
1Delitzsch, Ecclesiastes, p. 189.
2Minos Divine, Ecclesiastes (
Company, Ltd., 1916), p. 208.
3Jastrow, A Gentle Cynic, p. 197.
commentators, and III. miscellaneous comments and glosses."1
In the light of such abuse, it is the purpose of this chap-
ter to examine selected difficulties with a view to gaining
a more complete knowledge of and a better appreciation for
the teachings of Ecclesiastes.
Vanity of Vanities
No discussion of Ecclesiastes would be complete
without an investigation into the meaning of the phrase,
profusely used by Koheleth, and perhaps most characteristic
of the general impression most have of the book, MylibAhE lbehE.
It is not surprising that the word lb,h, appears more times in
Ecclesiastes (40 times) than in the entire remainder of the
Old Testament (33 times).2
lb,h, is a
masculine noun whose basic meaning is "
pour, breath, vanity."3 It is used in Isaiah 57:13 to de-
scribe what will carry away idols--a breath. It is used
"elsewhere always . . . [as] figurative of what is evanes-
cent, unsubstantial, worthless, vanity, as . . . of the
lIbid., p. 243.
2Mandelkern, Veteris Testamenti Concordantiae, Vol.
I, p. 307. Cf. F. N. Jasper, "Ecclesiastes: A Note for Our
Time," Interpretation, 21 (July, 1967), 262.
3BDB, Lexicon, p. 210.
fruitlessness of all human enterprise and endeavour . . .”1
A meaning of "exhalation, damp" is also suggested.2 The
Syriac is a also translated "vanity, emptiness."3
The word apparently does not occur in extant Ugaritic and
lbehE is the construct of lb,h, which can be traced to
verb lbahA, "to steam, exhale, to breath."5 Gordis has
suggested that as used in Ecclesiastes the word has two nu-
ances of meaning: the breath (lb,h,) is (a) unsubstantial and
(b) transitory.6 These two nuances are added to by Meek,
who suggests that in the context of the book at least five
are discernible: (1) futile (1:2); (2) empty (6:12); (3)
sorry (6:4); (4) senseless (8:14); and (5) transient (11:
10).7 It is extremely important that the interpreter of the
book recognize the possibility of different connotations for
the word in different contexts within the book.
1Ibid. 2KB, Lexicon, p. 223.
3J. Payne Smith, ed., A Compendious Syriac Dictio-
nary (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1903), p. 99.
4Cf. Richard E. Whitaker, A Concordance of the Ugar-
itic Literature (
1972), p. 210; Donner and Röllig, Kanaanäische and Ara-
mäische Inschriften, p. 7; and DISO, p. 62.
5Ginsburg, Coheleth, p. 259.
6Gordis, Koheleth, p. 205.
7Theophile J. Meek, "Transplanting the Hebrew
Bible," Journal of Biblical Literature, 79 (1960), p. 331.
For example, in 11:10, "So remove vexation from your
heart and put away pain from your body, for childhood and
the prime of life are" lb,h, the translation "vanity" in the
sense of "unsubstantial" gives a very wrong impression. But
if lb,h, is understood in the sense of transitory, then the
verse is once again comprehensible. It is well translated
in the NASB: "fleeting."
It is common, for the superlative sense, to use a
substantive in the construct state before the plural of the
same word. Such is the case with MylibAhE lbehE.1 Other in-
stances of this idiomatic construction are found in Exodus
26:33, MywidAq<ha wd,qo, "The most holy place," and Song of Solo-
mon Myriyw.iha rywi, "the most excellent song."2 One vi-
able translation of this phrase in Ecclesiastes, therefore,
might be "utter futility--all is futile."3 This expression
also involves several figures of speech. Ecclesiastes 1:2
is an example of "mesarchia," or repetition of the same
word or words at the beginning and middle of successive sen-
tences.4 It is also a case of "polyptoton,"5 or repetition
1GKC, Grammar, p. 431, sect. 133i. 2Ibid.
3H. L. Ginsberg, ed. , hnvy rpsv tvlgm wmH (Philadel-
phia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), p.
4E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the
Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, reprint, 1970), p.
5Ibid., p. 284.
of the same part of speech in different inflections, from
the Greek polu<ptwton.1
The Septuagint translation of this phrase is, matai-
o<thj mataioth<twn. This can be compared with Romans 8:20,
which reads, t^? ga>r mataio<thti h[ kti<sij u[peta<gh . . . , "for
the creation was subjected to futility. . . .” The Greek
word, as used in the New Testament, seems to contain all the
nuances that the Hebrew lb,h, does, "emptiness, futility, pur-
poselessness, transitoriness."2 For the LXX usages of the
word as a translation of lb,h,, Liddell and Scott suggest the
translations "vanity, purposelessness."3 Greek translators
of the Old Testament sometimes used the word a[tmi<j,4 meaning
"steam,." "vapor."5 In the New Testament the suggested
lIbid., p. 267.
2W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English
Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Lit-
erature (hereinafter referred to as Lexicon) (a translation
and adaptation of Walter Bauer's Griechisch-Deutsches Wor-
terbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments and der ubrig-
en urchristlichen Literatur, fourth revised and augmented
1969), p. 496.
3Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-
English Lexicon (hereinafter referred to as Lexicon), re-
and augmented by H. S. Jones and R. McKenzie (
At the Clarendon Press, 1968), p. 1084.
4Aquila and Theodotion translated the phrase, "a]tmi>j
a]tmi>dwn ta> pa<nta a]tmi>j" (Fridericus Field, Origenis Hexa-
plorum, Tomus II [2 vols.: Oxonii: E. Typographeo Claren-
doniano, 1875], p. 380).
5Liddell and. Scott, Lexicon, p. 271.
meanings are "mist," "vapor," "smoky vapor," or "steam that
rises from a pot," and used typically of nothingness.1 New
Testament uses which may be compared are Acts 2:19: ai$ma kai
pu?r kai a]tmi<da kapnou?, "blood and fire and smoky vapor"; and
James 4:14: a]tmi<j ga<r e]ste, "For you are a vapor."2
H. L. Ginsberg suggests the translation, "all is
zero." He connects this with 1:3, "What advantage does man
have in all his work" by translating "Since everything is
zero ('vanity') what plus ('profit') is there in the goods
one acquires?"3 Scott translates 1:2, "Breath of a breath!
(says Qoheleth). The slightest breath! All is a breath."4
Usage of lbh
There are ten areas of life which Koheleth pronounc-
es lb,h,. They have been listed as follows:5
1Arndt and Gingrich, Lexicon, p. 120.
2For more New Testament comparisons, see J. M. Ful-
ler, ed. and abridger, Ecclesiastes, in The Bible Commentary,
ed. by F. C. Cook and part of Baker Book House's set,
Barnes' Notes on the Old
& New Testaments (
Baker Book House, 1974), p. 91.
3H. L. Ginsbu:rg, "The Structure and Contents of the
of Koheleth," in Wisdom in
to Vetus Testamentum, Vol. III (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1969),
4Scott, Ecclesiastes, p. 209.
5Baxter, Explore the Book, p. 163.
2:15-16 The "vanity" of human wisdom Wise and fool-
ish alike have
2:19-21 The "vanity" of human labor Worker no bet-
ter than the
in the end
2:26 The "vanity" of human purpose Altho' man pro-
poses, it is
4:4 The "vanity" of human rivalry Much success
more than joy
4:7 The "vanity" of human avarice "Much" feeds
lust for "more"
yet oft eludes
4:16 The "vanity" of human fame Is brief, un-
5:10 The "vanity" of human insatiety Money does
6:9 The "vanity" of human coveting Often gain
cannot be en-
7:6 The "vanity" of human frivolity It only cam-
inevitable sad end
8:10, 14 The "vanity" of human awards Bad often hon-
and bad get
"Futility of futilities, all is futile." "Fear God,
and keep his commandments . . . God shall bring every work
into judgment." The first is Koheleth's verdict on all life
and the second is his counsel in view of the verdict. But
is the verdict true? That is what Koheleth examines for his
readers, turning life over and over in his hands so that it
is seen from every perspective. He forces his readers to
admit, that from a purely human standpoint, and without
inclusion of God and cognizance of his commandments and en-
suing judgment, life is, indeed, vain, futile, empty, in a
word, zero. Yet he does not mean that it is so in the sense
that it is not worth living. Koheleth's use of lb,h, de-
scribes something vastly greater than that. All life is
vanity in this sense, namely, that it is unable to give us
the key to itself, and it is unsubstantial.
The book is the record of a search for the key to life.
It is the endeavor to give a meaning to life, to see it
as a whole. And there is no key under the sun. Life
has lost the key to itself. "Vanity of vanities, all is
vanity." If you want the key you must go to the lock-
smith who made the lock. "God holds the key of all un-
known." And He will not give it to you. Since then you
cannot get the key, you must trust the locksmith to open
One must acquiesce to the sovereignty of God. Only
then does life gain perspective and meaning. Only then do
the things Koheleth pronounces "zero" begin to add up. All
things are bl,h, only for those who do not enthrone God at the
1Wright,"Ecclesiastes," p. 140.
center of their existence as absolute Sovereign.
Thus, while the recurring phrase MylibAhE lbeHE might at
first glance seem to be the utterance of a spirit sunk in
the abyss of despair, yet,
looking into the treatise more narrowly, we find that we
have misapprehended its true character--that a principle
aim of its author is evidently to inculcate contentment
and the quiet enjoyment of the blessings which God has
bestowed--that throughout the whole are scattered pre-
cepts and exhortations which are by no means in harmony
with the dark meaning we have attached to the opening
Relationship of the Name "Abel"
Some have connected the word "Abel," the name of the
second son of Adam, with the word under discussion, for they
consist of the same consonants (lbh). It is suggested that
when Adam and Eve named their son they underscored the re-
ality of the fall of man and the resultant curse upon the
world,2 the same truth under discussion by Paul in Romans
8:20, "the creature was subjected to vanity." One writer
suggested that Adam and Eve were apparently so overcome by
the discovery of the vanity of earthly life under the curse
that they named their second son lb,h,.3 C. C. Forman makes
an interesting conjecture about the use of the word:
1Weir, "Ecclesiastes," p. 186.
2Leupold, Ecclesiastes, p. 42.
3H. Carl Shank, "Qoheleth's World and Life View As
in His Recurring Phrases,"
Journal, XXXVII:1 (Fall, 1974), 66-7.
Not only is man of the substance of the ground but his
second born is significantly called Abel, a name derived
from the Hebrew stem lbh, meaning "breath
of wind," "
pour," "vanity," and the like. The significant point
here is that Abel is the personification of the nomad,
and therefore, according to ancient Hebrew notions, the
representative of the ideal life. Yet the first nomad
whose way of life was the most acceptable to God bore
in his name this telling description of the essential
nature of life even in its most favorable manifestation.
Life, at best, is a transitory thing of no substance--it
is lb,h,: "Abel's brief life is the life of Everyman."1
In the opinion of the writer, however, such infer-
ences as those cited above about the name Adam and Eve gave
to their son rest on a tenuous assumption, namely, that the
name "Abel" in whatever language Adam spoke would have meant
the same as its Hebrew counterpart, and would have had the
same affinities with the name for "vanity" in Adam's lan-
guage. It is, perhaps, best not to draw any inferences from
Abel's name, especially since the text does not specify any
reason for that particular name (Gen. 4:2).
Several interesting ancient Jewish traditions about
lb,h, are extant. They serve to show the ridiculous extrava-
gances possible, rather than to illuminate the text. One
such comment from the Midrash on Ecclesiastes 1 states:
Solomon used the word "vanity" seven times, to
correspond with the seven stages which man goes through.
In his infancy he is like a king, fondled, kissed, and
made much of. At the age of two or three years he is
1Forman, "Koheleth's Use of Genesis," 257-8.
more like a pig rolling in the mud, etc. When about ten
years of age he is somewhat like a little kid, jumping
about and skipping. About the age of twenty he resem-
bles the wild horse in his lusts and desires. When mar-
ried he is not unlike the ass in his dulness and cheer-
lessness and sleepiness. Becoming a parent, he becomes
bold like the dog in his anxiety to obtain sustenance
for his family. And in his old age, with his furrows
and wrinkles, he is not unlike an ape.l
Not quite so extravagant is this quotation from Mid-
rash Koheleth Rabba: