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The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
by Editor - Joseph Exell
§ 1. TITLE OF THE BOOK
THE book is called in the Hebrew Koheleth, a title taken from its opening sentence, "The words of Koheleth, the son of David, King in Jerusalem." In the Greek and Latin Versions it is entitled 'Ecclesiastes,' which Jerome elucidates by remarking that in Greek a person is so called who gathers the congregation, or ecclesia. Aquila transliterates the word, Κωλεìθ; what Symmachus gave is uncertain, but probably Παροιμιαστηìς, 'Proverb-monger.' The Venetian Greek has ̔Η ̓Εκκλησιάστρια and ̔Η ̓Εκκλησιάζουσα. In modern versions the name is usually 'Ecclesiastes; or, The Preacher.' Luther boldly gives 'The Preacher Solomon.' This is not a satisfactory rendering to modern ears; and, indeed, it is difficult to find a term which will adequately represent the Hebrew word. Koheleth is a participle feminine from a root kahal (whence the Greek καλεìω, Latin calo, and English "call"), which means, "to call, to assemble," especially for religious or solemn purposes. The word and its derivatives are always applied to people, and not to things. So the term, which gives its name to our book, signifies a female assembler or collector of persons for Divine worship, or in order to address them. It can, therefore, not mean "Gatherer of wisdom," "Collector of maxims," but "Gatherer of God's people" (1 Kings 8:1); others make it equivalent to "Debater," which term affords a clue to the variation of opinions in the work. It is generally constructed as a masculine and without the article, but once as feminine (Ecclesiastes 7:27, if the reading is correct), and once with the article (Ecclesiastes 12:8). The feminine form is by some accounted for, not by supposing Koheleth to represent an office, and therefore as used abstractedly, but as being the personification of Wisdom, whose business it is to gather people unto the Lord and make them a holy congregation. In Proverbs sometimes Wisdom herself speaks (e.g. Proverbs 1:20), sometimes the author speaks of her (e.g. Proverbs 8:1, etc.). So Koheleth appears now as the organ of Wisdom, now as Wisdom herself, supporting, as it were, two characters without losing altogether his identity. At the same time, it is to be noted, with Wright, that Solomon, as personified Wisdom, could not speak of himself as having gotten more wisdom than all that were before him in Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 1:16), or how his heart had great experience of wisdom, or how he had applied his heart to discover things by means of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:23, Ecclesiastes 7:25). These things could not be said in this character, and unless we suppose that the writer occasionally lost himself, or did not strictly maintain his assumed personation, we must fall back upon the ascertained fact that the feminine form of such words as Koheleth has no special significance (unless, perhaps, it denotes power and activity), and that such forms were used in the later stage of the language to express proper names of men. Thus we find Solphereth, "scribe" (Nehemiah 7:57), and Pochereth, "hunter" (Ezra 2:57), where certainly males are intended. Parallels are found in the Mishna. If, as is supposed, Solomon is designated Keheleth in allusion to his great prayer at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:23-53, 1 Kings 8:56-61), it is strange that no mention is anywhere made of this celebrated work, and the part he took therein. He appears rather as addressing general readers than teaching his own people from an elevated position; and the title assigned to him is meant to designate him, not only as one who by word of mouth instructed others, but one whose life and experience preached an emphatic lesson on the vanity of mundane things.
§ 2. AUTHOR AND DATE.
The universal consent of antiquity attributed the authorship of Ecclesiastes to Solomon. The title assumed by the writer, "Son of David, King in Jerusalem," was considered sufficient warrant for the assertion, and no suspicion of its uncertainty ever crossed the minds of commentators and readers from primitive to mediaeval times. Whenever the book is referred to, it is always noted as a work of Solomon. The Greek and Latin Fathers alike agree in this matter. The four Gregories, Athanasius, Ambrose, Jerome, Theodoret, Olympiodorus, Augustine, and others, are here of one consent. The Jews, too, although they had some doubts concerning the orthodoxy of the contents, never disputed the authorship. The first to throw discredit upon the received opinion was Luther, who, in his 'Table Talk,' while ridiculing the traditional view, boldly asserts that the work was composed by Sirach, in the time of the Maccabees. Grotius followed in the same strain. In his 'Commentary on the Old Testament' he unhesitatingly denies it to be a production of Solomon, and in another place assigns to it a post-exilian date. These opinions attracted but little notice at the time; but towards the close of the last century, three German scholars, Doderlein, Jahn, and Schmidt, revived the objections urged by Luther and Grotius, and henceforward a continuous stream of criticism, opposed to the earlier tenet, has flowed forth both in England, America, and Germany. The array of writers on both sides is enormous. The discussion has evoked the energies of innumerable controversialists, though the opponents of Solomon have in late years far outnumbered his supporters. If the more ancient opinion is upheld by Dr. Pusey, Bishop Wordsworth, Mr. Johnston, Mr. Bullock, Morals, Gietmann, etc., the later view is strongly supported by Keil, Delitzsch, Hengstenberg, Vaihinger, Hitzig, Nowack, Renan, Gins-burg, Ewald, Davidson, Noyes, Stuart, Wright, etc. The question cannot be settled by the authority of writers on either side, but must be calmly examined, and the arguments adduced by both parties must be duly weighed.
Let us see what are the usual arguments for the Solomonic authorship. We will endeavor to set them forth very briefly, but fairly and intelligibly.
1. The first and most potent is the unanimous verdict of all writers who have mentioned the book from primitive times to the days of Luther, whether Christian or Jewish. The common opinion was that the three works, Canticles, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, were composed by Solomon; the first, as some said, being the production of his earlier days, the second written in his maturity, and the third dictated aft the close of life, when he had learned the vanity of all that he had once valued, and had repented of his evil ways and turned once more to the fear of the Lord as the only stable comfort and hope. St. Jerome, in his 'Commentary,' gives the opinion which was prevalent in his day: "Itaque juxta numerum vocabu-lorum tria volumina edidit: Proverbia, Ecclesiasten, et Cantica Canticorum. In Proverbiis parvulum docens et quasi de officiis per sententias erudiens; in Ecclesiaste vero maturae virum aetatis instituens, ne quicquam in mundi rebus purer esse perpetuum, sed caduca et brevia universa quae cernimus; ad extremum jam consummatum virum et calcato seeculo praeparatum, in Cantico Canticorum sponsi jungit amplexibus."
2. The book purports to be written by Solomon; the writer speaks continually in the first person; and as the work is confessedly inspired and canonical, any doubt as to the literal accuracy of the inscription throws discredit on the truth and authority of Scripture. In a treatise of this nature it is altogether unlikely that the author should attribute his own sentiments to another.
3. There is nothing in the contents which militates against the Solomonic authorship.
4. There is nothing in the language which is not compatible with the time of Solomon.
5. It is a composition of such consummate skill and excellence that it could have proceeded from no one but this wisest of men.
6. There are such a multitude and variety of coincidences in expression and phraseology with Proverbs and Canticles, which are confessedly more or less the work of Solomon, that Ecclesiastes must proceed from the same author. Such are the grounds upon which Ecclesiastes is attributed to Solomon. The opinion has a certain attraction for all simple believers, who are content to take things on trust, and, provided a theory makes no very violent demands on credulity, to accept it with unquestioning confidence.
But in the present; case the arguments adduced have not withstood the attacks of modern criticism, as will be seen if we take them seriatim, as we proceed to do.
1. The universal consensus of uncritical antiquity concerning authorship is of little value. What was not questioned was not specially examined; the conventional opinion was regarded as certain; what one writer after another, and Council after Council, actually or virtually stated, was accepted generally and without any controversy. So the authorship, being taken for granted, was never criticized or investigated. Of how small importance in such a matter are the opinions of the Fathers, we may learn from their view of the Book of Wisdom. Unhesitatingly many of them attribute this work to Solomon. Clemens Alexandrinus, Cyprian, Origen, Didymus, and others express no doubt whatever on the subject; and yet no one nowadays hesitates to say that they were absurdly wrong in holding such an opinion. Similarly, many Councils decreed the canonicity of Wisdom, from the third of Carthage, A.D. 397, to that of Trent; but we do not give our adhesion to their decision. So we may reject tradition in discussing the question of authorship, and pursue our investigation independently, untrammeled by the utterances of earlier writers. As to the assertion that Solomon penned this treatise in sorrowful repentance for his idolatry and licentiousness and arrogant selfishness, it must be said that there is no trace of any such change of heart in the historical books; as far as we are told, he goes to his grave after he had turned away from the Lord, in that hard, unbelieving temper which his foreign alliances had produced in him. Not a hint of better things is anywhere afforded; and though, from the commendation generally accorded to him, and the typical character which he possessed, one would be inclined to think that he could not have died in his sins, but must have made his peace with God before he departed, yet Scripture supplies no ground for such an opinion, and we must travel beyond the letter to arrive at such a conclusion. He records his experience of evil pleasure, relates how he reveled in vice for a time, took his fill of luxury and sensuality, with the view, as he says, of testing the faculty of such excesses to give happiness; but he never hints at any sorrow for this degradation; not a word of repentance falls from his lips. "I turned, and tried this and that," he says; but we and no confession of sin, no remorse for wasted talents. He learns, indeed, that all is vanity and vexation of spirit; but this is not the cry of a broken and contrite heart; and to ground his repentance upon this declaration is to raise a structure upon a foundation that will not bear its weight.
2. There can be no doubt that the writer intends to assume the name and characteristics of Solomon. He calls himself in the opening verse "son of David" and "King in Jerusalem." Such a description applies only to Solomon. David, indeed, had many other sons, but none except Solomon could be designated "King in Jerusalem." It is true also that the first person is continually used in narrating experiences which are especially appropriate to this monarch; e.g. "I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all that were before me" (Ecclesiastes 1:16); "I made me great works; I builded me houses" (Ecclesiastes 2:4); "All this have I Droved by wisdom: I said, I will be wise" (Ecclesiastes 7:23). But not thus is Solomon demonstrated to be the actual author; cleverly personated authorship would use the same expressions. And this is what we conceive to be the fact. The writer assumes the role of Solomon in order to emphasize and add weight to the lessons which he desired to teach. The idea that such personation is fraudulent and unworthy of a sacred writer springs from ignorance of precedents or a misunderstanding of the object of such substitution. Who thinks of accusing Plato or Cicero of an intention to deceive because they present their sentiments in the form of dialogues between imaginary interlocutors? Who regards the author of the Book of Wisdom as an impostor because he identifies himself with the wise king? So common was this system of personation, so widely spread and practiced, that a name was invented for it, and Pseudepigraphal was the title given to all such works as assumed to be written by some well-known or celebrated personage, the real author concealing his own identity. Thus we have the 'Book of Enoch,' the 'Ascension of Isaiah,' the 'Assumption of Moses,' the 'Apocalypse of Baruch,' the 'Psalter of Solomon,' and many more, none of them being the production of the person whose name they bear, which was assumed only for literary purposes. A moralist who felt that he had something to impart that might serve his generation, a patriot who desired to encourage his countrymen amid defeat and oppression, a pious thinker whose heart glowed with love for his fellow-men, — any of these, humbly shrinking from obtruding upon notice his own obscure personality, thought himself justified in publishing his reflections under the mantle of some great name which might gain for them credit and acceptance. The ruse was so well understood that it deceived nobody; but it gave point and definiteness to the writer's lucubration, and it also had the effect of making readers more ready to accept it, and to look in its contents for something worthy of the personage to whom it was attributed. There is nothing in this derogatory to a sacred writer, and no argument against the personation can be maintained on the ground of its incongruity or inappropriateness. And when we more carefully examine the language of the book itself, we see that it' contains virtual, if not actual, acknowledgment that it is not written by Solomon. t/is name is not once mentioned. Other of his reputed writings are inscribed with his name. The Canticles begin with the words, "The song of songs, which is Solomon's;" the Proverbs are, "The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, King of Israel." Psalms 72:0. is entitled, "A Psalm of Solomon." But our author gives himself an enigmatical appellation, which by its very form might show that it was ideal and representative, and not that of an existing personality. To suppose that Solomon uses this name for himself, with the abstruse idea that he who had scattered the people by his sins now desired to gather them together by this exhibition of wisdom, is to task the imagination beyond limit, and to read into Scripture notions which have no existence in fact. There can, indeed, be no adequate reason given why Solomon should have desired thus to conceal his identity; the plea of humility and shame is a mere invention of commentators anxious to account for what is, in their view, really inexplicable. He calls himself "King in Jerusalem" — an expression occurring nowhere else, and never applied to any Hebrew monarch. We read of "King of Israel," "King over all Israel," how that Solomon "reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel;" but the title "King in Jerusalem" is unique, and seems to point to a time when Jerusalem was not the only royal city, after the disruption of the kingdom, that is, subsequent to the epoch of the historical Solomon.
The same conclusion is reached by the occasional wording of the text itself, which speaks of Solomon as belonging to the past age. "I was king," the monarch is made to say (Ecclesiastes 1:12), speaking, not as a reigning monarch himself would speak, but rather as one who, from the other world, or by the mouth of another, was relating his past earthly experiences. Solomon was king to the day of his death, and could never have used the past tense in reference to himself. Delitzsch and Ginsburg have called attention to a Talmudic legend based on this expression. According to this story, Solomon, driven from his throne on account of his idolatries and other sins, roamed through the country lamenting his follies, and reduced to the extremity of want, ever crying, with miserable iteration, "I, Koheleth, was King over Israel in Jerusalem!" The legend is noticeable only as conveying the significance of the preterit tense found in the text. This tense cannot, in view of the immediate context, be translated, "I have been and still am king;" nor is he saying that he was king when he applied his mind to wisdom. He is simply introducing himself in his assumed character, not comparing his present with his past life, but from his standpoint, as once an earthly and powerful king, giving the weight of his experiences. In another passage (Ecclesiastes 1:16) he talks of having gotten more wisdom than all that were before him in Jerusalem. Now, this city did not fall into the possession of the Hebrews till some years after the accession of David: how could Solomon refer to previous kings in these terms, when really only one had preceded him? And that his reference is to rulers, and not to mere inhabitants, is denoted by the use of the preposition al, which ought to be translated "over," not "in" Jerusalem. Commentators have endeavored to answer this objection by asserting that Solomon hereby indicates the ancient Canaanitish kings, such as Melchizedek, Adonizedel, Araunah; but is it likely that he would thus introduce the thought of these worthies of past generations as though he and his father were their natural successors? Would he condescend to compare himself with such? and would his readers be impressed by a superiority to these princelets, mostly heathens, all of them beyond the pale of Israel, and, with one exception, in no respect celebrated? It is surely much more probable that the author for the moment forgets, or throws aside, his assumed character, and alludes to the long succession of Jewish monarchs who had reigned in Jerusalem up to his own time. A further intimation that a fictitious use is made of the name of the great king is given in the epilogue, supposing it, as we do, to be an original portion of the work. Here (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14) the real author speaks of himself and the composition of his book; he is no longer "the Koheleth," the Solomon, who hitherto has been the speaker (as in ver. 8), but a koheleth, a wise man, who, founding his style on his great predecessor, sought to please and edify the people of his generation by means of proverbial sayings. This is the way in which he describes his undertaking, and in which it is impossible that the historical Solomon should have written: "Moreover, because Koheleth was wise, he still taught the people knowledge; yea, he pondered, and sought out, and put in order many proverbs," and, as the next verse implies, he adopted a form and style which might make the truth "acceptable" to his hearers.
3. Besides the notice mentioned above, there are many statements in the book wholly irreconcilable with the circumstances of Solomon's reign and epoch. In Ecclesiastes 3:16; Ecclesiastes 5:8, etc., we read of oppression of the poor and high-handed perversion of judgment, and are bidden not to wonder thereat. That such a condition of things obtained in the time of Solomon is not conceivable; if it did exist, one would have expected that this powerful monarch would immediately have set about a reformation, and not contented himself with urging patience and acquiescence. But the writer appears to have no power to redress these crying wrongs, which, if he is king, must have been owing to his neglect or misgovernment. He tells what he has seen, sympathizes with the sufferers, offers advice how to make the best of such trouble, but gives no hint that he considers himself answerable for this miserable state of things, or could in any way alleviate or remove it. If, as alleged, this book is the result of Solomon's repentance, the outcome of the revulsion of feeling caused by the warnings of the Prophet Ahijah and the grace of God working in his softened heart, here, surely, was an opportunity of expressing his changed sentiments, acknowledging the wrongdoing which occasioned the disorders in the administration of government, and avowing a determination of redress. But there is nothing of the kind. He writes as an uninterested observer, one who had no hand in producing, and possesses no influence in checking, oppression. So, too, Solomon could not have written of his own class and country in such terms as we read in Ecclesiastes 10:16, "Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!" It is doing violence to language, if not to common sense, to argue that Solomon is alluding to his son Rehoboam, who must have been more than forty years old at this time; and it does not speak well for the king's repentance if, knowing that his son would turn out so badly, he made no effort for his reformation, nor, following the precedent observed in his own case, attempted to nominate a more worthy successor. Here and in other remarks about kings (e.g. Ecclesiastes 10:20) the writer speaks, not as though he himself were a monarch, but merely as a philosopher or student of human nature. If he introduces the great king as uttering the sentiments, they are his own experiences which he records (Ecclesiastes 10:4-7): the spirit of the ruler rising against a subject, a fool set in high dignity and the rich debased to low places, servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth; — such circumstances one can ill imagine the historical Solomon to have known and recorded, though they might readily enough have been witnessed by one who made him the vehicle of his life-history.
Again, can one suppose that Solomon would call the heir to his throne "the man that should be after" him (Ecclesiastes 2:18), and hate his labor because its fruits would fall into such unworthy hands? Or that, being well aware who his successor would be, he should speak as if it were quite uncertain — one of those future contingencies which no one could determine (Ecclesiastes 2:19)? To minimize the force of the objection here made, some critics assert that Solomon utters this sentiment after Jeroboam's attempted rebellion, and with the fear of this restless and unscrupulous leader's success lying heavy on his mind; but there is no historical ground for this notion. As far as we know, no dread of a revolution troubled his last days. Jeroboam had been driven into exile; and it is quite a gratuitous assumption that the fear of his return and forcible seizure of the throne dictated the words in the text.
There are other incongruities in connection with the relation of monarch and subject. The passage Ecclesiastes 8:2-5, Ecclesiastes 8:9 contains advice, not from a ruler to his dependents, but from a subject to his fellow-subjects: "I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment," etc. It is a prudent exhortation, showing how to behave under a tyrannical government, when "one man ruleth over another to the other's hurt," and could never have emanated from great David's greater son.
Again, is it compatible with the modesty of a refined disposition that Solomon should boast unrestrainedly of his intellectual acquirements (Ecclesiastes 1:16), his possessions, his greatness (Ecclesiastes 2:7-9)? Such exultation might proceed naturally enough from a fictitious person, but would be most unseemly in the mouth of the real character. Is he satirizing himself when he denounces the royal spendthrift, glutton, and debauchee, and describes the misery which he brings on the land (Ecclesiastes 10:16-19)? Is it not much more likely that Koheleth is drawing from his own experience of licentious rulers, which concerns not Solomon at all? Then, again, the course of philosophical investigation into the summum bonum depicted in the book is wholly incompatible with the historical Solomon. There is no evidence whatever that he entered into any such inquiry and pursued it with the view herein intimated. The writer gives a fair account of many of the king's great undertakings — his palaces, gardens, reservoirs, his feasts, sensually, and carnal enjoyments; but there is no hint in the history that these things were only parts of a great experiment, steps on the path that might lead to the knowledge of happiness. Rather they are represented in the annals as the outcome of wealth, luxury, pleasure-seeking, selfishness. It is impossible, too, that, in recounting his performances, Solomon should have omitted all mention of that which was the chief glory of his reign — the erection of the temple at Jerusalem. Yet his connection with it is not noticed by the remotest allusion, though there is possibly some mention of the worship there (Ecclesiastes 5:1, Ecclesiastes 5:2): "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God."
Further, if, as we have seen, the references to Solomon himself are often inconsistent with what we know of his history, the state of society presented by intimations scattered here and there is certainly not that which obtained in his reign. We read of violent oppression and wrong, when tears of agony were wrung from the persecuted, whose misery was so great that they preferred death to life under such intolerable circumstances (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3); whereas, in these palmy days of the kingdom, all was peace and plenty: "Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry" (1 Kings 4:20). Two more antagonistic scenes could scarcely have been depicted, and we cannot suppose them to refer to the same period. It is true that after Solomon's death the people complained that his yoke had been grievous (1 Kings 12:4); it is also true that he dealt sternly with the strangers and the remnant of the idolatrous nations left in the land (2 Chronicles 2:17, 2 Chronicles 2:18; 2 Chronicles 8:7, 2 Chronicles 8:8); but the former allegation was doubtless exaggerated, and referred chiefly to the taxes and imposts laid upon the people in order to supply the means for carrying out magnificent designs; there was no complaint of oppression or injustice; it was relief from excessive taxation, and perhaps from enforced labor, that was demanded. The typical character of Solomon's reign would not have afforded a theme of prophetical representation of Messiah's kingdom, had it been the scene of violence, turbulence, and unhappiness which stands before our minds in Koheleth's page. With regard to the possible sufferings of the aboriginals, from whom was exacted bond-service (1 Kings 9:21), we have no record that they were treated with undue severity; and it is certain that, in any case, Koheleth would not be thinking of them in recounting the misery which he had witnessed. No Hebrew, indeed, would take them into consideration at all. Hewers of wood and drawers of water they became in the nature of things, and of them nothing more was to be said.
Another aspect of affairs, incongruous with Solomon's time, is seen in an allusion to the system of espionage practiced under despotic governments (Ecclesiastes 10:20), where the writer warns his readers to beware how they utter a word, or even cherish a thought, in disparagement of the ruling rower; walls have ears; a bird shall carry the word; and punishment is sure to follow. Can we believe that Solomon used such a system? And is it credible that, if he did encourage this odious practice, he would explain and dilate upon it in a popular work? Once more, it must have been at a much later period that the admonition against unsanctified and diffuse study was needed (Ecclesiastes 12:12). The national literature in Solomon's time must have been of the scantiest nature; the warning could have been applicable only when the theories and speculations of Greece and Alexandria had found their way into Palestine (Ginsburg).
Further, it must be noticed that, though God is spoken of continually, it is always by the name of Elohim, never by his covenant appellation, Jehovah. Is it conceivable that the historical Solomon, who had experienced such remarkable mercies and special endowments at the hands of Jehovah, should ignore this Divine relation, and speak of God merely as the Maker of the world, the Governor of the universe? In Proverbs the name Jehovah occurs nearly a hundred times, Elohim hardly at all; it is preposterous to account for this difference by asserting that Solomon wrote one work while in a slate of grace, and hence used the covenant name, and the other after he had fallen, and felt himself unworthy of God's favor. As we said before, there is no trace of repentance in his life; and the picture of "the aged, penitent king, stung with poignant anguish of mind for his sins, and unable to utter the adorable name," if true to nature (Wordsworth), is not true to history. Rather, one would have expected one who had been betrayed into idolatry to be careful to use the name of the true God in contradistinction to that which was common to the false and the true.
Other discrepancies might be pointed out, such, for instance, as the absence of all allusion to idolatry, which the king, if repentant, could not have refrained from mentioning; but enough has been said to show there are many statements which are unsuitable to the character, epoch, and circumstances of the historical Solomon.
4. The allegation that the language of the book is wholly compatible with the time of Solomon would require too great space to be examined in detail. We should have to enter into technicalities which could be appreciated by none but Hebrew scholars, and only by those few who were fully acquainted, not merely with the writings of the Old Testament, but also with the language of Targums, etc., the rabbinic literature which came into existence by slow degrees after the Babylonish captivity. Suffice it to say generally that the language and style of the book have marked peculiarities, and that many words and many forms of expression either occur nowhere else in the Bible, or are found solely in the very latest books of the sacred canon. Delitzsch and Knobel and Wright have given lists of these hapax legomena and words and forms which belong to the later period of Hebrew. The catalogue, which extends to nearly a hundred items, has been closely, examined by various scholars, and careful criticism has eliminated a very large number of the incriminated expressions. Many of these are abstract words, formed from roots naturally enough, though not occurring elsewhere; many have derivatives in the earlier books; many cannot be proved to belong exclusively to the Chaldee, and may have been common to other Semitic dialects. But after making all due allowances, there remain enough instances of late and rabbinical words and phrases to prove that the work belongs to a period posterior to Solomon. Certainly it is quite possible to press the grammatical and etymological argument too far, and to lay too much stress on details often most difficult to dissect, and frequently more questions of taste and delicate judgment than of stern and indubitable fact; but the present case does not rest on isolated examples, some of which may be found faulty and weak, but on a large induction of particulars, the cumulative importance of which cannot be set aside.
How is this argument attempted to be met? The linguistic peculiarities cannot be wholly denied, but it is argued that the Aramaisms and foreign expressions are owing to Solomon's wide intercourse with external nations, and the bent of his mind, which inclined to comprehensiveness, and led him to prefer what was rare and removed from the intercourse of common life. Some suppose that this was done with the view of making the work more acceptable to non-Israelites. Others deem that the subject-matter necessitated the peculiar phraseology employed. Such allegations, however, will not account for grammatical peculiarities and verbal inflections, which are found rarely or never in earlier books, or for the absence of forms which are most common elsewhere. Foreign words might be introduced here and there in a work of any age; but it is different with changes in syntax and inflection; these denote another epoch or stage in language, and cannot be adequately explained by any of the above arguments. The assertion that the writer desired to commend his treatise to external nations is entirely unsupported by evidence, and is negatived by the fact that idolatry, the crying sin of other peoples, is never alluded to. Compare the bold denunciations of the Book of Wisdom, and it will at once be seen how a true believer deals with those who are enemies to his religion and worship. There is another consideration which supports the view for which we contend. The whole style of the work is indicative of a later development. Critics point to the very frequent employment of conjunctions to express the most diverse logical relations, which were not needed in the simpler lucubrations of early times. Then there is the pleonastic use of the personal pronoun after the verbal form; the mode of expressing the present by the participle, often in connection with a personal pronoun; the almost entire absence of the imperfect with vav conversive; and many other peculiarities of a similar nature, all of which indicate neo-Hebraism.
5. That no one but Solomon could have written a book of such consummate excellence is, of course, a mere assumption. We know so little of the literary history of those days, and our information concerning writers and educationists is so scanty, that it is impossible to say who could or who could not have composed such a work. Because we can fix the authorship definitely upon no other person, we are not compelled to subscribe h) the traditional view. One of equal mental capacities and attainments with the writer of Job might, under inspiration, have produced Koheleth; and, like the other, have remained unknown. The apocryphal compositions of post-exilian days show a large amount of literary talents, and the age which gave them birth might have been fruitful in other authors.
6. The coincidences between Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Canticles may be explained without resorting to the supposition that the three works are the production of one author, and that author Solomon. Not to discuss the genuineness of the Song of Songs, the Book of Proverbs is confessedly derived from many sources, and quotation from its pages would not serve to establish the Solomonic origin of the passage cited. All that can be decided from the parallelism with the other books attributed to Solomon is that the author had evidently read those works, as he certainly had perused Job, and perhaps Jeremiah, and, consciously or unconsciously, borrowed sentiments and expressions from them. And, on the other hand, there are confessedly such marked variations of style between those writings and Ecclesiastes, that it is difficult to allow that they came from the same pen, though wielded, as is said, at different ages of life.
From these premises it must be concluded that the Solomonic authorship cannot be maintained, and that the book belongs to a much later epoch than that of Solomon. Surrendering the traditional opinion, we are, however, at once cast upon an ocean of surmises, which are wholly derived from internal evidence as this strikes different readers. In assigning the date of the book, critics are hopelessly divided, some giving B.C. 975, others B.C. 40, and between these dates others have, on various grounds, taken their respective stand. But eliminating theories which the work itself contravenes, we find that most reliable authorities are divided between the times of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Persian, and the Greek epochs. The theory of its composition in the time of Herod the Great, enunciated by Gratz, needs no refutation, and is only noticeable as showing, by the legend on which it is based, that at that day Koheleth was generally regarded as an integral portion of Holy Scripture. The first period mentioned would take us to the time of the Prophet Malachi, B.C. 450-400. But that seer writes much purer Hebrew than Koheleth, and the two could hardly have been contemporaneous. At any rate, we cannot be wrong in taking the generation after Malachi as the terminus a quo of our inquiry. The terminus ad quem seems to be defined by the use made of Ecclesiastes by the author of the Book of Wisdom. That the latter is the later of the two is evident from its Hellenistic form and environment, of which Koheleth shows no trace, and from its exhibiting a development of the doctrines of wisdom and eschatology far beyond what is found in our book. Koheleth complains that increase of wisdom brings increase of trouble (Ecclesiastes 1:18); the later pseudo-Solomon asserts that to live with Wisdom hath no bitterness, but is stable joy and gladness (Wisd. 8:16). On the one hand, we read that there is no remembrance of the wise man more than of the fool forever (Ecclesiastes 2:16); on the other hand, it is maintained that wisdom makes the memory of its possessor ever fresh, and confers upon him immortality (Wisd. 8:13; 6:20). If one argues sadly that the good and the evil have the same fate (Ecclesiastes 9:2), the other often comforts himself by thinking that their destinies are very different, and that the righteous are at peace, and live for evermore, and their reward is with the Most High (Wisd. 3:2, etc.; 5:15, etc.). And generally the future judgment which Koheleth intimates vaguely and indefinitely, has, in the later book, become a settled belief, and a recognized motive of action and endurance. Both writings virtually assume the authorship of Solomon; and many passages of the later work, especially Ecclesiastes 2., seem to be designed to correct erroneous impressions gathered by some minds from Kohcleth's unexplained statements. There is good reason to suppose that certain free-thinkers and sensualists in Alexandria had ventured to support their immoral opinions by citing the authority of the wise king, who in his book urged men to enjoy life, according to the maxim, "Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die." This misapprehension of inspired teaching the author of Wisdom unhesitatingly condemns and confutes. The passages referred to are noted as they occur in the Exposition. But a comparison of the reasoning of the materialists in Wisdom with the statements in Ecclesiastes 2:18-26; Ecclesiastes 3:18-22; Ecclesiastes 5:13, Ecclesiastes 5:20, will show whence was derived the perverted view of life which needed correction.
Now, the Book of Wisdom was composed not later than B.C. 150; so the limits between which lies the production of Ecclesiastes are B.C. 400 and B.C. 150. The nearer definition must be determined by other considerations. Mr. Tyler and Dean Plumptre have traced a connection between Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus, and, by a series of contrasted citations, have endeavored to prove that Ben-Sira was well acquainted with our book, and used it largely in the composition of his own. Plumptre also considers that the name Ecclesiasticus was given to Ben-Sira's work from its connection with Ecclesiastes, following the track there set. But be this idea well founded, it will not help us much, as the date of Ecclesiasticus is still a disputed question, though most modern critics assign it to the reign of Euergetes II., commonly called Physcon, B.C. 170-117. This, if it is accepted, gives the same result as the previous supposition. But a surer criterion is found in the social and political circumstances revealed incidentally in our book.
We read of the arbitrary exercise of power, the corruption, the dissoluteness and luxury of rulers (Ecclesiastes 4:1, etc.; 7:7; 10:16); perversion of justice and extortion in provinces (Ecclesiastes 5:8); the promotion of base and unworthy persons to high positions (Ecclesiastes 10:5-7); tyranny, despotism, revelry. These doings are graphically depicted by one who knew from experience that of which he wrote. And this condition of affairs points with much certainty to the time when Palestine lay under Persian rule, and irresponsible satraps oppressed their subjects with iron hands. For the same conclusion makes also the comparison of the inexorable law of death to the cruel obligation of military service which obtained among the Persians, and which allowed of no evasion (Ecclesiastes 8:8); so, too, the allusion to spies and the trade of the secret informer (Ecclesiastes 10:20) suits the government of the Achsemenidae. The oppressive rule under which the Palestinians groaned led to a widespread disaffection and discontent, to a readiness to seize any occasion to revolt, and rendered suitable the caution against hasty action and the exhortation to patience (Ecclesiastes 8:3, Ecclesiastes 8:4). The social and political condition induced two evils — first, a reckless disregard to moral and religious restraint, as though God took no care of men and paid no heed to their welfare; secondly, a scrupulous attention to the externals of religion, as though by this one could constrain Heaven to favor him — the offering of perfunctory sacrifices, the making of vows as a barren duty. This state of things we know to have been existent from the age of Nehemiah and before the Maccabaean period; and many observations of Koheleth are directed against these abuses (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7). The remark about the multiplication of books (Ecclesiastes 12:12) could not have applied to any period previous to the Persian. The absence of any trace of Greek influence (which we shall endeavor to prove further on) removes the writing from Macedonian times; nor could it be reasonably attributed to the Maccabrean epoch. There is no trace of the patriotic feeling which animated the Hebrews under the tyranny of the Syrians. The persecutions then experienced had made future retribution no longer a vague speculation or a dim hope, but an anchor of patience a practical motive for constancy and courage. This was a great advance upon the misty conception of Koheleth. The conclusion at which we arrive is that Ecclesiastes was written about B.C. 300.
In deciding thus we are not precluded from considering that many of the proverbs and sayings contained herein come from an earlier age, and may have been popularly attributed to Solomon himself. Such time-honored sentences would be readily inserted in a work of this nature and would favor its reception and currency. The author must be deemed wholly unknown; he has so completely veiled his identity that any attempt to draw him from his purposed obscurity is hopeless. That he wrote in Palestine seems most probable. Some have fancied that the expression (Ecclesiastes 11:1), "Cast thy bread upon the waters," etc., refers to the sowing of seed on the inundated banks of the Nile, and that, therefore, we are justified in considering Alexandria as the scene of our author's labors. But this interpretation of the passage is inadmissible; the words have nothing to do with Egyptian cultivation, and give no clue to the writer's domicile. Indeed, there are allusions to rainy seasons and the dependence of the land for fertility, not on the river, but on the clouds of heaven (Ecclesiastes 11:3; Ecclesiastes 12:2), which pointedly debar any notion of Egypt being intended, and plainly indicate another country subject to very different climatic influences. The peculiarities of the Palestinian weather are characterized in Ecclesiastes 11:4, "He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap." Such warnings would have no significance in a land where rain rarely ever fell, and no one ever considered whether or not the wind was in what we call a rainy quarter. Again, no one but a Jew living in his own country would talk familiarly of frequenting the temple-worship (Ecclesiastes 5:1); of seeing evil men honored in the holy place, Jerusalem (Ecclesiastes 8:10); of a fool not knowing the way to "the city" par excellence (Ecclesiastes 10:15). Such expressions indicate a dweller in or near Jerusalem, and such we consider the author to have been — one who addresses his countrymen in their own language, as it was spoken in his time and locality. Had he lived in Egypt, he would doubtless have used Greek as the vehicle of his instructions, as did the writer of the Book of Wisdom; but dwelling in Palestine, he, like the composer of Ecclesiasticus, published his lucubrations in the native Hebrew. At the same time, his travels had probably extended beyond the limits of his own country, and made him in some sort familiar with foreign courts.
Dean Plumptre has arranged his idea of the author, plan, and purpose of the book in the form of an ideal biography, which indeed seems to solve many of the vexed questions that meet the student, but is evolved entirely from internal considerations, and is invented to support the writer's foregone conclusions. It is very ingenious and captivating, and worthy of study, whether one agrees with the view taken or dissents from it. Conceiving Ecclesiastes to be the production of an unknown author writing about B.C. 200, and, in spite of the personation of King Solomon, really uttering his autobiographical confessions, the dean proceeds to delineate Koheleth's life and character from the hints contained, or thought to be contained, in his pages. According to his biographer, Koheleth, an only son, was born somewhere in Judaea (not Jerusalem), about B.C. 230. Well taught in the usual lore, he early learned to reverence Solomon as the pattern of wisdom and wise experience — in this respect being superior to the mass of his countrymen, who, neglecting their own history and their own sacred books, were inclined rather to follow the modes of thought of the Greeks and Syrians, with whom they were brought in contact, and if they conformed to the national religion, it was rather from conventionality and a regard to routine than from heartfelt conviction and devout feeling. Koheleth saw and marked this vain ceremonialism and lip-worship, and learned to contrast such pretenders with those who really feared the Lord. As he grew up, his father, though wealthy, made him take his share in the labors of the vineyard and corn-field, and taught him the happiness of a life of activity. But he was not long content with this quiet existence; he panted for a wider sphere, larger experience; and, with his parents' consent, and with ample means at his disposal, he set out on foreign travel. Alexandria was the place to which he directed his steps. Here, having good introductions, he was admitted to the highest society, saw the life of courts, joined in the revelry prevailing there, indulged in all the enervating luxury and immorality which made the life of the pleasure-seeking inhabitants of this corrupt city. Satiety produced disgust. While staining his soul with degrading passions, he had preserved the memory of better things, and the struggle between the opposing elements is faithfully retraced in his book. On the one side, we have the weariness and pessimism of the blase profligate; on the other, the revolt of the higher nature leading to a truer view of life. The course of his experience conducted him to a friend who was pure and sincere, and to a mistress who was beyond measure abandoned and false; and while he could thank God for the gift of the former, who had proved to be a wise and loving counselor, he was no less thankful for being enabled to tear himself from the snares of the latter, whom he had found "more bitter than death." Deceived and disappointed, and dissatisfied with the scanty literature of his own nation, he turned for solace to the literature and philosophy of Greece; her poets supplied him with language in which to clothe the sentiments which arose from his new experiences; philosophers, Epicureans and Stoics, for a time charmed him with their teaching concerning nature, morality, life, and death. Such doctrines confirmed the notion of the vanity of most of the objects that men eagerly pursue, and encouraged the opinion that it was one's duty and interest to enjoy moderately all the pleasures that are available. Koheleth now discovered that there was something better than sensuality; that charity, benevolence, reputation, afforded joys more comforting and lasting. Admitted a member of the Museum, he joined in the philosophical discussions which were there carried on; heard and talked much about the summum bonum, happiness, immortality, free-will, destiny; but here was little to satisfy his cravings, though for the time he was interested and cheered by this intellectual activity. And now his excesses and his close study told upon his constitution, sapped his strength, and condemned him to premature old age. Partly paralyzed, weakened in body, but with the brain still active, he sat waiting the inevitable stroke, musing upon the past, and learning from the reflection that the soul could be satisfied by nothing but religion. Childhood's teaching came back with new force and meaning; God's love, justice, and power were living and energizing truths; the Creator was also the Judge. These verities, which he at length was compelled to acknowledge, were such as ought not to be kept unrevealed. Others, like himself, might have passed the same ordeal, and might need the instruction which he could give. How better could his enforced leisure be employed than in presenting to his countrymen his experiences, the course of thought which carried him through the pessimism of the sated sensualist, the wisdom of the Epicurean thinker, to the faith in a personal God? So he writes this record of a soul's conflicts, under the pseudonym of Koheleth, "the Debater," "the Preacher," shielding himself under the aegis of the great ideal of wisdom, Solomon King of Israel, whose life of enjoyment and late repentance, as tradition affirmed, bore a close analogy to his own.
It will be seen that there are many utterances in Ecclesiastes which spring naturally from the mouth of one situated as Koheleth is supposed to be, and which are readily explained by the above theory. It is also easy so to analyze the work, and so to interpret the allusions, as to give strong ground for its acceptance. And Dean Plumptre deserves great credit for the invention of the story, and its presentation in a most fascinating form. Bat regarded by sober criticism, does it satisfy the requirements of the case? Is it necessitated by the language of the book? Is there no other theory, less novel and violent, which will equally or better meet the circumstances? The objections to the "ideal biography" may here be very briefly stated, as we shall have occasion to discuss many of them more fully in our account of the plan and object of our book. The whole romance is based on the assumption that the work is replete with Grecisms, traces of Alexandrian thought, echoes of Greek philosophy and literature. Remove this foundation, and the beautiful edifice crumbles into dust. Our study of the book has led to a very opposite conclusion from that entertained in this very ideal biography. The alleged Hellenisms, the Stoicism and Epicureanism, do not stand the test of unprejudiced criticism, and are capable of being explained without going so far afield. The particular examination of these items we defer to another section, but thus much may be here said — the adduced expressions and views are the natural outcome of Hebrew thought, have nothing extraneous in their origin, and are analogous to post-Aristotelian sentiments, not because they are consciously derived from this fount, but because they are the produce of the same human mind, reflecting upon problems which have perplexed thinkers in every age and country. Restless speculation, combined with a certain infidelity, was rife among men; Koheleth reflects this mental activity, this endeavor to grapple with difficult questions, and to offer solutions from yawing points of view: what wonder that, in the course of his disquisition, he should present parallels to the opinions of the Stoic or Epicurean, who had gone over the same ground as himself? There is no plagiarism, no borrowing of ideas here; the evolution is, as it were, inspired by the subject.
"We do not make our thoughts; they grow in us
Like grain in wood: the growth is of the skies;
The skies, of nature; nature, of God.
The world Is full of glorious likenesses; and these
'Tis the bard's task, beside his general scope
Of story, fancy framed, to assort, and make
From the common chords man's heart is strung withal,
Music; from dumb earth heavenly harmony."
In short, the book is a product of the chokma literature, practically religious, and more concerned with the life and circumstances of man generally than with man as a member of the commonwealth of Israel. The Hebrew, in this and similar works, divests himself in some degree of his peculiar nationality, and speaks as man to man, as one of the great human family, and not as an item in a narrow fraternity. Not that revelation is ignored, or the writer forgets his theocratical position; he simply places it in the background, takes it for granted, and, virtually grounding his lucubrations thereon, does not bring it forward prominently and distinctly. So Koheleth, in all his warnings of the vanity of earthly things, shows that beneath this sad experience and melancholy view lies a firm faith in the justice of God, and belief in the future judgment, which could be derived only from the inspired history of his people.
§ 3. CONTENTS, PLAN, AND OBJECT.
The following is an analysis of our book as it lies before us:-After announcing his name and position, "Koheleth, son of David and King in Jerusalem," the author puts forth the thesis which forms the subject of his treatise: "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity." Man's labor is profitless; nature and human life repeat themselves in monotonous succession, and all must fall ere long into oblivion. Nothing is new, nothing is lasting (Ecclesiastes 1:1-11). This is the prologue; the rest of the book is taken up with the writer's various experiences and deductions therefrom.
He had been king, and had tried to find some satisfaction in many pursuits and under various circumstances, but in vain. The striving for wisdom is a feeding on wind; there is always something that eludes the grasp. There are anomalies in nature and in human affairs that men are powerless to comprehend and to rectify; and sorrow grows with increasing knowledge (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18). He takes a new quest; he tries pleasure, he tests his heart with folly: in vain. He turns to art, to architecture, horticulture, kingly state and magnificence, luxury, and the amassing of wealth; there was no profit in any of them (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). He studied human nature in its manifold phases of wisdom and folly, and he learned thus much, that the former excels the latter as light excels darkness; yet with this came the thought that death leveled all distinctions, placed wise man and fool in the same category. Besides this, be one never so rich, he must leave the results of his labors to another, who may be unworthy to succeed him. All this bitter experience forces the conclusion that temperate enjoyment of the goods of this life is the only proper aim, and that this is entirely the gift of God, who dispenses this pleasure or withholds it according to man's actions and disposition. At the same time, this limitation impresses on man's labor and enjoyment a character of vanity and unreality (Ecclesiastes 2:12-26). Now, man's happiness depends upon God's will, anti he has arranged all things according to immutable laws, so that even the minutest matters have each their proper time and season. General experience proves this; it is useless to struggle against it, however inexplicable it may seem to be; man's duty and comfort is to recognize this providential government and practically to acquiesce therein (Ecclesiastes 3:1-15). There are injustices, disorders, anomalies in the world, which man cannot remedy by any exertion of his own, and which impede his peaceful enjoyment; but, doubtless, there shall be a day of retribution, when all such iniquities shall be punished and corrected, and God allows them for a time to continue, with the view of proving men, and to teach them humility, that in one sense they are not superior to brutes. Hence man's happiness and duty consist in making the best of the present life, and improving the opportunities which God offers, without anxious care for the future (Ecclesiastes 3:16-22). He gives further illustrations of man's inability to secure his own happiness. See how man is oppressed or wronged by his fellow-man. Who can remedy this? And in face of such things, what pleasure is there in life? Success only leads to envy. Yet labor is necessary, and none but the fool sinks into apathy and indolence. Turn to avarice for consolation, and you are isolated from your fellows, and haunted with a sense of insecurity. High place itself has no assurance of permanence. Foolish kings are supplanted by young and clever aspirants; yet the people do not long remember their benefactors or profit by their meritorious services (Ecclesiastes 4:1-16). Turn to popular religion: is there any satisfaction or comfort to be found there? Nay, all is hollow and unreal. The house of God is entered thoughtlessly and irreverently; verbose prayers are uttered with no feeling of the heart; vows are made only to be broken or evaded; dreams take the place of piety, and superstition stands for religion (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7). In the political life, too, there is much that is disheartening, only to be supported by the thought of an overruling Providence (Ecclesiastes 5:8, Ecclesiastes 5:9). The pursuit and possession of wealth give no more satisfaction than other mundane things. The rich are always wanting more; their expenses increase with their wealth; they are not happy in life, and may lose their property at a stroke, and leave nothing to the children for whom they labored (Ecclesiastes 5:10-17). All thin leads again to the old conclusion that we should make the best of life such as it is, seeking neither riches nor poverty, but being content to enjoy with sobriety the good that God gives, remembering that the power to use and enjoy is a boon that comes solely from him (Ecclesiastes 5:15-20). We may see men possessed of all the gifts of fortune, yet unable to enjoy them, and soon obliged to leave them by the inexorable stroke of death (Ecclesiastes 6:1-6). If desires were always accomplished, we might have a different tale to tell; but they never are fully satisfied; high and low, wise and foolish, are equally victims of unsatisfied cravings (Ecclesiastes 6:7-9). These desires are profitless, because circumstances are not under man's control; and, not being able to forecast the future, he must make the best of the present (Ecclesiastes 6:10-12).
Koheleth now proceeds to apply to practice the truths which he has been establishing. As man knows not what is best for him, he must accept what is sent, be it joy or sorrow; and let him learn hence some salutary lessons. Life should be solemn and earnest; the house of mourning teaches better than the house of feasting; and the rebuke of a wise man is more whole- some than the mirth of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:1-7). We must learn patience and resignation; it is no wisdom to quarrel with things as they are or to praise the past in contrast with the present. We cannot change what God has ordered; and he sends good and evil that we may feel our entire dependence, and not disquiet ourselves about the future, which must be wholly unknown to us (Ecclesiastes 7:8-14). Anomalies occur; all excesses must be avoided, both on the side of over-righteousness and of laxity; true wisdom is found in the observance of the mean, and this is the only preservative from errors in the conduct of life (Ecclesiastes 7:15-22). Having thus far been aided by Wisdom, he desires, by her assistance, to solve deeper and more mysterious questions, but is wholly baffled. But he learned some further practical truths, viz. that wickedness was folly and madness, that of all created things woman was the most evil, and that man was made originally upright, but had perverted his nature (Ecclesiastes 7:23-29). His experience now leads him to consider man as a citizen. Here he shows that it is useless to rebel; true wisdom counsels obedience even under the worst oppression, and submission to Providence. Subjects may well be patient, for sure retribution awaits the tyrant (Ecclesiastes 8:1-9). But he is troubled by seeming anomalies in God's moral government, noting the contradiction to expected retribution in the case of the good and evil. God's abstention and the impunity of sinners make men incredulous of Providence; but in spite of all this, he knows in his heart that God is just in reward and punishment, as the end will prove. Meantime, unable to solve the mystery of God's ways, man's right course is, as before said, to make the best of existing circumstances (Ecclesiastes 8:10-15). This conclusion is confirmed by the fact that one fate awaits all men, and that the dead are cut off from all the feelings and pursuits and interests of life in the upper world (Ecclesiastes 9:1-6). Hence the lesson is repeated that man's wisest course is to use his earthly life to the best advantage, without being greatly disturbed by the inscrutability of the moral government of the world (Ecclesiastes 9:7-12). Wisdom, indeed, is not always rewarded, and the wise man who has clone good service is often forgotten; but there is a real power in wisdom which can effect more than physical strength (Ecclesiastes 9:13-18). On the other hand, a little folly mars the effect of wisdom, and is quite sure to manifest itself in word or conduct (Ecclesiastes 10:1-3). Koheleth then gives his experience of what he has seen in the case of capricious rulers, who often advanced to high stations the most incompetent men; and he offers some advice for conduct under such circumstances (Ecclesiastes 10:4-7). Wisdom teaches caution in all undertakings, whether in private or political life; a man should count the cost and make due preparation before attempting reformation in government or any other important matter (Ecclesiastes 10:8-11). See the strong contrast between the gracious words and acts of the wise man, and the objectless prating and useless labors of the fool (Ecclesiastes 10:12-15). The lesson of caution under the government of dissolute and unprincipled rulers is strongly enforced (Ecclesiastes 10:16-20). Drawing towards the conclusion of his work, Kohcleth glares some direct practical advice under three heads. We should leave unanswerable questions, and endeavor to do our duty with diligence and activity; especially we ought to be largely beneficent, as we know not how soon we ourselves may meet with adversity and need help (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6). This is the first remedy for impatience and discontent; the second is found in a spirit of cheerfulness, which enjoys the present discreetly and moderately, with a due regard to the future account to be rendered (Ecclesiastes 11:8, Ecclesiastes 11:9). The third remedy is piety, which ought to be practiced from early years; life should be so guided as not to offend the laws of the Creator and Judge, and virtue should not be postponed till the failure of faculties makes pleasure unattainable and death closes the scene. The last days of old age are described under various images and analogies, which contain some of the most beautiful traits in the book (Ecclesiastes 11:10-7). The conclusion of the whole is the echo of the beginning, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 12:8).
The book ends with an epilogue (Ecclesiastes 12:2-14), commendatory of the writer, explaining his standpoint and the object of his work. The real Koheleth here speaks, tells of the care with which he has prepared himself for his task, and assumes the gift of inspiration. It is better to know a little well than to weary one's self with reading many things; and the whole course of the discussion in the present case tends to give one lesson, viz. that man's true wisdom lies in fearing God and looking forward to the judgment.
Such are the contents of this work as presented by the writer. But never was there a book whose plan, design, and arrangement were more widely disputed. While some enthusiastic admirers have found herein an elaborate artistical structure, a formal division into sections rhythmically distributed, others have deemed it a mass of loose thoughts heaped together without any attempt at coherence or logical system. Others, again, give the work a colloquial character, hearing in it the language of two voices — that of the wearied and exhausted seeker, and that of the warning and correcting teacher. Tennyson's poem, 'The Two Voices,' has been used in illustration of this view of Koheleth. By others the unity of the book is wholly denied, and it is considered to be derived from many authors, being, in fact, a collection of philosophical and didactic poems, interspersed with gnomes and proverbs, hard questions, and some solutions of the same. Few will now be found to uphold this theory, the identity of thought throughout, and the orderly progress of the one underlying reflection, being conspicuous to any unprejudiced reader, and (if we regard the closing verses as an integral portion of the treatise) leading to a grand and satisfying conclusion.
Among the various theories concerning the design of the author in presenting this work, we may mention a few very briefly. Rosenmuller divides it into two parts — a theoretical (Ecclesiastes 1-4.) and a practical (Ecclesiastes 5-12:7); the former showing the vanity of human pursuits and generally of mundane things, and the latter directing men's life to worthy objects, and giving rules for obtaining pleasure and contentment. Tyler and Plumptre see in it a struggle between revealed religion and the theories of Greek philosophies, in the form of an autobiographical confession without any regular plan. Renan looks upon the author as a skeptic; Heine calls the book 'The Canticle of Skepticism;' these critics consider that the leading thought of the vanity of human affairs, and the call to enjoy life, point to a disbelief in a present Providence and a future retribution. Schopenhauer and his school read pessimism in every utterance concerning the shortness of man's life, the vanity of his pursuits, the disorders which prevail in nature and in society. One critic deems that the treatise points out the vanity of everything of earth; another, that its object is to indicate the sumnum bonum; another, that the point proved is the immortality of the soul; and yet another, that the author labors to show the limits of philosophy, and the excellence of religion in comparison therewith.
One school of interpreters sees in our book a discussion between a pious Israelite and a Sadducee, or a youth vexed by his daily experiences and a senior who tries to allay his misgivings and calm his excitement. Others find a Hebrew, under the guise of Solomon, employing Greek sophisms, and a Jewish believer refuting him by citing maxims and proverbs; or a Solomon objecting to the common theory of Divine providence and placing man's happiness in sensual pleasure, and a prophet arguing for the moral government of the world and assigning its right position to human enjoyment. In this view all apparent contradictions are explained away; all unorthodox sentiments appertain to the caviler, while the correction is that which the Holy Spirit would enforce. We may say at once that it is impossible to support this idea by reference to the text. There is no trace of different interlocutors; objections have no immediate answer, and what are regarded as replies present no connection with preceding statements. The idea of dialogue must be considered as wholly chimerical. Equally without foundation is the theory of the "two voices." What are regarded as the utterances of fatalist, materialist, Epicurean, are not refuted or retracted; the voice that should have taken the opposite side in the controversy is obstinately silent, and the poison — if poison it be is left to work its dire effect.
Of course, those who maintain the traditional view of the authorship hold a totally distinct opinion concerning its scope and object. With them it is the result of a late repentance, seeking to atone for past follies, and to enforce the warnings of a bitter experience, and thus to gather together the people whom Solomon foresaw would be scattered by his sins. Having prescience of the fate that awaited Israel after his death, he thus endeavors to comfort his countrymen in the evil days that were coming. He teaches the vanity of earthly things — things "under the sun" — that the blessedness of eternity may be realized; union with God implies detachment from the world. He surveys nature, he recalls his own varied experience, he looks abroad: there is nothing satisfying in this view. He thinks of his successor, Rehoboam, a youth of weak intellect, but strong passions, and finds no comfort there; he owns his infatuation, he calls himself "an old and foolish king" (Ecclesiastes 4:13), and already he sees the throne occupied by Jeroboam, "the poor and wise child" who should usurp his seat. He remembers his countless wives and concubines, who had led him astray, and exclaims that women are the pest of the world, and that not one in a thousand is good. He anticipates times of confusion and misrule, and counsels obedience and submission. Then, at the close of the book, he pictures himself aged, enfeebled, laid on his death-bed, and in solemn tones he urges early piety, the emptiness of everything apart from God, and utters the moral of his wasted life, and sums up man's duty in the weighty climax of the book. If the treatise were Solomon's, such, indeed, might have been the course of thought.
Before we offer our own opinion concerning the purpose of the book, let us look at the views which others have formed respecting Koheleth's standpoint and sentiments.
First of all, is our author a pessimist, as many suppose? Does he take the worst view of things, find no benevolence in the Creator, see no hope of happiness for man? Certainly, his ever-recurring cry is, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity;" certainly, he affirms that death is better than life, that the lot of those is most to be envied who never have been born, that men's labors and aims and ambitions end in disappointment, that the pursuit of wisdom, or art, or wealth, or pleasure is alike unsatisfying; but these and such-like mournful utterances must not be considered apart from their context and the place which they occupy in the treatise. They do not represent the object or teaching of the book; they occur as passing observations which met the thinker in the course of his investigation, and which he notes in order to trace the line taken by his inquiry. His pessimism, such as it is, is only a cloud seeming to obscure for a time the heaven of his faith, and dissipated by the clear shining behind it. When he speaks in desponding tones of mundane objects, he desires to call attention to the weak point in all such things, the fault that underlies them all. Men's mistake is to think that they can secure happiness by their own efforts, whereas they are conditioned by a higher power, and can neither achieve success nor enjoy it when won except by the gift of God. If he affirms that the day of death is preferable to the day of birth, he is virtually repeating Solon's celebrated gnome that no man can be accounted happy till he has closed his life happily — that the new-born infant has a time before him full of trial and trouble, the course and end of which no one can foresee, while with the dead all is over, and we can calmly judge of his career. His faith in God's justice and benevolence is the exact contradictory of Schopenhauer's school. His word is, "God hath made everything beautiful in its time" (Ecclesiastes 3:11); he believes in the moral government of the universe; he acknowledges the reality of sin; he looks to a life beyond the grave. He would not paralyze exertion, and hold back from work; he recommends diligence in one's own duties, beneficence towards others; he leads men to expect happiness in the path on which God's providence leads them. There is no real hopelessness, no cynical despair, in his utterances taken as a whole. If he lacks the bright faith of the Christian, he in his measure feels that all works together for good for them that love God, if not in this world, yet assuredly in another. So the charge of pessimism falls to the ground when the treatise is considered in its totality, and not estimated by isolated passages.
A strong plea for the prevalence of traces of Gentile teaching has been put forward by modern critics. Let us, then, examine the grounds on which rests the idea of the potent influence of Greece (for the external influence means Hellenism) in the foundation and expression of Koheleth's sentiments. First, as to language, we have certain phrases cited which are alleged to be derived Graeco fonte. In Ecclesiastes 3:11 ha-olam, translated "the world" in our version, is supposed to be the Greek αἰωìν, whereas it is truly Hebraic in form and signification, and is probably not used in the sense of "world" in the Old Testament. In the next verse the phrase, "to do good," is taken as equivalent to εὖ πραìττειν, "to fare well, to prosper;" but this is not its use in the Bible, and it is best taken in the ethical sense of being beneficent, etc. The phrase, καλοÌς κἀαγαθοìς, is found in the "good and comely" of Ecclesiastes 5:18, tob asher-yapheh, where, however, the correct rendering is, "Behold, what I have seen as good, which is also beautiful," and the Hellenistic source is wholly unrecognizable, Pithgam, "sentence," is not φθεìγμα, but a Persian word Hebraized. "I gave my heart to seek and search out," "I considered in my heart," etc. (Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 9:1), — such-like expressions do not imply a formal course of philosophizing, but simply the mental process of an acute observer and thinker. "That which is" (Ecclesiastes 7:24) is not τοÌ τιì ἐστιν, the real nature of things, but that which is in existence. Dean Plumptre deems the book to be "throughout absolutely saturated with Greek thought and language." His chief proofs are such as these: the phrase, "under the sun," to express all human things (Ecclesiastes 1:9, Ecclesiastes 1:14; Ecclesiastes 4:15, etc.); "seeing the sun," for living (Ecclesiastes 6:5). But what more natural term could be found than "under the sun"? And why should it be borrowed? And the periphrasis for life, or its equivalent, is found in Job and the Psalms. "Be not over-righteous or over-wise" (Ecclesiastes 7:16) is a maxim, regarded contextually, by no means identical with the gnome μηδεÌν ἀγαìν, ne quid nimis. The proverbial warning respecting the bird of the air reporting a secret (Ecclesiastes 10:20) surely need not have been derived from the story of Ibycus and the cranes; as stimulating the mind under teaching it was more natural for a Hebrew to speak of "goads" than a Greek (Ecclesiastes 12:11). We need not go to Euripides or the social life of Hellas to account for Koheleth's disparagement of women; his own country and age, cursed with the evils of polygamy and the degraded condition of the female sex, gave him reason enough for his remarks. Some other instances are adduced by critics who see what they desire to see; but they are all capable of easy explanation without recourse to a foreign origin being necessary. So we may safely conclude that the language of our book exhibits no trace of Greek parentage.
An apparently strong case has been produced by those who see evidences of Greek philosophy in Ecclesiastes. Echoes of Stoical teaching are heard in the language that speaks of the endless recurrence of the same phenomena in the life of man (Ecclesiastes 1:5-7, Ecclesiastes 1:11, etc.), which is paralleled by the theory of the cycles of events presented by history, as M. Aurelius says (11:1), "There will be nothing new for posterity to gaze at, and our ancestors stood upon the same level of observation. All ages are uniform and of a color, insomuch that in forty years' time a tolerable genius for sense and inquiry may acquaint himself with all that is past and all that is to come." There is similarity, doubtless, in the ideas of these authors, but no greater than might be expected in two thinkers writing of a consideration of facts which struck them in reviewing the past. The thought of the vanity of man's life and labor, his aims and pleasures, is deemed to be derived from the apathy of the Stoic and his contempt for the world; whereas it springs from the teaching of bitter experience which needed no foreign stimulus to animate its expression. The fatalism characteristic of Stoic doctrine, which to a superficial reader seems to obtrude itself constantly, is really not found in our book. The writer is too religious to fall into any such error. The sad refrain, "Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. What profit hath a man of all his labor?" seems to some to savor of that philosophic fatalism which regards man as the prey of blind destiny. Now, the things of which Koheleth predicates vanity are wisdom, wealth, pleasure, power, speculation; and why? Not because they are the working of irresponsible and uncontrollable destiny, but because they fail in themselves to bestow that for the sake of which they are pursued, or accrue only to those persons whom Providence thus blesses. He recounts his own experience and his attempts to find satisfaction in various pursuits, and he concludes that all such strivings are vain, in so far as all are conditioned by the dispensation of God, who permits enjoyment and possession according to his good pleasure. The things themselves cannot secure and are not the cause of any happiness which accompanies them; this is solely the gift of God. Man, too, does not know what is best for him, and often seeks eagerly for what is pernicious; Providence overrules his efforts and controls the final result. Providence governs the most minute as well as the most important events of man's life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8); everything is thus regulated according to mysterious rules which are beyond our ken. But this profound conviction does not lead Koheleth to regard man as a mere machine, possessed of no free-will, whose liberty of action is entirely controlled by higher power, who is as completely under the rule of necessity as the external physical world. He does allow that, as there are laws that direct the forces of material nature, so there are laws that control man's intellectual and moral nature; and it is from his obedience or disobedience that happiness or pain ensues. The infringement of these laws does not always bring punishment in this world, nor their observance reward, but retribution is certain in the life beyond the grave (Ecclesiastes 11:9); and the Preacher counsels men to fear God and to practice piety and virtue, not as though they were the victims of cruel destiny, but as responsible beings who in many respects had their life in their own hands. The second division of the book (Ecclesiastes 7-9.) contains a collection of practical suggestions how to make the best of the present in remembrance of the omnipotent control of Providence. If the fatalist pronounces that all is left to chance, and that God hides his face and cares naught for human concerns, Koheleth warns against the error of supposing that, because retribution is delayed or falls in some unexpected way, Heaven takes no interest in mundane matters. Moral government does certainly exist, and seeming exceptions only show that we cannot understand its course, while we must submit to its decrees. If, again, unbelief asserts that human efforts are vain and sterile, the Preacher, on the contrary, urges men to do their part with energy, to use with profit the time granted to them, to make the best of their position; not that they can always command success, but generally wisdom is more powerful than physical force, and at any rate diligence and action are man's duty, and results may be left in higher hands. The vexed question of free-will and omniscience is not handled; man's liberty and God's decree are both main-rained, but their compatibility is not explained. They are set side by side, and both are taken into account, but there is no formal attempt at reconciliation; it is enough to hold, on the one hand, that Providence rules supreme, and, on the other, that piety and wisdom are better worth than folly or greatest natural power. The bitter and reiterated cry of "Vanity" does not argue disbelief in man's free-will or in God's providential care; it issues from a soul that has learned its own weakness and its dependence upon God; that has learned that happiness is his gift and is dispensed according to his good pleasure.
Another loan from Stoic teaching is supposed to be found in the frequent combination of "madness and folly" (Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:12, etc.), which is compared with the view that regarded all weaknesses and delinquencies as forms of insanity. But Koheleth is offering no definition of human frailty; his intention is to show how he pursued his investigation. As contrariis contraria intelliguntur, he learned wisdom by watching the results of unwisdom, confusion of thought and purpose ("madness"); that he thus designates moral error is natural to one taking a philosophical view of human nature. Why he should have borrowed the expression from the Stoics is hard, indeed, to see.
The alleged Epicureanism is equally unfounded. That parallels are met with can surely be explained without supposing that the Preacher "drank from a common source" with Lucretius and Horace. With regard to physical science, had Koheleth to go to Epicurus that he might learn the mystery of the daily rising and setting of the sun, or that rivers flow into the sea, or that the waters somehow find their way back again? These are matters of observation which must strike any thinker. Is the doctrine concerning the dissolution of man's compound being at death derived from Lucretius? Ecclesiastes says that men and beasts have one destiny; they have a living principle, and, when this is withdrawn, their bodies crumble into dust. He learned this great fact from his own sacred books; if Greek philosophers taught it, they evolved the idea from their own minds and observation, or it was a traditionary knowledge handed down from antiquity. But Koheleth sees a difference between the spirit of man and that of the lower animals, in that the former goeth, as he holds, upward (Ecclesiastes 3:21), returns to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7), the latter goeth downward to the earth. He is here not thinking of the absorption of man's spirit in the anima mundi; he has been taught that God breathed into Adam the breath of life, and that at death that "breath," the living soul, goes back to its source, not losing its identity, but coming more immediately in connection with its Creator, retaining its personality, and, as the Targum paraphrases, "returning to stand in judgment before him who gave it." Concerning the ignorance of what comes after death, our author is quite in accord with the reticence of the Old Testament, and has not learned from a Greek school to speak in this cautious manner. But it is in regard to the enjoyment of life that Ecclesiastes is said to have chiefly borrowed from Epicurean teaching. That, as some have supposed, he recommends a coarse sensuality needs no refutation; but even the "modified Epicureanism" which some read in his pages has no place there; the misconception arises from a false interpretation of certain phrases, especially as taken in connection with their context. There is one which often occurs, e.g. "It is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life '(Ecclesiastes 5:18; comp. Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 8:15). This expression, "to eat and drink," had not, to the ears of a Hebrew, simply the lower meaning which it carries now, as if it implied only the enjoyment of the pleasures of the table Reproaching Shallum for his declension from righteous ways, Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:15) asks, "Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him?" Does the prophet signify that Josiah pleased God by his Epicurean life? Is it not evident that the phrase is a metaphor for prosperity, ease, and comfort? When Koheleth inquires (Ecclesiastes 2:25), "Who can eat, or who can have enjoyment, more than I?" he means that no one has had better opportunities than he for enjoying life generally. One would have thought it scarcely necessary to insist on the extended signification of this metaphor. The bountifulness of Jehovah is thus expressed: "The Lord is the Portion of mine inheritance and of my cup;" "Thou preparest a table before me" (Psalms 16:5; Psalms 23:5); and the joys of heaven are adumbrated by terms appropriate to a glorious banquet: "I appoint unto you a kingdom," said Christ (Luke 22:29), "that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom;" "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God," cried one, in reference to the life of glory beyond the grave (Luke 14:15; comp. Revelation 19:9). In this and similar phrases used by the Preacher, such as "to rejoice," "to see good," etc., the idea intended is not to encourage the selfish sensuality of the voluptuary, but a well-regulated contentment with and enjoyment of the good which God gives. Nothing more than this is in man's power, and to this he ought to confine his aim; that is, he ought to make the best of the present, knowing that he is not the architect of his own happiness, but that this is the gift of God, to be thankfully accepted as a boon from heaven, whenever and in whatever fashion it may come. It is true that the good and the evil often seem to be and are treated in the same manner (Ecclesiastes 9:1, Ecclesiastes 9:2); but this is no reason for despair and inaction; nay, as the present life is the only time for work, it behooves us to use it in the best way: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." Here is no counsel of Epicurean ἀταραξιìα, a passionless tranquility which disturbs itself about nothing, but rather a call to an active performance of duties as the best guarantee of happiness. The only other passage which seems to favor license and immorality is one towards the end (Ecclesiastes 11:9): "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes." These words at first sight, and taken by themselves, do seem to encourage youth to give free scope to its passions; but they must not be separated from their solemn conclusion: "But know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment." And the advice really comes to this: youth is the time for enjoyment, while the senses are keen, and the taste is unimpaired, and you do well to make the best of this time; this is your portion and lot given by God; but in all that you do, remember the end, remember the account which you will have to give; take your pleasure with this thought always before you.
That Ecclesiastes cannot be justly accused of skepticism has been already shown incidentally. This and such-like errors are imputed by readers who regard isolated expressions divorced from the context, and neglect the general tone prevalent in the treatise. The idea is supported by such passages as Ecclesiastes 1:8, Ecclesiastes 1:12-18; Ecclesiastes 3:9; and 8:16, 17, in which Koheleth professes man's inability to understand God's doings, and the uselessness of wisdom in satisfying human aspirations. He does not affirm that man can know nothing, apprehend nothing; he is not a disciple of agnosticism — that mean excuse for declining to assent to revealed truth — he asserts that human reason cannot fathom the depth of God's designs. Reason can receive facts, and compare and arrange and argue from them; but it cannot explain everything; it has limits which it cannot pass; perfect intellectual satisfaction is beyond mortals' attainment. Is this equivalent to denying to man the power of gaining any certitude or mastering any verity? Again, when he intimates the vanity of wisdom and knowledge, he is stating the truth that the course of events is beyond man's control, that no human wisdom can secure happiness, which is absolutely the gift of God. A profound belief in a governing Providence underlies all his utterances; it is the mysteriousness, the secret working, of this government that arrests his attention and leads him to contrast with it man's ignorance and impotence, and to lay skill, prudence, science, under the feet of the great Disposer of hearts and circumstances. In all this he is not speculative; there is no theorizing or philosophizing; it is wholly practical, tending to rules of daily life, not to questions of metaphysics or minute theology.
There is another point on which the Preacher is said to exhibit the taint of skepticism, and that is on the question of the immortality of the soul: Some would make him a predecessor of the Sadducees; some cannot find a trace of the orthodox doctrine in his pages, and indeed consider it to have been unknown at his epoch; others venture to say that he had not even the Greek's idea of the soul and immortality, and held that man, in the matter of life, differed nothing from the beast, had nothing to expect after death. Without entering upon the general question how far the Old Testament countenances the dogma of the immortality of the soul, we will see what Koheleth says upon this absorbing topic. The first passage which bears upon the subject is found in the last five verses of the third chapter, where the destiny and being of men are compared with those of beasts. Properly translated and explained, the words enunciate certain unimpeachable facts. First they say that man, regarded as a mere animal, irrespectively of the relation in which he stands to God, has no more power than the lower creatures; is, no more than they, master of his own fate. Then it is added that the lot of men and beasts is the same; both have the breath of life; when this is withdrawn, both die; so in this respect man has no advantage over the beast — both come from dust and both return to dust. There is no question here of the soul's continued existence; the animal life alone is spoken of, the physical breath or power which gives life to all animals of whatever nature they may be; and all are placed in the same category by having to succumb to the law of death. There is no skepticism thus far; but round the twenty-first verse controversy has gathered. This is rendered in the Revised Version, "Who knoweth the spirit of man whether it goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast whether it goeth downward to the earth?" If we surrender the Authorized translation, "The spirit of man that goeth upward," etc., which states a truth not before enunciated, we must see whether the charge of skepticism is sustained by the Revised Version, which has the authority of the Septuagint, Vulgate, Syriac, and Targum. Now, it may be that Koheleth merely affirms that there are but few who arrive at any knowledge on the subject, or he may say that no one knows for certain anything about the respective destinies of the life of man and brute; but he does not deny, if he refrains here from expressly affirming, the continued existence of the personal soul. If we conceive that he is referring only to the animal life, he intimates that in the manner of death no one can tell what difference there is between the withdrawal of life from man and from brute. If he refers to the spirit, the ego of man, his question implies belief in a continued existence after death; if it was annihilated, if it perished with its earthly tabernacle, there could be no inquiry as to what became of it. To assert that no one can track its course is to certify that it has a course before it, though this be not capable of demonstration. Plainly, too, he differentiates the fate of man and beast. The vital principle of the latter may go with the body to the dust; the spirit of the former may, as he says later (Ecclesiastes 12:7), return to the God who gave it; to hold the impossibility of attaining to certainty in this mysterious subject by human reason or senses, does not make a man a skeptic. The stage of the argument required this unsatisfying statement of the case; it is not till the close of the book that doubt is cleared away, and faith shines forth undimmed. There is a further difficulty in the final clause of this paragraph: "For who shall bring him [back] to see what shall be after him?" Some have explained this clause, "What shall become of him after his death?" by which may be signified a doubt whether he has any future or not. Bat what is intended is either the thought that we cannot tell whether after death we shall have any knowledge of what passes on earth, or else that we cannot foresee what will happen to us or to any one in the future in this world. In either case there is no denial of the great verity of the immortality of the soul. But what is Koheleth's view of the judgment to come? In Ecclesiastes 9:0. he speaks of the dead thus: "To him that is joined with all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. As well their love as their hatred.., is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in anything that is done under the sun... Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol whither thou goest." The existence of the soul after death is here presupposed; its condition in the other world is the point elaborated. This is considered- in accordance with the view that obtains in Job, the Psalms, and other writings of the Old Testament. Sheol is a place beneath the earth, gloomy, awful, whither go the souls of the dead. In the utterances of the poets it has its gates, bars, valleys; its inhabitants are called rephaim, "the weak." Their mode of existence differs from that of their brethren in the upper world. They know nothing; they are cut off from action; they have no scope for the exercise of passion or affection; they are joyless, deprived of all that made life worth living; but they retain their individuality and have to undergo a particular judgment. That Koheleth believed in this last event has been questioned, and passages which seem to warrant the idea have been distorted and explained away, or boldly dismissed as interpolations. But taking for granted the integrity of the book as it has come down to us, we cannot fairly escape from such inference. Thus, in view of the partiality and iniquity of men in high position, our author comforts himself with the reflection that in good time God will judge the righteous and the wicked (Ecclesiastes 3:16, Ecclesiastes 3:17). The vague but emphatic "there" — "there is a time there" — implies the world beyond the grave, the adverb referring probably to God, who is named in the preceding clause. This same thought enables the wise man to endure affliction patiently, "for to everything there is a time and judgment" (Ecclesiastes 8:6) — the oppressor shall meet with his reward. It is plain that retribution in the present life is not meant; for Koheleth's complaint is that moral government is not invariably enforced in this world; he must therefore refer to another state of existence, wherein full justice shall be done. This is made quite clear by the warning to the young in Ecclesiastes 11:9, "Know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment;" and the solemn close of the whole treatise, "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." This judgment is supposed to take place when the soul returns to God. Of its course and details nothing more is said; neither Koheleth nor any Old Testament scribe throws any light upon this mysterious subject, in this respect differing materially from the heathen who have treated of the same. Had he borrowed from the works of Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans, he would have been at no loss for descriptions of Hades and its denizens; the mythologies of those peoples would have supplied prolix details. But a sacred reticence restrains our author; he speaks as he is moved, and gives no rein to his imagination. Human thought could not pierce the darkness which enveloped the abode of the dead, and could deal only in vague conjecture or unsubstantial dreams, contrasted with earthly, sensible realities. So at this stage of revelation seers could describe the future only on its negative side, as the privation of the joys, emotions, and pursuits of this present life. To elucidate the positive side of this state, further revelation was needed. Only of the great fact the writer is absolutely certain, and he employs the truth as a consolation in trouble, as an explanation of God's long-suffering, as a motive for restraint and self-denial, as an event which shall solve the difficulties and remove the anomalies which are found in the course and constitution of this world.
Having thus endeavored to relieve Ecclesiastes from the misapprehensions to which it has been subjected; having, as we hope, shown the unfounded nature of the accusations of Stoicism, Epicureanism, fatalism, skepticism, Hellenism, — we are in a position to state briefly our own view of the plan and scope of the book. What do we gather to have been the circumstances under which it was composed? The ease seems to have been the following: The period was a trying one. Oppression and injustice reigned; fools and proletarians were promoted to high positions; wise and pious men were wronged and crushed. Where was that moral government which the Law of Moses enunciated, and which had been the guide and support of the Hebrew people in all their early history? Did injustice meet with the punishment which they had been taught to expect? Did the good and obedient prosper and live long in the land? Did not daily experience give the lie to the promise of temporal retribution set forth in Scripture? And if revelation was false in this respect, why not in others also? By this doubt the very foundation of religion was sapped; the hopes that the exiles had brought with them, on their return to their native land, were cruelly crushed, and the bitter cry arose, "Is there a God that judgeth the earth?" Malachi had been gathered to his rest; no prophet was there to lead the way to better things or to console the desponding people for the falsification of their expectations. What was the result? Some took refuge in simple unbelief, saying in their hearts, "There is no God;" some, laying aside all consideration of the future, reveled in the present, lived in debauchery and sensuality, with the thought, "Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die;" others, as if to constrain God to fulfill old prophecies, and to grant their temporal desires, practiced a scrupulous observance of the outward duties of religion, a formal rigorism which anticipated that later Pharisaism which meets us in the gospel history. These tendencies are reflected in Ecclesiastes, and are more or less corrected herein. This rectification is not effected in a formal, logical method. The work is by no means a regular treatise, moral or religious. Some have likened it to St. Augustine's 'Confessions,' or to Pascal's 'Pensees.' It is, perhaps, not quite analogous to either of these, especially as it is written under an assumed name; but it does unveil the author's hidden self, and teaches by recounting personal experiences, and may thus be termed 'Confessions,' or 'Thoughts,' rather than a dissertation or poem. Its subject is the vanity of all that is human and earthly, and by contrast and implication the steadfastness and importance of the unseen. The writer desires, in the first place (virtually, though not expressly), to comfort his countrymen under their present depressed circumstances, to teach them not to set" their hopes on earthly success, or to fancy that their own efforts could secure happiness, but to make the best of the present, and to receive with thankfulness the good that God sends or permits. He also urges the avoidance of externalism in religion, and shows wherein true devotion consists. And, in the second place, he warns against despair or reckless license, as though it mattered not what one did, as if there were no higher Power that regarded; he solemnly asserts his faith in an overruling providence, though we cannot trace the reason or course of its working; his conviction that all is ordered for the best; his unswerving faith in the life everlasting and in a future judgment, which shall remedy the seeming anomalies of this present existence. In all the problems of life, in all the disappointments and difficulties that meet our best and noblest efforts, there is nothing to cling to, no anchor on which to rest, but the fear of God and obedience to his commands. Whatever happens, or however things may seem to go contrary to one's wishes and aspirations, amid the outward prosperity of the wicked and the humiliation of the good, he triumphs in the assurance that" he knows certainly that it shall be well with them that fear God (Ecclesiastes 8:12). To convey this instruction the author does not compose a carefully ordered and well-arranged dissertation, nor does he propound a moral discourse; he takes another method; he puts forth his views under the mask of Solomon, the king whose name had become proverbial for wisdom. He makes this celebrated personage recount his wide experiences, and, under this veil, hiding his own personality, he presents his peace offering to his contemporaries. No one had such varied knowledge of man's powers and circumstances as Solomon; no one like him could command attention and respect at the hand of the Hebrew people; the impersonation secured an audience, and enabled the writer to say much to them that would have come with less grace and weight from another. Though the work has a certain unity,' and its great subject is continually recurring, the writer does not confine himself within narrow limits; he takes occasion to give rules of life; he mingles practice with theory. It is as though he commenced his work with some idea of writing formally and methodically, and then, carried away by the influence of his subject, overwhelmed by the thought of the nothingness of human endeavor, he cannot get beyond this reflection, and while uttering maxims of wisdom and parables of common sense, he connects them with his predominant view, mingling aphorisms and confessions with some incongruity. It seemed good to him to record the opinions which crossed his mind at various times, and the modifications which he felt constrained to admit; thus he shows the progress of his thought towards the great conclusion which closes the treatise. This conclusion is the clue to the interpretation of the whole. Resting on this rock, Koheleth could relate his doubts, perplexities, disquietudes, without fear of being misunderstood or leading others astray.
The work has its natural place in the teaching of revelation and the progress of true religion. If the literal tendency of Mosaic legislation was in the direction of the strong belief in temporal rewards and punishments, and if this notion cramped all higher aspirations and set the heart on gross earthly hopes, it was Koheleth's business to introduce a spiritual element in these expectations, to supplement the earlier reticence concerning the life beyond the grave by giving expression to the belief in immortality. By showing the inapplicability of the ancient idea to all the circumstances of the present life, he led men to look to another life, and to see another meaning in those antique utterances which spake of temporal rewards and punishments, earthly success, earthly calamity. It was ordered by Providence that religious knowledge should be communicated gradually, that it should be revealed as men were able to bear it, here a little, there a little. Each book adds something to the store of dogma, just as each saint in old story reflects some feature of perfect manhood, and helps the conception of the character of Jesus Christ. The doctrine of future retribution, which is taken for granted in the New Testament, forms a very slight portion of the teaching of the earlier Scriptures; and the Holy Spirit has allowed the writers of Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes to express the sense of perplexity which the apparent anomalies in moral government presented to the thoughtful observer. Our author, indeed, finds a solution; but it is only by an exercise of faith in God's justice and goodness that he rises superior to the depressing effect of experience; and beyond this conviction of the ultimate victory of goodness he has nothing definite to offer. The way to the fuller revelation of the gospel is thus laid open. The mental struggles of this ancient Hebrew seer are a lesson for all time, and point to a need of further explication, which was duly to be given. And as the same questions have always been a source of solicitude and disquieted men's minds in every age, it has seemed good to Divine Providence to set these trials of faith in the pages of Scripture, that others, reading them, may see that they stand not alone, that their doubts have been the experience of many minds, and that as such as Koheleth, with imperfect knowledge and a partial revelation, rose superior to difficulties and let faith conquer mistrust, so Christians, who are better instructed, who stand in the full light of completer knowledge, should never for a moment feel misgiving concerning the dealings of God's providence; but in unswerving trust "commit the keeping of their souls to him in well-doing, as unto a faithful Creator," casting all their care upon him, knowing that he careth for them.
§ 4. CANONICITY, UNITY, AND INTEGRITY
Ecclesiastes has been received without controversy in the Christian Church as a book of the Bible. In all the extant catalogues, conciliar and private, it occurs undisputed. The Jewish Church, however, has not been quite so unanimous in its full acceptance; for although it is found in all the lists of sacred books, and had its place among the five rolls (Megilloth), there was, towards the end of the first Christian century, some hesitation in rabbinical schools to recognize its complete inspiration, and to commend its public recitation. Objections were made on the ground of apparent contradictions contained in different parts, of its want of harmony with other portions of Holy Scripture, and of certain heretical statements. Of these objections it is to be observed that they regard rather the retention of the book in the canon than its admission therein; and that, appearing first in the first Christian century, they show that up to that time, at any rate, Ecclesiastes had been included in the sacred catalogue. The seeming contradictions and discrepancies arise from a partial view of the contents, from taking isolated passages uncorrected and unexplained by other statements and the general tendency. For instance, Koheleth is said, in Ecclesiastes 2:2 and 8:15, to commend mirth; and in Ecclesiastes 7:3 to prefer sorrow to laughter; in one place to praise the dead (Ecclesiastes 4:2); in another to prefer a live dog to a dead lion (Ecclesiastes 9:4). So again we read, "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart" (Ecclesiastes 11:9), whereas Moses warns against seeking after one's own heart and one's own eyes (Numbers 15:39). These misapprehensions were soon set at rest, the orthodoxy of the final verses could not be questioned, the inspiration of the work was acknowledged, and it has ever since been received alike by the Jewish and Christian Churches. That it is not quoted in the New Testament, and is thus far deprived of the authorization afforded by such reference, detracts in no respect from its Divine character, nor is this affected by the transference of its authorship from Solomon to an unknown writer. The grounds on which it has been admitted into the sacred canon are independent of any such external confirmation, and the Holy Spirit compels recognition at the hands of the Church by evidence that is self-revealing and indubitable. It is clear also that, in our Lord's time, Ecclesiastes formed one of the twenty-two books of the Hebrew Scripture, most of which were endorsed by citation, and a virtual sanction was thus given to the rest of the collection.
The unity and integrity of our book have been called in question, chiefly by those who have noted the apparent contradictions which it contains, and have failed to apprehend the author's standpoint, and his reason for the introduction of these anomalies. Thus exception is taken by some against the seeming want of connection between Ecclesiastes 4:13, Ecclesiastes 4:14 and verses 15, 16; others have discovered dislocations in various passages, and wished to arrange the work in different fashion, according to their view of the writer's intention. Others, again, have detected interpolations and later additions. Thus Cheyne, having made up his mind that Koheleth did not believe in future retribution, strikes out as spurious all passages that favor the idea of a coming judgment; in a similar spirit Geiger and Noldeke affect to see late insertions in Ecclesiastes 11:9 and 12:7. But all this is surely uncritical. There is no pretence of proving that the incriminated passages differ toto coelo in language and treatment from the rest of the work, or that they could not have been written by the author. An opinion concerning Koheleth's dogma is adopted and boldly asserted, and any expression which opposes this idea is at once attributed to a later editor, who foisted his own sentiments into the text. If this free handling of ancient documents is allowed when they seem to be in advance of what a perhaps shallow criticism deems to be the spirit of the age, how are we to maintain the genuineness of any unfettered thinker's work? Concerning the epilogue, however, there is a little more difficulty' made by those who do not look upon it as the crown 'and conclusion of the whole, without which the work would be unsatisfactory and lack completion. The objections to this paragraph are twofold — linguistic and dogmatic. It is said that it contains expressions deviating from those that occur in the former parts. The discussion seems to end at ver. 8 of the last chapter; and the final passage differs in style and other particulars from the rest. But an examination of the language shows that it can be paralleled in every particular from the earlier' pages, and the difference in style is necessitated by the subject. In this appendix, or postscript, the writer reveals himself in propria persona, no longer under the yell of Solomon, but taking the reader, as it were, into his confidence, showing what he really is, and his claim to attention. Far from being superfluous, the addition puts the seal to the whole production. Speaking of Koheleth in the third person, he virtually acknowledges the fictitious use of Solomon's authority. At the same time, he maintains that the work has not lost its value because it cannot vindicate its authorship at the hands of the great king. He himself has been inspired to write it; the same "Shepherd" who guided the pens of Solomon and other wise men directed him likewise. As to the momentous conclusion, every one who thinks with us concerning the religious views of the writer, and the design of his work, will agree that it is most apposite, and is the only conceivable summing-up that satisfies the requirements of the treatise. It is also in full accord with what has preceded. The solution of the anomalies in life, offered by the fact of a future judgment, has been intimated more than once in other parts of the book; it is here only presented again with more emphasis and in a more striking position. We may add that no doubt concerning the genuineness of the epilogue was ever raised by the Jewish schools which hesitated to allow full inspiration to Ecclesiastes. Indeed, it was the undoubted orthodoxy of the closing verses which finally overcame all opposition.
§ 5. LITERATURE
The literature connected with Ecclesiastes is of enormous extent. We can here only enumerate a few of the most useful commentaries and kindred works.
Among the Fathers we have these: Origen, 'Seholia;' Gregory Thaumaturgus, 'Metaphrasis;' Gregory Nyssen., 'Conciones;' Jerome, Version and 'Commentary;' Olympiodorus, 'Enarratio.' The mediaeval and later expositions are innumerable: Hugo A. S. Victore, 'Homiliae;' the Jews, Rashi, Rashbam, and Ibn Ezra; Luther, 'Annotationes;' Pineda, 'Commentarii;' Cornelius a Lapide; Grotius, 'Annotationes;' Reynolds, 'Annotations;' Smith, 'Explicatio;' Schmidt, 'Commentarius;' Mendelssohn, 'D. Buch Koheleth;' Umbreit, 'Uebers. und Darstell.,' and 'Koheleth Scepticus;' Knobel, 'Comment.;' Herzfeld, 'Uebers. und Erlaut.;' Hitzig, 'Erklarung;' Stuart, 'Commentary;' Vaihinger, 'Uebers. und Erklar.;' Hengstenberg, 'Auslegung;' Ginsburg, 'Koheleth;' Plumptre, 'Ecclesiastes;' Wright, 'Book of Hoheleth;' Tyler, 'Ecclesiastes;' Renan, 'L'Ecclesiaste Traduit;' Zockler, in Lange's 'Bibelwerk,' and edited by Tayler Lewis; Delitzsch, in Clarke's 'For. Library;' Gratz, 'Kohelet;' Gietmann, in 'Cursus Script. Sacr.'; Motais, 'Solomon et l'Ecclesiaste,' and in 'La Sainte Bible avec Commentaires;' Nowack, in 'Kurzgef. Exeg. Handbuch;' Volck, in 'Kurzgef. Kommentar'; Bishop Wordsworth, 'Bible with Notes;' Bulleck, in 'Speaker's Commentary;' Salmon, in Bishop Ellicott's 'Commentary for English Readers;' Cox, 'Expository Lectures,' and 'Book of Ecclesiastes'.
§ 6. DIVISION INTO SECTIONS
The attempts to dissect the book and to arrange its contents methodically have been as numerous as the editors themselves. Every exegete has tried his hand at this work, and the difference of the results arrived at is at once a proof of the difficulty of the subject. Between the idea, on the one hand, that the book is a rough mass of materials, without form, argument, or method, and that which regards it as a well-balanced poem, with strophes and antistrophes, etc., there is wide scope for disagreement and dispute. Rejecting as arbitrary and unwarranted the transposition of verses, to which some critics have had recourse, we note a few of the most feasible arrangements offered by those who recognize the unity of the work, and the existence of a central idea which throughout is kept more or less prominently in view.
Many divide the book into four parts. Thus Zockler, Keil, and Vaihinger:
I. Ecclesiastes 1:2.;
II. Ecclesiastes 3-5.;
III. Ecclesiastes 6:1-8:15;
IV. Ecclesiastes 8:16-7;
Epilogue, Ecclesiastes 12:8-14.
So Ewald, except that his second division comprises Ecclesiastes 3:1-9. M'Clintock and Strong:
I. Ecclesiastes 1., 2.;
II. Ecclesiastes 3:1-6:9;
III. Ecclesiastes 6:10-8:15;
IV. Ecclesiastes 8:16-8.
According to Tyler, the work separates into two chief parts — the first, Ecclesiastes 1:2-12, being the negative side, exhibiting the author's disappointments; the second, Ecclesiastes 7:1-8, the positive side, giving the philosophy of the matter, with some practical rules of life. Kleinert, in Herzog and Plitt's 'Real-Encyclop.,' analyzes thus:
I. Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:23, inductive proof of vanity from experience;
II. Ecclesiastes 2:24-3:22, God's ordering;
III. Ecclesiastes 4-6., a collection of shorter sentences, expressing partly the result of I. and II.;
IV. Ecclesiastes 7:1-10;
V. Ecclesiastes 9:11-12.
S. Ginsburg gives, prologue, four sections, and epilogue, viz.:
prologue, Ecclesiastes 1:2;-Ecclesiastes 2:0;
I. Ecclesiastes 1:12-2:26;
II. Ecclesiastes 3:1-5:19;
III. Ecclesiastes 6:1-8:15;
IV. Ecclesiastes 8:16-7;
epilogue, Ecclesiastes 12:8-14.
From the above given details it will be seen that it is no easy matter to systematize the treatise, and to force it into logical periods. It was plainly never intended to be so taken, and cannot, without violence, be made to assume precise regularity. There is, indeed, no designed plan; it has a theme which gives it consistency and adherence; bat, satisfied with this central idea, the author allows himself a certain liberty of treatment, and often branches off into collateral subjects. We think, however, that it contains two main divisions, the first of which conveys the extended proof of the vanity of earthly things, obtained by personal experience and observation; while the second deduces certain practical conclusions from the previous considerations, presenting warnings, counsels, and rules of life. Taking this view, we divide the book in the following manner: —
TITLE of the book. Ecclesiastes 1:1.
PROLOGUE. Vanity of earthly things, and their oppressive monotony. Ecclesiastes 1:2-11.
DIVISION I. Proof of the vanity of earthly things from personal experience and general observation. Ecclesiastes 1:12-12.
Section 1. Vanity of striving after wisdom and knowledge. Ecclesiastes 1:12-18.
Section 2. Vanity of striving after pleasure and wealth. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11.
Section 3. Vanity of wisdom, in view of the fate that awaits the wise and the fool, and the uncertainty of the future. Ecclesiastes 2:12-26.
Section 4. The impotence of man before the providence of God, and the consequent duty to make the best of the present. Ecclesiastes 3:1-22.
Section 5. Things which interrupt or destroy men's happiness, such as oppression, envy, useless toil, isolation, fickle popularity. Ecclesiastes 4:1-16.
Section 6. Vanity in popular religion, worship, and vows. Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.
Section 7. Dangers in a despotic state, and the unprofitableness of wealth. Ecclesiastes 5:8-17.
Section 8. Man should enjoy all the good which God gives him. Ecclesiastes 5:18-20.
Section 9. Vanity of wealth without power of enjoying it. Ecclesiastes 6:1-6.
Section 10. The insatiability of desire. Ecclesiastes 6:7-9.
Section 11. Man's short-sightedness and powerlessness against Providence. Ecclesiastes 6:10-12.
DIVISION II. Deductions from the above-named experiences, with warnings and rules of life. Ecclesiastes 7:1-8.
Section 1. Practical rules of life set forth in proverbial form, recommending earnest ness in preference to frivolity.. Ecclesiastes 7:1-7.
Section 2. True wisdom is shown in resignation to the ordering of God's providence. Ecclesiastes 7:8-14.
Section 3. Warnings against excesses, and praise of the golden mean. Ecclesiastes 7:15-22.
Section 4. Wickedness is folly; woman is the most evil thing in the world; man has perverted an originally good nature. Ecclesiastes 7:23-29.
Section 5. True wisdom counsels obedience to the ruling powers, however oppressive, and submission to the decrees of Providence. Ecclesiastes 8:1-9.
Section 6. The difficulty concerning the prosperity of the evil and the misery of the righteous in this world: how to be solved and met. Ecclesiastes 8:10-15.
Section 7. The course of God's moral government is inexplicable. The uncertainty of life and the certainty of death ought to lead man to maize the best of the present. Ecclesiastes 8:16-10.
Section 8. The issues and duration of life cannot be calculated upon. Ecclesiastes 9:11, Ecclesiastes 9:12.
Section 9. Wisdom is not always rewarded when it does good service. Ecclesiastes 9:13-16.
Section 10. Some proverbs concerning wisdom and folly. Ecclesiastes 9:17, Ecclesiastes 9:18.
Section 11. Wisdom is marred by the intrusion of a little folly. Ecclesiastes 10:1-3.
Section 12. Illustration of wise conduct under capricious rulers. Ecclesiastes 10:4-7.
Section 13. Proverbs intimating the benefit of prudence and caution. Ecclesiastes 10:8-11.
Section 14. Contrast between words and acts of the wise man and of the fool. Ecclesiastes 10:12-15.
Section 15. The misery of a state under a foolish ruler, and advice to subjects thus cursed. Ecclesiastes 10:16-20.
Section 16. The first remedy for the perplexities of life: the duty of benevolence; one should do one's duty diligently, leaving results to God. Ecclesiastes 11:1-6.
Section 17. The second is a cheerful and contented spirit. Ecclesiastes 11:7-9.
Section 18. The third is piety practiced in early life, and before the faculties are numbed by the approach of age. The last days of the old man are graphically described under certain images and analogies. Ecclesiastes 11:10-7. The book ends with the refrain, "All is vanity." Ecclesiastes 12:8.
EPILOGUE. Observations commendatory of the author, explaining his standpoint, the object of the book, and the grand conclusion to which it leads. Ecclesiastes 12:9-14.