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THOUGH this Book has generally been ascribed to Solomon, both by Jews and Christians, the fact has been questioned by some learned men of both religions: let us, therefore, briefly examine the evidence on this question. In doing this, we shall follow the steps of Mr. Holden, the learned author of " An Attempt to illustrate the Book of Ecclesiastes," as well as of " An improved Translation of the Book of Proverbs," to which we have repeatedly referred. Mr. H. observes:
"The author is expressly styled, in the initiatory verse, 'The son of David, king in Jerusalem;' and in the 12th verse he is described as king over Israel, in Jerusalem;'
and Solomon, it is well known, was the only son of David who ever reigned in Jerusalem. The book has been thus admitted into the sacred canon of the Jews, as the production of Solomon, to whom it has been also ascribed by a regular and concurrent tradition. A collateral proof arises from the contents of the work itself, in which the author is stated to have excelled in wisdom, beyond all who were before him in Jerusalem, (chap. i. 16.—ii. 15.—xii. 9.) and to have composed many proverbs; (chap. xii. 9.) circumstances descriptive of Solomon, and of no other personage, whose name is recorded in the Holy Scriptures. The writer is likewise represented as abounding in wealth and treasure, in palaces, gardens, retinues, and other articles of elegant and royal luxury, extremely applicable to Solomon, during whose reign the throne of Israel was surrounded with all the pomp of Asiatic splendour and magnificence."
So strong is this internal evidence, that those who attribute the book to Hezekiah, have been compelled to acknowledge that it was written in Solomon's name, which completely auswers the objection; for had Hezekiah, or any other person of talents, attempted to palm upon the world a book in the name of Solomon, he would have been careful to avoid any thing inconsistent with the supposition. But the question here arises, At what period of his life was it written?
Mr. Holden proceeds :-" According to the tradition of the Jews, the Book of Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon in his old age, after he had repented of his vicious practices, and had become, by sad experience, fully convinced of the vanity of every thing terrestrial, except piety and wisdom. Many parts of the work itself corroborate, this tradition. The acknowledgement of numerous follies and delusions, implies that it was composed after the author had apostatized from Jehovah, and had subsequently repented of his past misconduct. The frequent assertion of the emptiness of earthly greatness; the declaration that human enjoyments are unsatisfactory; the enumeration of gardens, edifices, and possessions, requiring a long life for their completion; the deep condemnation of former pursuits; the expression of satiety and disgust at past pleasures; and the tone of cool and philosophical reflection which pervades the whole, are strikingly characteristic of an advanced period of life; and the production of a king, bowed with the infirmities of age, wearied with the pomp of royalty, sated with luxury, humbled with a sense of past guilt, and prostrate in penitence, can scarcely be similar in style to those of the same monarch in the vigour of health and manhood, and buoyant on the full tide of popularity and glory."
But the chief objection to admitting Solomon to be the author of this book is, that we have no historical document to prove that he ever repented and turned from his idolatries. On this point, however, we beg to offer two or three remarks. 1. That our
The chief objections, founded on particular passages, will be noticed as they occur. As to such as are founded on the style, and the introduction n termas, they can scarcely be made intelli
gible to mere English readers; but the same ohjeetions have been brought against the Book of Job, of the high antiquity of which we can have no doubt but see Mr. Holden's Introd. p. xiii.
accounts of the latter half of Solomon's reign are, unhappily, very defective. "The Book of the Acts of Solomon," written, as should seem, by Nathan and Abijah, (1 Kings xi. 41; 2 Chron. ix. 29.) was probably lost in the captivity, which leaves us in almost total ignorance of the last ten years of his life, or thereabouts, so as to allow space for his repentance. 2. That the judgments denounced against Solomon were altogether of a political nature, and expressed with much tenderness: (See our Exposition of 1 Kings xi.) and, according to Dr. Ad. Clarke himself, * who controverts his penitence, gave an opening for it, which, circumstances lead us to believe, was not in vain: For, 3. This Book of Ecclesiastes itself furnishes the most satisfactory evidence of the fact, since it contains the confessions of his sin and folly, his advice to other persons to avoid the same snare, and his distinct and explicit avowal of the important truths of a future state, and a final judgment. See chap. xii.
The Canonical Authority of this book arises, in great measure, out of the evidence of its author; for all the writings of Solomon, when ascertained to be his, have been received as canonical: indeed our Lord himself gives that sanction to the wisdom of Solomon which stamps them as divine. (Matt. xii. 42.)
Bishop Lowth has classed this book among the didactic poetry of the Hebrews; but Mr. Desvoeux considers it as a philosophical discourse, written in a rhetorical style, and interspersed with poetical verses, as occasion served; whence it obtained a place among the poetical books: and to this opinion Bishop Lowth subsequently declared his assent, as have also Dr. B. Hodgson, Bishop Jebb, and others; but Mr. Holden thinks it poetical throughout, (though not poetry of the first class;) and Dr. Boothroyd has given the whole of his translation in a metrical form.
The scope and object of the book is very fully and ably detailed by Mr. Holden, the substance of whose remarks we shall endeavour to condense within our limits.-The summum bonum (or chief good) of the ancient philosophers, Mr. H. remarks, was confined to the happiness of the present life, as they knew nothing certain of a future state. "The sovereign good" of Solomon embraces not only present enjoyment, but future happiness; in short, it was another name for religion. "Guided by this clue, (says Mr. H.) we can easily traverse the intricate windings and mazes, in which so many commentators upon the Ecclesiastes have been lost and bewildered. By keeping steadily in view the Preacher's object, to eulogize heavenly wisdom, the whole admits an easy and natural interpretation; light is diffused around its obscurity; connexion is discovered in that which was before disjointed; the argument receives additional force, the sentiments new beauty; and every part of the discourse, when considered in reference to this object, tends to develope the nature of true Wisdom, to display its excellency, or to recommend its acquirement."
Mr. H. divides the book into two parts: the first, closing with ver. 9. of chap. vi. is "taken up in demonstrating the vanity of all earthly conditions, occupations, and pleasures," the second part, beginning with ver. 10. and including the remainder of the book," is occupied in eulogizing Wisdom, and in describing its nature, its excellence, its beneficial effects." This partition differs materially from that of Mr. Desvoeux, who divides the whole, more artificially, into propositions, proofs, observations, corollaries, &c. but we doubt if either division ever entered into the mind of the writer, who seems to us to have written as the subjects were presented to his mind, without any premeditated plan. The reader, however, will judge better as he proceeds.
To this we shall only add, that the authors we have principally consulted on this book are, Bishop Patrick, in his Paraphrase; Rev. A. V. Desvoeur's very learned Dissertation, Version, Paraphrase, and Philological Dissertation (1762); Dr. B. Hodgson's New Translation (1790); the more recent translation of Dr. Boothroyd, and Mr. Holden's recent and very able attempt to illustrate this difficult book in his Dissertation, Paraphrase, and Notes above mentioned (1822). Others are occasionally referred to.
* See Comment, on 1 Kings xi. 11. "Was not this another warning from the Lord? . Was there not merey in this message, which he might have sought and found?" The text here, however, says
nothing of a message, but only, "The Lord was angry,.... and the Lord said to Solomon;" but whether in a vision, or a dream, or by what other means, is not mentioned. See ver. 9, 11, &c.
The vanity of]
HE words of the Preacher, the son of David, king of Jerusalem. 2 Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
3 What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
5 The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
6 The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
7 All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
8 All things are full of labour; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the
10 Is there any thing whereof `it
[all earthly things.
might be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come, with those that shall come after.
12 I, the Preacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem.
13 And I gave my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all things that are done under heaven: this sore travail hath God given to the sons of man, to be exercised therewith.
14 I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
15 That which is crooked cannot be made straight: and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.
16 I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.
17 And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. (A)
(A) The vanity of all earthly things, and the transitory nature of human life.-It is difficult to understand exactly the import
of the term Preacher, as applied to Solomon, who was certainly not an Ecclesiastic: as we read, however, that there "came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon,
Ver. 2. Vanity of vanities-i. e. altogether vanity. Ver.4. For ever that is, "continually," under all the successive changes of its inhabitants. The word is far from always implying eternity. Thus the Jewish laws are said to be for ever," because they were to continue to the end of that dispensation, under every change of cire, instances.
Ver. 5. Hasteth-leb. Pauteth," as in a race. See Ps. xix. 6.
Ver. 6. The wind gorth.-The word wind being
placed toward the latter part of the verse in original, most of the ancient, and many modern versions understand the former part of the verse in reference to the sun; thus Drs. Hodgson and Bouthroyd, It passeth to the south; again it circleth to the north round and round goeth the wind, and ever repeateth its circuits." Mr. Holden, however,
adheres to the common version.
Ver.7. Is not full-Hodgson, “ Doth not overflow." Ver 12. I.... was or "have been king. Hodgson, "I who reign."
Ver. 13. To be exercised -Marg. "Toafflict them therewith.
Ver. 15. That which is crooked-See chap, vii. 13 Ver. 16. Had great experience-Heb. “Had seer
from all the kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom; (1 Kings iv. 34.) and as when the Queen of Sheba came, it was with a very great train," (chap. x. 2.) it should seem that he must have collected large audiences around him, whenever he delivered his oracular discourses; and from this circumstance, probably, he derived the name of Preacher.
Solomon had said, "In all labour there is profit;" that is, it turneth to some present temporal use, in opposition to vain and empty talk; (Prov. xiv. 23.) yet when we consider the transient nature of all human enjoyments, and of human life itself, we may well ask, Of what profit is it? and what doth it avail? "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!" The daily and annual courses of the sun, the perpetual shiftings of the wind, and the running and returning of the rivers to and from the sea, all represent the changes to which man and his concerns are continually exposed; and all admonish him to look for another state of things, to which, whether be is sensible of it or not, he is as surely bastening, as the sun, the wind, or the rivers in their course.
On this ground it is that we say, "there is nothing new under the sun.' It may be new to us; but "we are of yesterday, and know nothing." (Job viii. 9.) What strikes us as a novelty, may have been familiar to ages before the flood, though we have no record of it; and many things known to us, when they shall recur again, may appear equally new and strange to our posterity.
Solomon then adverts to his own experience. He had been many years" king over Israel," and in his early life, he had devoted himself to study and inquiry: but alas! what he gained in knowledge, he lost in humility and virtue. His heart was "lifted up "within him, and he said, "Lo, I am come to great estate, and have more wisdom than all they that were before me in Jerusalem;" and then his knowledge degenerated into speculation; and speculations, applied to no good practical purpose, are nearly allied to "madness and folly, because they are a waste of time and talents. "O how many years have I wasted," said the learned Grotius," in laboriously doing nothing!"
a much milder version; so Dathe renders the two last words, matters splendid and profound," and Boothroyd, "excellence and prudence;" but Mr. Holden prefers the common version, as agreeing best with the context, and the use of the same words in other chapters; as chap. ii. 12.-vii. 25.-ix. 3.-x. 13.
CHAP. II. Ver. 1. Go to now-Boothroyd," Come DOW."
Ver. 2. It is ma 1.-This phrase, having no verb in the original, may be differently rendered. Hodgson and Boothroyd read it interrogatively, "Art thou
Ver. 3. I sought in mine heart-Boothroyd, “I examined mine beart, whether to give," &c.—To gice myself unto wine-Heb. "To draw my flesh with wine." This seems to be a Bacchanalian' phrase, meaning," to fill my skin with wine," and alicdes to the ancient custom of keeping wine, &c.
in skins. All the days - Heb. The number of the days," &c. Ver. 6. Pools of water. These are said still to exist, and Messrs. Buckingham and Joliffe, two of the latest travellers in Palestine, describe them to he three, in a direct line above one another, as the locks of a canal, and flowing into each other. They are said to be severally 3, 4, and 500 feet in length; all abont 200 feet wide, lined with stone, and supplied by two springs at a small distance. Buckingham, p. 225. Joliffe, p. 94. The wood that bringeth forth trees - Bp. Lonth, "The grove flourishing with
Ver.7.1 got (me)-Hodgson, "I bought." The Heb. term (kanisti) is applied to the purchasing of slaves, Lev. xxv. 50.. -Servants born, &c.-Heb. "Sons of my house;" i. e. the children of slaves were slaves also. Great and small cattle-Hodgson, "Herds and flocks."
The vanity of]
and small cattle above all that were in even to me; and why was I then more Jerusalem before me : wise? Then I said in my heart, that this also is vanity.
8 I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men-singers and women-singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.
9 So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me.
10 And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour.
11 Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.
12 And I turned myself to behold wisdom, and madness, and folly: for what can the man do that cometh after the king? even that which hath been already done.
13 Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth
14 The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all.
15 Then said I in my heart, As it happeneth to the fool, so it happeneth
16 For there is no remembrance of the wise more than of the fool for ever; seing that which now is in the days to come shall all be forgotten. And how dieth the wise man? As the fool.
17 Therefore I hated life; because the work that is wrought under the sun is grievous unto me: for all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
18 Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.
19 And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity.
20 Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labour which I took under the sun.
21 For there is a man whose labour is in wisdom, and in knowledge, and in equity; yet to a man that hath not laboured therein shall ye leave it for his portion. This also is vanity and a great evil.
22 For what hath man of all his labour, and of the vexation of his heart, wherein he hath laboured under the
23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart
NOTES-Chap. II. Con.
Ver. 8. The peculiar treasure of kings; and of the provinces. See 1 Kings iv. 21.—ix. 11.—x. 10; 2 Chron. ix. 9, 10.
Ibid. The delights of the sons of men-" Musical instruments," &c. Heb. Siddah and Siddoth; but what these terms mean, is a matter of great uncertainty: we shall give the opinions of the most able critics, without venturing to decide. 1. Bp. Patrick and Dr. Boothroyd adhere nearly to our popular transiation; the latter rendering it," the sweetest instruments of music," chiefly on the ground of its according best with the context, which speaks of singers; otherwise the words themselves seem to have no such meaning. 2. Desvoeux and others (deriving from a root which signities to spoil) understand it to mean female captives; but these are included in ver. 7.-3. Calmet's gloss, is "fields, cultivated and uncultivated;" but these also seem included in the preceding context. 4. Parkhurst (guided by the LXX) explains it of cupbearers, male and female; but are these emphatically," the delights of the sons
of men?" 5. Gesenius (after Aben Ezra) understands it of ladies for his Harem; viz. “a wife and wives," including" concubines of every description.” It may seein strange to a mere English reader, that these words should admit of such various interpreta. tions; but the fact is, that they occur only in this place, and their derivation is very doubtful. We prefer the latter, and our reasons will be found in the Exposition.
Ver. 12. Even that-Marg. "Those things."
Ver. 13. Wisdom excelleth folly-Heb." There is an excellence in wisdom rote than in folly, as there is in light more than in darkness."
Ver. 16. No remembrance for ever — Booth. royd, "No perpetual memorial,' So Holden.
Ver. 17. I hated life - Hodgson and Boothrond, "I was disgusted with life;" Holden, “I was weary of life." So in the verse following.
Ver. 18. Tuken-Heb. " Laboured."