Bible Forum is a wonderful resource for
anyone interested in Bible study. Each month we
feature a book of the Bible (in order) by Bible
scholar and lecturer, Mary Jane Chapin Chaignot.
This month's entry is the Book
of Ecclesiastes, which is generally classified
as Wisdom Literature, along with Job and Proverbs.
They are all found in the third division, known
as The Writings. Ecclesiastes displays a skepticism
and dry wit more often found in Philosophical
rather than religious works. It is an attempt
to find the meaning of life through an experiential
view of the world based on reason. This month
we are also examining the Song
of Songs (Solomon),
which is sometimes titled the Song of Solomon.
Though comprised of less than two hundred verses,
this book has always been an enigma. It consists
of love lyrics common to ancient Egyptian literature.
It appeals to and celebrates the power of love.
If you would like to read some of the history
previous to this selection, you can find the earlier
books in our archives. The Bible Time-Line in
Teaching the Bible is another quick reference
for locating individuals or specific books. We
encourage readers to share their Bible Study success
stories on this site. Email us at email@example.com
to be included on next month's site.
The title of the book is again derived from the
Septuagint. There, it is the title of the main
speaker. He identifies himself as Ekklesiastes.
This translates the Hebrew word, Qohelet.
Qohelet is not a proper name, but a pseudonym
of sorts. This word is commonly translated as
preacher or teacher, even though
the author adopts the persona of a king - "the
words of Qohelet, son of David, king of Jerusalem"
(Solomon, of course). Yet there is nothing in
the book to confirm this; there are no specific
references to events or experiences in Solomon's
life. The word Qohelet literally means "assembler"
or "one who assembles." The feminine
participle is used elsewhere for an occupational
name. The English translations, then, by identifying
him as a preacher or teacher, imply that he has
assembled a group together for the purpose of
instruction - like in a classroom setting. Still
there are those who cling to the notion that Solomon
is, indeed, the author; that in his later years,
Solomon looked back over his life and struggled
with the meaning of it all.
Notwithstanding such idealism, the internal evidence
of the book -- based on its language and style
-- suggests a much later writing date than the
10th century BCE. The book itself consists of
three parts: first is a short prologue that introduces
some of his major themes, then the main body of
the work consisting of a long speech, followed
by a brief epilogue. The speech greatly resembles
ancient texts commonly grouped under the genre
of fictional autobiographies. It was not unusual
for ancient authors to put their words in the
mouths of those who were more famous. This has
led many scholars to the conclusion that there
were (at least) two authors represented in this
book - the main speaker and the one who supplied
the beginning and the ending. Because there are
no more specific internal clues useful for dating
purposes, this might be all that can be said.
That being said, its Solomonic ties were perhaps
instrumental in the canonization of this book.
Legend has it that by the end of his life, Solomon
had repented of his apostasy, hence lending authority
to this work. And, although the early church seemed
to accept Ecclesiastes as authoritative, some
of the ancient rabbis expressed a lot of doubts
about it. This is not surprising, considering
that the message of the book seems to contradict
many other parts of Scripture, leading some to
the conclusion that its author was nothing but
a heretic. One prime example is that most of Scripture
exhorts people to adhere to the teachings of the
Torah, to follow the commands of God. Ecclesiastes
encourages people to "follow the ways of
your heart and whatever your eyes see." (11:9)
Perhaps the prologue and the epilogue saved the
day because those sections are much more traditional.
The author of the main section of Ecclesiastes
wrestles with the meaning of life and looks for
such meaning in a number of different areas -
wisdom, wealth, women, and even buildings. In
considering each of these areas, he determines
that it is all meaningless. Life as he knows it
is very frustrating. There are two inescapable
facts over which one has no control. One is death;
the other is not knowing when it is the right
time to do anything. Decisions have to be made,
but no one knows what tomorrow might bring. So
it is that humans are at the mercy of time and
chance. Despite this pessimistic view, Qohelet
encourages them to "seize the day,"
to make the most of every moment.
This message stands against most of biblical
tradition that maintains God's control over everything
and gives reverence to His deep involvement and
concern for His people. Qohelet does accept that
God is sovereign, but sees Him as being dispassionate
and dangerous. However, this pessimistic thought
is not the final word of the book. There is still
the epilogue, which functions much like the prologue
and epilogue in the book of Job. The epilogue
is really a comment on the teachings of Qohelet,
teachings that are used as a foil to instruct
a son on the dangers of speculation and doubt.
In the end, then, the son is instructed to leave
the skeptical thinking behind and to embrace wisdom
and the law and the prophets.
In the Hebrew Bible, Ecclesiastes is in the third
section, known as the Writings. It is one of a
group of books known as the Five Scrolls (along
with Ruth, the Song of Songs, Lamentations, and
Esther) that are read in public at annual festivals.
In the Septuagint and the Vulgate, it follows
Proverbs and precedes the Song of Solomon as part
of the Solomonic books. This particular book is
read during the Feast of Tabernacles.
There are three main divisions: Prologue 1:1-11;
Autobiographical Speech 1:12-12:7; and Epilogue