The authorship of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (Ecclesiastes 5)

Image result for song of songs

Illustration: Song of Songs I

Few topics related to Biblical archaeology have generated more scholarly debate than that of the authorship of Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. This is largely due to the unusual nature of the Hebrew used in these books. The two employ similar vocabulary, suggesting a common author. Further, a number of Biblical Hebrew words occur only in these two books, and others appear in higher frequency in these books than in others. Neither uses God’s personal name, Yahweh, as is so common in other books.

Although Ecclesiastes does not name Solomon, its description of the author as “a son of David, king of Jerusalem” (Ecclesiastes 1:1, cf. 1:12) leaves little room for other conclusions. The association with Solomon is strengthened by 12:9, which describes the author as a wise man who “pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs” (cf. 1 Kings 4:32).

Ironically, the claim in Ecclesiastes 1:12, “I, the teacher, was king over Israel“, has been taken as evidence against Solomonic authorship due to the verb’s past tense. But this can be regarded as a retrospective statement and translated as “I have been king over Israel”. The declaration in 1:16, “I have grown and increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me“, is meaningful when we remember that Jebusite kings had ruled over Jerusalem since ancient times.

Other objections to Solomonic authorship have been raised on the basis of language. The high number of Aramaic words in Ecclesiastes has been considered evidence of pot-exilic date of writing. It is now recognized, however, that Aramaic influence on Hebrew began very early. Moreover, the vocabulary identified as Aramaic may actually have represented a northern dialect of Hebrew or non-standard , colloquial dialect.

Some words in both books were once alleged to have been borrowed long after Solomon’s death from Persian or Greek. Examples include pardes (“park” or “orchard” in 2:5 and Song of Salomon 4:13, respectively) and oppiryon (“carriage” in Song of Solomon 3:9). In reality, such words are of very ancient origin, some going back to Sanskrit originals. Solomon’s commercial projects (see 1 Kings 9:26-28, 10:22) involved numerous international contracts, a possible explanation for the international vocabulary.

The mention of numerous varieties of flora and fauna is consistent with Solomon’s interest in natural history (1 Kings 4:33). The Song’s spectacular vocabulary for exotic spices and other vegetation, as well as for gold, alabaster and jewels, suggests that the book was written by someone familiar with those things. Ii is improbable that both Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs were written during the post-exilic period, when Jerusalem was a poor, backwater town among the nations of the world, by no means awash in exotic spices and precious stones.

The mention of Tirzah in parallel with Jerusalem in Song of Salomon 6:4 reflects a period before Tirzah’s selection as the early capital of the northern kingdom (ca. 930 B.C.). In the tenth century B.C. Tirzah was beautiful and could easily have stood alongside Jerusalem as one of Israel’s two grand cities. In the post-exilic period, when many claim the Song was written, Tirzah no longer existed. Also, mention of localities in both the north and south (e.g. Jerusalem, En Gedi, Heshbon, Carmel, Hermon and Lebanon) suggests that the Song preceded the divided kingdom.

Finally, literary parallels and allusions in both Ecclesiastes and the Song suggest an earlier rather than a late date for their composition. Ecclesiastes 9:7-9, for example, strongly resembles Tablet 10, section 3, of the Epic of Gilgamesh, where the hero is urged to enjoy life, wear clean clothing and enjoy his wife’s love. In addition, the love poetry of the Song is similar to Egypt poetry of this genre that flourished in the late second millennium B.C. It is likely that Solomon, at the height of Israel’s power, would have known this literature, but quite unlikely that obscure post-exilic writers would have been familiar with it or expected their readers to appreciate it.

Given the international indicators that point to Solomonic authorship and the lack of satisfactory evidence to the contrart, it is appropriate to read Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs as literary products of the last king of the united monarchy.


 

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: