Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

General Editor:—J. J. S. PEROWNE, D.D.,

Dean of Peterborough.












[All Rights reserved.]



The General Editor of The Cambridge Bible for Schools thinks it right to say that he does not hold himself responsible either for the interpretation of particular passages which the Editors of the several Books have adopted, or for any opinion on points of doctrine that they may have expressed. In the New Testament more especially questions arise of the deepest theological import, on which the ablest and most conscientious interpreters have differed and always will differ. His aim has been in all such cases to leave each Contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment, only taking care that mere controversy should as far as possible be avoided. He has contented himself chiefly with a careful revision of the notes, with pointing out omissions, with suggesting occasionally a reconsideration of some question, or a fuller treatment of difficult passages, and the like.

Beyond this he has not attempted to interfere, feeling it better that each Commentary should have its own individual character, and being convinced that freshness and variety of treatment are more than a compensation for any lack of uniformity in the Series.

Deanery, Peterborough.


Among the many enigmas of the Old Testament the book of Ecclesiastes is pre-eminently enigmatic. It comes before us as the sphinx of Hebrew literature, with its unsolved riddles of history and life. It has become almost a proverb that every interpreter of this book thinks that all previous interpreters have been wrong. Its very title has received some dozen discordant interpretations. The dates assigned to its authorship by competent experts range over very nearly a thousand years, from b. c. 990 to b. c. 10. Not less has been the divergence of opinion as to its structure and its aims. It has been regarded as a formal treatise, or as a collection of unconnected thoughts and maxims, like the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, or Pascal’s Pensées, or Hare’s Guesses at Truth; or as a dialogue, though without the names of the interlocutors, after the manner of Plato; or like the discussions between the Dotto and the Ignorante, that form a prominent feature in the teaching of the Italian Jesuits, and in which the writer holds free debate with his opponents[1]. Those who take the latter view are, unfortunately, divided among themselves as to which interlocutor in the dialogue represents the views of the writer, and which those that he is seeking to refute[2]. As to the drift of the book, we meet with every conceivable variety of hypothesis more or less skilfully maintained. Men have seen in it the confessions of the penitent and converted Solomon[3], or a bitter cynical pasquinade on the career of Herod the Great[4], or a Chesterfield manual of policy and politesse for those who seek their fortune in the palaces of kings[5]. It has been made to teach a cloistral asceticism[6], or a healthy life of natural enjoyment[7], or a license like that of a St Simonian “rehabilitation of the flesh[8].” Those who looked on one side of the shield have found in it a direct and earnest apologia for the doctrine of the immortality of the soul[9]; those who approached it from the other were not less sure that it was a polemic protest against that doctrine as it was taught by Pharisees or Essenes[10]. The writer aimed at leading men to seek the things eternal, or sought to draw them away from the cloud-land of the unknown that men call eternity. Dogmatism and scepticism have alike claimed the author as their champion. It has been made to teach the mysteries of the Trinity and the Atonement[11], or to rebuke the presumption that speculates on those mysteries. It has been identified alike with the Creed of Athanasius and with that of the Agnostic.

[1] See Ginsburg’s exhaustive survey of the literature of Ecclesiastes in the Introduction to his Commentary. Herder may be named as the author of the Dialogue theory, but he has been followed by many others.

[2] One school, e.g., maintains that the seemingly Epicurean sentiments, another that the gloomier views of life, are stated only to be rejected (Ginsburg, ut supra).

[3] This is, I need hardly say, the current traditional interpretation of Jewish and Patristic and early Protestant writers (Ginsburg, ut supra).

[4] Grätz, Comm. on Koheleth, p. 13.

[5] Jacobi, quoted by Ginsburg, p. 186.

[6] The view was that of Jerome, Augustine, and the whole crowd of Patristic and mediæval interpreters.

[7] Luther, Comm. on Eccles.

[8] Grätz, Commentary, p. 26.

[9] So most Patristic and early Protestant scholars; and Hengstenberg and Delitzsch among those of our own time.

[10] So emphatically Grätz, p. 28.

[11] See the Commentaries of Jerome, Augustine, and others of the same school, as collected by Pineda.

Think, too, for a moment of the varying aspects which it presents to us when we come in contact with it, not as handled by professed interpreters, but as cropping up here and there in the pages of history, or the lives of individual men. We think of Gelimer, the Vandal king[12], led in chains in the triumph of Belisarius, and, as he walked on without a tear and without a sigh, finding a secret consolation in the oft-echoed burden of “Vanitas vanitatum! omnia vanitas!” or of Jerome reading the book with his disciple Blæsilla, that he might persuade her to renounce those vanities for the life of the convent at Bethlehem[13]; or of Thomas à Kempis taking its watchword as the text of the De Imitatione Christi; or of Laud writing to Strafford when the policy of “Thorough” had broken down, and counselling him to turn for consolation to its pages[14]. We remember how Luther found in it a healthy Politica or Œconomica, the very mirror of magistracy and active life, as contrasted with that of the monks and friars who opposed him[15]; how Voltaire dedicated his paraphrase of it to Frederick II., as that of a book which was the king’s favourite study[16]. It has, in the history of our own literature, been versified by poets as widely contrasted as Quarles and Prior. It has furnished a name to the “Vanity Fair” of Bunyan and of Thackeray; and the latter in a characteristic poem[17] has moralized his song on the theme of its Mataiotes Mataiotçtôn. Pascal found in it the echo of the restless scepticism which drove him to take refuge from the uncertainty that tormented him apart from God, in the belief that God had revealed Himself, and that the Church of Rome was the witness and depository of that revelation[18]. Renan, lastly, looks on it as the only charming work—“le seul livre aimable”—that has ever been written by a Jew, and with his characteristic insight into the subtle variations of human nature, strives to represent to himself St Paul in his declining years—if only he had been of another race and of another temperament, i.e. if he had been quite another Paul than we have known—as at last discovering, désillusionné of the “sweet Galilean vision,” that he had wasted his life on a dream, and turning from all the Prophets to a book which till then he had scarcely read, even the book Ecclesiastes[19].

[12] Gibbon, c. xli.

[13] Hieron. Prœf. in Eccles.

[14] Mozley, Essays, i. p. 60.

[15] Luther, Prœf. in Eccles.

[16] Voltaire, Œuvres, Vol. x. p. 258 (ed. 1819).

[17] Thackeray, Ballads and Tales, 1869, p. 233.

[18] Pascal, Pensées, Vol. i. p. 159, ed. Molines.

[19] Renan, L’Antéchrist, p. 101.

It will be seen from the Introduction to this volume that I am not satisfied to rest altogether in any of these conclusions. I can honestly say that I have worked through the arguments by which the writers have supported them and have not found them satisfy the laws of evidence or the conditions of historical probability. It lies in the nature of the case that, as I have studied the book, month after month, I have felt its strangely fascinating and, so to speak, zymotic power, that side-lights have fallen on it now from this quarter and now from that, that suggestive coincidences have shewed themselves between its teaching and that of other writings in Hebrew, or Greek, or later literature, that while much remained that, like parts of St Paul’s Epistles, was “hard to be understood” (2 Peter 3:16), much also seemed to become clear. The “maze” was not altogether “without a plan,” and there was, at least, a partial clue to the intricate windings of the labyrinth. It will be seen, in the course of the Introduction and the Notes that follow, that I have consulted most of the commentaries that were best worth consulting. It is not, I think, necessary to give a complete list of these or of other books which I have, in the course of my labours, laid under contribution, but I cannot withhold a special tribute of grateful admiration to the two works which have most helped me—the Commentary of Dr Ginsburg, the result of many years of labour, and characterized, as might be expected, by an exhaustive completeness; and that by Mr Tyler, which, though briefer, is singularly thoughtful and suggestive, and to which I am indeed indebted for the first impressions as to the date and character of the book, which have now ripened into convictions.

Those convictions I now submit alike to students and to experts. They will clash, it may be, in some points with inherited and traditional opinions. I can but hope, however, that those who are drawn to the study of the book may find in what I have written that which will help them to understand it better than they have done. They will find in it, if I mistake not, that it meets, and, we may believe, has been providentially designed to meet, the special tendencies of modern philosophical thought, and that the problems of life which it discusses are those with which our own daily experience brings us into contact. They will learn that the questions of our own time are those which vexed the minds of seekers and debaters in an age not unlike our own in its forms of culture, and while they recognize the binding force of its final solution of the problems, “Fear God and keep His commandments,” on those who have not seen, or have not accepted the light of a fuller revelation, they will rejoice in the brightness of that higher revelation of the mind of God of which the Christian Church is the inheritor and the witness. If they feel, as they will do, that there is hardly any book of the Old Testament which presents so marked a contrast in its teaching to that of the Gospels or Epistles of the New Testament, they will yet acknowledge that it is not without a place in the Divine Economy of Revelation, and may become to those who use it rightly a παιδαγωγὸς εἰς Χρίστον—a “schoolmaster leading them to Christ.”

Bickley Vicarage,

Oct. 23rd, 1880.


I. Introduction

Chapter I. The Title

Chapter II. Authorship and Date

Chapter III. An Ideal Biography

Chapter IV. Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiasticus

Chapter V. Ecclesiastes and the Wisdom of Solomon

Chapter VI. Jewish interpreters of Ecclesiastes

Chapter VII. Ecclesiastes and its Patristic interpreters

Chapter VIII. Analysis of Ecclesiastes

II. Notes

III. Appendix

1. Koheleth and Shakespeare

2. Koheleth and Tennyson

3. A Persian Koheleth of the twelfth century

IV. Index

*** The Text adopted in this Edition is that of Dr Scrivener’s Cambridge Paragraph Bible. A few variations from the ordinary Text, chiefly in the spelling of certain words, and in the use of italics, will be noticed. For the principles adopted by Dr Scrivener as regards the printing of the Text see his Introduction to the Paragraph Bible, published by the Cambridge University Press.




1. The name Ecclesiastes, by which the book before us is commonly known, comes to us from the Greek version of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint (the version of the Seventy who were believed to have been the translators), as the nearest equivalent they could find to the Hebrew title Koheleth. Jerome, the translator to whom we owe the Latin version known as the Vulgate, thought that he could not do better than retain the word, instead of attempting to translate it, and it has been adopted (in the title though not in the text) in the English and many other modern versions[20].

[20] Luther gives Der Prediger Salomo, which the English version reproduces in its alternative title.

We are thrown back therefore upon the Hebrew word and we have, in the first instance, to ask what it meant, and why it was chosen by the author. In this enquiry we are met (1) by the fact that the word occurs nowhere else in the whole range of Old Testament literature, and the natural inference is that it was coined because the writer wanted a word more significant and adapted to his aim than any with which his native speech supplied him; possibly, indeed, because he wanted a word corresponding to one in a foreign language that was thus significant. Looking accordingly to the etymology of the Hebrew word we find that it is in form the feminine participle of an unused conjugation of a verb Kâhal and as such would have a meaning connected with the root-idea of the verb, that of “gathering” or “collecting.” The verb is always used in its other conjugations of gathering persons and not things (Exodus 35:1; Numbers 1:18; Numbers 8:9; Numbers 16:19, et al.), and from it is formed the noun which in our English version appears as “congregation” (Leviticus 4:14; Numbers 10:7; Deuteronomy 23:1 et al.), “assembly” (Numbers 14:5; Deuteronomy 5:22; Jdg 20:2 et al.) or “company” (Jeremiah 31:8; Ezekiel 16:40; Ezekiel 17:17 et al.), while in the lxx it appears almost uniformly as Ecclesia. It is accordingly an all but certain inference that the meaning of the new-coined word was either “one who calls an assembly” or, looking to the usual force of the unused conjugation from which it is formed[21], “one who is a member of an assembly.” The choice of the feminine form may be connected with the thought that the writer wished to identify himself with Wisdom (a noun which was feminine in Hebrew as in other languages), who appears as teaching in the bold impersonation of Proverbs 1:20; Proverbs 8:1-4. On the other hand the noun is always treated throughout the book (with, possibly, the solitary exception of chap. Ecclesiastes 7:27, but see note there) as masculine, partly, perhaps, because the writer identified himself with the man Solomon as well as with the abstract wisdom, partly, it may be also, because usage had, as in the case of Sophereth (Nehemiah 7:57), Pochereth (Ezra 2:57), Alemeth and Azmaveth (1 Chronicles 8:36) sanctioned the employment of such feminine forms as the names of men.

[21] The participle Koheleth is formed as if from the Kal conjugation, which commonly denotes intransitive state or action. No example of the verb Kâhal is found in this form. The two forms most in use are the transitive, “to gather,” and the passive “to be gathered.”

It follows from this that the lxx translators were at least not far wrong when they chose Ecclesiastes as the nearest equivalent for the Hebrew title of the book, Koheleth. Our word “Preacher,” however, which has been adopted from Luther, is altogether misleading. Taken in connexion with the associations which the very sound of Ecclesia in any of its compounds calls up, it suggests the idea of a teacher delivering a set discourse to a congregation of worshippers. That is, to say the least, an idea which it is hard to reconcile with the structure and contents of Koheleth. It may be added that it is just as foreign to the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words. The verb Kâhal is never used in connexion with the idea of vocal utterance of any kind. The Ecclesiastes was not one who called the Ecclesia or assembly together, or addressed it in a tone of didactic authority, but much rather one who was an ordinary member of such an assembly (the political unit of every Greek State) and took part in its discussions. He is, as Aristotle says, not an archon or a ruler (Pol. iii. 11), but a part of the great whole (Ibid.). So the Ecclesiazusai of Aristophanes are women who meet in an assembly to debate, and the word is used in the same sense by Plato (Gorg. p. 452, e). In the lxx, the word does not occur outside the book to which it serves as a title, and we have therefore no reason for thinking that they used it in any other than its ordinary sense. It follows from this that the more natural equivalent for it in English would be Debater rather than Preacher, and looking to the fact that the Hebrew writer apparently coined the word, it would be a natural inference that he did so, because he wanted a substantive which exactly expressed the idea of one who desired to present himself in that character and not as a teacher. He claimed only to be a member, one of many, of the great Ecclesia of those who think. If we could assume that he had any knowledge of Greek, it would be a legitimate inference that he formed the new word as an equivalent to the Ecclesiastes which had that significance. It is obvious that this is a meaning which fits in far more aptly with the nature of the book, its presentment of many views, more or less contrasted with each other, its apparent oscillation between the extremes of a desponding pessimism and a tranquil Epicureanism. To use the title of a modern book with which most readers are familiar, the writer speaks as one who takes his part in a meeting of Friends in Council.

The true meaning of the title having thus been established, both on philological grounds and as being in harmony with the character of the work itself, it will be sufficient to note briefly the other meanings which have been assigned to it by different scholars. (a) It cannot mean, as Grotius thought, one who was a συναθροιστής (synathroistes) a collector sententiarum or “compiler,” one who does not maintain a theory or opinion of his own but brings together those of other thinkers; for this, though it agrees fairly with the nature of the contents of the book, is incompatible with the fact that the Hebrew verb is used, without exception, in the sense of collecting, or calling together, persons and not things. (b) More, perhaps, is to be said for Ginsburg’s view (Koheleth, Introd. p. 2) that the title expresses the act of bringing together those that have been scattered, assembling men, as the historical Solomon assembled them, to meet as in the Divine presence (1 Kings 8:1-5), calling back those that have wandered in the bye-ways of doubt, “a gatherer of those far off to God.” The word thus taken expresses the thought which was uttered in the words of the true Son of David: “How often would I have gathered thy children together” (Matthew 23:34; Luke 13:34). It is, however, against this view, that the writer forms the word Koheleth as has been said above, from a conjugation not in use (Kal), which would naturally express being in a given state or position, and passes over the conjugation which was in use (Hiphil) and expressed the transitive act of bringing into such a position or state. To that latter form belongs, in this case, the meaning of “gathering together” into an assembly. It can scarcely be questioned that the writer’s motive in not using it, when it was ready to his hand, was that he deliberately sought to avoid the sense of “gathering an assembly,” and coined a word, which, as the lxx translators rightly felt, conveyed the sense of being a member of such an assembly and taking part in its proceedings. (c) Jerome’s view, followed as we have seen by Luther, that the word describes a concionator or “preacher” is that also of the Midrash Rabba (a Jewish commentary of uncertain date, but not earlier than the sixth, nor later than the twelfth century, Steinschneider, Jewish Literature, p. 53) which explains the name as given by Solomon, “because his discourses were delivered before the congregation” (Ginsburg, p. 3, Wünsche, Midr. Koh. p. 2), but this also, as shewn above, is both wrong etymologically and at variance with the character of the book. (d) The word cannot mean, as a few commentators have thought, “one who has been gathered,” as describing the state of the repentant and converted Solomon, for this would involve a grammatical solecism in the opposite direction to that already examined, and would assign a passive meaning to a form essentially active, though not factitive, in its force. (e) Other more far-fetched interpretations, resting on hazardous Arabic etymologies, as that the word meant “penitent” or “the old man,” or “the voice that cries,” may be dismissed, as not calling for any serious discussion.



1. It lies on the surface that the writer of the book, who, though he does not introduce the name of Solomon, identifies himself (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:12-16) with the historical son of David, was either actually the king of Israel whose name was famous for “wisdom and largeness of heart” or that, for some reason or other, he adopted the dramatic personation of his character as a form of authorship. On the former hypothesis, the question of date is settled together with that of authorship, and the book takes its place almost among the earliest treasures of Hebrew literature, side by side with the Psalms that actually came from David’s pen and with the inner kernel of the Book of Proverbs. On the latter a wide region of conjecture lies opens to us, from any date subsequent to that of Solomon to the time when we first get distinct traces of the existence of the book, and the problem, in the absence of external evidence, will have to be decided on the ground of internal notes of time and place as seen in the language, thought, and structure of the book. A preliminary question meets us, however, which turns, not upon evidence either external or internal, but upon an à priori assumption. It has been urged that when a writer adopts a personated authorship he is guilty of a fraudulent imposture, that such an imposture is incompatible with any idea of inspiration, however loosely that inspiration may be defined, and that to assume a personated authorship is therefore to assert that the book has no right to the place it occupies in the Canon of the Old Testament[22]. On this view Ecclesiastes, if not written by Solomon, takes its place on the same level as Ireland’s Vortigern, or Chatterton’s Rowley, or Macpherson’s Ossian. It may fairly be said, however, of this view that it ignores the fact that a dramatic personation of character has, at all times, been looked upon as a legitimate form of authorship, not necessarily involving any animus decipiendi. With some writers of the highest genius, as e.g., with Robert Browning and Tennyson, a monologue or soliloquy of this character has been a favourite form of composition. The speeches in Herodotus and Thucydides, the Apologies written in the name of Socrates by Xenophon and Plato, the Dialogues of Plato throughout, are instances in which no one would dream of imputing fraud to the writers, though in all these cases we have, with scarcely the shadow of a doubt, the thoughts and words of the writers and not of the men whom they represent as speaking. The most decisive, and in that sense, crucial instance of such authorship is found, however, in the book which presents so striking a parallel to Ecclesiastes, the Apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon. There also, both in the title and the body of the book (Wis 7:5; Wis 7:7; Wis 9:7-8) the writer identifies himself with the Son of David. It was quoted by early Greek and Latin fathers as by Solomon (Clem. Alex. Strom. vi. 11, 14, 15; Tertull. Adv. Valent. c. 2; De Prœscr. Hœret. c. 7). From the time of the Muratorian Fragment[23], it has been commonly ascribed to Philo or some other writer of the Alexandrian school of Jewish thought[24]. No one now dreams of ascribing it to Solomon. No one has ever ventured to stigmatize it as a fraudulent imposture. It has been quoted reverentially even by Protestant writers, cited as Scripture by many of the Fathers, placed by the Church of Rome in the Canon of Scripture (Conc. Trident. Sep. iv. de Can. Script.), and recognized by Church of England critics as entitled to a high place of honour among the books which they receive as deutero-canonical (Art. vi.). In the face of these facts it can scarcely be said with any probability that we are debarred from a free enquiry into the evidence of the authorship of Ecclesiastes, other than the statement of ch. Ecclesiastes 1:12, or that we ought to resist or suppress the conclusion to which the evidence may point, should it tend to a belief that Solomon was not the author. If dramatic personation be, in all times and countries, a legitimate method of instruction, there is no à priori ground against the employment of that method by the manifold and “very varied wisdom” (the πολυποίκιλος σοφία of Ephesians 3:10) of the Eternal Spirit. It may be added that this is, at least, a natural interpretation of the structure of the Book of Job. It can hardly be supposed that that work is the report of an actual dialogue.

[22] The argument may be found in most English Commentaries, but see especially an elaborate treatise on The Authorship of Ecclesiastes, pp. 1–12 (Macmillan and Co., 1880).

[23] The words of the Fragment as they stand are “Et sapientia ab amicis in honorem ipsius scripta,” but it has been conjectured that this was a blundering translation of the Greek ὑπὸ Φίλωνος (“by Philo”), which the writer mistook for ὑπὸ φίλων (“by friends”), Tregelles, Canon Murator. p. 53.

[24] So Jerome (Prœf. in lib. Salom.); Luther (Pref. to Wisd. Sol.) and many others (Grimm’s Weisheit, Einleit. p. 22). The present writer has shewn what appear to him strong reasons for ascribing it to Apollos (Expositor, vol. 1. “The Writings of Apollos”).

Returning to the enquiry accordingly, we may begin by admitting freely that the Solomonic authorship has in its favour the authority of both Jewish and Christian tradition. The Midrash Koheleth (= Commentary on Ecclesiastes, probably, as has been said above, between the sixth and twelfth centuries) represents the opinions of a large number of Rabbis, all of whom base their interpretations on the assumption that Solomon was the writer. The Targum or Paraphrase of the book (assigned by Ginsburg (Koheleth, p. 36) to the sixth century after Christ) follows in the same track. A line of Jewish Commentators from Rashi (Rabbi Solomon Yitzchaki) in the eleventh century to Moses Mendelssohn in the eighteenth, and some yet later authors (Ginsburg, Introduction, pp. 38–80) wrote on the same assumption. The testimony of Patristic literature is as uniform as that of Rabbinic. The book was paraphrased by Gregory Thaumaturgus (d. a. d. 270), commented on by Gregory of Nyssa (d. a. d. 396), referred to and in part explained by Augustine (d. a. d. 430), and accepted by their mediæval successors, Hugo of St Victor (d. a. d. 1140), Richard of St Victor (d. a. d. 1173), Bonaventura (d. a. d. 1274), and Nicholas de Lyra (d. a. d. 1340), whose testimony, as having been born a Jew, comes with a two-fold weight, as the work of the historic Solomon.

Uniform, however, as this consensus is, amounting almost to the “semper, ubique, et ab omnibus” which Vincent of Lerins made the test of Catholicity, it can scarcely be regarded as decisive. The faculty of historical criticism, one might almost say, of intellectual discernment of the meaning and drift of a book or of individual passages in it, is, with rare exceptions, such as were Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, Dionysius of Alexandria, and Theodore of Mopsuestia, wanting in the long succession of the Christian Fathers, and no one can read the Targum or the Midrash on Koheleth, or the comments of not a few of their successors, without feeling that he is in the company of those who have eyes and see not, and who read between the lines, as patristic interpreters also do, meanings which could, by no conceivable possibility, have been present to the thoughts of the writer. It is true alike of all of them that they lived at too remote a date from that of the book of which they write for their opinion to have any weight as evidence, and that they had no materials for forming that opinion other than those which are in our hands at the present day.

The first voice that was heard to utter a conclusion adverse to this general consensus was, as in the case of so many other traditional beliefs, that of Luther. The same bold insight which led him to the conjecture, now accepted by many scholars as approximating to a certainty, that the Epistle to the Hebrews was the work not of St Paul but of Apollos (Alford, Commentary on N.T., Int. to Ep. to Hebrews) shewed itself also in regard to Ecclesiastes. In his short Commentary on that book, indeed, written in a. d. 1532 (Opp. iv. p. 230, ed. 1582), he treats it throughout as by Solomon, but in his Table Talk (Tischreden, lix. 6, ed. Leipzig, 1846) he speaks more freely. “Solomon did not write the book, ‘the Preacher,’ himself, but it was composed by Sirach in the time of the Maccabees … It is, as it were, a Talmud put together out of many books, probably from the Library of Ptolemy Euergetes, king of Egypt.” He goes on to point to the Book of Proverbs as having been composed in the same way, the maxims which came from the king’s lips having been taken down and edited by others. It is probable, though we have no evidence of the fact, that Luther may have derived this opinion from some of the “Humanists,” the more advanced scholars, of his time, or, possibly, from the Jewish students with whom his work as a translator of the Bible brought him into contact.

The line of free enquiry was followed up by Grotius (a. d. 1644) who, in his Commentary on the Old Testament, after discussing the meaning of the title (see above, p. 18) and the aim and plan of the book, gives his judgment as to authorship: “With good reason was it” (in spite of apparent difficulties) “received into the Canon. And yet I, for my part, do not hold it to be the work of Solomon, but to have been written later under the name of that king as one who was moved with repentance. What is to me the ground of this conclusion is that there are many words in it which are not found elsewhere than in Daniel, Esdras (Ezra) and the Chaldæan paraphrasts” (Opp. i. p. 258, ed. 1679). Elsewhere he assigns the authorship to Zerubbabel or one of his contemporaries. Luther and Grotius were, however, before their time, and although the suggestion of the latter received a favourable mention in a note of Gibbon’s (Decline and Fall, c. xli.), Protestant and Roman Catholic commentators went on following the received tradition till Döderlein in 1784, Jahn in 1793, J. E. C. Schmidt in 1794, revived the objections urged by Grotius and gave them currency among European scholars. From that time onward the stream of objections to the Solomonic authorship has flowed with an ever-increasing volume. Among them we find not only those who are conspicuous for a bold and destructive criticism but men whose position in German theology is that of orthodox Conservatism. Hengstenberg, Keil, Delitzsch, Vaihinger, are on this point at one with Ewald and with Hitzig. In America Noyes and Stuart, in England Davidson and Ginsburg and Cox (Quest of the Chief Good, Introd.), have followed in the same track.

The chief ground of agreement among writers representing such very different schools is mainly that given by Grotius. Delitzsch gives a list of about a hundred words or forms or meanings either peculiar to Ecclesiastes or found only in the post-exilian books of the Old Testament, or even not appearing till the time of the later Aramaic of the Mishna literature. It would be out of place to give this list fully here; some of them will be noticed as they occur. Delitzsch’s summing up of the results of the induction is that “If the Book of Koheleth be of old Solomonic origin, then there is no history of the Hebrew language” (Delitzsch, Introd. p. 190). Ginsburg (p. 253) asserts, with equal emphasis, that “we could as easily believe that Chaucer is the author of Rasselas as that Solomon wrote Koheleth.” Ewald’s judgment is hardly less decisive when he says that “this work varies more widely than any other in the Old Testament from the old Hebrew speech, so that one might easily be tempted to believe that it was the latest of all the books now included in the Canon” (Poet. Büch. iv. p. 178). Ewald himself does not adopt that conclusion, holding that in the gradual admixture of the older and the newer forms of speech, it might easily happen that an earlier writer might use more of the newer forms than a later one, but he places the date of the Book as certainly not before the last century of the Persian Monarchy. The same conclusion as to the date is maintained by Knobel, Davidson and other writers. It may be noted that if we accept that conclusion it forms, in part at least, an answer to the objection drawn from the idea that the personated authorship involves fraudulent imposture. A man who deliberately writes with the animus decipiendi, as in the cases of Chatterton and Ireland, aims at archaic forms, avoids modernisms, appears, as it were, in the full dress of a masquerade. The writer who simply adopts the personation as a means of attracting, suggesting, teaching, more powerful than writing in his own name, is content to use the style of his time. He practically says to his readers, as in this case and in the Wisdom of Solomon, and perhaps also (though here there are more traces of fraudulent intention) in the Orphic poems of Aristobulus and the Second Book of Esdras, “I am not what I seem.”

It must, however, be admitted that the conclusion thus strongly stated is not even now universally accepted. It is urged that Solomon’s foreign diplomacy or foreign marriages may have made him familiar with Aramaic forms and words which did not come into common use till later, that we know too little of colloquial Hebrew in the time of Solomon to form an estimate of the extent to which it varied from that of poetry like the Psalms, or formal maxims like the Proverbs, and that the number of Aramaisms has been exaggerated by prepossessions in favour of a foregone conclusion[25]. And this position also has been taken by men of very different schools of thought. From Bishop Wordsworth (Commentary) and Dr Pusey and Mr Bullock (Speaker’s Commentary, Introd. to Eccles.) we might naturally look for a defence of the traditional belief. From the opposite extreme Renan (Hist. des Langues Semitiques, p. 131) declares his belief (mainly resting, however, on the absence of the sacerdotal element) that “Job, the Song of Songs, and Koheleth are all productions of the period of Solomon,” though he thinks it possible that they have been edited and partly re-written at a later date. In his treatise Le Livre de Job, however (p. xxviii.), he modifies his opinion and speaks of the Book of Proverbs as compiled under the kings and of Ecclesiastes as still later. Dean Milman (Hist. of Jews, i. p. 325) writes that he is “well aware that the general voice of German criticism assigns a later date (than that of Solomon) to this book. But,” he adds, “I am not convinced by any arguments from internal evidence which I have read.” By Herzfeld’s objections, the force of which he admits, he is “shaken but not convinced.”

[25] A more elaborate discussion of this linguistic problem, in which the writer seeks to minimise the number and force of Delitzsch’s list, is found in the anonymous treatise on The Authorship of Ecclesiastes already referred to (pp. 26–39). See note p. 20.

To the argument on purely linguistic grounds others have been added, of which it can scarcely be denied that while each of them taken by itself might admit of a more or less satisfactory answer, they have, taken together, a considerable cumulative force. Thus it has been urged (1) that the words “I the Preacher was king over Israel” (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:12) could not have been written by Solomon, who never ceased to be king; (2) that a book coming from the son of David was hardly likely to be characterised, as this is, by the omission of the name of Jehovah which is so prominent in the Psalms and Proverbs, or of all reference to the history of Israel, or to the work which Solomon had done in the erection of the Temple as well as of his palaces and gardens; (3) that, if written, as the traditional belief, for the most part, assumes, in the penitence of Solomon’s old age, we might have looked not merely for the sigh of disappointment uttered in the “vanity of vanities,” but for the confession of his own sins of apostasy and idolatry; (4) that the historical Solomon, the second king of his dynasty, the first who had begun his reign in the Holy City, was hardly likely to speak of “all that had been before him in Jerusalem” (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:16); (5) that the language, as of an observer from without in which the writer speaks of the disorder and corrupt government that prevailed around him (ch. Ecclesiastes 4:1, Ecclesiastes 5:8, Ecclesiastes 8:9, Ecclesiastes 10:5), is not such as we should have expected from one who, if such evils existed, was himself responsible for them; (6) that the book presents many striking parallelisms with that of Malachi[26] which is confessedly later than the exile and written under the Persian monarchy, probably circ. b.c. 390; (7) that it also contains, as will be shewn further on, allusive references to events in the history of Persia, or, as some have thought, to events in the history of Egypt under the Ptolemies[27]; (8) that, to anticipate what will be hereafter shewn in detail, it presents at least the germs of the three tendencies which were developed in the later days of Judaism in the forms of Pharisaism, Sadducaism and the asceticism of the Essenes[28]; (9) that there are not a few passages which indicate the writer’s acquaintance with the philosophy and literature of Greece[29].

[26] See Notes on ch. Ecclesiastes 5:1-6.

[27] See Notes on chs. Ecclesiastes 4:13, Ecclesiastes 5:8, Ecclesiastes 9:14, Ecclesiastes 10:7; Ecclesiastes 10:16-17; Ecclesiastes 10:20.

[28] See Notes on chs. Ecclesiastes 3:19-21, Ecclesiastes 7:1-6; Ecclesiastes 7:16.

[29] See Notes on chs. Ecclesiastes 1:3-11, Ecclesiastes 2:24, Ecclesiastes 3:20, Ecclesiastes 5:18, Ecclesiastes 6:6, Ecclesiastes 12:11-12.

More decisive, perhaps, in its bearing upon the question now before us is the manner in which the book was treated by the Jewish leaders of the Rabbinic schools in the century before the Christian era. Absolutely the first external evidence which we have of its existence is found in a Talmudic report of a discussion between the two schools of Hillel and of Shammai as to its admission into the Canon of the sacred books. It was debated under the singular form of the question whether the Song of Songs and Koheleth polluted the hands, i.e. whether they were so sacred that it was a sacrilege for common or unclean hands to touch them. Some took one side, some another. As usual, the school of Shammai “loosed,” i. e. pronounced against the authority of the book, and that of Hillel “bound” by deciding in its favour. Different Rabbis held different opinions (Mishna, Yadayim, v. 3, Gemara, Megila 7, a), quoted in full by Ginsburg, p. 14). So again another Talmudic tract (Shabbath, quoted ut supra) reports that the “wise men wanted to declare Koheleth apocryphal, because its statements contradicted each other,” and in the Midrash Koheleth, that they did so, because “they found in it sentiments that tended to infidelity” (Ginsburg, ut supra). They were at last led to acquiesce in its admission by the fact that at least it began and ended with words that were in harmony with the Law (Mishna, Yadayim, v. 3, quoted by Ginsburg, p. 14). The memory of the discussion lingered on till the time of Jerome who reports (Comment. on Ecclesiastes 12:13) that “the Hebrews say that among the works of Solomon which have been rejected (antiquata) and have not remained in the memory of men, this book also ought to be cancelled or treated as of no value (obliterandus) because it maintained that all the creatures of God are vain.” Without discussing now the view as to the teaching of Ecclesiastes thus expressed, it is scarcely conceivable that a book that had come down from a remote antiquity with the prestige of Solomonic authorship, and had all along been held in honour as the representative of his divinely inspired wisdom, could have been so spoken of. Such a discussion, in such a case, would have been an example of a bold criticism which has no parallel in the history of that period of Jewish thought. It is not without significance as bearing upon a question to be discussed hereafter, that it was the narrow exclusive school of Shammai that raised the objection, that held, i.e., that Koheleth was not canonical, and therefore did not pollute the hands, while that of Hillel with its wider culture, and sympathy with Greek thought, was ready to admit its claim, and finally turned the balance of opinion in its favour (Gemara, Megila 7, a, Shabbath 30, b, quoted by Ginsburg, p. 15).

An inference of a like kind may be drawn, if I mistake not, from the existence of the Apocryphal Book known as the Wisdom of Solomon, written, beyond the shadow of a doubt, by an Alexandrian and probably not long before, or possibly after, the Christian era. If the book Ecclesiastes were, at the time when that author wrote, generally recognized as having the authority which attached to the name of Solomon, there would have been something like a bold irreverence in the act of writing a book which at least seemed to put itself in something like a position of rivalry, and in some places, to be a kind of corrective complement to its teaching. (Comp. Wisdom 2, 3 with Ecclesiastes 2:18-26; Ecclesiastes 3:18-22, and other passages in ch. v.) If, however, it were known to be a comparatively recent work, and that the schools of Jerusalem had been divided in opinion as to its reception into the Canon, it is quite intelligible than an earnest and devout Jew, such as the writer of the Wisdom of Solomon manifestly was, should have thought himself justified in following the example that had been set of a personated authorship, and have endeavoured to make his ideal Solomon a truer representative of a wisdom which was in harmony with the faith and hope of Israel. How far he succeeded in this aim is a question which will meet us in a later stage of our enquiry. (See ch. v.)

On the whole, then, weighing both the facts themselves, and the authority of the names which are arranged on either side as to the conclusions to be drawn from them, the balance seems to incline somewhat decisively to another than Solomonic authorship. Assuming this conclusion as established, we have to ask to what later period in Jewish history it is to be referred, and here the opinions of scholars divide themselves into three chief groups.

I. There are those who, like Ewald, Ginsburg, and Hengstenberg, fix its date during the period in which the Jews were subject to the rule of the Persian kings. They rest their belief on the fact that the book contains words that belong to that period, such as those for “orchards” (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 2:5) and “province” (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 2:8). In the use of the word “angel” apparently for “priest” (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 5:6), they find an indication that the writer was not far from being a contemporary of the prophet Malachi, who uses that word in the same sense (Malachi 2:7). The tone of the book, in its questionings and perplexities, indicates, they think, a general spiritual condition of the people, like that which Malachi reproves. The “robbery” in “tithes and offerings” (Malachi 3:8) agrees with the “vowing and not paying” of ch. Ecclesiastes 5:5. The political situation described in chs. Ecclesiastes 4:1, Ecclesiastes 7:7, Ecclesiastes 8:2-4, the hierarchy of officials, the tyranny, corruption and extortion of the governors of provinces (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 5:8), the supreme authority of the great King practically issuing in the despotism of a queen, a minister, or a slave, the revelry and luxury of the court (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 10:16), are all painted with a vividness which implies experience of misgovernment such as that which meets us in Nehemiah 5:15; Nehemiah 9:36-37; Esther 1:7-8; Esther 3:9 (see Notes on ch. Ecclesiastes 10:4; Ecclesiastes 10:7; Ecclesiastes 10:16). More specific references have also been found to events in Persian history, to the influence of the eunuch Bagoas (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 10:5) under Artaxerxes Ochus, to the treatment of that king’s corpse in ch. Ecclesiastes 6:3, to Artaxerxes Mnemon as one whose likeness we may recognize in the “old and foolish king” of ch. Ecclesiastes 4:13. The facts thus stated cannot be regarded as otherwise than interesting and suggestive, but it is obvious that they are compatible with a later date, which presented the same political and social conditions, and at which the historical facts, assuming the reference to them to be sufficiently definite, would still be in the memories of men.

II. And there is, it is believed, overwhelming evidence in favour of that later date. Mr Tyler, in the Introduction to his singularly interesting and able treatise on Ecclesiastes (1874), finds in the book traces not to be mistaken of the influence of the teaching both of Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. In the view of life as presenting a recurrence of the same phenomena, the thing which is being as that which hath been (see Notes on chs. Ecclesiastes 1:5-7; Ecclesiastes 1:11, Ecclesiastes 3:14-15), he finds the Stoic teaching of the cycles of events presented by history, such as that which we find in its later form in the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (xi. 1). The thought of the nothingness of man’s life and strivings, his ambitions and his pleasures (chs. Ecclesiastes 1:2-3; Ecclesiastes 1:17, Ecclesiastes 2:21-26, Ecclesiastes 6:3, and passim), has its parallel in the apathy and contempt of the world which characterised the teaching of the Stoics when they taught that they were transient “as the flight of a swift-winged bird;” and that all human things (τὰ ἀνθρώπινα) were “as a vapour, and as nothingness” (Marc. Aur. Meditt. vi. 15, x. 31). The Stoic destiny (εἱμαρμένη), and the consequent calm acceptance of the inevitable, on which the Stoic prided himself, is echoed in the teaching of Koheleth as to the events that come to man by a power which his will cannot control, the “time and chance” that happeneth alike to all (chs. Ecclesiastes 8:8, Ecclesiastes 9:11). The stress laid on the common weaknesses of mankind as being of the nature of insanity, sanity, as in the frequently recurring combination of “madness and folly” (see Notes on chs. Ecclesiastes 1:17, Ecclesiastes 2:12, Ecclesiastes 7:25, Ecclesiastes 10:13), is altogether in harmony with the language of the Stoics (Diog. Laert. vii. 124). Nor are the traces of the teaching of Epicurus less distinctly visible. We know that teaching indeed mainly through later writers, and the “many books” of the great Master himself have perished altogether, but for that very reason we know perhaps better than if we had the latter only, what were the points of his system which most impressed themselves on the minds of his followers. Lucretius and Horace are for us the representatives of Epicurean thought as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius are of Stoic, and the parallelisms of language and idea which these writers present to the book now before us, may legitimately suggest the conclusion that they drank from a common source. We note accordingly that the Debater is acquainted with the physical science of Epicurus as represented by Lucretius. They speak in almost identical terms of the phenomena of the daily rising and setting of the sun, of the rivers flowing into the sea, and returning to their source (see Note on Ecclesiastes 1:5-6). Their language as to the dispersion at death of the compound elements of man’s nature (see Notes on chs. Ecclesiastes 3:19-20, Ecclesiastes 12:7); as to our ignorance of all that comes after death (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 3:21); as to the progress of man in the arts of civilized life (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 7:29); as to the nature of man standing, as far as we know, on the same level as that of beasts (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 3:18-19), presents an identity of tone, almost even of phrase. Still more in accord with popular Epicureanism as represented by Horace is the teaching of Koheleth as to the secret of enjoyment, consisting in the ἀταραξία (tranquillity) of a well regulated life (chs. Ecclesiastes 2:24, Ecclesiastes 3:22, Ecclesiastes 5:18, Ecclesiastes 9:7), in the avoidance of passionate emotions and vain ambitions, and anxious cares, in learning to be content with a little, but to accept and use that little with a deliberate cheerfulness (chs. Ecclesiastes 5:11-12; Ecclesiastes 5:19, Ecclesiastes 7:14). Even the pessimism of the Epicurean, from which he vainly seeks to find a refuge in this pococurante life, is echoed by the Debater. The lamentations over the frailty and shortness of man’s life (ch. Ecclesiastes 6:4-5; Ecclesiastes 6:12), over the disorders which prevail in nature and in society (chs. Ecclesiastes 5:8, Ecclesiastes 7:7, Ecclesiastes 8:9; Ecclesiastes 8:14, Ecclesiastes 9:16, Ecclesiastes 10:16-18), the ever-recurring burden of the “vanity of vanities” (chs. Ecclesiastes 1:2; Ecclesiastes 1:17, Ecclesiastes 2:26, Ecclesiastes 4:16, Ecclesiastes 8:10, Ecclesiastes 9:9, Ecclesiastes 11:10, Ecclesiastes 12:8), are all characteristic of the profounder tendencies of the same school, which culminated in the “tantâ stat prœdita culpâ” of Lucretius (ii. 181).

But it is not only in its affinity with the later philosophical systems of Greece that we find a proof of the later date of Ecclesiastes. It is throughout absolutely saturated with Greek thought and language. In the characteristic phrase of “under the sun” to express the totality of human things (see Notes on chs. Ecclesiastes 1:14, Ecclesiastes 4:15, Ecclesiastes 6:1, Ecclesiastes 9:3), of “seeing the sun” for living (see Notes on chs. Ecclesiastes 6:5, Ecclesiastes 11:7), in the reference to the current maxims of Greek thought, the Μηδὲν ἄγαν (“Nothing in excess”) in ch. Ecclesiastes 7:16, in the stress on opportuneness (καιρός) in ch. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, in the “many books” of ch. Ecclesiastes 12:12, recalling the 300 volumes of the writings of Epicurus, and the 400 of his disciple Apollodorus, and the 200,000 of the library at Alexandria, in the characteristic, “Who knows?” of the rising school of Scepticism in ch. Ecclesiastes 3:21, in the cynical disparagement of women which made Euripides known as the misogynist, and cast its dark shadow over Greek social life (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 7:28), in the allusive reference to a Greek proverb in the “bird in the air” that reports secrets (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 10:20), in the goads as representing the stimulating effect of all true teaching (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 12:11), perhaps also in the knowledge shewn (see Note on ch. Ecclesiastes 12:5) of the Greek pharmacopœia,—in all this evidence, in its cumulative force, we find what compels us to admit that the book could not well have been written before the schools of the Garden and the Porch had obtained a prominent position, i.e. not earlier than b.c. 250. With less confidence I bring before the reader the substance of Mr Tyler’s argument as to the probable limits of the period within which Ecclesiastes may have been written (Ecclesiastes, Introd. § 5). The earlier of these limits he fixes as above, at about b.c. 250. The later he finds in the coincidence between it and the book known as the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach, the Ecclesiasticus of the English Apocrypha. I present these, as he gives them, and leave the reader to judge of their evidential force[30].

[30] The subject is more fully discussed in ch. 4.

Ecclesiastes 7:13-15  and  Sir 33:13-15.

Ecclesiastes 8:1  and  Sir 13:25-26.

Ecclesiastes 10:11  and  Sir 12:13.

Ecclesiastes 7:20-22  and  Sir 19:16.

Ecclesiastes 10:2-3; Ecclesiastes 10:12-14  and  Sir 20:7; Sir 21:25-26.

Ecclesiastes 10:8  and  Sir 27:26.

Ecclesiastes 7:27  and  Sir 33:15.

Ecclesiastes 1:7  and  Sir 40:11.

Assuming these resemblances to imply derivation and that Ecclesiasticus was the later book of the two, and identifying the Euergetes of his grandson’s Preface with Ptolemy Physcon, Mr Tyler concludes that the book now before us could not well have been written before b.c. 200 and is inclined to name b.c. 180 as the most probable date. From this point of view the name given to the latter book in the earliest Latin Version, from which it passed into the Vulgate, is not altogether without significance. The term Ecclesiasticus presupposes that the book was looked on as following in the wake of Ecclesiastes, belonging to the same class of didactic literature. It is, of course, true that another account of the name was given by patristic writers (Rufinus, Comm. in Symb. c. 38) and has been adopted by many modern scholars (Westcott in Smith’s Dict. of Bible, Art. Ecclesiasticus), as though it meant that the book was an “Ecclesiastical” one in the later sense of the word as contrasted with “canonical,” fit to be read in the Ecclesia though not of authority as a rule of faith. Looking, however, to the fact that there was a book already current in which the word Ecclesiastes was distinctly used in its pre-Christian sense, it is a more natural conclusion to infer that the old meaning was kept in view and that the book was therefore named with the significance now suggested. This is at all events in harmony with the use which the writer himself makes of the word Ecclesia,—in ch. Ecc 38:33, when he says of the unlearned workers of the world that they “shall not sit high in the congregation,” i.e. in the ecclesia, or academy of sages, and falls in with Mr Tyler’s theory that his work was more or less influenced by Ecclesiastes. Another commentator (Hitzig) is led to the same conclusion on different grounds. In the picture of the political evils of which the writer complains in ch. Ecclesiastes 4:13, Ecclesiastes 7:10; Ecclesiastes 7:26, or of a young and profligate one in ch. Ecclesiastes 10:16, he finds definite allusions to the history of Egypt under Ptolemy Philopator and Ptolemy Epiphanes respectively, and, although it may be admitted that the references are not sufficiently definite to establish the point, if taken by themselves, yet, as supervening on other evidence, it will be felt, I think, that they have a considerable corroborating force.

As the result to which these lines of inference converge we have accordingly to think of Ecclesiastes as written somewhere between b.c. 240, the date of the death of Zeno, and b.c. 181, that of the death of Ptolemy Epiphanes.

III. A recent critic (Grätz) has gone a step further, assigning the book to the reign of Herod the Great, and treats it as practically in part a protest against the mal-administration of his government, and in part a polemic against the rising asceticism of the Essenes, I cannot say, however, that the arguments which he advances in support of this hypothesis seem to me sufficiently weighty to call in this place for examination in detail (some of them will find mention in the notes), and they are, to say the least, far outweighed by the evidence that has led Tyler and Hitzig, travelling on distinct lines of investigation, to their conclusion.

It remains, with this date, thus fairly established, to enquire into the plan and purpose of the book, its relation to the environment of the time, to earlier and to later teaching in the same region of thought. The peculiar character of the book, its manifest reproduction, even under the dramatic personation of its form, of a real personal experience, has led me to think that I can do this more effectively in the form of an ideal biography of the writer, based upon such data as the book itself presents, than by treating the subject in the more systematic way which would be natural in such a treatise as the present. To that biography I accordingly now invite the attention of the reader.



It would be a comparatively easy task, of course, to write the life of the traditional author of Ecclesiastes. The reign of Solomon “in all his glory” and with all his wisdom has often furnished a subject both for the historian and the poet. There would be a special interest, if we could treat the book before us as leading us into the region that lies below the surface of history, and find in it an autobiographical fragment in which the royal writer laid before us his own experience of life and the conclusions to which he had been led through it. The Confessions of Solomon would have on that assumption a fascination not less powerful than those of Augustine or Rousseau. For the reasons which have been given in the preceding chapter, I cannot adopt that conclusion, and am compelled to rest in the belief that Ecclesiastes was the work of an unknown writer about two hundred years before the Christian era. To write his life under such conditions may seem a somewhat adventurous enterprise. One is open to the charge of evolving a biography out of one’s inner consciousness, of summoning a spectral form out of the cloudland of imagination. I have felt, however, looking to the special character of the book, that this would be a more satisfactory way of stating the view that I have been led to hold as to the occasion, plan, and purpose of the book than the more systematic dissertation with which the student is familiar in Commentaries and Introductions. The book has so little of a formal plan, and is so much, in spite of the personated authorship, of the nature of an autobiographical confession, partly, it is clear, deliberate, partly, perhaps, to an extent of which the writer was scarcely conscious, betraying its true nature beneath the veil of the character he had assumed, that the task of portraying the lineaments that lie beneath the veil is comparatively easy. As with the Pensées of Pascal or of Joubert, or the Sonnets of Shakespeare, we feel that the very life of the man stands before us, as votivâveluti descripta tabellâ, in all its main characteristics. We divine the incidents of that life from the impress they have left upon his character, and from chance words in which more is meant than meets the ear.

Koheleth (I shall use the name by anticipation, as better than the constant repetition of “the writer,” or “the subject of our memoir”) was born, according to the view stated above, somewhere about b.c. 230. He was an only son, “one alone and not a second,” without a brother (ch. Ecclesiastes 4:8). His father lived in Judæa[31], but not in Jerusalem, and to find “the way to the city,” the way which none but the proverbial “fool” among grown-up men could miss, came before the child’s mind at an early age as the test of sagacity and courage (ch. Ecclesiastes 10:18). The boy’s education, however, was carried on in the synagogue school of the country town near which he lived, and was rudimentary enough in its character, stimulating a desire for knowledge which it could not satisfy. He learnt, as all children of Jewish parents learnt, the Shemà or Creed of Israel, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4), and the sentences that were written on the Phylacteries which boys, when they reached the age of thirteen and became Children of the Law, wore on their forehead and their arms. He was taught many of the Proverbs which proclaimed that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7), and learnt to reverence Solomon as the ideal pattern of the wisdom and largeness of heart that grow out of a wide experience (1 Kings 4:29). But it was a time of comparative deadness in the life of Israel. The last of the prophets had spoken some two centuries before, and there were few who studied his writings or those of his predecessors. The great masters of Israel and teachers of the Law had not yet raised the fabric of tradition which was afterwards embodied in the Talmud. The expectations of the Anointed King were for the time dormant, and few were looking for “redemption in Jerusalem” or for “the consolation of Israel.” Pharisees and Sadducees and Essenes, though the germs of their respective systems might be found in the thoughts of men, were not as yet stimulating the religious activity of the people by their rivalry as teachers. The heroic struggle of the Maccabees against the idolatry of Syria was as yet in the future, and the early history of the nation, the memories of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, did not kindle the patriotic enthusiasm which they came to kindle afterwards. There was a growing tendency to fall into the modes of thought and speech and life of the Greeks and Syrians with whom the sons of Abraham were brought into contact. Even the sacred name of Jahveh or Jehovah, so precious to their fathers, had dropped into the background, and men habitually spoke of “God,” or “the Creator,” after the manner of the Greeks (ch. Ecclesiastes 12:1). It was a time, such as all nations and Churches have known, of conventionality and routine. The religion of the people, such as the boy saw it, was not such as to call out any very deep enthusiasm. The wealth of his parents had attracted a knot of so-called devout persons round them, and his mother had come under their influence, and in proportion as she did so, failed to gain any hold on her son’s heart, and left no memory of a true pattern of womanhood for him to reverence and love. Even she formed no exception in after years to the sweeping censure in which he declared that among all the women he had met he had never known one who satisfied his ideal of what a true woman should be (ch. Ecclesiastes 7:28). The religionists who directed her conscience called each other by the name of “Friend,” “Brother,” or “Companion,” and claimed to be of those of whom Malachi had spoken, “who feared the Lord and spake often one to another” (Malachi 3:16). Koheleth saw through their hypocrisy, watched them going to the house of God, i.e., to temple or synagogue (Psalm 74:8), and heard their long and wordy and windy prayers—the very sacrifice of fools (ch. Ecclesiastes 5:1-2). He saw how they made vows in time of sickness or danger, and then, when the peril had passed away, came before the priest, on whom they looked as the messenger or angel of the Lord, with frivolous excuses for its non-fulfilment (ch. Ecclesiastes 5:4-6); how they told their dreams as though they were an apocalypse from heaven (ch. Ecclesiastes 5:7). It was necessary to find a phrase to distinguish the true worshippers from these pretenders, and just as men, under the influence of the maxim that language was given to conceal our thoughts, came to speak of la vérité vraie as different from the ordinary vérité, so Koheleth could only express his scorn of the hypocrites by contrasting them, as with the emphasis of iteration, with “those who fear God, who indeed fear before him” (ch. Ecclesiastes 8:12).

[31] So Ewald, Introd. to Ecclesiastes.

As Koheleth grew to years of manhood, he was called to take his part in the labours of the cornfield and the vineyard. The wealth of his father did not lead him to bring up his son to a soft-handed leisure, for men had not then ceased to recognize the blessedness of toil, and it had become a proverb that a father who does not teach his sons to labour with their hands teaches them to be thieves. The teachers of Israel remembered that the “king himself was served by the field” (ch. Ecclesiastes 5:9) and “despise not husbandry” was one of the maxims of the wise. In after years, when pleasure had brought satiety and weariness, and dainties palled on the palate, Koheleth looked back regretfully on that “sweet sleep” of the labour of earlier days, which followed on the frugal, or even scanty, meal (ch. Ecclesiastes 5:12).

As he grew up to manhood, however, there came a change. Like the younger son in the parable (Luke 15:12) he desired to see the world that lay beyond the hills, beyond the waters, and asked for his portion of goods and went his way into a far country. Among the Jews, as among the Greeks, and partly, indeed, as a consequence of their intercourse with them, this had come to be regarded as one of the paths to wisdom and largeness of heart. So the Son of Sirach wrote a little later: “A man that hath travelled knoweth many things.” “He shall serve among great men, and appear before princes; he will travel through strange countries; for he hath tried the good and evil among men” (Sir 34:9; Sir 39:4. Comp. Homer, Od. i. 3). And if a Jew travelled anywhere at that period, it was almost a matter of course that he should direct his steps to Alexandria. Intercourse between the two nations of Egypt and Judah was, indeed, no new thing. Psammetichus, in the days of Manasseh, had invited Jews to settle in his kingdom[32]. There had been Israelites “beyond the rivers of Ethiopia” in the days of Josiah (Zephaniah 3:10). Alexander, in founding the new city which was to immortalize his name, had followed in the footsteps of Psammetichus. The first of the Ptolemies had brought over many thousands, and they occupied a distinct quarter of the city[33]. Philadelphus had, as the story ran, invited seventy-two of the elders of Israel to his palace that they might translate their Law as an addition to the treasures of his library, had received them with all honour, and invited them to discuss ethical questions day by day with the philosophers about his court[34]. A wealthy Jew coming to such a city, not without introductions, was sure to be well received, and Koheleth sought and found admission to that life of courts, which the Son of Sirach pointed out as one of the paths of wisdom (Sir 39:4). It was a position not without its dangers. It tempted the Jew to efface his nationality and his creed, and his hopes in the far-off future. It tempted him also to exchange the purity to which he was pledged by the outward symbol of the covenant and by the teaching of his home life, for the license of the Greek. Koheleth for a time bowed his neck to the yoke of a despotic monarch, and learnt the suppleness of the slaves who dare not ask a king, What doest thou? (ch. Ecclesiastes 8:4). He watched the way the court winds blew, and learnt to note the rise and fall of favourites and ministers (ch. Ecclesiastes 10:6-7). He saw or heard how under Ptolemy Philopator the reins of power had fallen into the hands of his mistress, Agathoclea, and her brother; how the long minority of his son Epiphanes had been marked by the oppression of the poor and “violent perverting of judgment and justice” in the provinces (ch. Ecclesiastes 5:8), by all the evils which come on a land when its “king is a child” and its “princes revel in the morning” (ch. Ecclesiastes 10:16-17)[35]. He had seen the pervading power of a system of police espionage, which carried what had been spoken in whispers to the ears of the ruler (ch. Ecclesiastes 10:20). A training such as this could scarcely fail to make the man who was subject to it something less of an Israelite—to turn his thoughts from contemplating the picture which the prophets had drawn of a true and righteous King, to the task of noting the humours of kings who were neither true nor righteous, and flattering them with an obsequious homage, in the belief that “yielding” in such a case “pacifieth great offences” (ch. Ecclesiastes 10:4)[36].

[32] Letter of Pseudo-Aristeas.

[33] Joseph. Ant. xii. 1.

[34] Letter of Pseudo-Aristeas.

[35] Justin, 30:1.

[36] So Bunsen, God in History, i. p. 159.

Temptations of another kind helped to complete the evil work. The wealth of Koheleth enabled him to surround himself with a certain magnificence, and he kept before himself the ideal of a glory like that of Solomon’s: the wine sparkled at his banquets, and singing men and singing women were hired to sing songs of revelry and love, and the Greek hetæræ, the “delights of the sons of men,” the demi-monde of Alexandria, surrounded him with their fascinations (ch. Ecclesiastes 2:3-8). His life became one of reckless sensuality. Like the Son in the parable, to whom I have before compared him, he wasted his substance in riotous living, and devoured his wealth with harlots (Luke 15:13; Luke 15:30). The tendency of such a life is, as all experience shews, to the bitterness of a cynical satiety. Poets have painted the Nemesis which dogs the footsteps of the man who lives for pleasure. In the Jaques[37], perhaps to some extent even in the Hamlet, of Shakespeare, in the mental history, representing probably Shakespeare’s own experience, of his Sonnets, yet more in the Childe Harold of Byron, in the “Palace of Art” and the “Vision of Sin,” of Tennyson, we have types of the temper of meditative scorn and unsatisfied desire that uttered itself in the cry, “All is vanity and feeding upon wind” (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:14).


“For thou thyself hast been a libertine,

As sensual as the brutish sting itself.”

As You Like It, ii. 7.

But what is true more or less of all men except those who live—

“Like a brute with lower pleasures, like a brute with lower pains,” was true then, as it has been since, in its highest measure, of the Jew who abandons the faith of his fathers and drifts upon the shoreless sea of a life of license. Corruptio optimi pessima. He has inherited higher hopes and nobler memories than the men of most other nations, and when he falls he sinks even to a lower level than they sink. The “little grain of conscience” that yet remains “makes him sour,” and the features are stamped with the sneer of the mocker, and he hates life, and yet, with the strange inconsistency of pessimists, shrinks from death. He denies, or at least questions, the possibility of knowing that there is a life beyond the limits of this life (ch. Ecclesiastes 3:18-21), and yet draws back from the journey to the undiscovered country, and clings passionately (ch. Ecclesiastes 11:7) to the life which he declares to be intolerable (ch. Ecclesiastes 2:17, Ecclesiastes 6:3, Ecclesiastes 7:1). The literature of our own time presents two vivid pictures of the character and words of one who, being a Jew, has passed through this experience. In the life of the Raphael of Kingsley’s Hypatia, yet more in that of Heinrich Heine at Paris[38], we have the counterpart of the life of Koheleth at Alexandria.

[38] Comp. Stigand’s Life of Heine, ii. chap. 1.

Under the thinly veiled disguise of the person of the historic Solomon he afterwards retraced his own experience and the issue to which it had brought him. He had flattered himself that he was not making himself the slave of pleasure, but even in his wildest hours was gaining wider thoughts and enlarging his knowledge of good and evil, that even then his “wisdom remained with him” (ch. Ecclesiastes 2:3; Ecclesiastes 2:9). Like Goethe, he was philosophic, or, to speak more truly, artistic, in the midst of his sensuality, and watched the “madness and folly” of men, and yet more of women, with the eye of a connoisseur (ch. Ecclesiastes 2:12). It was well for him, though it seemed evil, that he could not rest in the calmly balanced tranquillity of the supreme artist, which Goethe, and apparently Shakespeare, attained after the “Sturm und Drang” period of their life was over. The utter weariness and satiety, the mood of a blasé pessimism, into which he fell was as the first stepping-stone to higher things.

The course of his life at Alexandria had been marked by two strong affections, one of which ended in the bitterness of despair, while the other, both at the time and in its memory afterwards, was as a hand stretched forth to snatch him as “a brand from the burning.” He had found a friend, one of his own faith, a true Israelite, who had kept himself even in Alexandria pure from evil, and gave him kindly sympathy and faithful counsel, who realised all that he had read in the history of his own country of the friendship of David and Jonathan, or in that of Greece of Theseus and Peirithous, or Orestes and Pylades (chs. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, Ecclesiastes 7:28). He was to him what Pudens, the disciple of St Paul, was to Martial, touching the fibres of reverence and admiration where the very nerve of pudicity seemed dead and the conscience seared[39]. The memory of that friendship, perhaps the actual presence of the friend, saved Koheleth from the despair into which the other passion plunged him. For he had loved, in one instance at least, with a love strong as death, with a passion fiery and fond as that of Catullus for Lesbia; had idealized the object of his love, and had awakened, as from a dream, to find that she was false beyond the average falsehood of her class—that she was “more bitter than death,” her heart “as snares and nets,” her hands as “bands.” He shuddered at the thought of that passion, and gave thanks that he had escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; yet more, that the friend of whom he thought as one that “pleased God,” had not yielded to her temptation[40] (ch. Ecclesiastes 7:26). We are reminded, as we look first on this picture and then on that, of the marvellous and mysterious sonnet (cxliv.) in which Shakespeare writes—



Here, too, identity of experience produces almost identity of phrase:—

“Non jam illud quæro, contra ut me diligat illa

Aut quod non potis est, esse pudica velit;

Ipse valere opto, et tetrum hunc deponere morbum,

O Di! reddite mî hoc pro pietate meâ.”

“I ask not this, that she may love me still,

Or, task beyond her power, be chaste and true;

I seek for health, to free myself from ill;

For this, ye gods, I turn in prayer to you.”

Catull. Carm. lxxvi.

“O quam pæne tibi Stygias ego raptus ad undas,

Elysiæ vidi nubila fusca plagæ!

Quamvis lassa, tuos quærebant lumina vultus,

Atque erat in gelido plurimus ore Pudens.”

“Yea, all but snatched where flows the gloomy stream,

I saw the clouds that wrap the Elysian plain.

Still for thy face I yearned in wearied dream,

And cold lips, Pudens, Pudens! cried in vain.”

Mart. Epigr. vi. 58.

“Two loves I have of comfort and despair

Which, like two spirits, do suggest me still.

The better angel is a man right fair,

The worser spirit a woman coloured ill.

To win me soon to hell, my female evil

Tempteth my better angel from my side,

And would corrupt my saint to be a devil,

Wooing his purity with her foul pride.”

The life of Heine, to which I have already referred as strikingly resembling that of Koheleth, presents hardly less striking a parallel. He, too, had known one friend—“the only man in whose society I never felt ennui; on whose sweet, noble features I could see clearly the aspect of my own soul[41].” He, too, in what seems to have been the one real passion of his life, had found himself deceived and disappointed—

[41] Stigand, Life of Heine, i. p. 88.

“She broke her faith; she broke her troth;

For this I feel forgiving;

Or else she had, as wedded wife,

Embittered love and living[42].”

[42] Ibid. i. p. 47.

The heart-wound thus inflicted was not easily healed. Art, culture, pleasure failed to soothe him. There fell on him the “blank misgivings” of which Wordsworth speaks, the profound sense of nothingness which John Stuart Mill describes so vividly in his Autobiography, what the Germans call the Weltschmerz, the burden of the universe, or, in Koheleth’s own phrase, the “world set in the heart” (ch. Ecclesiastes 3:11); the sense of an infinity and an eternity which man strives in vain to measure or apprehend.

It was in this frame of mind that Koheleth turned to the literature and philosophy of Greece. The library founded by the first Ptolemy, enlarged by Philadelphus, arranged and catalogued by Demetrius Phalereus, and thrown open as a free library to all students, claimed, we may well believe, not less than that of Thebes, which had the title graved upon its portals, to be the Ἰατρεῖον ψυχῆς, the “Hospital for the diseases of the Soul[43].” He had by this time gained sufficient knowledge of Greek to read at least the writings of the three previous centuries. They opened a new world of thought and language to him. He had grown weary of psalms and prophecies and chants, as men of our own time have grown weary of their Bible and Prayer-Book and Christian Year, and had not turned to them for comfort and counsel. His new reading brought him, at any rate, distraction. The lyric and dramatic poets he read indeed chiefly in the extracts which were quoted by lecturers, or the anthologies that were placed in the hands of young students; but in these he found words that relieved and even interpreted his own feelings. He learnt from Sophocles and Theognis to look on “not being” as better than any form of life (ch. Ecclesiastes 4:2-3); with the misogynist Euripides, who echoed his own wailing scorn, to utter bitter sneers at women’s falsehood and frailty; with the pessimist Glycon to say of life that it was

[43] Diodorus, i. 49.

πάντα γέλως, καὶ πάντα κόνις καὶ πάντα τὸ μηδέν.

“All is a jest, and all is dust, and all is nothingness.”

From the earlier sages he learnt the maxims that had become the ornaments of school-boys’ themes, and yet were new to him—the doctrine of the Μηδὲν ἄγαν, “nothing in excess” (the “Surtout, point de zèle” of Talleyrand); the not being “overmuch righteous or overmuch wicked” (ch. Ecclesiastes 7:16). From Chilon he learnt to talk of the time, or καιρός, that was fixed for all things, of opportuneness, as almost the one ethical criterion of human action (ch. Ecclesiastes 3:1-11). He caught up the phrase “under the sun” as expressing the totality of human life (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:9, and thirty other passages).

It was, however, to the philosophy of Greece, as represented by the leading sects of Stoics and Epicureans, that he turned with most eagerness. The former had in its teaching much that attracted him. That doctrine of recurring cycles of phenomena, not in the world of outward nature only, but of human life, history repeating itself, so that there is nothing new under the sun (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:9-10), gave to him, as it did afterwards to Aurelius, a sense of order in the midst of seemingly endless changes and perturbations, and led him to look with the serene tranquillity of a Nil admirari at the things that excited men’s ambition or roused them to indignation. If oppression and corruption had always been the accompaniments of kingly rule, such as the world had then known it, why should he wonder at the “violent perverting of justice and judgment in a province” under an Artaxerxes or a Ptolemy? (ch. Ecclesiastes 5:8). From the followers of Zeno he learnt also to look on virtue and vice in their intellectual aspects. The common weaknesses and follies of mankind were to him, as to them, only so many different forms and degrees of absolute insanity (chs. Ecclesiastes 1:17, Ecclesiastes 2:12, Ecclesiastes 7:25, Ecclesiastes 9:3). He studied “madness and folly” in that mental hospital as he would have studied the phenomena of fever or paralysis. The perfect ideal calm of the Stoic seemed a grand thing to aim at: as much above the common life of men as light is above darkness (ch. Ecclesiastes 2:13). The passion, or the fashion, of Stoicism, however, soon passed away. That iteration of events, the sun rising every day, the winds ever blowing, the rivers ever flowing, the endless repetition of the follies and vices of mankind (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:5-8), became to him, as the current of the Thames did to the jaded pleasure-seeking duke who looked on it from his Richmond villa[44], unspeakably wearisome. It seemed to mock him with the thought of monotony where he had hoped to find the pleasure of variety. It mocked him also with the thought of the permanence of nature, or even of the mass of human existence considered as part of nature, and the fleeting nothingness of the individual life. The voice of the rivulet—

[44] Cox’s Quest of the Chief Good, p. 81.

“Men may come and men may go,

But I go on for ever”

brought no pleasant music to his ear. And, to say the truth, the lives of the Stoics of Alexandria did not altogether commend their system to him. They talked much of the dignity of virtue, and drew fine pictures of it; but when he came to know them, they were as vain, irritable, egotistic, sometimes even as sordid and sensual, as the men whom they despised. Each man was, in his own eyes, and those of his little coterie, as a supreme sage and king, almost as a God. There was something in them like the mutual apotheosis of which Heine complained in the pantheistic followers of Fichte and of Schelling[45]. Against that system, which ended in making every man his own deity, there rose in the heart of the Israelite, who had not altogether forgotten the lessons of his earlier life, a protest which clothed itself in the words, “Fear thou God” (ch. Ecclesiastes 8:12-13). And so Koheleth turned from the Porch to the Garden. It was at least less pretentious, and did not mock him with its lofty ideal of an unattained and unattainable perfection. Even the physics and physiology of the school of Epicurus were not without their attractions for a mind eager in the pursuit of knowledge of all kinds. Their theory of the circulation of the elemental forces, the rivers flowing into the sea yet never filling it, but returning as through arteries and veins, filtered in their progress from the sea’s saltness, to the wells and fountains from which they had first sprung to light (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:5-7); their study of the growth of the human embryo, illustrated as it was by dissections in the Museum of Alexandria[46], shewing how the “bones grow in the womb of her that is with child” (ch. Ecclesiastes 11:5); their discoveries, not quite anticipating Harvey, yet on the same track, as to the action of the heart and the lungs, the lamp of life suspended by its silver chain, the pitcher drawing every moment fresh draughts from the fountain of the water of life (ch. Ecclesiastes 12:6)[47]; all this came to him as a new interest, a new pleasure. It was as fascinating, that wonderland of science, as a new poem or a new mythos, or, in modern phrase, as a new novel or romance. And then its theory of life and death, did not that seem to point out to him the secret of a calm repose? The life of man was as the life of brutes (ch. Ecclesiastes 3:19). His soul was compound, and so discerptible. All things had been formed out of the eternal atoms, and into the eternal atoms all things were evermore resolved. Admitting even, for the sake of hypothesis, that there was something more than the forms of matter which are palpable and visible in man’s nature, some vital force or ethereal spark, yet what had been brought together at birth was, at any rate, certain to be dissolved at death. Dust to dust, the ether which acted in man’s brain to the ether of the infinite azure, was the inevitable end (ch. Ecclesiastes 3:21, but not Ecclesiastes 12:7). Such a view of life served at least to strip death of the terror with which the δεισιδαιμονία, the superstition, the Aberglaube, of men had clothed it. It did not leave him to dread the passage into the dim darkness of Sheol, the land of the shadow of death, as Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:11; Isaiah 38:18) and the Psalmist (Psalm 6:5; Psalm 30:9; Psalm 88:11) had dreaded it (ch. Ecclesiastes 9:10). It freed him from the terrors of the Gehenna of which his countrymen were beginning to talk, from the Tartarus and Phlegethon and Cocytus, the burning and the wailing rivers, in which the Greeks who were outside the philosophic schools still continued to believe. It left him free to make the most and the best of life. And then that “best of life” was at once a pleasant and an attainable ideal. It confirmed the lessons of his own experience as to the vanity and hollowness of much in which most men seek the satisfaction of their desires. Violent emotions were followed by a reaction, the night’s revel by the morning headache; ambition and the favour of princes ended in disappointment. What the wise man should strive after was just the maximum of enjoyment, not over-balanced by the amari aliquid that rises even medio de fonte leporum—a life like that of the founder of the school—moderate and even abstemious, not disdaining the pleasures of any sense, yet carrying none to an excess. He had led a life of calm serene tranquillity, almost one of total abstinence and vegetarianism, and so the ἀταραξία which had become identified with his name, had been protracted to extreme old age[48]. The history of men’s lives had surely “nothing better” to show than this. This, at any rate, was good (ch. Ecclesiastes 3:12; Ecclesiastes 3:14; Ecclesiastes 3:22, Ecclesiastes 5:18, Ecclesiastes 8:15). In such a life there was nothing that the conscience condemned as evil. It admitted even of acts of kindness and benevolence, as bringing with them a moral satisfaction (chs. Ecclesiastes 7:1-2, Ecclesiastes 11:1-2), and therefore a new source of enjoyment. Even the sages of Israel would have approved of such a life (Proverbs 5:15-19; Proverbs 30:7), though it might not satisfy the heroic aspirations and high-soaring dreams of its prophets. Enjoyment itself might be received as a gift from God (ch. Ecclesiastes 2:26, Ecclesiastes 5:19).

[45] Stigand’s Life of Heine, ii. p. 162.

[46] Dissection, and even vivisection, were first practised in the medical schools of Alexandria.—Quarterly Review, lxvi. p. 162.

[47] I purposely refrain from including the other anatomical references which men have found in Ecclesiastes 12:4-5.

[48] Diog. Laert. x. 1. p. 6.

Into this new form of life accordingly Koheleth threw himself, and did not find it altogether a delusion. Inwardly it made him feel that life was, after all, worth living (ch. Ecclesiastes 11:7). He began to find the pleasure of doing good, and visiting the fatherless and widow in their affliction. He learnt that it was better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting. The heart of the wise was in that house and not in the house of mirth (ch. Ecclesiastes 7:2-4). Even the reputation of doing good was not to be despised, and the fragrance of a good name was better than the odorous spikenard or rose-essence of the king’s luxurious banquets (ch. Ecclesiastes 7:1). And he gained, as men always do gain by any acts of kindness which are not altogether part of the ostentatious or self-calculating egotism of the Pharisee, something more than enjoyment.

“Sunt lachrymae rerum, et mentem mortalia tangunt.”

“We needs must weep for woe, and, being men,

Man’s sorrows touch our hearts.”

Virg. Æn. i. 462.

The flood-gates of sympathy were opened. His self-love was expanding almost unconsciously into benevolence. He began to feel that altruism and not egotism was the true law of humanity. He was in this point, partly, perhaps, because here too the oracle in his inmost heart once more spoke out the secret of the wisdom of Israel, “Fear thou God,” wiser than his teachers (ch. Ecclesiastes 5:7).

A wealthy Jew with this turn for philosophizing was not likely to be overlooked by the lecturers and littérateurs of Alexandria. From the Library of that city Koheleth passed to the Museum[49], and was elected, or appointed by royal favour, a member of the august body who dined in its large hall at the public expense, and held their philosophical discussions afterwards. It was a high honour for a foreigner, almost as much so as for an Englishman to be elected to the Institute of France, or a Frenchman to a Fellowship of the Royal Society. He became first a listener and then a sharer in those discussions, an Ecclesiastes, a debater, and not a preacher, as we count preaching, in that Ecclesia. Epicureans and Stoics, Platonists and Aristotelians met as in a Metaphysical Society, and discussed the nature of happiness and of the supreme good, of the constitution of life and of the soul’s immortality, of free will and destiny. The result of such a whirl of words and conflict of opinions was somewhat bewildering. He was almost driven back upon the formula of the scepticism of Pyrrho, “Who knows?” (ch. Ecclesiastes 3:21). It was to him what a superficial study of Hobbes and Shaftesbury, of Voltaire and Rousseau, of Kant and Schelling, of Bentham and Mill, of Comte and Herbert Spencer, have been to English students of successive generations. One thing, at least, was clear. He saw that here also “the race was not to the swift, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to men of understanding” (ch. Ecclesiastes 9:11). The charlatan too often took precedence of the true man; silent and thoughtful wisdom was out-talked by an eloquent declaimer (ch. Ecclesiastes 9:15-16). Here also, as in his life of revelry, there was much that could only be described as vanity and much “feeding upon wind.”

[49] For the fullest account of the Alexandrian Museum accessible in English, see the article on Alexandria in Vol. lxvi. of the Quarterly Review. It is, I believe, no secret, that it was written by the late Rev. William Sewell.

So for a short time life passed on, looking brighter and more cheerful than it had done. There came before him the prospect, destined not to be realized, of the life of a happy home with wife and children round him (ch. Ecclesiastes 9:7-9). But soon the evil day came in which there was no more any pleasure to be found (ch. Ecclesiastes 12:1). The life of revelry and pleasure had sapped his strength, and the strain of study and the excitement of debate had made demands upon his vital powers which they could not meet, and there crept over him the slow decay of a premature old age, of the paralysis which, while it leaves consciousness clear and the brain free to think and muse over many things, attacks first one organ of sense or action and then another. The stars were darkened and the clouds of dark thoughts “returned after the rain” of idle tears, and “the keepers of the house trembled and the strong men bowed themselves.” Sight failed, and he no longer saw the goodly face of nature or the comeliness of man or woman, could no longer listen with delight to the voice of the “daughters of music” (ch. Ecclesiastes 12:2-4). Even the palate lost its wonted sense of flavour, and the choicest dainties became distasteful. His voice passed into the feeble tones of age (ch. Ecclesiastes 12:4). Sleep was more and more a stranger to his eyes, and his nights were passed, as it were, under the branches of the almond tree, the “early waking tree” that was the symbol of insomnia (ch. Ecclesiastes 12:5; Jeremiah 1:11-12). Remedies were applied by the king’s physicians, but even the “caper-berry,” the “sovereign’st thing on earth,” or in the Alexandrian pharmacopœia, against that form of paralysis, was powerless to revive his exhausted energies. The remainder of his life—and it lasted for some six or seven years; enough time to make him feel that “the days of darkness” were indeed “many” (ch. Ecclesiastes 12:8)—was one long struggle with disease. In the language of the Greek writers with whom he had become familiar, it was but a long νοσοτροφία, a βίος ἀβίωτος (“a chronic illness,” a “life unliveable”). His state, to continue the parallel already more than once suggested, was like that which made the last eight years of Heine’s life a time of ceaseless suffering[50]. It added to the pain and trouble which disease brought with it that he had no son to minister to his wants or to inherit his estate. House and garden and lands, books and art-treasures, all that he had stored up, as for a palace of art and a lordly pleasure-house, would pass into the hands of a stranger (ch. Ecclesiastes 4:8). It was a sore travail, harder than any pain of body, to think of that as the outcome of all his labours. It was in itself “vanity and an evil disease” (ch. Ecclesiastes 6:2). And beyond this there lay a further trouble, growing out of the survival, or revival, of his old feelings as an Israelite, which neither Stoic apathy nor Epicurean serenity, though they would have smiled at it as a superstition, helped him to overcome. How was he to be buried? (ch. Ecclesiastes 6:3). It was, of course, out of the question that his corpse should be carried back to the land of his fathers and laid in their tomb in the valley of Jehoshaphat. The patriotic zeal which had been roused by the struggle of the Maccabees against Antiochus Epiphanes would not have allowed the body of one who was suspected of apostasy to desecrate the holy city. And even in Alexandria itself the more rigorous Jews had been alienated by his Hellenizing tendencies. He could not expect that their mourners would attend at his funeral, crying, after their manner, Ah, brother! or Ah, sister! Ah, Lord! and Ah, his glory! (Jeremiah 22:18). He had before him the prospect of being buried as with the burial of a dog.

[50] Heine’s description of his own state, in its piteous frankness, can scarcely fail to remind us of the contrast between the pictures drawn by Koheleth in ch. 2 and ch. 12. “I am no longer a Hellene of jovial life and somewhat portly person, who laughed cheerily down upon dismal Nazarenes. I am now only a poor death-sick Jew, an emaciated image of trouble, an unhappy man.” Stigand’s Life of Heine, ii. p. 386.

And yet the days were not altogether evil. The friend whom he had found faithful, the “one among a thousand,” did not desert him, and came and ministered to his weakness, to raise up, as far as he had the power, the brother who had fallen (ch. Ecclesiastes 4:10). He could no longer fill his belly with the husks that the swine did eat. Sensual pleasures and the fragments of a sensuous philosophy, the lower and the higher forms of popular Epicureanism, were alike unsatisfying, and the voice within once more spoke in clearer notes than ever, Fear thou God. With him, as with Heine (to refer once more to the Koheleth of our time), there was a religious reaction, a belief in a personal God, as that to which men must come when they are “sick to death,” a belief not unreal even though the habitual cynicism seemed to mock it in the very act of utterance[51]. It was not, indeed, like the cry of the prodigal, “I will arise and go to my father;” for that thought of the Divine Fatherhood was as yet but dimly revealed to him; but the old familiar thought that God was his Creator, the Giver of life and breath and all things (ch. Ecclesiastes 5:19, Ecclesiastes 12:1), returned in its fulness and power, and in his own experience he was finding out that his pleasant vices had been made whips to scourge him, and so he learnt that, though he could not fathom the mystery of His judgments, the Creator was also the Judge (ch. Ecclesiastes 11:9). It was in this stage of mental and spiritual growth, of strength growing out of weakness, that he was led to become a writer, and to put on record the results of his experience. He still thought in the language of his fatherland, and therefore in that language he wrote.

[51] It may be well once more to give Heine’s own words. He declines, in his will, the services of any minister of religion, and adds, “This desire springs from no fit of a freethinker. For four years I have renounced all philosophic pride, and have returned back to religious ideas and feelings. I die in the belief of one only God, the Eternal Creator, whose pity I implore for my immortal soul” (Stigand’s Life of Heine, ii. p. 398). Still more striking is the following extract from a letter to his friend Dr Kolb which is quoted in the Globe of Oct. 11, 1880, from a German newspaper: “My sufferings, my physical pains are terrible, and moral ones are not wanting. When I think upon my own condition, a genuine horror falls over me and I am compelled to fold my hands in submission to God’s will (Gott-ergeben) because nothing else is left for me.” In somewhat of the same tone he says somewhere (I have forgotten where), “God will pardon me; c’est son métier.” Elsewhere he writes, in spite of his sufferings, with the lingering love of life which we note in Koheleth (ch. Ecclesiastes 9:4-9, Ecclesiastes 11:7), “O God, how ugly bitter it is to die! O God, how sweetly and snugly one can live in this snug, sweet nest of earth” (Stigand’s Life, ii. p. 421).

A book written under such conditions was not likely to present the characteristics of a systematic treatise. It was, in part, like Pascal’s Pensées, in part, like Heine’s latest poems—the record of a conflict not yet over, though it was drawing near its close. The “Two Voices” of our own poet were there; or rather, the three voices of the pessimism of the satiated sensualist, and the wisdom, such as it was, of the Epicurean thinker, and the growing faith in God, were heard in strange alternation; now one, now another uttering itself, as in an inharmonious discord, to the very close of the book. Now his intellect questioned, now his faith affirmed, as Heine did, the continued existence of the spirit of man after death (chs. Ecclesiastes 3:19, Ecclesiastes 12:7). As conscious of that conflict, and feeling the vanity of fame, as Keats did, when he desired that his only epitaph might be, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water,” he shrank from writing in his own person, and chose as the title of his book that which at once expressed its character and embodied the distinction which at one time he had prized so highly. As men have written under the names of Philalethes or Phileleutheros, as a great thinker of the last century, Abraham Tucker, wrote his Light of Nature Pursued, under the pseudonym of Edward Search, so he came before his readers as Koheleth, Ecclesiastes, the Debater. He was free in that character to utter varying and conflicting views. It is true he went a step further, and also came before them, as though the book recorded the experience of one greater than himself as the seeker after, and possessor of, wisdom. The son of David, king over Israel in Jerusalem, was speaking as through his lips (ch. Ecclesiastes 1:1; Ecclesiastes 1:12; Ecclesiastes 1:16). It was a trick, or rather a fashion, of authorship, such as was afterwards adopted in the Wisdom of Solomon by a man of purer life and higher aim, though less real inspiration, but not a fraud, and the fashion was a dominant one and deceived no one. The students of philosophy habitually conveyed their views in the shape of treatises by Aristotle, or letters or dialogues by Plato. There was scarcely a medical writer of eminence at Alexandria who had not published his views as to the treatment of disease under the name of Hippocrates[52]. Plato and Xenophon had each written an Apologia which was represented as coming from the lips of Socrates. The latter had also composed an ideal biography of Cyrus. And in this case Koheleth might well think that the analogy between his own experience and that of the sage of Israel was more than enough to justify the personation as a form of quasi-dramatic art. Both had gone through a like quest after the chief good, seeking first wisdom and then pleasure, and then the magnificence and the culture that comes from art, and then wisdom again. Both had found that all this was, in the end, unsatisfying. Might he not legitimately hold up the one experience embodied in the form of the other, and put on for the nonce the robes of Solomon, alike in his glorious apparel, and in the sackcloth and ashes, in which, as the legend ran, he had ended his days as a penitent? In his early youth Koheleth had gazed on the ideal picture of Solomon as a pattern which he strove to reproduce. The surroundings of his manhood, the palaces, and gardens, and groves, and museums, and libraries of the Ptolemies enabled him to picture what the monarch’s kingly state had been. In his picture of the close of the life, as was natural, the subjective element predominated over the objective, and we have before us Koheleth himself, and not the Solomon of history.

[52] Sprengel, Hist. de Médecine, i. p. 430.

The analysis of the book itself will, it is believed, confirm the theory now suggested. It will be enough, for the present, to note that from first to last it was, on the view now taken, intensely personal, furnishing nearly all the materials for a memoir; that its main drift and purpose, broken, indeed, by many side eddies, now of cynical bitterness, now of worldly wisdom, now of keen observation, was to warn those who were yet in quest of the chief good against the shoals and rocks and quicksands on which he had well-nigh made utter shipwreck of his faith; that his desire was to deepen the fear of God in which he had at last found the anchor of his soul; that that fear had become more and more a reality as the shadows closed around him; that it had deepened into the conviction that the Creator was also the Judge, and that the Judge of all the earth, sooner or later, would assuredly do right. The close of the book all but coincided with the close of life. He waited, if not with the full assurance of faith, yet with a calm trustfulness, for the hour when the few mourners should “go about the street,” and he should go to his eternal home (ch. Ecclesiastes 12:6); when “the dust should return to the earth as it was, and the spirit should return to God who gave it” (ch. Ecclesiastes 12:7). “Return to God”—that was his last word on the great problem, and that was at once his dread and his consolation.

So the life and the book ended; and it will remain for a distinct enquiry to trace the after history of the latter. Not without reason was it brought by the grandson of Sirach, or some other seeker after truth, from Alexandria to Palestine, and translated by him into Greek[53]. Not without reason did he, or some later Rabbi, add the commendatory verses with which the book now closes, truly describing its effect as that of the goad that spurs on thought, of the nails that, once driven in, cannot easily be plucked out (ch. Ecclesiastes 12:11). Not without reason did the wiser thinkers of the school of Hillel resist the narrow scruples of those of the school of Shammai when the question was debated whether the new unknown book should be admitted to a place side by side with all that was noblest and most precious in their literature[54], and, in spite of seeming contradictions, and Epicurean or heretical tendencies, recognize that in this record of the struggle, the fall, the recovery of a child of Israel, a child of God, there was the narrative of a Divine education told with a genius and power in which they were well content, as all true and reverential thinkers have been content since, to acknowledge a Divine inspiration.

[53] See next Chapter.

[54] See pp. 27, 28.



Some evidence tending to shew that the influence of the former of these books is traceable in the latter has already been laid before the reader in ch. ii. as fixing a date below which we cannot reasonably carry the date of its composition. The relation between the two books requires, however, a closer scrutiny and leads to results of considerable interest. It will be seen that, making allowance for the fact that the one writer is marked by an almost exceptional originality and that the other is avowedly a compiler, there is throughout a striking series of parallelisms, over and above those already noted, such as make the conclusion that the one had the work of the other in his hands all but absolutely certain. The evidence of this statement is necessarily inductive in its character, and the following instances are submitted as an adequate, though not an exhaustive, basis for the induction.

Sir 1:13. Whoso feareth the Lord it shall go well with him.  Ecclesiastes 8:13. But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.

Sir 4:6; Sir 7:30; Sir 24:8; Sir 39:5. “He that made” or the “Creator,” as a name for God.  Ecclesiastes 12:1. Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them.

Sir 4:20. Observe the opportunity (καιρός).  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Sir 6:6. Have but one counseller of a thousand.  Ecclesiastes 7:28. Which yet my soul seeketh, but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.

Sir 8:8. Of them thou shalt learn how to serve great men with ease.  Ecclesiastes 8:2-4; Ecclesiastes 10:20. I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God. Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.… Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?… Curse not the king, no, not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bed-chamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.

Sir 6:14. A faithful friend is a strong defence, and he that hath found such an one hath found a treasure.  Ecclesiastes 4:9. Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.

Sir 9:3. Meet not with a harlot, lest thou be taken with her snares.  Ecclesiastes 7:26. And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.

Sir 10:3. An unwise (ἀπαίδευτος) king destroyeth his people.  Ecclesiastes 4:13. Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished.

  Ecclesiastes 10:16. Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning.

Sir 10:9. Why is earth and ashes proud?  Ecclesiastes 12:7. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Sir 10:23. It is not meet to despise the poor man that hath understanding.  Ecclesiastes 9:15. Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.

Sir 11:5. Many kings have sat down upon the ground; and one that was never thought of hath worn the crown.  Ecclesiastes 10:7. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth.

Sir 11:17. The gift of the Lord remaineth with the godly, and his favour bringeth prosperity for ever.  Ecclesiastes 3:13. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God.

Sir 11:18-19. There is that waxeth rich by his wariness and pinching, and this is the portion of his reward: whereas he saith, I have found rest, and now will eat continually of my goods; and yet he knoweth not what time shall come upon him, and that he must leave those things to others, and die.  Ecclesiastes 2:18-19; Ecclesiastes 5:13; Ecclesiastes 6:2 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. 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.… There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, namely, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt.… A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease.

Sir 12:13. Who will pity a charmer that is bitten with a serpent?  Ecclesiastes 10:8; Ecclesiastes 10:11. Whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.… Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.

Sir 13:23. When a rich man speaketh, every man holdeth his tongue.  Ecclesiastes 9:11; Ecclesiastes 9:16. I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.… Then said I, Wisdom is better than strength; nevertheless the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heard.

Sir 13:26. The finding out of parables is a wearisome labour of the mind.  Ecclesiastes 12:12. Of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.

Sir 14:12. Remember that death will not be long in coming, and that the covenant of the grave (Hades) is not shewn to thee.  Ecclesiastes 8:8. There is no man that hath’ power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.

Sir 15:5. In the midst of the congregation (ἐκκλησία) shall wisdom open his mouth.  Ecclesiastes 12:10. The Preacher sought to find out acceptable words: and that which was written was upright, even words of truth.

Sir 16:4. By one that hath understanding shall the city be replenished.  Ecclesiastes 9:15. Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city; yet no man remembered that same poor man.

Sir 17:28. Thanksgiving perisheth from the dead as from one that is not.  Ecclesiastes 9:4. For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion.

Sir 17:30. All things cannot be in men, because the son of man is not immortal.  Ecclesiastes 3:20-21. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.… Who knoweth the sprit of man that goeth upward, and the sprit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

Sir 18:6. As for the wondrous works of the Lord, there may be nothing taken from them, neither may anything be put unto them, neither can the ground of them be found out.  Ecclesiastes 7:13; Ecclesiastes 11:5. Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?… As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child, even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.

Sir 19:16. Who is he that hath not offended with his tongue?  Ecclesiastes 7:22. For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others.

Sir 20:7. A wise man will hold his tongue till he see opportunity (καιρόν).  Ecclesiastes 3:7. A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.

Sir 25:7; Sir 26:5; Sir 26:28, There be nine things which I have judged in mine heart … and the tenth I will utter with my tongue.… There be three things that mine heart feareth; and for the fourth I was sore afraid.… There be two things that grieve my heart; and the third maketh me angry.  Ecclesiastes 11:2. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.

Sir 26:13. The grace of a wife delighteth her husband.  Ecclesiastes 9:9. Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.

Sir 26:23. A wicked woman is given as a portion to a wicked man: but a godly woman is given to him that feareth the Lord.  Ecclesiastes 7:26. And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.

Sir 27:25-26. Whoso casteth a stone on high casteth it on his own head; and a deceitful stroke shall make wounds.… Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein.  Ecclesiastes 10:8-9. He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.… Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.

Sir 33:15; Sir 42:24. So look upon all the works of the most High; and there are two and two, one against another.… All these things are double one against another.  Ecclesiastes 7:27; Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. Behold, this have I found, saith the Preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account.… To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Sir 34:7. Dreams have deceived many, and they have failed that put their trust in them.  Ecclesiastes 5:7. For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.

Sir 35:4. Thou shalt not appear empty before the Lord.  Ecclesiastes 5:5. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

Sir 33:13. As the clay is in the potter’s hand, to fashion it at his pleasure, so man is in the hand of him that made him.  Ecclesiastes 7:13. Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked?

Sir 38:16. Cover his body according to the custom, and neglect not his burial.  Ecclesiastes 6:3. If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he.

Sir 40:1. Great travail is created for every man, and an heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam.  Ecclesiastes 1:3; Ecclesiastes 1:5. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?… All things are full of labour.

Sir 40:11. All things that are of the earth shall return to the earth again: and that which is of the waters doth return into the sea.  Ecclesiastes 1:7; Ecclesiastes 12:7. 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.… Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Sir 41:4. There is no inquisition in the grave, whether thou hast lived ten, or a hundred, or a thousand years.  Ecclesiastes 6:3-6; Ecclesiastes 9:10. If a man beget an hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say, that an untimely birth is better than he. For he cometh in with vanity, and departeth in darkness, and his name shall be covered with darkness. Moreover he hath not seen the sun, nor known any thing: this hath more rest than the other. Yea, though he live a thousand years twice told, yet hath he seen no good: do not all go to one place?… Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

Making all due allowance, in considering this evidence, for the fact that some at least of the passages cited are of the nature of maxims that form the common stock of well-nigh all ethical teachers, there is enough, it is submitted, to leave little doubt on the mind that the later writer was acquainted with the earlier. Essentially a compiler, and not entering into the deeper genius of Ecclesiastes, the son of Sirach found in it many epigrammatic precepts, summing up a wide experience, and used it as he used the Proverbs of Solomon, and those of his grandfather Jesus, in the collection which he aimed at making as complete as possible.

Assuming this connexion between the two books to be proved we may find, perhaps, in the Prologue and Epilogue of the later work, something that throws light upon the history of the earlier. In the former the son of Sirach tells his readers that he was led to the task of translating and editing the maxims which his grandfather Jesus had written by a previous experimental work of a like nature. When he had come to Egypt at the age of thirty-eight[55], under Euergetes II. (b.c. 170–117) better known in history by his nickname of Physcon, or the Fat, he had found a MS. (ἀφόμοιον, used like the Latin “exemplum”) of no small educational value (οὐ μικρᾶς παιδείας) and “thought it most necessary to give diligence and travail to interpret it.” It is obvious that this must have been altogether distinct from the “Wisdom” of his grandfather Jesus with which he must naturally have become familiar in Palestine, and the question which meets us is, what was the book? and what became of the son of Sirach’s translation of it? The answer which I venture to suggest is that the book was none other than the Ecclesiastes of the Old Testament Canon[56]. The character of the book was precisely such as would attract one who was travelling in search of wisdom, though, as we have seen, he was caught more by its outwardly gnomic character than by its treatment of the deeper underlying problems with which it deals, and which have exercised, as with a mysterious fascination, the ingenuity of later writers. The context seems to imply, though the words do not necessarily involve the idea of a fixed canon, that the book had come to take its place on nearly the same level with “the law and the prophets and the other books” which had been translated from Hebrew into Greek. On this assumption then we may have in this obscure passage the first trace of the reception of Ecclesiastes into the Hebrew Canon, a reception which we may in part, at least, attribute to the commendatory verses in ch. Ecclesiastes 12:9-10 which were clearly added by some one other than the writer and which, on this assumption, may well have been written by the son of Sirach himself. Is it not, we may add, a probable inference that it was this connexion that led to the title Ecclesiasticus by which the book, which in the Hebrew MSS. that Jerome had seen bore the title of “Proverbs” and in the LXX. that of the “Wisdom of Sirach” (a title singularly misleading, as that was the name neither of the author or the translator), was known in the Latin Version? Would it not be natural, if the Greek Version came from the pen of the son of Sirach, and if his own book presented manifest traces of its influence, that he should sooner or later come to be known as belonging to the same school, an Ecclesiasticus following in the track of an Ecclesiastes? The common traditional view, adopted without question, from Rufinus (Comm. in Symb. c. 38), that here the word has the distinctly Christian sense which is altogether absent from Ecclesiastes, and describes the character of the book as “Ecclesiastical,” i.e. read in church or used in the public instruction of catechumens and young men, is surely a less probable explanation, to say nothing of the absence of any proof that it was so used[57], and of any sufficient reason why a name, which in this sense, must have been common to many books, should have been confined to this one.

[55] This is held by most scholars (e.g. Westcott) to be the natural rendering of the sentence. By some, however, it has been taken as referring to the thirty-eighth year of the king’s reign. Neither of the two Ptolemies, however, who bore the name of Euergetes, had so long a reign as this, unless we include in that of Euergetes II. the time in which he ruled conjointly with his brother Ptolemy Philometor. Another interpretation refers the words to the thirty-eighth year of the son of Sirach’s stay in Egypt. On any supposition the words bring us to a later date than that to which we have assigned the composition of Ecclesiastes.

[56] It is perhaps worth mentioning that this view of the passage in its general meaning has been maintained by Arnold in his Commentary on Ecclesiasticus. He supposes, however, that the MS. in question was the Wisdom of Solomon. It will be seen in the next chapter that there are good grounds for assigning to that book a considerably later date.

[57] The nearest approach to such a proof is found in the statement of Athanasius (Ep. Fest. s. f.) that the book was “one of those framed by the fathers for the use of those who wished to be instructed in the way of godliness,” (Westcott, Art. Ecclesiasticus, in Smith’s Dict. of Bible). It is obvious however that this applied to a whole class of books, not to this in particular.

One more conjecture presents itself as throwing light on the prayer of the son of Sirach, in all probability the translator and not the original author of the book[58], which forms the last chapter of Ecclesiasticus. The occasion of that prayer was the deliverance of the writer from some extreme peril. He had been accused to the king and his life had been in danger. He does not name the king, probably because he had already done so in the Prologue, and had fixed the time when he had come under his power. He does not name the nature of the charge, but the Apologia that follows (Sir 51:13-30) seems to imply that in what he had done he had been pursuing the main object of his life, had been seeking wisdom and instruction (παιδείαν). May not the charge have been connected with the Greek translation of Ecclesiastes which we have seen good reason to look on as his handiwork? Those pointed words as to the corrupt and oppressive government of the king’s provinces (ch. Ecclesiastes 5:8), those vivid portraits of the old and foolish, or of the young and profligate, king (chs. Ecclesiastes 4:13, Ecclesiastes 10:16), of princes revelling in luxury while the poor were starving (ch. Ecclesiastes 10:16), might well seem to the cruel and suspicious king to be offensive and dangerous, while the turn for literature which led him to become an author, would naturally also lead him to take cognizance of a new Greek book beginning to be circulated among his Jewish subjects. That the translator’s Apologia was successful may partly have been due to the fact that he could point to passages which more than balanced what had given occasion of offence by apparently enjoining the most entire and absolute submission to the king’s lightest words, and prohibiting even the mere utterance of discontent (ch. Ecclesiastes 10:4; Ecclesiastes 10:20).

[58] This, it may be mentioned, is the view taken by Grotius and Prideaux. They agree in assigning the incident of the peril to the reign of Ptolemy Physcon.



The coincidences between the teaching of the unknown author of Ecclesiastes and that of the Son of Sirach are, it will be admitted, whatever estimate may be formed of the inferences drawn from them, interesting and suggestive. They at least shew that the one writer was more or less influenced by the other. Those that present themselves on a comparison of the former book with the Wisdom of Solomon are of a very different yet not less suggestive character. Before entering on an examination of them it will be well to sum up briefly all that is known as to the external history of the book to the study of which that comparison invites us. The facts are few and simple. It is not mentioned by name by any pre-Christian writer. The earliest record of its existence is found in the Muratorian Fragment (a. d. 170) where it is said to have been “ab amicis Solomonis in honorem ipsius scripta.” An ingenious conjecture of Dr Tregelles suggests, as has been stated above (Note p. 21), that this was a mistaken rendering of a Greek text on which the Latin writer of the Fragment based his Canon, and that the original ascribed the authorship of the book to Philo of Alexandria. The statement that Philo was probably the writer of the book is repeated by Jerome. The book is found in all the great MSS. of the LXX. but these do not carry us further back than the 4th or 5th century of the Christian æra. We have, however, indirect evidence of its existence at an earlier period. Two passages are found in Clement of Rome which make it all but absolutely certain that he must have been acquainted with the book.

(1) Who will say to him, What didst thou? or who will resist the might of his strength? Clem. R. i. 27.  (1) For who will say, What didst thou? or who will resist thy judgment? Wis 12:12.

  Who will resist the might of thine arm? Wis 11:22.

(2) Unrighteous envy … by which also death entered into the world. Clem. R. i. 3.  (2) By envy of the devil death entered into the world. Wis 2:24.

Among the earlier post-apostolic Fathers, and we need not go beyond these for our present purpose, Irenæus is said to have written a book “on various passages of the Wisdom of Solomon and the Epistle to the Hebrews” (Euseb. Hist. Eccles. v. 26). Clement of Alexandria quotes the teaching as “divine” (Strom. iv. 16, 17). Tertullian quotes it, sometimes without naming it (Adv. Marc. iii. 22), sometimes as being the work of Solomon (Adv. Valent. c. 2). So far we have evidence of its being read and held in honour at the latter part of the first and throughout the second century, but not earlier.

A comparison of the Book of Wisdom with some of the writings of the New Testament leads, however, to the conclusion that it must have been more or less studied between a. d. 50 and a. d. 70. Dr Westcott has called attention (Smith’s Dict. of the Bible. Art. Wisdom of Solomon) to some striking parallelisms with the Epistles of St Paul, and these it may be well to bring before the reader.

-1Wis 15:7. The potter, tempering soft earth, fashioneth every vessel with much labour for our service: yea, of the same clay he maketh both the vessels that serve for clean uses, and likewise all such as serve to the contrary.  (1) Romans 9:21. Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

-2Wis 12:20. If thou didst punish the enemies of thy people, and the condemned to death, with such deliberation, giving them time and place to repent of their malice …  (2) Romans 9:22. What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.

-3Wis 5:17-19. He shall put on righteousness as a breastplate, and true judgment instead of an helmet. He shall take holiness for an invincible shield. His severe wrath shall he sharpen for a sword.  (3) 1 Thessalonians 5:8, Ephesians 6:13-17. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.… Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

The coincidences of the Wisdom of Solomon with the thoughts and language of the Epistle to the Hebrews are yet more numerous. They are enough, as I have elsewhere endeavoured to shew[59], to suggest the thought of identity of authorship. With that hypothesis, however, we are not now concerned, and I content myself with noting a few that are sufficient to establish the conclusion that the former book must have been known to the writer of the latter. Thus in the opening of the Epistle we have the two characteristic words πολυμερῶς (“in sundry parts,” or “times”) agreeing with the πολυμερές (“manifold”) of Wis 7:22, and ἀπαύγασμα (“brightness”) with Wis 7:26. In Wis 18:22 the “Almighty Word” is represented as bringing “the unfeigned commandment as a sharp sword” and in Hebrews 4:12 that Word is described as “sharper than any two-edged sword.” In Wis 1:6, “God is witness of his reins and a true beholder of his heart,” and in Hebrews 4:12 the divine Word is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The following characteristic words are common to both: the “place of repentance” (Wis 12:10; Hebrews 12:17), Moses as the servant (θεράπων = “attendant”) of God (Wis 17:21; Hebrews 3:5), Enoch translated, μετετέθη (Wis 4:10; Hebrews 11:5), ὑπόστασις (= “substance” or “confidence” Wis 16:21; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 3:14), τελειότης (= “perfection” Wis 6:15; Hebrews 6:1), βεβαίωσις (= “confirmation” Wis 6:18; Hebrews 6:6), ἀπολείπεται (= “there remaineth” Wis 14:6; Hebrews 4:6), πρόδρομος (= “fore-runner” Wis 12:8; Hebrews 6:20). The above instances are but a few out of a long list, but they are sufficient for our present purpose. It may be added that both books present numerous parallelisms with the writings of Philo[60].

[59] See Expositor, Vol. ii. Two papers on “the Writings of Apollos.”

[60] See the papers on “the Writings of Apollos” already referred to.

It follows from the facts thus brought together, as well as from an examination of the book itself, that the Wisdom of Solomon was known to Hellenistic Jews early in the Apostolic age, that it probably had its origin in the Jewish School of Alexandria, or that its writer was acquainted with the works of the greatest of the teachers of that school. Looking to the work itself we find that he had at least some knowledge of the ethical teaching of Greek philosophers, and enumerates the four great virtues, of “courage, temperance, justice, prudence” (ἀνδρεία, σωφροσυνή, δικαιοσυνή, φρόνησις), as they enumerated them (Wis 8:7). With these data we may proceed to examine the relation in which he stands to the two books which have already been discussed in their relation to each other. The title of his book “Wisdom” indicates that he challenged comparison with the “Wisdom” of the son of Sirach. The form which he adopts for his teaching, his personation of the character of Solomon (Wis 7:7-11; Wis 8:14; Wis 9:7-8), shews that he did not shrink from challenging comparison with Ecclesiastes. A closer scrutiny shews, if I mistake not, that a main purpose of his book was to correct either the teaching of that book, or a current misinterpretation of it. Let us remember in what light it must have presented itself to him. It had not, if our conclusion as to its authorship be right, the claim which comes from the reverence due to the authority of a remote antiquity or an unquestioned acceptance. He must have known that it had not been received as canonical without a serious opposition, that the strictest school of Pharisees had been against its reception, that it had seemed to them tainted with the heresy of Epicureanism and Sadduceeism. If it was interpreted then as it has often been interpreted since, it may have seemed to him to sanction a lawless sensuality, to fall in with the thoughts of those who said “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” to throw doubt, if not denial, on the soul’s immortality. Was this, he seems to have asked himself, the true ideal of wisdom? Was it not his duty to bring before men another Solomon than that whose experience seemed to end in materialism and pessimism, in the scepticism of an endless doubt? And so he too adopts, without any hesitation, the form of personated authorship. He has indeed less dramatic power than his predecessor. His Solomon is more remote from the Solomon of history than that of Koheleth. The magnificence, the luxury, the voluptuousness, which the earlier writer portrays so vividly, not less than the idolatry which is so prominent in the historical Solomon, are passed over here. The Son of David, as painted by him, is simply an ideal sage, a kind of Numa Pompilius, consecrating his life from beginning to end to the pursuit of wisdom, blameless and undefiled (Wis 7:8). Looked at from this point of view the opening of his book is in its very form sufficiently significant. He will not call himself an Ecclesiastes or Debater. It seems to him that the work of a teacher is to teach and not merely to discuss. The wisdom which inspires him is authoritative and queen-like. He is, what Koheleth is not, a “preacher” in the modern sense of the word, and calls on men to listen with attention (Wis 1:1). Had his predecessor counselled submission to the tyranny of kings, and accepted the perversion of judgment and justice as inevitable (Ecclesiastes 5:8; Ecclesiastes 10:4; Ecclesiastes 10:20), he, for his part, will call on the judges of the earth and kings, and rebuke them for their oppressions (Wis 1:1; Wis 6:1-10). Had Koheleth spoken of seeking wisdom in wine and revelry, and the “delights” of the sons of men (Ecclesiastes 2:1-8), he will proclaim that “wisdom will not dwell in the body that is subject unto sin” (Wis 1:4) and that “the true beginning of her is the desire of discipline” (Wis 7:17). Had the earlier writer spoken bitter things of men and yet more of women (ch. Ecclesiastes 7:28), he will remind his hearers that wisdom is a “loving,” a “philanthropic,” spirit (φιλάνθρωπον πνεῦμα, Wis 1:6). To the ever-recurring complaint that all things are “vanity and feeding upon wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14; Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:26, et al.) he opposes the teaching that “murmuring is unprofitable” (Wis 1:11). The thought that death was better than life, to be desired as an everlasting sleep (Ecclesiastes 6:4-5), he meets with the warning “seek not death in the error of your life” (Wis 1:12), ventures even on the assertion that “God made not death,” that it was an Enemy that had done this, that life and not death was contemplated in the Divine Purpose as the end of man (Wis 1:13). It was only the ungodly who counted death their friend (Wis 1:16). In the second chapter of the book, there is a still more marked antagonism. He puts into the mouth of the “ungodly” what appears in Ecclesiastes as coming from the writer himself. It is they who say “our life is short and miserable” (Wis 2:6; Ecclesiastes 8:6), that “we shall be hereafter as though we had never been” (Wis 2:2; Ecclesiastes 9:5-6), that death and life are both determined by a random chance, “at all adventure” (Wis 2:2; Ecclesiastes 9:11), that “our body shall be turned into ashes, and our spirit vanish in the soft air” (Wis 2:3; Ecclesiastes 3:19; Ecclesiastes 12:7)[61], that after death the doom of oblivion soon overtakes man and all his actions (Wis 2:4; Ecclesiastes 1:11). They take up almost the very words of Koheleth when they say “Let us enjoy the good things that are present … Let us fill ourselves with costly wine and ointments” (Wis 2:7; Ecclesiastes 9:7-9). Had the despondent pessimist mourned over the fact that the “wise man dieth as the fool,” that there is one event to the righteous and the wicked” (Ecclesiastes 7:15; Ecclesiastes 9:2), the answer is ready—that it was only “in the sight of the unwise they seemed to die,” and that their hope is full of immortality (Wis 3:2). Had he declared that he had not found one righteous woman after all his searching (Ecclesiastes 7:26), he is met with the half-personal answer that that was but natural, that it was true of all who despised wisdom and nurture that “their wives are foolish and their children wicked” (Wis 3:12). Had he taught, or been thought to teach, a life which was emancipated from all restraints and welcomed on almost equal terms children born in and out of wedlock (see Notes on Ecclesiastes 9:9; Ecclesiastes 11:1-2), entering as it were, a protest against the asceticism which afterwards developed itself into the rule of the more rigid Essenes, the voice of the writer of Wisdom declares that “blessed is the barren who is undefiled” and “the eunuch, which with his hands hath wrought no iniquity” (Wis 3:14), that it is better “to have no children and to have virtue” (Wis 4:1), that “the multiplying brood of the ungodly shall not thrive.” Had the sceptical thinker spoken in terms which suggested the thought that he looked on the hope of immortality and the enthusiasm of virtue as no less a form of insanity than the passionate vices of mankind (Ecclesiastes 1:17; Ecclesiastes 2:12; Ecclesiastes 7:25), the author of the Wisdom of Solomon puts into the mouth of the scoffers the confession “we fools counted his life madness” (Wis 4:4).

[61] I hold this to be a misinterpretation of the meaning of Ecclesiastes 12:7, but it was not the less a natural interpretation at the time, and has often been accepted since.

And the corrective antagonism of the later writer to the earlier is seen not less clearly in the fact that he gives prominence to what had been before omitted than in these direct protests. It seemed to him a strange defect that a book professing to teach wisdom should contain from first to last no devotional element, and therefore he puts into the mouth of his ideal Solomon a prayer of singular power and beauty for the gift of wisdom (Wisdom 9). He, an Israelite, proud of the history of his fathers, could not understand a man writing almost as if he had ceased to be an Israelite, one to whom the names of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob were unknown, and therefore he enters on a survey of that history to shew that it had all along been a process manifesting the law at once of a Divine retribution, and of a Divine education (Wis 10:11). He could as little understand how a son of Abraham, writing in Egypt with all the monuments of its old idolatries and later developments of the same tendency to anthropomorphic and theriomorphic worship around him, could have let slip the opportunity of declaring that God is a spirit (Wis 12:1) and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth; that the worship of “fire or wind, or the swift air or the circle of the stars, or the violent water or the lights of heaven” (Wis 13:1-4) was relatively noble, “less to be blamed” as compared with the gross idolatry which stirred his spirit within him—as that of Athens stirred the spirit of St Paul—as he walked through the streets of Alexandria. The one idea of God presented in Ecclesiastes seemed to him to be that of Power, hardly of Law, predestinating times and seasons (Ecclesiastes 3:1-10) and the chances and changes of men’s lives (Ecclesiastes 9:11), working out a partial retribution for man’s misdeeds within the limits of earthly experience (Ecclesiastes 11:9; Ecclesiastes 12:14), but leaving many wrongs and anomalies unredressed (Ecclesiastes 5:8; Ecclesiastes 8:11). He seeks therefore to bring before men that thought of the Fatherhood of God, which was beginning to dawn upon men’s minds, some echoes of which (if our conclusion as to the date of the book be right) had perhaps floated to him from the lips that proclaimed that Fatherhood in its fulness. He had heard, it may be, that One had appeared in Galilee and Jerusalem who “professed to have the knowledge of God, and called himself the ‘child’ or ‘servant’ (παῖδα) of the Lord and made his boast that God was his Father” (Wis 2:13-16), that He had been slandered, conspired against, mocked, and put to death, that Sadducean priests had stood by his cross deriding Him, “if the righteous man be the son of God, He will help him and deliver him from the hands of his enemies. Let us examine him with despitefulness and torture and condemn him with a shameful death” (Wis 2:18-20) and that marvellous history had stirred him into a glow of admiration for Him whom as yet he knew not. He could not subside after that into the tone of mind which looks on “life as a pastime and our time here as a market for gain” (Wis 15:12).

It will be seen in the Commentary that follows that I look on the estimate which the author of the Wisdom of Solomon formed of Ecclesiastes as a wrong one, that he was wanting in the insight that sees the real drift which is the resultant of cross currents and conflicting lines of thought. The mystical ascetic who had been trained in the school of Philo, who was, it may be, to develope afterwards, under a higher teaching, into the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, lived and moved in a region of thought and feeling altogether different from that of the man who had passed through a multiform experience of wine and wisdom, of love and madness, of passion and “feeding upon wind.” But it is not the less instructive to note how such a writer treated the earlier book which also professed to embody the Wisdom of Solomon, of which he could not possibly have been ignorant, and which seemed to him to tend to the popular easy-going Epicureanism that was destructive of all lofty aims and nobleness of character.



It is, perhaps, natural in dealing with a book which presents so many difficulties both in particular passages and in its general drift, to turn to the interpreters who belonged to the same race and spoke the same language as the writer. How did they understand this or that expression? What did they gather from the book as its chief substantial lesson? And of these we look naturally, in the first instance, with most interest and expectation to the book which gives us the expression, not of an individual opinion, but of the collective wisdom of Israel. We have heard, it may be, high things of the beauty of the Haggadistic mode of interpretation that prevailed in the schools out of which the Mishna, the Gemara, the Targum, and the Midrashim sprang[62]. We open the Midrash, or Commentary, on Koheleth in the hope that we shall see our way through passages that have before been dark, that some light will be thrown on the meaning of words and phrases that have perplexed us. What we actually find answers to the parable of the blind leading the blind and both falling into the ditch (Matthew 15:14); rules of interpretation by which anything can be made to mean anything else; legends of inconceivable extravagance passing the utmost limits of credibility; an absolute incapacity for getting at the true meaning of a single paragraph or sentence,—this makes up the store of accumulated wisdom to which we had fondly looked forward. Instead of a “treasure” of “things new and old,” the pearls and gems, the silver and the gold, of the wisdom of the past, we find ourselves in an old clothes’ shop full of shreds and patches, of rags and tatters. We seem, as we read, to be listening to “old wives’ fables” and old men’s dreams. A suspicion floats across our mind that the interpretations are delirantium somnia in the most literal sense of the word. We involuntarily ask, Can these men have been in their right minds? Are we not listening to a debate of insane Commentators? Is not the Midrash as a Critici Sacri compiled and edited within the walls of Colney Hatch? Of other expositions it is true that they “to some faint meaning make pretence.” Of this alone, or almost alone, it may be said that it “never deviates into sense.”

[62] The terms may be briefly explained for the reader to whom they are wholly or comparatively new. The Targums (= Interpretation) are the Chaldee or Aramaic Paraphrases of the Books of the Old Testament. The Mishna (= repetition or study) is a collection of Treatises on various points, chiefly ceremonial or juristic, in the Mosaic Law. The Gemara (= completeness) is a commentary on, or development of, the Mishna, the contents of which have been classified as coming under two categories, (1) the Halachah (= Rule), which includes the enactments of the Mishna in their application to life, and answers accordingly to the casuistic systems of Scholastic Theology, and (2) the Haggadah (= Legend, or Saga) which comprises a wide range of legendary, allegorical, and mystical interpretation. The Midrashim (= studies, or expositions) are commentaries, collecting the opinions of distinguished Rabbis on the Books of the Old Testament, and these also contain the Halachah and Haggadah as their chief elements. Deutsch. Essays, pp. 17–20, 41–51.

Would the reader like to judge for himself and try his luck at Sortes Midrashianœ? I take a few samples at a venture.

-1Ecclesiastes 1:7, “All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full.” Of this verse we have a wide variety of interpretations: (a) All wisdom is in the heart of man and the heart is not full. (b) The whole law goes into the heart and the heart is not satisfied. (c) All people will join themselves to Israel and yet the number of Israel will still grow. (d) All the dead pass into Hades and Hades is not full. (e) All Israelites go on their yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem and yet the Temple is never crowded. (f) All riches flow into the kingdom of Edom (= Rome), but in the days of the Messiah they shall be brought back.

-2Ecclesiastes 4:8, “There is one alone, and there is not a second; yea, he has neither child nor brother.” (a) He who is alone is God, the ever-blessed One. (b) Or he is Abraham, who had no son or brother or wife when he was thrown into Nimrod’s furnace, when he was told to leave his father’s house, and when he was commanded to offer up his only son Isaac; or (c) He who is alone, is the tribe of Levi, who found “no end of all his labour” in erecting the Tabernacle; or (d) that which is alone is the evil lust which leads a man to sin and breaks the ties of kindred; or (e) the words describe Gebini ben Charson who was his mother’s only son and was blind and could not see his wealth and had no end of trouble with it.

-3Ecclesiastes 9:14-16. “There was a little city and few men within it, and there came a great king and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it. Now there was found in it a poor wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city.” Here again the expositions are manifold. (a) The city is the world, and the few men are those that lived at the time of the Flood and the king is Jehovah, and the wise man is Noah. (b) The city is Egypt and the king is Pharaoh, and the poor wise man is Joseph. (c) The city is Egypt and the few men are Joseph’s brethren and the king is Joseph, and the wise man is Judah. (d) The city is Egypt and the men are the Israelites, and the king is the Pharaoh of the Exodus, and the wise man is Moses. (e) The city is Sinai, the men are the Israelites and the king is the King of kings, and the bulwarks are the 613 precepts of the Law, and the wise man is Moses. (f) The city is Sinai and the few men are the Israelites, and the king is the lust of the flesh, and the wise man is Moses. (g) The little city is the Synagogue, and the men are the assembly in it, and the king is the King of kings and the wise man is the elder of the Synagogue. (h) The city is the human body, and the men are its limbs, and the king is the lust of the flesh, and the bulwarks are temptations and errors, and the wise man is Conscience.

A few more specimens will be enough to complete the induction. The “dead flies” of Ecclesiastes 10:1 are (a) Korah and his company; or (b) Doeg and Ahithophel. The precept, “give a portion to seven and also to eight” of Ecclesiastes 11:3, is explained as referring (a) to the Laws of the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week and of Circumcision on the eighth day after birth; or (b) to Moses as in the seventh generation from Abraham and Joshua as representing the eighth; or (c) to the ceremonial precept of Leviticus 12:1-3; or (d) to the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles and the closing festival of the eighth day. The maxim, “in the morning sow thy seed and in the evening withhold not thine hand” of Ecclesiastes 11:6, means Marry in thy youth and beget children, and if thy wife dies, marry again in thine age and beget more children. “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth …” means “Rejoice in the study of the Law and let thy heart cheer thee with the doctrine of the Mishna and walk in the ways of thy heart, i.e. of the higher knowledge of the Talmud.” The “evil days” of Ecclesiastes 12:1 are the days of the Messiah and of the great tribulation that accompanies them. The “mourners that go about the streets” are the worms that feed upon the carcase (Ecclesiastes 12:5). The “clouds that return after the rain” are the stern prophecies of Jeremiah that came after the destruction of the Temple. The “pitcher broken at the fountain” (Ecclesiastes 12:6) is the potter’s vessel of Jeremiah 36:18. The “grasshopper” of Ecclesiastes 12:6 is the golden image of Nebuchadnezzar.

The student will probably think that he has had enough and more than enough of the insanities of the Midrash Koheleth.

If the Midrash fail us, shall we fare better with the Targum, or Paraphrase, of Ecclesiastes? Here at any rate we are not involved in a labyrinth of conflicting interpretations each more monstrous than the other. The mass of opinions has been sifted, and the judicious editor, compiling, as it were, a Commentary for use in families and schools, has selected that which seems to him most in accordance with the meaning of the original, explaining its hard passages so as to make them easy and edifying for the unlearned reader. Let us see what he will find in this instance and how the edification is obtained.

Text.  Targum.

Ecclesiastes 1:3. What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?  What advantage is there to a man after his death, from all his labour which he laboured under the sun in this world, except he studied the word of God, in order to receive a good reward in the world to come?

Ecclesiastes 1:11. Neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.  There will be no remembrance of them among the generations which will be in the days of the King Messiah.

Ecclesiastes 1:17. I the Preacher was king over Israel in Jerusalem.  When king Solomon was sitting upon the throne of his kingdom, his heart became very proud of his riches, and he transgressed the word of God, and he gathered many horses, and chariots, and riders, and he amassed much gold, and silver, and he married from foreign nations; whereupon the anger of the Lord was kindled against him, and he sent to him Ashmodai the king of the demons, who drove him from the throne of his kingdom, and took away the ring from his hand, in order that he should wander about the world to reprove it, and he went about in the provincial towns and cities of the land of Israel, weeping and lamenting, and saying, I am Koheleth whose name was formerly called Solomon, who was king over Israel in Jerusalem.

Ecclesiastes 2:4. I made me great works: I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards.  I multiplied good works in Jerusalem. I built houses, the Temple, to make atonement for Israel, and a royal palace, and a conclave, and the porch, and a house of judgment of hewn stones where the wise men sit, and the judges to give judgment. I made a throne of ivory for the sitting of royalty. I planted vineyards in Jabne, that I and the Rabbis of the Sanhedrin might drink wine, and also to make libations of wine new and old upon the altar.

Ecclesiastes 2:10. My wisdom remained with me.  Whatsoever the Rabbis of the Sanhedrin asked of me respecting pure and impure, innocent and guilty, I did not withhold from them any explanation of these things.

Ecclesiastes 2:18. Because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.  Because I must leave it to Rehoboam my son who comes after me, and Jeroboam his servant will come and take away out of his hands ten tribes, and will possess half of the kingdom.

Ecclesiastes 3:1. A time to be born, and a time to die.  There is a special time for begetting sons and daughters, and a special time for killing disobedient and perverse children, to kill them with stones according to the decree of the judges.

Ecclesiastes 3:11. He hath made everything beautiful in his time.  King Solomon said by the spirit of prophecy, God made everything beautiful in its time; for it was opportune that there should be the strife which was in the days of Jeroboam son of Nebat: for if it had been in the days of Sheba, son of Bichri, the Temple would not have been built because of the golden calves which the wicked Jeroboam made … He concealed from them also the great Name written and expressed on the foundation stone.

Ecclesiastes 3:19. That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts.  For as to the destiny of the wicked and the destiny of the unclean beast, it is one destiny for both of them.

Ecclesiastes 4:13. Better is a poor and wise child than an old and foolish king.  Better Abraham, who is the poor youth and in whom is the spirit of prophecy from the Lord, and to whom the Lord was known when three years old, and who would not worship an idol, than the wicked Nimrod who was an old and foolish king. And because Abraham would not worship an idol he threw him into the burning furnace, and a miracle was performed for him of the Lord of the world, and He delivered him from it … For Abraham went out from the family of idolaters, and reigned over the land of Canaan; for even in the reign of Abraham Nimrod became poor in the world.… [Then follows a long prediction like that in the paraphrase of chap. Ecclesiastes 3:11 of the revolt of the ten tribes under Jeroboam.]

Ecclesiastes 5:7. In the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.  In the multitude of the dreams of the false prophets, and in the vanities of sorcerers, and in the many words of the wicked, believe not, but serve the wise and just.

Ecclesiastes 5:6. Neither say thou before the angel that it was an error.  In the day of the great judgment thou wilt not be able to say before the avenging angel who exercises dominion over thee, that it is an error.

Ecclesiastes 6:6. Do not all go to one place?  If he … had not studied the law … in the day of his death he will go to Gehenna, to the place whither all sinners go.

Ecclesiastes 6:8. What hath the poor, that knoweth to walk before the living?  What is this poor man to do but to study the law of the Lord, that he may know how he will have to walk in the presence of the righteous in Paradise?

Ecclesiastes 7:4. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning.  The heart of the wise mourns over the destruction of the Temple, and grieves over the captivity of the house of Israel.

Ecclesiastes 7:15. All things have I seen in the days of my vanity.  All this I saw in the days of my vanity, that from the Lord are decreed good and evil to be in the world according to the planets under which men are created.

Ecclesiastes 7:16. Be not righteous over much.  Be not over-righteous when the wicked is found guilty of death in the court of judgment: so as to have compassion on him, and not to kill him.

Ecclesiastes 7:24. That which is far off, and exceeding deep, who can find it out?  Who is he that will find out by his wisdom the secret of the day of death, and the secret of the day when the King Messiah will come?

Ecclesiastes 7:28. One man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.  From the days of the first Adam till the righteous Abraham was born, who was found faithful and just among the thousand kings that gathered together to build the tower of Babel? and a woman, as Sarah, among all the wives of those kings I have not found.

Ecclesiastes 8:14. There be just men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous.  There are righteous to whom evil happens as if they had done like the deeds of the wicked; and there are wicked to whom it happens as if they had done like the deeds of the righteous; and I saw by the Holy Spirit that the evil which happens to the righteous in this world is not for their guilt, but to free them from a slight transgression, that their reward may be perfect in the world to come; and the good that comes to sinners in this world is not for their merits, but to render them a reward for the small merit they have acquired, so that they may get their reward in this world, and to destroy their portion in the world to come.

Ecclesiastes 9:2. All things come alike to all.  Everything depends upon the planets; whatever happens to any one is fixed in heaven.

Ecclesiastes 9:8. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.  At all times let thy garment be white from all pollution of sin, and acquire a good name, which is likened to anointing oil.

Ecclesiastes 9:14. There was a little city, and few men within it …  Also this I saw … the body of a man which is like a small city … and in it are a few mighty men just as the merits in the heart of man are few; and the evil spirit who is like a great and powerful king, enters into the body to seduce it … to catch him in the great snares of Gehenna, in order to burn him seven times for his sin. And there is found in the body a good spirit, humble and wise, and he prevails over him and subdues him by his wisdom, and saves the body from the judgment of Gehenna.

Ecclesiastes 10:7. I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants.  King Solomon said by the spirit of prophecy, I saw nations who were before subject to the people of the house of Israel, now prosperous and riding on horses like princes, whilst the people of the house of Israel and their princes walk on the ground like slaves.

Ecclesiastes 11:9. Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby.  King Solomon the prophet said, It is revealed to me that Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, will sin and worship idols of stone; wherefore he will be delivered into the hands of the king of Assyria, and he will fasten him with halters: because he made void the words of the law which are written on the tables of stone from the beginning, therefore he will suffer from it; and Rabshakeh his brother will worship an image of wood, and forsake the words of the law which are laid in the ark of shittim-wood; therefore he shall be burned in a fire by the angel of the Lord.

Ecclesiastes 10:16-17. Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning. Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season.  Woe to thee, O land of Israel, when wicked Jeroboam shall reign over thee, and remove from thee the morning sacrifices, and thy princes shall eat bread before offering the daily morning sacrifice. Well to thee, O land of Israel, When Hezekiah son of Ahaz, from the family of the house of David, king of Israel, who is mighty in the land, shall reign over thee, and shall perform the obligations of the commandments, and thy nobles, after having brought thee the daily sacrifice, shall eat bread at the fourth hour.

Ecclesiastes 10:20. Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber; for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.  Even in thy mind, in the innermost recesses of thy heart, curse not the king, and in thy bedchamber revile not a wise man, for the angel Raziel proclaims every day from heaven upon Mount Horeb, and the sound thereof goes into all the world; and Elijah the high-priest hovers in the air like an angel, the king of the winged tribe, and discloses the things that are done in secret to all the inhabitants of the earth.

Ecclesiastes 12:5. The mourners go about the streets.  The angels that seek thy judgment walk about like mourners, walking about the streets, to write the account of thy judgments.

Ecclesiastes 12:11. The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd.  The words of the wise are like goads that prick, and forks which incite those who are destitute of knowledge to learn wisdom as the goad teaches the ox; and so are the words of the rabbis of the Sanhedrin, the masters of the Halachas and Midrashim which were given through Moses the prophet; who alone fed the people of the house of Israel in the wilderness with manna and delicacies.

Ecclesiastes 12:12. And further, by these, my son, be admonished; of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.  And more than these, my son, take care to make many books of wisdom without an end, to study much the words of the law and to consider the weariness of the flesh.

It will be felt from the extracts thus brought together[63] that the Targum is on the whole pleasanter reading than the Midrash. The traces of discordant interpretation are carefully effaced. All flows on smoothly as if there never had been and never could be any doubt as to what the writer of the original book had meant. Hard sayings are made easy. A spiritual, or at least an ethical, turn is given to words which seemed at first to suggest quite other than spiritual conclusions. The writer of the book, whose identity with Solomon is not questioned for a moment, is made to appear not only as a moral teacher but in the higher character of a prophet. The illustrations drawn from the history of Israel, the introduction of the name of Jehovah, the constant reference to the Shechinah and the Law, give the paraphrase a national and historical character not possessed by the original. The influence of the planets as determining men’s characters and the events that fashion them is brought in as a theory of predestination easier to receive than that which ascribes all that happens to the direct and immediate action of the Divine Will. All is done, in one sense, to edification.

[63] I have to acknowledge my obligations for these extracts to the translation of the Targum appended to Dr Ginsburg’s Koheleth.

The misfortune is, however, that the edification is purchased at the cost of making the writer say just the opposite, in many cases, of what he actually did say. As Koheleth personates Solomon, so the paraphrast personates Koheleth, and the confessions of the Debater, with their strange oscillations and contrasts, become a fairly continuous homily. In all such interpretations, and the Targum of Koheleth is but a sample of a wide-spread class which includes other than Jewish commentators, there is at once an inherent absence of truthfulness and a want of reverence. The man will not face facts, but seeks to hide them or gloss them over. He assumes that he is wiser than the writer whom he interprets, practically, i.e. he claims for himself a higher inspiration. He prefers the traditions of the school in which he has been brought up to the freshness of the Divine word as it welled forth out of the experience of a human heart.

With the eleventh century we enter on a fresh line of Jewish interpreters of the book. The old rabbinical succession had more or less died out, and the Jewish school of Europe began to be conspicuous for a closer and more grammatical exegesis of the sacred text. An interesting survey of the literature which thus grew up, so far as it bears on the interpretation of Ecclesiastes, will be found in the Introduction to Dr Ginsburg’s Commentary. It is marked, as might be expected, by more thoroughness and more individual study, a truer endeavour to get at the real meaning of the book. Each man takes his place in the great army of Commentators and works on his own responsibility. To go through their labour would be an almost interminable task. It was worth while to give some account of the Midrash and the Targum because they represented certain dominant methods and lines of thought, but it does not fall within the scope of this volume to examine the works of all Jewish interpreters simply because they are Jewish, any more than of those that are Christian.



It does not fall, as has been just said, within the plan of the present book, to give a review of the Commentaries on Ecclesiastes that have preceded it, so far as they represent only the opinions of individual writers. The case is, however, as before, altered when they represent a school of thought or a stage in the history of interpretation, and where accordingly the outcome of their labours illustrates more or less completely the worth of the method they adopted, the authority which may rightly be given to the dicta of the School.

It has been said (Ginsburg, p. 99), that Ecclesiastes is nowhere quoted in the New Testament, and as far as direct, formal quotations are concerned the assertion is strictly true. It was not strange that it should thus be passed over. The controversy already referred to (Ch. iii.) between the schools of Hillel and Shammai as to its reception into the Canon, the doubts that hung over the drift of its teaching, would naturally throw it into the background of the studies of devout Israelites. It would not be taught in schools. It was not read in Synagogues. It was out of harmony with the glowing hopes of those who were looking for the Christ or were satisfied that they had found Him. Traces of its not being altogether unknown to the writers of the New Testament may, however, be found. When St Paul teaches why “the creation was made subject to vanity” (Romans 8:20), using the same Greek word as that employed by the LXX. translators, we may recognise a reference to the dominant burden of the book. When St James writes “What is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14) we may hear something like an echo of Ecclesiastes 6:12.

The earlier Christian writers followed in the same track and the only trace of the book in the Apostolic Fathers is the quotation of Ecclesiastes 12:13 (“Fear God and keep His commandments”) in the Shepherd of Hermas (Mand. vii.). Justin quotes the Wisdom of Solomon but not Ecclesiastes. Irenæus neither names nor quotes it. Clement of Alexandria, who makes no less than twenty-six quotations from the Wisdom of Solomon, quotes in one solitary passage (Strom. i. 13) from Ecclesiastes 1:16-18; Ecclesiastes 7:13. In Origen, though the quotations from Wisdom are still far more numerous, we have more traces of a thoughtful study. The vanitas vanitatum is connected with Romans 8:20 as above (de Princ. i. 7, c. Cels. i. 7). He supposes Ecclesiastes 1:6 to have given occasion to the contemptuous language in which Celsus had spoken of Christians as talking of “circles upon circles” (c. Cels. vi. 34, 35). In Ecclesiastes 1:9 he finds a confirmation of his belief that there have been worlds before the present world and that there will be others after it (de Princ. iii. 5, c. Cels. iv. 12). The “Spirit of the ruler” (Ecclesiastes 10:4) is interpreted of the evil Spirit (de Princ. iii. 2). In the words “the earth abideth for ever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4) he finds an instance of the use of the word “eternity” with a secondary and limited connotation (Comm. in Rom. B. vi). He gives a mystical interpretation of Ecclesiastes 4:2 as meaning that those who are crucified with Christ are better than those that are living to the flesh; of the “untimely birth” of Ecclesiastes 6:3 as meaning Christ whose human nature never developed, as that of other men develops, into sin (Hom. vii. in Num.), and cites Ecclesiastes 7:20, with Romans 11:33 as a confession that the ways of God are past finding out (de Princ. iv. 2).

The passages now cited are enough to shew that it was probable that those who had studied in the school of Origen would not entirely neglect a book to which he had thus directed their attention. His treatment of them indicates that they were likely to seek an escape from its real or seeming difficulties in an allegorizing, or, to use the Jewish phrase, a Haggadistic interpretation. And this accordingly is what we find. The earliest systematic treatment of Ecclesiastes is found in the Metaphrasis or Paraphrase of Gregory Thaumaturgus, who had studied under the great Alexandrian teacher. Of all patristic commentaries it is the simplest and most natural. From first to last there is no strained allegorism or mysticism, finding in the text quite another meaning than that which was in the mind of the writer. The scepticism of Ecclesiastes 3:20-21 is freely rendered, “The other kind of creatures have all the same breath of life and men have nothing more … For it is uncertain regarding the souls of men, whether they shall fly upwards; and regarding the others which the unreasoning creatures possess whether they shall fall downwards.” The Epicurean counsel of Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 is stated without reserve, but is represented as the error of “men of vanity,” which the writer rejects. The final close of the writer’s thought (Ecclesiastes 12:7) is given without exaggeration, “For men who be on the earth there is but one salvation, that their souls acknowledge and wing their way to Him by whom they have been made.” Perhaps the most remarkable passage of the Commentary is the way in which the paraphrase of Ecclesiastes 12:1-6 represents the original as depicting the approach of a great storm filling men with terror, anticipating in this the interpretation which Dr Ginsburg and Mr Cox have worked out with an elaborate fulness:

“Moreover it is right that thou shouldest fear God, while thou art yet young, before thou givest thyself over to evil things, and before the great and terrible day of God cometh, when the sun shall no longer shine, neither the moon, nor the other stars, but when in that storm and commotion of all things, the powers above shall be moved, that is, the angels who guard the world; so that the mighty men shall cease, and the women shall cease their labours, and shall flee into the dark places of their dwellings, and shall have all the doors shut; and a woman shall be restrained from grinding by fear, and shall speak with the weakest voice, like the tiniest bird; and all impure women shall sink into the earth, and cities and their blood-stained governments shall wait for the vengeance that comes from above, while the most bitter and bloody of all times hangs over them like a blossoming almond, and continuous punishments impend over them like a multitude of flying locusts and the transgressors are cast out of the way like a black and despicable caper plant And the good man shall depart with rejoicing to his own everlasting lasting habitation; but the vile shall fill all their places with wailing, and neither silver laid up in store, nor tried gold, shall be of use any more. For a mighty stroke shall fall upon all things, even to the pitcher that standeth by the well, and the wheel of the vessel which may chance to have been left in the hollow, when the course of time comes to an end and the ablution-bearing period of a life that is like water has passed away[64].”

[64] The original is obscure and probably corrupt. The meaning of the commentator may be that the period of life in which a man may receive the “washing of regeneration” will in that day come to a sudden end.

A more ambitious but less complete treatment of Ecclesiastes is found in eight homilies by Gregory of Nyssa, which cover however only the first three chapters. Like his other writings it breathes the spirit of a devout thinker trained in the school of Origen, alike in his allegorizing method of interpretation and in his utterance of the wider hope. At every step he diverges from the true work of the interpreter to some edifying and spiritual reflection. The Greek title of the book suggests its connexion with the work and life of the Ecclesia of Christ. Christ himself was the true Ecclesiastes gathering together those that had been scattered into the unity of His fulness. The true son of David was none other than the incarnate Word. In the language of Ecclesiastes 1:11, “neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come,” Gregory finds an indication of his deeply-cherished conviction that the final restitution of all things will work out an entire obliteration even of the memory of evil (Hom. i.). The words “that which is lost cannot be numbered” seem to him connected with the fall of Judas as the son of perdition, with the wandering sheep who reduces the complete hundred to the incompleteness of the ninety and nine (Hom. ii.). The description of the magnificence of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 2:1-8 leads to a whole train of half-mystical reflections. The true palace is that of Wisdom and its pillars are the virtues that sustain the soul. What need is there of gardens for one who was in the true Paradise of contemplation? (Hom. iii.). Is not the true fountain the teaching that leads to virtue? The mention of servants and handmaids leads him to protest against the evil of slavery (Hom. iv.). In the counsel to eat and drink he finds a reference not to the bread which nourishes the body but to the food which sustains the soul (Hom. v.). The catalogue of Times and Seasons in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 suggests, as might be expected, a copious variety of like reflections. He cannot speak of the “time to plant” without thinking of the field of which the Father is the husbandman, of “the time to pluck up” without dwelling on the duty of rooting out the evil tares of sin (Hom. vi.). The “time to kill” can refer only to the vices which we are called on to strangle and destroy. The “time to weep” recalls to his mind the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:4) and the parable of the children sitting in the market-place (Matthew 11:16-17) (Hom. vii.). So “the time to gather stones” is applied to the stones of temperance and fortitude by which we destroy vice. The “time to keep silence” reminds him of St Paul’s rule bidding women be silent in the Church, and the “time for war” of the Christian warfare and the whole armour of God (Hom. viii.). Beyond this point he does not go, and perhaps it is well that he stopped where he did. Interesting and even edifying as such homiletic treatment may be as the expression of a refined and devout and noble character, it is obvious that it hardly contributes one jot or tittle to the right understanding of the book which it professes to expound. With the exception of the hints given by Gregory Thaumaturgus, the Greek Fathers of the Church have contributed almost as little to the exegesis of Ecclesiastes as the Rabbis of the Midrash Koheleth.

The history of the interpretation of Ecclesiastes among the Latin Fathers runs more or less on parallel lines with that which has just been traced. The earlier writers knew the book, and this or that proverbial sentence dwells in their memories, but they have not studied it and do not venture on any systematic interpretation. Thus Tertullian simply quotes three times the maxim of Ecclesiastes 3:1, that “there is a time for all things” (adv. Marc. v. 4, de Monog. iii., de Virg. Vel. iii.). Cyprian cites Ecclesiastes 1:14; Ecclesiastes 5:4; Ecclesiastes 5:10; Ecclesiastes 7:17; Ecclesiastes 10:9 in his Testimonia adversus Judæos (c. 11, 30, 61, 53, 86) but with no indication that the book as a whole had been thought over, and no trace of any mystical interpretation. When we come to Augustine the case is widely different. The allegorizing method which had been fostered by Origen had taken root, and the facility with which it ministered to spiritual meditation and turned what had been stumblingblocks into sources of edification, commended it to devout interpreters. He does not write a Commentary on the book, but he quotes it in a way which shews that it was often in his hands and is always ready with an interpretation that brings an edifying thought out of the least promising materials. Thus he fastens on the “vanitas vanitantium” of the old Latin Version as shewing that it is only for the “vanitantes,” the men who are without God, that the world is vanity (de Ver. Relig. c. 41). The “portion to seven and also to eight” of Ecclesiastes 11:2 is for him “ad duorum Testamentorum significationem,” the one resting on the sabbath, the other “on the eighth day, which is also the first, the day of the Lord’s Resurrection” (ad Inqu. Jan. c. 23). In the words that “the Spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7) he finds a proof that each single soul is created by an individual divine act and not engendered as was the bodily frame in which it dwelt. He connects Romans 8:20 (“the creature was made subject to vanity”) with the main thesis of the book, as shewing that the sentence “vanity of vanities” is temporary and remedial in its nature and will one day be removed (Expos. Epist. Rom. c. 53), and dwells on the fact that it applies only to the things that are “under the sun,” to the visible things which are temporal, and not to the invisible which are eternal (Enarr. in Psalms 38). His controversy with Pelagianism leads him to recognise in the “righteous overmuch” of Ecclesiastes 7:16 the character of the man who wraps himself up in the garments of his own “righteousness of works” (Tract, in Joann. xcv.). He contrasts the “one generation goeth and another generation cometh” with the permanence of the eternal Word (Enarr. in Psalms 101.). The maxim that “he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18) is for him true even of the wisdom of charity, seeing that we cannot love men without a fresh pang of sorrow for their sufferings and their sins (Enarr. in Psalms 98.). On the “many inventions” of Eccles. 7:30 he characteristically preaches “Mane apud unum, Noli ire in multa, Ibi beatitudo” (Serm. xcvi.). In his later treatment of the book the allegorical method is more fully developed and the “eating and drinking,” the “bread and wine” of Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7 are interpreted as pointing not even to the most innocent forms of sensuous enjoyment, but to that which is represented by the symbols of the Eucharistic feast (de Civ. Dei, xvii. 20). The “dead flies” that mar the fragrant “ointment of the apothecary” (Ecclesiastes 10:1) are the post-baptismal sins which taint the good fame of professing Christians (c. Epist. Parmen.). The Haggadistic style of interpretation culminates in his explanation of Ecclesiastes 10:16-17. He finds there the “duæ civitates” which are the subject of his great work, the land whose “king is a child” is the evil city of the world, and the devil is the young king who is wilful and rebellious, and the princes who “eat in the morning” are the men of the world, who find their pleasures in this earthly life which is but the dawn of their existence, and the “son of nobles” is none other but the Christ, the heir, according to the flesh, of patriarchs and kings, and the “princes who eat in due season” are the believers who are content to wait for their future blessedness in the heavenly city (De Civ. Dei, xvii. 20).

In Jerome’s treatment of the book we have, as was to be expected from his student character, a more systematic exposition. It takes the form of a Commentary, is fuller than the Metaphrase of Gregory Thaumaturgus, less merely homiletic and fragmentary than the Discourses of Gregory of Nyssa. He had compared the translations of Aquila and Symmachus and Theodotion with that of the LXX. and discusses critically the two renderings of the ‘burden’ of the book which he found in them, the ματαιότης ματαιοτήτων (“vanity of vanities”) of the LXX., the ἀτμὶς ἀτμίδων (“vapour of vapours”) of all the others. He compares, in dealing with the companion phrase, the προαίρεσις πνεύματος (a deliberate choice of wind) with the νομὴ of Aquila and Theodotion, the βόσκησις πνεύματος of Symmachus (both = feeding upon wind). Perhaps the chief interest of the Commentary lies in the traces which it preserves of the divided counsels of the earlier Rabbis as to the drift and authority of the book. “Some,” he says, “affirm that it came from Solomon as a penitent confessing his transgressions.” Some had rejected the book because it seemed inconsistent with itself, now bidding men go to the house of mourning as better than the house of feasting, now telling them that there was nothing better than to eat bread and drink wine and live with the woman they love, and perfume themselves with costly unguents, the latter precepts being those of Epicurus and not of Israel. His knowledge of Hebrew led him to connect the “dead flies” of Ecclesiastes 10:1 with Baal-zebub, the Lord of flies, and also the prince of the devils, and so to find in them the evil thoughts which do the devil’s work. He, almost alone among commentators, connects the “almond tree” of Ecclesiastes 12 with its figurative use as the “early waking” tree in Jeremiah 1:11, and therefore as the symbol of the old man’s wakefulness. He discusses the various meanings of the words which we render “grasshopper” and “desire” in the same passage. His view of the drift of the book may be inferred partly from his having read it with Blæsilla, one of the many female disciples to whom he acted as director, when he sought to lead her to enter on the life of the convent at Bethlehem (Præf. in Eccles.), partly from his assigning, on the traditional theory of the authorship of the three books, Proverbs to the youth of Solomon, Ecclesiastes to his middle age, the Song of Songs to his old age, first the maxims of prudence, then the experience of the world’s vanities, lastly, as the crown of life’s teaching, the mystical passion of the bride and bridegroom, of the soul and Christ. He starts, as Gregory of Nyssa had done, with the thought that “Ecclesiastes noster est Christus,” and taking this as his key-note he finds suggestions of devout thoughts where we see only the maxims of prudential or even Epicurean wisdom. Thus the “one alone” that “hath not a second” of Ecclesiastes 4:8 is referred to Christ as the one Mediator saving men by His one sacrifice, and the teaching as to friendship of Ecclesiastes 4:9-11 is applied to Christ as the Friend who raises us when we fall, and will warm us when we lie cold in the grave to everlasting life, and, like Augustine, he finds in the “bread and wine” which man is to enjoy (Ecclesiastes 9:7), the symbols of the body and blood of Christ; but these are given obviously rather as homiletic reflections than as direct interpretations. A trace of early tendencies to the characteristic teaching of Origen is found in his suggesting as a tenable interpretation of Ecclesiastes 1:15 that “omnibus per pœnitentiam in integrum restitutis solus diabolus in suo permanebit errore.” On the whole, we may say that Jerome’s style of commenting might have been followed with advantage by many of his successors.

As it was, however, the ascetic and the allegorizing interpretations which had thus been started developed with a marvellous rapidity. Ambrose reproduces what we have seen in Jerome and, in addition, finds the Christ as the second Adam in the “second child” of Ecclesiastes 4:15 and the doctrine of the Trinity in Unity in the “threefold cord” of Ecclesiastes 4:12. The allegorizing, mystical method is found yet further expanded in Gregory the Great (Commentary on Job), and after the marvellous interpretations of that book nothing seems impossible. In the application of that method to Ecclesiastes the two leaders of the mystic school, Richard and Hugo of St Victor, hold a foremost place. In “the rivers that run into the sea” (Ecclesiastes 1:7) the former finds the fleshly lusts that seem sweet and pleasant, yet end in bitterness. In the “casting away of stones” (Ecclesiastes 3:5) the latter sees the multiplication of good works, in the “gathering stones” the reward of those works. The Haggadistic method, however, culminates in Peter Lombard, and his exposition of Ecclesiastes 12:5 presents, perhaps, the ultima Thule of this style of interpretation. The “almond,” with its rind, shell and kernel, answers to the tripartite nature of Christ, body, soul, and Deity. It flowered when He rose from the dead. The fattening of the “grasshopper” (so the Vulg. impinguabitur locusta) represents the admission of the Gentiles, leaping, as leaps the grasshopper, into the Church of Christ. In the Vulg. for “desire shall fail” (dissipabitur capparis) he sees the dispersion of the unbelieving.

The continuity of succession in this method was broken by Nicholas de Lyra, who, having been born and educated in the Jewish schools that had felt the influence of the more critical spirit of Maimonides, laid stress on the necessity of first settling the literal meaning of the text before entering into speculation on its allegorical, moral, and anagogical or mystical meanings, and so led the way to the enquiries of later students. In this he was followed by Luther whose views as to the authorship of the Book have been already noticed (chap. ii.) and who maintains in his Commentary on Ecclesiastes that its aim was to reject the ascetic, gloomy view of life of which monasticism was the development, and to commend a life of active industry and simple innocent enjoyment. Luther was followed in his turn by Melancthon, and so we enter on the line of individual commentators, Grotius and his followers, each thinking for himself, and working out his own conclusion as to the meaning of individual passages and the drift of the whole book. The limits of the present volume do not admit of our tracing the varying opinions thus arrived at. Those who wish to follow them through their many windings will find them analysed in Dr Ginsburg’s exhaustive Introduction to his Commentary on Koheleth.



It follows from what has been already said (chap. iii.) that the Book before us is very far removed from the character of a systematic treatise and therefore does not readily admit of a formal analysis. What will now be attempted accordingly is rather to prepare the reader for the study of the book itself by tracking, as far as the conditions of the case admit, the oscillations and wanderings of thought by which the writer makes his way to his final conclusion. It will be convenient, as in the ideal biography given in chap. iii., to use the name Koheleth as that by which the writer wished himself to be known.

-1Ecclesiastes 1:1-11. The book opens with reproducing the phase of despair and weariness in which it had originated. All things are “vanity” and “vapour.” There was no gain in living (1–3). The monotony of succession in nature, and in human life, was absolutely oppressing. It was made even more so by the feeling of the oblivion that sooner or later falls over all human activities. There was nothing new in the world, nothing permanent (4–11).

-2Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 2:23. Koheleth appears in the personated character of the son of David, and as such retraces his experience. He had found the search after wisdom wearisome and unsatisfying. It was all “vapour and feeding upon wind.” Increase of knowledge was but increase of sorrow (Ecclesiastes 1:12-18). From wisdom he had turned to kingly state, and magnificence, and luxury, and had found that this also was vanity, and without profit (Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). Then came the study of human nature in its manifold phases of sanity and insanity, and something was gained in the conviction that the former was better than the latter (Ecclesiastes 2:12-13). This was soon traversed, however, by the thought that the advantage lasted but for the little span of life, and that death, the great leveller, placed the wise man and the fool on the same footing, and that thought made life more hateful than before, and deepened the feeling that all was vanity and “feeding upon wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:14-23). He fell back from all this profitless endeavour upon a less ambitious yet more practical and attainable ideal. To eat and drink, not with the license of the sensualist, but as the condition of a healthy activity, accepting the limitations of man’s earthly life, this was at least safe, and if received as from the hand of God, not otherwise than religious.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-17. Another thought helps to restore the mind of Koheleth to equilibrium. Wisdom lies in opportuneness. The chances and changes of life have each their appointed season in a divine order. Man’s wisdom is to take each of them in its season, not to strive restlessly after that which is not given him (1–8). And yet there is a disturbing element in man’s very nature which hinders this conformity to circumstances. He is a “being of large discourse, looking before and after,” and craves to find beauty and order throughout the universe (9–11). Yet he must repress, or at least limit that craving, and fall back as before upon the practicable union of honest labour and innocent enjoyment. Such a life was consistent with that “fear of God” which was the beginning of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 3:12-14). And that fear of God led on to the thought of a law of retribution working through the disorders of the world (15–17). It was a thought, a fear, a hope. Could he say that it was more? Who could answer the question as to the “whither” of man’s spirit after death? Was not his life subject to the same conditions as that of beasts? That doubt might be painful, but it did not affect the practical ideal to which he had before been led. It need not lead to despair, or madness, or reckless profligacy. Reasonable labour, reasonable enjoyment, that was still within his reach.

-3Ecclesiastes 4:1-16. New phases of thought are indicated by the words “I returned,” “I considered.” The wrongs and miseries of the world, the sufferings of others rather than his own, these weighed on his spirit. How could he account for them? (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3). Was it worth while labouring when the success of his labour did but expose a man to envy? Was it better not to labour when indolence led on to poverty? (Ecclesiastes 4:4). The extremes of wealth and poverty brought the risk of isolation, and cut a man off from that companionship which was at least an unquestioned good (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12). His survey of life, alike in the vicissitudes of national and individual life, oppresses him once more with the thought that all is vanity and “feeding upon wind” (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16).

-4Ecclesiastes 5:1 to Ecclesiastes 6:12. There was one phase of human life which yet remained to be examined. Koheleth turned to the religionists of his time. Did he find anything more satisfying there? The answer was that he found hollowness, formalism, hypocrisy, frivolous excuses and dreams taken for realities (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7). From the religious life he turned to the political, and there also all was anomalous and disheartening, rulers oppressing the tillers of the soil, yet less happy in their wealth than the labourers in their poverty, heaping up riches and not knowing who should gather them (Ecclesiastes 5:8-17). What remained but to make the best of life under such conditions, seeking neither poverty nor riches, rejoicing in God’s gifts of wealth and honour within the same limitations as before? (Ecclesiastes 5:13-20). Yes, but then there comes once more the depressing thought that we must leave all this, often before we have had any real enjoyment of it. Another comes and reaps what we have sown. Would it not be better that we had not been born? Is not even this moderated aim, this lower ideal, a delusion and a dream, subject, as the higher aim was, to the doom of vanity? (Ecclesiastes 6:1-12).

-5Ecclesiastes 7:1-22. The succession of thoughts becomes less consecutive and systematic, and we have the lessons on many things which Koheleth had been taught by his experience. Reputation, the fair name that is fragrant in the memories of men, this is better than riches or pleasure. It is worth dying to get that posthumous immortality (Ecclesiastes 7:1). It is worth while to visit the sorrowing and the sick, for so we learn to sympathize and correct the flattering deceits of false hopes, and learn the calmness of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 7:2-6). The root-evil in life is impatience, the wish to have lived in a former age, under different conditions (Ecclesiastes 7:7-10). Prosperity and adversity have each their lessons, and in each we need the spirit which accepts what comes to us as part of God’s order, and avoids the falsehood of extremes (Ecclesiastes 7:11-18). This was wisdom, but then how few were wise, how far fewer still were righteous? One among a thousand might be found among men: not one among all the women whom Koheleth had ever known. The conclusion to which he was led was that man’s freedom had marred God’s order as it was when He looked on all that He had made and saw that it was very good (Ecclesiastes 7:19-29).

-6Ecclesiastes 8:1 to Ecclesiastes 9:10. The same weary round is trodden over again. The experience of Koheleth throws his mind upon the wisdom that is needed by those who live in the courts of kings (Ecclesiastes 8:1-5). But that life, with its unequal distribution of rewards and honours, ambition cut short by death, power hurting its possessor, the unrighteous ruler exulting in his impunity, these were fresh elements of disorder and vanity. He retired once more from the life of courts to that of a tranquil seclusion and calm enjoyment (Ecclesiastes 8:6-15). What profit was there in speculating on the problems presented by history any more than on those of individual men? Here also there was that which was inscrutable. Men might talk of the law of retribution, might feel that there must be such a law, but facts were against them. There was one event to the righteous and the wicked (Ecclesiastes 8:16 to Ecclesiastes 9:3). Before, that thought had almost driven him to despair. Now, the path by which he has travelled has led him to a truer solution of the problem. Make life worth living. Work, rest, rejoice, lay aside the vexing questions which make life miserable. All beyond is darkness (Ecclesiastes 9:4-10).

-7Ecclesiastes 9:11 to Ecclesiastes 10:20. As before, the phrase “I returned” indicates a fresh start of thought. Koheleth looks on life and is struck by the want of proportion in the distribution of its rewards. The race is not to the swift. Time and chance seem to order all things. The sons of men are ensnared in an evil net. Wisdom does more than strength, and yet the wise man is forgotten and wealth carries off the world’s honours (Ecclesiastes 9:11-18). Even in the wise there are follies that mar their wisdom, and though we despise the fool, we see him sitting in high places (Ecclesiastes 10:1-7). The labour of the reformer, who seeks to set things right, ends too often in his own ruin and disgrace, and the empty-headed babbler gains the day (Ecclesiastes 10:8-15). The evils of mis-government, the caprice of a boy king, the oppressions of his ministers, were patent evils, and yet there was no remedy for them without peril and no course open except silent acquiescence (Ecclesiastes 10:16-20).

-8Ecclesiastes 11:1 to Ecclesiastes 12:7. Koheleth feels that it is time these many wanderings should end, and that his book, perhaps his life also, is drawing to a close. He passes therefore to more direct teaching. Whatever else was doubtful, it was clear that to do good must be right. To use opportunities for a wide charity, without over-anxious care as to immediate results, this was the path of wisdom (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6). This at least made life worth living, even though darkness lay beyond it. And with this clearer insight into the true law of life there came a clearer faith. Joy and pleasure were not in themselves evil, but they might easily become so, and the young man in the midst of the glow of life, must remember that the Creator is also the Judge. We see tokens of that judgment now in the evil days which follow on a life of sensuous pleasure—the decay of strength, and health, and faculties of perception and of thought (Ecclesiastes 11:7 to Ecclesiastes 12:6). Soon the goal is reached, and death closes all, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (12). Are there not grounds for believing that the judgment which we see here working partially, the education which here so often ends in seeming failure, will then work out their tendencies into results? Is not that a conclusion in which the spirit of man may rest? It was, at all events, Koheleth’s last word on the great problem.

-9Ecclesiastes 12:8-14. The closing verses of the book are in the nature of an epilogue, added, it is almost certain, by another writer. The book is commended to the reader as written by a seeker after wisdom, who had sought to make the words of truth acceptable, whose incisive maxims were as goads and nails. Such a book, short and incomplete as it might seem, was better in its pregnant truthfulness than the tomes of elaborate system-builders. As a guide to the reader in tracking his path through the somewhat labyrinthine structure of the book, the editor sums up what seemed to him, as it seems to us, the outcome of the whole. It was man’s wisdom to fear God, and keep His commandments and live in the expectation of His judgment.



I have already in the “Ideal Biography” of the Author of Ecclesiastes (ch. iii.), suggested a parallelism between the thoughts which have found expression in the writings of Shakespeare and Tennyson, and those that meet us in the Book with which this Volume deals. That parallelism is, I believe, deserving of more than a passing sentence, and I accordingly purpose to treat of it, as far as my limits permit, in the two following Essays.


It lies almost in the nature of the case that the standpoint of a supreme dramatic artist involves the contemplation of the chances and changes of human life, of the shifting moods of human character, in something like the temper of a half-melancholy, half-genial irony. Poets, who, like Æschylus or Calderon, write in earnest to enforce what they look upon as a high and solemn truth, and to present to men the consequences of obeying or resisting it, who seek to present the working of a higher order, and characters of a loftier nobleness, than the world actually presents, have, in the nature of the case, little of that element. Those who write, as Sophocles did, impressed with the strange contrasts which human life presents in its ideal and its reality, its plans and their frustration, its aims and its results, who cannot bring themselves to think that it is the duty of the artist to present a false, even though it be a fairer, picture than what the world actually exhibits, manifest the irony of which we speak, as Bishop Thirlwall has shewn in his masterly Essay[65], in its graver forms, restrained, in part, it may be, by the dignity of their own character, in part by the conditions under which they work as artists, from dealing with its applications to the lighter follies of mankind. One who, like Shakespeare, worked with greater freedom, and, it may be, out of the resources of a wider experience, was free to present that irony in both its applications. That sense of the nothingness of life, which manifests itself in the melancholy refrain of “Vanity of vanities” in Koheleth, would be sure to shew itself in such a poet, in proportion, perhaps, as he had ceased to strive after a high ideal, and learnt to look with an Epicurean tranquility on the passions of those who, though puppets in his mimic drama, had yet found their archetypes in the characters of the men and women with whom he had lived, and whose weaknesses he had noted. If the story of his own life had been that of one who had sought to find satisfaction in the impulses of sense, or in affections fixed on an unworthy object, we might expect to find the tendency to dwell on the various forms of the ironical, or the pessimist, view of life, which is the natural outcome of the disappointment to which all such attempts are doomed. And this, it is believed, is what we find in Shakespeare, as the result of his personal experience, reproduced now in this aspect, now in that, according as each fitted in best with his purpose as an artist.

[65] Cp. Thirlwall, “The Irony of Sophocles,” Philological Museum, 2:483. Remains, Ecclesiastes 3:1.

I have already shewn in the “Ideal Biography” of ch. iii. that the Sonnets of Shakespeare present a striking parallelism to the personal experience that lay at the root of the pessimist tone of thought which the confessions of Koheleth present to us. There had been the element of a friendship which he thought to be ennobling, of a love which he felt to be debasing. But we may go further than this, and say that they manifest also, and not in that passage only, the tone and temper to which that experience naturally leads. Without discussing the many problems which those mysterious poems bring before us, this at least is clear, that they speak of a life which had not been free from the taint of sensuality, of a friendship which, beginning in an almost idolatrous admiration, ended in a terrible disappointment, and that the echoes of that disappointment are heard again and again in their plaintive and marvellous sweetness. The resemblance between their utterances and those of Ecclesiastes is all the more striking, because there is not a single trace that Shakespeare had studied the book that bears that title. He does not use its peculiar watchwords, or quote its maxims. Despite of all that has been written of Shakespeare’s knowledge of the Bible by Archbishop Trench, Bishop Charles Wordsworth, and others, it does not seem to have been more than a man might gain, without study, by hearing lessons and sermons when he went to Church on Sundays, and as Ecclesiastes was not prominent in the calendar of Sunday lessons, and not a favourite book with the preachers of the sixteenth century, he probably knew but little of it. We have to deal, accordingly, with the phenomena of parallelism and not of derivation. But the parallelism is, it will be admitted, sufficiently suggestive. Does Koheleth teach that “there is nothing new under the sun,” that “if there is anything whereof it may be said, See this is new; it hath been already of old time, which was before us” (Ecclesiastes 1:10), Shakespeare writes

“No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change.

Thy pyramids built up with newer might,

They are but dressings of a former sight.

Our dates are brief, and, therefore we admire

What thou dost foist upon us that is old:

And rather make them born to our desire,

Than think that we before have heard them told.

Thy registers and thee I both defy,

Not wondering at the present and the past.”

Sonn. 123.

Does Koheleth utter his belief that “the day of death is better than the day of one’s birth” (Ecclesiastes 7:1), “that an untimely birth is better than the longest life” (Ecclesiastes 6:3), as growing out of the anomalies of a world in which “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise … but time and chance happeneth alike to all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11); Shakespeare echoes the cry of that weariness of life:

“Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,

As, to behold desert a beggar born,

And needy nothing trimmed in jollity,

And purest faith unhappily foresworn,

And gilded honour shamefully misplaced,

And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,

And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,

And strength by limping sway disabled,

And art made tongue-tied by authority,

And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,

And simple truth miscalled simplicity:

Tired with all these, from these I would be gone,

Save that to die, I leave my love alone.”

Sonn. 66.

The tendency which thus utters itself as in a personal subjective monologue took naturally another form, when, rising out of the feverish unrest which the Sonnets indicate, the writer passed into the true work of the poet-creator, contemplating man’s nature as from without, and embodying the results of his boundless observation in the characters of his dramas, as if he had lived in each of them, identified at once with Coriolanus and with Falstaff, with Macbeth and with Malvolio. But the tendency, in such a case, remains. The man’s experience determines the greater or less frequency of his choice of characters in which he can embody it. And what I seek to shew is, that such a choice is traceable in the dramas of Shakespeare, and that no type of character appears so frequently, or is so conspicuously the reflection of what the poet himself had once been, as that of the contemplative half-sad, half-cynical temper which we find in Ecclesiastes. He has risen on the “stepping-stones of his dead self” to higher things, but he surveys that dead self with a certain loving complacency, and is not unwilling that for a time it should live again. He will shew that he understands the inner depths of the character that seems to many so inexplicable, and not seldom wins from them the reverence which of right is due only to that which is far worthier. Take, for example, the two types of character represented by the Duke and by Jaques, in “As You Like It.” The former speaks in the nobler tones of Koheleth, the latter in the baser. The one has learnt that “sorrow is better than laughter,” that “the heart of the wise is in the house of mourning” (Ecclesiastes 7:3).

“Sweet are the uses of adversity,

Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,

Wears yet a precious jewel in his head.

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

As You Like It, ii. 1.

Jaques, on the other hand, is emphatically “melancholy,” but the temper is one which finds not “good” but evil in everything. For him, the sons of men are “as fishes taken in an evil net” (Ecclesiastes 9:12). His meditations on the sufferings of the wounded stag reveal but little of real humanity, but “he moralizes” the spectacle into “a thousand similes.” All forms of life present to him the same picture of injustice and of wrong.

“Thus most invectively he passeth through

The body of the country, city, court,

Yea, and of this our life.”

As You Like It, ii. 1.

As the sight of brute suffering, so that of men, stirs him to no healthy sympathy. The Duke speaking as before, in the loftier moods of Koheleth, learns the lesson that

“This wide and universal theatre

Presents more woeful pageants than the scene

Wherein we play in,”

but this is preceded by his kindly ministrations to the old and weary Adam, the very type of the “labouring man whose sleep is sweet to him” of Ecclesiastes 5:12. Jaques joins in no such ministrations, but in the memorable speech of the Seven Ages, moralizes once more on the hollowness of human life, and paints, almost in the very colours of Ecclesiastes 12:3-4, the decay and death in which it ends.

“The sixth age glides

Into the lean and slippered pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,

His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice

Turning again towards childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness, and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

As You Like It, ii. 7.

And the secret of this evil cynicism is found in the previous life of this preacher of endless homilies on the “vanity of vanities.” Of such homilies, the Duke tells him, no good can come. He will work

“Most mischievous foul sin in chiding sin.

For thou thyself hast been a libertine,

As sensual as the brutish sting itself,

And all the embossèd sores and headed evils,

That thou with licence of free foot hast caught,

Wouldst thou discharge into the general world.”

As You Like It, ii. 7.

In “Timon of Athens” we have a variation on the same theme. He has sought happiness, as Koheleth did, in the life of wealth, magnificence, and culture. Poets and painters have ministered to his tastes and caprices. But among the thousand friends of his prosperity he finds but one faithful in adversity, and he loathes the very sight of the gold, with the absence or presence of which the friendship of the world wanes or waxes. He has used his wealth “unwisely, not ignobly,” thinking that thus he will gather round him true and loving hearts, and finds that this also, as his wiser counsellor foretold, is “vanity of vanities.”

“Ah! when the means are gone that buy this praise,

The breath is gone whereof this praise is made,

Fast won, fast lost; one cloud of winter showers,

These flies are couched.”

Timon of Athens, ii. 2.

And so when he finds that the prediction is fulfilled, his love turns to gall and bitterness. The philanthropist becomes the misanthrope. As with Koheleth, men were hateful to him, and much more, women (Ecclesiastes 7:26-28).

“Let no assembly of twenty be without a score of villains; if there sit twelve women at the table, let a dozen of them be as they are.”

Timon of Athens, iii. 6.

Henceforward there is nothing for him but the moody curse of a solitary bitterness, and his faithful friends moralize on the transformation.

“O, the fierce wretchedness that glory brings us!

Who would not wish to be from wealth exempt,

Since riches point to misery and contempt,

Who would be so mocked with glory? or to live

But in a dream of friendship?

To have his pomp and all what state compounds,

But only painted, like his varnished friends?

Poor honest lord, brought low by his own heart,

Undone by goodness.”

Timon of Athens, iv. 2.

Timon himself, however, cannot so moralize. The element of selfishness that had mingled with his seemingly limitless benevolence, seeking its reward in the praise and gratitude of men, turns to malignant scorn. He rails, as Shakespeare in his own person had railed, as in the Sonnet already quoted, at the disorders of society, in terms which again remind us of Ecclesiastes.

“Twinned brothers of one womb,

Whose procreation, residence, and birth,

Scarce is dividant: touch them with several fortunes,

The greater scorns the lesser: not nature,

To whom all sores lay siege, can bear great fortune

But by contempt of nature.

The senator shall bear contempt hereditary;

The beggar native honour.

It is the pasture lards the rother’s[66] sides,

[66] Apparently a Warwickshire name for ox.

The want that makes him lean. Who dares, who dares,

In purity of manhood stand upright

And say, ‘This man’s a flatterer?’ If one be,

So are they all; for every grise[67] of fortune

[67] Grise = the “step” of fortune’s ladder.

Is smoothed by that below: the learned pate

Ducks to the golden fool: all is oblique,

There’s nothing level in our cursed nature

But direct villainy. Therefore be abhorred

All feasts, societies, and throngs of men!

His semblable, yea, himself, Timon disdains.”

Timon of Athens, iv. 3.

Is not this almost as the very echo of the words which tell us how beggars had been seen riding on horseback, how the “poor man who had saved the city” was “no more remembered,” how “time and chance happen alike to all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11-15), “how scarcely among a thousand men was one found faithful” (Ecclesiastes 7:28)? The one fact that kept him from utter despair was that he had such a friend.

“I do proclaim

One honest man—mistake me not—but one.”

Timon of Athens, iv. 3.

In the account which Timon gives himself of this terrible transformation we trace the confession of an experience like that which Koheleth narrates in Ecclesiastes 2. Apemantus, the cynic, who has not passed through that experience, whose moroseness is that of the man soured by the world’s oppression and his own poverty rather than of one satiated with self-indulgence, taunts him with this extreme sensitiveness. He has a pessimism of his own, but it is that of apathy and scorn, and not of hatred.

“This in thee is a nature but infected,

A poor unmanly melancholy sprung

From change of fortune.”

Timon allows that it is so, and makes that his Apologia. Apemantus does but

“Compound for sins he is inclined to,

By damning those he has no mind to.”

“Thou art a slave, whom Fortune’s tender arm

With favour never clasp’d; but bred a dog.

Hadst thou, like us from our first swath, proceeded

The sweet degrees that this brief world affords

To such as may the passive drugs of it

Freely command, thou would’st have plunged thyself

In general riot; melted down thy youth

In different beds of lust, and never learned

The icy precepts of respect, but followed

The sugared game before thee. But myself,

Who had the world as my confectionary,

The mouths, the tongues, the eyes, the hearts of men,

At duty, more than I could frame employment;

That numberless upon me stuck as leaves

Do on the oak, have with one winter’s brush

Fell from their boughs, and left me open, bare

For every storm that blows,—I, to bear this,

That never knew but better, is some burden;

Thy nature did commence in sufferance: time

Hath made thee hard in’t.”

Timon of Athens, iv. 3.

To one in such a mood, Nature did but minister, as it did to Koheleth, food for his absorbing passion. The ebb and flow of the ocean was the type of the changeable monotony of misery.

“Timon hath made his everlasting mansion[68][68] We are reminded of the “long home,” the “domus œterna” of Ecclesiastes 12:5.

Upon the beached verge of the salt flood;

Which once a day with his embossed froth

The turbulent surge shall cover; thither come,

And let my grave-stone be your oracle.

Lips, let sour words go by and language end,

What is amiss, plague and infection mend!

Graves only be men’s works: and death their gain!

Sun, hide thy beams—Timon hath done his reign.”

Timon of Athens, v. 1.

And so, the end came, as it has to a thousand others plunged in the same wretchedness, with no outward sign of hope. Like Keats he wishes his name to be “writ in water.” Like Koheleth he seeks to hide it from the memories of men. He writes his own epitaph, and it is this:

“Here lies a wretched corse, of wretched soul bereft;

Seek not my name: a plague consume you wretched caitiffs left!”

It was, perhaps, with a subtle touch of irony that Shakespeare, working, as experts think, on the rough materials supplied by an inferior writer, made the last couplet of the epitaph inconsistent with the first. In spite of his hatred of mankind the pessimist could not bear to be forgotten. The one real mortification in Schopenhauer’s life was that men did not read his books. The desire to be remembered is the ineradicable ruling passion which yet remains in him whose fault was that he had lived too entirely in the praise of men:

“Here lie I, Timon; who, alive, all living men did hate,

Pass by and curse thy fill; but pass, and stay not here thy gait.”

Timon of Athens, v. 4.

The life closed apparently in darkness, but the pity and sympathy of the poet for a mood through which he had himself passed, and out of which he had emerged, cannot leave it altogether without hope. He can recognise and reverence the nobleness of spirit, which soured and thwarted, was latent under this seeming blasphemy against humanity. And so he puts into the mouth of Alcibiades the judgement which we should pass on such moods of perverted nature wherever they may meet us.

“These well express in thee thy latter spirits:

Though thou abhorr’dst in us our human griefs,

Scorn’dst our brain-flow, and those our droplets which

From niggard nature fall, yet rich conceit

Taught thee to make vast Neptune weep for aye

On thy low grave, on faults forgiven. Dead

Is noble Timon, of whose memory

Hereafter more.”

Timon of Athens, v. 4.

The words are almost in the very note of David’s lament over Saul the outcast and the suicide, “The beauty of Israel is slain in thy high places” (2 Samuel 1:19), of the sie ist gercttet (“she is saved”) which the angels utter over the Margaret of “Faust,” of the lines in Hood’s “Bridge of Sighs” which describe the drowned outcast in the Thames:

“All that remains of her

Now is pure womanly.”

And so the preacher of hatred becomes in his death the benefactor of his country which he had loved passionately, with a love that turned to scorn, and Alcibiades “purified” by the “pity and terror” of which Aristotle spoke (Poet. c. xiii.) as of the very essence of the work of the tragic dramatist, offers peace to the Athenians on whom he had come to wreak his vengeance.

I have dwelt at some length on Shakespeare’s treatment of this character, partly because, if I mistake not, the parallelism with some aspects of Koheleth is a very striking one, partly because there are few of his plays less generally read than that which supplies the parallelism. I turn from this, the picture of one who has fallen in his conflict with the pessimism that grows out of satiety and disappointment, and the sense that “all is vanity,” to that of one who, passing through a like knowledge of good and evil gained by a like experience, has fought and has prevailed. Henry V. is obviously Shakespeare’s pattern king, such a monarch as he could picture himself to be, had an inherited crown rested on his head. When he first appears on the scene he seems rapidly on the road to ruin, the grief of his father’s heart, the companion of roysterers and debauchees. But the poet is careful to let us see that he has strength enough to pass through the ordeal. He is but “seeking in his heart,” as Koheleth had done, “to give himself unto wine, … laying hold on folly … yet guiding his heart with wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 2:3), and he is confident that he shall not fail in the perilous experiment:

“I know you all, and will awhile uphold

The unyok’d humour of your idleness,

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,

Who doth permit the base, contagious clouds

To smother up his beauty from the world;

That when he please again to be himself,

Being wanted, he may more be wondered at;

By breaking through the foul and ugly mists

Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.”

1 Henry IV. i. 2.

The first step towards higher things is found in the call of duty. He is taught to see the evils of a country in which “the king is a child and the princes feast in the morning” (Ecclesiastes 10:17). Such, as he himself then was, Richard II. had been.

“The skipping king, he ambled up and down

With shallow jesters and rash bavin[69] wits

[69] Bavin = brushwood.

Soon kindled and soon burned: carded his state,

Mingled his royalty with carping fools;

Had his great name profaned with their scorns.”

1 Henry IV. iii. 2.

He is roused to the consciousness of the nobler possibilities of life by that mirror in which he sees his own likeness. As, to use a phrase of Kinglake’s that floats in my memory, the “curled darlings of the Guards” were transformed into the “heroes of the Crimea,” so here the boon companion of Pistol, Poins and Falstaff becomes the conqueror, first of Shrewsbury and then of Agincourt. In the care and trouble that haunt the sick-bed of his father “eating in darkness and having much sorrow and wrath in his sickness” (Ecclesiastes 5:17) he learns how far more sweet is the sleep of the labouring man than that of “the rich man whose abundance will not suffer him to sleep” (Ecclesiastes 5:12).

“How many thousand of my poorest subjects

Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,

Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,

That thou wilt no more weigh my eyelids down

And steep my senses in forgetfulness?

Why rather, Sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,

Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee,

And hushed with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,

Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,

Under the panopies of costly state,

And lulled with sounds of sweetest melody?

O thou dull god! why liest thou with the vile

In loathsome beds, and leav’st the kingly couch

A watch-case or a common ’larum bell?

Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast

Seal up the sea-boy’s eyes, and rock his brains

In cradle of the rude tempestuous surge,

And in the visitation of the winds?

Can’st thou, O partial sleep! give thy repose

To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,

And in the calmest and most stillest night

Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”

2 Henry IV. iii. 1.

That father sees or thinks he sees the frustration of all his schemes of ambition and mourns over them almost in the very terms of Koheleth, “There is a sore evil which I have seen under the sun, riches kept for the owners thereof to their hurt … They perish by evil travail and he begetteth a son and there is nothing in his hand … What profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind?” (Ecclesiastes 5:13-16).

“See, sons, what things you are!

How quickly nature falls into revolt

When gold becomes its object!

For this the foolish, over-anxious fathers

Have broke their sleep with thoughts, their brains with care,

Their bones with industry:

For this they have engrossed and piled up

The cankered heaps of strange-achieved gold;

For this they have been thoughtful to invest

Their sons with arts and martial exercises;

Where, like the bee, tolling from every flower

The virtuous sweets,

Our thighs packed with wax, our mouths with honey,

We bring it to the hive, and, like the bees,

Are murdered for our pains. This bitter taste

Yield his engrossments to the ending father.”

2 Henry IV. iv. 5.

The lesson of that death-bed is not lost upon the nobler elements in the nature of the son, and the change is perfected.

“The courses of his youth promised it not:

The breath no sooner left his father’s body,

But that his wildness, mortified in him,

Seemed to die too: yea, at that very moment,

Consideration, like an angel, came

And whipped the offending Adam out of him,

Leaving his body as a paradise,

To envelope and contain celestial spirits.”

Henry V. i. 1.

He too has learnt the lesson of “vanity of vanities,” but it leads him not to idle moralisings, like those of Jaques or the malignant misanthropy of Timon, but to “fear God and keep his commandments,” to heroic deeds and high purpose, to a largeness of heart like that of the ideal Solomon. He hears his soldiers throw the burden of their suffering and death upon the king and feels that, if the majesty of the king rests only upon pomp and state, they are more than half-right:

“Upon the king! let us our lives, our souls,

Our debts, our careful wives, our children, and

Our sins lay on the king.

We must bear all.

O hard condition! twin-born with greatness,

Subject to the breath of every fool, whose sense

No more can feel, but his own wringing,

What infinite heart’s ease must kings neglect

That private men enjoy?

And what have kings that privates have not too,

Save ceremony, save general ceremony?

And what art thou, thou idle ceremony?

What kind of God art thou, that suffer’st more

Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?

What are thy rents? what are thy comings in?

O ceremony, shew me but thy worth,

What is thy soul of adoration?

Art thou aught else but place, degree and form,

Creating awe and fear in other men?

Wherein thou art less happy, being feared,

Than they in fearing.

What drinkest thou oft, instead of homage sweet

But poisoned flattery? O, be sick, great greatness,

And bid thy ceremony give thee cure!

Think’st thou the fiery fever will go out,

With titles blown from adulation?

Will it give place to flexure and low bending?

Can’st thou, when thou command’st the beggar’s knee

Command the health of it? No, thou proud dream,

That played so subtly with a king’s repose,

I am a king that find thee, and I know

’Tis not the balm, the sceptre, and the ball,

The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,

The inter-tissued robe of gold and pearl,

The farcèd title running ’fore the king,

The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp

That beats upon the high shore of this world,

No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,

Not all these, laid in bed majestical,

Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave

Who, with a body fill’d and vacant mind,

Gets him to rest, crammed with distressful bread,

Never sees horrid night, the child of hell,

But, like a lackey, from the rise to set,

Sweats in the eye of Phœbus, and all night

Sleeps in Elysium; next day, after dawn,

Doth rise, and help Hyperion to his horse;

And follows so the everrunning year

With profitable labour to his grave:

And, but for ceremony, such a wretch,

Winding up days with toil, and nights with sleep,

Had the fore-hand and vantage of a king;

The slave, a member of the country’s peace,

Enjoys it; but in gross brain little wots

What watch the king keeps to maintain the peace,

Whose hours the peasant best advantages.”

Henry V. iv. 1.

And in the strength of such thoughts he is able to preach to the murmurers the lesson which they need in the nearest approach to a Homily which the dramas of Shakespeare present to us and to tell them, as Koheleth tells his readers, of a righteous judge who “shall bring every secret thing to light whether it be good or whether it be evil.”

“Every subject’s duty is the king’s, but every subject’s soul is his own. Therefore should every soldier in the wars do as every sick man in his bed—wash every mote out of his conscience, and dying so, death is to him advantage; or not dying, the time was blessedly lost wherein such preparation was gained: and in him that escapes, it were not sin to think, that making God so free an offer, he let him outlive that day to see His greatness, and to teach others how they should prepare.”

Henry V., iv. 1.

I take it that, though there may be many other passages in which we trace the hand of the Master Artist working with a more subtle power, Shakespeare reaches here, and in the prayer that follows, almost without a parallel in his other dramas, his highest ethical elevation. The heroic soul in whom he embodied what for the time at least was an ideal likeness of himself, has conquered the temptations of sense that deepen into malice, and has his faith fixed in the righteous judgment of God. And with this there is, as in a later scene of the play, a healthy capacity for the purer form of enjoyment such as Koheleth so often counsels. The reformed prodigal has found that after all there are some things that are not altogether vanity.

“A good leg will fall; a straight back will stoop; a black beard will turn white; a fair face will wither; a full eye will wax hollow; but a good heart, Kate, is the sun and the moon, or rather the sun and not the moon; for it shines bright, and never changes, but keeps his course truly.”

Henry V., v. 2.

On more familiar illustrations of the temper that thus moralises on the hollowness of things earthly I do not dwell. Wolsey’s lamentations over his fallen greatness:

“This is the state of man: to day he puts forth

The tender leaves of hope: to-morrow blossoms,

And bears his blushing honours thick upon him,

The third day comes a frost, a killing frost;

And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely

His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,

And then he falls, as I do,”

Henry VIII., iii. 1.

will occur to most readers. The thought that “as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of fools,” finds its apt illustration alike in the imbecility of Shallow who found his “delights of the sons of men” in the merry nights of sin that he remembered in St. George’s Fields (2 Henry IV. iii. 3), and yet more in the death without honour of the supreme jester, “his nose as sharp as a pen and babbling of green fields” (Henry V. iii. 3), his only nurse silencing the thought of God and of repentance, in the misery that taught Gloucester all too late that

“The Gods are just, and of our pleasant vices

Make instruments to scourge us.”

King Lear, V, 3.

The temper that remains unmoved “fully set to do evil, because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily” (Ecclesiastes 8:11) is brought before us in Gloucester’s confession

“Heavens, deal so still!

Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man

That slaves your ordinance, that will not see

Because he doth not feel, feel your power quickly.”

King Lear, IV, 1.

The supreme malignity of the mood that hates life because it has made life hateful is seen in Richard III.

“O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict!

My conscience hath a thousand several tongues

And every tongue brings in a several tale.

There is no creature loves me;

And if I die, no soul will pity me:

Nay, wherefore should they? Since that I myself

Find in myself no pity to myself.”

Richard III. v. 3.

It would seem however, as if the myriad-minded poet felt that he had not exhausted the many aspects of what we have called the Koheleth mood of mind, that there yet remained to exhibit, in their highest manifestations, the results to which it leads when man is over-mastered by it, or in his turn, masters it, and the works of the poet’s ripest and best years, and of the supreme culmination of his art, bring before us accordingly the characters of Hamlet and of Prospero. I accept, as in part adequate, the analysis of the former character which Goethe has given as that of a man upon whom is laid a burden which he is not strong enough to bear, and which therefore disturbs the balance of thought and will. From the stand-point of our present enquiry some fresh elements have to be added to that analysis. In Hamlet then, prior to the disclosure that haunts him afterwards night and day, we have the highest type of the Koheleth search after happiness in the path of culture. All perfections have met in him. He is nothing less than

“The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword,

The expectancy and rose of the fair state,

The glass of fashion, and the mould of form,

The observed of all observers.”

Hamlet, iii. 1.

He has studied man’s life and nature less by the personal experience of their follies and their sins than in the drama which “holds, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature.” He shrinks from the coarse revelry of the princes who “drink in the morning,” keeping up a custom which is “more honoured in the breach than in the observance.” He seeks for wisdom, and if for folly also, only that he may see “what is that good for the sons of men which they should do under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 2:3). He is beginning to feel the impulse of a new affection, in itself a pure and noble one, for Ophelia. Possibly there are memories lying behind of affections less pure which justified the warnings that Laertes gives his sister:

“I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious; with more offences at my back than I nave thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in.”

Hamlet, iii. 1.

His discovery of the terrible disorder in the world that surrounds him has wakened conscience to a discernment, perhaps a morbid exaggeration, of a like disorder in himself, and this becomes, in its turn, an enfeebling element hindering him from bearing the burden that is laid upon him bravely like a man. He represents that aspect of the Koheleth temper which had its birth in the sight of iniquity where it looked for righteousness (Ecclesiastes 3:16), of power on the side of the oppressors while “the poor had no comforter” (Ecclesiastes 4:1). There is something significant in the contrast between the wider yet less balanced thoughts of one on whom rests the burden of the “world in the heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), the unfathomable mystery of the moral anomalies of the universe and the calmer, more worldly precepts of prudence which come from Polonius as one who has grown grey in courts and statecraft. Such precepts, it is surely the lesson which Shakespeare meant to teach, are of little value in ministering to a mind diseased. They may do for Laertes but not for Hamlet. There is a singular resemblance between those precepts and Bacon’s Essay (18) on ‘Travel’ which half suggests the thought that the poet, noting the weak points which such an eye as his could not fail to discern in the character of him who was the “greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind,” and impatient of the pedantic moralisings that had nothing answering to them in the man’s inner life, had that type of character in his mind when he drew the portrait of the “rash intruding fool” who schemes and plans, and utters his worldly maxims as if they were the oracles of God[70].


The suggestion may seem bold, almost to the verge of paradox, but is not made without a fairly close study of the original and the counterpart. The coincidences which I have pointed out between the counsel of Polonius and the Essay on Travel are, it will be admitted by any one who will take the trouble to compare them, striking enough. It may be said further that the whole phraseology of Polonius, shrewd yet slightly pedantic,

“full of wise saws and modern instances”

corresponds to that of Bacon as the collector of apophthegms and maxims and rules of prudence. May we not think that Shakespeare, through Hamlet, uttered his sense of the impotence of such counsels as applied to the deeper evils of the soul, when he makes the half-distracted prince declare

“Yea, from the table of my memory

I’ll wipe away all trivial fond records,

All saws of books, all forms, all pressures past,

That youth and observation copied there.”

Bacon’s rise upon Raleigh’s fall, about the time when Hamlet received the poet’s last revision, and the part that he had taken in the proceedings against Essex were not likely to win the admiration of a man of letters who had known something of both his victims. To such a man he may well have seemed to embody the intriguing statecraft as well as the pedantry of Polonius.

And what makes the burden more intolerable is that he is not allowed to bear it patiently and to refer it to the judgment of the Ruler who will bring “the secret things to light, whether they be good or evil.” The “world is out of joint” and he, and none other, “is born to set it right.” He must be the minister of vengeance, and in taking that office upon himself he does but make all things worse both for himself and others. And so the weariness of life, the “satias videndi” falls on him as it did on Koheleth. Below his simulated madness there is the real insanity of pessimism:

“It goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy the air, look you,—this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how like an angel! in apprehension how like a God! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! and yet to me what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me: no, nor woman neither.”

Hamlet, ii. 2.

Has the theme of “Vanity of Vanities” ever been uttered in tones of profounder sadness? Has the irony of the contrast between the ideal and the actual in life ever been expressed more forcibly?

And with this there comes the thought on which Koheleth rings the changes that death is better than life (Ecclesiastes 6:3; Ecclesiastes 7:1), traversed in its turn by the thought that life is better than death (Ecclesiastes 9:4; Ecclesiastes 9:9-10), the known than the unknown, the certainties of the present than the uncertain chances of the future.

“To be, or not to be, that is the question:—

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind, to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune;

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing, end them? To die,—to sleep,—

No more; and, by a sleep, to say we end

The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to,—’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wish’d. To die,—to sleep,—

To sleep! perchance to dream;—ay, there’s the rub,

That makes calamity of so long life:

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of despis’d love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of the unworthy takes

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life;

But that the dread of something after death,—

The undiscover’d country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns,—puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought;

And enterprises of great pith and moment,

With this regard their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action.”

Hamlet, iii. 1.

We feel that here, as in the case of Koheleth, the weariness of life will not end in suicide. He talks too much of it for that, contemplates it as a spectator from without, moralises on it, like Jaques, with a thousand similies. Perhaps, we must add, as the thought of the undiscovered country has no purifying or controlling power, as conscience leads only to cowardice and not to courage, suicide would have been the lesser evil of the two. As it is, the cancer of pessimism is driven inward and eats into the inmost parts. We cannot doubt that Shakespeare had seen like phænomena in actual insanity, had felt the possibility of them in his own being. The moralising melancholy becomes a cynical and brutal bitterness. It is just after the soliloquy that he treats Ophelia with an almost savage ferocity. In the churchyard scene he speaks as one in whom the reverence for humanity is extinguished, moralises on the skulls of the lawyers, and of Alexander, and of Yorick, the well-loved friend of his boyhood, in tones that remind us at once of Jaques and of Timon. There are no “lachrymae rerum,” in that survey of mortality, hardly more than the risus Sardonicus which Tennyson has painted so vividly, as we shall see, in his Vision of Sin. The ruin is complete, or seems so. But the parallelism with Koheleth and with Shakespeare himself would not have been complete if, in this case also, there had not been in Horatio, the presence of the faithful friend, the “man who pleaseth God” (Ecclesiastes 7:26), to whom, as free from the passions that have plunged him in the abyss, he clings, as the drowning man to the hand that would fain have saved him. His last words are addressed to him:

“Horatio, what a wounded name,

Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,

Absent thee from felicity awhile,

And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain

To tell my story.”

Hamlet, v. 2.

And here, as in the case of Timon, the faithful friend sees a glimmer of hope even in the thick darkness. He will not despair even though the sufferer dies and make no sign. He loves him, will not God forgive?

“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

Hamlet, v. 2.

The last instance to which I call attention, that of Prospero, has the special interest of giving us the last, or all but the last, utterances of the great Master on the great mystery. As in Hamlet we have the history of a shipwrecked soul, so in the Tempest, almost as if its title and its opening scenes were meant to be a parable of the gist and drift of the whole book, we have that of one who has escaped from shipwreck and reached the desired haven of a supreme tranquillity. Prospero had sought wisdom at first in the “many books” of the making of which there is “no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). His “library” was “dukedom large enough.” That study had left him exposed to treachery and baseness. He was shut out from the world, and knew its hollowness but he did not hate it or rail at it, as Timon and Hamlet did. He had found the well-spring of a new life and hope in the purest of all affections. He owns to Miranda all that she had been to him in the unconscious helplessness of her infancy,

“O! a cherubim

Thou wast that did preserve me! Thou didst smile,

Infused with a fortitude from heaven,

When I have decked the sea with drops full salt;

Under my burden groan’d; which raised in me

An undergoing stomach, to bear up

Against what should ensue.”

Tempest, i. 2.

He has learnt,—Shakespeare himself, speaking through Prospero, has learnt,—that the sensuality that defiles the first stirrings of youthful love is the root of all bitterness, that then only can the man “live joyfully with the wife whom he loves” (Ecclesiastes 9:9), when passion has been controlled and purity preserved from stain, and

“Each to other gives the virgin heart.”

And he too moralises on the chances and changes of life with the better form of Epicurean calmness. For him also

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players,”

but the thought leads to no cynical revilings. It is not a Christian view of life and death. The ethics of Shakespeare are no more Christian, in any real sense of the word, than those of Sophocles or Goethe. But it is a view that commended itself not unnaturally to one who being himself the creator of the mimic drama that mirrored life, pictured to himself the great Workmaster as being altogether such an one as himself, the author of the great world-drama in which men and women were the puppets.

“These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits, and

Are melted into air, into thin air;

And like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples; the great globe itself,

Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,

And, like this unsubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made of, and our little life

Is rounded with a sleep.”

Tempest, iv. 1.

The pessimism which haunted Koheleth is absent from this calm, contemplative acquiescence in the inevitable transitoriness of human life and of the world itself. It may be questioned perhaps whether the pessimism was not better than the calmness, testifying, even against its will, of higher possibilities, unable to satisfy itself with any belief that was, in its essence, though not formally, Pantheistic, and craving for the manifestation of a personal Will ruling the world in righteousness, and therefore “executing judgement against every evil work.”

One more instance in which the final resting-place of Shakespeare’s thoughts answers to that in which Koheleth rested for a time, and I have done. There is another drama, Cymbeline (a. d. 1605), which also belongs to the latest group of Shakespeare’s writings. In that drama we have a funeral dirge sung over the supposed corpse of the disguised Imogen. It does not help to the development of any character in the play, but comes in, as it were, by way of parenthesis, and therefore may be legitimately considered as embodying the poet’s own thoughts of what, if men could get rid of the Burial Service and other conventional decorums, would be the right utterance for such a time and place. And the dirge runs thus:

“Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,

Nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou thy worldly task hast done,

Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages.

Golden lads and girls all must,

Like chimney sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown of the great,

Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;

Care no more to clothe and eat;

To thee the reed is as the oak;

The sceptre, learning, physic must

All follow this and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,

Nor th’ all-dreaded thunder-storm,

Fear not slander, censure rash,

Thou hast finished joy and moan;

All lovers young, all lovers must

Consign to thee and come to dust.”

Cymbeline, iv. 2.

So Koheleth had said of old “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh” (Ecclesiastes 1:4). “And how dieth the wise man? as the fool” (Ecclesiastes 2:16). “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again” (Ecclesiastes 3:20). “There is no work, nor desire, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave whither thou goest” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).


The conditions under which this paper is written forbid an analysis of life such as I have ventured to apply to the Sonnets and Dramas of Shakespeare in the Essay which precedes it. One may not, in the case of a living writer, remove the veil which shrouds the privacy of his home life, or draw conjectural inferences as to that life, however legitimate they may seem, from his writings. We must be content with what he has actually told us. And so, in the present instance, we must rest in the pictures which he himself has drawn of the Lincolnshire home, and the happy gatherings when

“The Christmas bells from hill to hill

Answer each other in the mist,”

In Memor. xxviii.

in what we know of the brothers, three of whom shared in different measures, the gifts and tastes of the poet’s vocation; of the volume of early poems published by two of those brothers in their schooldays; of the Cambridge prize poem on Timbuctoo; of the new friendships and companionships which the life of Cambridge brought with it.

Of one of those friendships, however, the poet has himself taught us to think more freely, and to speak more fully. No one can read the In Memoriam without feeling that the world owes more than it knows to the man who will probably be scarcely remembered in the history of literature, except as having formed its subject. To that sacred influence, purifying and ennobling during life, yet more purifying and ennobling after death, we can trace in part at least, as well as to the early impressions of a happy home, that which forms one conspicuous element in the greatness of the poet’s ripened genius, and places the name of Tennyson, along with those of Homer and of Virgil, of Dante, and Milton, and Wordsworth, in the list from which Byron and Burns, and even Shakespeare are excluded, of those who being in the first order of poets in their greatness are also first in their purity. The Sonnets of Shakespeare and the In Memoriam will occupy a prominent place in the history of English Literature at once as parallels and as antitheses. In both we have the outpouring of a fervent and deep affection, so profound and lasting, that we might almost apply to it the language in which David speaks of the friendship that bound to him the soul of Jonathan, “Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of woman.” The thought of the parallelism seems to have come before the mind of the later poet when he wrote:

“I loved thee, Spirit, and love, nor can

The soul of Shakespeare love thee more.”

In Memoriam, lx.

But what a contrast between the luscious and sensuous sweetness of what his contemporaries called those “sugared sonnets” of the one poet, and the out-poured meditations, ever-rising to a clearer and calmer serenity, of the other. In this respect at least, and it is from this point of view alone that I am now contemplating the works of the two poets, the friendship which Tennyson has made immortal, comes nearer to the type of that to which we have been led to look as one element in Koheleth’s recovery. Here also there was one who did in very deed “fear God” and “pleased Him” (Ecclesiastes 7:26). And it may be said freely, without going beyond the record, that the In Memoriam is itself also the history of a like recovery in the poet’s inner life. He too had learnt to rise out of “the confusions of a wasted youth,” had “held it truth”

“That men may rise on stepping stones

Of their dead selves to higher things.”

In Memoriam, i.

The earlier poems are in the tone of the Mataiotes Mataiotêton:

“From out waste places comes a cry,

And murmurs from the dying sun,

And all the phantom, Nature, stands,

With all the music in her tone,

A hollow echo of my own,

A hollow form with empty hands.”

In Memoriam, iii.

His assured faith in the continued being and growth of the soul that has passed from earth is, as with Koheleth (Ecclesiastes 12:7), the triumph over a previous doubt:

“My own dim life should teach me this,

That life shall live for evermore,

Else earth is darkness at the core,

And dust and ashes all that is.”

In Memoriam, xxxiv.

He has communed with Nature, and her witness to him is as dreary and depressing as it was to Koheleth (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3; Ecclesiastes 3:19-20), or Hamlet:

“Thou makest thine appeal to me;

I bring to life, I bring to death;

The spirit does but mean the breath;

I know no more.”

In Memoriam, lv.

but he has learnt to look “behind the veil” and to “trust,” however “faintly” the “larger hope.”

It lies in the nature of the case, however, that the pessimist temper, so far as it had ever entered into the poet’s consciousness at all, as more than what he felt was a possibility towards which he might drift as others had drifted, already lay behind him before he entered on the In Memoriam musings, as part of the “dead self” which had been made a “stepping-stone.” We must turn to the earlier poems if we want to find parallels to that aspect of the Koheleth experience. And they are not hard to seek. In the Vision of Sin, in the Palace of Art, in the Two Voices, we may find, if I mistake not, the most suggestive of all commentaries on Ecclesiastes.

The first of these poems deals with the baser, more sensuous form of the Koheleth experience of life (Ecclesiastes 2:8).

“I had a vision when the night was late;

A youth came riding towards a palace gate,

He rode a horse with wings that would have flown,

But that his heavy rider kept him down.”

In the symbolism of those two last lines we may trace something like a reminiscence, though not a direct reproduction, of the marvellous mythos of the Phœdrus of Plato (pp. 246, 254). The horse with wings that “would have flown” is the nature of man with its capacities and aspirations[71].


ἡ ψυχὴ πᾶσα παντὸς ἐπιμελεῖται τοῦ ἀψύχουπάντα δὲ οὐρανὸν περιπολεῖτελεα μὲν οὖν οὖσα καὶ ἐπτερωμένη μετεωροπολεῖ τε καὶ ἄπαντα τὸν κόσμον διοικεῖ.

“The whole soul contemplates the whole that is without soul … It surveys the heavens … developed and with wings full grown it soars aloft and penetrates the Universe.”

The “heavy rider” is the sensuous will that represses the aspirations and yields easily to temptation. And so:

“From out the palace came a child of sin,

And took him by the curls and led him in,

Where sat a company with heated eyes,

Expecting when a fountain should arise.”

And then follows a picture of revel and riot, like that which Koheleth had known (Ecclesiastes 2:12). The fountain of sensual pleasure flows at last. The orgiastic ecstasy reached its highest point:

“Twisted hard in fierce embraces,

Like to Furies, like to Graces,

Dashed together in blinding dew,

Till, killed with some luxurious agony,

The nerve-dissolving melody

Fluttered headlong from the sky.”

And then the vision changes, the mirth that has blazed so brightly, like the crackling of the thorns (Ecclesiastes 7:6) dies out, and the slow retribution comes:

“I saw that every morning, far withdrawn

Beyond the darkness and the cataract,

God made himself an awful rose of dawn

Unheeded: and detaching fold by fold

From those still heights, and slowly drawing near,

A vapour heavy, hueless, formless, cold,

Came floating on for many a month and year


That vapour is, as the sequel shews, the cynical pessimism which destroys all joy, and makes a man hate his life (Ecclesiastes 2:17) and find no beauty in nature, or comeliness in man or woman. The youthful reveller becomes

“A gray and gap-toothed man as lean as death,

Who slowly rode across a withered heath

And lighted at a ruined inn.”

And the monologue that follows can scarcely fail to remind us of much that we have met as we have traced the many wanderings of the soul of Koheleth. There is the same sense of the transitoriness of life, tempting men to drown it in oblivion (Ecclesiastes 2:22; Ecclesiastes 6:12).

“Fill the cup and fill the can:

Have a rouse before the morn;

Every minute dies a man,

Every minute one is born.”

There is the same contempt for the glory of living in the memories of men, after which so many strive without profit (Ecclesiastes 1:11).

“Name and fame! to fly sublime

Thro’ the courts, the camps, the schools,

Is to be the ball of Time,

Bandied in the hands of fools.”

The anomalies of a world out of joint socially and politically do but stir in him the cynical “wonder not” (Ecclesiastes 5:8) and he finds in these also, as Koheleth found, “vanity and feeding upon wind” (Ecclesiastes 8:10; Ecclesiastes 1:17).

“He that wars for liberty

Faster binds the tyrant’s power,

And the tyrant’s cruel glee

Forces on the freer hour.

Fill the can and fill the cup;

All the windy ways of men

Are but dust that rises up,

And is lightly laid again.”

Here also time and chance happeneth alike to all (Ecclesiastes 9:11) and the days of darkness are many (Ecclesiastes 11:8).

“Drink to Fortune, drink to chance,

While we keep a little breath.

Thou art mazed: the night is long,

And the longer night is near”

and all that remains is but

“Dregs of life and lees of man.”

The vision receives its interpretation from the voices that come from the mystic mountain range where the judgments of God hide themselves in clouds and darkness,

“Then some one said, ‘Behold! it was a crime

Of sense avenged by sense that wore with time.’

Another said. ‘The crime of sense became

The crime of malice and is equal blame.’

And one ‘He had not wholly quenched his power,

A little grain of conscience made him sour.’ ”

The transformation presents a parallel, obviously, one would say, an unconscious parallel, to what we have seen in Shakespeare’s Timon. And here too the wider thoughts of the seer lead him to look on that pessimism of the depraved and worn-out sensualist rather with pity and terror than with absolute despair. He dares not absolve, he dares not condemn;

“At last I heard a voice upon the slope

Cry to the summit ‘Is there any hope?’

To which an answer pealed from that high land,

But in a tongue no man could understand,

And on the glittering summit far withdrawn

God made Himself an awful rose of dawn.”

The “Palace of Art” presents the analysis of a far nobler experiment in life, answering to that of Koheleth when he sought to “guide his heart with wisdom” and surrounded himself with the “peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces” and “whatsoever his eye desired, he kept not from them, and withheld not his heart from any joy and his heart rejoiced in his labour” (Ecclesiastes 2:8-10).

In this case the writer prologuizes and states in advance the moral of his poem. It will scarcely be questioned that it is identical with that which we have seen to be the moral of Ecclesiastes.

“I send you here a sort of allegory

(For you will understand it), of a soul,

A sinful soul possessed of many gifts,

A spacious garden full of flowering weeds,

A glorious devil large in heart and brain,

That did love Beauty only (Beauty seen

In all varieties of mould and mind)

And knowledge for its beauty; or if good

Good only for its beauty, seeing not

That Beauty, Good and Knowledge, are three sisters

That doat upon each other, friends to man,

Living together under the same roof,

And never can be sundered without tears.

And he that shuts Love out in turn shall be

Shut out from Love, and on her threshold lie

Howling in outer darkness. Not for this

Was common clay ta’en from the common earth,

Moulded by God and tempered with the tears

Of angels to the perfect shape of man.”

And then the allegory begins. The man communes with his soul after the manner of Koheleth (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3):

“I built my soul a lordly pleasure-house

Wherein at ease for aye to dwell,

I said, O Soul, make merry and carouse,

Dear Soul, for all is well.”

That “pleasure-house” is filled with all that art can represent of the varying aspects

“Of living Nature, fit for every mood

And change of my still soul.”

It is filled also with all types and symbols of the religions of humanity, regarded simply from the artist’s stand-point as presenting, in greater or less measure, the element of beauty, from St Cecilia, and the houris of Islam, down to Europa and Ganymede.

“Nor these alone, but every legend fair

Which the supreme Caucasian mind

Carved out of Nature for itself, was there

Not less than life designed.”

And poetry also in its highest forms ministered to the soul’s delight;

“For there was Milton like a seraph strong,

Beside him Shakespeare bland and mild;

And there the world-worn Dante grasped his song,

And somewhat grimly smiled.”

And with them were the typical representatives of divine philosophy,

“Plato the wise, and large-brow’d Verulam,

Masters of those who know.”

The highest ideal of Epicurean culture in its supreme tranquillity was at least for a time attained, and there was no contaminating element of the lower forms of baseness. The soul can say:

“All these are mine,

And, let the world have peace or war,

Tis one to me.”

She found delight in tracing the evolution of organic, the development of intellectual, life, and had placed beneath her feet, as Epicurus himself had done, the superstitions of the crowd, and, as Koheleth had at one time done, had cast aside the memories of a national and historical religion.

“I take possession of men’s mind and deed,

I live in all things great and small;

I sit apart, holding no form of creed,

And contemplating all.”

But the germ of retribution was already planted. As with Koheleth there was “the world set in the heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11), the problems of the unfathomable universe:

“Full oft the riddle of the painful earth

Flashed thro’ her as she sate alone,

Yet not the less held she her solemn mirth

And intellectual throne

Of full-sphered contemplation.”

And then, as with a stroke like that which fell on Herod, the penalty of her selfish search for happiness, her isolated eudæmonism, there fell on her as in a moment, the doom of “vanity of vanities” written on all her joys, and the mood of pessimism which was its first and bitterest fruit:

“When she would think, where’er she turned her sight,

The airy hands confusion wrought,

Wrote ‘mene, mene’ and divided quite

The kingdom of her thought.

Deep dread and loathing of her solitude

Fell on her, from which mood was born

Scorn of herself: again from out that mood

Laughter at her self-scorn.”

Has the picture of one who is “fessus satiate videndi” been ever drawn by a more subtle master-hand? To such a mood, as seen in Koheleth, existence is a burden, and non-existence a terror (Ecclesiastes 2:17; Ecclesiastes 6:3; Ecclesiastes 9:5), the sleep of the grave, or the dreams that may haunt that sleep are equally appalling;

“And death and life she hated equally,

And nothing saw, for her despair,

But dreadful time, dreadful eternity,

No comfort anywhere.”

It was a more terrible, if a less loathsome, form of retribution, than the cynical scorn of the “Vision of Sin,” not without a certain element of greatness, and therefore that cry out of the depths was not uttered in vain:

“What is it that will take away my sin,

And save me lest I die?”

There is no other road to restoration than the old “king’s highway” of penitence and prayer and self-renunciation. The deepest lesson of the poem is perhaps kept to the last. The joys of beauty, and culture, and art, and wisdom, are not lost utterly and for ever. The Palace of Art remains for the soul to dwell in, when it is purified from evil, no longer in selfish isolation, but in the blessedness of companionship. “Whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely,” are not forfeited by the discipline of repentance, but rather secured as for an everlasting habitation, withdrawn for a season, but only that they may abide with the soul for ever:

“So when four years were wholly finished,

She threw her royal robes away.

‘Make me a cottage in the vale,’ she said,

‘Where I may fast and pray.

Yet pull not down my palace towers that are

So lightly, beautifully built;

Perchance I may return with others there,

When I have purged my guilt.’ ”

In the “Two Voices” we have a fuller unveiling of what the poet pictured to himself as the working of the pessimist temper, to which life has become hateful, while yet it shrinks from death. Here also the unconscious echoes of the thoughts of Koheleth (Ecclesiastes 6:3) are distinctly heard:

“A still small voice spake unto me,

‘Thou art so full of misery,

Were it not better not to be?’ ”

The soul makes answer to the tempter with feeble and faltering voice. It is in vain to urge the dignity of man’s nature and his prerogative of thought. Nature cares for the race, not for the individual man. “One generation goeth and another generation cometh” (Ecclesiastes 1:4).

“It spake moreover in my mind

‘Tho’ thou wert scatter’d to the wind,

Yet is there plenty of the kind.’ ”

In the language of the French cynic, “Il n’y a pas d’homme necessaire.”

“Good soul suppose I grant it thee

Who’ll weep for thy deficiency?

Or will one beam be less intense,

When thy peculiar difference

Is cancelled in the world of sense?”

Hope that the future may be better than the past is repressed with a like sneer:

“ ‘Some turn this sickness yet might take,

Ev’n yet.’ But he ‘what drug can make

A withered palsy cease to shake?’ ”

It is in vain to aim at the Epicurean tranquillity of culture or refined enjoyment (Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 5:18).

“Moreover but to seem to find,

Asks what thou lackest, thought resigned,

A healthy frame, a quiet mind.”

As with Hamlet, this shrinking from the logical outcome of pessimism, lest it should tarnish his fair fame among his fellows, shews weakness and not strength. That desire to be remembered is also ‘vanity,’

“Such art thou, a divided will,

Still heaping on the fear of ill

The fear of men, a coward still.

Do men love thee? Art thou so bound

To men, that how thy name shall sound

Shall vex thee, lying underground?”

The aspirations after the heroic life are shewn to be as hollow as the search for happiness. This also is vanity.

“Then comes the check, the change, the fall;

Pain rises up, old pleasures pall;

There is one remedy for all.”

The old question, who knows whether man is better than the brute creatures round him (Ecclesiastes 3:21) is asked and with the old answer:

“If straight thy track, or if oblique,

Thou know’st not, shadows thou dost strike,

Embracing cloud, Ixion-like;

And owning but a little more

Than beasts, abidest tame and poor,

Calling thyself a little lower

Than angels. Cease to wail and brawl;

Why inch by inch to darkness crawl?

There is one remedy for all.”

As with Hamlet, the voice that prompts to self-destruction is met in part by the fear of the unknown. We have no full assurance that death is the end of consciousness:

“For I go, weak from suffering here;

Naked I go, and void of cheer;

What is it that I may not fear?”

The very weariness of life, which is the outcome of pessimism, testifies to the higher capacities, and therefore the higher possibilities, of the human spirit. The Welt-schmerz, the ‘world set in the heart,’ the thought of Infinity (Ecclesiastes 3:11), bears its unconscious witness,

“Here sits he shaping wings to fly,

His heart forebodes a mystery,

He names the name Eternity.”

Conscious as he is of the contradictions in his inner life, of the “dead flies” that taint the fair fame even of the best and wisest (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

“He knows a baseness in his blood,

At such strange war with something good,

He may not do the thing he would.”

Yet with him, as with Koheleth, faith at last prevails, and the goal of his many labyrinthine wanderings of thought is hope and not despair. And the faith comes to him, not through the careful balancing of the conflicting arguments of the Voice that whispered despair and of his own soul in reply, but partly through his inner consciousness of aspirations after a higher blessedness, partly through the contemplation of a form of life natural and simple enough, in which that blessedness is, in part at least, realised, in a fresh sympathy with humanity, in acts, or at least thoughts, of kindness (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2).

“Whatever crazy sorrow saith,

No life that breathes with human breath,

Hath ever truly longed for death.

’Tis life whereof our nerves are scant;

Oh, life, not death, for which we pant,

More life, and fuller, that I want.”

And what he sees is a village Churchyard, on “the Sabbath morn,” and “the sweet Church bells begin to peal,” and among those who are so “passing the place where each must rest” are three—husband, wife and child, bound together as by “a three-fold cord that is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

“These three made unity so sweet,

My frozen heart began to beat,

Remembering its ancient heat.”

And so “the dull and bitter voice was gone” and a second voice was heard with its whisper,

“A murmur ‘Be of better cheer.’ ”

He looked back, as Koheleth looked back, on his previous mood of pessimism as a thing belonging to the past, and just as the last words of the one were those that said in tones, which though a sad tender irony might mingle with them, were far from being merely ironical, “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth” (Ecclesiastes 11:9), so, in the new sense of life that dawned upon the thinker, this was the Voice that at last prevailed, as he looked on the blameless joys of the life of home, purified by the fear of God, and felt the calming influence of sky and stream and meadow-land and flowers,

“So variously seem’d all things wrought,

I marvelled how the mind was brought

To anchor by one gloomy thought,

And wherefore rather I made choice

To commune with that barren voice

Than him that said Rejoice, rejoice.”

A later poem of Tennyson’s, his “Lucretius,” gives a new significance to these three earlier works, as shewing how deeply he had entered into that Epicurean teaching both in its higher and its lower aspects, of which we have seen so many traces in the words of Koheleth. With the profound insight which that study had given him he paints, on the one hand, the insane impurities which are the outcome of the soul’s disease, and haunt the mind that has rested in sensuous pleasure as its goal, and of which the Poet’s fourth Book presents but too full and terrible a picture; and, on the other, recognises the higher aim which makes the De Rerum Natura one of the loftiest and noblest poems of Latin, or indeed of any, literature. It had not been his aim, any more than it was that of Koheleth, to rest in mere negations.

“My Master held

That Gods there are, for all men so believe.

I prest my footsteps into his, and meant

Surely to lead my Memmius in a train

Of flowery clauses onward to the thought

That Gods there are, and deathless.”

He too has known ‘the two Voices’ that tempt to self-slaughter and resist the temptation, as a man looks out at “all the evil that is done under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:1), of which he says:

“And here he glances on an eye new born,

And gets for greeting but a wail of pain;

And here he stays upon a freezing orb

That fain would gaze upon him to the last;

And here upon a yellow eyelid fall’n,

And closed by those who mourn a friend in vain,

Not thankful that his troubles are no more.

And me, altho’ his fire is on my face,

Blinding, he sees not, nor at all can tell

Whether I mean this day to end myself,

Or lend an ear to Plato, where he says,

That men, like soldiers, may not quit the post

Allotted by the Gods: but he that holds

The Gods are careless, wherefore need he care

Greatly for them, nor rather plunge at once,

Being troubled, wholly out of sight, and sink

Past earthquake—ay, and gout and stone, that break

Body towards death, and palsy, death-in-life

And wretched age …?”

The student will have noticed how singularly all this coincides with Koheleth’s view of the ‘vanity’ of human life, one generation going and another coming (Ecclesiastes 1:4), and with the picture of disease and decay in Ecclesiastes 12:3-6. Lucretius, like Koheleth, had aimed at the higher ideal of the life of the Garden of Epicurus. He turns to the Gods and says:

“I thought I lived securely as yourselves—

No lewdness, narrowing envy, monkey spite,

No madness of ambition, avarice, none:

No larger feast than under plane or pine

With neighbours laid along the grass, to take

Only such cups as left us friendly warm,

Affirming each his own philosophy—

Nothing to mar the sober majesties

Of settled, sweet Epicurean life.”

The agony which drove him to self-slaughter was that he had fallen from that ideal into the sensuous baseness with which he had made himself but too fatally familiar. He too had his “Vision of Sin,” the “crime of sense avenged by sense,” and found the haunting burden of it unendurable, and in words which again remind us of Koheleth (Ecclesiastes 1:9; Ecclesiastes 1:11; Ecclesiastes 3:20), utters his resolve,

“And therefore now

Let her that is the womb and tomb of all,

Great Nature, take, and forcing far apart

Those blind beginnings that have made me man,

Dash them anew together at her will,

Thro’ all her cycles—into man once more,

Or beast, or bird, or fish, or opulent flower:”

And doing this, he looks forward to the time

“When momentary man

Shall seem no more a something to himself,

But he, his hopes and hates, his homes and fanes,

And even his bones long laid within the grave,

The very sides of the grave itself shall pass

Vanishing, atom and void, atom and void,

Into the unseen for ever.”

With Tennyson, as with Shakespeare, there are few, if any, traces, that this striking parallelism with the Confessions of the Debater, is the result of any deliberate study of, or attempt to reproduce, them. The phrases of Ecclesiastes are not borrowed, admirably as they might have served to express his thoughts; there is no reference, however distant, to his experience. We have to do once more with parallelism pure and simple and not with derivation. What I have attempted to shew is that under every extremest variation in circumstances and culture the outcome of the pursuit of happiness, what we have learnt to call eudæmonism, after the Epicurean ideal, is sooner or later, that, in the absence of a clearer faith and loftier aim, the ideal breaks down and leaves the man struggling with the question ‘Is life worth living?’ perhaps finding the answer to that question in some form of a pessimist view of life and of the Universe. It will be admitted, I think, that, so far as I have proved this, I have added to the arguments which I have urged in favour of the view that I have maintained, both in the Notes and in the “Ideal Biography,” as to the genesis and plan of Ecclesiastes.


I have yet another instance of unconscious parallelism with the experience and the thought of Koheleth to bring before the student’s notice. It comes from a far off land and from a more distant age than the two which I have already discussed. Omar Khayyam (= Omar, the Tent maker)[72] was born in the latter half of the eleventh century at Naishapur in Khorasan. He was in his youth the friend and fellow-student of Nizam ul Mulk, the Vizier of Alp Arslan, the son of Toghrul Bey. They read the Koran sitting at the feet of the Imam Mowaffek, the greatest teacher of his age and city. Another fellow-student became afterwards a name of terror as Hasan, the Old Man of the Mountains, the head of the Assassins whose name and fame became a word of terror to the Crusaders. Omar, as acting on the Epicurean counsel, λάθε βίωσας (= live as hidden from view), asked his Vizier friend to “let him live in a corner under the shadow of his fortune,” giving his life to the pursuit of wisdom. Like the Greek and Roman Epicureans, he devoted himself chiefly to astronomy and physical science. He was employed in reforming the Persian Calendar, and died, as the paragon of his age, in a. d. 1123. It was characteristic of the mood of thought, the workings of which we are about to trace, that his wish as to his grave was that it might be “where the North wind might scatter roses over him.” Like the Koheleth of the “Ideal Biography,” in his relation to the Jewish Rabbis of his time, he startled alike the orthodox Imams of Islam and the mystics of the Sufi sect, by the half-voluptuous, half-cynical strain which found utterance in his poems and his conversation. The writer of an article in the Calcutta Review, No. 59, draws an elaborate parallel between his poetry and that of Lucretius, but it does not seem to have occurred to him to carry the line of thought further and to note the many coincidences which the Rubaiyat (= Tetrastichs) presents to the thoughts and language of Ecclesiastes, as well as to those of the later Epicurean poet. To these the attention of the student is now invited.

[72] I owe my knowledge of the poet to the “Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” published by Quaritch, 1879. The name of the translator is not given.

The poem opens with the dawn of a New Year’s day, and a voice calls as from a tavern where revellers are carousing, and summons to enjoyment

“Come fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring

Your winter garment of Repentance fling,

The Bird of Time has but a little way

To flutter—and the Bird is on the wing.

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,

Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,

The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,

The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

Each morn a thousand Roses brines, you say,

Yes, but where leaves the Rose of yesterday?

And this first summer-month that brings the Rose,

Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobad away.

Well, let it take them.”

The lesson drawn from that thought of the transitoriness of enjoyment is the old lesson of a calm and tranquil Epicureanism such as that of Ecclesiastes 2:24; Ecclesiastes 5:8; Ecclesiastes 9:7.

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,

A Jug of Wine, a loaf of Bread—and thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness,

Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow.

Some for the Glories of this World, and some

Sigh for the Prophet’s Paradise to come;

Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,

Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

Look to the blowing Rose about us;—‘Lo!

‘Laughing’ she says ‘into the world I blow,

‘At once the silken tassel of my Purse

Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw;’

The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon

Turns ashes, or it prospers; and anon

Like Snow upon the Desert’s dusty face,

Lighting a little hour or two—was gone.

Think—in this battered Caravanserai

Whose portals are alternate Night and Day,

How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp

Abode his destin’d Hour, and went his way.”

And this sense of the transitoriness of all things human (Ecclesiastes 1:4-7; Ecclesiastes 2:16) leads, as with the Epicureans of all times and countries, to the Carpe diem of Horace, the “let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die” of 1 Corinthians 15:34, to the belief that there is “nothing better for a man than that he should thus eat, drink and be merry.”

“Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears

To-Day of past Regret and future Fears.

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,

Before we too into the Dust descend;

Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,

Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer and sans End.”

Man’s aspirations after immortality are met with the scepticism of the “who knoweth?” of Pyrrho and of Koheleth (Ecclesiastes 3:21), or even with a more definite denial.

“Alike for those who for To-Day prepare,

And those that after some to-morrow stare,

A Muezzin from the towers of darkness cries

‘Fools, your reward is neither Here nor There.’ ”

The discussions of the Sages of his land, the making of many books without end, were for him but as the “feeding upon wind” (Ecclesiastes 12:2) and brought no satisfying answer.

“Myself when young did eagerly frequent

Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument,

About it and about: but evermore

Came out by the same door where in I went.

With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,

And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;

And this was all the Harvest that I reaped:

‘I came like Water and like Wind I go.’ ”

The problem of Life, the enigma of the Universe, found no solution. God had “set the world in the heart” of man to the intent that they might not “find out his work from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

“Up from Earth’s Centre through the Seventh Gate

I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,

And many a Knot unravell’d by the Road,

But not the Master-knot of Human Fate.

There was the Door to which I found no Key,

There was the Veil through which I might not see:

Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee,

There was,—and then no more of Thee and Me.

Earth could not answer: nor the Seas that mourn

In flowing Purple, of their Lord forlorn;

Nor rolling Heaven, with all his Signs revealed,

And hidden by the Sleeve of Night and Morn[73].”

[73] We are reminded of the grand language of Job 28:13-14, but there the questioner, like Koheleth, was led to rest in a very different conclusion.

Agnosticism has, perhaps, never spoken in the tones of a more terrible despondency than in the words that follow, though the language of Koheleth in Ecclesiastes 3:13; Ecclesiastes 9:3, falls not far short of it.

“Then of the thee in me who works behind

The Veil, I lifted up my hands to find

A Lamp amid the Darkness; and I heard

As from Without, ‘The me within thee blind.’ ”

The sense of the infinite littleness of the individual life (Ecclesiastes 1:4; Ecclesiastes 1:11), is expressed in words which remind us (once more a case of unconscious parallelism) of Tennyson’s gloomier Voice,

“When you and I behind the Veil are past,

Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,

Which of our Coming and Departure heeds,

As the Sea’s self should heed a pebble-cast.

A Moment’s Halt—a momentary taste

Of Being from the Well amid the Waste—

And Lo! the phantom Caravan has reacht

The nothing it set out from. Oh, make haste.”

He takes refuge, like Koheleth (Ecclesiastes 2:3; Ecclesiastes 9:7), from this despair, in the juice of the “fruitful Grape,”

“The Sovereign Alchemist that in a trice

Life’s leaden metal into Gold transmutes.”

He is not deterred from that sweet balm by the Prophet’s prohibition, or fears of Hell, or hopes of Paradise,

“One thing is certain, and the rest is lies,

The Flower that once has blown, for ever dies.”

None have come back from the bourne of that “undiscovered country” that lies behind the veil,

“Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who

Before us pass’d the doors of Darkness through,

Not one returns to tell us of the Road,

Which to discover we must travel too.”

Like Milton’s Satan he has come to the conviction that,

“The Soul is its own place and of itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven,”

and gives utterance to the conviction:

“I sent my Soul through the Invisible

Some letter of that After life to spell,

And by and by my Soul return’d to me

And answered, ‘I myself am Heaven and Hell.’

Heaven but the Vision of fulfilled Desire,

And Hell the Shadow of a Soul on fire,

Cast on the darkness into which ourselves

So late emerg’d from, shall so soon expire.”

In words which remind us of Prospero’s

“We are such stuff

As dreams are made of,”

or of Jaques’

“All the world’s a stage

And all the men and women merely players,”

he writes his view of the world’s great drama as seen from the half-pessimist, half-pantheistic, stand-point,

“We are no other than a moving row

Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go,

Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held

In Midnight by the Master of the Show;

But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays

Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days,

Hither and thither moves, and checks and stays,

And one by one back in the Closet lays.”

Koheleth’s complaint that there is “no new thing under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9), that the course of Nature and of human life presents but a dreary monotony of iteration (Ecclesiastes 1:5-6; Ecclesiastes 1:14), oppresses him once more with a despair for which the wine-cup seems the only remedy: he knows not either the ‘whence?’ the ‘whither?’ or the ‘why?’ of life.

“Yesterday, this Day’s Madness did prepare;

To-morrow’s Silence, Triumph, or Despair:

Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:

Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.”

In words which remind us of Heine, at once in their faint hope, and in the bold despair which equals almost the “Tantâ stat proedita culpâ” of Lucretius, he utters his last words to the Eternal, whom he can neither wholly deny nor yet trust in and adore,

“What! out of senseless Nothing to provoke

A conscious Something to resent the Yoke

Of unpermitted Pleasure, under pain

Of Everlasting Penalties if broke!

What! from his helpless Creature be repaid

Pure Gold, for what He lent him dross-allay’d—

Sue for a debt he never did contract

And cannot answer—Oh the sorry trade!

Oh Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin

Beset the Road I was to wander in,

Thou wilt not with Predestin’d Evil round

Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to sin!

Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make

And ev’n with Paradise devise the Snake:

For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man

Is blacken’d,—Man’s forgiveness give—and take.”

In this instance also, as in those of Koheleth, Jaques, Hamlet, Heine, Schopenhauer, and a thousand others, the pessimism, self-conscious and self-contemplative, finding free utterance in the play of imagination or of humour, did not lead to suicide, but to the effort, after the manner of Epicureans less noble than Lucretius, to narcotise, the sense of wretchedness by the stimulation of the wine-cup. In words which half remind us of some of Heine’s most cynical utterances and half of the epitaph said to have been placed on the tomb of Sophocles, he gives free vent to his thoughts as to the hard theory of destiny that had been pressed upon him under the form of the old parable of the Potter and the clay, and his refuge from those thoughts in the revelry which was rounded by the sleep of death,

“ ‘Why,’ said another, ‘Some there are who tell

Of One who threatens He will send to Hell

The luckless Pots He marred in making;—Pish!

He’s a Good Fellow, and ’twill all be well’[74].

[74] Comp. Heine’s words not long before his death “Dieu me pardonnera; c’est son metier.”

‘Well,’ murmured one, ‘Let whoso make or buy,

My Clay with long Oblivion is gone dry:

But fill me with the old familiar juice;

Methinks I might recover by and by.

‘Ah, with the Grape my fading Life provide,

Ah, wash the Body whence the Life has died,

And lay me, shrouded in the living Leaf,

By some not-unfrequented Garden-side.

That ev’n my buried Ashes such a snare

Of Vintage shall fling up into the Air

As not a true believer passing by

But shall be overtaken unaware.”

Beyond this we need not go. The life of Omar Khayyam, so far as we know, did not end, as we have seen reason to believe that that of Koheleth, and even of Heine, did, in a return to truer thoughts of the great enigma. It will be admitted, however, that it is not without interest to trace, under so many varieties of form and culture, the identity of thought and feeling to which an undisciplined imagination, brooding over that enigma and seeking refuge, in sensual indulgence, from the thought that it is insoluble, sooner or later leads. The poets and thinkers of the world might, indeed, almost be classified according to the relation in which they stand, to that world-problem which Reason finds itself thus impotent to solve. Some there are, like Homer, and the unknown author of the Nibelungen Lied, who in their healthy objectivity seem never to have known its burden. Some, like Æschylus, Dante, Milton, Keble, have been protected against its perilous attacks by the faith which they had inherited and to which they clung without the shadow of a doubt. Some, like Epicurus himself, and Montaigne, have rested in a supreme tranquillity. Some, like Sophocles, Virgil, Shakespeare, Goethe, have passed through it, not to the serenity of a clearer faith, but to the tranquillity of the Supreme Artist, dealing with it as an element in their enlarged experience. Some, like Lucretius, Omar Khayyam, Leopardi, and in part Heine, have yielded to its fatal spell, and have “died and made no sign” after nobler or ignobler fashion. Others, to whom the world owes more, have fought and overcome, and have rested in the faith of a Divine Order which will at last assert itself, of a Divine Education, of which the existence of the enigma, as forming part of man’s probation and discipline, is itself a material element. Of this victory, the writer of the Book of Job, and Tennyson, present the earliest and the latest phases. An intermediate position may be claimed, not the less poetical in essence because its outward form was not that of poetry, for the writer of Ecclesiastes as in later times for the Pensées of Pascal.




The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

General Editor for the Old Testamenet:—






principal of st andew’s college within the university of sydeny and professor of hebrew





by the


The present General Editor for the Old Testament in the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges desires to say that, in accordance with the policy of his predecessor the Bishop of Worcester, he does not hold himself responsible for the particular interpretations adopted or for the opinions expressed by the editors of the several Books, nor has he endeavoured to bring them into agreement with one another. It is inevitable that there should be differences of opinion in regard to many questions of criticism and interpretation, and it seems best that these differences should find free expression in different volumes. He has endeavoured to secure, as far as possible, that the general scope and character of the series should be observed, and that views which have a reasonable claim to consideration should not be ignored, but he has felt it best that the final responsibility should, in general, rest with the individual contributors.





I. Introduction

1. The Name of the Book and its Place in the Canon

2. The Unity of the Book

3. Is the Book a Drama?

4. The Age and Authorship of the Book

5. The purpose of the Poem

6. The Allegorical Interpretation

7. History of the Allegorical Interpretation

8. Outline of the Book

9. Literature

II. Notes

III. Appendix I. Translation

IV. Appendix II. On Budde’s Hypothesis



§ 1. The Name of the Book and its Place in the Canon

The first verse gives the title of the book, as “the Song of songs, which is Solomon’s.” This superscription can hardly be an original part of the book, since the use of ăsher for “which” is contrary to the practice of the author or authors. Nowhere in the book proper do we find anything but the prefix ‘sh’ for the relative. The meaning of the title is not as some Jewish commentators (e.g. Abr. ibn Ezra and D. Kimchi) thought, “A Collection of Songs.” To obtain such a meaning we should have either to translate “A song consisting of songs,” a use of the construct state without parallel in Hebrew: or to give ‘shir’ an entirely different meaning in the first case from that which it has in the second. Both alternatives are extremely unlikely. The only well-attested meaning of such a composite expression is the superlative. It should mean therefore ‘The best or greatest of songs’; just as we have ‘a slave of slaves,’ that is, the lowest of slaves, ‘vanity of vanities,’ i.e. the vainest of all things. The latter clause of the verse ‘which is Solomon’s’ should not be taken as qualifying only ‘songs,’ but the whole compound expression ‘Song of songs.’ ‘The best’ or ‘sweetest of songs, by Solomon’ would probably represent the thought which it is meant to convey. There can hardly be any doubt that the preposition prefixed to Solomon (translated by the genitive) is the so-called lamedh auctoris. Everywhere else it denotes the author of the book or poem, at the head of which it stands, not the subject of it. But, as will be shewn later, it is all but certain that Solomon was not the author. All the probabilities are that it was written after, perhaps long after, Solomon’s day.

As for its place in the Canon of the Scriptures, the book is in the Hagiographic division; and in the German and French mss. it is put after the Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, as the first of the ‘five rolls,’ viz., Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther. These five books are placed thus in the Hebrew mss. because they were appointed to be read at the great annual Feasts, Canticles on the eighth day of the Passover, Ruth at Pentecost, Lamentations on the ninth day of Ab, the day on which Jerusalem was destroyed, Ecclesiastes at the Feast of Tabernacles, and Esther at the Feast of Purim. But, as Budde well points out, this is an artificial arrangement, and was probably not the earliest. The Spanish mss, the Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b, 15a), and the Massora suggest that the older order was, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Canticles, so that the three Solomonic books should stand together. When it was admitted to its place in the Canon cannot be ascertained. It is very unlikely that it was uncanonical until the days of Rabbi Aqiba, as Grätz and others maintain. Delitzsch has pointed out that the discussion in a.d. 90 at Jabneh, in which Rabbi Aqiba took part, was not as to whether Ecclesiastes and the Canticles ought to be admitted into the Canon, but as to whether they ought to have been admitted. Consequently they were then, i.e. in a.d. 90, part of the Canon. This view is supported by the fact that in the Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b, 15a) “the enriching of the Canon by the books of Isaiah, Proverbs, the Song, and Ecclesiastes is ascribed to Hezekiah’s College of scribes (Proverbs 25:1)” (Delitzsch).

The date actually given for the reception of these books is, of course, wrong; but it is significant that they should be grouped together in this way. It was certainly ancient Jewish opinion that the Canticles were not admitted almost by themselves, and at a very late date. The date of the Septuagint translation is quite uncertain. How much exactly the Son of Sirach meant by “the Law, the Prophets, and the other writings,” which existed in a Greek version in his day, is unknown. The Song may have been among the “other writings,” or it may not. Josephus, however (Cont. Apion. Song of Solomon 1:8), gives us reason to believe that the Song and Ecclesiastes formed part of the sacred books in his day among the Hellenistic Jews, as well as among the Palestinian Jews, and he asserts that they had done so for centuries. If he is to be trusted on this point, the Song of Solomon was in the Canon before our era, but was disputed just as the antilegomena of the New Testament were. In both cases, the fact that there were doubts ought not to obscure the other fact, that these books had been accepted as canonical before the discussions of which we hear were raised about them. Another reason for thinking that the Song was canonical in pre-Christian times is, as Budde also points out, that the conditions upon which books were admitted into the Canon by the Jewish councils were these:—(1) they must have a religious meaning; (2) they must have been written (or have been held to have been written) not later than Ezra’s time, for it was only up to that time that the Holy Spirit of prophecy was active, and that alone could inspire canonical books. The first demand was met by the allegorical interpretation, which can be traced from the earliest beginnings of Jewish comment among the authorities of the Mishnah who decided finally as to the canonicity of the book. (Cp. Grätz, p. 115, who mentions as allegorists the patriarch Gamaliel, Rabbi Joshua, Rabbi Aqiba, Rabbi Papias.) The second requirement was met by attributing the book to Solomon, and regarding it as a book of Chokhmah or Wisdom (cp. the superscription in the Syriac version, “Wisdom of wisdoms”). There would, consequently, be no difficulty in canonising it when such assumptions were made.

§ 2. The Unity of the Book

A glance at the book is sufficient to shew that in it we hear the utterances not of one voice but of several. There are dialogue, monologue, and narrative in it; and the first impulse undoubtedly is, to endeavour to weave out of it a connected whole. So long as the allegorical exegesis prevailed this was not difficult. The luxuriance of the allegorical fancy was equal to much more difficult tasks than this. It was only when modern historical exegesis began to deal with it that the difficulty of discovering any coherent plan in the book was really felt. When it was felt, the first impulse was to get rid of it by taking the several well-marked sections of the book to be separate songs, all celebrating natural earthly love between the sexes. In this way the book was taken to be a collection of love poems, much like the collections of love poems by Burns or Heine. Some (e.g. Bleek) even supposed that they were by various authors. But the similarity of language and the sameness of the imagery throughout, as well as the recurrence of phrases which throw back the reader’s thoughts from one part to the other, seemed to most of those who took this view to make it necessary to assume the same author for all. In this form the hypothesis was criticised and rejected by Professor Robertson Smith in his article in the Encyclopœdia Britannica on the following grounds. “The correctness of this view would be positively demonstrated if its adherents were able, without arbitrary treatment of the text, to digest the Canticles into a series of lyrics, each complete in itself and independent of the rest. But no commentator has hitherto done this in a satisfactory way, and the most ingenious attempts—especially that of Magnus—involve the assumption that the editor often displaced part of a song, sacrificing the unity of the original lyrics to an artificial composition of the whole. It is plain that if assumptions of this kind are to be made at all, they may also be used in favour of a theory of original unity marred by subsequent misconception.” Before and since his time the great bulk of commentators have preferred to this the view that the book is a unity, more or less dramatic, and have interpreted it on that hypothesis.

But the former view has been re-stated by Budde in the Kurzer Hand-Commentar zum Alten Testament (1898), with an enthusiasm and an ingenuity which is bound to give it a new life. Noting and admitting the force of the objections previously made to the view that we have here a collection of separate love songs, he has constructed a theory certainly much more coherent and in many ways better fitted to ward off attack than former ones.

Founding his view upon Wetzstein’s famous Essay upon “The Syrian Threshing Board,” which appeared in Bastian’s Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 1873, and which Delitzsch partly republished in his commentary on Canticles and Ecclesiastes, Budde endeavours to prove that the Song of Songs is a collection of the national or popular songs (Volkslieder) sung at weddings by professional or amateur singers. From this it would result, of course, that the book never had any sacred character nor any deeper meaning, and that it should never, properly speaking, have been in the Canon of Holy Scripture at all. The main ground for his contention is that to-day at the weddings of the peasantry in the trans-Jordanic and trans-Lebanon districts, the bride and bridegroom are feasted for seven days, during that time are called ‘king’ and ‘queen,’ are served and honoured as such, and do no work at all, but preside over the festivities, seated on high above the guests and adorned with all their wedding attire. Many songs and dances are performed in their honour, and among the songs there are always what are called wasfs, i.e. descriptions of the persons and adornments of the king and queen, almost identical in character with those found in the Song of Solomon, and equally with them going beyond all that modern Western feeling would tolerate. Wetzstein has given specimens of the songs used to-day on such occasions, and Budde, after comparing them with the Song, comes to the conclusion that there must have been guilds of professional singers at weddings, and that we have in our book simply the répertoire of some ancient guild brother, who, in order to assist his memory, wrote down at random all the songs he could remember, or those he thought the best. He does not deny that the book has a similarity of style and vocabulary which suggests that it is throughout the work of one author; but he accounts for that by saying that the popular songs current at one time in one district have always a family likeness, and that there was originally nothing more here. Any unity which the book may now have beyond that, and any traces of dramatic action which may be found in it, he accounts for by the supposition that it was edited, perhaps more than once, before it was received into the Canon. “The songs may,” he says, “quite well have been transposed and arranged according to some guiding principle or principles, and equally well trouble may have been taken to insert here and there transitions and connecting links to bring life and movement into the monotony of the same ideas.”

Now the advantages of this chain of hypotheses, for it is nothing else, are obvious. It recognises, and explains after a fashion, the unity of style and vocabulary, the recurrence of common phrases, the persistence of the same persons, viz. the bride and bridegroom, throughout the book, and the constant references to spring, since that is the favourite season for marriages. It further leaves a broad margin for fragments which cannot be accounted for in their present setting. Lastly, it has the additional advantage that it explains those strange descriptions of the bride and bridegroom, which are so manifestly related to the wasf of the bridal ceremonies described by Wetzstein.

But it has also many disadvantages, and these are so formidable that they would seem absolutely to bar the acceptance of Budde’s theory. As the matter is of very great importance, and as many leading scholars have accepted his theory, we may perhaps believe in sheer weariness of the debate—the matter is discussed fully in the Appendix. Here it must suffice to indicate shortly the main grounds of objection.

(1) The unity in tone and language which is so striking a feature of the book is not sufficiently accounted for by the supposition that the collection of songs of which these are specimens was current in one district. The Border ballads of the North of England and the South of Scotland, though they have a marked general likeness, could hardly be mistaken for the work of one author. The Song of Solomon, on the contrary, inevitably suggests that it is the work of one person. The difference between the general likeness in the former case, and that which we find here, appears to be radical, for Budde’s alternative hypothesis that they may have been written down by someone from his recollection of some particular marriage feast, does not help us to explain the kind and degree of unity which has to be accounted for any better than the fact of their currency in one district.

(2) Prof. Budde has to make so many concessions to the view that the book is a unity, that in the end it remains doubtful whether he has not actually surrendered to that view. He admits that the original songs of which he thinks the book is composed have been edited more than once; that they have been transposed and arranged according to some guiding principles; and that transitions and connecting links have been supplied. If so, then the Song of Solomon as it lies before us now is a connected dramatic or semi-dramatic whole; and if it was brought into its present form before it was received into the Canon, as Budde seems to think, then it is as a dramatic or semi-dramatic whole that it must be interpreted. What the previous history of the constituent parts of the book may have been is a purely literary question of merely subordinate interest.

(3) Neither the number nor the character of the songs in the book is such as the hypothesis would require. The marriage feast as described by Wetzstein lasted seven or eight days. Every day there were a number of dances to which songs were sung. Now the number of songs given here, twenty-three according to Budde, and ten according to Siegfried, who accepts Budde’s view, would hardly be large enough for one wedding, and could not, therefore, represent the répertoire of a professional singer. Then as to their character there are difficulties. According to Wetzstein a large number of the songs at the weddings he describes are warlike, here in the Song they are all peaceful. According to Wetzstein there are always in the later part of the festival songs sung to celebrate the husband and wife together, here there are no such songs. Lastly, there is no mention here of the bride as ‘queen,’ though the bridegroom, according to this hypothesis, is called ‘king’ throughout, while according to Wetzstein the bride-queen and the bridegroom-king are led forth at an early stage with similar pomp and equal honour, and are called by the royal titles equally.

(4) According to this hypothesis no persons can be admitted as actors or subjects of the poems save the bride and bridegroom. Neither the ‘Shulammite’ nor ‘Solomon,’ consequently, can be dramatis personae. They must be names for the bride and bridegroom, implying in the one case merely beauty, and in the other majesty. Now it can hardly be doubted that the attempt to eliminate Solomon and the Shulammite in this way entirely fails. For in the first place, in chapp. Song of Solomon 6:8-9 and Song of Solomon 8:11-13, the bridegroom and the bride are brought into contrast with Solomon, to the great disadvantage of the latter. It seems quite impossible, if it were the custom that the bridegroom should be called Solomon, that it should also be the custom to contrast him with Solomon. Then the difficulty of refining away the definite name the Shulammite into a mere synonym for the most lovely of women seems insuperable. On the other hand, the view that both Solomon and the Shulammite are persons about whom the book tells some story is supported by the occurrence of casual hints as to particular events and circumstances which are too varied and personal to be the mere generalities of formal wedding chants. The passages in which these are found are the following: Song of Solomon 1:5-6; Song of Solomon 3:6; Song of Solomon 4:8; Song of Solomon 6:9; Song of Solomon 6:13; Song of Solomon 8:1-2; Song of Solomon 8:5; Song of Solomon 8:8 ff. All these verses seem to give hints of a definite story forming the background of the poem or poems, and when pieced together they make a very simple and attractive tale on the basis of which the whole book can be explained. To Budde they are all stumbling-blocks, so he has to lop away what he cannot explain away.

(5) Budde’s theory assumes that the marriage customs described by Wetzstein are homogeneous, which they certainly are not; and very ancient, if not primitive, which they most probably are not. For Wetzstein distinctly states that in language, metre, and character, some of the songs he heard were nomadic, while others belonged in all these respects to the settled people. That fact suggests that the marriage ceremonies he saw and the wedding songs he heard were a purely local and probably modern product, and that to assume that they represent universal Palestinian custom is unwarranted.

(6) The great panegyric on love in chap. Song of Solomon 8:6-7 finds no fitting place on this theory. On any theory which takes this book to be a unity, that passage is the culmination of the whole. On Budde’s theory, that it is merely one of the songs sung at weddings all over the country, it loses its importance and its depth of meaning, and becomes almost absurdly incongruous. How strange it would seem to sing, “If a man should give the whole substance of his house for love, yet would he be utterly contemned,” at marriages where the assumption was that such love as was felt had been a mere matter of purchase and sale.

For these reasons therefore, and for others given in the Appendix, it does not appear to be possible to accept Budde’s solution of the difficulties connected with this poem, notwithstanding his naïve surprise that anyone who has not formed a dramatic theory of his own, should not at once accept it. But as has already been indicated, the connection between the wasf as it is used in Syria to-day and certain parts of the Song of Solomon is too palpable to be doubted. But if the descriptions of the persons of the bride and bridegroom in the Song are not specimens of the wedding wasf, what then are they? Our answer is that nothing could be more natural than that a writer who was dealing with love and marriage among a people who delighted in such descriptions of physical beauty as these should either write such descriptions, taking the wedding wasf as his model, or should take over from the popular collections of such things those he most admired. It need hardly be said that the former is much the more probable, both in itself, seeing that the best wasf Wetzstein quotes is the work of the best poet of the time and of the place where it was sung, not a popular song (Volkslied) at all, and also because the linguistic colour of the book is so remarkably uniform. Further, a similar imitation of the wasf is found on Amru ibn Kulthum’s Mo‘allaqa (see note on Song of Solomon 4:1-7). The gain of Wetzstein’s discovery is, that it gives us a very enlightening parallel to the parts of the Song of Solomon which are least acceptable to our taste, and shews that they were a natural outgrowth of the circumstances and taste of the time. It was as inevitable as it was right that the attempt should be made to work out Wetzstein’s hypothesis as an explanation of this book, but since it has failed, we must fall back upon the view that the book is a connected whole, and is meant to be the development of the story which may be gathered from the various local and personal hints which it contains. Pieced together these give us a very simple and attractive tale as the background of the book.

A beautiful maiden of Shulam, born of well-off country folk, and her mother’s only daughter, had harsh brothers. In their anger they had sent her to watch the vineyards. This necessarily exposed her to the sun and in a degree impaired her beauty. Having gone down one day into a garden to admire the growth of the plants and to enjoy the beauty of spring, she suddenly came upon a party of people belonging to the court, and by force or persuasion was conducted to a royal residence of Solomon, at first perhaps in Jerusalem, later to one somewhere near or in Lebanon. There the ladies of the hareem (“the daughters of Jerusalem”) try to win her for the king. Solomon himself also pays his court, but she continues steadfast to a country lover. He comes and calls her to flee with him from Lebanon. Wearied by her continued resistance Solomon lets the faithful maiden go, and leaning on her beloved’s arm she returns to her home. As they draw near he points to an apple-tree within sight of her home where he had once awakened her, and he adds, “Yonder was thy mother in travail with thee.” Then she breaks forth into that fine praise of love which alone would make the poem immortal, and glances at the folly of the king in thinking to win true love by wealth and splendour. Then she proudly claims that she has shewn her brothers’ fears for her chastity to be without foundation, and claims that it was because of this that she had found peace in Solomon’s eyes. The reference to his vineyard is a continuation, in a lighter mood and in a more personal application, of, “If a man would give all the substance of his house for love,” etc. All this is a fair inference from the hints given, and into such a hypothetical background all the passages which are so difficult for Budde may be taken up.

§ 3. Is the book a drama?

Shall we then say with Ewald that the poem is a drama? The points making for that view are well stated by Budde. He says in the Introduction to his Commentary, p. xii, “The book introduces persons speaking, often in dialogues, mostly without any introduction, and where an account is given of them and of their speeches in the third person, the narrator is, so far as can be traced, also one of the actors (cf. ch. Song of Solomon 3:1 ff. Song of Solomon 3:6 ff., ch. Song of Solomon 5:2 ff., ch. Song of Solomon 8:8 ff.). The poet on the contrary nowhere appears. If the book be a unity, then doubtless we have in all this a characteristic of the drama.” He objects, however, to the dramatic view for a number of reasons, some of which, e.g. the assertions that the completed marriage is assumed in chs. 1 and 2, and that Solomon and the Shulammite, “the most necessary persons of the drama,” are wanting, have been dealt with in the Appendix. Those we have not discussed there are the following. (1) Those who believe the poem to be a drama do not agree as to the number of the dramatis personae; as to the action; nor as to the words spoken by the various speakers. But there is not much force in these objections. If an act of one of Shakespeare’s plays were stripped of all outward indications of the speakers, the attempt to restore them would result in similar differences. Moreover those who regard the book as a collection of songs are equally unable to agree. There is no agreement among them either, as to where the various songs begin and end. (2) “There is a total want of a higher conception of love, other than the mere sensual one, till all the action is over.” That of course is true on Budde’s interpretation of the text, but it is not true, if, throughout, the bride be resisting attacks upon her fidelity, which of course is the theory held by all who see in the poem a unity at all.

But the remaining objections have more force in them. (1) The drama is elsewhere unknown in Semitic literature, though of course, as Reuss says, if this is a drama, the objection falls. (2) “Though there is dialogue in parts, yet by far the greater number of the sections are monologues, and we are constantly compelled again and again to leave the interlocutors without an answer.” (3) “All external indications of drama, names of persons, changes of scene, etc. are wanting.” The last objection might perhaps be got over in this way. If the book really belonged to the Greek or even to the Persian period, it might have been written with a knowledge of the Greek drama, and in that case it may originally have had all these external indications. But in the Maccabean time, when all things Greek were regarded with hatred and anything connected with the theatre was looked on with horror, the names of persons, the changes of scene, etc. may have been removed, in order that this true product of the Hebrew heart and mind might not come under the condemnation which then fell on everything Greek. But, of course, if the date was earlier, the difficulty would be to conceive how a drama technically correct in form could have been written at all; and if it were written, it is difficult to see why the dramatic directions should have been omitted. The dramatic form would not in that case have been regarded as foreign, and the directions, etc. could hardly have been dropped by chance. The monologues, too, are undeniably undramatic, and in this uncertainty the fact that no other drama is known in the literature of the Semitic peoples has weight in the opposite scale.

On the whole then it does not appear probable that our poem was ever intended to be performed on the stage, or that it had a fully developed dramatic form. It has, and probably from the beginning had, dramatic elements in it. It contains lyrical monologues, and the poet himself nowhere appears. Is there any kind of poem which would have these characteristics? At once the mind reverts to the dramatic lyrics of Robert Browning, whose manner of writing in some of his blank verse poems is the nearest modern analogy we have to the prophetic style. There are two poems of his especially which suggest themselves as possible parallels. “James Lee’s Wife” and “In a Gondola.” If one person speaks throughout the Song, as Grätz and Reuss maintain, then “James Lee’s Wife” is a perfect analogy. It gives us a series of pictures from a life, revealing the gradual decay of love and the reflections thereon of the speaker, who is also an actor. If on the other hand there are various speakers, then “In a Gondola” would be the best parallel, for there we have dialogue, monologue, musings, almost dreams, and a historic background which suddenly becomes visible in the tragic end of the poem. The only indications Browning gives of the change of the speakers in this latter poem are “He sings,” “She speaks,” “He sings,” “She sings,” “He muses,” “Still he muses,” “She replies musing,” but without these a careful reader would be able to distinguish the parts. There would doubtless be dispute as to two or three sections, but it would not be a serious detriment to the whole if different views were taken of these ambiguous portions. The main outline of the story would stand out in any case, and seeing that in some of Browning’s poems such headings as we find here were an afterthought, put in to meet the accusation of obscurity, it may well be that originally, as in “James Lee,” the pauses and changes were indicated only by a line in this poem also.

As to which of these alternatives is to be taken most readers will have little doubt. There are no indications in the Song that one person speaks throughout. Had this been the case we should have had words such as “I said,” “he said,” at the beginning of some of the sections. It is no doubt true as Grätz says (p. 25), that very often such words are omitted in Hebrew where they must be understood, e.g. in the second Psalm, where there is a continuous dramatic dialogue, and only once are the words indicating it expressed. But that is something different from what we should need to suppose here. We should have to suppose that throughout eight chapters, almost entirely dialogue, these necessary words are consistently omitted save in one or two places. That is very unlikely, and the parallel passages quoted by Grätz all fail to justify this view, because they are in every case very short.

But if that cannot be accepted, then “In a Gondola” is the analogy we must follow. In that case the Song would be a series of lyrics, in varying form and rhythm, each representing a scene in a woman’s life and containing the history of love’s triumph in it. There is not necessarily action in every scene. There are musings, dreams, recollections, and the action does not round itself off as it would do in a drama. The dénouement is rather implied than expressed, for the inner experiences of the heart are the main thing, and external persons and things are only subordinate. They would not be mentioned at all were it not that they are the environment which conditions and stimulates the inward development. But, it may be asked, how can the various persons engaged in the Song be disentangled without such indications as Browning gives, and if they were originally there, what has become of them? Perhaps they have been lost. Every class of interpreters has to make some such hypothesis about something. But could the speeches be disentangled without the aid of such announcements? Most assuredly. Just as a careful reader of “In a Gondola” would find indications of the change of persons without the external helps, and would on consideration be able to insert them for himself, so here the main divisions and all the persons concerned could be discovered, especially by those who read this poem or heard it recited when Hebrew was a living tongue. The fact that Hebrew has in many cases different forms for its masculine and feminine pronouns removes a considerable amount of the uncertainty which perplexes us in reading the Song in English. Such pronouns with us apply largely to both sexes. In Hebrew the forms are largely different. Moreover ancient Hebrew readers were naturally much more on the alert for a change of person than we are, who expect to be warned by external signs when new persons are addressed or are otherwise introduced. And then, as we have seen, Solomon and the Shulammite are characters in the piece, and all the indications point to the likelihood that the story of these two was a popular tale well known to everybody. It is hardly possible that such a story as has been drawn from these local and personal references could have been drawn from them if they were insertions casually and unintelligently made, or were due to misunderstandings of the text, as Budde suggests. If they were insertions of an editor, he must have had in his mind the tale which all those who take the dramatic view find there, in some shape, or it would be marvellous that they should all find it. But if he had it in his mind, and was intent upon binding unconnected songs into a whole to make them part of this story, he would have taken care to make the whole thing more explicit. Such un-obtrusive alterations as are attributed to him would be inexplicable in the case supposed. It might be said that reverence for Canonical Scripture would restrain his hand. But Budde expressly says that the editing took place before the book found its way into the Canon. Only on the supposition that a well-known story was in the mind of the original author, and that the poem was founded on it, can the incidental character of these references be explained. But if that were so, then there would remain no difficulty at all, for even to-day, if we knew that the tale of Solomon and the Shulammite ran as we have sketched it, we should have no difficulty in following the course of the thought. Fundamental differences as to the character of the poem would then be impossible, and the divergence of opinion as to the divisions would almost, if not entirely, disappear. The existence of such a tale would consequently give the easiest and best explanation as to how such a poem as we have in the Song of Songs could have come into being, and would make clear, as nothing else does, how the external indications as to the parts taken by various speakers, which we so greatly miss now, may have been superfluous when the poem was written[1].

[1] How natural it is to leave out such indications of the speakers, may be seen also in Michelangelo’s poem on the death of Cecchino Bracci. It consists of 48 stanzas of 4 lines each, and from beginning to end there are no external indications that the speakers change. Yet the reader soon sees that he must supply these for himself, and the German translator of this and other poems of Michelangelo, Walter Robert-Tornow, has to insert them. He does so in this way, “The poet speaks,” “The dead man speaks,” “The dead man speaks, death answers,” “The poet speaks, the dead answers,” “The poet speaks to Riccio” [another friend of the deceased, who however is not named in the poem], “The Sarcophagus speaks,” “The Sarcophagus speaks to Riccio,” though again no indication of the speaker is given. It is almost certain that some of the stanzas would be allotted otherwise by other editors, but it is undeniable that some distribution of them to various speakers must be made.

§ 4. The Age and Authorship of the Book

If we could rely upon the superscription as original, Solomon would be the author: and if there were any likelihood or even possibility that Solomon was the author, the age of the book would, of course, be settled, as indeed it would be if any known author could be named. But there is no real ground for thinking that Solomon wrote the book. The superscription is by another hand, as the use of ăsher in it, while it never occurs in the book, shews. Moreover, the mention of Tirzah would seem of itself to exclude such a supposition, for that city was not in a position to be placed in contrast with Jerusalem till twenty or thirty years after Solomon’s death. It was only in the reign of Baasha that Tirzah became the capital of the Northern kingdom. Indeed Solomon was held to be the author apparently, only because his name is mentioned in it, and because on the ordinary interpretation, he was the chief actor. In a similar way Samuel came to be regarded as the author of the books of Samuel. The other reasons given by modern writers like Delitzsch who cling to the idea that Solomon was the author are such as these, “the familiarity with nature, the fulness and extent of the book’s geographical and artistic references, the mention made of so many exotic plants and foreign things, particularly of such objects of luxury as the Egyptian horses.” But these, though interesting points for the filling up of the somewhat vague outlines of Solomon’s reputation as an artist, an enquirer into nature, and a great trader who had extensive intercourse with foreign countries, if we knew him to be the author of the Song, appear too slight supports for the theory that only he could have been the author. Finally, if the interpretation we have adopted be correct, Solomon simply cannot have been its author. Nor is the argument from parallel passages much more convincing as to age. Oettli compares Hosea 14:6-9 with Song of Solomon 2:1; Song of Solomon 2:3; Song of Solomon 4:11; Song of Solomon 6:11, and boldly concludes that Hosea had read the latter. But a careful comparison of the passages will shew that more probably there is no nearer resemblance between them than would naturally arise where the same things are described, and where there may easily have been a traditional mode of describing such things, upon which the authors of both books may have formed their style. Then too, there is the difficulty of saying which was first, even if one must have copied from the other. The resemblances to the first part of the book of Proverbs upon which Delitzsch and Oettli also rest appear again to be only slight coincidences of expression and simile such as might be expected when ideas are similar. But were they much more significant than they are, their value for deciding the date of the Song depends altogether upon whether the date of Proverbs 1-9 is itself sufficiently established to give a fixed point from which we may reckon. But that is, as yet at least, not the case. While Delitzsch would refer Proverbs 1-9 to the reign of Jehoshaphat, Ewald, A. B. Davidson, and Nowack place it shortly before the exile, Cheyne and Kuenen regard it as post-exilic, and Stade, Frankenberg, and Holtzmann would bring it down to the Greek age. Obviously till some more definite agreement as to the age of this section of Proverbs has been reached, little can be gained by saying that other books were written before or after it.

The really decisive element in regard to date will undoubtedly prove to be the very conspicuous peculiarities of the language of the book. There are in it for instance many words “found never, or rarely besides, in Biblical Hebrew, but common in Aramaic.” These have been tabulated in his lucid manner by Driver in his Introduction6, p. 448, and are pointed out in the commentary where they occur. The only possible explanations of this fact are two. Either the Song was written after the exile, or there was a large infusion of Aramaic words in the language of the Northern kingdom, and the Song is in the Northern dialect. This latter supposition is emphatically denied by Budde. He says it is “totally groundless” and asks where the author (he must mean the transcriber for he does not admit one author) shews himself so familiar with North Palestinian localities as Driver still says. “The names of a number of mountains which everybody knew, and the one city (Tirzah) … that is all. As against these we have Engedi, Sharon, Heshbon, Kedar, which point to the south, and above all Jerusalem, with a whole series of references. There, and not in the north, are the roots of the Song of Songs. The ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ alone would be sufficient to prove this.” But if the hypothesis that the greater part of the action of the poem takes place in the Lebanon be true, as we think it is, the matter assumes another aspect. Besides, Budde fails to see that Driver grants him all these southern references, but claims that the places with which the author seems to be most familiar and to which he turns most frequently, are localities in Northern Palestine. That must surely be admitted, and it is difficult to see how the mention of ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ can disprove it. Budde says they cannot be ladies of the royal hareem and Court, because these were notoriously not daughters of Jerusalem, but brought mainly from foreign lands. But surely that is hypercriticism. To the country folk, the ladies of the Court would be ‘daughters of Jerusalem’ in contrast to themselves, and no thought of whether these were born in the great city or not would enter their mind. Notwithstanding Budde’s objection, therefore, it seems probable that the poem is North Palestinian, or at least that the story upon which it is founded was so. But can the peculiarities of its language be sufficiently explained by this fact? Driver cautiously says “there is reason to suppose that the language spoken in North Israel differed dialectically from that of Judah.” But while there are some indications of this they are too scanty to give confidence that such very marked Aramaic formations as “shăllâmâh” (Song of Solomon 1:7) and a construction like “my vineyard which is to me” (Song of Solomon 1:6) or “his bed which is to Solomon” (Song of Solomon 3:7) found elsewhere only in the Mishnah and in Syriac, can ever have belonged to the Hebrew language anywhere in pre-exilic days. For the post-exilic date there are strong arguments. The foreign words pardçs and appiryôn can hardly be pre-exilic. Further, though the form “sh” for “ăsher” occurs in the Song of Deborah and in some few earlier narratives, and though the history of it is extraordinarily obscure, nevertheless its exclusive use in the Song undoubtedly tends to range the book along with the later books such as Lamentations, Jonah, Ecclesiastes, and the late Psalms. To these internal indications must be added a most important external one. As we have seen, there was doubt and discussion as to the Song’s right to a place in the Canon down to 100 a.d., and some, even later than that, sang it as a profane song in wineshops. Now that, as Budde remarks, could hardly have been the case had it been written a thousand years before, and been handed down from generation to generation, more especially as we cannot account for its preservation over so long a period if it had not been regarded as sacred literature. Whereas, if it was a comparatively recent production, this doubt, hesitation, and misuse were more or less natural.

The preponderance of evidence, consequently, appears to be altogether in favour of a late date. But how late? The decision will largely depend on the borrowed words such as pardçs and appiryôn. The former is undoubtedly Persian, being derived from the Zend “pairidaêza = an enclosure, and its occurrence here is very difficult to explain if our book was written before the Persian period. For the use of the word here and in Ecclesiastes 2:5 implies not merely that the writers of these books knew what it meant, but also that its meaning was known to the readers to whom they addressed themselves. Now the thing signified could not by its nature have come to the knowledge of the Jews by commerce, but must have been seen either in Persia or Palestine as a Persian arrangement. Consequently, the Persian period is the earliest time in which this word could be popularly known. That it would then be known to the Jews we know from Nehemiah 2:8, where we are told there was a pardçs of the king, i.e. of the Persian king, near Jerusalem. After that had been established, and it must have been a number of years old at the time of Nehemiah’s first visit to Jerusalem (b.c. 445), since he expected to get from its trees timber to make beams for the gates of the castle, etc., the name would be generally known to the Jews. For any earlier date the onus of proof must lie with those who assert it. A mere hypothesis that Solomon or some other king of Israel may have had a ‘paradise’ about one of his palaces is of no value. Another Persian word is undoubtedly ěgôz = nut, but that might have reached Palestine at any date along with the thing. Its presence here however in company with pardçs strengthens the probability of direct intercourse with Persia. On the whole, therefore, the Persian period seems to be the earliest date we can fix, but since there was a pardçs near Jerusalem quite early in that period our book need not have been later than Nehemiah’s first visit. With regard to appiryôn, it is generally said that if it be derived from the Greek phoreion (φορεῖον), then the Song must have been written in the Greek period. But that is by no means certain. Professor Flinders Petrie in his Ten Years Digging in Egypt, p. 54 and elsewhere, points out that in the great fortress of Tahpanhes founded by Psamtik I (664–610), as a camp for the Greek mercenaries by whose aid he had won the crown, and inhabited by them till the city was destroyed by Amasis in 564, a period of nearly a century, we have a centre from which Greek things and Greek names would almost certainly have become known to the Jews long before the Grecian period. When Jeremiah was carried thither against his will in 586 the Greek camp was still there, and we cannot shut out the possibility that such a thing as a phoreion may have become known to the Jews then, and may have been brought back from Egypt along with its name when the Jewish worship was restored and the new community began to prosper and to attract, as it naturally would do, all Jews so near as those in Egypt. Even if appiryôn were Greek, therefore, it need not carry us down beyond the date to which the word pardçs points, but there is no certainty even of that. Professor Robertson Smith was of opinion that this word might be a Hebrew version of the Sanscrit paryanka = a palankin.

But it will be said, Is there not in the Song evidence that the land was prosperous, that there had been no catastrophes known? Could such a book have been written in Israel after the exile? Some would even ask, Could it have been written after Solomon’s glory and the peace and prosperity of his reign had ceased to be a fresh and vivid memory? To that our reply would be that it is a most perilous thing to say that bright and cheerful poems can have been written only in bright and prosperous times; or that gloomy and despondent poems necessarily imply that the time is out of joint. The moods and circumstances of the poet himself count for much more in the tone of his works than the general condition of his country. Otherwise Shakespeare, living in “the spacious times of great Elizabeth,” could never have written Sonnet 66, “Tired with all these, for restful death I cry.” All that can be justly said is, that in a time of disaster and trouble, like the Thirty Years’ War for example, the bulk of the literature will probably deal with war and disaster. But as there may have been quiet corners in Germany where even that appalling calamity was scarcely felt, and where seed-time and harvest, summer and winter, followed one another in a peaceful round, and in which there might easily have been a writer who dealt only with the idyllic aspects of country life even in such a period of tumults and wars, so here. There are very few periods of Hebrew history in which the spring with its freshness and beauty and the intoxication of first love, might not have inspired such a glorious song as we have here. All that is necessary at any time is a mind and heart receptive of all external beauty and susceptible to man’s highest joy, and a genius adequate to express that beauty and joy. It may of course be rightly enough contended that such a mind and heart conjoined with such a genius must have felt with and for the mass of the nation and its circumstances, and that no such single-hearted song of love and joy could have been sung when the people were suffering under the evils of war or the oppression of tyranny. But a little moment of rest in the midst of such turmoils, a few years of better hope, a cessation of the immediate pressure of evil by the death of a tyrant or his change to a better mind, these, combined with personal freedom from anxiety, might leave a poet such as this free to the natural exercise of his powers. Now such a breathing space did occur after the visit of Nehemiah, after the time when we know the pardçs of the Eastern kings had become known to the Jews. The poverty and fewness of the people passed away (see Wellhausen, Isr. und Jüd. Geschichte, 1897, p. 199), and there came a time when the agricultural prosperity inspired many a song of praise. It seems probable therefore that Wellhausen is right when he says (op. cit. p. 197), “The most original” (of the Hagiographic writings) “is the Song of Solomon; the names and things which occur in it assign it clearly to this period, i.e. the second half of the Persian period. We see from it that the Law had not yet forbidden love poetry to the Jews, and had not made the enjoyment of life impossible.” Moreover it was at this time that the Jews began to speak Aramaic in the ordinary intercourse of life. Nehemiah (cp. Nehemiah 13:24) was scandalised that there were in Jerusalem Jews whose children spake half in the speech of Ashdod and could not speak in the Jews’ language.” Evidently therefore up to this time the ‘Jews’ language’ was Hebrew, such as Nehemiah himself wrote. But what was the language of Ashdod? Formerly it was supposed that this was the Philistine speech. But Nöldeke, in his article on the Semitic languages in the Encyclopœdia Britannica, says it was a dialect of Hebrew, since coins struck in Ashdod in the 4th century b.c. have Hebrew inscriptions written in Greek characters. From this he infers that up to that time the Philistines must have been speaking Hebrew, and, consequently, to a still later period the Jews must have spoken it. The language of Ashdod in that case would simply be a dialect of Hebrew like the language of Moab in Mesha’s day. But Wellhausen (op. cit., p. 200, note 2) contends that “these supposed coins of Ashdod with supposed Hebrew inscriptions have now been proved to be coins struck by Persian satraps,” who, we may suppose, would use the Hebrew tongue as being the sacred tongue of the most numerous population in that neighbourhood, so that no inference as to the language of Ashdod at that time can be drawn from them. He goes on to say that this speech of Ashdod was the Aramaic which was spoken by the Western neighbours of the Jews. But he omits to notice that the children of the Ashdodite, Ammonite, and Moabite women spoke “according to the language of each people.” But if Aramaic was spoken in Nehemiah’s day in Ashdod and was also spoken as we know in the land of North Israel, it is almost certain that it would be spoken in Ammon and Moab, which were first exposed to Aramaic influences. In that case there would have been little difference between the children of the women of the three countries named, Ashdod, Moab, and Ammon; they would all have spoken Aramaic. It is more probable, therefore, that the speech of Ashdod, if Aramaic at all, was Aramaic very strongly mixed with the ancient Philistine language, whatever that may have been. But apart from debatable questions of this kind, Aramaic was the speech in which all Government business in Western Palestine was conducted in Western Asia under Persia. In Cilicia, even, Persian coins were issued with Aramaic inscriptions (cp. Encyclopœdia Britannica, Art. Numismatics), and more and more after Nehemiah’s time the new tongue pressed in. The language of the Song would precisely fit that time. It can hardly be that Hebrew was not a living language when this exquisite poem was written. Yet it can hardly be that the author of it was not daily in contact with speakers of Aramaic. In the latter part of the Persian period, say from 400 onwards, these conditions were present in Judæa as they were not afterwards, and consequently it is in this period that we would place the Song.

§ 5. The Purpose of the Poem

If it be asked to what end the author can have written such a poem, the answer will necessarily be found in the fine description of love in ch. Song of Solomon 8:6-7. Given a connected poem, then this is manifestly the culmination of the thought and feeling of the piece, and everything else must be read in the light of it.

Set me as a seal upon thine heart,

As a seal upon thine arm:

For strong as death is Love,

Cruel as Sheol is jealousy.

The flashes thereof are flashes of fire,

Its flames are flames of Yah.

Many waters cannot quench Love,

Neither can rivers drown it:

If a man should give all the substance of his house for Love,

He would be utterly contemned.

What inspires the writer is the power, the everlastingness, the freedom of love between the sexes, and its exclusiveness when it is real. He thinks of it as dominating the whole nature irresistibly, as enduring through all the chances and changes of life, as looking down with contempt upon all worldly advantage, and as permitting no dissipation among a number. Whatever action there is in the poem will necessarily be meant to illustrate this; and though there is perhaps no directly didactic purpose to denounce polygamy, still the exhibition of such a love in action must necessarily do that. The praise of such love cannot but become a satire upon what usually passes for love in a world in which polygamy is practised. Besides, in order to bring out artistically the beauty and graciousness of true love, a foil of some kind is almost necessary, and two distinct kinds of love are clearly portrayed. Neither is ascetic. The glorification of the single life has no place here. The author makes no attempt

“to wind himself too high

For sinful men beneath the sky”

in this fashion. He has no jealousy or hatred of the flesh, but rather is of the sounder human opinion which Browning puts into the mouth of another Hebrew, Rabbi ben Ezra,

“All good things

Are ours, nor soul helps flesh more, now, than flesh helps soul.”

The higher kind of love is exhibited in the utterances of the Shulammite and her country lover; the lower, entirely sensual kind, the love of the polygamist, is expressed in those of Solomon, and that of the women of the hareem in ch. Song of Solomon 7:1 ff. It is of course possible to say that the difference of level between these two sorts of utterances is not so marked as a modern Western poet would have made it, and that even the better view is unpleasantly sensuous to us. But we must not forget that if our reading of the poem be accepted, all that is said by the faithful lovers is to be read in the light of ch. Song of Solomon 8:6-7, and of the fact that the Shulammite is all the while exhibiting the higher qualities of love, superiority to sense, fidelity in temptation, and that tender brooding of the imagination on the loved one, which lift even common natures to heights they would never otherwise attain. Then too such a verse as Song of Solomon 8:1, “Oh that thou wert my brother,” coming as it does almost at the end, should be allowed to throw the reflection of its innocence over all that precedes; and any hints the language gives that in this passionate affection other things too are regarded as well as mere physical beauty, should be allowed full weight. When that is done we venture to think that nothing will be found in the verses referred to incompatible with love of a high kind. As for the other speeches, they are unmitigatedly coarse. They are cold too in passion, and are entirely incompatible with anything higher than mere sensual voluptuousness. But ch. Song of Solomon 7:1 ff. would be intolerable even in the mouth of Solomon when addressed to the Shulammite as she is pictured to us. In the mouths of women of the hareem however the language is exactly what we should expect, and coming from them would not be so degrading to a sensitive girl as it would be coming from a man. But in all the descriptions of persons the influence of the marriage wasf is apparent, and it is probably to the popular grossness of these models that we owe the want of reticence which is so great a stumbling-block to the modern mind.

The reader will perceive that those interpretations of the Song are passed by, in which, though it is taken as a whole, only one lover appears. The reason of this omission is that neither Delitzsch, nor Castelli, nor Martineau (so far as the views of the latter have yet been published), seems to us to have explained the poem satisfactorily on the supposition that the chief speakers are only two. Delitzsch’s Commentary is in most respects an admirable piece of work, but we think few will find themselves able to believe that a voluptuary like Solomon could be raised to the height of a pure love by the beauty of the Shulammite, or that the whole plot of the book should arise from a temporary lapse from his devotion which occurs after the marriage in ch. 4. The hypothesis, also, that the king plays at being a shepherd for her sake, is too improbable. Castelli and Martineau, on the other hand, are not successful in eliminating Solomon as one of the speakers. Budde counts them as in part allies, as they are to some extent, but they think of Solomon as being at least a silent actor (Song of Solomon 3:6 f.), and they are thus as hostile as well can be to Budde’s main position, the identification of the king and Solomon with the bridegroom. But most of the grounds which we have adduced against the elimination of Solomon by Budde are valid against their milder procedure, and seem to us to make their view untenable.

Viewed simply as poetry, the Song of Songs is lovely. If as Milton says “poetry should be simple, sensuous, passionate,” then here we have poetry of singular beauty and power. Such unaffected delight in all things fair as we find here is rare in any literature, and is especially remarkable in ancient Hebrew literature. The beauty of the world and of the creatures in it has been so deeply and warmly felt, that even to-day this ancient poet’s emotion of joy in them thrills through the reader. That is only another way of saying that here we have an exquisite and immortal work of art. And surely we have that. Could anything be more lovely than the song beginning (Song of Solomon 2:10), “Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away”? Could the curious helplessness of the dreamer in a dream, and the yearning of a maiden’s affection be more exquisitely expressed than in Song of Solomon 5:2 ff., “I was asleep but my heart waked”? But indeed the felicities of expression and the happy imaginings of the poem are endless. The spring of nature and of love has been caught and fixed in its many exquisite lines, as only Shakespeare else-where has done it; and understood as we think it must be understood, it has that ethical background of sacrifice and self-for-getting which all love poems must have to be thoroughly worthy. We agree with those who say it is what we should have expected among a people so penetrated with ethical and religious principles as the Hebrew people were, that the relation between the sexes should have been rightly set forth, and lifted above the degradation of mere sensualism and polygamy. For the marriage relation is the fundamental thing in the social life of man, and a true understanding of what its right conditions are is of the highest importance for the stability of the State and the right ordering of the family. It was fitting therefore that these conditions should be imaginatively set forth. Of course, the moral basis of marriage, as it was understood among the Hebrews, finds expression both in the popular Mâshâl or proverb, and in the provisions of the Law. But it needed to find a finer and fuller voice, if the loftier and imaginative elements in it were to be set forth, and it has found that here. Nor need we be surprised that polygamy should be implicitly so severely censured. The Hebrew mind and conscience were, during the latter part of the history of the nation, uneasy about it; and although the truth that the thoroughly ideal relation in marriage can be found only where there is monogamy never entirely permeated Jewish family life in Old Testament times, Hosea’s story may be taken to shew that this was recognised as at least the better opinion throughout the prophetic period. That love between man and woman is love only when it is between two, has certainly been woven into the very fibre of the Song of Solomon. Amid all the aberrations of the allegorising interpretation this fundamental truth in the book has been caught and communicated; for whether the Shulammite has been taken to represent the Jewish nation, or the Christian Church, or the individual soul, her devotion to one and his devotion to her has been depicted always as exclusive and absorbing. That being so, the place of the book in the Canon of Scripture is justified. Nevertheless it is still possible that while the exhibition of human love at its best so far as that was known in his time was the primary object of the writer or compiler of the Song, he may also have felt and intended his readers to feel that he was therewith setting forth also the excellence of the highest love to God.

§ 6. The Allegorical Interpretation

But it may be reasonably asked what grounds there are for thinking that the deeper meaning referred to at the end of last section may have been in the author’s mind. They are as follows. It cannot be doubted that there are in the literatures of the East tales of love between man and woman, dealing with real persons or at least with persons believed to be real, which nevertheless are intended to teach how the soul ought to love God. The Persian poet Jami’s Yusuf and Zuleikha is beyond doubt such an one. Yusuf is the Joseph of the Bible, and Zuleikha is Potiphar’s wife. Save for some passages in the introductory verses it appears merely to be a story of persistent human affection in which Zuleikha endures all things for her love, and comes to full enjoyment in the end after her dross has been purged away by affliction. That spiritual love was meant cannot be doubted. The same is the case with Salaman and Absal, though the story is more miraculous and consequently more transparently allegorical. And Nizami, another Persian poet, says plainly that in his praise of love and wine in his Laila and Magnun more is meant than meets the ear. For he says,

“Think not, O Khizar, thou favoured by Fortune,

That when I praise wine I mean the juice of the grape.

I mean that wine which raiseth me above myself,

That is the wine with which I would furnish my banquet.

‘My cup-bearer’ is to perform my vow to God;

‘My morning draught from the tavern’ is the wine of self-oblivion.

By Heaven, so long as I have enjoyed existence,

Never hath the tip of my lip been stained by wine.”

Again, speaking of the nature of poetry, he says,

“The mystic word which is veiled in poetry

Is the shadow of that which is veiled in prophecy.

These two neighbours are intimates of one friend.

This is the kernel, that is the rind.”

Similarly no reader of the Gita Govinda of Jayadaeva as it is translated by Sir Edward Arnold, a rendering from which the most erotic portions are omitted, can fail to see that spiritual as contrasted with earthly love is there the real subject. De Sacy, Kosegarten, and others of the great Orientalists of the beginning of the century, frankly recognised this, but it has since then become the fashion to minimise the mystic element, to recognise it as present only when it cannot possibly be ignored. This has been the case especially with scholars who have been mainly conversant with Western languages and modes of thought. To them it has seemed impossible that sane men could use the minutest details of terrestrial love-making to represent the communion of the soul with God. This was largely Edward Fitzgerald’s opinion. But Tholuck, who early in life made a very careful study of Oriental mysticism, gives us the result of his researches in the following paragraph of his Ssufismus (Berlin, 1821, p. 304). After referring to the metaphor, familiar to readers of the Bible, by which God is spoken of as the husband of the people, he continues, “Jam haec figura, generatim apud Muhammedanos haud infrequens, tantopere Ssufiis solemnis facta est et familiaris, ut non solum Deum constanter puellae nomine celebrarent aut amicae aut amici aut pueri, sed adeo singulas ejus virtutes laudibus ornarent sub nominibus singularum venustae praestantiarum puellae ejusdemque membrorum illorum quae gratia maxime conspicua sunt, verbo omnia quae de amore valent inter mortales in Deum ab iis accommodabantur.” Goethe too, with his singular poetic insight, which makes him unique among those who knew no Oriental tongue as an interpreter of Oriental poetry, says of Jelal-eddin Rumi: “his works have a somewhat motley look; he deals in stories, fairy tales, parables, legends, anecdotes, examples, problems, in order to make plausible a mystic doctrine of which he cannot give any clear account even to himself.” There can, therefore, be no question that however repulsive it may be to Western minds in our modern day, poems like the 45th Psalm and the Song of Songs may be adumbrating heavenly love even in their most sensuous utterances. The examples we have given, and the quotations from Derwish songs in Lane’s Modern Egyptians (vol. ii. p. 173), are more than sufficient to shew this. That they really have this meaning is not thereby proved, but the possibility of such an intention in these poems cannot be simply ruled out, as it is by many commentators. The truth is, we have here one of those cases in which the radical difference between the Eastern and the Western mind has to be taken into account. If Hafiz had been a Western man it would simply be absurd to suppose that “wine and love mean always to him the visionary’s ecstasy, and the yearning for union with the divine essence.” But since he was an Oriental that supposition has to be seriously faced. Mr Walter Leaf in his Introduction to his charming “Versions from Hafiz,” London, 1898, feels that; and his reply to the question whether love and wine have always a religious meaning is worth pondering. “A glance at such a spontaneous and simple Spring song as No. 10 here translated will shew that to force such a view in all cases is an outrage alike upon the muse and nature. On the other hand certain odes such as Nos. 8 and 11 are susceptible of none but a mystic interpretation. Between these extremes lie the majority of the odes, where the possibility of an allegorical significance may be admitted in varying degree. The truth is that sensuality and mysticism are twin moods of the mind, interchanging in certain natures with an inborn ease and celerity, mysterious only to those who have confined their study of human nature to the conventional and the common-place. Hardly conscious themselves of the accepted antithesis, such carnal-spiritual minds delight to express themselves in terms of spontaneous ambiguity, for this very ambiguity lies at the root of their being.” As contrasted with occidental poets and thinkers, orientals of every nation have more of this carnal-spiritual element in them, hence it has always been possible for Easterns really to enjoy in the way of religious figure and metaphor that which is totally abhorrent to any but corrupted Western minds. Moreover the Pantheism of the Sufis was by no means necessary for the production of this sensual-religious state of mind. Pantheism gave it a particular turn, but it was innate in the Hebrews for instance, who may once, perhaps, have been polytheists but were never pantheists. Their continual leaning to the sensual religious rites of the carnal-religious Canaanite worship is a clear proof of this, and consequently those are in error who dismiss the Sufis and their poetry because of their Pantheism or their late date as having no possible analogy in Hebrew thought and literature. It is neither Pantheism nor date which is the root of the matter here, but that carnal-spiritual mind which is seen in the Canaanites and was the constant weakness of Israel. That is the explanation of such passages as Ezekiel 23, and if for other reasons the allegorical application of what seem mere natural love ecstasies in the Song of Solomon were permissible, it is here we should look for an explanation of the seeming anomaly. Intensely passionate devotion even to a personal God would in such minds express itself so.

That such an origin for parts of Scripture would not necessarily entangle in the same carnal-spirituality those who accepted them in the purely spiritual sense is obvious. After the first movement of surprise and discomfort, the mind ceases to dwell on the simile, and becomes absorbed in the thing signified. In minds to which this mingling of the spiritual and sensuous is alien, the higher passion burns out all that lower element which was originally there, till it is no more seen. All that is left is the passion of love for the Highest, and that has attracted to this book some of the finest and many of the purest minds of the Christian Church. From Origen and Bernard on to our own day many of those who have felt the passion of a pure love for God have turned to this book for the words which express their feelings, yet we are asked to believe that nothing more need be said about this than that it was all a regrettable blunder. Budde, for example, can see in all that nothing but a mistake which has had a degrading and sensualising effect upon religion. He says the allegorical interpretation “has also caused religious injury, since innumerable exalted spirits and movements have, in good faith, introduced from this book into their Christianity a highly dangerous element of extreme sensuality.” (New World, March, 1894, p. 76.) It may be doubted whether this has been so to any large extent, and as he gives no indication where instances of such depravation are to be found, this grave indictment seems to lack support. On the other hand there are numerous commentaries on the Song in which nothing but the passion of delight in God finds expression. That certainly has not been evil, and if the presence of this book in the Canon has been in any degree the cause or the occasion of the persistence of that feeling in the Church, then its presence there would be amply justified on other grounds than those on which we have already seen it to be justified. There are, of course, many in the Church, as in every great association of men there are many, who have no enthusiasm in them; and to such men warm feeling would be a kind of portent were it not so ridiculous. Such men view with suspicion any profession of warm personal love to God and the zeal that it brings, and point with warning finger to the not infrequent falls of those who profess to feel it. But neither the scorn of such minds, nor the failures and falls of enthusiasts, can shake the fact that the Christian faith without this element is in itself defective, and has in it none of that contagious quality which ought to be its great characteristic. Nor without it can religion resist infection from without. In truth the gravest defect of modern conventional Christianity is that it has in it far less of this passionate love for God than it ought to have. If religion is to be kept high, if it is to become a support to men and a joy as it ought to be, this element especially needs continual reinforcement. Passion in our devotion to God, love more personal and absorbing than the highest earthly love, ought to be a constant element in man’s relation to God. If high and worthy thoughts are to hold the human heart, and heroism is to characterise the action of the Church, that can only be when it contains a large number of those to whom love in its absorbing, purifying, uniting power becomes the central thing, the very heart, of their relation to God. When therefore we find, as we certainly do find, that the Song of Solomon was probably received into the Canon mainly in the sense which made it a text-book of the love of God to the Church or the individual soul, and of its reciprocal love to God; if we find that it has from the earliest times edified the Church by inspiring some of its finest minds and many of its most saintly lovers of God to the fullest expression of their highest thoughts; if we find that more than any other book of Scripture it has kept men in mind of the fact that their highest moments, the moments when earthly love has lost all its carnality and all its selfishness, and has become a pure flame of utter devotion, are typical of what the relation between the soul and God ought to be, then it does seem unduly bold to deny that the author may have intended the more recondite spiritual reference as well as the more obvious ethical one. But on the other hand, there cannot be any doubt that the allegorical interpretation, freed as it has been from any connexion with the basis of fact or story on which it was meant to rest, has wandered often into the region of the merely fanciful, sometimes even into that of the irrational. It has however always retained this element, that the earthly love depicted here is a mere shadow, or reflection, or adumbration of the love which subsists between God and His own people, whether collectively or singly. If that alone were to be taken as its spiritual teaching, the use of the book as a text for meditations on this heavenly love would fall into line with such utterances as that of St Paul in Ephesians 5:32 and 2 Corinthians 11:2.

§ 7. History of the Allegorical Interpretation

The original impulse to read the Song as an allegory undoubtedly came from the Jews. When we first hear of the book being discussed, i.e., about the year 90 a.d., at the Synod of Jamnia, the extravagant praise bestowed upon it by Aqiba shewṣ that he understood it allegorically. In the Mishnah (Yadayim Song of Solomon 3:5) we read that he said: “No Israelite has ever doubted that the Song of Songs defiles the hands,” i.e. is inspired and canonical, “for the whole world does not outweigh the day in which the Song of Songs was given to Israel. All the Kethubim are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holiest of all.” But we have still clearer proof that he did so in the fact stated in Tosef. Sanhed. c. 12, that he pronounced an anathema upon anyone who should sing it at banquets in the manner of a profane song. To him the bride was the Jewish people, while Solomon represented God, and the book was supposed to deal with the history of Israel till the times of the Messiah. This is the view represented by the Targum, and the earliest Christian expositors simply took it over, substituting for God and Israel, Christ and the Church. Hippolytus, the first Christian commentator on the Song (c. a.d. 225), does so[2]. With Origen too this is the primary view; but he adds to it that the bride is also, and perhaps in the first place, the soul created in the image of God. In one passage he says that the Song celebrates the union of the Church with Christ, or of the soul with the Logos (the Word) of God. The meaning of this latter union is this. When the soul turns from the vanity and transitoriness of earthly things and longs after the Son of God whose glory it has recognised, then the Logos in divine pity takes up His dwelling in it, as He has promised in John 14:23, and unites Himself with it. (Riedel, p. 60.) Both of Origen’s views took root in the Church, but the identification of the bridegroom and the bride with Christ and the Church became the predominant one. Athanasius (a.d. 296–373), the great champion of the orthodox Christology, found his dominating thought in the book; his verdict being that it is an epithalamium in celebration of the marriage of Him who is the beloved of God to human flesh. The book is full, he says, of dialogues between the Son of God and the human race; sometimes between men in general and Christ; sometimes between Him and His ancient people; sometimes between Him and the Gentile Church; sometimes between the Gentiles and Jerusalem; and sometimes between ministering angels and men. This entirely original view was not, however, taken up by others. Gregory of Nyssa (a.d. 331–396) was almost certainly acquainted with Origen’s works on the Song. But he takes up an independent position to some extent. He drops the Church almost altogether, and regards the soul of the individual perfect Christian as the bride, and the Logos as the bridegroom. Sometimes, however, he makes the bridegroom to be God Himself. In form, this is practically Origen’s third and final view; but there is in Gregory a preparation for the mystic exegesis of the Middle Ages. He goes beyond Origen, too, in the ascetic colouring he gives to the book, for he continually sets up ‘apathy’ as the moral ideal, because by ‘apathy’ man becomes like God who is exalted above all that is material. That is to say, the soul which finds its highest enjoyment in the true knowledge of God, must be withdrawn from disturbance by that which does not truly exist into a passionless state, which removes it from all contact with the material. Jerome (a.d. 331–420) also followed Origen, and introduced his earlier work to the western world by translating it. His view was that the bride and the bridegroom were Christ and the Church, or Christ and the soul. Augustine (a.d. 354–430) agreed with Jerome in accepting the allegorical exegesis, but restricted the meaning to the union of Christ and the Church.

[2] Cf. Riedel, Die Auslegung des Hohenliedes in der Jüdischen Gemeinde und der Griechischen Kirche, pp. 47 ff.

So far there had been a kind of succession from Origen onwards, but this harmony was broken by Theodore of Mopsuestia, a famous exegete of the school of Antioch (360–429). He shewed in his commentary the sounder exegetical instinct which distinguished Antioch by giving the book a historical reference. His work has perished, but it was made a charge against him that he understood the Song literally. According to extracts from a writing of his on the Song of Solomon, given in the Acts of the Fifth Oecumenical Council, he held that the poem was written by Solomon to annoy and defy those who objected to his marriage with Pharaoh’s daughter, and to please her after an estrangement which this objection had caused. The theory is certainly not a very happy one in itself, but it shewed sounder judgement than many of the comments of the allegorical school. Riedel (op. cit. p. 95) suggests that had it occurred to Theodore to take the earthly love of Solomon as a type of the heavenly love of Christ to the Church he would probably have adopted that explanation. But that was in his time impossible, because all parties in the Church then held virginity to be the Christian ideal, and would have shrunk equally from making love or marriage a type of the relation of Christ to the Church.

Yet greatly as Theodore was reverenced by his pupils and friends, this bold rejection of what had been generally accepted and made sacred by the tendencies of the time and by monkish asceticism, was strongly protested against. Chrysostom (347–407), who had been called the bright consummate flower of the school of Antioch, accepted in his moderate way the allegorical interpretation of Origen: while Theodoret (386–457) deliberately wrote against Theodore’s interpretation, and fell back upon views which were substantially those of Origen. In support of these he quoted the earlier fathers, Eusebius of Caesarea, Origen, Cyprian of Carthage, Basil in his commentary on Proverbs, both Gregories, Diodorus of Tarsus, and Chrysostom. For him the bridegroom is Christ, the bride the Church. But he is true to the principles of the school of Antioch in that while Origen is prepared to allegorise the whole Bible equally, he reserves that method for the Song and such passages as the 45th Psalm, which he ascribes to David and regards as the possible model for the Song of Solomon. But the general allegorising of Origen is again carried to extravagance by Cyril of Alexandria (390–444), who explains the palanquin in the Song to mean the cross, the purple cushion as the purple garment in which the Saviour was mocked, the nuptial crown as the crown of thorns, etc. All the while there must have been an undercurrent of opposition to this fantastic extravagance. Otherwise the polemical tone of its supporters would be inexplicable. But at the second Trullan Council a.d. 692, the exegesis of the orthodox fathers was made binding for the future, and as that Council was acknowledged in the East, all independent comment on our book ceased in the Eastern Church.

In the Middle Ages, owing to a variety of causes, the more deeply religious minds turned to mysticism, and the Song of Solomon became the text-book of their mystic approach to God. Loosed as it had been by the patristic exegesis from all historical or literal interpretation, it lent itself to the purpose of those who sought an escape from the hard systematising of religion as knowledge, which scholasticism favoured, in striving after a direct union of the soul with God. Perhaps the finest specimen of the exegesis so produced is St Bernard of Clairvaux’s eighty sermons on the first two chapters. The spirit of it is best expressed by a sentence from another treatise of his, “The cause of loving God is God, and the mode is to love without measure.” Commenting upon the words, ‘Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth’ (Serm. Song of Solomon 7:2) he says “Who says this? The bride. Who is she? The soul thirsting for God. But I set forth diverse affections in order that that which especially belongs to the bride may be more clearly brought to light. If a man is a slave he trembles at the presence of God, if he is a servant he looks for something at the hand of God, if he is a disciple he gives ear to Him as a master, if a son he honours Him as a father, but she who demands a kiss loves. This passion of love excels among the gifts of nature, especially when it returns to its origin which is God, and there are no names so sweet to express the sweet affections of the Word and the soul as these of bridegroom and bride, seeing that these have all things in common, have nothing which either claims, nothing in which the other has no share.” Aquinas (1225–1274), too, who during his last illness had visions of God which made all that he had previously written of no account in comparison, turned in his last hours to the dictation of a commentary on the Canticles. It may be, as Dean Farrar says in his History of Interpretation, p. 257, that the monkish commentaries on this book were unwholesomely numerous, and that the mystic interpretation degenerated in meaner hands into a style of language of which it would be charitable to say nothing more than that it is too poetically sensuous for any commentary on holy writ. Nevertheless there remains from the Middle Ages and from later times a mass of comment, mystic in the best sense, which has enriched the literature of theology in the noblest way, though it may not have had any very intimate connexion with the real meaning of the text upon which it is founded.

But the question remains whether the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs is likely to persist in the Church, now that its spiritual reference is recognised as in some sort only secondary, and its ethical meaning has been made clear. That may be doubted, and for several reasons. In the first place, the introduction of the sensual praises of Solomon and the women of the hareem, which form the necessary foil to the fidelity and devotion of the Shulammite and her lover, and give to the ethical signification of the book point and force, becomes a disturbing and distracting element when the book is used as a text-book of spiritual love. The admixture of this carnal imagery with the more spiritual passion of the bride and her lover has grown repulsive to us as it could not be formerly. In the second place, it is not necessary to understand the Song allegorically in order to find texts for any impulse which earthly love can give to the love of God. There is, in both the Old Testament and the New, a series of passages which completely answer that purpose, apart altogether from our book. Such are Hosea 1-3, Isaiah 62:5, Jeremiah 2:2, in the Old Testament; and from the New Testament one gathers the impression that these and similar passages in the prophets, and those Psalms in which the “I” who prays and speaks, and between whom and God the most intimate communion of love is assumed to exist, is the community, had filled the whole mind of the early Church with the thought that God in Christ was the husband of the Church. For example, St Paul speaking to the Corinthian Christians (2 Corinthians 11:2) says, “For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ.” Again, in Ephesians 5:31-32, he says:—“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church.” But the thought is not confined to St Paul. In the Apocalypse (Revelation 21:2) we read:—“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” Further in Matthew 9:15 our Lord Himself uses a bridal metaphor in the words, “Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then will they fast.” Lastly, John the Baptist, in looking forward to the relation of the coming Messiah to His people says (John 3:29), “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice.” Along this line all that needs to be said on the analogy between divine and human love can be worthily and adequately said, and the Church of to-day will probably decide that in this matter it is better to follow the example of the New Testament writers, who though full of the thought that the relation between Christ and His Church was best illustrated by the most intimate and indissoluble of all human relationships, yet do not quote the Song of Solomon. But that will not discredit its use in the past, and certainly does not justify us in denying that it ever had any spiritual reference, or in asserting that the author’s thoughts never rose even for a moment above the level of a poetical defence of monogamy.

§ 8. Outline of the Book

According to the hypothesis we have adopted, the Song of Solomon is a series of 13 dramatic lyrics, each of which represents a scene in the story of a Shulammite maiden who had been carried off to one of Solomon’s palaces. There, persecuted by the attentions of the king, and urged to love him by the women of his hareem, she remains constant to her humble country lover, and is at length set free and returns to him. The story is told in these lyrics as by a series of pictures. They fall naturally into three groups, each of which begins with the solicitations of Solomon and his hareem, and ends with the fancied or actual appearance of the country lover to sustain and help.

The first group (ch. Song of Solomon 1:2 to Song of Solomon 3:5) consists of four such dramatic lyrics to which the following titles may be given.

(i) In the king’s household, ch. Song of Solomon 1:2-8.

(ii) A king’s love despised, ch. Song of Solomon 1:9 to Song of Solomon 2:7.

(iii) The beloved comes, ch. Song of Solomon 2:8-17.

(iv) A dream, ch. Song of Solomon 3:1-5.

In (i) we have the first scene of the story. The Shulammite has been brought by the king “into his chambers,” i.e. to some royal residence, perhaps in Jerusalem. She appears there among the ladies of the court who sing the praises of the king to her. She, rapt in dreams of her absent lover, only murmurs a wish that he might come and rescue her. Then, becoming more conscious of her surroundings, she turns to address the ladies, explaining that her dark and sunburnt appearance, so greatly contrasting with theirs, is not natural, but is due to the harsh treatment she has received. Thereafter, she turns to musing again, and talking with her lover in her heart, she asks aloud, where her shepherd may be found. The ladies answer her ironically.

In (ii) Solomon appears and speaks, uttering fulsome praises of her beauty. The Shulammite replies that so long as the king was busy elsewhere her love for her absent friend gave her fullest joy. It is the very perfume of her life, and all the king’s praises of her charms only make her speak more rapturously of her absent lover. She contrasts their woodland resting places with the royal palace, and declares that she is a humble country flower, which cannot bloom elsewhere than in the country. Finally, grown faint from longing for her absent lover, she turns to ask refreshment and sustenance of the ladies of the court, and adjures them not to seek to kindle love which should always be spontaneous, by any unworthy or extraneous means.

In (iii) the scene has evidently changed to some royal residence in the country. The lover, like the Shulammite herself, belongs to the northern hills; and as he appears here hurrying over the mountains to meet her, and Lebanon is mentioned shortly afterwards, we may suppose that the scene is a royal residence in or near Lebanon. The Shulammite starts up in uncontrollable agitation, imagining she hears her lover’s footsteps. Her imagination proves to be reality and she addresses her companions, tracing his approach till he reaches the lattices in their wall. He speaks to her, and she, hearing him, repeats what he says (vv. 10–14). In reply to his desire to hear her voice, she sings a little vineyard song, and then, fearing for his safety, she exhorts him to depart till the evening, when he might more safely come.

In (iv) we have a dream which troubled her for some nights after her lover’s coming. Apparently he had returned, and her agitated heart made her seek him in her dreams, but she could not find him. She tells her dream to her companions, and ends with the refrain already used at the end of (ii), which deprecates the stirring up of love before it arises spontaneously.

The second group (ch. Song of Solomon 3:6 to Song of Solomon 6:3) consists also of four lyrics.

(i) The return of the king, ch. Song of Solomon 3:6-11.

(ii) The royal suitor, ch. Song of Solomon 4:1-7.

(iii) A true lover’s pleading, ch. Song of Solomon 4:8 to Song of Solomon 5:1.

(iv) A dream, ch. Song of Solomon 5:2 to Song of Solomon 6:3.

In (i) of this group, king Solomon is seen from the northern residence, returning in special pomp after an absence. The Shulammite notices the approaching train, and asks what it may be (v. 6). In the following verses a watchman or attendant tells her that it is the litter of Solomon surrounded by his guard. He then describes the litter, and exhorts the ladies to go forth to see the king in all his splendour.

In (ii) the king appears again, paying court to the maiden. He enumerates and extols the beauties of her person in the stereotyped manner of the wasf or description of the bride’s person, which survives still in Palestine as a part of the wedding rejoicings.

In (iii) we have a new scene in which the lover appeals to her to flee from Lebanon and the dangers there. In the remaining verses (ch. Song of Solomon 4:9-16) he breaks out into a passionate expression of his love and admiration for her, and she replies, promising to do as he entreats her to do. In the last verse of this lyric the lover looks forward to their marriage with joyful anticipation, and invites his friends to the wedding feast.

In (iv) the group concludes as group (i) also does, with a dream, in which the heroine again seeks her lover. This must have taken place before she was released, probably on the night succeeding the interview with her lover. The first seven verses contain the dream. In the following verses the Shulammite, still in a state between sleeping and waking, asks the daughters of Jerusalem to tell her lost lover if they should find him that she was love-sick. In reply they ask what there is in him that moves her so much. Thereupon she gives a description of him as he dwells in her brooding imagination, and on the court ladies eagerly asking whither this model of manly beauty is gone, she replies evasively and claims her lover for herself alone.

In the last group (ch. Song of Solomon 6:4 to Song of Solomon 8:14) there are five lyrics.

(i) The king fascinated, ch. Song of Solomon 6:4-13.

(ii) The praises of the hareem, ch. Song of Solomon 7:1-6.

(iii) The king and the shepherdess, ch. Song of Solomon 7:7 to Song of Solomon 8:4.

(iv) Return in the might of love, ch. Song of Solomon 8:5-7.

(v) Reminiscences and triumphs, ch. Song of Solomon 8:8-14.

In (i) we have a renewed assault by Solomon. Just after the Shulammite’s impassioned claim to belong to her lover only, her royal persecutor returns and bursts into praise of her physical beauty as before. She is, he says, worth all the wives and concubines he has, and he quotes the praises which these, her rivals for his love, uttered when they first saw her. From v. 11 onwards she explains how she came to be in the gardens where they found and carried her off on that fatal day, and recalls the whole circumstances.

In (ii) there is no indication as to who the speaker is, or where these most unreserved praises of her beauty are uttered. But they would be most fitting in the mouths of the women of the hareem as they dressed and adorned the heroine for her final interview with Solomon. The song ends with a hint that the king is desperately in love with her, and with a laudation of the delights of love.

Song (iii) of this group, gives us the last interview of the king with the shepherdess. He grows more daring than before in Song of Solomon 7:8-9 a, but she interrupts him there, and turns what he is saying into a reference to her lover and declares finally that she belongs to him only. The king then withdraws, and she lets her heart go out to her absent lover and calls upon him to take her back to the delights of their own simple country life at home, where she will become his wife. The ardour yet innocence of her love leads her to wish that her lover had been her brother, for in that case she might have fully expressed her affection without meeting with censure from anyone. She concludes by turning to the ladies of the court, saying farewell to them with the words, “Why should ye stir up or awake love till it please?”

In (iv) we have the return of the lovers to their village, with their hearts full of the might of their love. The circumstances are indicated by the words of the first verse, in which the villagers see them draw near, and while they are still at a distance ask who they may be. As they come nearer, the lover points out an apple-tree under which he had once found her sleeping, and then, catching sight of her birthplace, he exclaims, “Yonder thy mother was in travail with thee.” She replies in the verses beginning, “Set me as a seal upon thy heart” etc., with that great panegyric of love which forms the crown and glory of the book.

In (v) the bride, in the quiet after her return, goes back in memory over all the way by which she had been led to her present happiness. In the first three verses she recalls the anxiety of her brothers lest she should bring dishonour on her family, and proudly claims that it was all quite unnecessary, that her steadfastness, which had conquered the pertinacity of the king, sufficiently proved that. Then she makes ironical remarks about Solomon and his wealth, and scornfully says he may keep his own vineyards but he shall not get hers, which she will effectually guard for herself. In the last two verses her lover calls upon her to let his comrades hear her voice, and the poem ends with the charming picture of the maiden singing in the midst of the gardens the words she had spoken to him formerly when he had asked to hear her voice.

§ 9. Literature

Literature. To go back beyond Ewald in regard to the literature on the Song of Songs would be useless. His work in its latest form is in his Dichter des Alten Bundes, Part II. Ed. 2, 1867. Franz Delitzsch, Canticles and Ecclesiastes (Eng. Tr. T. and T. Clark). 1877. Both these authors had however earlier works on the same subject, dating from 1825 and 1851 respectively. F. Hitzig, in Kurzgef. Exeg. Hdb. zum A. T., 1885. C. D. Ginsburg, The Song of Songs, 1857. E. Renan, Le Cantique des Cantiques, 1860. H. Grätz, Shir-hash-Shirim, 1871. Reuss, Das Alte Testament, vol. v. 1893. J. G. Stickel, 1887. S. Oettli in Strack u. Zöcklers Kurzgef. Comm. 1889. C. Bruston, La Sulammite, 1891–94. D. Castelli, Il Cantico dei Cantici, 1892. J. W. Rothstein, 1893. Baethgen in Kautzsch’s Die Heilige Schrift des A. T., 1894. W. F. Adeney, The Song of Solomon and the Lamentations, in the Expositor’s Bible, 1895. K. Budde, Das Hohelied in the Kurzer Handcomm. zum A. T., 1898. C. Siegfried, Hoheslied, in the Handcomm. zum A. T., 1898.

Articles. J. G. Wetzstein, Die Syrische Dreschtafel, in Zeitschr. f. Ethnologie, 1873 S. 270 ff. W. Robertson Smith, article Canticles, in Encyclopædia Britannica, 1876. Russell Martineau, The Song of Songs, in Amer. Journal of Philology, xiii. 1892, p. 307 ff. K. Budde, The Song of Songs, in The New World, 1894, p. 56 ff. A. B. Davidson, Songs of Solomon, in the Illustrated Bible Treasury, edited by Dr W. Wright, 1896.


1 The Song of Songs which is Solomon’s.


In the King’s Household. Chap. Song of Solomon 1:2-8.

[3] “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth:

[3] The daughters of Jerusalem addressing or speaking of Solomon.

For thy caresses are better than wine.

3 Thine ointments have a goodly fragrance;

Thy name is as ointment poured forth;

Therefore do the maidens love thee.”

[4] Draw me after thee, that we may run;

[4] The Shulammite muses, mentally addressing her absent lover

The king hath brought me into his chambers.

[5] will be glad and rejoice in thee,

[5] ughters of Jerusalem addressing Solomon

We will celebrate thy caresses more than wine:

Rightly do they love thee.”

[6] I am swart but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem,

[6] The Shulammite speaks

As the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.

6 Look not (curiously) at me because I am swarthy,

Because the sun hath scorched me.

My mother’s sons were angry with me,

They made me keeper of the vineyards;

But mine own vineyard have I not kept.

[7] Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou wilt feed thy flocks,

[7] She muses, addressing her absent lover

Where thou wilt make them rest at noon;

For why should I be as one blindfold by the flocks of thy companions?

[8] “If thou know not, O thou fairest among women,

[8] The daughters of Jerusalem

Go thy way forth in the footsteps of the flock,

And feed thy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.”


A King’s Love despised. Chap. Song of Solomon 1:9 to Song of Solomon 2:7.

[9] “I have compared thee, O my friend,

[9] Solomon speaks

To my steed in Pharaoh’s chariots.

10 How comely are thy cheeks in their beads,

Thy neck with strings of jewels!

11 Strings of golden beads shall we make thee,

With points of silver.”

[10] So long as the king sat on his divan,

[10] he Shulammite speaks

My spikenard gave forth its perfume.

13 My love is to me a bundle of myrrh,

That lieth all night between my breasts.

14 My love is to me a cluster of henna flowers

In the vineyards of Engedi.

[11] “Behold thou art fair, my friend, behold thou art fair,

[11] olomon

Thine eyes are dovelike.”

[12] Behold thou art fair, my love, yea, pleasant:

[12] he Shulammite to her absent lover

Yea, our couch is green.

17 The beams of our house are cedars,

And our rafters cypresses.

II. 1 I am a crocus of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.

[13] “As a lily among thorns, so is my friend among the daughters.”

[13] Solomon

[14] As an apple-tree among the trees of the wood,

[14] The Shulammite

So is my love among the sons.

In his shade I sat down with delight,

And his fruit was sweet unto my taste.

4 He brought me into the house of wine,

And his banner over me was love.

5 Stay me with raisin cakes, comfort me with apples,

For I am sick of love.

6 O that his left hand were under my head,

And his right hand were embracing me!

7 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,

By the gazelles and by the harts of the field,

That ye stir not up, nor awaken love,

Until it please.


The Beloved comes. Chap. Song of Solomon 2:8-17.

[15] Hark! my beloved! Behold he cometh

[15] The Shulammite

Leaping upon the mountains,

Skipping upon the hills.

9 My beloved is like a gazelle, or a young hart:

Behold he standeth behind our wall,

He looketh in at the windows,

Glanceth through the lattices.

10 My beloved speaketh and saith to me,

‘Rise up, my friend, my fair one, and come away.

11 ‘For lo, the winter is over, the rain is past and gone;

12 ‘The flowers appear on the earth,

‘The time for pruning the vines is come,

‘And the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land.

13 ‘The fig-tree ripeneth her winter figs,

‘And the vines are in bloom,

‘They give forth their fragrance.

‘Rise up, my friend, my fair one, and come away.

14 ‘O my dove, in the hiding-places of the crag,

‘In the covert of the steep,

‘Let me see thy form, let me hear thy voice,

‘For thy voice is sweet, and thy form is comely.’

[16] Take us the foxes,

[16] he sings

The little foxes

That spoil the vineyards;

For our vineyards are in bloom.

[17] My beloved is mine and I am his,

[17] he speaks

He feedeth his flock among the lilies.

17 Until the day cool and the shadows flee away,

Turn, my beloved, and be thou like a gazelle

Or a young hart upon the cleft-riven mountains.


A Dream. Chap. Song of Solomon 3:1-5.

[18] Of a night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth,

[18] The Shulammite

I sought him, but I found him not.

2 I said, ‘Come let me arise and go about in the city, in the streets and the open spaces

Let me seek him whom my soul loveth.’

I sought him, but I found him not.

3 The watchmen that go about the city found me:

‘Him whom my soul loveth have ye seen?’

4 Hardly had I gone from them when I found him whom my soul loveth:

I laid hold on him and would not let him go,

Until I had brought him to my mother’s house,

And to the chamber of her that bare me.

5 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,

By the gazelles and by the harts of the field,

That ye stir not up, nor awaken love,

Until it please.


The Return of the King. Chap. Song of Solomon 3:6-11.

[19] Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness

[19] The Shulammite

Like pillars of smoke,

Incensed with myrrh and frankincense,

With all powders of the merchant?

[20] “Behold it is Solomon’s litter;

[20] Bystanders

Threescore heroes are about it,

Of the heroes of Israel,

8 All of them grasping swords,

Trained to war;

Each with his sword on his thigh,

For fear of night alarms.

9 A litter did King Solomon make for himself

Of the woods of Lebanon.

10 Its pillars he made of silver,

Its back of gold,

Its seat upholstered with purple,

The body of it wrought with mosaic, a love gift from the daughters of Jerusalem.

11 Go forth, O daughters of Zion, and look on King Solomon,

Wearing a crown wherewith his mother crowned him

On the day of his espousals, even the day of the gladness of his heart.”


The Royal Suitor. Chap. Song of Solomon 4:1-7.

[21] “Behold thou art fair, my friend, behold thou art fair,

[21] Solomon addressing the Shulammite

Thine eyes are (like) doves behind thy veil.

Thy hair is like a flock of goats,

Crouching on the slopes of Mount Gilead.

2 Thy teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep,

Which are come up from the washing,

Whereof every one bears twins,

And none is bereaved among them.

3 Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet,

And thy mouth is comely.

Thy cheeks are like a rift of a pomegranate

Behind thy veil.

4 Thy neck is like the tower of David

Builded for trophies;

The thousand shields hang upon it,

All the shields of the heroes.

5 Thy two breasts are like two fawns,

Twins of a gazelle, pasturing among the lilies.

6 Until the day cool, and the shadows flee away,

I will betake me to the mountain of myrrh,

And to the hill of frankincense.

7 Thou art all fair, my friend,

And there is no blemish in thee.”


The true Lover’s Pleading. Chap. Song of Solomon 4:8 to Song of Solomon 5:1.

[22] “With me from Lebanon, O bride,

[22] The Shepherd lover speaks

With me from Lebanon, do thou come.

Come down from the height of Amana,

From the height of Senir and Hermon,

From the lions’ dens, from the mountains of leopards.

9 Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister-bride,

Thou hast ravished my heart with one (glance) of thine eyes,

With one chain of thy necklace.

10 How lovely are thy caresses, my sister-bride!

How much better than wine thy caresses!

And the smell of thy ointments than any perfumes.

11 Thy lips, O bride, drop virgin honey;

Honey and milk are under thy tongue,

And the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.

12 A garden enclosed is my sister, my bride,

A streamlet enclosed, a sealed spring.

13 Thy shoots are a pomegranate paradise,

With precious fruits, henna with spikenard,

14 Spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,

With all the incense woods,

Myrrh and aloes with all the chief spices.

15 Thou art the fountain of my garden,

A well of living waters, and rushing Lebanon streams.”

[23] Awake, O North Wind, and come, thou South,

[23] he Shulammite speaks

Blow upon my garden, that the perfumes of my garden may flow out.

Let my beloved come into his garden,

And eat his precious fruits.

[24] 1 “I come into my garden, my sister-bride,

[24] he Shepherd lover speaks

I pluck my myrrh with my balsam,

I eat my honeycomb with my honey,

I drink my wine with my milk;

Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.”


A Dream. Chap. Song of Solomon 5:2 to Song of Solomon 6:3.

[25] I was sleeping but my heart was awake,

[25] The Shulammite speaks

Hark! my beloved is knocking.

‘Open to me, my sister, my friend, my dove, my perfect one,

‘For my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.’

3 I have put off my tunic, how shall I put it on?

I have washed my feet, how shall I soil them?

4 My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door,

And my heart was moved for him.

5 I arose to open to my beloved,

While my hands dropped myrrh, and my fingers the finest myrrh,

Upon the handles of the bolt.

6 I opened to my beloved;

But my beloved had turned away and passed on.

My soul had failed when he spake;

I sought him, but I found him not;

I called him, and he answered me not.

7 The watchmen that go about the city found me,

They smote me, they wounded me;

The watchmen of the walls

Took my veil from off me.

8 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,

If ye find my beloved, what shall ye tell him?

That I am sick of love.

[26] “What kind of a beloved is thy beloved, O fairest among women?

[26] The daughters of Jerusalem speak

What kind of a beloved is thy beloved, that thou adjurest us so?”

[27] My beloved is white and ruddy, distinguished above ten thousand.

[27] he Shulammite speaks

11 His head is most fine gold,

His locks are wavy, raven black:

12 His eyes are like doves by the water brooks,

Bathing in milk, sitting upon full streams:

13 His cheeks are as beds of balsam, producing perfumes,

His lips like lilies, dropping the finest myrrh:

14 His hands are cylinders of gold, set with topaz,

His body is a piece of ivory work encrusted with sapphires:

15 His legs are pillars of alabaster,

Set upon bases of fine gold;

His aspect is like Lebanon,

Goodly as the cedars:

16 His mouth is full of sweet words;

All of him is delightful.

This is my beloved, and this is my friend,

O daughters of Jerusalem.

[28] 1 “Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women?

[28] e daughters of Jerusalem speak

Whither hath thy beloved turned him, that we may seek him with thee?”

[29] My beloved is gone down into his garden,

[29] The Shulammite speaks

To the beds of balsam,

To feed his flock among the gardens,

And to gather lilies.

3 I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,

Who feeds his flock among the lilies.


The King Fascinated. Chap. Song of Solomon 6:4-13.

[30] “Thou art beautiful, my friend, as Tirzah,

[30] Solomon speaks

Pleasant as Jerusalem, terrible as bannered hosts.

5 Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have made me afraid.

Thy hair is like a flock of goats,

Crouching on the slopes of Gilead:

6 Thy teeth are like a flock of ewes,

Which are come up from the washing,

Whereof every one bears twins,

And none is bereaved among them.

7 Thy cheeks are like the rift of a pomegranate, Behind thy veil.

8 There are threescore queens and fourscore concubines,

And damsels without number.

9 My dove, my perfect one, is but one;

She is the only one of her mother:

She is the darling of her that bare her.

Daughters saw her and called her happy,

Queens and concubines, and they praised her, saying,

10 ‘Who is this who looketh forth as the dawn,

Fair as the moon, clear as the sun,

Terrible as bannered hosts?’ ”

[31] I had gone down into the walnut garden,

[31] he Shulammite speaks recalling the events of the fatal day

To look at the fresh green plants of the valley,

To see if the vine had budded, and the pomegranates were in flower.

12 Or ever I was aware, my quest brought me

Among the chariots of my princely people.

[32] They said, [33]‘Return, return, O Shulammite;

[32] he repeats the call of the Court ladies and her answer

Ch. Song of Solomon 7:1 in Heb.

Return, return that we may look upon thee.’

‘Why would ye gaze at the Shulammite?

‘As upon the dance of Mahanaim?’


The Praises of the Hareem. Chap. Song of Solomon 7:1-6. (Heb., 7:2–7.)

[34] “How beautiful are thy steps in sandals, O noble lady!

[34] The Women of the Hareem speak as they are dressing the Shulammite

Thy rounded thighs are like jewels,

Work of an artist’s hands.

2 Thy body is a rounded goblet,

Let it not want mixed wine:

Thy belly is like a heap of wheat,

Fenced round with lilies.

3 Thy two breasts are like two fawns,

Twins of a gazelle;

4 Thy neck is like a tower of ivory:

Thine eyes are like the pools in Heshbon

By the Bath-rabbim gate.

Thy nose is like the tower of Lebanon

Looking towards Damascus.

5 Thy head upon thee is like Carmel,

And the tresses of thy head like purple;

A king is held captive in the locks thereof.

6 How fair and how pleasant art thou, O Love,

Among the delights.”


The King and the Shepherdess. Chap. Song of Solomon 7:7 to Song of Solomon 8:4. (Heb., 7:8–8:4.)

[35] “This form of thine is like a palm-tree,

[35] Solomon speaks

And thy breasts like date-clusters.

8 I am minded to climb up the palm-tree,

To take hold of its branches.

Let thy breasts be like clusters of the vine,

And the smell of thy breath like apples;

[36] And thy mouth like the best wine …”

[36] The Shulammite interrupting speaks of her lover

… that goeth down smoothly for my beloved,

Gliding through the lips of those that are asleep.

[37] I am my beloved’s and his desire is toward me.

[37] urning away from Solomon

[38] Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field,

[38] o her lover

Let us lodge among the henna flowers.

12 Let us go early to the vineyards,

Let us see if the vine hath budded,

And its blossoms be open,

If the pomegranates be in flower:

There will I give thee my caresses.

13 The mandrakes give forth fragrance,

And over our doors are all manner of precious fruits,

New and old, which I have laid up, my beloved, for thee.

VIII. 1 O that thou wert my brother,

That sucked the breasts of my mother,

So that should I find thee without, I might kiss thee,

And yet none would despise me.

2 I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother’s house,

Into the chamber of her that bare me:

I would give thee to drink of spiced wine,

Of my new pomegranate wine.

3 His left hand would be under my head,

And his right hand would embrace me.

4 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,

Why should ye stir up, or awaken love,

Until it please?


Return in the Might of Love. Chap. Song of Solomon 8:5-7.

[39] “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness,

[39] Villagers speak

Leaning upon her beloved?”

[40] awakened thee under yon apple-tree;

[40] he Shepherd lover speaks

Yonder thy mother was in travail with thee,

There was she in travail that brought thee forth:”

[41] Set me as a seal upon thine heart,

[41] The Shulammite speaks

As a seal upon thine arm:

For strong as death is love,

Cruel as Sheol is jealousy;

The flashes thereof are flashes of fire,

Its flames are flames of Yah.

7 Many waters cannot quench love,

Neither can rivers drown it:

If a man should give all the substance of his house for love,

He would be utterly despised.


Reminiscences and Triumphs. Chap. Song of Solomon 8:8-14.

[42] ‘We have a little sister,

[42] The Shulammite recalls and repeats a speech formerly made by her brothers

‘And she has no breasts:

‘What shall we do for our sister,

‘In the day that she shall be spoken for?

9 ‘If she be a wall,

‘We will build upon her battlements of silver:

‘And if she be a door,

‘We will make her secure with boards of cedar.’

[43] I have been a wall,

[43] he speaks in her own person

And my breasts like towers:

Then was I in his eyes

As one that findeth peace.

11 Solomon had a vineyard in Baal-hamon;

He gave the vineyard to keepers:

Anyone would get for its fruit a thousand shekels of silver.

12 My vineyard is under my own oversight:

The thousand be to thee, O Solomon,

And two hundred to those watching its fruit.

[44] “Thou that dwellest in the gardens,

[44] he Shepherd lover speaks

My companions are listening for thy voice:

Let me hear it.”

[45] Flee, my beloved, and be like a gazelle

[45] he Shulammite sings

Or a young hart upon the balsam slopes.


Budde’s Hypothesis regarding the Song of Solomon

§ 1. Introductory

As has been mentioned in the Introduction, pp. xii ff., Budde, taking up and making more precise a suggestion of Wetzstein’s in his Essay on the Syrian Threshing-Board, which appeared in Bastian’s Zeitschrift für Ethnologie for 1873, looks upon the Song of Solomon as a collection of wedding songs, each independent of the other. As stated by Budde, who shews boundless ingenuity in meeting objections and in giving his opinion verisimilitude, this theory has been very widely accepted, and may almost be said to hold the field at present. Nevertheless, it is open to very serious objections, and leads to a very mistaken exegesis of the book. I have ventured consequently to set down here in an appendix what appear to be the main difficulties in the way of accepting this, in some respects, attractive solution of the many problems raised by this very singular poem.

§ 2. Statement of Wetzstein’s discoveries

In order that the matter may be dealt with satisfactorily, it will be necessary to give an outline of that portion of Wetzstein’s essay upon which the theory is founded. In it he claims that the country population of the trans-Jordanic and trans-Lebanon regions retain a distinctly antique impress in speech and manners, in domestic life and in their practice of agriculture, and he holds that in all these respects they retain immemorial customs. Now among these people he found very peculiar marriage customs, in which the threshing-board, as the only easily procurable platform where wood is so scarce, plays a great part. Passing by the marriage-day itself with its processions, the sword dance of the bride, and the great festal meal, he goes on to say, “The best time in the life of the Syrian peasant is the first seven days after his marriage, during which he and his young wife play the part of king (malik) and queen (malika) and are served as such, both by their own village and by the neighbouring communities which have been invited. On the morning after the marriage, the bridegroom and bride awake as king and queen, and adorned as on the former day, receive before sunrise the Shebin, the ‘best man,’ called from this time onwards the Vizier, who brings them a slight morning meal. Soon afterwards, the bridesmen, or as they are also and more correctly called, the youths of the bridegroom, also come into the bridal house. If they learn that the Vizier has been graciously received, they betake themselves to the metben, the barn for straw, to bring forth the threshing-board. So soon as the bearers have this upon their shoulders, the whole band, forming a chorus, strike up a sounding triumphal song, and march, surrounded of course by the shouting village children and by the stranger guests, to the threshing-floor. These songs are just the same as those which the peasants sing to the accompaniment of musket firing, when they have beaten off an attack of the nomads and are returning from the pursuit. They sing especially in the neighbourhood of the villages, in order that they may be invited and entertained as guests. The subjects of the songs at a marriage are war or love, mostly both. They have their origin for the most part among the southern nomadic tribes, especially the Shararat and the Shemmar; for dignified language, artistic verse and fine thoughts are to be found, according to the traditional belief of the Syrian inhabitants of towns and villages, only among the tent Arabs. Arrived at the threshing-floor, they erect from the most varied materials a platform fully two yards high. On the top of this the threshing-board is laid, and over it a large variegated carpet is spread. A couple of gold-embroidered cushions complete the whole. This is the Mertaba, the seat of honour for the king and queen, who are now solemnly brought out and enthroned. As soon as this is done the festal court called the Diwân is formed. It consists of the Judge, an Interpreter, and several bailiffs or myrmidons. The Interpreter is usually a well-known wit. The Judge then receives a staff in his hand, as he is also the executant of his judgements. Thereupon the accuser steps forward, and narrates in a long discourse that the king with his host had, as all knew, undertaken a campaign against a fortress which had hitherto been impregnable and defiant of all the world, with the object of conquering it; and since he was now back again and in their presence, he ought to let his people know whether the assault succeeded or not. Called upon by the Judge to speak according to the custom of the country, the king announces that he is a victor.” Hereupon there follows the ceremony referred to in Deuteronomy 22:13-21. If the king does not make this declaration, the Judge gives the order, and “he is dragged from his throne, stretched on the ground, held down, and beaten by the Judge, till the queen intercedes for him … After this scene a grand dance is begun in honour of the young pair. The song which is sung to accompany it deals only with them, and the inevitable wasf, i.e. a description of the bodily perfections of both, and of their ornaments, forms its main content. That in praising the queen the singers are more reticent, and praise rather her visible than her veiled charms, arises from the fact that she is today a wife, and that the wasf which was sung to her on the previous day during her sword dance had left nothing further to say. The wasf is to our taste the weakest part of the Syrian wedding songs. We feel its comparisons to be clumsy and we see everywhere marks of a stereo-typed form.… With this dance begin entertainments which last for seven days, beginning on the first day in the morning, on the other days shortly before mid-day; and they are continued, by the light of fires kindled for the purpose, far into the night. On the last day only, everything ends before sunset. During this whole week, their majesties, the bride and bridegroom, wear their marriage garments and ornaments, are not permitted to work at all or to care for anything, and have only to look on from the Mertaba at the scenes enacted before them, in which they themselves take only a moderate part. The bride, however, performs a dance now and then to give opportunity for admiration of her ornaments. At meals they occupy the place of honour.… From time to time the games are varied by dances. Of these there are various kinds, which however may be brought under the two general heads of sahqa and debqa. The first might be called the graceful or single dance, since in it the dancers do not touch each other. To it belongs also the sword dance of which the ZDMG. of 1868, p. 106, gives an account. The debqa is as the name shews a loop dance, so called because the dancers hook themselves together by their little fingers. To hold one another by the hand would give occasion to hand pressings, which must be avoided, because no Arab woman would quietly submit to them from a strange man. For the most part the debqa appears as a circular dance. If it is danced by persons of both sexes, it is called the mixed debqa. While the sahqa is said to be of Bedouin origin, the debqa lays claim to be the true national dance of the Syrian Hadari or settled village dwellers. That may probably be so, for the nomad has not the debqa, and moreover the songs to which it is danced are composed, not in the nomad idiom, as is the case with the sahqa, but exclusively in the language of the Hadari. Further, the kinds of poetry are different. The song for the sahqa is always a qasîde, for the debqa an ode in four-lined strophes. All the debqa texts which I possess have the metre of the so-called Andalusian ode. It is also a peculiarity of the debqa that the strophes hang one on the other like the links of a chain, or like the fingers of the dancers, in so far as the second strophe begins with the words with which the preceding one ends. In this way, the mixing up of the strophes, or the leaving of them out is prevented. For sahqa and debqa a solo singer is employed. As soon as he has sung a verse or a strophe, as the case may be, the chorus, made up of the dancers and spectators, chimes in with the refrain, which in the debqa always consists of the two last lines of the first strophe of the poem. For the sake of the junction, consequently, every fourth line of the strophe must have the rhyme of the refrain.”

§ 3. The disorder of the Songs here, and how it is to be accounted for

Now the suggestion made by Wetzstein and elaborated by Budde, is that in the Song of Solomon we have a collection of the songs sung at such weddings. But if so, the songs are in strange disorder, and that has to be accounted for. As the extracts from Wetzstein’s Essay shew, the sword dance of the bride occurs on the day of the wedding, but Budde finds it only in ch. 7, and there are other marks of utter disorder, as well as fragments which, as they stand, have no connexion with each other. To account for this he produces an instance of something similar from mediaeval Germany. In the 14th century there was a brotherhood called the Flagellants, who went all over Europe, scourging themselves because of their sins and singing hymns of praise and penitence. A collection of these hymns has come down to us, and it is found that the writer of the collection, formerly a member of the brotherhood, has set down as one continuous poem what he could remember of their songs. “He has written them in the order in which they occurred to him. Sometimes he remembers the beginning of a song but cannot conclude it. But that does not disturb him. He flows on with what he does remember, and when the rest of it occurs to him he writes it down calmly at the place where he happens to be in his MS.” This, Budde thinks, is an analogy to what we have here. The songs have been written down, he thinks, in this careless way. The undeniable likeness in style and vocabulary which is recognisable throughout the Song of Songs he accounts for by saying that the songs must have been collected at one time and one place. He then continues:—“In that case there are two main possibilities. Either (1) a wedding singer who could write, felt the impulse, perhaps when he was an old man, to write down all the songs of this sort he had in his répertoire, or perhaps a selection of his best songs. In that case they would not necessarily all come from one and the same marriage. Or (2) a spectator found so much pleasure in that which the wedding poet served up in a certain king’s week, that he wrote down the songs from memory, or from the lips of one who knew them. Then we should rather have to think of a particular marriage, which of itself is likely enough.” Das Hohelied von D. Karl Budde, p. xx.

§ 4. The Unity of the Book, how is it to be accounted for on this hypothesis?

But Budde sees that the unity and, to say the least of it, semi-dramatic character of the book is still somewhat inadequately accounted for, and he has to exercise his perfectly unbounded ingenuity still further. “We have to remember,” he says, “Habent sua fata libelli. We have not here to do with the first transcription, as in the Flagellant songs, and probably also in the Egyptian collections of love-songs published by Maspéro and Spiegelberg, but with a writing which has been copied unnumbered times, and which assuredly has undergone editing more than once before it was received into the Canon, like all the other books of the Old Testament. The songs may quite well have been transposed and rearranged according to some guiding principle or principles, and equally well, trouble may have been taken to insert here and there transitions and connecting links, to bring some life and movement into the monotony of the same ideas. Such editorial activity may be seen especially where the matter appears to be borrowed from various other passages of the book, and necessarily where clear misunderstanding of the meaning of the poet comes in.” Verses like Song of Solomon 2:9 a (which Budde says is copied from v. 17 of the same chapter), Song of Solomon 4:8 (which he declares to be the insertion of an editor, since it has no connexion with what follows), and Song of Solomon 8:14, are the most probable examples.

§ 5. General Objections

Now it cannot be denied that this chain of hypotheses, for it is nothing more, brings out and tries to meet many of the difficulties of the view that this book is a collection of separate and independent songs. It recognises and explains, after a fashion, the unity of style and vocabulary, the recurrence of common phrases, the persistent appearance of the same persons throughout the book, and the constant presence of spring, since that is the favourite season for marriages. It further gives a conveniently broad margin for fragments which cannot be accounted for in their present setting, as understood by the author of the hypothesis. Lastly, it gives us a possible explanation of those curious descriptions of the persons of both bride and bridegroom which are so unpalatable to modern taste, by regarding them as wedding wasfs such as Wetzstein gives specimens of. But it may be doubted whether the theory will stand the test of criticism. It will be observed that Budde makes considerable demands upon our imagination. We are to suppose, (1) first of all, that the curious inconsequence of his Flagellant scribe was anticipated by this ancient wedding singer; then (2) that the songs in our book were perhaps written down after being heard at a particular wedding by a spectator, not by a wedding singer at all; and lastly, (3) that the collection was thereafter altered and transposed by an editor before it was received into the Canon. Now to each of these suppositions there are valid objections.

(1) Take the first of them. We see at once that though the carelessness of a scribe like the Flagellant would account for disorder of a certain kind, and to a certain degree, it could hardly produce such a disorder as has to be explained here. For, so far as we know, there was no ordered ceremonial behind the Flagellant songs. They sang them, apparently, just as we sing from our hymn-books, in any order, at the taste or caprice of the singer. But that was not the case with these wedding songs. They were sung at the various stages of the wedding ceremonial, and that being the case it would be very unlikely that the disorder in a collection of songs for weddings would be as complete as it easily might be in the case of mere recollections from a hymn-book. The natural thing for a professional singer at weddings to do when he was endeavouring to write out his répertoire from memory would be to take the ceremonial as a guide, and either to write out several sets of songs for the eight days in something like their proper order, beginning always with the wasf of the sword dance, or to write out all the songs suitable to the first day which he could remember, then all those suitable for the second, and so on to the eighth. It is hardly conceivable that with such a framework ready to his hand, on which to hang his memories, he should have discarded it entirely, and have gone to work in the haphazard and quite lawless way of the Flagellant scribe. But it is that latter kind of disorder which Budde’s theory demands, and consequently there is a great preliminary difficulty in the way of its acceptance.

(2) Then as to the second supposition, a preliminary difficulty is that it is contradictory of the first, and Budde consequently is not free to keep open this alternative. If the songs in the Song of Solomon are simply a set used at a particular wedding, then the sameness of the persons and the particular references may be accounted for, but not the disorder in which the songs stand in the book. For a spectator, writing them down in that case, would naturally write them in something like the order in which they were sung. If, on the contrary, they are the répertoire of a singer written down from memory, some measure of disorder would be accounted for, but not the sameness of the persons and the particular references. But Budde insists upon the maximum of disorder, and at the same time wishes to account for the manifest harmony of the tone. He consequently puts forward these two incompatible suppositions. As they are manifestly incompatible, one of them must be dropped, and as he only once or twice mentions the view, that the collection is written by a spectator of a particular wedding, while the latter view is the foundation of his treatment of the book, we shall discard the former.

(3) The difficulty about the last supposition is that it seems to carry Budde so far towards the dramatic view of the book as it now stands that he comes into the hostile camp. For if the songs of which the book is composed have been transposed and rearranged according to some guiding principle or other, and if trouble has been taken to insert transition passages and connecting links to bring some life and movement into it, what does that amount to but an admission that the Song of Solomon, as it lies before us now, is a connected dramatic or semi-dramatic work? That we are not exaggerating Budde’s concessions is proved by his admission that a dramatic tinge appears of itself (op. cit. p. xix), and the still more important admission that such things may easily rise to true dramatic scenes. Further, at p. 26 of his commentary, where the section chs. Song of Solomon 5:2 to Song of Solomon 6:13 is dealt with, we read, “Our wasf distinguishes itself from that of the young wife in ch. Song of Solomon 4:1-7 in this, that it has a narrative, nay a dramatic introduction, in the course of which the description of the bridegroom becomes necessary.” Now if all that be so, the dispute between the supporters of the separate song view and those of the dramatic view may be only a question of words. Prof. Budde does not tell us expressly when this editing with its transpositions and rearrangements, with its insertion of transition passages and connecting links took place, but he seems to indicate that he would put it before the reception of the book into the Canon, for he says, “We have to do with a work which certainly has undergone editing once or more than once, before it was received into the Canon.” But if this be so, and if the book was read and understood as a unity with dramatic elements in it before it was received into the Canon, then it is in that form alone that we have to do with it now. It is only of its meaning when so transformed that we have to take account. Of course it would remain a very interesting question from a merely literary point of view, whether this whole, with a dramatic tinge, had been compounded of separate love poems[46], but it would lie entirely beyond our sphere as interpreters of Scripture. It would not be as separate love poems that the book became Scripture, it would not be as such that it has entered into the life of the Church of the Old Testament, or of the Church of the New Testament. It would only be as a connected poetic unity that we should have to consider it, and that is a strong point in favour of the dramatic or at least of the semi-dramatic view. In fact, if Budde be right, the Song of Solomon has had a unity given to it designedly by one who wished to work the various odes of which the book is composed into a connected whole, and who did so, in part at least, by inserting dramatic scenes. Of course he says that this writer misunderstood the original songs. But there are two possibilities which such a judgement seems entirely to ignore. The first is that the last writer, the author of the Song as we have it, may have deliberately taken some of the songs he borrowed, if he did borrow, in a different sense from that of the original writer. The second is that the author of the Song may have known that the meaning he has put upon these poems is the right one, and that Professor Budde is wrong in his interpretation of them. It can hardly be doubted that the passages in question, even if they may be understood as Budde understands them, may also have the meaning which he repudiates. As the book stands, therefore, even Budde practically admits that it is a unity, that it has drama in it, and that it was understood as a connected whole when it was received into the Canon.

[46] How easily this might be done may be seen in the Spectator of Aug. 18th, 1900. There, three ballads from the Punjabi are translated. The first deals with prospective marriage, the second is a kind of baby song, the last treats of death. Nothing is said as to whether they are the work of one writer, nor whether they referred originally to one life, but it is obvious that simply by being ranged together as they are, they suggest three scenes in a woman’s life, marriage, motherhood, death. If proper names and particular personal references were inserted in one or two lines, then they could be adapted to an individual story, and would become such a whole as Budde admits the Song of Songs to be. On the other hand, if they are the work of the same writer and were intended to be scenes from one woman’s life, they would form precisely just such a poem as we suppose the Song to be.

§ 6. Objections from the character of the Songs

But there remain a number of very grave objections to the separate song view which must be dealt with more at length, and one of these arises from the number and character of the songs. The wedding festival lasts ex hypothesi for seven or eight days. Every day there are dances to which songs are sung. Budde finds twenty-three songs here, while Siegfried, who adopts Budde’s main position, finds only ten. Now that would hardly be enough for one wedding, unless the same songs were repeated endlessly, which is not likely; much less could these songs represent the répertoire of a professional singer at weddings, such as Budde inclines to take this to be. Such a singer would be sure to have a number of full sets of songs for the seven days in his memory, and here there are not enough for one. Then as to the character of the songs. Here they are all peaceful, merely love-songs, mainly such as represent the pre-nuptial and post-nuptial love-making of the bride and bridegroom. But, according to Wetzstein, a number of the songs now in use are “just the same as those which the peasants sing to the accompaniment of musket firing, when they have beaten off an attack of the Nomads and are returning from the pursuit.… The subjects of them are war and love, mostly both.” Now there are no war songs here at all. Moreover, at a later period of the festival songs are sung in which both husband and wife are celebrated together, here there are none such. How then can this be a collection of wedding songs for such a festival as Wetzstein speaks of?

§ 7. Solomon and the Shulammite are dramatis personae

But further, if the hero and heroine are definite persons about whom a story is told, and if Solomon is introduced in the course of the poem, then obviously the whole ingenious fabric built by Budde falls to the ground. He himself admits this, and his great task is to prove that neither Solomon nor any definite woman is referred to. The husband and wife are, according to Budde, called king and queen, and he is named Solomon, as the typical king of Israel, while the name “Shulammite” is a way of indicating Abishag, of whom we read in 1 Kings 1:2, “So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king. And the damsel was very fair; and she cherished the king, and ministered unto him.” She was the fairest woman that could be found, and so the bride is called the Shulammite, as a tribute to her beauty, just as the bridegroom is called Solomon as a tribute to his temporary dignity.

(1) In examining this theory we shall take the case of the Shulammite first. In order that the Shulammite should stand here as an equivalent for “the fairest among women,” we need to suppose that Abishag became widely famous in Israel as the most beautiful woman who had ever been known. She would need to have attained a position in story and song like that which Helen of Troy attained among the Greeks. But where is there a trace of anything of the sort? There are many historical books, many songs and prophecies in the Old Testament written long after her time, and we come upon no further trace of her. If she ever attained to such idealisation as to stand for the most beautiful woman in the world we know nothing of it, and without some indication of it we have no right to assume it. But even if we had proof that she had been so idealised, it still would seem very peculiar, that the bride at a marriage, when it was intended to flatter her beauty, should be called not “Abishag” but simply “the Shulammite.” If the husband is called “Solomon” and not “the Jerusalemite,” why should not the wife also be called the proper name of her prototype? That she should, even in the circumstances imagined, be called the Shulammite is as unlikely as that a Greek maiden, under similar circumstances, should be called not “Helen,” but “the Argive,” or that an English beauty, instead of being called a “Rosamond,” should be called “the Berkshire lady.” In his article in the New World, 1894, p. 64, Budde adduces several parallels as he considers them. “Who would be surprised,” he says, “if in a song, a poetess of our time were addressed as ‘Thou Sappho,’ or as here, to avoid proper names of individuals, a preeminent mother as ‘Thou mother of the Gracchi,’ or to put the case exactly, if an inspired and courageous deliverer of her country or her city were called ‘Thou Maid of Orleans’? All this is far easier in Oriental speech than with us. ‘The Shulammite’ is more than justified by it.” But surely he must see that in these cases, except the first (which is on our side as a proper name is used), the title that is substituted for the proper name is one that belongs to the one person only, and moreover indicates the very point in which the person indicated is unique. But such a name as the Shulammite belongs to many people and indicates no characteristic, consequently it would be utterly unfit for the purpose suggested. The only explanation of the use of this title for the heroine here is, that she was a historical or legendary native of Shulam, about whom and Solomon some well-known tale was current. Budde scornfully suggests that perhaps a marriage between Solomon and Abishag might be the origin of the tale, and certainly that would be a probable and likely solution of the difficulty compared with his. We are not however bound to that supposition. Evidently a love tale about some beautiful girl of Shulam is referred to, and since as Budde himself says, “historical persons demand an action, a development,” being unsound here his whole scheme disappears.

(2) And now let us look at the case against Solomon. Budde says he does not appear even as a dumb figure. Martineau reduces him to that, but Budde makes him to be merely a type of certain qualities as in Matthew 6:29; Matthew 12:42. Of course this would be impossible were it not that he takes ‘king’ wherever it occurs without Solomon, as meaning simply the bridegroom, because bridegroom and bride are called ‘king’ and ‘queen’ during the seven days of the wedding festival among the trans-Jordanic peasants. But the name Solomon occurs in three passages, and as Budde thinks, it should be inserted in a fourth. In Song of Solomon 1:5, “as the curtains of Solomon”; in the passage Song of Solomon 3:7-11, “Behold it is the litter of Solomon” … “King Solomon made himself a palanquin” … “Go forth, ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon”; and Song of Solomon 8:11 f., “Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon, he let out the vineyard unto keepers” … “My vineyard, my own lies before me, the thousand pieces to thee, O Solomon, and two hundred to those who gather its fruits.” In Song of Solomon 6:8, also, Budde would insert the name of Solomon, reading instead of “there are threescore queens,” “Solomon had threescore queens.”

Now with the first of these passages there is no difficulty. In such a phrase as “like the curtains of Solomon,” there is nothing more than such an allusion as we find in the New Testament, and the case would be similar with the passage Song of Solomon 6:8, were it not that the queens and concubines referred to there are said to have praised the Shulammite. But it is otherwise with Song of Solomon 3:7-11 and Song of Solomon 8:11 f.

Let us take the latter first. Budde paraphrases it thus (New World, March, 1894, p. 60), “I do not envy thee thy precious vineyard, mine is dearer to me, and I do not need a keeper for it,” putting the verses into the mouth of the bridegroom. And he asks, “Is there anything different from what is said in Matthew 12:42, ‘A greater than Solomon is here,’ and does Solomon need to be present, does he need to be still alive, for one to make use of him in this manner?” To both these questions we think the answer must be “Yes,” for there certainly appears to be something very different here from what we find there, something that would demand that Solomon should still be alive. For in the passage in St Matthew there is a reference to a definite event in Solomon’s history as narrated in the Scriptures, which had a manifest bearing upon the discussion in which Jesus was engaged. But here, anyone’s vineyard let out to keepers would have answered the purpose, if Budde’s view were correct. There is no story known about any special vineyards possessed by Solomon at Baal-hamon or anywhere else, and if the Song were written late, as Budde supposes, the reference cannot be due to the speaker having lived in the neighbourhood of a vineyard of Solomon’s. Moreover on his hypothesis the sharp contrast in v. 12, “You keep yours” and “I will keep mine,” loses all significance. Whereas, if Solomon had attempted to win the maiden and had failed, the whole situation is at once illuminated. The reference to his vineyards becomes clear and natural, and the scorn of Solomon with his wealth is an appropriate application of the fine sentiment of verse 7 b, “If a man would give all the substance of his house for love he would utterly be contemned”; see commentary in loc.

And if it seems impossible to get rid of Solomon in Song of Solomon 8:11 f. it will, we think, seem equally so to drive him out of Song of Solomon 8:7-11. Budde regards this as a description of the bringing out of the bridegroom-king to seat him on his throne on the day after the wedding, or rather perhaps the bringing out of the throne, and then, after a pause during which the bridegroom-king has taken his place, in v. 11 the daughters of Zion are called upon to go forth and see him “in the crown wherewith his mother crowned him on the day of his espousals.” He is called Solomon here, says Budde, “because he was like him in splendour” (New World, p. 61), or as it is more vividly put in his Commentary, p. 16, “The use of it [the name of Solomon] is sufficiently explained as a hyperbole, as the highest power of the conception of ‘king,’ especially where festal arrangements are concerned. If they were going to play a king, they would of course play not King Tom or King Jack or whatever the bridegroom’s name might be, but King Solomon straightway.” That looks plausible, till we remember that the ‘king’ in these wedding festivals is greeted on the day after the wedding as a conquering king who has taken an impregnable fortress, and songs of love and war are sung to him. Now Solomon, a name which both in meaning and association implies peace, would be a singular name for a hero who had conquered in war. As a representative of kingly magnificence the bridegroom might have been called Solomon; but as a man of war any other name would have been better. But besides that, there are other difficulties. Budde himself is quite uncertain as to what exactly is to be said about these verses. In the New World he said, “The wedding procession is here plainly portrayed.” In his Commentary he says that it is a procession on the day after the wedding. Whether it is that accompanying the throne for the bride and bridegroom, or that accompanying the bridegroom, he cannot decide, though he leans to the former. If, therefore, the passage is difficult for those who think the poem is a drama, as he says truly enough, let us not forget that it is difficult on Budde’s supposition also. And it is difficult to a degree which must make his whole idea doubtful. His thought is that we have here the songs sung at peasant weddings, in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, in the Greek period of Israel’s history; and he supposes that in all essentials the proceedings were the same as they are to-day among the peasants in the land beyond Jordan. Now according to that the ‘throne’ (but notably enough it is not called throne, kursi, but martabe, a seat covered with a carpet) is carried in procession from the chaff barn to the threshing-floor by the “youths of the bridegroom,” and then the king and queen are led forth solemnly to take their seat upon it. But neither here nor elsewhere in the Song is there any hint of the queen. No queens save those of Solomon’s hareem appear. That is inexplicable if Budde’s theory is right, and in this particular passage it is more inexplicable than elsewhere. How could the queen be so utterly ignored when she first appears in public in the beginning of the great week of her life? And there is another difficulty. What meaning can the phrase “Who is this that cometh up out of the wilderness” (the midhbâr) have? Putting aside the almost absurd incongruity of representing a peasant procession in a country village as “perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,” &c., and calling the peasant lads surrounding it “threescore heroes of the heroes of Israel,” what possibly can the midhbâr mean in such a case? The word of course does not mean ‘desert,’ it means the open uncultivated pasture land. What possible meaning could there be in calling the space between the barn and the threshing-floor, especially when the barn is the starting-point, “coming up from the midhbâr”? Budde feels this and quietly passes over the difficulty, saying, “We are of course not in a position to fix exactly what is here meant by the midhbâr.” No, on his hypothesis he could not possibly fix upon any meaning for the word; whereas it finds a natural and easy explanation in the theory he combats. Taking the whole passage as it stands, we should say that it cannot possibly refer to a rustic wedding. It would be pushing hyperbole till it became satire to use such figures concerning such a festival. Whereas if Solomon is in the book, and appears somehow in all his splendour, everything is natural and coherent.

But besides the absence of the ‘queen,’ and the presence of the ‘king’ alone at this point, which renders the analogy which Wetzstein and Budde draw between present-day wedding customs and this book very questionable, there is a still more formidable difficulty in taking Solomon to be a merely hyperbolical name for the bridegroom-king. Budde with his altogether admirable candour points it out himself. The difficulty is this, that while the bridegroom is on Budde’s hypothesis called Solomon, yet in two striking passages of the Song he is distinguished from Solomon and contrasted with him, much to Solomon’s disadvantage. The first Isaiah 6:8, where we read, “There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and maidens without number. My dove, my undefiled, is but one.” Manifestly a royal hareem is meant, and Budde would read, “Solomon has threescore queens, &c.” Consequently we have here the Solomon of the wedding triumphing over the real Solomon, since his own love was so much more to him than a whole hareem of queens and concubines and hareem maidens. The second Isaiah 8:11, where the bride scornfully leaves to Solomon his fine vineyard which produces so much money, and is proud to possess instead her own grace and beauty which outweighs all that, not only in her lover’s eyes but in those of all discerning men. Budde meets this as follows. “When in Song of Solomon 3:6 f. the bridegroom himself is called Solomon, while in these two Song of Solomon 6:8-9; Song of Solomon 8:11-13 he distinguishes himself from Solomon as poorer and yet richer, that only corresponds to the freedom which this playing at king permits. In the first passage, the object is to exalt this [the bridegroom’s] external magnificence to the highest point, the two latter passages emphasise the inner superiority of his love-marriage by introducing the mention of its contrary.” But surely that would be a very foolish expedient. That in the same series of wedding songs Solomon should in one place be taken for the most exalted kind of king and his name given to the bridegroom, while in others he should be set forth as an example of the poverty of riches by the Solomon of the moment, is not psychologically possible. The personification was not so slight as that. If it came in at all, the bridegroom-king was Solomon, not merely like him, and for him to make a mock of Solomon without any warning or explanation would have been as misleading to the hearers as it is to us.

§ 8. The Bridegroom-king is meant to be a mere village Sheikh

But further, the idea of calling the bridegroom-king at a village wedding Solomon, and so identifying him with the most luxurious and magnificent of all Israelite kings, is one that would never have occurred to anyone, especially in Israel, of the Greek time. The bridegroom is called malik to-day, Wetzstein tells us, and the bride malika, but these titles do not necessarily mean ‘king’ and ‘queen’ in its full sense, probably Sultan and Sultana would be the modern equivalents for these latter. In Scripture a melekh is not necessarily a great potentate, for in Jdg 1:5 ff. we are told that Adonibezek, the lord of a small town, had seventy ‘kings’ (melâkhîm) crawling under his table. Moreover, throughout Persia and Afghanistan the petty chiefs, lords of a village or heads of a few tents, are called maliks, and that is evidently a usage learnt from their Arabic conquerors[47]. And in Bustani’s Muhit al Muhit, malik is defined as one who holds sovereignty over “a people, a tribe, or lands.” Nor is the fact that Wetzstein says the bridegroom has a wazir against this, for according to Bustani that word is used as an ‘assistant.’ Consequently the probability is that the husband is called malik, ‘king,’ because like a leader in war he has conquered, overcome the resistance of his wife, the impregnable citadel, not at all because of any special splendour. The thought in the minds of the people is that he is merely the leader of a successful expedition. Since that is so, the calling of the bridegroom in a Judean village in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem ‘king Solomon’ would be a thing without parallel, and we may almost say, absurd, especially when we take into account that this ‘king’ is in certain circumstances plucked from his lofty seat and soundly beaten with sticks in the midst of his feast according to Wetzstein.

[47] Cp. G. Oussani in Johns Hopkins Semitic Papers, p. 4. “The Nestorians in the mountains are governed by hereditary village sheikhs known as Maliks.”

§ 9. The Objections from the passages which refer to a historical or legendary background

We cannot think, therefore, that Solomon and the Shulammite are to be dismissed as mere names for the bridegroom and bride. They are meant to be, and can be successfully dealt with only as, the historic king, and some maiden of Shulam about whom there was a story in connexion with him. That this is so, is confirmed by the existence of casual hints as to particular events and circumstances, which are too varied and too personal to belong to mere popular wedding chants which were sung at weddings in general. They are even too individual to be references which might have been incorporated in the songs at one particular wedding. They are such as these:—“I am swart but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem!” (Song of Solomon 1:5). That is hardly a subject for song at rural weddings in general, especially when the bride is posing as a queen; and who are “the daughters of Jerusalem”? Again, “My mother’s sons were incensed against me. They made me keeper of the vineyards” (Song of Solomon 1:6). “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness?” (Song of Solomon 3:6). “With me from Lebanon, O bride, with me from Lebanon do thou come,” &c. (Song of Solomon 4:8). “She is the only one of her mother” (Song of Solomon 6:9). “Or ever I was aware, my desire set me among the chariots of my princely people” (Song of Solomon 6:12). “Oh that thou wert my brother, I would lead thee and bring thee into my mother’s house” (Song of Solomon 8:1-2). “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved?” “Under yon apple tree I awakened thee. There thy mother was in travail with thee” (Song of Solomon 8:5). “We have a little sister and she hath no breasts. What shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?” &c. (Song of Solomon 8:8 ff.). All these are hints of a particular story which is the background of the poem or poems. It is in the effort to piece these together that the dramatic theory has arisen, and it is as giving a fairly natural explanation of these that it finds so many supporters. Now Budde’s way of dealing with such passages is very instructive. They all are stumbling-blocks to him. And even his almost miraculous ingenuity is very hard put to it in making them accord with his theory. Sometimes he even has to come down to the crude expedient of lopping away what on his theory he cannot explain.

Of ch. Song of Solomon 1:5-6 he says,—“this passage more than any other might seduce us into a dramatic view of the book, for here would really be the germ of the plot.” But he resists the seduction by heading this song (vv. 5, 6) “Modest self-praise of the bride,” and by supposing that it is sung when the bride first appears before the assembled guests in her bridal ornaments and is gazed at with curiosity. All the explanation he gives beyond that is contained in the words, “That such a song might be in place at many a wedding is plain.” “The daughters of Jerusalem are the girls of the city as contrasted with the country girls,” and “in actual life these daughters of Jerusalem are nothing else than the female wedding guests.”

Of ch. Song of Solomon 1:6 he says,—“the brothers here must serve as a foil to the bridegroom as in Song of Solomon 8:11; the bride has to complain of their harshness, beyond doubt an extremely frequent phenomenon, and one which hurts not a little the vanity of the maiden proud of her conquests.” But obviously that explanation is inadequate. As we have seen, the book cannot be a collection of wedding songs picked up at one wedding. The order of the songs departs too widely from the order of the wedding ceremonies for that. If on the other hand the book contains the répertoire of a singer, then we should have to suppose that there was a class of weddings to which such a song as this in ch. Song of Solomon 1:5-6 would be applicable, i.e. according to Budde there must have been a class of weddings at which the bride was a country girl who had been harshly treated by her brothers, and at which the majority of the female guests were women from the city. Now, that could be only when the bridegroom belonged to the city, and brought his city relatives with him. But putting aside the objection that in that case the new household would be an urban and not a rural one, and that the pastoral character of all the songs would then be inappropriate, it may be asked whether even in these circumstances a song like this would be suitable or becoming? Surely it cannot have been the custom at such weddings to make the bride apologise for her sunburnt looks, and to parade her brothers’ ill treatment of her before the town-bred ladies related to the bridegroom. Then as now, that would be insupportable to any bride. But if that view be rejected, there seems to be no alternative but to take the verses as referring to some particular incidents in an individual life.

We have already referred to ch. Song of Solomon 3:6 and the way in which the midhbâr is dealt with; it is simply given up as unintelligible.

Ch. Song of Solomon 4:8 again he disposes of as the interpolation of an editor, because the verse stands quite out of connexion with the rest. “It has no more to do with the preceding wasf than with the succeeding panegyric of the charms of the bride. Even by itself it is unintelligible. The bride is to come with the bridegroom from Lebanon, and yet we have not heard that they ascended Lebanon or lived there.” He accounts for its presence here thus. In vv. 11 and 15, Lebanon is used figuratively, and in v. 6 a going to the mountains is spoken of; the probability is that the verse was inserted from a misunderstanding of the context, in the endeavour to bring some life, movement and action into the poem as a whole. But it would seem to be a sufficient reply to say that if the words of this verse be taken as the beginning of a new speech of the shepherd bridegroom, it naturally has nothing to do with the preceding wasf, and it introduces the succeeding panegyric very well in that case. To say that the verse in itself is unintelligible, because we have not been told that the bride had gone to Lebanon, is an assertion which nothing but dire necessity could make any lover of poetry believe for a moment. Such abrupt references to things not mentioned before are common in the poetry of all lands.

As to Song of Solomon 6:9, Budde doubts whether it fits into its place, and suggests that perhaps it should be omitted.

In dealing with ch. Song of Solomon 6:13 (Song of Solomon 7:1 in Heb. text) he says vv. 11–13 may have been originally an independent song which the author employed to introduce the wasf, as other verses are employed in v. 2 ff., but they may quite as well have been composed for this place to give dramatic life to the piece. The bride, as is becoming, replies to the praises of her beauty with modest deprecation, saying that she does not in the least know how she came to such honour. A singing woman lends her words and voice. Whether that which she puts into the bride’s mouth corresponds to reality or not, is a matter of complete indifference. All that is desired is that the words should reflect the becoming state of mind for a bride. That is to say, Budde, in order to get rid of the dramatic element in the Song, has to suppose that the perfectly clear statements of these verses have no meaning. At a certain point in the proceedings it was the rule that the bride should pose as not knowing how she came to the honour of being set on the wedding chariot. For Budde gathers from this verse that at the time and place where these songs were written down it was the custom to conduct the bride to the sword dance on the wedding-day in a chariot, though the chariot here is introduced as suddenly as ‘Lebanon’ in the passage previously discussed. Thereupon, the singing woman sings a song about someone who went down into a garden and was, before she was aware, lifted on to a wedding chariot. “Whether that which she puts into the bride’s mouth corresponds to reality or not,” says Budde, “is a matter of complete indifference.” That is surely rather a desperate solution of the problem presented by these verses, and it is not wonderful that Budde himself is not satisfied. “Sonstige Hilfe bleibt abzuwarten,” he says in conclusion. We do not see that on his theory anything else could be said.

Of Song of Solomon 8:1-2 he says: “It is seemly for the chaste maiden that she should be unable to imagine a greater happiness than a brotherly relation with her lover.” But if all the songs deal with post-nuptial love, that cannot be the meaning. And even if some reference to pre-nuptial love were possible, such a reference as this could be introduced after a marriage only as a reflection on the childishness and ignorance of that love, which is hardly likely.

As to Song of Solomon 8:5 Budde is completely puzzled. He says: “Unfortunately the meaning of 5 b is very obscure, and in so far as it can be understood, it cannot be brought into any connexion with vv. 6 f. The question is, Isaiah 5 b badly corrupted, is it a dramatising addition, or is the whole verse the unintelligible remains of an independent song?” and with that question he leaves it.

Ch. Song of Solomon 8:8-10 is called a specially fresh and lively song, the counter-part of ch. Song of Solomon 1:5 f. in that it introduces the brothers again. There too they play a harsh rôle. The bride tells tales out of school, with mock tragic air playing the former part of the brothers in order to make fun of it. For she has grown up unawares, and before they thought of it, she was protected by her husband’s love from their foolishly careful guardianship. Budde justifies this interpretation by the fact that in German popular songs the daughter often makes clear to her mother in still ruder ways, that she is no longer a child.

Now what must strike any reader is the extraordinary helplessness of these expedients, when one considers the fine scholarship and the great ability of the man who is driven to adopt them. On the whole he does not know what to make of these passages, whereas those who take them as the salient points of the tale which the lyrics are meant to tell, and piece them together as in Introd. § 2, find that they mutually throw light upon each other.

§ 10. The Marriage Customs described by Wetzstein are neither primitive nor universal

But besides its failure to account satisfactorily for the historic element in our book, Budde’s theory is open to another objection. He assumes on Wetzstein’s authority that the marriage customs described by the latter are ancient, and may therefore be supposed to have been universal Semitic customs which have prevailed all down the stream of history. But that assumption seems, according to Wetzstein himself, a very doubtful one. For in the notable passage of his essay quoted in § 2 of this Appendix, he shews that the wedding customs he describes are not homogeneous. There is a combination of elements, part belonging to the nomads and part to the settled population. He says that the debqa is the dance of the agriculturists, and the sahqa that of the nomadic people, and the songs, which accompany these dances respectively, differ in almost every respect. Nothing, consequently, can be clearer than that there has been here an amalgamation of customs, owing to the country being a border land, in which two very different peoples meet. That would imply, until the contrary is proved, that the wedding festival in the form described is purely local, and consequently may be of very recent origin. Budde indeed says in the New World, p. 70, “More than half of its contents, as we have seen, finds a place in the form of every Palestinian wedding,” and in the Introduction to his Commentary, p. xix, “Accordingly we possess in the Song of Solomon the text-book, as it were, of a Palestinian-Israelite wedding”; but there is no authority for this in Wetzstein, and certainly it is not true of present customs to the West of Jordan—for, to mention one thing, there is no sword dance at weddings in that part of the country now. In any case the festival as now celebrated owes some of its most salient features to continued intercourse with the Nomadic Arabs. Now it may well be doubted if such a composite custom, perhaps purely local, and depending certainly on circumstances such as intercourse with the Bedouin Arabs, can sans façon be transferred to a remote period (the Grecian time Budde says), to the land West of the Jordan, and to a people who had no intercourse with Nomads. For when the pastoral life is referred to in the Song (as Budde himself points out), Gilead is brought in, in a somewhat vague way, as its special seat. The probabilities seem all against such a transference, and no one has made any attempt to shew that it is legitimate. The importance of this objection is seen in the fact that Budde’s interpretation of one of the most difficult passages (Song of Solomon 6:13) turns upon the sword dance being part of the wedding festival. That, as we have noted above, is a part of the proceedings which is probably nomadic, and it does not exist to-day West of the Jordan. How then can we safely take the customs described by Wetzstein as universal and primitive? They have all the appearance of a local growth due to special and peculiar environment.

§ 11. Objections founded on the great panegyric on Love

Again, the gravest doubts are thrown upon Budde’s hypothesis, because it completely fails to explain the great panegyric of true love in ch. Song of Solomon 8:6-7. As it stands now in the last chapter, when the heroine is seen approaching her mother’s house, leaning on her beloved, it has all the appearance of being meant to be the culmination of the book, the end to which all the rest is tending. On the hypothesis that we have in the book a collection of dramatic lyrics dealing with a single life it takes that place, and fitly celebrates the triumph of the faithful bride. But taken as a separate song, sung at weddings all over the country, it loses all importance in the first place; and it becomes very incongruous with its supposed surroundings in the second. According to Budde there is no such thing as pre-nuptial love in the East: “The more the bride and bridegroom are brought together in these countries without will or inclination, so that love of any kind must first arise after the wedding, the more likely is the development, naturally, of the desire to represent the marriage as a pure union of hearts, and the inclination as one that had long existed.” This is his explanation of all those passages in the Song, and they are numerous, which describe the tender emotions of the bride before marriage. How unnatural it is, must be apparent; for if it was abhorrent to custom that young people should “love and use to meet”; if a girl’s fair fame would be blasted if it were known that she had done this (New World, p. 59), then how could it be “natural” that at a wedding such things should be narrated? How could the wish arise to represent a union, which is openly a matter of bargain between the parents, as a union of hearts? The thing surely is impossible. But it is not our purpose now to enlarge on that aspect of the question; what we wish to point out is that instead of being appropriate to any Eastern wedding, so appropriate as to form a standing part of the marriage songs, this splendid exaltation of love, and contempt for those who would seek to buy it, would be entirely out of place. The marriage had been the subject of bargain. That was and is the custom, though pre-nuptial love is not so rare or so difficult among villagers in the East as Budde assumes. What could be more unfortunate than to mock at the very transaction at which they were assisting, what more immoral than to incite young people to seek for that which the “good custom” of their people sought to render impossible for them? In Benzinger’s Hebräische Archäologie, p. 138, we read how a marriage is arranged at the present day among unsophisticated country folk and the Nomadic Arabs. “It is the task of the parents, especially of the father or his representative, to look out a bride for the son. When a suitable girl has been found, then the dealings with her family begin. The chief point is the fixing of the price, and of the outfit of the bride, which is not accomplished without the inevitable bargaining. The price goes as high as £100, but varies according to the beauty and skill, &c., of the girl. The greater part of this is kept by the father for himself; a small part of it however is used to purchase her outfit, her garments, jewellery and house furnishings. The girl, whose consent is not asked, receives an ornament from the bridegroom as ‘earnest money.’ The marriage takes place only after the price has been paid; previous to that the bridegroom may not see the bride. The fellah girl sees in all this nothing to her disparagement, it is the regular custom, and custom is founded on what is right.” Then he adds, “This description applies almost word for word to the old Hebrew customs.” Now how could it be the custom at weddings arranged in this manner to sing “If a man should give the whole substance of his house for love, yet would he utterly be contemned”? Budde says that their burden is “the inexhaustible subject of popular poetry, so that Solomon does not need to be caught in the act to suggest it.” But the question is whether it could be the “inexhaustible subject of popular poetry” in ancient Israel or among Orientals? We think not, unless indeed we were to see in it a pathetic plea of a wife so bought to her husband, that he might give her love as well as the position of his wife. But that would be too modern and too complicated an emotion for the simple East. It is much easier to take it as the historic background has suggested to us. So taken, then, this passage must be the culmination of the book, and that by which all the rest is to be judged, and only in some form of the dramatic theory can that be done.

§ 12. The assumption that the Marriage has been consummated at the beginning of the Book

But Budde’s strongest point against the dramatic view in any shape, and in favour of his own view, is that obviously and palpably there are throughout, in the first chapters as in the last, statements that can mean nothing else but that the marriage has been consummated. Always he maintains that it is married love which the poem celebrates. The general grounds on which he asserts this are denied in Benzinger, Arch. p. 140, where he shews that neither in ancient nor in modern times would Eastern customs exclude pre-nuptial love. Opportunities for the meeting of young people were not and are not wanting. But the strength of his position is in the exegesis of individual passages. If there were any where an undoubted statement that the bride had finally given herself to the bridegroom, that would make the dramatic view more difficult, and if it occurred in the first chapters, it would make it impossible. Now he finds such assertions in ch. Song of Solomon 1:2-4; Song of Solomon 1:12-17, and in Song of Solomon 2:3-7; Song of Solomon 2:16 f., and adds that though one or other of these passages may be understood otherwise, prejudice alone can fail to recognise that only the end of chs. 4 to Song of Solomon 5:1 and the close of ch. 7 represent the consummation of the marriage as clearly as large sections of chs. 1 and 2 do. It will be necessary therefore to examine each of these passages. The first (Song of Solomon 1:2-4) may be put aside for the present, for it is only by extensive changes in the text that the meaning referred to can be got from it, and these again largely proceed from the assumption that the “king” of the book is the husband. In the second passage (Song of Solomon 1:12-17) the same assumption comes in. The husband is the “king,” and the words “While the king sat at his table, my spikenard sent forth its fragrance” are to be so interpreted as to make his table a metaphor for the bride herself, and the bridegroom’s possession of her as his wife. As for the references in ch. 2, vv. 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, there is none that would even suggest what Budde finds in them, save v. 6. There, of course, an embrace is pictured, but there is nothing to make it necessary to suppose that a marital embrace should be referred to. The only other passage referred to in ch. 2 is v. 16, and in the extraordinary exegesis of that verse which finds a reference to marriage in it, very few will we think follow Budde. We consequently must enrol ourselves among those dominated by prejudice according to him, for while in chs. 1 and 2 there are highly coloured pictures of lovers meeting and parting, we can find none that necessarily bear the meaning Budde’s view of the whole compels him to seek and to find. On the contrary, we feel the exegesis which explains these passages in this fashion to be contrary to good taste and extremely improbable besides. Look for example at Song of Solomon 6:1-3. Taken as they stand these verses depict a sweet and natural rustic scene.

“Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women?

Whither hath thy beloved turned him, that we may seek him with thee?

My beloved is gone down into his garden,

To the beds of balsam plants,

To feed his flock among the gardens,

And to pluck lilies.

I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,

Who feeds his flock among the lilies.”

Budde formerly regarded this as an interpolation, but he now permits it to stand, but only on condition that the garden should mean the young wife, and that ‘gardens’ in the fifth line should be made singular. The balsam beds are to signify her cheeks, the lilies her mouth, the pasturing and plucking, the enjoyment of her love. And everywhere it is the same. The most innocent similes have to become sexual references, and from beginning to end the bride, who we must remember is any bride, is made to beat at the door of the marriage chamber in a most unbecoming manner, though she is also childlike enough to wish that her bridegroom had been her brother. With regard to Song of Solomon 5:1, which many, e.g. Delitzsch, take to represent the marriage, it is certainly to be admitted that the words may bear the meaning thus put upon them. The perfects may be taken in the full perfect sense, and we may translate ‘I have come into my garden,’ &c. But then they may also be read as perfects of certainty=‘I shall certainly come’=‘I have as good as come.’ Cp. Driver, Introd.6 p. 441. Consequently that interpretation also is open, and the decision must depend upon our general view of the book. It can in no way be decided by an appeal to this passage. Nor does the latter part of ch. 7 in any way strengthen the case. There is nothing there which must necessarily refer to the consummation of the marriage.

A general review of all these passages, therefore, leads rather to the belief that no marriage takes place or is regarded as consummated in the book. Perhaps two of them might be taken in that sense without violence, others of them need to be travestied in strange fashion before they could be brought to bear it. But against their having that meaning is the passage in Song of Solomon 8:1, where the bride sighs for the possibility that her lover had been her brother. That, occurring after all these other passages, throws back the light of its innocence upon them, and bars any such interpretation as that which we are combating, i.e. of course if the poem is a connected whole. On the song-hypothesis no doubt that difficulty is not felt, but then others which seem quite as formidable immediately emerge. One of these, as has already been said, is the assumption of a most extraordinary and unaccountable disorder in the songs. Those who adopt the song-view have to admit, too, that after songs which in their view put the consummation of the marriage beyond question, there are many references to the first dawn of love before marriage, and exhibitions of the innocent fancies of the bride, which are all pure fictions, since, as Budde says, the whole matter was an arrangement between parents. All that seems very improbable, and some variety of the dramatic hypothesis would seem to fit the case much better.

§ 13. The vivid personal feeling of the Songs

Finally, the question may well be asked whether in songs meant to be sung at weddings in general, weddings too brought about as they generally are in the East, there would be the consistent accent of personal feeling which we find throughout the Song. The specimens of that kind of song which Wetzstein gives do not possess this character. We can find in none of them the glow of personal affection which gives all its lyric power to the Song. The gratification of mere physical passion is what they dwell upon, and though that is more crudely expressed in the Song when the baser love is contrasted with that of the Shulammite and her lover than Western and Christian feeling could have wished, still, the rapture of a pure and personal affection is so undeniably present as to make it improbable that we have here merely a collection of popular wedding chants.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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