There is one point, however, that it may be well to look at here a little more closely and carefully than has been done in the body of the book, both on account of its importance and of the strong attack that the ecclesiastical infidelity of the day has made upon it: I refer to its authorship.
To commence with the strongest position of the attack on the Solomon authorship -- necessarily the strongest, for it is directly in the field of verbal criticism -- it is argued that because a large number of words are found in this book, found elsewhere alone in the post-exilian writers, (as Daniel or Nehemiah,) therefore the author of the book must surely be post-exilian too. It would be unedifying, and is happily unnecessary, to review this in detail -- with a literature so very limited as are the Hebrew writings cotemporary with Solomon: these few, dealing with other subjects, other ideas, necessitating therefore another character of words, it takes no scholar to see that any argument derived from this must necessarily be taken with the greatest caution. Nay, like all arguments of infidelity, it is a sword easily turned against the user. As surely as the valleys lie hid in shadow long after the mountain-tops are shining in the morning sun, so surely must we expect evidences of so elevated a personality as the wise king of Israel, to show a fuller acquaintance with the language of his neighbors; and employ, when they best suited him, words from such vocabularies -- words which would not come into general use for many a long day; indeed until sorrow, captivity, and shame, had done the same work for the mass, under the chastening Hand of God, as abundant natural gifts had done for our wise and glorious author.
Thus the argument of Zoeckler -- "the numerous Aramaisms (words of Syriac origin) in the book are among the surest signs of its post-exile origin" -- is really turned against himself. Were such Aramaisms altogether lacking, we might well question whether the writer were indeed that widely-read, eminently literary, gloriously intellectual individual of whom it is said, "his wisdom excelled the children of the East country and all the wisdom of Egypt, for he was wiser than all men." Surely, that Solomon shows he was acquainted with words other than his own Hebrew, and made use of such words when they best suited his purpose, is only what common-sense would naturally look for. There is no proof whatever that the words themselves were of late date. Christian scholars have examined them one by one as carefully, and certainly at least as conscientiously, as their opponents; and show us, in result, that the words, although not familiar in the Hebrew vernacular, were in widely-current use either in the neighboring Persian or in that family of languages -- Syriac and Chaldaic -- of which Hebrew was but a member.
The verdict of impartiality must certainly be "not proven," if indeed it be not stronger than that, to the attempt to deny to Solomon the authorship of Ecclesiastes based on the words used.
The next method of argument is one in which we shall feel ourselves more at home, inasmuch as it is not so much a question of scholarship, but ordinary intelligent discernment. Time and space forbid that I attempt here a full or detailed exhibit of the sentences, thoughts, ideas in the book itself which are taken as being quite impossible to King Solomon. I will, however, attempt to give a representative few that may stand for all. In the body of the book I have touched, in passing, on the argument deduced from the words in the first chapter, "I was king;" so need only to ask my readers' attention to it there.
That "he says of himself that he was wiser and richer than all before him in Jerusalem points, under enlightened exposition, clearly to an author different to the historical Solomon." Indeed! If my readers can appreciate the force of such an argument, they do more than can I. That the writer should seek that his words should have the full force, his experiences have the full weight that could only attach to one in every way gifted to test all things to their uttermost, is taken as clear proof, "under unbiased exposition," that the only one who was exactly thus gifted was not the author! The claim to freedom from bias is in almost ludicrous harmony with such reasoning.
Again, "that also which is said -- chap. vii.10 -- of the depravity of the times accords little with the age of Solomon, the most brilliant and prosperous of Israelitish history." Another lovely example of rationalistic "freedom from bias"! For what is this that is said of the "depravity of the times" so inconsistent with the glory of Solomon's reign in chap. vii.10? "Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? For thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this." And this is proof of the "depravity of the times"! -- not proof, mark, of just that very thing that is the heart and soul of the book: the weary, unsatisfied, empty heart of poor man looking backward or forward for the satisfaction that the present always fails to give "under the sun," and which he, who was wiser than all who came before him, Solomon, warns his readers against! Oh, poor blind rationalism! missing all the beauties of God's Word in its own exceeding cleverness, or -- folly! How would the present application of such reasoning sound! The Victorian era is certainly one of the most "brilliant and prosperous of" English "history"; hence no one can ever speak now of "the good old times." Such language is simply impossible; we never hear it! So if some astute reasoner of the future comes across such allusion in any writings, it will be clear proof that the author was post-Victorian! Far more so if, as here, such writer rebukes this tendency!
"Altogether unkingly sound the complaints in chap. iii.17 ('I said in my heart God shall judge the righteous and the wicked; for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work'); iv.; x.5-7 (let my reader refer for himself to these), concerning unjust judges," etc. "These are all lamentations and complaints natural enough in a suffering and oppressed subject; but not in a monarch called and authorized to abolish evil." It is most difficult to deal seriously with what, if the writer were not so very learned, we should call nonsense unworthy of a child. Look at the verse to which he refers, and which I have quoted in full; and extract from it, if your "biased" judgment will permit, an "unkingly complaint" in any word of it! And it is at such formidable arguments as this that some of us have been trembling, fearing lest the very foundations must give way under the attack! A little familiarity is all that is needed to beget a wholesome contempt.
Here is one more interesting illustration of the "unbiased," "scientific" reasoning of rationalism. The object is, you know, to "determine exactly the epoch and writer of the book;" and this is how it must be done. "According to chaps, v.1, and ix.2, the temple worship was assiduously practised, but without a living piety of heart, and in a hypocritical and self-justifying manner; the complaints in this regard remind us vividly of similar ones of the prophet Malachi -- chap. i.6, etc." What then is the basis for all this verbiage about the temple worship? Here it is: "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil." This sentence shows that it is impossible that Solomon wrote the book: there were no "fools" in his time, who were more ready to give a careless sacrifice than to hearken: all fools only come into existence after the exile, in the days of Malachi! And this is "higher criticism"!
Enough as to this line. We will now ask our learned friends, since Solomon has been so conclusively proved not to have written it, Who did? And when was it written? Ah, now we may listen to a very medley of answers! -- for opinions here are almost as numerous as the critics themselves. United in the one assurance that Solomon could not have written it, they are united in nothing else. One is assured it was Hezekiah, another is confident it was Zerubbabel, a third is convinced it was Jesus the son of Joiada -- and so on. "All opinions," as Dr. Lewis says, "are held with equal confidence, and yet in every way are opposed to each other. Once set it loose from the Solomon time, and there is no other place where it can be securely anchored."
This brings us then to the positive assertion that from the evident purpose of the book, the divine purpose, no other than Solomon could be its author. He must be of a nation taken out of the darkness and abominations of heathendom; -- there was only one such nation, -- he must then be an Israelite. He must live at an epoch when that nation is at the summit of its prosperity; -- it never regained that epoch, -- he must then have lived when Solomon lived. He must, in his own person, by his riches, honor, wisdom, learning, freedom from external political fears, perfect capacity to drink of whatever cup this world can put into his hand to the full -- represent the very top-stone of that glorious time; and not one amongst all the sons of men answers to all this but Solomon the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
To Him who is "greater than Solomon" -- to Him who is "above the sun" -- to Him whom it is the divine purpose of the book to highly exalt above all -- would I commit this feeblest effort to show that purpose, and, as His condescending grace permits, further it. F. C. J.