You can learn a lot about the author of a book by reading it.
The author of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes seems to leave clues about his identity throughout the book. For example, the book begins with the same formula as the book of Proverbs. Just compare the first verse of each book. “These are the proverbs/words of , King of/in .”
Because of the resemblance in the introductions, many generations of readers thought that Solomon was the author of both books. For instance, both claim to be a “son” or descendant of David. (“Son” is not necessarily as literal in Hebrew as it is in English, but can refer to any direct male descendant.) They both rule over (at least some part of) Israel.
In Ecclesiastes 1:16 the writer claims to be the wisest man who ever ruled in Jerusalem, which also leads many to conclude that it must be Solomon, who was renowned for his wisdom. Many believe that no other Israelite king was ever as wise as Solomon.
Some ancient and many modern scholars, however, have noticed an anomaly in the attribution of this book to Solomon. It appears within the claim of being the wisest of all the kings who ruled before him in Jerusalem. If Solomon was the author, how many Israelite kings ruled in Jerusalem before him?
Answer: exactly one. The Jebusite city of Jerusalem was not incorporated into Israel until the reign of King David, whose army conquered it from the Jebusites. He then made it the capital city of Israel. David was the first Israelite king in Jerusalem, and Solomon was his son and heir. I do not find the argument that he is comparing himself to preceding Jebusite kings of Jerusalem convincing.
Another notable anomaly is the difference in names. If Solomon actually used his own name in the book of Proverbs, why avoid it in Ecclesiastes? Although traditionally rendered “the Teacher” or “the Preacher” based on a resemblance to a Hebrew word for teaching or exhorting, may also be a name: Qoheleth.
A third difference is in the area ruled as mentioned in the first verse. Solomon says that he is king of Israel, but Qoheleth simply says he is king in Jerusalem. As you read the account, you begin to see a certain boastfulness shining through, so why limit his rulership in the introduction to the environs of Jerusalem? Yes, he does claim to rule over Israel in a later verse, but I will point to a possible reason for the “King in Jerusalem” description. That reason will point to a possible candidate for Qoheleth.
So far, we are looking for a king with Solomon-like wisdom who is a descendant of David, yet claims to be wiser than all (presumably more than just David) preceding kings in Jerusalem (1:16).
He is quite a boastful man who outlines his many accomplishments, which include gardens, water-works and siege-protection for the city (2:4-9).
He claims to have been an eyewitness to the siege of a “small city” by a “great king” (9:13-18).
He may have had a close brush with death, implied by his preference for “the house of mourning” over “the house of mirth” (7:2).
He also commends being happy with the wife (note the singular) of your youth, which would seem like an odd thing for Solomon, the man with 300 wives and 700 concubines, to say (unless he learned 1000 reasons to repent of polygamy). (9:9) Most English translations of 2:8 try to suggest that the “delights of the sons of men” of the KJV actually means concubines or a harem. The context of male and female musicians suggests that perhaps this had to do with worship at the Temple rather than private parties in the palace. Why should musical instruments be referred to after the ”delights” unless it continued to be about music?
Qoheleth does not seem, in the entire account, to have turned away from God at any time. He concludes his life-long experiment in wisdom by commending life-long obedience to God (12:13). Those who want Qoheleth to be Solomon must postulate a death-bed repentance to make sense of his final exhortation. This seems to be a stretch.
Was there a later king of David’s lineage who was very wise, faithful to God (at least a non-idolater) until the end, a great builder, witnessed or endured a siege, had a close brush with death, was not noted for polygamy, and was a great boaster about his accomplishments?
It turns out that there was a king who fit all of those descriptions who ruled late in Israel/Judah’s history. King Hezekiah of Judah was one of Israel’s most notable kings. He is most notable for battling idolatry, rebuilding the city of Jerusalem, and tunneling under the city to supply water from a brook in times of siege (an amazing engineering feat in its day). (2 Kings 18:1-8)
Under him, Jerusalem survived the siege of Sennacherib of Assyria, though every other town and city in Israel and Judah were sacked and their people deported. This would explain the designation “king in Jerusalem,” since there was not much left of either Israel or Judah except the environs of Jerusalem after the Assyrian invasion. (2 Kings 18-19)
It is interesting that 18:5-6 qualifies Hezekiah as the king who most closely followed all the ways of the Lord of all of the kings of Israel or Judah, whether before or after him. He seems to have been responsible for one of the biggest revivals in Yahweh-worship in Judah’s pre-exile history.
(Please note that I am not claiming to be the first or most original person to see Hezekiah as writer of this book. His name is mentioned as far back as the Babylonian Talmud. I am just noting evidence that I see in the book that points to him as the author.)
The next instalment about Ecclesiastes will talk about how Hezekiah’s authorship might influence how we read the book in light of his statements about everything being “vanity” and about how to enjoy life. That instalment will have to wait until after the Passover season.
Two other recent writers who have noticed the Hezekiah connection with Ecclesiastes are:
Unnamed author of “Ecclesiastes: Spiritual Balance” who mentions the high probability in a footnote on page 2.