Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes

Let’s consider some of Tremper Longman’s work for example.  In His argument against Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes in his commentary, he commits several basic errors.
One that comes to mind combines a grammatical error with a procedural problem.  
Working off of the NIV, rather than the Hebrew text, He cites Ecc. 1:12 as an argument against Solomonic authorship.  It states, “I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem” (NIV).  He then argues that the verse identifies a time when Solomon had been alive but not king, basically concluding that since this doesn’t fit with what we know of Solomon it wasn’t really him. 
This is a scandalous assertion.  Longman seems not to know that, 1.) Hebrew uses the perfect conjugation to express either simple past or past perfect verbal ideas.  Thus, “I was king” or “I have been king” are equally valid translations that any student of basic Hebrew would know—seriously.  2.) A consultation of other translations should have at least tempered his argument. 3.) In actuality, the statement seems merely to place Qoheleth’s attitude within its historical setting.  This deficiency on the part of Longman suggests either incompetence in the language, or some unargued philosophical bias that prevents honest assessment here.  But there’s more. 
Citing 1:16, he argues, “It would be strange to hear Solomon state: I said to myself, ‘Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.’”  Why is this strange—because there was only one king before Solomon?  However, the chronicler in 1 Chronicles 29:25 uses this exact language to make the same case.  He says, “The LORD highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed on him royal majesty which had not been on any king before him in Israel” (1Ch 29:25 [emphasis mine]).  Longman seems to arrive at his conclusion without adequate scholarly reflection on the wording.  Is the phrase an idiom, figure of speech, a common way of taking into consideration powerful men including but not limited to the reigning monarch?  These would be the normal sorts of questions to ask.  These are not addressed though.  When combined with other textual arguments, one can only conclude that Longman simply didn’t read/think carefully about this.  So, failure at this juncture also looks suspicious.  But there’s more. 
Longman argues that Qoheleth is a pseudonym for the one assuming the Solomonic persona, or if applied to Solomon, a “nick-name.”  He writes: 
“One must ask what is gained or what possible reason could Solomon have had for adopting a name other than his own in this book?  Is he hiding his identity from someone?  If so, for what possible reason?  Does the nickname add anything to the message of the book? After all, the connection to Solomon is tenuous, and no one has argued that the name contributes to the meaning of the book.  It is much more likely that the nickname Qohelet was adopted by the actual writer to associate himself with Solomon, while retaining his distance from the actual person” (p. 4). 
Apparently, Longman is unaware that Hebrew nouns typically come from verbs, so that the title Qoheleth is most likely derived from some activity for which he was noted.  Since the verb is qahal, the title Qoheleth is connected with some assembling activity, perhaps the assembling of people or proverbs, etc. 
Finally, at least for this interview, it is notable that Longman begins his arguments against Solomonic authorship seemingly by committing the “snob approach” variety of the argumentum ad poplum fallacy.  He states, “Attentive readers of the Bible have felt uneasy about the simple identification of Qohelet with Solomon for a long time” (p. 4).  And, “Even in the light of strong internal and external testimony to the contrary, a small, but vocal group of evangelical scholars still advocate this [Solomonic authorship] view” (p. 3).  He then props this up with poor arguments including the ones above. 
Notice how he is arguing that anyone who fails to recognize the truth of his assertion is not an intellectual (“attentive”), and it would be in the best interest of the reader to listen to himself.  There are additional points in this particular case to argue, but this is not the place for that.  I would just say that Longman’s argumentation against Solomonic authorship is scurrilous.  To answer the question, is apologetics helpful for biblical studies generally and OT specifically, again, yes.  Perhaps if more biblical scholars were trained in apologetics, a lot of the stuff that passes for biblical scholarship would never gain a legitimate hearing.  Instead, junk scholarship is published and passed off as cutting edge and respectable.


  1. Hi,

    I happened to read Longman on this a week ago, alongside a number of other commentaries. I think the argument highlighted here is a weak one, but that he made stronger ones, and I'd be interested in seeing those discussed. Possibly this writer chose the weakest ones because it was easier to make his point from them when speaking briefly. I don't know. Other points are discussed in other commentaries, of course, indirectly (i.e. the ones I've read don't directly refer to Longman), but I'd be interested in reading more that directly discusses Longman.


    1. i) I think Provan and Bartholomew are better commentaries. Waltke also makes some good points in his OT theology on Ecclesiastes.

      ii) Longman's approach, in which the body of the text is a foil for a peripheral editorial deconstruction, is driven by the assumption that the the viewpoint of Ecclesiastes is contradictory and secularistic.

      I disagree with that interpretation, for reasons I've stated elsewhere, viz.

    2. Authorship is also discussed in conservative OT introductions, e.g. Archer, Merrill/Rooker/Grisanti.

    3. Thanks. I read Provan last week too; he also argues that the authorship is not Solomonic. As you say, his overall view is quite different to Longman. Longman sees the main body of the book as being, in the style of Job, mainly a foil for the corrective comment at the end.

      The other modern one I've obtained so far is Fredericks (Apollos), who argues for Solomonic authorship.

    4. Just to clarify, I wasn't citing Provan or Bartholomew in direct support of Solomonic authorship. I just think they are generally better on the interpretive issues than Longman.

      In addition, their interpretive approach does undercut a presupposition of Longman's denial of Solomonic authorship.

  2. Martin Shields also discusses authorship here-
    Seems pretty confident that Solomon is Qohelet. But that Chapter 12:9-14 is written by someone else.
    Not unusual in the New Testament either...

  3. Steve: Thanks for reposting this little section of my interview from Veritas Domain (and thanks to SlimJim for pointing this out). For David, who made some comments/asked questions there as well, Longman divides objections to Solomonic authorship into two categories, Internal Considerations and External Considerations. I would have to go back and check, but as I have them listed in my notes, I count basically 4 or 5 arguments against Solomonic authorship in his Internal Considerations section, depending on how you reckon them. I picked the first 3 or 4 of these *in order as they occur* (the comment about attentive readers is not technically an argument, but introduces the discussion and is repeated as a sentiment elsewhere). I kept them simple, for example I didn't interact with his appeal to the Talmud at one point. Because there has been some interest in this, If I have time this summer, perhaps I'll develop a more robust response and make that available somewhere. Thanks again!