Identification of Speaker (1:1)

1:1 The words of Qoheleth, the son of David, king in Jerusalem:

The speaker is identified (in Hebrew) as “Qoheleth.” This is not a personal name. The Hebrew word most likely means someone who convenes and speaks in a meeting. It has been translated as “the Preacher” or “the Teacher.” He is “the son of David.” In the Old Testament this phrase most often (but not always) refers to Solomon. But it can refer to any male descendant of King David. This male descendant of David was also a king. Like all Davidic kings he reigned in Jerusalem. Who is Qoheleth?

Qoheleth has to be King Solomon. He is the most obvious choice. In 1:12 the speaker says, “I, Qoheleth, have been king over Israel.” Though all Davidic kings reigned in Jerusalem, only Solomon reigned over Israel. Israel was divided into Judah and Israel after Solomon died and thus all subsequent Davidic kings reigned over Judah only. A descendant of David who reigned over Israel must then be Solomon. Thus Qoheleth could not be anyone else except Solomon. Also, the rest of the autobiographical description in 1:12-2:23 matches Solomon perfectly.

That means, as is traditionally believed, Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes. But based on some technical reasons, most (but not all) scholars today reject the idea that Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes. This present writer finds the evidence against the traditional view inconclusive and the arguments unconvincing. If we are willing to give the traditional view the benefit of the doubt as in a court of law, we have no good reason to reject it. But for our purpose, it does not matter whether Solomon actually wrote Ecclesiastes. So we will not get bogged down here.

Even scholars who deny that Solomon wrote the book claim that someone impersonated him. For instance, Choon-Leong Seow denies that the author is Solomon but affirms, “clearly the author intends to equate himself with Solomon” (1997: 119). We can then liken the author to a ghostwriter who has written a rather personal speech for a well-known figure who would deliver it as his own. This figure is so well known and his speech so personal that his identity is unmistakable even though he is not explicitly named.

So for all practical purposes we can assume that the speech comes from Solomon, here referred to as Qoheleth. This is important. No one else has the kind of credibility and authority that he has to say the things he says in the speech. In fact, if Solomon was not the author, this would be the most plausible explanation why anybody would write this particular speech and attribute it to him. For no other human being was (and is) so blessed with temporal blessings like Solomon. He was powerful as king of Israel at her political peak. He was world famous because of his outstanding and incomparable wisdom. He was extremely wealthy. And on top of it all, he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. When someone who has had what he had and says what he says in the next two verses and in the rest of the speech, we listen. We had better!


Blogger The Hedonese said...

Tien Fock, the pilgrim analogy is apt. Unlike a wandering vagabond, the pilgrim travels with a destination in mind - his heavenly home.

I wonder wat Solomon wud say to someone who sees no essence or THE meaning for Our Reason for Being, rather we simply exist and must create our own meanings?

10:26 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

There are some scholars who believe there is not one but two speakers in Ecclesiastes- a teacher and a father. Could you please comment on this?

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tien Fock
I am glad that I am reading your 1st article on Ecclesiates. This book has empuzzled me for a long time...truly I too like most people try to make sense of this existential life we are in...did read a few books by other Chrtistian writers including that of Half Time by Bob your coming articles will help me to confirm my direction....exciting!
Simon Chu

8:20 AM  
Blogger tfleong said...

Alex, scholars can come up with all kinds of theories, often without evidence. This very verse tells us that what follows "are the words of Qoheleth." Unless there is clear evidence to indicate otherwise we would assume "the words of Qoheleth" refers to the entire speech. Contrary to general opinion, the book in fact shows remarkable coherence, which the exposition will show.

Even now, if you look at the outline provided in the Introduction page, you can see (perhaps faintly) coherence and progress in the speech. Most scholars cannot see coherence because they analyze the book the way they would analyze the book of Romans in the New Testament. Note that I analyze the book as a persuasive speech.

Also, there are "markers" to indicate that "the words of Qoheleth" do cover the entire speech. The "says Qoheleth" phrase occurs 3 times: 1:2 (beginning of speech); 7:27 (middle of speech); 12:8 (end of speech).

5:29 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Is there any reason why 1:1-11 and 12:9-14 to be in the third person?

Seems to me, A (wise man) is quoting B (the Teacher) to teach C (his son) about the reasons to for our being. A starts with an intoduction, then quoted B verbatum, concludes by inserting his wise comments (12:9ff)- there is more to just existing on this earth as B teaches. You must fear the Lord.

3:36 AM  
Blogger tfleong said...

I suspected you had something like this in mind but could not be sure.

First of all, only 1:1 (and not 1:1-11) is in the third person. Even the third-person phrase, “says Qoheleth,” is referring to first-person speech in each of the 3 contexts it occurs.

Your “A” would be what is known in scholarly literature as the “frame-narrator” (first introduced by Michael V. Fox), who writes in the third-person to “frame” the first-person monologue of Qoheleth (your “B”). Addressing the listerner or reader as “my son” (your “C”) is standard in wisdom literature in the ancient Middle East.

There is no concrete evidence or conclusive argument why Qoheleth could not be his own frame-narrator. The very presence of third-person references is often simply assumed to signal a separate individual at work. The author of this series of reflection, even though his interpretation and exposition of Ecclesiastes is not affected by this assumption, cannot accept it because it is too arbitrary. He finds Duane Garrett (in his Commentary in the New American Commentary series) more convincing (though not conclusive):

there is no reason to suppose that the author who writes “the Teacher [Qoheleth] says” (the frame-narrator) and the author who gives us the bulk of the book (the Teacher) are two different people. Otherwise we would expect the frame-narrator to have given us the Teacher’s actual name. When he says, “I, the Teacher” (1:12), any notion that the Teacher and the frame-narrator (or “author/editor”) are actually two separate individuals must be abandoned as a fancy of biblical criticism (pages 263-64).

But if the frame-narrator is Qoheleth himself why did he use the third-person, especially in the so-called Epilogue (12:9-14)? Qoheleth makes much use of personal experiences and observations as a means to persuade his audience. By presenting Qoheleth as a reliable teacher in the third, instead of the first, person in the Epilogue it places “the teacher in the realm of history and sets a degree of objectivity and distance between the reader and the Teacher, a distance that would not exist if the entire book were written in the first person. The frame-narrator thus lifts the book above the level of personal reflection and presents the Teacher as an authority whose words ought to be heard” (Garrett, page 262).

It is risky to assume that the third person biographical description that accompanies a piece of writing is written by another person other than the author himself. Very often, the writer of an article is asked by the editor to provide a biodata of himself to accompany his article. He would write it in the third person and is often published verbatim. At least, this has happened to me a number of times.

Scholars who see the frame-narrator as someone other than Qoheleth are perhaps aware of this. They are led (or pushed?) to this conclusion because they see Qoheleth as pessimistic and unorthodox, whereas the frame-narrator is clearly not. So they cannot be the same person. But it is my thesis, to be substantiated in my exposition, that Qoheleth is neither pessimistic nor unorthodox. So if the view that Qoheleth is pessimistic and unorthodox is not assumed, the view that the frame-narrator is not Qoheleth himself really has no reason for being. Otherwise it would be like prosecuting a man for murder with just a piece of purely circumstantial evidence and with no murder motive established.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Tien Fock,

Thank you for your response to my previous post. Thank you for taking the time to explain your reasoning for your thesis that Qoheleth is one person utilisating the writing pattern of the time.

I understand that you are approaching the whole book as a long speech.

I was curious about your approach (which you have explained) because of the current interest in approaching NT studies in the Greek format eg rhethorics and narratives.

I look forward to the rest of the study where you will be showing that Qoheleth was neither pessimistic nor unorthodox :)

4:42 PM  
Blogger Joseph Kelly said...

The Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Writings edited by Tremper Longman and Peter Enns was recently published. Enns has written an excellent article on the book of Ecclesiastes for it. In it, he offers an explanation as to why an appeal might have been made to Solomon if Solomon didn't write the book; his argument is certainly worth checking out. He is responding to the use of 1 Chron 29.25 as a text which supposedly supports the position that Eccl 1.16 requires (or strongly suggests) Solomonic authorship. I don't know if his argument has surfaced before or not. Enns' Ph.D. is in biblical interpretation; he did his dissertation on Sirach. He would be one to develop an argument like the one he uses, though it could be old news and I haven't run into it before.

I am curious, do you believe anything in Ecclesiastes hangs on Solomonic authorship? If Solomon didn't pen the work (or at least Qohelet's portion) how does that affect your reading of the text? How does being dogmatic about the position help in the proclamation of Qohelet's/the frame-narrator's message?

Thanks for the hard work you have put into this site!

11:37 AM  
Blogger tfleong said...


Thank you for dropping a note.

As for the questions you raised, please re-read the exposition. This is what I wrote at the end of the third paragraph: "But for our purpose, it does not matter whether Solomon actually wrote Ecclesiastes. So we will not get bogged down here." What I mean by this is elaborated in the 2 paragraphs that follow.

5:44 PM  

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