Ecclesiastes 1:12 says

I, Qoheleth, was king in Jerusalem over Israel.

and 1:1

The words of Qoheletha son of David, king in Jerusalem.

This is usually interpreted as if Solomon was the author of the scripture.

Now, we read in 1 Kins 11:42-43

The length of Solomon’s reign in Jerusalem, over all Israel, was forty years. Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of his father David; and his son Rehoboam succeeded him as king.

So, Solomon never resigned as a king.

My question is:

If we suppose that the text is really written by a resigned king (of the southern part of Israel, possibly even in the time of the second Temple), who could this be?


1 Answer 1


אֲנִי קֹהֶלֶת הָיִיתִי מֶלֶךְ עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּירוּשָׁלִָם׃

You are reading a lot into a Qatal verb that just isn't there.

First, not even in English is it the case that saying "I was X" means you are no longer X. For example, "I was king when they attacked" does not mean the speaker is no longer king. It just means that in the past event that happened - the attack -- the speaker was king. Whether he is still king now is irrelevant.

Similarly Qatal is often used in the past to locate an event in relation to another -- which is why some translations use "have been king" (ESV, NET2)

You often see this template in recounting a story, that the main verbs are wayiqtol with milestones in qatal. E.g. As I was walking [wayiqtol] a man came up to me [qatal] and a dog barked [qatal]. The wayiqtol forms the bones of the outline and then sub-points that happened within that outline are described with qatal.

Bottom line, all you can infer from the qatal is that the speaker was king when the larger events of that chapter were taking place. To attempt to infer that he is no longer king now would not be with the authorial intent.

Please train yourself to avoid these types of inferences rooted in English idioms when reading the Bible. Always keep in mind that the Bible is translated, and it's hard enough to convey the surface meanings correctly without dragging in all the inferences in the target language. This requires a careful and disciplined approach to reading the Bible, which is why consulting other translations and commentaries, as well as studying some basics of Hebrew, goes a long way to help avoid making these types of inference errors.

  • Indeed, I have close-to-zero knowledge in Hebrew. I am actually searching for alternative authors because reading this text, I do hot have the impression to have a powerful king speaking. But you are right that Hebrew perfect is not equivalent to English past tense, so this is not a strong indication.
    – SDG
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 15:15
  • You can go on Bible Hub and switch between a few translations. For example, KJV-ESV-NET is a good set of Bibles that I often use. But you are right that Qohelet is a text of someone at the end of their life, looking back. They say proverbs is for the young and Qohelet is for the old. But I'm not sure that people actually retired back then.
    – Robert
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 15:19
  • Good answer. +1. It is difficult NOT to see Solomon as the obvious 9and only) natual meaning of the text in Eccl 1. Indeed, no other such candidate exists. The question is based on an unbiblical assumption as you correctly point out.
    – Dottard
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 21:25

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