THE BOOK of Ecclesiastes, in Hebrew, Koheleth, is now generally regarded by scholars as of late date, perhaps about the third century before Christ. The ascription of the authorship to Solomon in the opening sentence was probably meant merely as a literary device, Solomon being chosen as a pre-eminent type of the man who had had opportunity to test all that life has to offer. Of the actual author nothing is known.
The general spirit of the work is despondent, even pessimistic. The opening sentences strike the keynote; and though the book contains many contradictions, there is no question as to is prevailing tone. Nowhere else in the Old Testament is there such insistence on the futility of human endeavor, such cold-blooded proclaiming of the vanity of the attempts of man to dignify his existence. Yet the book has, as has been said, many inconsistencies; and it closes with an epilogue so different from the general tone and, in some respects, so contrary to it, that the hypothesis of a plurality of authors has naturally been proposed. Even those who interpret the contradictions in the body of the work as expressions of the varying moods of one author, grant, as a rule, that the epilogue (XII, 914) is a later addition; while others account for such opposite views as are found, for example in VIII, 1213 and VIII, 14, as due to the insertion of protests by some more orthodox and pious writer.
However these things are to be explained, the book is one of the great utterances of that mood of despair which the perplexities of life, and the weariness of struggle or satiety, cause to descend at times upon the human spirit in all epochs and under all civilizations. Its religious value has often been debated; there is no question as to its standing as literature.