The existential philosophy behind the wisdom of King Solomon

Painting of King Soloman, 1872 or 1874, by Simeon Solomon, British 1840 - 1905.
Gift of William B. O'Neal, to the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC 1995.52.170
Not on View - Public Domain


It has been argued among biblical scholars, that of the three books of the Old Testament attributed to King Solomon - those being Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Songs of Solomon - that Ecclesiastes was written in so different a style from the other two, as to likely have been written by someone else.

Actually, when it comes right down to it, all three of these works differ radically in their context and their aim, and likely represent three separate epochs of this mans long life.

Songs of Solomon, despite being last in the order of inclusion, when the Christian version of the Old Testament was Canonized in Rome, represents the light-hearted verses of youth.

How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!

Proverbs, on the other hand, is a rich collection of learned saws, by someone at the apex of their power and authority. Someone very confident in their own view of the world, and how best to administer one's affairs. 

He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind

It is only in Ecclesiastes that we first encounter the existential angst of this man, as he wrestles with the question of finding meaning in life, in the face of one's own mortality.


Here - where he cries out "Vanity of vanities . . ; all is vanity. . . there is no new thing under the sun" - and then goes on to detail some of his own existential observations, as well as his reasoning, for arriving at those few conclusions one can honestly come to, in acquiring a knowledge and understanding of our own existence in this life, and the world:

I gave my heart to seek and search out . . .all things that are done under heaven . . . And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly . . . I sought in mine heart to give myself unto wine, yet acquainting mine heart with wisdom; and to lay hold on folly, till I might see what (it) was . . .Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness.

Conversational throughout, the mood gradually shifts to a more relaxed delivery of his increasingly philosophical observations - many that would stand out as hallmarks of any self-help, or motivational book of today.

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.

He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.

In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.

Clearly a philosophical treatise on the condition of man - and the reason this book of the Old Testament barely made the cut at all - his relationship with God, throughout, is one of ancient world superstitious propriety, in religious observances, while recognizing it's up to us to find or create our own meaning in life.

Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God. . . Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin . . .

Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.

And in twelve short chapters, he weaves throughout, that most famous of admonitions:

Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life . . .

Possibly no other book in the bible is so misunderstood by religionists, and at the same time so unrecognized by students of existential philosophy.

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