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.

Views: 779

Comment by willailla on September 5, 2010 at 1:26pm
Much of Solomon’s wisdom came from Eastern philosophies.

“Unfortunately, no trace of Solomon's extraordinarily gaudy temple has ever been found, nor
was it ever reported to have been seen by any non-Biblical traveler even though it was
supposedly only a few miles from heavily traveled trade routes and "all the kings of the earth
sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom" (2nd Chron. 9:23). Neither was
Solomon's "wisdom" ever referred to by any non-Biblical travelers of that era. Probably
because all ancient Near Eastern civilizations back then boasted large collections of "wise
sayings," some of which even the Bible plagiarized when it attributed them to "King
Solomon." [See, Old Testament Parallels : Laws and Stories From the Ancient Near East by
Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamin, Fully rev. and expanded ed, New York : Paulist


“One can not discuss King Solomon without mentioning the temple that the Bible tells us he
built -- a relatively tiny temple only about ninety feet long and thirty feet wide (1 Kings 6:2
and 2 Chron. 3:3) but which must have been an extraordinary sight because King David
allegedly provided his son, Solomon, with "a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million
talents of silver, quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone"
to use in building it. "And you may add to them" David said. (1 Chron. 22:14) Add to "a
hundred thousand talents of gold?" The NIV Bible says that a hundred thousand talents of
gold is equal to 7.5 million lbs. The U.S. federal gold depository at Fort Knox holds only
19% more than that, or 9.2 million lbs. Moreover, a single ounce of gold can be beaten out
to 300 square feet. So King Solomon could have gilded his entire nation with 7.5 million
pounds of gold, or perhaps built the whole temple out of gold, without even needing to use
the 75 million lbs. of silver he also had on hand. (Hmmm, maybe Solomon made the temple
so small so he could pocket most of the gold and silver his father left him; or, more likely,
the author of 1st Chronicles was inflating the wealth of King David and King Solomon just
as he inflated the numerical sizes of their armies -- after all, "a hundred thousand talents of
gold," is a nice large round figure.)”

“Christians take note: 1 Kings 3:12 says that "none" shall arise "after thee" who have as
"wise and understanding a heart" as Solomon's. Doesn't the word, "none" mean "none," and
hence it excludes even Jesus from having as "wise and understanding a heart" as Solomon?

Of course if Solomon was so wise, how come "his wives turned away his heart after other
gods?" (1 Kings 11:4) I guess the wisest of men was outsmarted by his wives.”
“And how come it says in Ecclesiastes (a book that evangelical Christians allege Solomon
wrote), "The sun rises and the sun sets; And hastening to its place it rises there again"
(Eccles. 1:5, NASB)? The wisest of men is telling us that the sun "hastens to its place" so it
can "rise there again" each day? That's geocentrism, not modern day heliocentric astronomy.
So whomever wrote such a thing appears to have been neither wise, nor inspired by God (at
least not in the subject of astronomy).”

Some Eastern philosophers:

"He deserves paradise who can make his companions laugh." (The Koran)

An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger
By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by
imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.
Death and life have their determined appointments; riches and honors depend upon heaven.

Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.

In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly
governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.

The object of the superior man is truth.


The tongue like a sharp knife... Kills without drawing blood.

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about
the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.

Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.

All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil
thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows
him, like a shadow that never leaves him.

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the

The mind is everything. What you think you become.

The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend
on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed.


A hair divides what is false and true.

Drink! for you know not whence you came nor why: drink! for you know not why you go,
nor where

Living Life Tomorrow's fate, though thou be wise, Thou canst not tell nor yet surmise; Pass,
therefore, not today in vain, For it will never come again.

Myself when young did eagerly frequent doctor and saint, and heard great argument about it
and about: but evermore came out by the same door as in I went.

You know, my friends, with what a brave carouse I made a Second Marriage in my house;
favored old barren reason from my bed, and took the daughter of the vine to spouse.

I sent my soul through the invisible,
some letter of that afterlife to spell;
and by and by my soul returned to me,
and answered, "I myself am Heav'n and Hell"”


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