Who wrote Ecclesiastes?

by | May 9, 2024

 Ecclesiastes is easily one of the most enigmatic books of the Bible, and its mystery includes questions about the suspiciously unnamed author (or authors?). We’ll get into the details below but never fear, by the conclusion you’ll see that questions of authorship are simply part of the mystery of the book; they don’t undermine Ecclesiastes as the legitimate word of God that he uses to speak to us today.

The Traditional View: Solomon
Until the past 400 years or so, Solomon was the assumed author of Ecclesiastes, and certainly not without reason. The book describes itself as “The words of the Preacher, the son of David” (1:1) who was “king over Israel in Jerusalem” (1:12) and “acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me” (1:16). That sure sounds like the resumé of King Solomon, whose wealth and wisdom were unrivaled among the kings of Israel (1 Kings 3:12).

While Solomon’s reign started off great, later in life he forsook the God of his father David and began worshiping false gods (1 Kings 11:8). Traditionalists maintain that the book of Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon after this period of his life, when he’d repented of his sin and could see his folly with more perspective.[1]Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 279-280.

Authorship Debate: Who is Qoheleth?
However, since the time of the Reformation, careful readings of Ecclesiastes have noticed some problems with the traditional perspective.[2]Craig G. Bartholomew, Ecclesiastes, 44. For one, 1 Kings portrays Solomon as disobedient to the Lord until his death (1 Kings 11). But more importantly, the book of Ecclesiastes never outright claims to be written by Solomon, and the absence of his name is glaring.

For all the references to being king over Israel, the author never actually identifies himself. Instead, he uses the title “Qoheleth,” (pronounced ko-HEHL-eth) which means something like “the assembler,” someone who calls people together to receive a message, often translated “Preacher” or “Teacher.”[3]Richard P. Belcher, “Ecclesiastes” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, 444. For all the discussion about who wrote Ecclesiastes, no persuasive reason has surfaced for why Solomon would use a pseudonym. As counter examples, Proverbs and Song of Solomon both outright name him as their author (Prov 1:1; Song 1:1). Two other things undermine the traditional view: 1. the Teacher says he “has been” king in Jerusalem (1:12), an odd thing for Solomon to say since he was king until his death (1 Kings 11), and 2. in 1:16 he mentions growing in wisdom “more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me,” a strange claim considering he was preceded by exactly one king, his father David.[4]Longman and Dillard, 281.

The majority opinion by biblical scholars, including plenty of conservative scholars who believe in the truth and authority of scripture, conclude that Ecclesiastes was most likely written sometime after Solomon’s life by another Teacher of Israel, this Qoheleth figure, who used likenesses with Solomon’s life as a literary or rhetorical device to get his point across.

Two Authors?
Careful readings of Ecclesiastes also reveal not just one author but two (or, at the very least, two voices or characters written by one author). Throughout the middle of the book we see first-person language, “I the Preacher…” (1:12), but in the first verse and again at the end we see third-person language, “Besides being wise, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge…”(12:9). We see this switch once in the middle too, “Behold, this is what I found, says the Preacher” (7:27a). The primary voice of Ecclesiastes is Qoheleth, but the narrator who introduces and concludes the book is a second author, someone scholars call the “frame narrator.”[5]Longman and Dillard, 282.

I know that’s a wacky way to write a book of the Bible, but this narrative method was not uncommon in the ancient world. The task of writing something down by hand and then having it copied for wider reading was incredibly cost-prohibitive, and often people who had this sort of access used it to relay material from other people. In fact, many ancient Near East biographies were written this way, such that the biographer reported the famous person’s life events in the first-person (kind of like ghost writing today). In fact, because of these ancient biography examples, biblical scholars are divided on whether they think Qoheleth and the frame narrator are different individuals or the same person writing in two separate voices.

This addition of a second author/voice both complicates things and clears some things up. If we’re wrestling over whether Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes, we then have to determine if Solomon is Qoheleth, or the frame narrator, or both, or neither. But if we take a step back from the debate, we can see how the unknown identity of this Qoholeth character fits in perfectly with the enigmatic theme of Ecclesiastes. With an unnamed narrator reporting to us the words of an unnamed Teacher we can let go of who exactly the author/narrator is and simply weigh and study his arguments just as the Teacher has done (12:9).

Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that distinctions between authors, writers, and even editors occur elsewhere in the Bible and yet do nothing to undermine its credibility. For example, many of the letters in the New Testament were written by a scribe but authored by Paul or Peter, the Psalms were written by various individuals but collected into a single book by some unknown individual(s), and we have basically no idea who wrote Hebrews. Ultimately, both with Ecclesiastes and the rest of the Bible, the real author is the sovereign Spirit of God, deftly able to work through human authors and writers and even funky literary styles to speak his true word to us. As the book of Ecclesiastes itself concludes, “The words of the wise…are given by one Shepherd” (12:11).


1 Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 279-280.
2 Craig G. Bartholomew, Ecclesiastes, 44.
3 Richard P. Belcher, “Ecclesiastes” in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, 444.
4 Longman and Dillard, 281.
5 Longman and Dillard, 282.