Ecclesiastes and Proverbs
Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are attributed to King Solomon, but were probably written centuries later.
"Vanity of vanities. All is vanity."
The Preacher begins his discourse with a colophon-a self introduction and purpose for his writing. He claims to be the son of King David, presumably Solomon.
Ecclesiastes is usually dated by scholars as being written after the Diaspora (ca 520 BC) and before the 2nd century BC, due to its Aramaic phraseology and possible ties to other philosophic writings.
It is considered similar to the Egyptian Wisdom/Royal Testament rite, where Pharaoh related his earthly wisdom to his son.
Both Greek and Egyptian philosophies were developing before and after the Diaspora. As Greek power ascended in the region, especially under Alexander the Great, its philosophies also spread.
Like the Greeks, the Preacher seeks to find wisdom and truth through observation and reason, rather than through revelation. He sought "what is good for men to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives" (2:3). This was also the chief goal of the major Greek schools of philosophy.
Like the Stoics, the Preaches uses the 4 elements (air, water, fire, earth) in his search for meaning. And as the Stoics determined there really is no true answer.
He comes to realize "there is nothing new under the Sun" ( ). Basically, man is born, he works, then dies. A man can perform what seems to be important, only to have another come along and ruin it. There is nothing eternal. The best we can expect is serve God and do good.
The Preacher often notes the vanity of life. In Hebrew the term for vanity is "hevel." This word does not translate well into English. Other better terms would be: vapor, breath, wind, absurd, unknowable, mysterious.
As Socrates taught we are but "dust in the wind", so the Preacher tells us it is futile to truly try to understand life.
If the Preacher was indeed Solomon, it could represent the changes in his life as he matured. First, as a young king, he experienced revelations via dreams when he asked for wisdom and in dedicating the temple. In his later years, however, he left Jehovah for other gods and philosophies.
The old Preacher does not look to heaven for answers, as did David who knew God would not leave him in hell, or Job who looked forward to the resurrection. Ecclesiastes shows the end state of man when they seek answers to life only through reasoning and philosophy. Still his counsel that we cannot know all things is correct, and he counsels, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13).
Proverbs is a collection of almost random concepts and ideas that focus on a few major concepts. Given my rant against the aged preacher above, the Proverbs of Solomon would come from his earlier life when he sought direction from Jehovah.
1. The wise versus fools. The majority of Proverbs focuses on praising those who seek wisdom, and condemning stupid people. The wise learn from correction, control their emotions and tongue, and seek learning.
Fools fall all over themselves finding trouble. They speak and act before they think. While a few lashes might temporarily get their attentions, they soon fall back into their foolish ways.
2. Trustinq God. Perhaps the best known proverb is:
"Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not unto thy own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him and he shall direct thy paths" (Prov 3:4-5).
The older Solomon would have been wise to follow his own counsel. As the Preacher, he leaned solely on his own understanding, worshiping other gods.
3. The virtue and wisdom of good women. We often can hear Proverbs 31:10-31 read on Mother's day in church: "Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies."
Women are compared in Proverbs to God's wife (ancient Hebrews believed God had a wife) . One of her titles is "Wisdom."
In Proverbs 3-4, we learn about her: "happy is the man that finds wisdom....She is more precious than rubies" (3:13-15). When men find a virtuous/wise woman, he is blessed even as God is blessed with his wife Wisdom.
"She is a Tree of Life" (3:18) ties the goddess and man's wife (Eve) to the Garden. In Nephi's Vision of the Tree of Life, he saw the tree represented the mother of God (Mary), and Jesus was her fruit (1 Nephi 11:7-23).
In Proverbs 8, Wisdom speaks directly to us. She is in the high places and in the groves set up at the cities's gates. She is Asherah, the wife of God. "my mouth shall speak truth", "wisdom is better than rubies", "counsel is mine...I am understanding", "I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me", "then I was by him (God-in the beginning), as one brought up with him." As Eve with Adam, Wisdom has been God's constant companion.
Other Books of Solomon
There are other ancient books of wisdom attributed to Solomon. Let's look at two of them.
Psalms of Solomon were written about 50 BC, as they detail Pompey's military actions in Judea and his death in 48 BC. It calls the Pharisees the righteous, with the Sadduccees as the sinners. It discusses the sins of the Jews, including adultery and incest. Because of their sins, God sent Pompey to ransack and humble the people. The gathering of Israel from everywhere, including the "isles afar off." He foresees the coming of the Messiah, the "son of David" when he shall destroy the godless nations.
Odes of Solomon contain beautiful songs of peace and joy. There is no major agreement of when it was written, but one possibility is they are songs of praise and prophesy from newly baptized Christians in the 1st century AD.
Ode 3:9-11 states:
"And because I shall love him that is the Son, I shall become a son; for he that is joined to him that is immortal, will also himself become immortal; and he who has pleasure in the Living One shall become living."
This clearly shows a person hoping for eternal life through Christ. Ode 7:5 enhances this concept: "He became like me in order that I may receive Him."
Some odes provide descriptive beauty:
"As the sun is the joy to them that seek for its daybreak, so is my joy the Lord; because he is my sun and his rays have lifted me up; and his light hath dispelled all darkness from my face" (15:1-2).
The editors of The Forgotten Books of Eden noted concerning Ode 23: "The reference to the sealed document sent by God is one of the great mysteries of the collection." Here we will quote it at length in order to show that the Book of Mormon is one possible answer to the mystery.
“5 And His thought was like a letter; His will descended from on high, and it was sent like an arrow which is violently from the bow: 6 And many hands rushed to the letter to seize it and to take and read it: 7 And it escaped their fingers and they were affrighted at it and at the seal that was upon it. 8 Because it was not permitted to them to loose its seal: for the power that was over the seal was greater than they. 9 But those who saw it went after the letter that they might know where it would alight, and who should read it and who should hear it. 10 But a wheel received it and came over it: 11 And there was with it a sign of the Kingdom and of the Government: 12 And everything which tried to move the wheel it mowed and cut down: 13 And it gathered the multitude of adversaries, and bridged the rivers and crossed over and rooted up many forests and made a broad path. 14 The head went down to the feet for down to the feet ran the wheel, and that which was a sign upon it. 15 The letter was one of command, for there were included in it all districts; 16 And there was seen at its head, the head which was revealed even the Son of Truth from the Most High Father, 17 And He inherited and took possession of everything. And the thought of many was brought to nought. 18 And all the apostates hasted and fled away. And those who persecuted and were enraged became extinct, 19 And the letter was a great volume, which was wholly written by the finger of God: 20 And the name of the Father was on it and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, to rule for ever and ever. Hallelujah.”
Here we see a letter or book/volume that is sealed. Some tried to read it, but could not read a sealed book. Still, they sought after it, even as many sought to steal the gold plates from Joseph Smith. A wheel with the sign/authority of God takes it. Like Daniel's stone cut out of the mountain without hands (Daniel 12:44-45), it established the kingdom of God on earth so the Son of Truth could take possession of the earth. The letter is the beginning of God's kingdom leading to his enemies becoming extinct. It signals the Restoration and the beginning of God’s kingdom taking its place on earth. It bears the name of the Godhead, written by God's finger or by his power, even as the Book of Mormon was translated by the power of God. This letter may be the Book of Mormon, some of its plates sealed. The restoration of his kingdom and all ancient things are part and parcel of preparing a kingdom for Christ's 2nd Coming.
In some of the odes we learn about the early Christian belief in deification, or becoming like God. Ode 36 states:
“1 I rested in the Spirit of the Lord: and the Spirit raised me on high: 2 And made me stand on my feet in the height of the Lord, before His perfection and His glory, while I was praising Him by the composition of His songs. 3 The Spirit brought me forth before the face of the Lord: and, although a son of man, I was named the Illuminate, the Son of God: 4 While I praised amongst the praising ones, and great was I amongst the mighty ones. 5 For according to the greatness of the Most High, so He made me: and like His own newness He renewed me; and He anointed me from His own perfection: 6 And I became one of His Neighbours; and my mouth was opened; like a cloud of dew; 7 And my heart poured out as it were a gushing stream of righteousness, 8 And my access to Him was in peace; and I was established by the Spirit of His government. Hallelujah.”
Converts become "illuminates" or mirror images of the Son of God. As Jesus said that if we see him we see the Father, so we see Christ reflected in the illuminate. We are made "as great as the Most High." We are Anointed (hebrew: Messiah, greek: Christ) from his perfection. We become neighbors or friends of God. Paul called us "heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ."
While many modern Christians recoil at the thought, ancient Christians believed Jesus came to make us divine.
The writings attributed to Solomon, both in the Bible and outside the canon, have a lot of wonderful thoughts and concepts to offer us. As we gain wisdom by using our reasoning, and then add revelation upon it, we can gain even greater insights into the workings of God and his dealings with mankind on earth.
David Larsen’s Heavenly Ascent Blog on lesson 31. He shares more on the concept of Wisdom being God’s wife: http://www.heavenlyascents.com/2010/08/14/biblical-wisdom-literature-proverbs-and-ecclesiastes-ot-lesson-31/
Odes of Solomon: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/odes.html
Psalms of Solomon: http://www.goodnewsinc.net/othbooks/psalmsol.html
Daniel Peterson, “Nephi’s Asherah”: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=9&num=2&id=223
“Ecclesiastes: the traditional Hebrew text with the new JPS translation” By Michael V. Fox