Sunday, November 19, 2006

King Solomon--In what order did he write his books?

On Shabbat, I heard a wonderful shiur by the visiting Esther Gross, of Psagot, which really got me thinking.

She spoke about Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, since it was written by King Solomon, and last week's Haftara, Parshat Chaye Sarah, was about how his mother, Batsheva, assured his ascendancy to the throne.

Three of King Solomon's writings are included in the full Tanach, Bible. Two of them, Kohelet-Ecclesiastes and Shir Hashirim-Song of Songs, are very controversial and the third, Mishle, Proverbs, doesn't have the usual narrative we see in the other Biblical Books. Actually, none of his books tell clear stories. They can't be matched up to Biblical stories the way King David's, his father, T'hilim, Psalms, do.

Kohelet and Shir Hashirim are terribly controversial. Kohelet, because it begins almost doubting the existence of G-d:
א דִּבְרֵי קֹהֶלֶת בֶּן-דָּוִד, מֶלֶךְ בִּירוּשָׁלִָם. 1 The words of Koheleth, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
ב הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר קֹהֶלֶת, הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכֹּל הָבֶל. 2 Vanity of vanities, saith Koheleth; vanity of vanities, all is vanity.
ג מַה-יִּתְרוֹן, לָאָדָם: בְּכָל-עֲמָלוֹ--שֶׁיַּעֲמֹל, תַּחַת הַשָּׁמֶשׁ. 3 What profit hath man of all his labour wherein he laboureth under the sun?
ד דּוֹר הֹלֵךְ וְדוֹר בָּא, וְהָאָרֶץ לְעוֹלָם עֹמָדֶת. 4 One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; and the earth abideth for ever.

Shir Hashirim, when read literally, is very erotic. Many people are made uncomfortable by it, and it's difficult to get good translations, which aren't censored.

And Mishlei is more of a "personal" Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers. it's a collection of "words of wisdom," addressed to his "son."

I asked which book was written first. It's not like "reading" the computer's hard disk, which can tell you when and how long the computer was on and exactly how long it took for something to be written. The answer is "just guess-work."

So here's my guess:
I think that the first of the three books King Solomon wrote was Kohelet. I don't think he could have written the others before undergoing the emotional, philosophical and spiritual odyssey of Kohelet, which ends with:

ז וְיָשֹׁב הֶעָפָר עַל-הָאָרֶץ, כְּשֶׁהָיָה; וְהָרוּחַ תָּשׁוּב, אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר נְתָנָהּ. 7 And the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth unto God who gave it.
ח הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים אָמַר הַקּוֹהֶלֶת, הַכֹּל הָבֶל. 8 Vanity of vanities, saith Koheleth; all is vanity.
ט וְיֹתֵר, שֶׁהָיָה קֹהֶלֶת חָכָם: עוֹד, לִמַּד-דַּעַת אֶת-הָעָם, וְאִזֵּן וְחִקֵּר, תִּקֵּן מְשָׁלִים הַרְבֵּה. 9 And besides that Koheleth was wise, he also taught the people knowledge; yea, he pondered, and sought out, and set in order many proverbs.
י בִּקֵּשׁ קֹהֶלֶת, לִמְצֹא דִּבְרֵי-חֵפֶץ; וְכָתוּב יֹשֶׁר, דִּבְרֵי אֱמֶת. 10 Koheleth sought to find out words of delight, and that which was written uprightly, even words of truth.
יא דִּבְרֵי חֲכָמִים כַּדָּרְבֹנוֹת, וּכְמַשְׂמְרוֹת נְטוּעִים בַּעֲלֵי אֲסֻפּוֹת; נִתְּנוּ, מֵרֹעֶה אֶחָד. 11 The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails well fastened are those that are composed in collections; they are given from one shepherd.
יב וְיֹתֵר מֵהֵמָּה, בְּנִי הִזָּהֵר: עֲשׂוֹת סְפָרִים הַרְבֵּה אֵין קֵץ, וְלַהַג הַרְבֵּה יְגִעַת בָּשָׂר. 12 And furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
יג סוֹף דָּבָר, הַכֹּל נִשְׁמָע: אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים יְרָא וְאֶת-מִצְו‍ֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר, כִּי-זֶה כָּל-הָאָדָם. 13 The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments; for this is the whole man.
יד כִּי, אֶת-כָּל-מַעֲשֶׂה, הָאֱלֹהִים יָבִא בְמִשְׁפָּט, עַל כָּל-נֶעְלָם: אִם-טוֹב, וְאִם-רָע. {ש} 14 For God shall bring every work into the judgment concerning every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil. {P}

I don't think a book like Shir Hashirim could have the spiritual depth it has if it had been written by a young man. Actually, I think it was the third of the series. It think that Mishlei was the continuation of Kohelet. If you read Kohelet carefully, you see that it's an advice book, and I highlighted the word, "beni," "my son" in the third to last verse in the book.

The structure of Mishlei is a series of instructions to "beni," "my son."
ח שְׁמַע בְּנִי, מוּסַר אָבִיךָ; וְאַל-תִּטֹּשׁ, תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ. 8 Hear, my son, the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the teaching of thy mother;

King Solomon wrote Shir Hashirim as an old man. He credited his parents, introducing himself as "son of" in the other books, but not here.
א שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים, אֲשֶׁר לִשְׁלֹמֹה. 1 The song of songs, which is Solomon's.

I think that the difference is significant. I also see him, the former sinner, in this description.

ו אַל-תִּרְאוּנִי שֶׁאֲנִי שְׁחַרְחֹרֶת, שֶׁשְּׁזָפַתְנִי הַשָּׁמֶשׁ; בְּנֵי אִמִּי נִחֲרוּ-בִי, שָׂמֻנִי נֹטֵרָה אֶת-הַכְּרָמִים--כַּרְמִי שֶׁלִּי, לֹא נָטָרְתִּי. 6 Look not upon me, that I am swarthy, that the sun hath tanned me; my mother's sons were incensed against me, they made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.'

As a "chozer b'tshuva," one who repents, he still felt "blackened" by his former life-style. This line also reminds me of how his father was sent away from the family home to be a shepherd. It was only Shmuel (Samuel the Prophet) Hanavi's insistence that there must be another son in the family, that rescued David from oblivion.

There are also echoes of his parents' relationship. They had been kept apart, but Nathan the Prophet knew that Shlomo was supposed to be the next king. For that reason he got Batsheva to visit the aged and ailing King David. Suddenly David perked up when the love of his life entered the room, and he functioned as king once more.

That's the love between G-d and the Jewish People, eternal.

Shavua Tov
Have a wonderful week, and
Refuah Shleimah, a full and speedy recovery to all in need


Anonymous said...

Very interesting observations! To argue a counterpoint, one can pick up on your observation that both Koheles and Mishlei mention the word "ben" to say that Shir HaShirim was the earliest one, written when Shlomo did not yet have any children.

The opening remez of Yalkut Shim'oni on Koheles brings down a machlokes regarding whether the order was Mishlei-Shir HaShirim-Koheles or Shir HaShirim-Mishlei-Koheles.

Batya said...

There's a factor not mentioned. I don't think that Shlomo Hamelech was much of a father.

My feeling is that all of his writings were from his old age, since he was too "hyperactive" in his youth.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

A few years late but just found this post so wanted to share that the midrash (Raba Shir Hashirim 1:10) discusses this issue, but in contrast to the author, all opinions agree Koheles was last. See below. The idea being that one only appreciates how everything worldly (pleasures, wealth, wisdom, etc.) are vanity after a long life and experiencing much. Kol tuv!

שלושה ספרים כתב: משלי. קהלת. ושיר השירים. אי זה מהן כתב תחלה? רבי חייא רבה ורבי יונתן רבי חייא רבה אמר: משלי כתב תחלה ואחר כך שיר השירים ואחר כך קהלת. ומייתי לה? מהאי קרא: וידבר שלושה אלפים משל. משל, זה ספר משלי. ויהי שירו חמישה ואלף, זה שיר השירים. וקהלת בסוף אמר. מתנייתא דרבי חייא רבה פליגא על הדין שמעתא. מתניתא אמרה: שלשתן כתב כאחת. ושמעתא אמרה: כל חד וחד בפני עצמו. תני רבי חייא רבה: רק לעת זקנת שלמה, שרתה עליו רוח הקודש ואמר שלושה ספרים: משלי. וקהלת. ושיר השירים. רבי יונתן אמר: שיר השירים כתב תחלה. ואחר כך משלי. ואחר כך קהלת. ומייתי לה רבי יונתן מדרך ארץ. כשאדם נער אומר: דברי זמר. הגדיל אומר: דברי משלות. הזקין אומר: דברי הבלים. רבי ינאי חמוי דרבי אמי אמר: הכל מודים שקהלת בסוף אמרה

Batya said...

DY, thanks, I know that my feelings are just my own and not based on anyone else's.