Question: "Who is the Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes?"
Answer: Qoheleth, a Hebrew word meaning “preacher,” “teacher,” or “a collector of sayings,” appears in the first verse of the book of Ecclesiastes. In fact, the literal Hebrew title of this book is “The Words of Qoheleth, the Son of David, King in Jerusalem,” which is often shortened to simply “Qoheleth.” The Preacher (or Teacher) is also mentioned in Ecclesiastes 1:12; 7:27; and 12:8–11.
The book of Ecclesiastes does not give specific information about who this Qoheleth is. However, evidence from the text of Ecclesiastes, as well as from the rest of the Bible, leads most scholars to conclude that Solomon is the Preacher and author.
One reason the Qoheleth is identified as Solomon is that at one time Solomon was the king of Israel, and Ecclesiastes 1:1 identifies the Preacher as “king in Jerusalem.” Also in agreement with Ecclesiastes 1:1, Solomon was a “son of David.” While the term son of can sometimes refer to a descendant other than a son, Solomon was actually the direct “son” of David, so the first verse of Ecclesiastes applies to him more literally than it would to almost any other person.
Most of the information useful in identifying the Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes comes from the end of the book. Ecclesiastes 12:9 says that the Qoheleth “pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs.” This corresponds to the Bible’s descriptions of Solomon as a writer of proverbs (1 Kings 4:32; Proverbs 1:1). The description of the Qoheleth as “wise” also matches other passages regarding Solomon (1 Kings 4:29).
Ecclesiastes 12:9 also describes the Qoheleth as imparting knowledge to people; this harmonizes with the biblical view of Solomon (1 Kings 4:33–34). Ecclesiastes 1:16–17 further makes this point.
The general content of Ecclesiastes also connects with the idea of Solomon’s being the Qoheleth. Solomon was blessed with profound wisdom, wealth, and power (2 Chronicles 1:11–13). The writer of Ecclesiastes certainly experienced wealth and power (Ecclesiastes 2:6–7).
Unfortunately, it seems that, for a period in his life, Solomon chose to use his wisdom in a less-than-God-honoring way. He married an outrageous number of women and had concubines in addition to those (1 Kings 11:1–3). Interestingly, virtually every other king of Israel is associated with some prophet, but not Solomon. Even these facts dovetail with the idea that Solomon is the Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes, a book written by a man who had tried everything under the sun and found it all to be vanity (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Ecclesiastes is the story of a man who sought happiness everywhere but in God and came to the conclusion that God is ultimately all that matters (Ecclesiastes 12:13–14). This certainly agrees with the Bible’s depiction of Solomon, at least in terms of his wisdom, wealth, and spiritual knowledge.
Since the book of Ecclesiastes is technically anonymous, there remains some doubt as to the identity of the Qoheleth. One primary reason some scholars question the claim that Solomon is the Qoheleth is that other Old Testament passages detail Solomon’s spiritual fall (1 Kings 11:4–8) but don’t refer to a personal re-awakening. Of course, what’s described in Ecclesiastes comes across as highly personal and private. The book details the lessons and regrets of a man near the end of his life. Solomon might well have penned these words close to his own death. The struggles he experienced near the end of his reign might have triggered conviction, as well (1 Kings 11:9–12).
All in all, there seems to be no solid evidence against Solomon’s identity as the Qoheleth, and a fair amount of circumstantial evidence supporting it. The most common conclusion, therefore, is that the Preacher of Ecclesiastes is Solomon, the son of David.