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The Old Testament, whether we consider its inspiration or its indispensable importance to the elucidation of the New, ought to be attentively studied by every Christian divine. Yet it must be confessed, that many parts of it are very difficult to interpret; and, though the most acute critical talents, aided by profound erudition, have been employed in its illustration, they have not entirely removed the obscurities which antiquity hath spread over its sacred pages.

The idea that the Bible is easily understood, flatters the self-sufficiency of ignorance and fanaticism; but the great difficulty attending its interpretation is a fact too palpable to be denied, except by those who are benighted in the mists of prejudice, or who have never doubted, only because they have never inquired. It can be no easy matter to

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explain a volume by much the most ancient in the world, including compositions on various subjects and of different character, historic, poetic, and prophetic, alluding to events of which no contemporary records exist, referring to manners and customs wholly dissimilar to ours, and written in a language remote from European phrase and idiom, and which, moreover, has ceased to be vernacular for more than two thousand years.

Of all the Hebrew writings, none present greater obstacles to the expositor than the book of Ecclesiastes. Together with the obscurities which it has in common with the other Jewish canonical Scriptures, it possesses some peculiar to itself; and, with respect to the style of the work, the author's design, the nature of his argument, and the chain of his reasoning, the opinions of critics and commentators have diverged to an incredible distance. The book, however, has descended to us as a part of the Volume of Inspiration, which is a sufficient guarantee, that it contains nothing unworthy the Source from which it springs, and that its tendency is, when properly understood, to cherish the sacred principles of morality and religion. Some passages, it must be acknowledged, seem, at the first glance, to recommend Epicurean enjoyments, and to countenance atheistic folly; but, we may rest assured, there are none such in reality, and that whatever appears contrary to piety and virtue, arises solely from our misapprehension. Much as the Ecclesiastes. has been perverted by sensualists, and ridiculed by profane wits, if it be a part of Holy Scripture, it must admit a full and ample vindication.

A critical inquiry, therefore, into its scope and meaning is highly important, in order to silence the cavils of the scorner, and to satisfy the scruples of the religiously disposed. There has, indeed, been no want of expositors; but their labours have not been altogether successful, as is abundantly proved by their widely-different views of the book, which serve rather to perplex than to assist the inquirer. Notwithstanding what has been hitherto done, something is still wanting to its complete illustration : to this conviction, at least, is owing the present performance, in the commencement of which it may be proper to premise some general observations.

SECTION I.

THE AUTHOR OF THE BOOK.

The author is expressly styled, in the initiatory verse, “ the son of David, king in Jerusalem,” and in the twelfth verse he is described as “king over Israel, in Jerusalem.” These passages are found in every known manuscript, and in all the ancient versions; and Solomon, as is well known, was the only son of David who ever reigned in Jerusalem. The book has thus been admitted into the sacred canon of the Jews as the production of Solomon, to whom it has also been ascribed by a regular and concurrent tradition. A collateral proof arises from the contents of the work itself, in which the author is stated to have excelled in wisdom beyond all who were before him in Jerusalem, (chap. i. 16, ii. 15, xii. 9,) and to have composed many Proverbs; (chap. xii. 9;) circumstances descriptive of Solomon, and of no other personage whose name is recorded in the Holy Scriptures. The writer is likewise represented as abounding in wealth and treasure, in palaces, gardens, retinues, and other articles of elegant and royal luxury, extremely applicable to Solomon, during whose reign the throne of Israel was surrounded with all the pomp of Asiatic splendour and magnificence.

Strong as this evidence is for ascribing the work to Solomon, it has been questioned, not only by the infidel Voltaire, but by several Christian writers of great learning and celebrity. Grotius, Hermann von der Hardt, Dathe, Jahn, Eichhorn, and Doederlein, have advocated the opinion, that the Ecclesiastes is not the production of Solomon, but of some writer in a

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