The name “Ecclesiastes” is derived from the Septuagint and may be defined as “member of an assembly” or a “congregation.” This designation is the Greek rendering for the Hebrew term qohéleth. Drawn from the Hebrew root thought to mean “to call, to call out,” the designation qohéleth appears to relate to convening, congregating, or assembling people for the purpose of addressing them, and so the expression likely designates a convener, a congregator, or an assembler. In the commentary that follows, because of a measure of uncertainty regarding the meaning of qohéleth, the transliterated form Koheleth will be used.
In the Talmud (Shabbath, 30b), quotations from the book of Ecclesiastes are attributed to Solomon, but there is also an acknowledgment that the “Sages wished to hide” the book, “because its words are self-contradictory; yet why did they not hide it? Because its beginning is religious teaching and its end is religious teaching.”
In a discussion of the writers or compilers of the various Bible books, the Talmud indicates that a number of books, including Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, were compiled in the time of King Hezekiah. (Baba Bathra, 15a) Proverbs 25:1 specifically refers to the involvement of the men of Hezekiah in transmitting proverbs of Solomon, and so the Talmud possibly preserves a reliable tradition about Ecclesiastes.
It may be that, although containing material from Solomon’s reign, the book came to be compiled at a much later time. This could mean that, particularly in the first two chapters, the comments are framed in a manner that relates to Solomon or that represent him as the speaker. Observations that are attributed to the king agree with the accounts about his reign in the books of 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles. As a compilation, however, Ecclesiastes, like Proverbs, may contain material from a variety of sources and would not need to be limited to any specific time period. Accordingly, when represented as the speaker, “Koheleth” does not have to be regarded as always meaning Solomon, any other king, or, in fact, any other specific individual. Just as “wisdom” is personified as speaking in the book of Proverbs, so the use of Koheleth as the conveyer of information in the book of Ecclesiastes may serve as a literary device.
The observations and proverbs in this book pertain to human affairs and the transitory nature of all human endeavors. The vanity, emptiness, futility, or transitoriness of all human accomplishments highlights the need for having a reverential regard for God and deriving enjoyment from his gifts. This serves to focus on the reality of God’s eternal nature and the certainty of a future judgment of humans and their words and actions.