Remember the old television show “You Bet Your Life?” Groucho used to ask the losing contestant a question that was impossible to get wrong, like “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” Grant is buried in Grant’s tomb, obviously. But what if someone asked you, “Who wrote the books of Solomon?” Would you answer Solomon? If you did, you’d be wrong, at least partially.
Solomon, as you may know, is one of the most noteworthy people in the Old Testament. He was the son of King David and reigned over Israel for 40 years (1 Kings 11:42). He built the Jerusalem Temple and expanded Israel’s power and influence far and wide. But he is most known for his wisdom. Instead of asking God for a long life or riches, Solomon asked God for wisdom, and God granted his prayer in abundance (1 Kings 3:4-15). By the end of his life, Solomon produced 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs (2 Kings 5:12). That’s a lot of wisdom!
Solomon’s renown for wisdom also left a mark on how we look at the Bible. The Bible isn’t a single book, but a collection of books in one volume. And like libraries today are categorized into topics, so too with the books of the Bible. For example, we have the “books of Moses” (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy), the four “books of Kings” or “Kingdoms” (1st and 2nd Samuel, 1st and 2nd Kings), the major prophets, the minor prophets, and the five books of Solomon (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, and Sirach).
At first glance, this last grouping may seem odd. After all, the son of Sirach wrote Sirach, not Solomon. Why would Sirach be counted among the books of Solomon? Didn’t the early Church Fathers notice this problem? They certainly did. They knew Solomon didn’t write Sirach just as they knew that the book of Wisdom was not a direct composition of Solomon (some believed Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher, put the book together). But if you want to get technical, even the books that were written by Solomon weren’t totally Solomon’s work. For example, Proverbs includes the words of Agur (Proverb 30:1-6) and Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1-9). So if Solomon didn’t write all of the “books of Solomon,” why did the early Fathers group these books under that title?
For the ancients, Solomon’s notoriety for wisdom made him, in some sense, the obvious patron of these books; all of them were influenced by him, if not in their contents, in their eloquence and style. Read sections of Proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach one after the other and you’ll see what I mean. Therefore, these five books became known as those “of Solomon.”
This type of grouping under a person’s name shouldn’t be too surprising. We see a similar thing happening with the book of Psalms. The Psalms are often called “the Psalms of David.” And indeed, David did write a majority of the Psalms, but, like Solomon’s Proverbs, other people contributed as well, such as Moses (Psalm 89), Solomon (Psalms 71 and 126), the sons of Core (Psalm 41-48, 83, 84, 86), Eman (Psalm 87), Ethan (Psalm 88), Asaph (Psalm 49, 72-82), and so on. David became known for his Psalm and therefore the books of Psalms were called “the Psalms of David.” Jeremiah, likewise, had a group of books, namely, the book of Jeremiah, Baruch, and the Letter of Jeremiah. The early Church often referred to these three works as those “of Jeremiah” even though they knew that Baruch wrote Baruch.
So, who then wrote the “books of Solomon?” Tradition affirms that Solomon is the substantial human author of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs. Sirach and Wisdom are “of Solomon” largely because they share the same eloquence and style as those of Solomon. So, the next time you want to try to stump your Bible study teacher, ask “Who wrote the books of Solomon?” and see what they say.
Gary Michuta is an author, speaker and apologist and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.