Prolegomena to the  Study of Kings

    Dr. James E. Smith is Professor of Old Testament at Florida Christian College. He holds the A.B. and Th.B. degrees from Cincinnati Bible College, the B.D. degree from C.C.S., and the Ph.D. degree from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He has written numerous articles for The Seminary Review and is the author of Bible Study Textbook Series: Jeremiah and Lamentations (College Press, 1972). This article represents selected sections from the first chapter of Dr. Smith's  commentary on I and II Kings in the Bible Study Textbook Series.

Volume XXI --  Number 3
September, 1975
pp. 77-114
(C)opyright 1975
All Rights Reserved
Cincinnati Christian Seminary

    To those who live in a twentieth-century Western democracy, the Book of Kings is strange terrain. It is hard to imagine what life under an Oriental monarchy would have been like. When one tries to immerse himself in the study of this portion of the Word of God, he is quite likely to experience a certain amount of culture shock. The names are strange. The customs are somewhat perplexing, often shocking. The language is sometimes distasteful, if not uncouth. But the monarchy period is crucial in the unfolding story of redemption. The Book of Kings is pivotal in the library of sacred literature. Therefore the culture gap must be bridged and the contents of this book mastered if one is going to show himself approved as a student of God's Word.

    Introductory material pertaining to the Book of Kings is skimpy and inadequate. Yet it is essential that one know something about a book as a whole before he attempts to master the specific material which it contains. In an effort to aid those who might desire to undertake a serious study of the content of Kings this article has been prepared. Five important introductory topics are treated herein: (1) the history, (2) the authorship, (3) the content, (3) the credibility, and (5) the purpose of the Book of Kings.


    Every book of the Scriptures has its own unique and special history. The book came into being at a given point in history, and from that moment of birth the biography of that book commenced. The Old Testament books were first preserved and cared for, copied and translated by pious Jews. These books were then appropriated by the fledgling church which regarded them with a sanctity equal to 'that of the Jews. The focus in this section is upon the external history of the Book of Kings. Four topics need attention: (1) the date of the book, (2) its title, (3) its division, and (4) its canonization.

A. The Birthday of a Book

    The language of Kings belongs unmistakably to the period of the captivity. Many words and phrases appear in the book which do not elsewhere occur in Scripture until the time of the captivity.1 Such words and phrases as have been adduced to prove a date later than the captivity period can be shown in almost every instance to have been in use during that time or even previously.2 A close resemblance between the language of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Kings is evident. Hence a general consensus among Hebrew scholars exists as to the date for the writing of Kings. Almost all critics assign the work on linguistic grounds to the sixth century B.C.3

    From the standpoint of content the date of writing can be securely ascertained. The book must have been written between 561 B.C. when Jehoiachin was released from captivity, and 539 B.C. when Babylon fell.

    The book in its present form could not. have been published prior to 561 B.C., for the accession of Evil-merodach and the subsequent release of King Jehoiachin are mentioned (II K 25:27). The book could not have been published after 539 B.C., for it is inconceivable that the author would have omitted reference to the return to Palestine during the reign of Cyrus the Persian. Thus on the basis of content a date of about 550 B.C. for the publication of the book as it exists today is generally adopted. If the last four verses of Kings be regarded as an historical appendix, then the remainder of the content could have been penned as early as 580 B.C.

B. The Search far a Name

    The ancients were not nearly so interested in titling their literary productions as are modern publishers concerned with capturing a market for their product. In this history of the book now called Kings, one finds several changes in the way the book was cited.

    It is doubtful that the author of this book put any title over his work. Perhaps it was many years after his death before the book came to be commonly referred to as Kings. This title is most appropriate because the book treats of the kings of Israel and Judah from the accession of Solomon to the Babylonian exile.

    In the middle of the third pre-Christian century, the Old Testament was translated into the Greek language. The Greek translators--or those who copied their work--dubbed this book Kingdoms. While the appropriateness of this title was questioned by the Christian scholar Jerome, Kingdoms seems also to be a useful designation for the book in that it contains for the most part the history of two kingdoms.

    When the Old Testament was translated into Syriac in the second Christian century, this title was appended to Kings: The Book of the Kings who Flourished Amongst the Hebrews, Containing also the History of the Prophets who Flourished in their Times. This title, though somewhat cumbersome, is more accurate than the simple title Kings, for in large measure these books do in fact relate the history of the prophets.

    A curious title for I Kings appeared in the Arabic version: The Book of Solomon. Certainly in the first eleven chapters, Solomon is the most prominent character. But this title seems to be inappropriate for the work as a whole. Origen, the great church father of the third Christian century, represented what is today called Kings as being designated by the initial Hebrew words, vehammelech david ("now king David"). The Hebrews frequently called their books by the first word or phrase rather than by a separate title. Just how old this custom was of citing Kings by the first two words in the book cannot be ascertained.

C. And the One Became Two

    The two books of Kings--the eleventh and twelfth books of the English Bible--were originally one book. The division of Kings into two books of twenty-two and twenty-five chapters respectively was introduced by those scholars who translated the Old Testament into Greek in the third pre-Christian century. The reason for this division is very simple. Ancient Hebrew manuscripts contained no vowels. A Greek translation in which vowels were written required almost twice as much space as the Hebrew text which was being translated. While it was possible to contain the entire Hebrew book of Kings on one standard-size roll, two rolls would be required for the Greek translation.

    The Greek translators divided the Book of Kings at a most unfortunate point--right in the middle of the reign of Ahaziah of Israel and of the ministry of Elijah. This arbitrary and artificial division of the material in the book might at first thought appear to be nothing more than a stupid blunder. But perhaps there was purpose in this madness. It may be that those who first instituted the bipartite arrangement desired to demonstrate the essential unity of I and II Kings.4

    In the fifth century A.D., Jerome set out to translate the Old Testament from the Hebrew into Latin. He noted in his preface to Kings that the Hebrew manuscripts of his day constituted a single continuous work entitled, The Book of Kings. But since the earlier Latin versions had been translations of the Septuagint, Jerome felt he must follow the familiar arrangement of the Greek version. Thus, in the influential Vulgate version, the Book of Kings appears as two books.

    In the Greek translation (third century B.C.) and the Latin translation of Jerome (fifth century A.D.), Samuel and Kings are treated as one continuous history in four volumes. These volumes were designated as First, Second, Third, and Fourth Kings or Kingdoms.

    Palestinian Jews resisted the innovations of the Septuagint or Greek Old Testament. For more than sixteen hundred years they refused to adopt the chapter and verse and book divisions of that version.5 However, the frequent religious controversies between Jews and Christians necessitated ready reference to the Scriptures. About the middle of the fifteenth century of the Christian era, the Jews began to utilize the reference system which had long been employed by Christians. In the printed edition of the Hebrew Bible published by Daniel Bomberg in 1516-17 this footnote is found: "Here the non-Jews begin the fourth book of Kings." From that day forward the Jews accepted the division of Kings into two books.

D. An Addition to the Sacred Shelf

    How did Kings come to be recognized as sacred, Scripture? When did this recognition take place? It is not possible, of course, in these brief introductory paragraphs to deal with all the questions related to the subject of canonization. However, a few broad statements in this area would seem to be in order.

1. It would appear from Joshua 24:25-26 and I Samuel 10:25 that the historical materials of the Old Testament were recognized immediately as being of divine authority.
40 Years
209 Years
135 Years
971-931 B.C.
931-722 B.C.
722-587 B.C.
David to Solomon
In Judah: Rehoboam to Ahaz
In Israel: Jerehoam to Hoshea
Hezekiah to Zedekiah
11 Chapters
28 Chapters
8 Chapters
I Kings 1-11
I Kings 12 - II Kings 17
II Kings 18-25
  A brief survey of the three major historical periods covered in Kings would seem to be in order.

    1.1 Kings 1-11. The first major section of Kings is concerned with the last third of the United Monarchy--the forty-year reign of Solomon. The glory of this reign is elaborately depicted, probably on account of its typical significance. The successful wars of David recorded in II Samuel were the prelude to the eventual victory of God's kingdom. So also the peaceful reign of Solomen foreshadowed the glory and blessedness which awaited the people of God under that One who was greater than Solomon.

    2. I Kings 12 - II Kings 17. The largest section of Kings--twenty-eight chapters--deals with the 209 years of the Divided Monarchy. This is admittedly the most difficult part of the book, both for the scholar and the average reader. Here the author faced the problem of weaving together the history of the nineteen kings of Israel and the twelve contemporaneous kings of Judah. At times he even had the problem of the contemporaneous kings in the North and in the South having the same name. It was a monumental task which the author faced! One may be critical of how he handled the material, but it is difficult to conceive of how this period could have been narrated in any more readable way.

    3. II Kings 18-25. The final eight chapters of the book are devoted to the history of Judah after the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C. The emphasis here is on the two grand reformations launched by Hezekiah toward the end of the eighth century and by Josiah toward the end of the seventh century B.C. Sandwiched between these two reformations is the godless reign of Manasseh, the most wicked king who ever sat on the throne of David. This section, and indeed the entire Book of Kings, reaches its climax in the detailed description of the disastrous fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

    4. The appendix (II K 25:27-30). The last four verses of Kings have been referred to as an appendix to the book. That is an appropriate description of these verses if one is thinking in terms of authorship. This section was probably not written by the one who wrote the bulk of the book. However, from the standpoint of content, these verses are an integral part of the book. The Jehoiachin account brings the history of the kings to a close on a note of hope. God would not abandon His exiled people. The release of King Jehoiachin in 561 B.C. was a pledge of the ultimate release of Israel which the author of this book never lived to see. The last verses also are intended to say, in effect, that God had not totally rejected the Davidic line.

B. Form Analysis

    Kings does not manifest the variety of literary forms which other Old Testament books display. The book is almost entirely written in prose.20 Most of the material falls into the broad category of narrative. But within that narrative one finds incorporated a number of other types of literature, prominent among which is the speech form.

    1. Types of narrative in Kings. Biblical historical narrative differs quite radically from the first-person account of the king that was the dominant form elsewhere in the ancient Near East. In Kings it is conversational narrative that is prominent. The direct speech of the various characters lends life and adds color to the narrative. At times the author of Kings utilizes reportorial narrative in which he simply reports on the actions of the characters in the story. In prophetic narrative the focus is on a particular prophet-hero and the events of his ministry. Since this material contains miraculous elements, modern critics are prone to classify prophetic narrative as legend.

    Two other types of narrative can be identified in Kings. Dream narrative by its very nature must be based ultimately upon autobiographical accounts. The classic dream account in Kings is that of Solomon at Gibeon (I K 3:4-15). A second dream experience of Solomon is related in I Kings 9:1-9. Other types of revelational accounts are related to the dream narrative in that they relate matters which were experienced by only one man. The angelic visitation to Elijah under his juniper tree (I K 19:5, 7) and the subsequent theophany at Horeb (I K 19:9-18) fall into this category. Those passages which commence, "The word of the Lord came to so and so" are of this nature. So also is the vision of Micaiah (1K 22:17, 19-22).

    Throughout Kings there are passages in which the author reflects upon the history he is relating and interprets it in the light of his overall theme. Modern scholars refer to this material as the Dueteronomistic framework. Perhaps a more accurate designation would be historical exposition. It is this element that gives continuity or flow to the book and which sets it apart from being merely a compendium of data.

    2.  Types of speeches in Kings. Next to narrative, speeches take up the most space in the Book of Kings. Several types can be identified in the book. in a political speech the conduct of present leaders is condemned, and the devasting consequences of their actions is graphically depicted. A beautiful example of such a speech is found in ii Kings 18:18-35, where an Assyrian envoy engages in psychological warfare aimed at the beleagered citizens of Jerusalem. The farewell speech form is represented in David's last words to Solomon (I K 2:1-9). The messenger speech is always introduced by "Thus says so and so." Benhadad sent messengers to Ahab to make known his demands (1 K 20:2, 3, 5-6) and later to present his petition (I K 20:32). Hezekiah sent messengers to seek the aid of Isaiah (II K 19:3-4). Letters sometimes accompanied the messengers (II K 19:9- 14).

    For the purposes of literary analysis, a sermon can be defined as a speech about God or religious matters. It will usually, but not always, contain an exhortation. Solomon's opening remarks at the dedication of the Temple might be classified in the broad sense as a sermon (I K 8:15-21) in which the king praises God for having been faithful to His promises. The royal petition was directed by a subject to his king. Examples of this kind of speech couched in formal court etiquette abound in Kings. Perhaps the best examples are to be found in I Kings 1--the speeches of Bathsheba (1:17-21) and Nathan (1:24-27). In the directional speech a superior gives instructions, usually couched in the imperative mood, to an inferior. David's instructions concerning the anointing of Solomon is a case in point (1 K 1:32-37).

    The prophetic oracle is always in poetic verse, and is usually introduced with "Thus says the Lord" (the so-called messenger formula). Only one true prophetic oracle is to be found in Kings, that of Isaiah the prophet (II K 19:21-28). But prose summarizations of numerous prophetic oracles are found in the book.21

    Prayers are speeches of a special kind. By definition any statement, comment or petition directed to God is prayer. At a number of spots the author has incorporated prayers into his narrative. The longest is that of Solomon at the Temple dedication (I K 8:22-61). At Gibeon (I K 3:6-9) Solomon offered a prayer of petition to the Lord in which he reminded God of his former gracious acts and then made this the ground of his petition for wisdom. Elijah's prayers on Mt. Carmel (I K 18:36-37), under the juniper tree (I K 19:4), and atop a hill near Samaria (II K 1:10, 12) fall into the category ofpetition. One prayer is attributed to Elisha (II K 6:17-18). Two beautiful prayers are placed on the lips of good King Hezekiah (II K 19:15-19; 20:2-3).

    3. Other types of literature. Besides the narratives and speeches, other types of literature are found in the book.

    a) Ancient poems. The short poem spoken by Solomon at the dedication of fhe Temple is regarded even by critical scholars as being very early (I K 8:12-13). The Septuagint translation records the tradition that this poem was taken from "The Book of the Song," whatever that might have been. It is more likely, however, that these verses were found in the Book of the Acts of Solomon which the author of Kings acknowledges using. The other important poem in Kings is Isaiah's taunt-song against Assyria (II K 19:21-28). The taunt-song was a form of satire and invective used by the prophets against foreign enemies.

    b) Lists. From his source, the Book of the Acts of Solomon, the author has taken the lists of Solomon's court officials (1K 4:1-6) and administrative officers (I K 4:7-19).

    c) Chronological notices. The author of Kings was interested in and concerned about dates. He indicates in I Kings 6:1 the number of years which elapsed between the Exodus from Egypt and the construction of Solomon's Temple. In the period of the Divided Monarchy he painstakingly sychronizes the reigns of the various kings of Israel and Judah.

    d) Obituaries. At the conclusion of the reigns of most of the Kings, a brief note is appended which, for want of a better term, may be called an obituary.

    e) Fable. One genuine fable is recorded in Kings. It is found in a message which Jehoash of Israel sent to Amaziah of Judah (II K 14:9).

    f) Building specifications. For the specifications regarding the Temple and its furnishings (I K 6-8), the author is indebted to his source, the Book of the Acts of Solomon. Those prophets who composed this source may in turn have taken this material from some Temple chronicle.

    g) Letters. The origin of the letter form can be seen in II Kings 19:9-14. This passage speaks of the messengers of the Assyrian king who were told, "Thus shall you say to Hezekiah"; but according to verse 14, a letter containing the message was handed over by these messengers at the same time. From this is can be seen that the letter in the ancient Near East was an extension of a messenger's oral communication. The written form served the purposes of attestation, examination, and preservation.22 In Kings one finds excerpts or summaries of letters written from the king of Aram to the king of Israel (II K 5:5-6); from Jehu to the rulers of Samaria (II K 10:2-3); and from Jezebel to the elders of Jezreel (I K 21 :8-10).23

C. Stylistic Analysis

    The author of Kings has thoughtfully constructed his history by careful extracts from his written sources. Kings is not a free and original composition, and yet the author was not merely a compiler. The book is more than a collection of extracts, just as an automobile is more than the sum total of the various parts out of which it was constructed. Certainly the author wrote the history of his own times. For those centuries which preceded, the author has demonstrated his skill by producing a carefully planned unity.

    1. An overview of Kings. For the most part the style of writing in Kings is level and uniform and without pretension. Occasionally the author of Kings rises to great literary heights.24 But the general format has a rather dampening effect upon the style of the book as a whole. The average reader probably finds the review of the various kings somewhat dull and unproductive. But in fairness to the author it should be said that highly complex material is being treated, material which does not lend itself well to simple treatment. Regardless of the literary demerits, Kings provides a great deal of highly important information within a very few pages.

    The mantle of gloom has been thrown over the whole history recorded in Kings. This pervading spirit of deep melancholy is not thrown off even when the most pious monarchs are its subject. From this Rawlinson25 draws a most interesting inference:

    The tone of the work thus harmonises with that of Jeremiah's undoubted writings, and furnishes an additional argument in favor of that prophet's authorship.
    The author shows particular ability in his treatment of the Divided Monarchy. Here he keeps the history of the two kingdoms running parallel, alternating between Israel and Judah. His methodology is logical and systematic if not imaginative. West26 has the most colorful description of the author's treatment. It was written, it seems, after the fashion of a man walking, advancing first one foot and then the other. The author carries forward the history of one kingdom for a number of years, then turns to the other kingdom and traces its history up to and beyond that point, then returns to the former, and so on.

    The plan of the book is prevailingly chronological, although occasionally the material is arranged topically. The topical arrangement is readily apparent in II Kings 2:1-8:15, which treats the ministry of Elisha. The author's own original composition in the Book of Kings is somewhat meager.

    He composed the "framework" of the book--the formulas at the beginning and end of the various reigns. In II Kings 17:7-41 he gives his own inspired explanation as to why the kingdom of Israel was destroyed and carried away captive. The remarks regarding the reign of wicked King Manasseh (II K 21:7-16; 23:26, 27; 24:3, 4) are also likely to have been composed by the author himself. Finally, the author himself composed the accounts of the last two kings ofJudah, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah (II K 24:8 - 25:26).

    2. The framework of the book. One distinctive feature of Kings is not pleasant to the modern reader. The reigns of many of the kings are introduced and concluded with a somewhat stereotyped formula. Some parts of the "framework" as it is called appear in connection with the earliest kings.27But the complete formula does not appear until it is introduced in the case of Rehoboam, first king of the Divided Monarchy period (I K 14:21-31).

    The introductions to the various kings usually consist of the following elements: (a) a synchronistic dating of the king's accession in terms of the reigning king in rhe sister kingdom; (b) the king's place of residence; (c) the length of his reign; (d) an evaluation of his religious attitude. In addition the formula for the kings of Judah adds (e) the king's age at his accession; and (f) the name, and occasionally the home of the king's mother.

    The conclusion part of the framework usually contains (a) a reference to the historical sources, frequently with observations concerning the content of those sources; (b) mention of the king's death and (c) place of burial; and (d) the name of his successor.

    Sometimes part of the stereotyped formula is missing because of the nature of a particular king's accession or death. In the case of Joram and Ahaziah, who were murdered, the concluding formula is missing. Hoshea, Jehoahaz of Judah, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah were all violently deposed, and for this reason no concluding formula appears for them. On the other hand, no introductory formula is used for king Jehu, who came to the throne in a rebellion. For the usurper Athaliah of Judah, both introductory and concluding formulas are missing.

D. Theological Analysis

    Perhaps the most significant part of the concluding formula for the various kings is the judgment which the author pronounced concerning the monarch's religious policy. Without equivocation, Kings condemns the religious shrines founded by Jeroboam I in the Northern Kingdom (cf. I K 12:26-33). The worship at these shrines is stigmatized throughout the book as the "way of Jerobaom" or "the sin which he (Jeroboam) committed, making Israel to sin" (cf. I K 15:26, 34; 16:19). Thus all the kings of Israel are condemned in Kings for not doing what was right in the sight of the Lord (cf. 1 K 15:26, 34; 16:25). Even Shallum, who reigned but one month, falls under the negative criticism of the author for his religious policy! The condemnation also falls on Jehu, the greatest partisan of Yahweh in the North (II K 10:29-31), though it is tempered a bit as it is also in the case of Jehoram (II K 3:2) and Hoshea (II K 17:2).

    The author's evaluation of the religious policy of the kings of Judali is only slightly less condemnatory. Judgments unqualifiedly appreciative appear only for Hezekiah (II K 18:3-7) and Josiah (II K 22:2). Favorable decisions were rendered for Asa (I K 15:11-14), Jehoshaphat (I K 22:43), Jehoash (II K 12:2-3), Azariah (II K 15:3-4), and Jotham (II K 15:34-35). The other twelve kings of Judah are condemned as having done evil (cf. II K 8:18, 27; 21:2, 20).

    The most severe denunciation is reserved for those kings who tolerated or encouraged the worship of foreign gods. Ahab of Israel was apparently the first king actively to pursue Baal worship (I K 16:31-33), and in this digression he was followed by his son Ahaziah (I K 22:53). In Judah, Jehoram and Ahaziah, both of whom were related to kings in the North through marriage, also are condemned for pagan worship (II K 8:18, 27). Three other kings of Judah-Ahaz, Manasseh and Amon--are also said to have pursued a pagan course (II K 16:2-4; 21:2-9, 20-22).


    Can the information in the Book of Kings be accepted as authentic, sober history? For the most part the credibility of the book has not been questioned. Even radical critics are forced to concede the historical character of the several kings, the reality of most events, and the accuracy of the representations of neighboring nations. The constant allusion to the prophetic annals which were written by contemporaries of the events narrated is a sure pledge of the historical fidelity of the accounts which have been taken from them. For the believer, two lines of evidence support the credibility of Kings: New Testament citations and archaeological confirmations. At the same time there are two particular areas where the credibility of the book has been challenged.

A. New Testament Citation

    Christ and the apostles refer to the events of Kings, including the miraculous portions, as being factual. The following chart sums up the New Testament evidence in this regard.

Matthew 6:29
Solomon in all his glory
I Kings 1-11
Matthew 11:14; Luke 9:8
Elias (Elijah)
I Kings 17;  II Kings 2
Luke 4:25-26
The famine in Israel for 3.5 years; Elijah's visit to Sarepta (Zarephath)
I Kings 17
Luke 4:27
Cleansing of Naaman
II Kings 5
Luke 9:54
Elijah calling down fire
II Kings 1
Acts 7:47
Solomon building the Temple
I Kings 6
Romans 11:2-4
7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal
I Kings 19:10, 18
Hebrews 11:35
Women received their dead raised to life again
I Kings 17:17-24; II Kings 4:18-37
James 5:17
Elijah prayed for famine and later for rain
I Kings 17:1; I Kings 18:41-45
Revelation 2:20
I Kings 19:1 etc.

B. Archaeological Confirmations

    The history of Kings has often been confirmed by the monuments of antiquity and profane historians. A few of the remarkable and minute corroborations of the book are listed below.

    1. Discoveries relating to the reign of Solomon. While little direct archaeological data pertaining to the reigns of Saul and David have been forthcoming, a good deal of material from the reign of Solomon has been unearthed. Solomonic stables have been discovered at Hazor and Taanach (cf. I K 9:19; 10:26). Numerous discoveries in Syria and Palestine have enabled scholars to form a fairly good idea of the appearance of Solomon's Temple and especially of its ornamentation. Nelson Glueck believed for many years that he had found a Solomonic blast furnace at Ezion-geber. However the structure was later identified as a fortified storehouse, albeit still Solomonic in date.

    2. Discoveries relating to the Divided Monarchy. Pharaoh Shishak left an account of his invasion into Palestine on the walls of a temple in Karnak. This account mentions the names of many towns in both Israel and Judah which the Pharaoh claims to have captured (cf. I K 14:25ff.).

    In the Assyrian annals the names of several kings of Israel are mentioned. Shalmaneser III refers to Ahab as one of the combatants in the battle of Qarqar (853 B.C.). Jehu paid tribute to the same king in 841 B.C. Adad-nirari III makes mention of Jehoash of Israel and Samaria. This is the earliest reference to the capital of Israel outside the Bible. Tiglath-pileser III refers to the reception of tribute from Menahem. The same Assyrian mentions the fall of Pekah and the elevation of Hoshea to the throne of Israel. Sargon II tells of carrying off 27,290 people captive at the time Samaria was captured.

    In the Assyrian annals references to kings of Judah can also be found. The first reference to a king of Judah by name is found in the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser III, where Azariah (Uzziah) is mentioned. The same Assyrian refers to Ahaz under his full name of Jehoahaz.

    The names of several kings of the Divided Monarchy period have turned up on seals found in Palestine. These include the names of Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz of Judah; and Jeroboam II of Israel.

    Of all the excavations in Palestine, the work of Harvard University at Samaria has been most productive of information regarding the Northern Kingdom. In one building there were found some seventy ostraca, all containing dockets originally attached to shipments of wine and oil to the palace. These ostraca contain a great many place-names and personal names from the eighth century B.C. and therefore are of enormous value geographically and linguistically. Another remarkable discovery at Samaria was the many pieces of carved ivory inlay, used for the decoration of costly wooden furniture (cf. I K 22:39; Amos 3:15).

    The most valuable inscription ever found in Palestine remains the Mesha Stone, discovered in 1868 at Dibon in Moab. The text contains some thirty lines and throws considerable light on the his-tory of eastern Palestine in the ninth century B.C (cf. II K 3:4ff.). Mention is made of Omri of Israel in this inscription.

    3. Discoveries relating to the Judean period. Archaeological material for the study of Judah after 722 B.C. is abundant. Assyrian inscriptions by Sargon II and Sennacherib record various invasions of Judah and mention specifically King Hezekiah. Esarhaddon in his annals mentions Manasseh as a tributary. An Assyrian tablet published by Gadd in 1923 has clarified the political significance of Pharaoh Necho's northern campaign of 609 B.C., to which reference is made in II Kings 23:29ff.

    Of the inscriptions found in Palestine, the Siloam inscription must rank as one of the most important. This inscription undoubtedly comes from the reign of Hezekiah about 700 B.C. It refers to the excavation of the water tunnel mentioned rather indirectly in II Chronicles 32:3-4.

    Perhaps an even more sensational discovery was made in Lachish in 1935. More than a dozen ostraca were found in the debris left by the last destruction of the city by the Chaldeans in 589 B.C. The documents were part of a military correspondence between the commander of the garrison at Lachish and his superior in Jerusalem. The letters date from the days of Jeremiah and offer a remarkable supplement to the picture of conditions in Judah which is found in his book, and less directly, in Kings.

    Many shorter inscriptions have also been found in Judah. The seals of King Jehoiachin and of other high officials mentioned in Scripture have been found.28 Jehoiachin is also alluded to in the Babylonian Chronicle; and his successor, Zedekiak, is mentioned by name. Texts found in Babylon refer to the release of Jehoiachin from captivity and the rations which he and his sons subsequently received.

    In summary, of the forty kings of Israel and Judah who are named in the Book of Kings, fifteen are explicitly named in the inscriptions thus far unearthed by archaeologists.

C. The Miraculous Element

    Modern critics are prone to question the reliability of the miraculous portions of the Bible. In Kings the focus of attack is on the Elijah-Elisha narratives. The accounts of these prophets, permeated as they are with the miraculous, are thought to be collections of traditions made many years after the deaths of these men of God.29 The material is branded as "legendary."

    It is, of course, a gratuitous assumption that these accounts were collected by someone years after the deaths of the prophets. The probability is quite the reverse. Prophets were themselves the historians of Israel. It would only be natural that at the end of an illustrious prophet's ministry, the chief activities of his ministry should be put on record either by his successor or by one of his close disciples.30 As for the miracles recorded in these chapters, they certainly have the air of descriptions derived from eye-witnesses. These events are described in minute circumstantial detail.

D. Problems in Chronology

    Two kinds of chronological figures are found in Kings. For most kings an absolute figure of the total number of years of reign is given. During the period of the Divided Monarchy, the author has employed what has been called "the synchronistic interrelating method" for establishing the data of the kings of Israel and Judah. One example of this method will suffice: "Now in the eighteenth year of king Jeroboam the son of Nebat, Abijam began to reign over Judah" (I K 15:1). Already in the second Christian century evidence exists that the devout and scholarly Jewish rabbis were fully aware of a number of apparent discrepancies in the figures as they stand in Kings.

    The criticism of the chronology in the Book of Kings has gone through three stages. In the nineteenth century almost to a man the critics maintained that the chronological data in Kings were completely worthless. Further study led scholars to conclude that the absolute figures (total number of years that a king was said to reign) were correct; but the synchronist figures were at the same time regarded as an artificial calculation of the author. But then came the discovery of the library of As hurbanipal, which contained Assyrian literattire dating back to the beginning of the second millennium B.C. (the time of Abraham).31 Among this literature were documents using the same system of synchtonization as was used in Kings. This and other archaeological discoveries forced a complete turnaround of critical opinion. The synchronist system of Kings has now been studied in the light of these discoveries and has been pronounced "old and basically reliable."32

    Those who study the Hebrew monarchy owe an incalculable debt to the Seventh-Day Adventist scholar Edwin Thiele, who has done such painstaking work on the chronological data of this period. His Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, first published in 1951, was soon adopted by Evangelical Old Testament scholars as the authoritative work in this very difficult field. Thiele was able to resolve satisfactorily almost all the problematical issues raised by the chronological notations in Kings: His work is firmly grounded in the computational methods known to have been used by ancient scribes.

    1. Problems in the chronological notations. Basically, the problems in the chronological notations are three in number. First, what appear on the surface as discrepancies exist between the synchronist data and the absolute regnal years of the individual kings which the author elsewhere gives. For example, Omri is said to begin to reign in the thirty-first year of Asa (I K 16:23). He reigned twelve years. But this twelve-year reign is said to end in the thirty-eighth year of Asa (I K 16:29) which would indicate a reign of only eight years.

    Another type of superficial discrepancy sometimes exists between the regnal years and/or the synchronist years and the established dates of Babylonian and Assyrian history. For example, the period from the revolution of Jehu to the fall of Samaria according to Assyrian chronology is 120 years. But when one adds up the 103 regnal years of the kings of Judah for this period, he exceeds this figure by forty-five years! Still another problem appears in that the sum of the regnal years for the kings of Israel for a given period fails to tally with the years of the Judaean kings of the same period. The following examples will illustrate:

adds up to 95 years
Both of these kings began to reign the same day
Both of these kings died the same day
adds up to 98 years
       Here it is obvious that a three-year difference in the figures exists. A bigger difference occurs in the problematical period from the revolution of 841 B.C. to the fall of Samaria.
(Year 6)
adds up to 165 yrs.
This queen of Judah and king of Israel began to reign the same day
The city of Samaria fell in the  sixth year of Hezekiah (II K 18:10)
adds up to 143 yrs.
       2. Principles for dealing with royal chronology. The chronological problems of Kings disappear for the most part when certain facts and principles are observed.

    a) The parallel Assyrian data have forced recognition of the possibility of coregencies in both kingdoms. Coregencies are specifically indicated only on two occasions (I K 1:34, 35; II K 15:5). But apparently coregency was the ancient means of guaranteeing succession and thus was quite common. Furthermore, it is now recognized that the years of a coregency would be reckoned in the total number of years attributed to both kings. Thus if a father and son shared the rule for ten years, that ten years would be counted in the total number of both kings' reigns.

    b) Differences also existed in the way of reckoning the regnal years in the two kingdoms. In one system-the so-called accession year method-the remainder of the calendar year in which a king was crowned was called his accession year and was not counted as part of the numbered years of his reign. In the non-accession year method of counting, the remaining months of that coronation year were counted as year one. The second year of the reign began on New Year's day.

    c) To further complicate this whole matter; the two kingdoms were not consistent in the use of one or the other of these systems of reckoning regnal years. Those who have made the most careful study of these matters feel that Israel switched from the non-accession to the accession year method of counting sometime about 800 B.C.  Judah utilized the accession year system throughout its history except for the half century from 850 to 800 B.C. The reason for the switches in both kingdoms is obscure.

    d) Another factor which helps account for some of the difficulties in the figures in Kings is that different calendars were used in the kingdoms. The Northern Kingdom began the new year in Nisan (Spring), the first month of the religious year. Judah, on the other hand, began the year in Tishri (Fall). Why this difference existed is impossible to know. Nevertheless, it must be taken into account when there appears to be a one-year discrepancy in the figures of the two kingdoms.

    e) One must always remember that chronology is a branch of historical science and as such is subject to constant revision. Even among conservative scholars there is not always agreement. Thiele dates the disruption of the kingdom in 931, whereas Payne concludes it was in 930 B.C Archer appropriately observes: "A certain amount of flexibility must always be preserved and appropriate adjustments made as new evidence comes in."33

    f) Those problems that still remain when all the above factors have been taken into consideration are few in number. Nonetheless, problems do exist. Perhaps some of these figures were accidentally altered in the course of the centuries during which this book was copied by hand. The present writer is convinced by the overwhelming weight of the evidence that the Scriptures are inspired of God and inerrant in the autographs. No real error or discrepancy could have existed in the original manuscripts. Even though there are Biblical difficulties which cannot be satisfactorily solved for the present, this writer is not inclined to abandon the Biblical doctrine of inerrancy.

    3. The problem of the accession ages of certain kings. Another problem area in the Book of Kings concerns the ages of the kings at the time of their accession. The age at which some of the kings took the throne seems to place their births too early in their fathers' reigns. When the figures are carefully analyzed it appears that Josiah was born when Amon was sixteen, and Jehoiakim was born when Josiah was fourteen. Some have alleged that Hezekiah was born to Ahaz when the latter was eleven!

    Now in Eastern lands young people seem to mature faster and marry earlier than in Western lands. It was particularly important for kings to marry and procreate as soon as possible so as to preserve the dynasty. The birth of a child at age sixteen or fourteen does not appear to be impossible. The conclusion that Ahaz was only eleven when Hezekiah was born depends on the way II Kings 16:2 and 18:2 are interpreted. Certainly it is not a necessary inference that Ahaz became a father at such a young age. The fact of coregencies with regard to both Ahaz and Hezekiah plays havoc with any attempt to dogmatize on these verses.


    Why was Kings written? One can only look at the book as it has come down to the present--the points of emphasis and the omissions--to make this determination. It would seem that the author had at least seven aims. His purpose was (1) historic; (2) didactic; (3) polemic; (4) Davidic; (5) prophetic; (6) priestly; and (7) evangelistic.

A. The Historic Purpose

    That the Book of Kings is intended to be an historical account of the kings of Israel and Judah is obvious. The book has been properly classified as one of the historical books of the Old Testament and has its proper place alongside the books of Samuel. At the time Kings was written no comprehensive treatment of the monarchy period had ever been undertaken. A number of private documents written by prophets and dealing with particular kings were available. For the period of Saul and David the great Book of Samuel had been published. But nothing comparable had been produced for the long aild important period from Solomon to the exile. In hindsight it is now obvious that God wanted His people to have an inspired and trustworthy history of Abraham's descendants from the call of that great patriarch out of Ur of Chaldees to the return of his sons from bondage in the same geographical area. To this end the Holy Spirit inspired a godly prophet to pen the important link in this historical chain known as Kings.

    The historical importance of the Book of Kings is also seen in the fact that it contains the only account of Israel. The Book of Chronicles gives no separate history of the Northern Kingdom.

    The Old Testament historical writings are somewhat unique in the literature which has come down from ancient (pre-classical) times. The Israelites were the first people of antiquity to develop a true historiography. Annalistic writing is attested in Egypt, Assyria and Babylonia; but only the Hittites among the Gentile nations attempted historical writing.

    All the difference in the world exists between the Holy Spirit inspired history of Israel and that history which was recorded on the monuments of other peoples in antiquity. Years ago the great Orientalist Layard commented on the difference:

"In the first place, the care with which the events of each king's reign were chronicled is worthy of remark. They were usually written in the form of regular annals, and in some cases, as on the great monoliths at Nimroud, the royal progress during a campaign appears to have been described almost day by day. We are thus furnished with an interesting illustration of the historical books of the Jews.  There is, however, this marked difference between them, that while the Assyrian records were nothing but a dry narrative, or rather register, of military campaigns, spoilations, and cruelties--events of little importance but to those immediately concerned in them--the historic books of the Old Testament, apart from the deeds of war and blood which they chronicle, contain the most interesting of private episodes, and the most sublime of moral lessons. It need scarcely be added that this distinction is precisely what we might have expected to find between them, and that the Christian will not fail to give it due weight."34
B. The Didactic Purpose

    The historians of Israel were prophets. History in their hands had "purpose," i.e., religious aim. What they wrote was ecclesiastical or theocratic rather than civil history. Hebrew antiqu;ty knows no secular historian. The religious orientation of the author of Kings helps to explain several features of the book. This interest in things religious explains, for example, the prominence given to Elijah and Elisha and the rather frequent insertions of prophetic interpretations of various crises in the histories of Israel and Judab. The author's religious outlook is also seen in his constant reference to the Pentateuch and to the previous history of the nation as well as in his constant comparison of each king with the king "after God's own heart."

    Kings is a historical archipelago. The author never intended this book to be merely the cold recitation of facts. He intended rather to teach important theological and practical truths here. This is history written, not from a civil, but from a religious point of view. Events which an ordinary historian would have considered of great consequence are passed over or only briefly alluded to. The military history of the two kingdoms for the most part is omitted. Thus the author completely ignores that crucial battle of Qarqar (853 B.C.) in which king Ahab and his confederates were able to turn back the advancing Assyrian armies.

    The author, aided by the Holy Spirit, could see the hand of God at work in the period of the monarchy. He saw history as theonomous, i.e., governed by God. It was spiritual rather than political lessons that he was trying to teach. For this reason he especially focuses his attention on the two crisis periods, the reigns of Ahab in the North and Hezekiah in the South. Also for these reasons he gives considerable attention to the three theocratic institutions which symbolize the presence of God among His people-the Temple, prophetism and the Davidic dynasty.

    It was clearly not the objective of the author of Kings to narrate the naked facts of monarchical history. Still less was it his intention to glorify Israel's heroes out of nationalistic motives. Rather it was his purpose to demonstrate that the rise and glories, the decline and fall of the Hebrew kingdoms were causally related to the piety and faithfulness or the irreligion and idolatry of the kings and their subjects. Writing during the captivity, the author attempts to demonstrate that the miseries of invasion, the destruction of the Temple, the overthrow of the monarchy, and the deportation to foreign soil were judgments of God upon their sins, the bitter fruits of national apostasy. The nation, having rejected her divine king, attempted to govern herself and failed utterly. That is the message of Kings.

    Perhaps the most prominent feature of Kings is the way in which the author assesses the significance of the individual kings according to their religious policies, not political achievements. The religious orientation of the author helps to explain the prominence given to certain kings and the almost total disregard for others. Actually, most of the space in the book is devoted to six kings. To Solomon the author devotes eleven chapters. Considerable space is also devoted to Jeroboam (I K 12:25-14:20), Ahab (I K 16:29-22:40), Jehoram (II K 3:1-9:26), Hezekiah (II K 18-20) and Josiah (II K 22-23). These kings were chosen for special attention, not because of their political significance, but because they are "pivots on which theocratic history moves."35

C. The Polemic Purpose

    The building of the Temple was of immense significance to the author of Kings. This is immediately evident in the amount of space devoted to the construction of this holy edifice and the furnishings thereof. Furthermore, before the Temple was built the author of Kings viewed the various "high places" or worship centers with tolerance; but after the Temple was dedicated, he brands those high places as illegitimate (cf. Deut. 12:5-14). Throughout the book one finds reference to the failure of even some of the better kings to remove those high places. The author is obviously committed to the concept of a centralized sanctuary as the only legitimate spot from which to conduct formal worship. God had chosen Jerusalem and its temple as the spot at which He would manifest Himself.

    Not only does Kings polemicize against the high places, the book also attacks the infiltration of Baal worship into the kingdoms. It was his concern about the deteriorating effect of Jezebelian Baalism that caused the author to devote so much space-one third of his material--to the ministries of Elijah and Elisha. To the author of Kings, Elijah's contest on Mt. Carmel was a pivotal event in Israel (Northern Kingdom). From that point on his interest shifts from the nation, and the spotlight of attention focuses on Elijah and Elisha and their efforts to build up the remnant in Israel. The name of the king is frequently suppressed in this section of the book. The author abandons the chronological order of presentation. Spiritual considerations override those of chronology.

    In addition to his attack on the high places and Baal worship, the author of Kings lashes out again and again against the established, state-controlled worship of Yahweh in the North. For the Northern Kingdom the decisive sin was that of Jeroboam in setting up the golden calves at Bethel and Dan and instituting all the other features of this apostate worship. Jeroboam was the prime example and prototype of the godless king of the North. Every subsequent king in the Northern Kingdom is described as walking in the sins of Jeroboam. The divine sentence against that kingdom was pronounced at the time of Jeroboam's defection. But the execution was delayed because of individual kings like Ahab (I K 21:29), Jehu (II K 10:30) and Jeroboam II (II K 14:26f.) in whom God found some redeeming qualities.

    Did the author of Kings accomplish his polemic purpose? When Jerusalem fell and the Jews were carried away to Babylon, the religion of Yahweh was put to its most severe test. Ancient mentality regarded the fall of a nation tantamount to a discrediting of that nation's gods. This, together with the fact that in Babylon the Jews were thrown into a seductive pagan environment, indicates the gravity of the situtation. The Book of Kings was one of the tools used by the prophets to help the people put all of their history--including the captivity--in proper perspective. By studying Kings the exilic Jews began to see that their one hope lay in strict obedience to God and observance of the Law. The fact that the Jews were well cured of their paganism when they returned to Palestine would seem to indicate that this book had very great influence upon their thinking.

D. The Davidic Purpose

    In Kings the chief concern is the Davidic monarchy. Kings of Israel are treated as a matter of secondary interest. To the author of this book, David was a God-fearing, ideal king (I K 11:33, 38; 14:8). He was the standard by which all the Southern kings are measured.36

    The glorious promise of II Samuel 7:12-16 forms--in the words of Keil--the red thread which runs through the history of the kings from Solomon to the exile. It is the author's intention to show in the history of the kings how the Lord fulfilled this gracious word. He first shows how God chastised the seed of David and snatched away from them the larger portion of the kingdom. But the descendants of David continued to transgress the conditions of the sacred covenant of II Samuel 7, and so God cast them off. Only the reform efforts of three or four godly rulers postponed temporarily this tragic judgment. it was "for the sake of David My servant" that God exercised such patience with Judah.37

E. The Prophetic Purpose

    The author of Kings viewed the roles of the prophets as crucial in the history both of Israel and Judah. The teaching and activity of these servants of God exerted an important influence upon this history of the theocracy. Owing to them, the apostasy of the people was without excuse. By dwelling on the prophets the author shows that the guilt of the people was intensely aggravated--the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity were justified in spire of God's promise to David. The accounts of the prophets are the spiritual leaven which pervades this portion of the Word of God. This prophetic activity stamped upon the Israelite monarchy the character of the theocracy or divine rule in Israel.

F. The Priestly Purpose

    Scholars generally refer to Chronicles as priestly history and to Kings as prophetic history. In general this distinction is useful. But nonetheless a major theme in Kings is the significance of Jerusalem, the place chosen by God as the site for His Temple. In the several chapters devoted to the reign of Solomon, for example, the most important single theme is the building of the Temple (I K 6:1-38), its furnishings (I K 7:13-51), and its dedication (I K 8). Thirty-eight verses describe the building of the Temple; only twelve verses treat all the other building accomplishments of Solomon.

    Throughout the history of Judah events associated with the Temple receive a disproportionate amount of attention. The cultic innovations of Ahaz are noted (II K 16:10-18). The appropriation of Temple treasure for foreign tribute never fails to be mentioned.38 While Hazael's invasion of Judah gets only scanty reference (II K 12:17), Joash's reform of Temple finances is treated at length (IlK 12:4-16).

    Attention given to priests in Kings is not insignificant. In the opening chapters Zadok and Abiathar, men who apparently shared the high priesthood, play significant roles. Jeroboam is condemned for having departed from the Pentateuchal stipulations in making priests of the very lowest classes of society (I K 12:31; 13:33). Jehoiada, the high priest during the minority of Joash (c. 835), is a great hero in Judah's history, as is Hilkiah about two centuries later. The priestly interest of the author of Kings has not heretofore been sufficiently emphasized. Perhaps this emphasis suggests that the author of the book was a priest! (cf. Jer. 1:1)

G. The Evangelistic Emphasis

    It was the goal of the author of Kings not merely to report events of the past, but to give an evaluation and criticism of the past as an admonition for his contemporaries. By retelling the apostasy and ensuing trials and visitations, Kings called men to repentance, conversion and total commitment.

1. An extensive list can be found in George Rawlinson, "Kings," The Holy Bible With Explanatory and Critical Commentary, ed. F. C. Cook (New York: Scribner, Armstrong, 1873), II, 469, n. 2.
2. Ibid., p.469, n. 3.
3. Ibid., p.470.
4. R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), p.719.
5. Josephus and the Talmud visualize Kings as one book.
6. This point is especially stressed by Meredith Kline in his important work, The Structure ofBiblical Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)
7. This argument is developed at length by R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957), pp. 167ff.
8. Baba Bathra l4b.
9. The list is reproduced by Rawlinson, op. cit., II, 471.
10. The important place of Jeremiah in the history of the closing days of Judah is abundantly illustrated in Josephus' reconstruction ofthe history of the time (Ant. x, 5-9).
11. This spelling difference is clear in the older English versions, but has been removed in the New American Standard Bible.
12. E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), p. 200.
13. Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody, 1964), p.277.
14. Artur Weiser, The Old Testament: Its Formation And Development (New. York: Association, 1961), p.171.
15. Jay Williams, Understanding the Old Testament. (New York: Barron's Educational Series, 1972), p.177.
16. J. C. J. Waite, "Kings, Books of," The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962), p.697; Young, op. cit., p. 200.
17. Young, op. cit., p.200.
18. In the King James version the phrase is erroneously translated "on this side of the river."
19. James E. Smith, Jeremiah and Lamentations (Bible Study Textbook Series. Joplin: College Press, 1972), pp.33-34.
20. The Revised Standard Version prints only three passages in poetic verse.
21. I Kings 11:31-39 (Ahijah); 12:21-24 (Shemaiah); 13:2; 14:7-16 (Ahijah); 16:2-4 (Jehu); 20:13-14,22, 28; 21:17-19, 21-24 (Elijah); etc.
22. Georg Fohrer, Introduction to the Old Testament, trans. David B. Green (Nashville: Abingdon, 1968), p.84.
23. Letters are probably involved, though not explicitly mentioned, in I Kings 5:1-9 and 15:18-19.
24. E.g. I Kings 19:11, 12; II Kings 19:21-31.
25. Rawlinson, op. cit., II, 478.
26. James King West, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York: Macmillan, 1971). p.196.
27. See I Kings 2:10-12; 11:41-43; 14:19-20. Part of the introductory formula appears for Solomon as early as 3:2-3.
28. E.g., the seals of Shebna, Jaazaniah and Gedaliah.
29. Kurt Kuhl, however, concedes that the Eliab-Elisha materials are very old, dating to 800 B.C., soon after the, deaths of the prophets. The Old Testament, its Origins and Composition, trans. C. T. M. Herrjott (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1961), p.150.
30. Rawlinson, op. cit., II, 479.
31. The discovery of the library came between 1848 and 1876. Selections of this material can be tbund in James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts relating to the Old Testament (third edition; Princeton, New Jersey: University Press, 1969), pp. 272-74; 301-303.
32. Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament, An Introduction, trans. Peter R. Ackroyd (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), p.283.
33. Archer, op. cit., p. 280.
34. Austen H. Layard, Discoveries Among the Ruins ofNineveh and Babylon (New York: Harper, 1859), p.539.
35. Rawlinson, op. cit., II, 466.
36. See I Kings 15:11; II Kings 14:3; 16:2; 18:3; 22:2.
37. This phrase occurs in I Kings 11:13; II Kings 8:19; 19:34; 20:6. The same basic thought, though not the precise words, occurs in I Kings 11:12 and 15:4, 5.
38. See I Kings 14:26-28; 15:18; II Kings 12:18; 14:14; 18:16; 24:13; 25:13-17.

Scanned: Michael Riggs
Corrected: Dan Dyke