KINGS, BOOKS OF
1. Title , etc. This is the name of two well-known narrative books of the OT. In Heb. MSS and early printed editions they appear as one book, and even to the present day the Massoretic note appears at the end of the second book only. The division into two was made for the convenience of Greek readers, and passed from the LXX
to the Vulgate, and so to the Church. In fact, the division between the parts of the great Biblical narrative which extends from Genesis to 2Kings is more or less arbitrary, there is no clear line of demarcation between 2Samuel and 1Kings, any more than between 1 and 2Kings.
2. Method and sources . What we have just said does not imply that the Books of Kings are exactly like the other historical books. They differ in their method, and in the way in which the narrative is presented. The most striking feature is the attempt to date the events recorded, and to keep two parallel lines of history before the reader. The period of time they cover is something over 400 years, and when it is remembered that these books give us almost the only light we have on events in Israel for this period, their historical value will be evident. At the same time, the light they throw on the method by which the Biblical authors worked is almost equally great. To estimate the historical value, it will be necessary to look at the literary method. The phenomenon which first strikes the reader’s attention is the unevenness of the narrative. In some cases we have an extended and detailed story; in others a long period of time is dismissed in a few words. The reign of Solomon occupies eleven chapters about a fourth part of the work; while the longer reign of Manasseh is disposed of in sixteen verses. From our point of view there is reason to think that the reign of Manasseh was quite as interesting and quite as important as the other.
Still closer examination shows that there are well-marked characteristics of style in certain sections which are replaced by equally marked but totally different ones in other sections. Moreover, there are seemingly contradictory assertions which can hardly have come from the same pen, though they might have occurred in different documents, and have been retained by a compiler who did not fully realize their force. Thus the account of Solomon’s forced labour ‘raised out of all Israel’ seems inconsistent with the other declaration that Solomon made no bond-servants of Israel (1 Kings 5:13
ff., cf. 1 Kings 11:28
and 1 Kings 9:22
). One passage says without qualification that there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all their days; another tells us how Rehoboam gathered a mighty army, but dismissed it at the word of a prophet without making war ( 1 Kings 12:21-24
; 1 Kings 14:30
). These indications of a compilatory activity, such as we find also in other parts of the OT, are confirmed by the author’s reference to some of the books from which he has drawn. Two of these are mentioned so often that they attract the attention of every reader. They are the Books of Annals (in our version ‘books of chronicles’) of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah. To these we may add the references to the Book of the Acts of Solomon. The author had these three books in his hand, and, what is of more importance, he thought his readers were likely to have them at their command. This is the reason why he refers to them that those readers who are curious for further details may find them in these books. It follows that these sources of his are not the archives of the two kingdoms, but regular books circulated and read among the people at large. But it is clear that other sources were drawn upon. Some of the material cannot have come from either of the books named. The description of the Temple might supposedly have been embodied in the Acts of Solomon, though this seems improbable. But it is quite certain that the extended life of Elijah and the equally diffuse life of Elisha never had a place in the history of the kings. There must have been a Life of Elijah circulated by some of his disciples or admirers after his death, and the probability is strong that there was also a separate Life of Elisha. Whether these two may not have been embodied in a general work on the Lives of the Prophets, whence the sections which interested him were taken by our author, we may not be able to determine. That these sections did not come from the source with which they are most nearly combined is evident from the difference in tone and point of view. Ahab appears very differently in the Elijah sections and in the chapters which treat of the Syrian wars.
The narratives which deal with Isaiah suggest reflexions similar to those which come to us in looking at Elijah and Elisha. They look like portions of a biography of Isaiah. This biography was not our Book of Isaiah, in which some sections are duplicates of what we find in the Second Book of Kings. But other portions of the Book of Isaiah seem to have been drawn from the same Life of Isaiah which furnished the duplicate material of which we have spoken.
Although some of the points that have been touched upon are more or less obscure, we are justified in saying that the Books of Kings are a compilation from at least five separate sources three which the author cites by name, a Temple chronicle, and a History of the Prophets. The hypothesis of compilation explains some of the discrepancies already noted, and it also explains some of the violent transitions in the narrative. Ch. 20 of 1Kings is inserted between two passages which belong together, and which were once continuous. This chapter introduces Benhadad as though we knew him, when in fact we have not heard of him. In like manner Elijah appears suddenly in the narrative, without the slightest intimation as to who he is or what he has been doing. These indications confirm the theory of compilation, and they show also that the author has in no case (so far as we can discover) embodied the whole of any one of his sources in his work. He used his freedom according to his main purpose, taking out what suited that purpose and leaving the rest behind.
3. Purpose . The next inquiry is, What was the purpose which explains the book? In answer to this it is at once seen that the purpose was a religious one. The author was not trying to write history; he was trying to enforce a lesson. For those who were interested in the history as history he gave references to the books in which the history could be found. For himself, there was something more important this was to point a moral so plainly that his people would take heed to it and act accordingly. This comes to view plainly in the recurring sentences which make up what has been called the framework of the book. These are not always exactly alike sometimes they are scantier, sometimes they are fuller. But they are the same in purport. A complete example is the following: ‘Jehoshaphat reigned over Judah in the fourth year of Ahab, king of Israel. Thirty-five years old was Jehoshaphat when he began to reign; and twenty-five years he reigned in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Azubah, daughter of Shilhi. He walked in all the way of Asa, his father; he turned not from it, doing right in the eyes of Jahweh. Only the high places were not removed, the people continued sacrificing and offering at the high places.… And the rest of the acts of Jehoshaphat and the mighty deeds which he did are they not written in the Book of Annals of the kings of Judah?… And Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David, and Jehoram his son reigned in his stead’ ( 1 Kings 22:41-43
; 1 Kings 22:45
; 1 Kings 22:50
). The first part of this formula is found at the beginning of a reign, the rest at the end. Sometimes there is so little recorded about a king that the two parts come in immediate sequence. But usually they are separated by a narrative, longer or shorter according to what the author thinks fit to give us. The framework itself shows that the author desires to preserve the name of the king, his age at accession, the length of his reign, the name of his mother, who was of course the first lady of the land. These items he was interested in, just because his work would not have been a history without them. But what most interested him was the judgment which he felt justified in pronouncing on the character of the monarch. The very fact that he gives such a judgment in every case shows that he had before him more material than he has handed down to us, for it would have been obviously unjust to pronounce so positively if he had as little ground for his opinion as in many cases he gives to us.
It is important to notice the reference to the high places which comes in immediate sequence to the judgment on the character of the king. The high places in the opinion of later times were illegitimate places of worship. Their toleration casts a shadow on the piety even of kings otherwise commendable, while their destruction is regarded as a proof of religious zeal. What light this throws on the date of the book will appear later. For the present it is sufficient that the treatment of the high places furnishes the ground on which the kings are graded in excellence. The first place is given to Hezekiah and Josiah (who are classed with David), just because they did away with these ancient sanctuaries. The next rank is accorded to Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoash of Judah, Amaziah, Uzziah, and Jotham, and we notice that they all effected certain reforms in the Temple. With reference to each of these, the commendation is tempered by the statement that the high places were not taken away. In the third class we find the remaining kings of Judah, and all the kings of Israel, who are condemned as bad. The formula for the kings of Israel is not quite the same as the one just noticed. For one thing, the name of the queen-mother is not given whether because the names had not been handed down, or because they were thought to be of minor importance after the destruction of the kingdom, is not clear. The formula may be illustrated by the one used for Baasha, ‘In the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha son of Ahijah became king over Israel in Tirzah, (and reigned) twenty-four years. He did evil in the eyes of Jahweh, and he walked in the ways of Jeroboam, and in his sin by which he made Israel sin.… And the rest of the affairs of Baasha, and what he did, and his power, are they not written in the Book of Annals of the kings of Israel? And Baasha slept with his fathers and was buried in Tirzah, and Elah his son reigned in his stead’ (1 Kings 15:33
f., 1 Kings 16:5
f.). The reason given for the condemnation which is visited on all the kings of the Northern Kingdom is that they walked in the ways of Jeroboam I., that is, they fostered the worship of the golden bulls (calves they are called in derision) at Bethel and Dan. This is, in the eyes of the author, distinct rebellion against the God whose legitimate sanctuary is at Jerusalem.
While the longer quotations from his sources usually show the compiler’s religious intent, yet he often presents us with brief notices for which he is probably indebted to the Books of Annals, but which have no very direct bearing on his main object. Thus in the case of Jehoshaphat he inserts in his framework a brief notice to the effect that this king made peace with Israel. In the three-membered contest between Zimri, Tibni, and Omri (1 Kings 16:15-22
) he compresses the story of a prolonged civil war into a few lines. In the case of Omri we find a brief notice to the effect that this king built the city of Samaria, having bought the land from a man named Shemer ( 1 Kings 16:24
). Such a notice probably compresses a detailed account in which Omri was glorified as the founder of the capital.
As some of these shorter notices duplicate what we find elsewhere, it seems as if the compiler made out his framework or epitome first and filled it in with his excerpts afterwards. In the insertion of these longer passages the religious motive is always apparent. The matter of supreme importance to him is the worship of the God of Israel as carried on at the Temple in Jerusalem. He is under the influence known as Deuteronomistic. This is seen first in the phrases which recur in those sections which we suspect to be his own composition. In many cases it is not possible to say whether these sections come from the hand of the compiler or whether they were inserted by one of his followers. This is, in fact, of minor importance, if various hands have been concerned they worked under the same bias. The attitude taken towards the high places is distinctly Deuteronomistic, for the demand that these sanctuaries should be abolished was first formulated by Deuteronomy. Josiah’s reforms, as is well known, were the direct result of the finding of this book in the Temple. Hence the strong, we might say extravagant, commendation of this king.
Moreover, it was laid down by the writer of Deuteronomy that obedience to the law which he formulates will be followed by temporal well-being, and that disobedience will be punished by calamity. Now, one object of the writer or compiler of the Book of Kings is to show how this has proved true in the past. He is less thorough in the application of this theory than the author of the Book of Chronicles, but that he has it at heart will be evident on examination. The Northern Kingdom had perished why? Because kings and people had from the first been disobedient to Jahweh, revolting from His legitimate sanctuary at Jerusalem, and provoking His wrath by the hulls of Bethel. In Judah the same lesson is taught. David, who laid the foundations of the kingdom, was of unusual piety, and was favoured by unusual prosperity. Solomon was the builder of the Temple, and to this extent an example of piety; his prosperity was in proportion. But there were shadows in the picture of Solomon which our author was too honest to ignore. It had not been forgotten that this king built altars to foreign gods. History also told that he had suffered by the revolt of Edom and Damascus. It was easy to see in this the punishment for the king’s sins. The historic fact seems to be that the revolt preceded the defection, so that the punishment came before the crime. In any case, the compiler has dealt freely with his material, dating both the defection and the revolt late in the king’s reign, at a time when senile weakness would excuse the wise man for yielding to his wives.
The most distinct instance in which the author teaches his lesson is the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple. It was the custom with ancient historians, as we know, to compose speeches for their heroes which tell us what ought to have been said rather than what was actually said. Our author makes use of this perfectly legitimate literary device. A reading of the prayer shows that it is Deuteronomistic in word and thought throughout. More than one hand has been concerned in it, but the tone is that of the Deuteronomistic school. It confirms what has been said about the purpose of the book. It follows that the historical value of the work must be estimated with due allowance for this main purpose.
4. Date . The date of the Book of Kings in its present form cannot be earlier than the Babylonian exile. The latest event which it mentions is the release of king Jehoiachin from confinement, which took place in the year b.c. 561; and as the author speaks of the allowance made to the king ‘all his life’ ( 2 Kings 25:30
), we conclude that he wrote after his death. It will not be far out of the way, therefore, to say that the work was completed about b.c. 550. Some minor insertions may have been made later. While this is so, there are some things which point to an earlier date for the greater part of the work. The purpose of the author to keep his people from the mistakes of the past is intelligible only at a time when the avoidance of the mistakes was still possible, that is, before the fall of Jerusalem. We find also some phrases which indicate that the final catastrophe had not yet come. The recurrence of the phrase ‘until this day’ ( 1 Kings 8:8
; cf. 1 Kings 9:21
; 1 Kings 12:19
, 2Ki 2:22
; 2 Kings 8:22
; 2 Kings 16:6
) is one of these indications. It is, of course, possible that all these belong to the older sources from which the author drew, but this hardly seems probable. On these grounds it is now generally held that the substance of the book was compiled about b.c. 600, by a writer who was anxious to enforce the lesson of the Deuteronomic reform while there was yet hope. This first edition extended to 2 Kings 23:25
or 28. About fifty years later an author living in the Exile, and who sympathized with the main purpose of the book, completed it in substantially its present form. The theory receives some confirmation from the double scheme of chronology which runs through the book. As has been shown in the formula quoted above, there is a series of data concerning the length of each king’s reign, and also a series of synchronisms, according to which each king’s accession is brought into relation with the era of his contemporary in the other kingdom. The two series are not always consistent a state of things which is best accounted for on the theory that one was the work of one author, the other the work of the other.
5. Text . The text of the Books of Kings has not been transmitted with the care which has been shown in some parts of the OT. The LXX
shows that early copies did not always agree in their wording or in the order of the paragraphs. In some cases the LXX
has a better reading. But the differences are not such as to affect the meaning in any essential point.
H. P. Smith.