Books of Kings
|Old Testament (Christianity)|
The Book of Kings (Hebrew: ספר מלכים, sêp̄er malḵîm) is the ninth book of the Hebrew Bible or the eleventh and twelfth books of the Christian Old Testament. It concludes the Deuteronomistic history, a history of Israel also comprising the books of Joshua and Judges and the Book of Samuel, which biblical commentators believe was written to provide a theological explanation for the destruction of the Kingdom of Judah by Babylon in c. 586 BCE and a foundation for a return from exile. The two books of Kings present a history of ancient Israel and Judah from the death of King David to the release of Jehoiachin from imprisonment in Babylon, a period of some 400 years (c. 960 – c. 560 BCE). Scholars tend to treat the books as made up of a first edition from the late 7th century BCE and a second and final edition from the mid 6th century BCE.
The Jerusalem Bible divides the two books of Kings into eight sections:
- 1 Kings 1:1–2:46 = The Davidic Succession
- 1 Kings 3:1–11:43 = Solomon in all his glory
- 1 Kings 12:1–13:34 = The political and religious schism
- 1 Kings 14:1–16:34 = The two kingdoms until Elijah
- 1 Kings 17:1 – 2 Kings 1:18 = The Elijah cycle
- 2 Kings 2:1–13:25 = The Elisha cycle
- 2 Kings 14:1–17:41 = The two kingdoms to the fall of Samaria
- 2 Kings 18:1–25:30 = The last years of the kingdom of Judah
In David's old age, Adonijah proclaims himself his successor but Solomon's supporters arrange for David to proclaim Solomon as his successor, and so he comes to the throne after David's death. At the beginning of his reign he assumes God's promises to David and brings splendour to Israel and peace and prosperity to his people. The centrepiece of Solomon's reign is the building of the First Temple: the claim that this took place 480 years after the Exodus from Egypt marks it as a key event in Israel's history. At the end, however, he follows other gods and oppresses Israel.
As a consequence of Solomon's failure to stamp out the worship of gods other than Yahweh, the kingdom of David is split in two in the reign of his own son Rehoboam, who becomes the first to reign over the kingdom of Judah. The kings who follow Rehoboam in Jerusalem continue the royal line of David (i.e., they inherit the promise to David); in the north, however, dynasties follow each other in rapid succession, and the kings are uniformly bad (meaning that they fail to follow Yahweh alone). At length God brings the Assyrians to destroy the northern kingdom, leaving Judah as the sole custodian of the promise.
Hezekiah, the 14th king of Judah, does "what [is] right in the Lord’s sight just as his ancestor David had done"  and institutes a far reaching religious reform, centralising sacrifice at the temple at Jerusalem and destroying the images of other gods. Yahweh saves Jerusalem and the kingdom from an invasion by Assyria. But Manasseh, the next king, reverses the reforms, and God announces that he will destroy Jerusalem because of this apostasy by the king. Manasseh's righteous grandson Josiah reinstitutes the reforms of Hezekiah, but it is too late: God, speaking through the prophetess Huldah, affirms that Jerusalem is to be destroyed after the death of Josiah.
In the final chapters, God brings the Neo-Babylonian Empire of King Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem; Yahweh withholds aid from his people, Jerusalem is razed and the Temple destroyed, and the priests, prophets and royal court are led into captivity. The final verses record how Jehoiachin, the last king, is set free and given honour by the king of Babylon.
In the Hebrew Bible (the Bible used by Jews), First and Second Kings are a single book, as are the First and Second Books of Samuel. When this was translated into Greek in the last few centuries BCE, Samuel was joined with Kings in a four-part work called the Book of Kingdoms. Orthodox Christians continue to use the Greek translation (the Septuagint), but when a Latin translation (called the Vulgate) was made for the Western church, Kingdoms was first retitled the Book of Kings, parts One to Four, and eventually both Samuel and Kings were separated into two books each.
Thus, the books now commonly known as 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel are known in the Vulgate as 1 Kings and 2 Kings (in imitation of the Septuagint). What are now commonly known as 1 Kings and 2 Kings would be 3 Kings and 4 Kings in old Bibles before the year 1516, such as in the Vulgate and the Septuagint. The division we know today, used by Protestant Bibles and adopted by Catholics, came into use in 1517. Some Bibles still preserve the old denomination, for example, the Douay Rheims Bible.
The Deuteronomistic history
According to Jewish tradition the author of Kings was Jeremiah, who would have been alive during the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The most common view today accepts Martin Noth's thesis that Kings concludes a unified series of books which reflect the language and theology of the Book of Deuteronomy, and which biblical scholars therefore call the Deuteronomistic history. Noth argued that the History was the work of a single individual living in the 6th century BCE, but scholars today tend to treat it as made up of at least two layers, a first edition from the time of Josiah (late 7th century BCE), promoting Josiah's religious reforms and the need for repentance, and (2) a second and final edition from the mid 6th century BCE. Further levels of editing have also been proposed, including: a late 8th century BCE edition pointing to Hezekiah of Judah as the model for kingship; an earlier 8th century BCE version with a similar message but identifying Jehu of Israel as the ideal king; and an even earlier version promoting the House of David as the key to national well-being.
The editors/authors of the Deuteronomistic history cite a number of sources, including (for example) a "Book of the Acts of Solomon" and, frequently, the "Annals of the Kings of Judah" and a separate book, "Chronicles of the Kings of Israel". The "Deuteronomic" perspective (that of the book of Deuteronomy) is particularly evident in prayers and speeches spoken by key figures at major transition points: Solomon's speech at the dedication of the Temple is a key example. The sources have been heavily edited to meet the Deuteronomistic agenda, but in the broadest sense they appear to have been:
- For the rest of Solomon's reign the text names its source as "the book of the acts of Solomon", but other sources were employed, and much was added by the redactor.
- Israel and Judah: The two "chronicles" of Israel and Judah provided the chronological framework, but few details apart from the succession of monarchs and the account of how the Temple of Solomon was progressively stripped as true religion declined. A third source, or set of sources, were cycles of stories about various prophets (Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Ahijah and Micaiah), plus a few smaller miscellaneous traditions. The conclusion of the book (2 Kings 25:18–21, 27–30) was probably based on personal knowledge.
- A few sections were editorial additions not based on sources. These include various predictions of the downfall of the northern kingdom, the equivalent prediction of the downfall of Judah following the reign of Manasseh, the extension of Josiah's reforms in accordance with the laws of Deuteronomy, and the revision of the narrative from Jeremiah concerning Judah's last days.
Three of the Dead Sea Scrolls feature parts of Kings: 5QKgs, found in Qumran Cave 5, contains parts of 1 Kings 1; 6QpapKgs, found in Qumran Cave 6, contains 94 fragments from all over the two books; and 4QKgs, found in Qumran Cave 4, contains parts of 1 Kings 7–8. The earliest complete surviving copy of the book(s) of Kings is in the Aleppo Codex (10th century CE).
Themes and genre
Kings is "history-like" rather than history in the modern sense, mixing legends, folktales, miracle stories and "fictional constructions" in with the annals, and its primary explanation for all that happens is God's offended sense of what is right; it is therefore more fruitful to read it as theological literature in the form of history. The theological bias is seen in the way it judges each king of Israel on the basis of whether he recognises the authority of the Temple in Jerusalem (none do, and therefore all are "evil"), and each king of Judah on the basis of whether he destroys the "high places" (rivals to the Temple in Jerusalem); it gives only passing mention to important and successful kings like Omri and Jeroboam II and totally ignores one of the most significant events in ancient Israel's history, the battle of Qarqar.
- Promise: In return for Israel's promise to worship Yahweh alone, Yahweh makes promises to David and to Israel – to David, the promise that his line will rule Israel forever, to Israel, the promise of the land they will possess.
- Apostasy: the great tragedy of Israel's history, meaning the destruction of the kingdom and the Temple, is due to the failure of the people, but more especially the kings, to worship Yahweh alone (Yahweh being the God of Israel).
- Judgement: Apostasy leads to judgement. Judgement is not punishment, but simply the natural (or rather, God-ordained) consequence of Israel's failure to worship Yahweh alone.
Another and related theme is that of prophecy. The main point of the prophetic stories is that God's prophecies are always fulfilled, so that any not yet fulfilled will be so in the future. The implication, the release of Jehoiachin and his restoration to a place of honour in Babylon in the closing scenes of the book, is that the promise of an eternal Davidic dynasty is still in effect, and that the Davidic line will be restored.
The standard Hebrew text of Kings presents an impossible chronology. To take just a single example, Omri's accession to the throne of Israel in the 31st year of Asa of Judah (1 Kings 16:23) cannot follow the death of his predecessor Zimri in the 27th year of Asa (1 Kings 16:15). The Greek text corrects the impossibilities but does not seem to represent an earlier version. A large number of scholars have claimed to solve the difficulties, but the results differ, sometimes widely, and none has achieved consensus status.
Kings and 2 Chronicles
The book 2 Chronicles covers much the same time-period as the books of Kings, but it ignores the northern Kingdom of Israel almost completely, David is given a major role in planning the Temple, Hezekiah is given a much more far-reaching program of reform, and Manasseh of Judah is given an opportunity to repent of his sins, apparently to account for his long reign. It is usually assumed that the author of Chronicles used Kings as a source and emphasised different areas as he would have liked it to have been interpreted.
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