The book[1] of Kings is strikingly unlike any modern historical narrative. Its comparative brevity, its curious perspective, and-with some brilliant exceptions -- its relative monotony, are obvious to the most cursory perusal, and to understand these things is, in large measure, to understand the book. It covers a period of no less than four centuries. Beginning with the death of David and the accession of Solomon (1 Kings i., ii.) it traverses his reign with considerable fulness (1 Kings iii.-xi.), then carries on the history of the monarchy in both countries from the disruption to the fall of the northern kingdom (1 Kings xii.-2 Kings xvii.), and traces the story of Judah from that point to the exile (2 Kings xviii.-xxv.). [Footnote 1: Originally and till 1517 A.D. Kings was reckoned in the Hebrew Bible as one book. The Greek translation reckons it as two books, which it entitles the third and fourth books of the kingdoms, the first two being represented by the two books of Samuel.]

During this period events of epoch-making importance in politics and religion were taking place. In it literary prophecy was born, trade and commerce arose with their inevitable cleavage of society into the rich and the poor, the northern kingdom disappeared as a political force, and many of her people were carried into exile. Judah was dominated in turn by Assyria and Babylonia, with the result that her religious usages were profoundly affected by theirs. But of all this we learn very little from the book of Kings. Most of what we do know of the inner history of the period comes from the prophets. To understand the state of society, e.g. in the time of Jeroboam II, we go not to the book of Kings but to Amos and Hosea.

Again the perspective is strange. It is not only that brief reigns like those of Shallum and Pekahiah (2 Kings xv.) are dismissed in a verse or two, but even long and very important reigns, such as that of Jeroboam II. (2 Kings xiv.23-29). Omri, the father of Ahab, was, we know, a much more important person than the few verses devoted to him in I Kings xvi.21-28 would lead us to suppose. The reign of Ahab himself, on the other hand, is dealt with at considerable length (I Kings xvi.29-xxii.40), and Solomon receives no less than nine chapters (I Kings iii.-xi.). The stories of Jeroboam I (I Kings xii.), Hezekiah (2 Kings xviii.-xx.), Josiah (2 Kings xxii. ff.) are told with comparative fulness. Whenever the narrative begins to expand it is plain that the interest of the author is predominantly and almost exclusively religious; in other words, his aim is to write not a political, but an ecclesiastical history. This at once explains his insertions and omissions. Omri's reign was not marked by anything of conspicuous importance to religion, while it was under Ahab that the great struggle of Jehovah worship against Baalism took place. Solomon is of unique importance, as he was the founder of the temple. Hezekiah's career touches that of the prophet Isaiah, while his reign and Josiah's are marked by attempts at religious reform. The author is writing for men who have access to records of the political history, and to these "chronicles of the kings of Israel and Judah," as they are called, he repeatedly refers readers who are interested in the political facts.

Finally, though some of the narratives -- notably the Elijah group-are dramatic and powerful to the last degree, the book has not, generally speaking, that flexibility and movement which we are accustomed to look for in a modern historian. It has been artificially conformed to a scheme. The various kings are introduced and dismissed and their reigns are criticized, in set formulae, and these formulae are Deuteronomic. With the exception of Hezekiah, all the kings before Josiah are implicitly condemned for worshipping upon the high places; and the centralization of the worship at Jerusalem was, as we have already seen, the chief feature of the Deuteronomic legislation. The book of Kings, like Joshua, Judges and Samuel (in part), has been subjected to a Deuteronomic redaction, of which the most obvious feature is the summary notice and criticism of the various kings. This redaction cannot have taken place earlier than 621 B.C. (the date of the publication of Deuteronomy) nor later than 597 B.C., as the reference to the chronicles of the kings of Judah ceases with the reign of Jehoiakim, 2 Kings xxiv.5. Parts of the book presuppose that the temple is still standing, I Kings viii.29, and the exile not yet an accomplished fact. There was, however, a later redaction some years after the pardon of Jehoiachin in 561 B.C. (2 Kings xxv.27), and sporadic traces of this are seen throughout the book, parts of which clearly imply the exile, 1 Kings viii.46, 47, and the destruction of the temple, 1 Kings ix.7, 8. These redactions are known to criticism as D and D2 respectively.

On none of the historical books has the influence of Deuteronomy been so pervasive as on Kings. The importance of the Deuteronomic law receives emphatic reiteration, 1 Kings ii.3, 4, ix.1-9, and once that law is cited practically word for word, 2 Kings xiv.6; cf. Deut. xxiv.16. Naturally the affairs of the temple as the exclusive seat of the true worship receive considerable attention. This explains the elaborate treatment accorded to the reign of Solomon, who founded the temple, and to the description of the temple itself (1 Kings vi.); and on his prayer of dedication the Deuteronomic influence is very conspicuous (1 Kings viii.). It is also unmistakable in the chapter which concludes the story of the northern kingdom and attempts to account for the disaster (2 Kings xvii.). The chapter presents what may be called a Deuteronomic philosophy of history, corresponding to the scheme which is thrown into the forefront of the book of Judges (ii.6-iii.6). Traces of a hand that is still later than the second Deuteronomic redaction are to be found here and there in the book; e.g., in 1 Kings viii.4, the Levites are a later insertion to satisfy the requirements of the post-exilic priestly law -- the words are not supported by the Septuagint. Here we see the influence of the priestly point of view, but the traces are far too few to justify us in speaking of a priestly redaction; the course which such a redaction would have taken we see from the book of Chronicles. But that the book was touched by post-exilic hands is certain; 1 Kings xiii.32 actually speaks of "the cities of Samaria," a phrase which implies that Samaria was a province, as it was not till after the exile.

It is fortunate that one of the longest, most important, and impressive sections of the book -- the Elijah and Elisha narratives (1 Kings xvii.-2 Kings viii., xiii. l4-2l) -- has not been touched by the Deuteronomic redaction. The Elijah narratives not only recognize the existence of altars all over the land, 1 Kings xix.10, but the great contest between Jehovah and Baal is actually decided at the sanctuary on Carmel, xviii.20, a sanctuary which, by the Deuteronomic law, was illegal. Again, the advice given by Elisha to cut down the fruit trees in time of war, 2 Kings iii.19, is in direct contravention of the Deuteronomic law (Deut. xx.19). These narratives must precede the redaction of the book by a century and a half or more, and we have them pretty much as they left the hand of the original writers. A post-exilic hand, however, is evident in 1 Kings xviii.31, 32a. To a later age, which believed in the exclusive rights of Jerusalem, the altar on Carmel, which was said to be repaired by Elijah, v. 30, was naturally an offence; so the repairing of this old altar is represented as the erection of a new and special one, typical of the unity of Israel. The lateness of the insertion is further proved by its containing a quotation from P (Gen. xxxv.10).

As the book was redacted by Judean writers, it is not unnatural that the summary notices of the kings of Judah are more elaborate than those of Israel. In the former case, but not in the latter, the age of the king at his accession and the name of his mother are mentioned. One curious feature of these notices is that the statement of a king's accession, whether in Israel or Judah, is always accompanied by a statement of the corresponding year in the contemporary reign of the sister kingdom. The notices conform to this type: "In the twenty and seventh year of Jeroboam, king of Israel, began Azariah, son of Amaziah, king of Judah, to reign," 2 Kings xv.1. It is practically certain that these synchronisms, as they are called, are not contemporary but the work of the redactors. There is no reason to suppose that the kings of either country would have dated their own reigns with reference to the other; besides, the synchronisms do not strictly agree with the other chronological notices of the reigns. The period between the division of the kingdoms and the fall of Samaria is estimated as 260 years in the story of the kings of Judah, but only as 242 in the case of Israel. Probably the original documents contained the number of years in the reign, and the dates of the more important events; but the synchronisms represent an artificial scheme created by the redactor. Traces of such a system are present in 1 Kings vi.1, according to which 480 years, i.e. twelve generations of forty years each, elapsed between the exodus and the building of the temple.

So much for the redaction; what, then, were the sources of the redaction? Three are expressly mentioned -- the book of the acts of Solomon, 1 Kings xi.41, the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel, and the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah. The nature of these books may be inferred, partly from the facts recorded in our book of Kings, and especially from the facts in support of which they are cited. They seem to have contained, e.g., accounts of wars, conquests, conspiracies, buildings, 1 Kings xiv.19, xv.23, xvi.20, but it is not probable that they were official annals. There was indeed a court official whose name is sometimes translated "the recorder," 2 Sam. viii.16, 1 Kings iv.3. But besides the probable inaccuracy of this translation,[1] it is very unlikely that, in the northern kingdom at any rate, with its frequent revolutions, court annals were continuously kept; the annalist could hardly have recorded the questionable steps by which his monarch often succeeded to the throne, though doubtless official documents were extant, capable of forming material for the subsequent historian. But in any case, the chronicles to which the book of Kings refers cannot have been official annals; it is assumed that they are accessible to everybody, as they would not have been had they been official chronicles. They were in all probability finished political histories, something like the elaborate section devoted to Solomon in our present book of Kings. The chronicles of the kings of Israel and Judah probably formed, not one book, as has been supposed, but two; the same event, e.g., the campaign of Hazael, is sometimes mentioned in two distinct and independent connections, 2 Kings x.32, xiii.3, cf. xii.18f. -- a fact which further suggests that the redactor treated his sources with at least comparative fidelity.
[Footnote 1: The word strictly means "one who calls to mind," and would appropriately designate an official who brought the affairs of the kingdom before the king.]

The book of Kings, as we have seen, concentrates attention almost exclusively on the religious elements in the history, and these were determined largely by the prophets. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of the longer sections deal with the utterances or activities of prophets at critical junctures of the history. The part played by Ahijah at the time of the disruption of the kingdom, by Elijah in the great struggle between Baal and Jehovah worship, by Elisha during the Aramean assaults upon Israel, by Isaiah at the invasion of Sennacherib -- these and similar episodes are dealt with so fully as to suggest that biographies of the prophets, written possibly by literary members of the prophetic order, were at the disposal of the redactors of the book of Kings. Temple affairs are also discussed, from the days of Solomon to Josiah (I Kings vi. vii., 2 Kings xi., xii., xvi., xxii., xxiii.), with a sympathy and a minuteness which almost suggest the inference that a regular temple history was kept; but occasional statements which are anything but flattering to the priests (2 Kings xii.7, 15) render the inference somewhat precarious.

Besides the chronicles and biographies, there are hints that the redactors had access to other sources. The words in which Solomon dedicated the temple, only partially preserved in the Hebrew, are, by a very probable emendation of the Greek text, taken from the book of Jashar: --

The sun hath Jehovah set in the heavens,
He himself hath determined to dwell in the darkness. And so I have built Thee an house to dwell in,
Even a place to abide in for ever and ever.
(1 Kings viii.12, 13; Septuagint, v. 53).

Again, 1 Kings xx., xxii. appears to come from a different source from the Elijah narratives in 1 Kings xvii.-xix., xxi. The former section takes a distinctly more favourable view of Ahab than the Elijah stories do, and, unlike them, it alludes to Ahab seldom by name, but usually as "the king of Israel"; further, in it the great prophet of the period is Micah rather than Elijah. Both these groups of narrative belong no doubt to the northern kingdom.[1] [Footnote 1: Chs. xx., xxii. obviously so; but no less xvii.-xix., xxi., for in 1 Kings xix.3 Beersheba is described as belonging to Judah. A Judean writer would not have appended such a note.]

It is important to consider the value of the sources of the book of Kings. We have already seen that the redactor occasionally deals with them in a spirit of praiseworthy scrupulousness, repeating the same fact from different sources, and making no attempt to dovetail the one narrative into the other. Sometimes the sources have been demonstrably followed word for word, phrases like to this day being used of situations which had passed away by the time the book was redacted.[1] The facts, though lamentably meagre, have usually the appearance of being thoroughly trustworthy; the quotation from the book of Jashar is no doubt as genuine as it is interesting, and the brief account of the submission of Hezekiah to the tribute imposed by Sennacherib, 2 Kings xviii.14-16, is supported by the Assyrian records. But it is evident that the history does not always rest upon contemporary sources, and that early events and personalities are touched with the colours of legend or romance. Much of the story of Solomon, e.g., is unmistakably historical -- his luxury, his effeminacy, his commerce, his unscrupulousness. But there are stories of another sort which, on the face of them, must be decades, if not centuries, later than Solomon's reign. "There came no more," we are informed, "such abundance of spices as those which the queen of Sheba gave to king Solomon" (1 Kings x.10). The age of Solomon is clearly long past, and his glory has been enhanced by the lapse of time; for "silver was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon," x.21. Tales are told of his almost fabulous revenue, x.14, which can hardly be reconciled with the story of his loan from Hiram, ix.14. The story of Solomon is really a compilation, and its various elements are by no means all of the same historical value.
[Footnote 1: E.g., 1 Kings xii.19 implies the existence of Israel, and 2 Kings viii.22 (Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah unto this day) ignores the later conquest of Edom by Amaziah, xiv.7.]

The career of Elisha is also seen through the colours of a rich and reverent imagination. It is, in the main, intended to be a replica of Elijah's, and many of his miracles are obviously suggested by his. The story of Elisha's resuscitation of the dead child is an expansion of the similar story told of Elijah (2 Kings iv., 1 Kings xvii.), and his miracle wrought in behalf of the widow, 2 Kings iv.1-7, is modelled on a similar miracle wrought by Elijah, 1 Kings xvii.8-16. There is further an element of magic in his miracles which differentiates them from Elijah's, and throws them more upon the level of mediaeval hagiography; such, e.g., as the floating of the iron upon the water, or the raising of a dead man by contact with the prophet's bones. The Elijah narratives, on the other hand, represent a higher type of religious thought. The figure of that great prophet may also have been glorified by tradition, but in any case his was a personality of the most commanding power. He was indeed fortunate in his biographer; his story is told with great dramatic and literary art. In its account of the struggle with the greed of Ahab and the licentiousness of Baalism, it sheds a brilliant light upon one of the most crucial epochs of Hebrew history. Even this story, however, is not all of a piece. There is linguistic and other evidence that the chapter (2 Kings i.), in which two companies of fifty men are consumed by fire from heaven at the word of Elijah, is very late. In the story, which is rather mechanical and lacks the splendid dramatic power of the other Elijah stories, the prophet is only a wonder-worker, and his action is not determined by any moral consideration. It was not so much the spirit of Elijah himself, but rather that of the late redactor, that Jesus rebuked, when He said to His disciples, who quoted the prophet's conduct for a precedent, "Ye know not what spirit ye are of."

Perhaps the chapter of least historical value in the book of Kings is that in which Jeroboam I is condemned and denounced for his idolatry at Bethel (1 Kings xiii.). It contains an unparelleled instance of predictive prophecy: Josiah is foretold by name three centuries before he appears, v. 2. The difficulty of this prediction is so keenly felt that one orthodox commentator feels constrained to dispose of it by assuming that the name is to be taken, not as a proper name, but in its etymological sense as one whom "Jehovah supports," The sudden withering of the hand and its equally sudden restoration to health are hardly more surprising than the definite prediction of the fate of the idolatrous priests, v. 2, -- a prediction which appears to be fulfilled to the letter, 2 Kings xxiii.16-18. But when we examine the account of the fulfilment, we find that the passage is later than its context[1] and inconsistent with it. The conduct of the "old prophet," whose lying counsel is attributed to an angel, is, morally considered, disreputable, and it is surely no accident that the man of God, whose message and fate are thus strangely told, is anonymous, though, as the opponent of the famous Jeroboam I, the leader of the disruption, he ought to have been well known. The vagueness and improbabilities of the story can only be accounted for by its very late date. Fortunately we are able to show that the story is, at the earliest, post-exilic. As we have already seen, there is an allusion in v.32 to the cities of Samaria, which implies that Samaria was a province, and stamps the passage at once as post-exilic. Even within the post-exilic period, it probably falls quite late -- a precursor of the book of Chronicles. The historical spirit is in abeyance, and edification is the only consideration. The story is a late attempt to illustrate the great truth that God's word is immutable and must be uncompromisingly obeyed.
[Footnote 1: Verse 16, in which the bones are burned on the altar, contradicts v. 15, in which the altar is already destroyed.]

The religious value of the book of Kings is general rather than particular. There are individual sections of great religious power and value -- most of all the great group of Elijah narratives; but the book has been shorn, by the thoroughness of the redaction, of much that would have been of the deepest interest to the modern student of Israel's religious no less than political development. Taken as a whole, it has a certain melancholy grandeur. Beginning in the splendid glitter of Solomon's reign, the monarchy passed with unsteady gait across the centuries, menaced by foes without and within, and ended at last in the irretrievable disaster of exile. But through the sombre march of history, a divine purpose was being accomplished. The disaster which swallowed up the nation renewed and spiritualized the religion, and thus the seeming loss proved great gain.

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