The Glossary of Terms

1 King & 2 Kings


Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Kings, The First and Second Books of the. O.T. books that relate the history of Israel from the beginning of the reign of Solomon, through the time of the two kingdoms, to the fall of Jerusalem. There are parallels to some of the material in the books of the Chronicles. The writer, or editor, working in the ssixth century B.C., compiled his book from many sources, such as court records and histories, such as the one named in 1 Kings 15:7. The author's purpose was to show that the end of the Israelite nations had come about because the people forsook the covenant with God.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Kings, the First and Second Books of the, the eleventh and twelfth books of the ot.


The First and Second Books of the Kings

Name and Contents: These two narratives, the fifth and sixth books of the second division of the Hebrew Bible, the Prophets, were originally considered one book in Jewish sources (t. B. Bat. 14a). The Greek tradition, which is followed by the Vulgate, treated 1 and 2 Kings together with 1 and 2 Samuel as a single composition and divided the whole into the ‘four books of Reigns/Kingdoms’ (Gk. Basileion).

1 and 2 Kings is the major history of the Israelite monarchy, covering the four centuries from the death of David and the succession of Solomon (ca. 965 b.c.) until the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile (586 b.c.). It is an eclectic work, whose editors(s) drew upon a variety of earlier sources, all of which have been subsumed under a single point of view. The tragic series of events in the history of Israel—the breakup of the United Kingdom into the separate states of Judah and Israel, the fall of Samaria and ultimately of Jerusalem and its Temple—are explained as the Lord’s just punishment of the violators of his law.

Structure: 1 Kings 1-11 covers the death of David, the reign of Solomon, and the building of the Temple. 1 Kings 12-2 Kings 17 concerns the Divided Monarchy, from the founding of the kingdom of Israel by Jeroboam I until the Assyrian conquest, and the kingdom of Judah from Rehoboam until Ahaz. 2 Kings 18-25 is about the kingdom of Judah from Hezekiah until the Babylonian conquest. Uniting the whole is a fixed, schematic framework, particularly evident in the history of the Divided Monarchy. The editor provided an opening and closing formula for each king in which he noted: the date of accession according to the years of the reigning king in the neighboring kingdom; the age of the king at accession (only for the kings of Judah); the length of his reign; the name of his mother (only for kings of Judah); an evaluation; a reference to ‘Annals’ (e.g., ‘Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel’); the death of the king and his burial; and the succession of his son.

Sources: The editor referred his original readers to three works available to them for further details that he did not include in his book: the ‘Book of the Annals of Solomon’ (1 Kings 11:41); the ‘Books of the Annals (or Chronicles) of the Kings of Israel’ (1 Kings 14:19; 15:31; and fifteen other references); the ‘Books of the Annals of the Kings of Judah’ (1 Kings 14:29; 15:7; and thirteen other references). These works, which are otherwise unknown to us, contained information on the political and military exploits as well as building projects accomplished by the kings. In addition, the ‘Annals of Solomon’ highlighted that king’s wisdom, which ‘was greater than the wisdom of the Kedemites [easterners] and than all the wisdom of the Egyptians’ (cf. 1 Kings 4:29-34; 5:1-14; 10:1-13, 23-24; 11:41) and was likely the product of the wisdom circle at court. It, too, has been lost.

In addition to the books specifically mentioned by name, other unacknowledged sources fill out the editorial frame. Temple archives in Jerusalem supplied data on Temple affairs; e.g., architectural plans and materials used in its construction (1 Kings 6-7); alterations and innovations in structure and service (2 Kings 12:5-17; 16:10-16; 22:3-9); and the looting of the Temple treasury (1 Kings 14:26; 15:18; 2 Kings 12:19; 16:17-18; 18:15-16). Prophetic stories extend the history of the Northern Kingdom; they center, for the most part, around the lives of Elijah the Tishbite (1 Kings 17-19; 21; 2 Kings 1-2:18) and his disciple Elisha (1 Kings 19:15-21; 2 Kings 2:9-25; 13:14-21), as well as other prophetic individuals (e.g., Micaiah, 1 Kings 22; cf. 1 Kings 20). The peculiar diction and the unique social setting depicted in these narrative cycles suggest that a northern prophetic document—dated to the mid-eighth century b.c. (?)—was utilized by the editor of Kings.

Historiography: The editorial judgments, their spirit, and their distinctive language, conform with the ideals articulated in the book of Deuteronomy (esp. Deut. 12), and so the editor can be conveniently labeled a member of the Deuteronomistic school. This Deuteronomist’s evaluation of each king is phrased: ‘he did what was pleasing/what was not pleasing to the Lord.’ This judgment is based upon a single criterion: religious loyalty to the God of Israel as specified in the teaching of Moses. Thus all worship was to be concentrated at one chosen site and care taken not to imitate the practices of other nations in service of the Lord. The northern kingdom of Israel, born in revolution against the house of David, was condemned from the start; its first king, Jeroboam son of Nebat, had founded royal shrines outside Jerusalem at Bethel and Dan, where golden calves symbolized the Lord’s presence (1 Kings 12:25-32). The Deuteronomist adjudged every king of Israel sinful because he followed the ways of Jeroboam (cf. e.g., 1 Kings 15:25-26, 33-34).

As for the kings of Judah, all but two were sinful, for instead of checking the worship at the rural shrines (‘high places’) in favor of the Jerusalem Temple, they allowed the nation to continue worshiping as they had done in the pre-Solomonic era. Only Hezekiah and Josiah come in for praise, for their wholehearted trust in the Lord, just as David their ancestor had done, and for their religious reforms, i.e., abolishing the ‘high places’ and purifying Temple rites (2 Kings 18:1-8; 22:1-2; 23:24-25).

The inclusion in the book of Kings of the Northern prophetic document exemplifies another principle in the Deuteronomistic world view: the word of the Lord, uttered by his prophets, does not go unfulfilled (cf. 1 Kings 8:20; 12:15; 15:29; 16:12, 34; 2 Kings 1:17; 23:16-18; 24:2). Elijah put a curse on the royal sponsors of the cult of the Tyrian Baal (1 Kings 18; 21:20-24), justifying Jehu’s execution of the house of Ahab (2 Kings 10:10-11, 30). In similar fashion, the prophetic tradition of Isaiah’s prediction that the Lord ‘will defend this city [i.e., Jerusalem] to save it for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David’ (Isa. 37:35) and its fulfillment was grafted on to the history of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:17-19:37).

Date of Composition: The ot scholar M. Noth proposes seeing Kings as part of a larger historical work, including Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and Samuel, dated ca. 550 b.c. This Deuteronomistic composition sought to explain to an exilic audience the reason for Israel’s failure to possess the Promised Land and maintain its national existence. Generation after generation broke with the Lord’s covenant, inextricably leading to punishment through exile.

Another ot scholar, F. M. Cross, argues for a double redaction of Kings: a first edition at the time of King Josiah’s cultic reform (ca. 620 b.c.), which held out hope for salvation through a renewed Davidic monarchy, and a second edition, which attributed the destruction and Exile to the inexpiable sin of Manasseh.

There is also reason to believe that a pre-Deuteronomistic work treating the history of the Northern Kingdom has been incorporated in Kings. The signs for this early book, which contravene the general tendencies of the total work, are the sympathetic approach to certain Israelite kings (e.g., 2 Kings 13:4-5, 23; 14:25-27), the preservation of the Elijah-Elisha cycles, the contradictory chronological data.

Bibliography Cross, F. M. Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973. Esp. pp. 274-289. Eissfeldt, O. The Old Testament, An Introduction. Translated by P. Ackroyd. New York: Harper & Row, 1965. Esp. pp. 281-301. Noth, M. The Deuteronomistic History. Sheffield, England: University of Sheffield, 1981.

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