Saturday, July 30, 2011

Inerrancy and the Kings of Judah and Israel

Anyone who has studied the chronological information given in Kings and Chronicles regarding the reigns of the kings of Judah and Israel knows that harmonizing all the data is a daunting task, to say the least. Several factors contribute to this difficulty but primarily we could note that (1) these numbers often reflect co-regencies that may not be readily apparent to the reader, (2) Israel and Judah used two different months of the year to determine a regal year (Judah used Tishri-to-Tishri while Israel used Nisan-to-Nisan --- this would be similar to corporations using different months to begin their fiscal years), and (3) the counting of regal years sometimes begins with 0 (ascension year system, normally used by Judah – like we count birthdays) and sometimes with 1 (non-accession-year system, normally used by Israel – like we count presidential years).

When one takes these issues into consideration, many of the so-called problems and contradictions in the Biblical record go away. At least until you get to the reigns of Athaliah and Jehu, whose reigns begin at the same time due to Jehu’s slaughter of the previous kings, but whose chronological information seems to go haywire. Athaliah, it may be remembered, was the daughter of Ahaz and Jezebel. She married, Jehoram, the previous king of Judah, probably as a result of Jehoshaphat’s willingness engage in a closer, more friendly relationship with Israel (1 Kings 22:44; 2 Chron 18:3ff; 20:35-37). It appears that Judah may have adopted Israel’s regal counting system as part of this new relationship. If that is the case, then the numbers start to work again, just as you would expect. Problem solved.

Interestingly enough, the text itself may give a clue to this very transition. Take a look at these two verses:

2 Kings 8:25 (ESV)
In the twelfth year of Joram the son of Ahab, king of Israel, Ahaziah the son of Jehoram, king of Judah, began to reign.

2 Kings 9:29 (ESV)
In the eleventh year of Joram the son of Ahab, Ahaziah began to reign over Judah.

This apparent contradiction is easily resolved if we conclude that 2 Kings 8:25-29 was written using the new system imported from Israel, while the scribe who recorded the information found in 2 Kings 9:29 was still using the old system. Both statements are right (from their own vantage point) and the discrepancy might alert a careful reader that something strange has just happened with the numbering scheme.

Unfortunately, some ancient versions, such as the Greek version complied by Lucian of Antioch, felt compelled to harmonize these verses by modifying the Masoretic text. While I am not an advocate of the infallibility of that text (it is, after all, just a copy of the God-breathed original), in this case at least, there was no need to assume a scribal error and remove an inspired clue to the solving of the puzzle.

When asked about his work, Edwin Thiele, whose work I have summarized from above, said, “Let me say without hesitation that the areas of greatest strength and certainty are precisely those areas where in the past the greatest difficulties and uncertainties were found.” Based on what I read of Thiele’s work so far, many of the statements in the Biblical record that appear on the surface to be erroneous, when all the facts are known, turn out to be extremely precise statements of historical fact.


At 3:33 AM, Blogger Don Johnson said...

Hey, Andy, very interesting. Do you have a book or books by Thiele on this subject?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Andy Efting said...

I've been reading Thiele's book, "The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings." As a math guy who has always been interested in the chronology of the OT, it has been a fascinating read.

At 7:22 PM, Blogger Don Johnson said...

Hi Andy

Well, I went to Amazon and read the reviews. Some positive, some negative. The negative one comes from an Aussie woman who has her own book on the subject. She says Thiele's views are "unscriptural".

One question, what date did Thiele give to David? I see he is U of Chicago educated, which would tend to make one think that he might take a liberal view of dates. However, why would a liberal be concerned with reconciling the discrepancies?

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

At 9:36 PM, Blogger Andy Efting said...

Surprisingly, he doesn't saying anything about David. He starts his investigation with the beginning of the Divided Monarchy, which he dates at 930 BC.

As I've read more of his work, there are some places where I'm a bit uncomfortable with some of his statements. There are some thorny problems that he attributes to "misunderstandings" by the "later editorial work" on the books of 1 and 2 Kings. It's not clear to me if he is talking about a misunderstanding on the part of the original author or a later copyist of the document.

I don't think he is a conservative but he does seem to have identified some key insights that are genuinely helpful.

At 9:48 PM, Blogger Andy Efting said...

I checked Merrill's "Kingdom of Priests" on a difficulty that Thiele attributes to an error on the part of the biblical editor. Merrill comes up with an alternative suggestion and says this:

"No scholar has done more to unravel the complexities of the chronology of the monarchies of Israel by retaining the figures of the Masoretic Text. It is therefore strange indeed that he seems unable to do so here merely because of the unusual case of Jotham's having made Ahaz his vice-regent while he himself was coregent with his father, Uzziah...." (pg. 417)

So, anyway, it appears that Merrill agrees with my general assessment -very valuable but places where you have to scratch your head.

At 12:43 AM, Blogger Don Johnson said...

Hi Andy,

I think that's the conservative date then, David started roughly 1000 BC, reigned 40 yrs to 960? ish! (Just going off the top of my head...) So how long was Solomon? 40 years... maybe David started around 1010...

Anyway, that sounds like he is taking the conservative view. Merrill's endorsement is good also.

Well, another book to add to the wish list.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3


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