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2Ki 3:1 says that Jehoram became king in Israel in Jehoshaphat's 18th year.
2Ki 1:17 says that Jehoram became king in Israel in Jehoram of Judah's 2nd year.
2Ki 8:16 says that Jehoram became king in Judah during Joram's (=Jehoram's) 5th year.
2Ki 8:25 says that Ahaziah the son of Jehoram of Judah began to reign in Jehoram of Israel's 12th year.
Three out of four verses thus seem to favor Jehoram of Judah beginning his reign in his Israelite namesake's second year.

Genealogy of relevant kings:
Israel: Ahaziah - Jehoram - Jehu
Judah: Jehoshaphat - Jehoram - Ahaziah

Is 1Ki 3:1 best seen as a contradiction resulting from copyist/redaction error, or is there an explanation which resolves all the verses with each other?

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2 Answers

Great question!

The short answer is: It depends on what you mean by "reign." If you count a co-regency then Jehoram king of Judah began ~1 year prior. If you only count the years he reigned as head honcho, then Jehoram king of Israel began ~5 years prior.

It was very common in those days for a king to hand off his reign to his son through a co-regency.


Note that when calculating the chronologies of the kings from the Biblical texts, all of the following need to be taken into account:

  • These were real people, so different people often had the same name (as you noted) -- just like they do today

  • Kings often began their reign as co-regent

  • Scripture is a carefully crafted literary presentation of history -- not a wooden historical record, and as such, the author will focus on certain details according to the needs of the literary context, while leaving out irrelevant clarifications that may be considered essential according to the conventions of modern historians. (In other words, the primary concern was not to provide enough detail to construct a timeline.)

  • Evidence indicates Israel and Judah were using different calendars during this period, and so their years began and ended at different points, leading to some discrepancy in what "year" it was.

  • These were real people with real reigns, so each king's reign began and ended on a specific date (i.e. you can't use a basic block model to add up the numbers because they didn't start on the first of a year, continue in exact one-year increments, and then end on the last of a year.)

  • It is crucial to pay attention to the wording of each text, because meaning of "after 5 years" "in the 5th year" and "reigned 5 years" are all different. A king who reigned for one month by our count would be said to have reigned "one year" in the Biblical account because he reigned during one year, etc.

These are just some general pointers when sorting out chronologies, and actually would pertain to the reconstruction of any chronology -- not just the Biblical ones.

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Thanks! But I'm curious: how do we know when the text is referring to years reigning including years as co-regents, or years of reigning alone? When it says, "In the 1st year of A, B began to reign, and he reigned 2 years" - how do we know whether the numbers refer to total years, or years reigning alone? –  Niobius Oct 25 '13 at 22:12
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@Niobius In short, it is usually just by constructing a timeline and deducing this from the dates provided. There are sometimes extra-Biblical sources that can corroborate what the text says, but the Hebrew Scriptures are the primary source for the history of the Jewish kings. I would recommend Ussher's Annals of the World for details on the dates. It's an excellent work... probably the most reliable history available for the pre-Christ era. –  Jas 3.1 Oct 26 '13 at 19:17
    
Thanks! I'll check it out. –  Niobius Oct 28 '13 at 8:39
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Edward F. Campbell Jr has a possible explanation in his essay, 'A Land Divided: Judah and Israel from the Death of Solomon to the Fall of Samaria' published in The Oxford History of the Biblical World. He says that problems arise with the kings who succeeded Ahab in Israel and Jehoshaphat in Judah. In Israel, Ahab's successors were his sons Ahaziah, who ruled for parts of two years, and Jehoram, who ruled for roughly seven years (although the Deuteronomist gives him twelve). In Judah, Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat reigned for seven-plus years and Jehoram's son Ahaziah for less than a year.

Notice first that the period is approximately eight years in both cases. Any error, intentional or otherwise, would not affect the list of kings in either kingdom. Then, Campbell says the duplication of the name Jehoram, even if in reverse order, is startling and has led to speculation that the kingdoms were really under one rule. It seems very likely that Judah was conquered and occupied by Israel during this period, but the national pride of the Judahites required them to cover this up (remembering that the Bible is the only written record we have, and this comes to us from Judahite sources). On the view that there was actually no Judahite king, the sources changed just enough details of the kings who were their real rulers (the Israelite kings) to disguise the facts - reversing their order and changing the periods of their reigns. Anyone else in Judah at the time of writing, who had independent testimony of two kings called Ahaziah and Jehoram who happened to rule Judah, would simply assume that they were the two fictional kings of Judah and not their Israelite overlords.

If this explanation is eventually proven to the satisfaction of all critical scholars, then we can say there was no precedence of one Jehoram over the other, as there was only one Jehoram.

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That's certainly an interesting theory, but I'm curious whether you can prove it? First you say that Jehoram of Israel ruled 7 years, contrary to what 2 Kings says, without giving any evidence. Then, while saying that the Bible is the only written record we have of these events, you assume based on kings having the same names that 2 Kings has given us false accounts of the kings. This seems a bit specious, even presumptuous. It was not uncommon for two kings/royals to have the same name (Jeroboam (1 Ki 14:20, 2Ki 14:23), Abijah (1Ki 14:1, 2Chr 12:16), Jehoash (2Ki 12:1, 13:10). –  Niobius Oct 25 '13 at 15:32
    
Please understand that this is not my view - it is the view of a number of biblical scholars, cited by Campbell in the respected Oxford History of the Biblical World. What we have is not just 2 kings with the same name but 2 pairs of kings with the same name, both in the same time period (8 years). It is a coincidence that has never happened at any other time in Israel/Judah nor to my knowledge anywhere else in the world. Whether it is a most remarkable coincidence or evidence of a conquest must await further evidence and study. I think I said it is a possible expl, yet to be 'proven' as fact. –  Dick Harfield Oct 25 '13 at 20:38
    
Niobius asks how to prove the hypothesis. The following comments are mine, not Campbell's, but could be relevant, as they add more to the coincidences of name and approx period but are not yet proof. 2 Chron says that Ahazia of Judah's mother was the daughter of Omri, a former king of Israel, and that he was killed while fighting in Israel - both of which should be historical if the story was really about Ahazia of Israel. There was a turbulent succession after the death of Ahazia in Judah - which would be consistent with a return to independence in Judah (but of course does not prove this). –  Dick Harfield Oct 25 '13 at 21:09
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