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This passage introducing the reign of Jehoshaphat states that he took down the high places:

2 Chron 17:5,6 (ESV)

Therefore the Lord established the kingdom in his hand. And all Judah brought tribute to Jehoshaphat, and he had great riches and honor. His heart was courageous in the ways of the Lord. And furthermore, he took the high places and the Asherim out of Judah.

Yet the following nearly exact parallel passages claim otherwise:

2 Chron 20:31-33 (ESV)

Thus Jehoshaphat reigned over Judah. He was thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. He walked in the way of Asa his father and did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord. The high places, however, were not taken away; the people had not yet set their hearts upon the God of their fathers.

1 Kings 22:42,43 (ESV)

Jehoshaphat was thirty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Azubah the daughter of Shilhi. He walked in all the way of Asa his father. He did not turn aside from it, doing what was right in the sight of the Lord. Yet the high places were not taken away, and the people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places.

How can we best reconcile this using hermeneutics?

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I think it is helpful here to look at how the phrase "high places" is used. The Hebrew word is "bamah". This look will be chronological.

1) Samuel sacrifices at the high places, and many of his contemporary prophets are associated with these high places (1Sam 9, 10:5, 10:13). This is not contrary to Israelite religion, as Jerusalem had not yet been established as the place God chose to "dwell" (e.g. Deut 12:11, 17-18).

2) Solomon offered a sacrifice on a high place (1Ki 3:4)

3) Jeroboam (of Israel) built and offered on high places (1Ki 12:32, 13:2, 32), which remained even after the Assyrian invasion (2Ki 17:29, 32), and were finally destroyed by Josiah (2Ki 23:19-20).

4) Asa removed the high places of the foreign gods, and the high places in cities in Judah (2 Chr 14:3, 5), but did not remove all the high places in Israel (1Ki 15:14, 2Chr 15:17). His son Jehoshaphat removed the remaining high places from Judah (perhaps those who had been built since his father removed them, or those which were outside of cities). Yet at the end of his reign "the high places were not taken away" (2Chr 20:31-33) - a sin blamed on the people, not the king.

5) 1Ki 22:44 (I'll ignore this one, as it is textually dubious)

6) Joash (2Ki 12:3) and Amaziah (2Ki 14:4) and Azariah (2Ki 15:4) and Jotham (2Ki 15:35) did not remove the high places.

7) Hezekiah removed the high places (2Ki 18:4) together with the people (2Chr 31:1), but his son Manasseh rebuilt them (2Ki 21:3, 2Chr 33:3)

8) Josiah defiled the high places and destroyed some of them (2Ki 23:8-15, 2Chr 34:3)

In 2 Chr 14:3, Asa cut down the wooden idols in Judah, but according to 2 Chr 15:6 his son Jehoshaphat removed the wooden images from Judah. If one thinks about it, this isn't surprising. It is hardly a contradiction to say that my dad removed all the weeds from the garden, but that my mom removed all the weeds from the garden a month later. That is the nature of weeds and wooden idols: they spring up incessantly. It should not surprise us that this is the case for high places and altars: they are easy to build, and are sown by the festering idolatry in Israel - though at times this idolatry would have been suppressed and less visible.

In conclusion I suggest the following answer to your question: At the beginning of his reign, Jehoshaphat removed the high places in Judah associated with idolatry (that is, the high places on which they worshiped idols), and those in cities, and may have removed others also. Yet, as the hearts of the people were not with him, he probably failed to remove the rest, and new ones would have been built during his reign. As such, it says at the beginning of his reign that he removed most of them, but at the end of his reign that he had failed to move them.

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It is generally accepted that the Book of Chronicles was written shortly after the Babylonian Exile, and that it was largely based on the Book of Kings, although other, unidentified sources are sometimes apparent. So the answer is to go back to the earlier text and see what it says. 1 Kings 22:42-43 agrees with 2 Chronicles 20:31-33, but Kings has nothing corresponding to 2 Chronicles 17:5-6. This suggests that the last sentence of 2 Chronicles 17:5-6 could be a literary creation, and that Jehoshaphat did nothing to remove the high places.

The Deuteronomistic History (Kings) contains nothing to say that the high places (temples other than Jerusalem's main temple) were taken away, but does say that Jehoshaphat was righteous, "doing what was right in the sight of the Lord." When the Chronicler wanted to emphasise association of the Judahite kings with monotheistic worship, Jehoshaphat would have been one king from the early monarchical period who fitted the requirements closely enough. A little later in the book (2 Chronicles 20:31-33), the author copied from Kings, apparently overlooking that some time earlier he had written differently. Hezekiah and, of course, Josiah were kings from the late period whom the Chronicler could associate with monotheism.

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  • When you say «It is generally accepted that...»: do you think you can provide the external reference? – Paul Vargas Jan 9 '15 at 4:28
  • John Romer, author of Testament not only dates Chronicles in the post-Exilic period, but also suggests that Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles were by the same author. – Dick Harfield Jan 9 '15 at 5:45
  • A convenient online source (but with a sceptical flavour) is ggreenberg.tripod.com/David/w-kd-ch1.htm - "The Deuteronomist history probably took near-final shape during the reign of King Josiah of Judah (639-609 b.c.), with a small addendum tacked on to cover the brief post-Josiah period leading to the capture of Jerusalem, and some possible additional editing in later years. 1 and 2 Chronicles, which also present a history of the United Monarchy, belong to a later literary cycle, and are generally dated to sometime after the Persians defeated Babylon and liberated Judah (539 b.c.)." – Dick Harfield Jan 9 '15 at 5:45
  • @PaulVargas Another - Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Books_of_Chronicles): "The last events in Chronicles take place in the reign of Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who conquered Babylon in 539 BC; this sets an earliest possible date for the book. It was probably composed between 400–250 BC, with the period 350–300 BC the most likely." – Dick Harfield Jan 9 '15 at 5:49

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