Science in Christian Perspective
Emmanuel Missionary College
The chronological problems of the Bible are legion and have no single and easy solution. The problems of Genesis are different from those of Exodus and judges, and these in turn are of an entirely different nature from those of Chronicles and Kings. It will be my purpose in this paper to discuss certain of the chonological problems in the period of the Hebrew kings,
For the period of the monarchy it will be discovered that the chronological problems fall into a number of different patterns and that no single over-all solution exists. Each area provides its own characteristic problems, all calling for their own individual solutions.
First comes the period of the united monarchy. During this period there were three rulers and each is given a reign of forty years. Outwardly this appears to be simplicity itself, but the very simplicity makes the chronological problem of that time, for the present at least, incapable of solution. Possessing only one set of data,-the lengths of reign of the kings,-there is no way of checking on the nature of the data involved. What method did the scribes employ in the reckoning of regnal years? Are the figures given for the lengths of reign to be regarded as merely approximate or as absolute? To what extent might coregencies have been involved? How did the years of this period compare with the years of contemporary history? Until answers to these questions can be secured no final reconstruction of the chronology of the period of the united monarchy will be possible.
The period of the divided monarchy provides an abundance of chronological material. There are figures for the lengths of reign of the ruler of both Israel and Judah and also synchronisms for the accessions of the rulers of each nation with the corresponding years of the other nation. We are thus provided throughout with four sets of chronological data which can be used as checks against each other. The difficulty, however, is that the data seldom seem to agree. Synchronisms do not seem to harmonize with the lengths of reign, and the lengths of reign for the one nation do not appear to harmonize with the lengths of reign for the other. Comparisons with the contemporary chronology of the surrounding nations, moreover, frequently make it appear that agreement with any group of biblical data seems an impossibility.
Let us notice the difficulties involved in the biblical data from one fixed point to another,-from the disruption of the monarchy when Rehoboam and Jeroboam came to the thrones of Judah and of Israel, to the deaths of Ahaziah of Judah and Jehoram of Israel at the hands of Jehu. According to the data of the lengths of reign there are 95 years in Judah for this period as against 98 years in Israel, while according to the synchronistical data there are 97 years in Judah as against 94 years in Israel. Which is the correct total? The answer is, none of these. To secure the correct answer it is necessary to carefully analyze the data in order to discover the methods of chronlogical reckoning employed, and also to ascertain whether or not coregencies were involved.
There are difficulties at times in determining the length of reign of individual kings. Take Zimri, for instance. His length of reign is given as 7 days (I Kings 16:15). He came to the throne in the 27th year of Asa (I Kings 16:10,15) and the synchronism of his successor Omri is the 31st year of Asa (I Kings 16:23), which would give him a reign of 4 years. And how long did Omri reign? The official length of his reign is given as 12 years (I Kings 16:23). But the synchronism of his ascession is given as the 31st year of Asa (I Kings 16:23) and of his death as the 38th year of Asa (I Kings 16:28,29), which would make 7 years, But if the length 'of Omri's reign is to be reckoned from the time when he overthrew Zimri and took the throne in the 27th year,of Asa (I Kings 16:15,16) to his death in the 38th year (I Kings 16: 28,29), the length of his reign would be 11 years. So how long did Omri reign,--7, 11, or 12 years?
Further difficulties arise from the fact that at times more than one synchronism is given for a king's accession. Jehoram of Israel, for instance, is said to have come to the throne in the 18th year of jehoshaphat (II Kings 3:1) and also in the 2nd year of Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat (II Kings 1:17). And Ahaziah of Judah is said to have begun his reign in the llth year of Jehoram of Israel (II Kings 9:29) and also in Jehoram's 12th year (If Kings 8:25).
There are other difficulties which seem to be even more perplexing, Jehoram of Israel, for instance, is said to have begun his reign in the 2d year of Jehoram of Judah (II Kings 1:17), but Jehoram of Judah -began his reign in the 5th year of Jehoram of Israel (II Kings 8:16). According to these data each of these kings began to rule before the other, Jehoram of Judah having been on the throne 2 years before Jehoram of Israel, and Jehoram in Israel having reigned 5 years before Jehoram of Judah.
may sound ridiculous, let it be said that all the above' data are perfectly
sound and may be fitted into a perfectly
harmonious chronological true, consistent with itself and in harmony with
the fixed chronology of
contemporary nations. But struggling with these difficulties in the biblical many
scholars have regarded the data as err and in need of correction. This has been
true out the Christian centuries, and was true as long as two or three
centuries before the beginning of Christian era and also in the years
immediately lowing the time of Christ, as witnessed by the adjust ments made in
these data in the Septuagint and writings of Josephus.*
*For a discussion of these variant data in the Septu agint and Josephus and an explanation of how arose see my, The Mysterious Numbers of the He Kings, (Chicago, 1951), pp. 167-227.
At times, also, the chronological data seem to for interregna, between the reigns of various ki and a number of systems of chronology weave seeming interregna into their patterns of reigns, endeavoring to solve many of the chonological difficulties. Let it be said, however, that a gap of a num of years in either Israel or Judah without a king upon the throne would be extremely unlikely, and if, number of imaginary interregna would be woven into a chonological pattern, the result would be a drawing out of the years involved beyond the limits of absolute time and beyond the years of contemporary nations. That is one reason why the patterns of Ussher, Anstey and others are longer than the years of contemporary Assyrian history. Let us present two instances where it may appear that interregna occur. Arnaziah Judah lived 15 years after the death of Jehoash Israel (II Kings 14:17). The successor of Jehoa was his son Jeroboam II, and Amaziah's success was Azariah who came to the throne in the 27th ye of Jeroboam's reign (II Kings 15:1). It would th appear that there was a gap of 12 years between t death of Amaziah and the time that his son Azaria began to reign. Jeroboam reigned 41 years (II Kin 14:23), which would bring his death 14 years after Azariah's accession in his 27th year (II Kings 15:1) The successor of Jeroboam was his son Zachariah who began to reign in Azariah's 38th year (II Kings 15:8) That would make it seem that Zachariah did not begin his reign until 24 years after his father's death. The fixed years of contemporary Assyrian chronology however, show that such interregna as these are entirely out of the question. The solution of this problem will be presented later in this paper in a discussion of the chonological pattern of that time.
We have called attention to only a few of the diffi culties that exist in the chronological data in the period of the divided monarchy, but it will be apparent that the multiplicity of data available for that time only adds to the complexity of the problem and the difficulty of its solution. Following the fall of Samaria when there existed only the nation of Judah, we possess merely a single set of chronological data; namely the lengths of reign of the rulers of the southern kingdom. But with the aid of Assyrian and Babylonian material it is possible to reconstruct a sound chronological pattern for that period of Hebrew history.
It will be noticed that we have mentioned three main areas of chronology, for the Hebrew kings; namely, 1) The period of the united monarchy, 2) The period of the divided monarchy, and 3) The period of the kings of Judah following the fall of Samaria. The second of these main areas, that of the divided monarchy, can again be subdivided into a number of periods each with its own distinctive chronological pattern. We will discuss in brief a number of these.
First let us notice the period from the disruption and the accessions of Rehoboam in Judah and Jeroboam in Israel to the time of Jehoshaphat in Judah and Jehoram in Israel. When the data of synchronisms and lengths of reign for this period are carefully examined it will be discovered that they provide a pattern where the official regnal totals of Israel increase by one year over the totals of Judah for every reign. This period I have previously discussed* and I can give here only the main details. In noticing the lengths of reign of the kings of Israel for this period it will be seen that the number given is one year higher than the length of reign according to the synchronisms. Nadab of Israel, for instance, came to the throne in the 2nd year of Asa and was succeeded by Baasha in the 3d year of Asa, which would give him a reign of one year according to the synchornistical data, whereas he had an official reign of two years (I Kings 15:25). Baasha came to the throne in the 3d year of Asa and was succeeeded by Elah in Asa's 26th year, giving him a reign of 23 years according to the synchonisms as against an official reign of 24 years (I Kings 15:33). Elah came to the throne in Asa's 26th year and was succeeded by Zimri in the 27th year, thus giving him a reign of one year according to the synchronisms but he had an official reign of two years (I Kings 16:8). Zimri came to the throne in Asa's 27th year and reigned only seven days when he was succeeded by Omri (I Kings 16:15,16). Omri must, then, have commenced his reign in Asa's 27th year, and he was succeeded by Ahab in the 38th year (I Kings 16:29), thus giving him a reign of 11 years according to these synchronisms against an official
*Edwin R. Thiele, "A Comparison of the Chronological Data 'of Israel and Judah," Vetus Testamentum, IV (1954), 185-191.
reign of 12 years (I Kings 16:29). According to I Kings 16:23 Omri began his reign over Israel in Asa's 31 years, but a glance at the previous verse will make it clear that that was the year in which Tibni, who had been reigning over one part of the land of Israel, died and when Omri began his rule over the entire northern kingdom. The last king where the characteristic pattern of this area is found is Ahaziah of Israel who came to the throne in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat and was succeeded byJehoram in Jehoshaphat's 18th year, thus giving him a reign of I year according to the synchronisms as against an official reign of 2 years (I Kings 22:51).
What is responsible for this phenomenon of an official reign one year longer than it is according to the synchronisms, and an entire period in which the regnal totals of Israel increase by one year for every reign above the regnal totals of Judah? The reason is found in the use of two different chronological systems in Israel and Judah. According to accession-year reckoning (postdating) the balance of a calendar year in which a king comes to the throne is termed his accession year, and the first official year is not reckoned until the new year's day following the ruler's accession. According to this system of reckoning, the year in which a king dies is credited to him alone and not to his successor, and official years reckoned according to this system will be in accord with actual years. According to nonaccession-year reckoning (antedating) a new king begins counting his first year of reign f rom the day that he ascends the throne, and the year beginning with the next new year's day is termed his second year. According to this system, therefore, the year in which an old king dies and a new king begins his reign is always reckoned twice,-as the last year of the old king and the first year of his successor. The year that is termed the first year according to accession-year reckoning is termed the second year according to nonacession-year reckoning. It will be obvious that regnal totals reckoned according to such a system will increase by one year for every reign over absolute time and also by one year for every reign over regnal totals reckoned according to the accession-year method. It will therefore be clear that for the period under discussion Judah is using accession-year reckoning and Israel is using the nonaccession-year method.
In order to secure absolute rather than official totals for Israel for the period under discussion it will be necessary to reduce the official length of each
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Regnal Years for Judah and Israel from Rehoboam to Jehosphaphat
Totals: 17 20 22 23 46 47 58 61 78 79
Rehoboam 17'Abijam 3'Asa 2d 3d 26th 27th 38th 41'jehosphaphat 17th 18th
Jeroboam 22'Nadab 2'Baasha 24'Elah 2'Zimri 'Ahab 4th
Totals: 22 24 48 50 62 66 84 86
Excess years for Israel: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Israelite reign by one year. When this is done the results are as follows:
Ruler of Israel Official years Actual years
Jeroboam 22 21
Nadab 2 1
Baasha 24 23
Elah 2 1
Ahab 22 21
Ahaziah 2 1
Let us notice how these totals for Israel compare with the totals of Judah for the period under discussion
Ruler of Judah
Totals 79 (Year of Jehoshaphat when Ahaziah died and Jehoram. reigned. See II Kings 3:1)
From the accession of Jeroboam to the death of Ahaziah there is an official total of 86 regnal years for Israel as against 79 for Judah. This seeming discrepancy, however, immediately vanishes when the systems of chronological reckoning employed in the two nations are understood. Scholars ever since the years of the pre-Christian era have, in their struggles with the chronological problems of this period, felt that the biblical data must be in error and in need of correction. In spite of the seeming insuperable difficulties, however, it can be pointed out that the chronological data in Kings for this period are entirely correct and can be fitted into a perfectly harmonious pattern w en the basic chronological principles employed by t e Hebrew scribes are taken into consideration.*
With the reign of Ahab we reach a point where contact is made with the contemporary chronology of Assyria and from this point onward interesting comparisons can be made between Hebrew and Assyrian years. Shalmaneser III tells us that in the 6th year of his reign, in the eponomy of Daian-Assur, he fought against Ahab in the battle of Qarqar. That was 853 B.C. And he also informs us that in his 18th year, in the eponomy of Adad-rimani, he received tribute from Jehu. That was 841. Between these years must be fitted the reigns of Ahaziah and jehorant which total 14 official years (2 for Ahaziah and 12 for Jehoram) or 12 actual years (1 for Ahaziah and 11
*For a more complete discussion of the principles involved and the various chronological problems of this period see my, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, pp. 14-41, 55-61.Regnal Years for Judah and Israel from Athaliah to Azariah
28' Jehoahaz 17' Jehoash 2d
16' Jeroboam 27th
Totals: 28' 45 47 61 88 102
Excess years for Israel: 12
for Jehorani). It is thus that we secure the 841 for the accession of Jehu and 853 for the death of Ahab. And having the year fixed for the Ahab, we can reckon back 79 years and thus the date for the disruption and the founding rival monarchies of Israel and Judah.
A number of chronological problems are in the short period following Jehoshaphat's 18th and the accession of Jehoram in Israel and extending to the reigns of Athaliah in Judah and Jebu in Israel which we cannot here discuss. But we can say the two synchronisms given for Jehoram's accession in Israel,- the 18th year of Jehoshaphat (11Kings 3:1) and the 2d year of his son Jehoram (II Kings 1:17) do not involve a discrepancy but merely to a coregency of Jehoram with his father Jehoshaphat --the 18th year of Jehoshaphat being the 2d year his son sat with him on the throne. It will also interest to note that the year in which Jehoshaphat made his son coregent was the year in which he joins forces with Ahab in the struggle against Syria Ramoth-gilead, on which occasion the life of Jeho phat was seriously endangered and Ahab was slain (I Kings 22:32-35). It will thus be observed that was a matter of mere prudence that led to this cogency. Jehoram reigned with his father 2 years Judah before Jehoram came to the throne in Israel. The synchronism given in II Kings 8:16, of Jehoram accession to the throne of Judah in the 5th year Jehoram of Israel is the time when Jehoshaphat died and when Jehoram began his sole reign. Thus Jehoram reigned 2 years in Judah as coregent with his father before Jehoram came to the throne of Israel, a Jehoram reigned 5 years in Israel before Jehoram began his sole reign as king of Judah.
In the next succeeding period we discover an entirely different chonological pattern. This period gins with the simultaneous accessions of Athaliah Judah and Jehu in Israel and extends to the reigns Azariah in Judah and Pekahiah in Israel. Let us noti the details. In Judah Athaliah reigned 7 years, Joa 40 years, and Amaziah 29 years, or a total of 76 yea to the accession of Azariah in the 27th year of Jehoram II of Israel (H Kings 15:1). For Israel t years of this period are as follows: Jehu 28, Jehoah 17, Jehoash 16, and Jeroboam 27 up to Azaria accession, or a total of 88. This is 12 years in excess of Judah's total of 76 at this time. It can be shown that this excess for Israel has not been gradually accumulating but appears here for Aniaziah in Judah (dlied 15 years after the death of Jehoash of Israel (11 Kings 14:17), which gives a total of 61 years (76minus 15) for Judah at that time. And that is identical with the total for Israel at the death of Jehoash (28 for Jelin, 17 for Jehoahaz, and 16 for Jehoash). And at the next previous point of comparison, - the death of Joash of Judah in the 2nd year of Jehoash of Israel (II Kings 14:1),- the totals for the two nations are again the same; namely 47 years (for Judah 7 years for Athaliah and 40 for Joash, and for Israel 28 years for Jehu, 17 for Jehoahaz, and 2 for Jehoash, when Joash died and Amaziah began his reign. It is clear then, that up to the death of Jehoash in Israel 15 years before the death of Amaziah in Judah, the regnal totals of the two nations are the same. But at the next succeeding point of comparison, the death of Amaziah in Jeroboam's 27th year, the total for Israel I's 12 years higher than that of Judah. It is therefore at this very point that the cause for this excess must be sought. An examination of the data makes the matter perfectly clear. It will be remembered that the death of Amaziah in Judah took place 15 years after the death of Jehoash in Israel (11 Kings 14:17) and that Amaziah was then succeeded by his son Azariah in the 27th year of Jeroboam the son of Jehoash (II Kings 15:1). If Jeroboam had already reigned 27 years, 15 years after the death of his father, he must have ruled 12 years before his father's death. It is this coregency of 12 years of Jeroboam with Jehoash* that is responsible for Israel's total of 88 regnal years as against 76 for Judah at this point. In order to secure a total of absolute rather than official years for Israel it will be necessary to deduct the 12 years of Jeroboam's coregency. This gives us a basic total of 76 years for Israel in the 27th year since Jeroboam began his coregency, and this is identical with the figure for Judah at Amaziah's death. It will be necessary to keep this fact in mind when we come to the next point of comparison.
Jeroboam had a reign of 41 years (II Kings 14:23) when he was succeeded by his son Zachariah in Azariah's 38th year (II Kings 15:8). The official total for Israel up to that point thus is 102 years (28 for Jehu, 17 for Jehoahaz, 16 for Jehoash, and 41 for Jeroboam) or a basic total of 90 years after the deduction of 12 years of Jeroboam's coregency, For Judah, however, the total has now reached 114 years (7 for Athaliah, 40 for Joash, 29 for Ainaziah, and 38 for Azariah), which is 12 years higher than Israel's official total or 24 years above her basic total. What is responsible for this excess in the years of Judah?
It will be
remembered that Jeroboam had reigned 27 years in Israel at the time of Amaziah's
*For the reasons for this joint reign and the overlapping reign of Azariah with Amaziah in Judah and additional evidences therefor, see my article, "A Comparison of the Chronological Data of Israel and Judah," Vetus Testamentum, IV (1954), 191-195,
Azariah's accession (II Kings 15:1). Since Jeroboam reigned a total of 41 years (II Kings 14:23), he was on the throne 14 years after Amaziah's death when the accession of his son Zachariah took place. But when Zachariah came to the throne Azariah had already been ruling 38 years (If Kings 15:8) and that was only 14 years after his father's death. So he must have ruled 24 years before his father died. And that being the case it will be obvious that in order to secure a basic rather than an official total of years for Judah at this point, the 24 years of Azariah's joint reign with his father must be subtracted from the total of 114 years. That gives us 90 years for Judah in Azariah's 38th year,-the same basic figure that we have for Israel at that point. It will be clear, then, that once the joint reigns of Jeroboam and Azariah with their fathers are taken into consideration, we have a chronological pattern for this period in which the regnal years of Judah and Israel arc running parallel with each other (47 for the two nations at the death of Joash in Judah in the 2d year of Jehoash in Israel, 61 years at the death of Jehoash in Israel 15 years before the death of Amaziah in Judah, 76 years at the death of Amaziah in Jeroboam's 27th year, and 90 years at the death of Jeroboam in Azariah's 38th year), The fact that the regnal totals of the two nations are the same can only mean that both nations are now using the same method of chronological reckoning, and that somewhere along the line a shift from the systems evidenced in the previously considered pattern had taken place.* It should also be remembered that in order to secure absolute rather than official years it will be necessary henceforth to subtract 24 years from the regnal totals of Judah and 12 years from the totals for Israel. The same basic pattern that we have been discussing continues through the reigns of Azariah in Judah and Pekahiah in Israel.
The period immediately before us, beginning with Jotharn in Judah and Pekah in Israel and extending to the termination of the northern monarchy, is the most difficult and involved in Hebrew history. Into the intricacies of that problem we cannot enter here,** but we can only attempt a brief setting forth of the main features. When carefully examined it will be found that the chronological data for this period can no longer be fitted into a single harmonious pattern, but that two variant patterns prevail. Certain of the data call for (ne pattern, and others call for another. When these two patterns are superimposed upon each other, a single pattern results which will make clear exactly what has taken place and which will provide a chronological scheme in complete agreement with Assyrian history. This is a time when both Israel and
*For an account of the methods employed and the time and probable reasons for the adjustments made see my, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, pp. 36-41, 63-68.
**For a more complete discussion of this period see my, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, pp. 99-152.
Judah were having numerous contacts with Assyria, contacts mentioned in both the Old Testament and in the Assyrian records. A correct reconstruction of the chronological outline of this period is altogether imperative if a correct correlation between biblical and secular history is to be secured. Let us call attention to only a few of the basic details.
Azariah in Judah had a reign of 52 years and was succeeded by his son Jotham. The synchonism given for Jotham's accession is the 2d year of Pekah in Israel (II Kings 15:32). And Pekah came to the throne in the 52d and last year of Azariah (II Kings 15:27). It would thus appear that Jotham and Pekah began their reigns at practically the same time; namely, at the close of Azariah's reign.
The length of Jotham's reign is given as 16 years (II Kings 15:33)). But according to II Kings 15:30 Hoshea began his reign in Jotham's 20th year, thus indicating that in one sense Jotham had a reign as long as 20 years. The successor of Jotham was Ahaz who reigned 16 years (II Kings 16:2), and Ahaz was followed by Hezekiah. On the basis of a 20-year reign for Jotham we would thus have a total of 36 years from the death of Azariah to the accession of Hezekiah. In Israel for the same period we have a reign of 20 years for Pekah (II Kings 15:27) who was followed by Hoshea and in whose 3d year Hezekiah is said to have commenced his reign (II Kings 18:1). That would give a total of 36 years for Judah as against 23 years for Israel, or an excess for Judah of 13 years.
synchronism, however, places the accession of Hoshea in the 12th year of Ahaz
(II Kings 17:1) rather than the 20th year of Jotham (II Kings 15:30). If both of
these synchronisms are correct and if both apply to the same year, then the 20th
year of Jotham is equated with the 12th year of Ahaz, and the reign of Ahaz
would thus overlap that of Jotham by 12 years. According to such a pattern we
would have 24 years for Judah as against 23 years for Israel, which is
practically the same. Against such a reconstruction, however, is the synchronism
for Ahaz's accession, which is the 17th year of Pekah (II Kings 16:1). That
synchronism would appear to be correct on the basis of a 16-year reign for
Jotham which began at about the same time as did that of Pekah (in Pekah's 2d
year according to II Kings 15:32). If Jotham and Ahaz each ruled 16 years,
Hezekiah would have begun his reign 32 years after the death of Azariah, which is 9 years in excess of Israel's figure of 23 years at that
point. In such a case, how a number of chronological data would have to be
sacrificed, including the two synchronisms for Hosea's accession.
No attempt has been made here to do more give a faint hint at the many intricacies of the chronological problems of this period of Hebrew history Suffice it to say that we can see no way of harmonizing all the data within a single chronological pattern Given two superimposed patterns, harmony is possible for all the data and providing years of Hebrew history which are in accord with those of Israel's neighbors.
After the fall of Samaria Judah is the only Hebrew monarchy, and instead of four sets of chronological data we henceforth have only one; namely, the lengths of reign of the rulers of Judah. That, at first glance would seem to simplify the reconstruction of this period of Hebrew history. It must be remembered however, that the only means by which a reconstruction of the previous periods of Hebrew history has been made possible is by a use of all the data, including synchronisms for the two countries as well as lengths of reign. Due to the paucity of data we now
find ourselves unable to tell if a coregency had taken place or if some other peculiarity (such as a change of method in reckoning regnal years) had occurred. However, there are a number of contacts with Assyria and synchronisms with Babylonian kings which go far toward making possible a trustworthy reconstruction of Hebrew chronology for the closing period of Judah's history.
In the limits of this paper it has not been possible to do more than present some of the main features the chronology of the kings. But we have tried show that, difficult though those problems may they are not beyond solution. Careful analysis of ea particular area reveals the basic nature of the chronological problem involved and points the way to i solution. Hebrew chronology is more than a collection of guesses on the part of scribes who did not know the complete nature of the data with which they had to work. The men were human, but they we honest, careful, and well-informed. By a careful study of the data they have made available to us, Hebrew chronology can today be placed upon a basis which both scientifically and historically sound.