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Books of Kings

books of kings, books of kings in the bible
The two Books of Kings Hebrew: ספר מלכים‎‎ Sepher M'lakhim – the two books were originally one 1 in the Hebrew Bible present a history of ancient Israel and Judah from the death of David to the release of his successor Jehoiachin from imprisonment in Babylon, a period of some 400 years c 960 – c 560 BCE2 It concludes a series of books running from Joshua through Judges and Samuel, which make up the section of the Hebrew Bible called the Former Prophets; this series is also often referred to as the Deuteronomistic history, a body of writing which many scholars believe was written to provide a theological explanation for the destruction of the Jewish kingdom by Babylon in 586 BCE and a foundation for a return from exile2


  • 1 Contents
  • 2 Composition
    • 21 Textual history
    • 22 The Deuteronomistic history
    • 23 Sources
  • 3 Themes and genre
  • 4 Textual features
    • 41 Chronology
    • 42 Kings and 2 Chronicles
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References
  • 7 Bibliography
    • 71 Commentaries on Kings
    • 72 General
  • 8 External links
    • 81 Original text
    • 82 Jewish translations
    • 83 Christian translations
    • 84 Other links


Solomon greeting the Queen of Sheba – gate of Florence Baptistry

David dies and Solomon comes to the throne At the beginning of his reign he assumes God's promises to David and brings splendour to Israel and peace and prosperity to his people3 The centrepiece of Solomon's reign is the building of the First Temple: the claim that this took place 480 years after the Exodus from Egypt marks it as a key event in Israel's history4 At the end, however, he follows other gods and oppresses Israel5

As a consequence of Solomon's failure to stamp out the worship of gods other than Yahweh, the kingdom of David is split in two in the reign of his own son Rehoboam, who becomes the first to reign over the kingdom of Judah6 The kings who follow Rehoboam in Jerusalem continue the royal line of David ie, they inherit the promise to David; in the north, however, dynasties follow each other in rapid succession, and the kings are uniformly bad meaning that they fail to follow Yahweh alone At length God brings the Assyrians to destroy the northern kingdom, leaving Judah as the sole custodian of the promise

Hezekiah, the 14th king of Judah, "did what was right in the eyes of the Lord" and institutes a far reaching religious reform, centralising sacrifice at the temple at Jerusalem and destroying the images of other gods Yahweh saves Jerusalem and the kingdom from an invasion by Assyria But Manasseh, the next king, reverses the reforms, and God announces that he will destroy Jerusalem because of this apostasy by the king Manasseh's righteous grandson Josiah reinstitutes the reforms of Hezekiah, but it is too late: God, speaking through the prophetess Huldah, affirms that Jerusalem is to be destroyed

God brings the Babylonians against Jerusalem; Yahweh deserts his people, Jerusalem is razed and the Temple destroyed, and the priests, prophets and royal court are led into captivity The final verses record how Jehoiachin, the last king, is set free and given honour by the king of Babylon


Rembrandt, Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, c 1630

Textual historyedit

In the original Hebrew Bible the Bible used by Jews First and Second Kings are a single book, as are First and Second Samuel When this was translated into Greek in the last few centuries BCE, Kings was joined with Samuel in a four-part work called the Book of Kingdoms The Greek Orthodox branch of Christianity continues to use the Greek translation the Septuagint, but when a Latin translation called the Vulgate was made for the Western church, Kingdoms was first retitled the Book of Kings, parts One to Four, and eventually both Kings and Samuel were separated into two books each7

Then, what it is now commonly known as 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel are called by the Vulgate, in imitation of the Septuagint, 1 Kings and 2 Kings respectively What it is now commonly known as 1 Kings and 2 Kings would be 3 Kings and 4 Kings in old Bibles before the year 1516 such as the Vulgate and the Septuagint respectively8 The division we know today, used by Protestant Bibles and adopted by Catholics, came into use in 1517 Some Bibles still preserve the old denomination, for example, Douay Rheims bible9

The Deuteronomistic historyedit

According to Jewish tradition the author of Kings was Jeremiah, who would have been alive during the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE10 The most common view today accepts Martin Noth's thesis that Kings concludes a unified series of books which reflect the language and theology of the Book of Deuteronomy, and which biblical scholars therefore call the Deuteronomistic history11 Noth argued that the History was the work of a single individual living in the 6th century BCE, but scholars today tend to treat it as made up of at least two layers,12 a first edition from the time of Josiah late 7th century BCE, promoting Josiah's religious reforms and the need for repentance, and 2 a second and final edition from the mid 6th century BCE13 Further levels of editing have also been proposed, including: a late 8th century BCE edition pointing to Hezekiah of Judah as the model for kingship; an earlier 8th century BCE version with a similar message but identifying Jehu of Israel as the ideal king; and an even earlier version promoting the House of David as the key to national well-being14


The editors/authors of the Deuteronomistic history cite a number of sources, including for example a "Book of the Acts of Solomon" and, frequently, the "Annals of the Kings of Judah" and a separate book, "Chronicles of the Kings of Israel" The "Deuteronomic" perspective that of the book of Deuteronomy is particularly evident in prayers and speeches spoken by key figures at major transition points: Solomon's speech at the dedication of the Temple is a key example13 The sources have been heavily edited to meet the Deuteronomistic agenda,15 but in the broadest sense they appear to have been:

  • For the rest of Solomon's reign the text names its source as "the book of the acts of Solomon", but other sources were employed, and much was added by the redactor
  • Israel and Judah: The two "chronicles" of Israel and Judah provided the chronological framework, but few details apart from the succession of monarchs and the account of how the Temple of Solomon was progressively stripped as true religion declined A third source, or set of sources, were cycles of stories about various prophets Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, Ahijah and Micaiah, plus a few smaller miscellaneous traditions The conclusion of the book 2 Kings 25:18–21, 27–30 was probably based on personal knowledge
  • A few sections were editorial additions not based on sources These include various predictions of the downfall of the northern kingdom, the equivalent prediction of the downfall of Judah following the reign of Manasseh, the extension of Josiah's reforms in accordance with the laws of Deuteronomy, and the revision of the narrative from Jeremiah concerning Judah's last days16

Themes and genreedit

The kings of Israel and Judah

According to Richard D Nelson, Kings is "history-like," but it mixes legends, folktales, miracle stories and "fictional constructions" in with the annals, and its primary explanation for all that happens is God's offended sense of what is right; it is therefore more fruitful to read it as theological literature in the form of history17 The theological bias is seen in the way it judges each king of Israel on the basis of whether he recognises the authority of the Temple in Jerusalem none do, and therefore all are "evil", and each king of Judah on the basis of whether he destroys the "high places" rivals to the Temple in Jerusalem; it gives only passing mention to important and successful kings like Omri and Jeroboam II and totally ignores one of the most significant events in ancient Israel's history, the battle of Qarqar18

The major themes of Kings are God's promise, the recurrent apostasy of the kings, and the judgement this brings on Israel:19

  • Promise: In return for Israel's promise to worship Yahweh alone, Yahweh makes promises to David and to Israel – to David, the promise that his line will rule Israel forever, to Israel, the promise of the land they will possess
  • Apostasy: the great tragedy of Israel's history, meaning the destruction of the kingdom and the Temple, is due to the failure of the people, but more especially the kings, to worship Yahweh alone Yahweh being the god of Israel
  • Judgement: Apostasy leads to judgement Judgement is not punishment, but simply the natural or rather, God-ordained consequence of Israel's failure to worship Yahweh alone

Another and related theme is that of prophecy The main point of the prophetic stories is that God's prophecies are always fulfilled, so that any not yet fulfilled will be so in the future The implication, the release of Jehoiachin and his restoration to a place of honour in Babylon in the closing scenes of the book, is that the promise of an eternal Davidic dynasty is still in effect, and that the Davidic line will be restored20

Textual featuresedit

James Tissot, The Flight of the Prisoners – the fall of Jerusalem, 586 BCE


The standard Hebrew text of Kings presents an impossible chronology21 To take just a single example, Omri's accession to the throne of Israel in the 31st year of Asa of Judah 1 Kings 16:23 cannot follow the death of his predecessor Zimri in the 27th year of Asa 1 Kings 16:1522 The Greek text corrects the impossibilities but does not seem to represent an earlier version23 A large number of scholars have claimed to solve the difficulties, but the results differ, sometimes widely, and none has achieved consensus status24

Kings and 2 Chroniclesedit

2 Chronicles covers much the same time-period as Kings, but it ignores the northern Kingdom of Israel almost completely, David is given a major role in planning the Temple, Hezekiah is given a much more far-reaching program of reform, and Manasseh of Judah is given an opportunity to repent of his sins, apparently to account for his long reign25 It is usually assumed that the author of Chronicles used Kings as a source and re-wrote history as he would have liked it to have been25

See alsoedit

  • The Bible and history
  • History of ancient Israel and Judah
  • Kingdom of Judah
  • Kingdom of Israel
  • Kings of Israel and Judah


  1. ^ Fretheim, p1
  2. ^ a b Sweeney, p1
  3. ^ Fretheim, p19
  4. ^ Fretheim, p40
  5. ^ Fretheim, p20
  6. ^ Sweeney, p161
  7. ^ Tomes, p 246
  8. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia 1913 Third and Fourth Books of Kings called in our days as First and Second of Kings https://enwikisourceorg/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_%281913%29/Third_and_Fourth_Books_of_Kings
  9. ^ Douay Rheims bible http://wwwdrboorg/
  10. ^ Spieckermann, p337
  11. ^ Perdue, xxvii
  12. ^ Wilson, p85
  13. ^ a b Fretheim, p7
  14. ^ Sweeney, p 4
  15. ^ Van Seters, p 307
  16. ^ McKenzie, pp 281–284
  17. ^ Nelson, pp1–2
  18. ^ Sutherland, p489
  19. ^ Fretheim, pp10–14
  20. ^ Sutherland, p490
  21. ^ Sweeney, p43
  22. ^ Sweeney, pp43–44
  23. ^ Nelson, p44
  24. ^ Moore & Kelle, pp269–271
  25. ^ a b Sutherland, p247


Commentaries on Kingsedit

  • Fretheim, Terence E 1997 First and Second Kings Westminster John Knox Press ISBN 978-0-664-25565-7 
  • Nelson, Richard Donald 1987 First and Second Kings Westminster John Knox Press ISBN 978-0-664-22084-6 
  • Sweeney, Marvin 2007 I&II Kings: A Commentary Westminster John Knox Press ISBN 978-0-664-22084-6 


  • Knight, Douglas A 1995 "Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomists" In James Luther Mays; David L Petersen; Kent Harold Richards Old Testament Interpretation T&T Clark ISBN 978-0-567-29289-6 
  • Knight, Douglas A 1991 "Sources" In Watson E Mills; Roger Aubrey Bullard Mercer Dictionary of the Bible Mercer University Press ISBN 978-0-86554-373-7 
  • Leuchter, Mark; Adam, Klaus-Peter 2010 "Introduction" In Mark Leuchter; Klaus-Peter Adam; Karl-Peter Adam Soundings in Kings: Perspectives and Methods in Contemporary Scholarship Fortress Press ISBN 978-1-4514-1263-5 
  • Moore, Megan Bishop; Kelle, Brad E 2011 Biblical History and Israel's Past: The Changing Study of the Bible and History Eerdmans ISBN 978-0-8028-6260-0 
  • McKenzie, Steven L 1994 "The Books of Kings" In Steven L McKenzie; Matt Patrick Graham The History of Israel's Traditions: The Heritage of Martin Noth Sheffield Academic Press ISBN 978-0-567-23035-5 
  • Perdue, Leo G 2001 "Preface: The Hebrew Bible in Current Research" In Leo G Perdue The Blackwell Companion to the Hebrew Bible Blackwell ISBN 978-0-631-21071-9 
  • Spieckerman, Hermann 2001 "The Deuteronomistic History" In Leo G Perdue The Blackwell Companion to the Hebrew Bible Blackwell ISBN 978-0-631-21071-9 
  • Sutherland, Ray 1991 "Kings, Books of, First and Second" In Watson E Mills; Roger Aubrey Bullard Mercer Dictionary of the Bible Mercer University Press ISBN 978-0-86554-373-7 
  • Tomes, Roger 2003 "1 and 2 Kings" In James D G Dunn; John William Rogerson Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible Eerdmans ISBN 978-0-8028-3711-0 
  • Van Seters, John 1997 In search of history: historiography in the ancient world and the origins of biblical history Eisenbrauns ISBN 978-1-57506-013-2 
  • Walton, John H 2009 "The Deuteronomistic History" In Andrew E Hill; John H Walton A Survey of the Old Testament Zondervan ISBN 978-0-310-22903-2 
  • Wilson, Robert R 1995 "The Former Prophets: Reading the Books of Kings" In James Luther Mays; David L Petersen; Kent Harold Richards Old Testament Interpretation: Past, Present and Future: Essays in honor of Gene M Tucker Continuum International Publishing Group ISBN 978-0-567-29289-6 

External linksedit

Original textedit

  • Kings A - Mikraot Gedolot Haketer - online edition, Menachem Cohen, Bar Ilan University Hebrew
  • Kings B - Mikraot Gedolot Haketer - online edition, Menachem Cohen, Bar Ilan University Hebrew
  • מלכים א Melachim Aleph – Kings A Hebrew – English at Mechon-Mamreorg
  • מלכים ב Melachim Bet – Kings B Hebrew – English at Mechon-Mamreorg

Jewish translationsedit

  • 1 Kings at Mechon-Mamre Jewish Publication Society 1917 translation
  • 2 Kings at Mechon-Mamre Jewish Publication Society 1917 translation

Christian translationsedit

  • 1 Kings
  • 2 Kings

Other linksedit

  • "books of Kings" Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  • Books of Kings article Jewish Encyclopedia
  • 1 & 2 Kings: introductionForward Movement
  •  Herbermann, Charles, ed 1913 "First and Second Books of Kings" Catholic Encyclopedia New York: Robert Appleton Company 
  •  Herbermann, Charles, ed 1913 "Third and Fourth Books of Kings" Catholic Encyclopedia New York: Robert Appleton Company 
Books of Kings History books
Preceded by
Hebrew Bible Succeeded by
Old Testament
Succeeded by
1–2 Chronicles

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