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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Historical Nature.

1.

This theological perspective, which one could call Deuteronomic-prophetic, does not distort the Deuteronomists' view of historic events and processes. One can see how poetic, symbolic, and kerygmatic the pure prophetic historical perspective is by studying Am 4:6–12, Isa 2:6–22; 22:1–14; Ezek 16 . By contrast the Deuteronomists are true historians: administrators of historical facts which are kept and passed on simply because they had been transmitted. They are naturally far from a modern historian's ideal. They do not pretend to report things objectively as they truly happened. This idea is in any case impossible and smacks of ideology. The Deuteronomists do not hide the fact that they interpret history from a certain standpoint, but they also document it! The strictly chronological structure of the work in itself bears witness to its truly historical nature. The closely bound narrative block about Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 17–19 + 2 Kings 2–8, 13:14–21 ) is broken up so that it can be sorted into the king-frames in smaller parts. Even kings who reigned for only a few months and about whom little can be reported apart from their short existence, are listed carefully so that the succession of kings, as found in the sources, remained complete. Furthermore, unpleasant and embarrassing events were not concealed: for instance Solomon's sale of Israelite villages and cities to the Phoenicians (1 Kings 9:11 ), the political folly leading to the partition of the kingdom (1 Kings 12 ), Elijah's lack of courage (1 Kings 19:3–4 ), poor recognition of the prophets (2 Kings 9:11 ), the peaceful death of evil kings and the violent death of good ones (1 Kings 22:40; 2 Kings 21:18; 23:29 ), the reign of the non-queen Athaliah (2 Kings 11 ) and the placing of heathen cult symbols in the temple of Jerusalem (2 Kings 21:3–5 ). It is true that the Deuteronomists tried to give such reports meaning in terms of their view of history, but the great effort exerted to do this does them credit.

2.

The Deuteronomists only had a limited amount of source material at their disposal and used it only selectively. They were neither pedants nor accountants and had neither access to an inexhaustible archive, nor the will or the means to get over-involved in underlying research. They have in the past been accused of documenting history in an all too biased and incomplete way. Leaving aside the fact that it is unfair and irrelevant to judge an ancient work by modern standards, the fact remains: had the Deuteronomistic History not existed, we would not know countless details and many greater connections in the history of Israel and Judah. Even if it is currently fashionable (as it has occasionally been in the past) to place the historical reliability of the Bible as low as possible, the Deuteronomistic books of Kings especially are not only stories, but also history. This is due to the fact that the Deuteronomists quoted their sources in large parts of their narrative rather than writing something original themselves. Although the historical value of each case must be carefully and critically checked—a miracle story about Elisha cannot be given the same historical value as the list of Solomon's ministers or synchronized date references—they still deliver a lot of essential historical information.

3.

The books of Kings offer us information which other (archaeological or non-biblical) sources say nothing about or perhaps only hint at: for example, that the Judean kingdom united two separate state structures, namely the land of Judah and the city-state of Jerusalem; or that the monarchies in Israel and in Judah had very different qualities—one being more or less legitimized by God, leading to an unshakeable ruling dynasty, and the other having a more democratic or tribal view of government, leading to a more frequent change of dynasties; or that critical prophecy, which became so important to the religious history of Israel in general and specifically for the exclusive worship of the God YHWH by Israel, initially emerged from northern Israel. It is of fundamental and inestimable value that the Deuteronomists created an unbroken chain of dated events from the establishment of the state (and even had the intention of spanning the time from the claiming of land) up to the time of the Exile. This allowed all those who followed them, beginning with the chroniclers and the editors of the books of prophets, moving on to Jewish and Christian interpreters right up to the present day, to place information (biblical and non-biblical text documents, archaeological finds, etc.) from the pre-exile period into a historical context and thereby fulfil a fundamental requirement of Israelite existence and Judeo-Christian religion, namely a historical basis. God's relationship to man is, according to biblical belief, not merely a spiritual and psychological process, but one that gains concrete form in space and time. This is evidenced for the first time in the history of this small and ancient oriental people of Israel. Thus the forty-seven chapters of 1 and 2 Kings form a fundamental episode in the humanization of God.

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