The perception of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint) is that the first and second books of Samuel and of Kings should be regarded as four books of “Kingdoms,” and a similar understanding of them appears in Jerome's view that they constitute four books of “Kings.” They deal with the history of the monarchy from its inception and throughout its course. The narrative recounts the false starts beginning with Saul; the achievement of a united kingdom under David; the division of the kingdom under Rehoboam; and thereafter the record of two separate lines of kings until the northern kingdom disappears in 722 BCE. The history up to 587/586 BCE then focuses on Judean kings.

Summary of Contents.

After a detailed treatment of Solomon's reign, an account of the circumstances in which the kingdom was divided and the early history of the two kingdoms, the emphasis falls on the northern kingdom (Israel); Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, enters the narrative only insofar as he is associated with Ahab (1 Kings 22) and Jehoram (2 Kings 3) in military enterprises. This latter section, which extends from 1 Kings 16.29 to 2 Kings 10.36, predominates in the books of Kings. The first part of it is taken up with the conflict between Elijah and Ahab, the second with Elisha's involvement in the overthrow of the house of Omri and his connection with Jehu. A narrative of the downfall of Athaliah, a Judean counterpart of Ahab (2 Kings 11) is followed by a series of short records of kings of Israel and Judah. After the final collapse of the northern kingdom has been described, there is a transition to kings of Judah: Hezekiah, who is praised for suppressing the high places (2 Kings 18); Manasseh, who is roundly condemned; and Josiah, in whom special interest is shown, for he is portrayed as an ideal king. The final kings of Judah and the circumstances of their reigns are then reviewed, and the history ends with the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians under Nebuchadrezzar.

The Compiler and his Criterion.

Josiah is represented (2 Kings 22.1–23.30) as having suppressed all cultic centers of Yahwistic worship within his borders, on the grounds that they were infested with idolatry, and to have concentrated the worship of Yahweh in the Jerusalem Temple, as the only legitimate cultic site. This criterion is adopted by the compiler of 1 and 2 Kings. Consequently, when he deals with the reign of Josiah, the compiler has reached the heart of his own convictions; since the aims of the Josianic reformation correlate with some or all of the book of Deuteronomy's contents, he is revealed as a historian belonging to the Deuteronomic school.

Apart from applying his criterion, which he does by means of introductory and concluding formulae attached to accounts of individual reigns, the Deuteronomic compiler does not interfere much with his sources. He uses this material in order to achieve his effects, but only occasionally does he compose in the interests of his Deuteronomic interpretation of the history of the monarchy in Israel and Judah. For example, the narrative concerning the reform of Josiah may be the compiler's own composition, as also may be the account of the fall of Jerusalem in 587/586 BCE (2 Kings 25). A difference in style has been detected between the narrative of the finding of the book of the law and its effects (2 Kings 22.3–23.3, 9, 21–25), on the one hand, and the narrative of the cultic and political measures initiated by Josiah (23.4–8, 10, 15, 19–20), on the other; it has been supposed that the latter derives from a different source, namely the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah (see below).

1 Kings 8 been widely regarded as a case of intervention by the Deuteronomic compiler, for in it Solomon, whose preparation for the building and furnishing of the Temple, with Tyrian cooperation, is described at length (1 Kings 5–7), appears to take on some of the features of Josiah. He is portrayed as presiding over a great religious festival in connection with the Jerusalem Temple's completion and legitimation by dint of the ark's installation—the ark before which he stood and sacrificed in Jerusalem after the theophany at Gibeon (1 Kings 3.15). As with the Deuteronomic view of this cult object, it is described as “the ark of the covenant” and is regarded as essentially a container for the stone tablets of the Law. Solomon is drawn as a man of great piety, full of noble religious sentiments and capable of giving utterance to a great prayer. Other compositions by the Deuteronomic compiler in this section of the books of Kings have been detected at 1 Kings 3.2–3, 14 and 11.1–13.

The Compiler's Sources.

The sources on which the compiler of 1 and 2 Kings is said to have relied are given as the Book of the Acts of Solomon (1 Kings 11.41), the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel (e.g., at 1 Kings 14.19), and the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah (e.g., at 1 Kings 14.29). The Solomonic source has a different Hebrew title, and, judging from 1 Kings 11.41, it contains a variety of material and is not correctly described as either “annals” or “chronicles.” The expression “Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, all that he did as well as his wisdom” (1 Kings 11.41) suggests that the source contained both annalistic and nonannalistic material (legends and sagas). Examples of the latter are the dream at Gibeon (1 Kings 3.4–15), the Solomonic judgment (3.16–28), and the visit of the Queen of Sheba (10.1–10,13). The “Book of the Acts of Solomon” was perhaps itself a composite that had been gathered together from other sources.

The other two sources are thought by some to have been essentially annalistic in character, records of particular reigns, registers of achievements, or calendars of events. If they had this form rather than that of a fully articulated historical narrative, there is a great deal in 1 and 2 Kings that could not be fitted into them. In any case, whatever precise literary form these chronicles or annals of the kings of Israel and Judah took, prophetic stories (in which the context is not in any sense royal and national, and which are especially associated with Elijah and Elisha) must be disengaged from them. Nor can we suppose that royal archives are a source for the account of the conflict between Elijah and Ahab or the episode of Naboth's vineyard and the murder of Naboth arranged by Jezebel, nor for the interventions of Elisha in the wars against Aram, where he appears as a national savior and his miraculous powers are heavily emphasized. The sources used by the Deuteronomic compiler were diverse and his criterion was not applied so stringently that he shaped all of them into a homogeneous whole. He is not so consumed with his narrow criterion of acceptability that he does not allow his sources to speak with different voices and to indicate concern for other and broader issues.

The Framework Formulae.

The compiler's narrowness, however, is particularly evident in the introductory and concluding formulae that bracket the accounts of individual reigns of kings of Israel and Judah. Apart from affording him an opportunity to assess each reign with an introductory formula, these formulae record the accession of individual kings, indicate death and burial, and provide a synchronic chronology relating the accession of the kings of Israel and Judah.

This chronological element has raised the question whether the formulae in their entirety are the creation of the Deuteronomic compiler or whether he is using a preexisting source comparable to the “Synchronic History” recovered from the library of Ashurbanipal, which correlates events of Babylonian and Assyrian history. The first complete example of these formulae occurs for Rehoboam (1 Kings 14.21–24, 29–31); note that the source is referred to in the conclusion. The concluding formula is missing for Joram and Ahaziah (2 Kings 9.22–28), and the introductory formula is missing for Jehu (2 Kings 10.34–36). Both are lacking for Athaliah (2 Kings 11), and the conclusion is omitted for kings violently deposed: Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23.31–34); Jehoiachin (2 Kings 23.8–17); Zedekiah (2 Kings 24.18–25.21).

Date of Composition.

What is immediately striking about the criterion is its apparently anachronistic character. Insofar as the criterion derives from the Josianic reformation and its program, and therefore could not have been formulated before this event or series of events, it gives us some indication of the date of the Deuteronomic compilation of the books of Kings. One might attempt to date the work more precisely by appealing to individual passages, but the results thus achieved must be treated with reserve: we should not assume that the history is all of a piece, or that it was created in its entirety at one time by a single compiler.

More than this, for reasons that have been indicated, we should not expect reliable consistency from a compilation of this kind and so should not appeal to a single passage in order to reach conclusions about the date of the whole. Thus, because there is a passage (2 Kings 22.20) in which the disastrous death of Josiah at Megiddo in 609 BCE apparently lies in an unforeseen future should not lead us to conclude that the work must have been completed before that date. Nor does the fact that the work closes with reference to an event that took place in 566 BCE demonstrate that the entire compilation cannot be earlier than that. If, however, we suppose that the Deuteronomic history contained in 1 and 2 Kings was already under way during Josiah's reign, we have to conclude that there was a subsequent supplement that brought it down to the fall of Jerusalem in 587/586 BCE, and we should then also suppose that 2 Kings 25.27–30 is a final postscript about the fate of Jehoiachin in exile.

Interpreting the Criterion.

The stringent application of the criterion is especially difficult to accept in relation to Israelite kings (as opposed to Judean kings). Too much should not be made of its anachronistic character, though, or, in stressing its apparent illogic, we might lose sight of the endeavor to understand the point of view it represents. The Deuteronomic historian regards the centralization of worship not as a new departure in the reign of Josiah but as the restoration of an ancient legitimacy. That is why the Jerusalem cult features so prominently in the account given of Solomon's reign. Before the Temple was built “he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places” (1 Kings 3.3), and it is only in his old age (so it is represented), under the influence of his foreign wives, that he becomes an idolater (1 Kings 11.1–13). Further, his political failures, which led to the division of the kingdom, are traced to his idolatry (1 Kings 11.14–25).

From this point of view, the division into two kingdoms, a political breach, had idolatry as an inevitable consequence. The political schism can then only have disastrous consequences for Yahwism: the kings of the northern part of Israel do not have Jerusalem within their territory and will set up what they regard as legitimate Yahwistic sanctuaries, which in the Deuteronomic view constitutes idolatrous worship. The narrow point, however, must be widened, otherwise the narrative would become unbearably tedious. It is made against the first of these kings who founded what he supposed to be legitimate Yahwistic sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan (1 Kings 12.30). The “man of God” who is represented as raising his voice against the sanctuary at Bethel, while Jeroboam is sacrificing at its altar, is expressing a Deuteronomist view (1 Kings 13.1–3).

Ahab and his successors of the house of Omri are charged with a different kind of idolatry. Ahab, on whom attention is especially focused, permits Jezebel, his Tyrian wife, to establish a cult of the Tyrian Baal in his capital city of Samaria (compare the case of Solomon and his foreign wives). Hence, what is involved is the importation of the cult of a foreign god into Israel; although this is distinguishable from a contravention of the law of the single sanctuary, it is no doubt regarded as an aggravation of this offense (1 Kings 16.31–33). It is this contest between Yahweh and Baal which is dramatized in 1 Kings 18, where Elijah confronts Ahab and issues his challenge in the name of Yahweh. Elijah's miraculous victory over the prophets of Baal and Asherah is enhanced by the fact that the wood that has been set alight had been saturated with water; he then acts as a rainmaker, putting an end to the drought he enforced at his first appearance (1 Kings 17.1). Jehu, by whom foreign gods were expelled, and who is Yahwistic in his religion, politics, and cultural preferences, is condemned in terms of the law of the single sanctuary, as he was bound to be insofar as he maintained the cult of Yahweh within his own territory (2 Kings 10.31).

Elijah and Elisha Narratives.

The narratives concerned with the conflict between Elijah and Ahab (1 Kings 18; 19; 21) cannot be satisfactorily interpreted on the assumption that they deal simply with an idolatry whose existence is established by the application of a narrow criterion of religious orthodoxy. We are confronted here with a criticism of a royal regime and style of life that are morally and culturally alien and unacceptable: they cannot be reconciled with the ethos of the Israelite community and its social institutions. The excavation of Samaria has revealed a grandeur of architecture not achieved by Ahab's predecessors, which certainly is another mark of Tyrian influence (cf. 1 Kings 5).

The story of Naboth's vineyard (1 Kings 21) focuses on a clash between Ahab's royal desires and Naboth's sense of the inalienability of his ancestral land. The way in which this is delineated is not totally unsympathetic to Ahab: he does not simply confiscate Naboth's land with a display of crude power; rather, he offers what he regards as a fair price and is distressed when Naboth refuses to bargain with him. Even so, the fact that he is represented as making an offer indicates the distance between him and an older set of Israelite social values, which separated family land from the marketplace and assumed an abiding connection between the continuation and well‐being of the family and its land possessions. The villain of the piece is Jezebel, for whom a peasant's resistance to the will of the king is incomprehensible, and who removes the opposition by poisoning justice at its source and disguising murderous oppressiveness with a bogus legal process. We meet here a foreign queen who not only has established the worship of her gods in Israel but also, utterly lacking insight into Israelite social values, holds in contempt the right of her subjects to equality under the law.

The legal aspect of this is especially interesting, because there are other passages in the books of Samuel and Kings that emphasize the special responsibility of the king to ensure that justice is done to his subjects. Absalom fastens on to David's neglect of these matters as a prime source of public discontent (2 Sam. 15.1–6), and in connection with the praise of Solomon's wisdom his legal acumen is particularly illustrated (1 Kings 3.16–28). The relation in respect of motif between 2 Samuel 12.1–7 and 1 Kings 20.35–43 should not be missed (the latter passage stands apart from the other contents of 1 Kings 20 and 22). In both these passages, a king is appealed to as supreme legal authority and he gives a verdict in which he unknowingly passes sentence on himself (cf. 2 Sam. 14).

In a more private context, Elijah is represented as a solitary prophet who works miracles for a widow of Zarephath, providing for her and her son when they are on the edge of starvation, and who subsequently restores the dead child to life (1 Kings 17.8–24). He is a marvelous provider and life‐giver, but he is also a destroyer who calls up fire to consume soldiers sent by Ahaziah to take him, and he comes into the king's presence and tells him that he will die because he has asked guidance from Baal‐zebub, god of Ekron (2 Kings 1.9–17). He runs with such great speed that he can keep up with horse and chariot (1 Kings 18.46), but he is also a prophet who loses heart and who encounters God not in what are usually portrayed as the majestic accompaniments of a theophany but as a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19.12: AV; NRSV: “sound of sheer silence”).

Two chapters stand somewhat apart from the narratives that have just been described, even though prophets play a part in both of them (1 Kings 20.1–34; 22). The motif of provocative behavior by a king of Aram in order to provide a pretext for aggression against Israel (1 Kings 20) is repeated at 2 Kings 5, in connection with the cure of Naaman's leprosy by Elisha. In 1 Kings 20.1–34, Ahab is portrayed as conciliatory but firm, as capable of proverbial aptness (v. 11), as adopting the strategy advised by a prophet and as magnanimous in victory. Although his conflict with Micaiah, and so with a true prophetic word, is an important factor in 1 Kings 22, the account is not informed with marked animus against him, except at v. 38, where his death is linked to a prophecy uttered against him by Elijah (1 Kings 21.19). Ahab and Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, are allies in an attempt to wrest Ramoth‐gilead from Aram, an attempt that ends disastrously. In the Septuagint, 1 Kings 21 follows chap. 19, and chap. 22, which is separated from chap. 20 in the Hebrew text and the English versions, is continuous with it.

Only when he is associated with Elisha is Elijah drawn into the context of prophetic communities (2 Kings 2): there is an audience of fifty prophets and Elijah is addressed by Elisha as “father,” that is, perhaps, as leader of a prophetic community who is to be succeeded by Elisha. But it is Elisha's connections with prophetic communities, perhaps at Bethel, Jericho, and Gilgal (2 Kings 2.1–4), which are more firmly established (2 Kings 4.1–7, 38–41, 42–44; 6.1–7); and although the anointing of Hazael of Damascus and Jehu are attributed to both Elijah (1 Kings 19.15–18) and Elisha (2 Kings 8.7–9.13), it is Elisha's involvement in political intrigue which is more evident. He lends his prophetic authority to the coup d'état by which Jehu overthrows the house of Ahab, and to the bloodbath that disposes of Jehoram, Jezebel, all the members of the royal family, and all the practitioners of Jezebel's cult (2 Kings 9.14–10.14).

Nevertheless, Elisha is represented as having used his miraculous powers to assist a king of the house of Ahab (Jehoram) in his wars against Moab (2 Kings 3.4–27) and Aram (2 Kings 6.8–7.19), and on his deathbed he teaches Jehoash, of the line of Jehu, how to work magic against Aram (2 Kings 13.14–19). There are unpleasant features about the portrayal of Elisha: his powers can be malevolent (for example, when he calls up bears to destroy some boys who had called him names; 2 Kings 2.23–25) or sensational (he brings an axe head that had sunk in the Jordan to the surface and makes it float; 2 Kings 6.1–7). This happens in the course of building extensions to a prophetic community, and other miracles have a similar context: a flask of oil is multiplied into a great supply (2 Kings 4.7); Elisha counteracts poison in a communal pot (2 Kings 4.38–41); he feeds a company of a hundred with twenty barley loaves and fresh ears of grain (2 Kings 4.42–44). It is in the setting of a family whose hospitality he has enjoyed that he puts an end to the sterility of the Shunammite woman and then restores her child to life after he dies in the harvest field (2 Kings 4.8–37; cf. 1 Kings 17.8–24).


The contents of 1 and 2 Kings are varied, and there are many topics that are not narrowly related to the law of the single sanctuary. This criterion influences the portrayal of Solomon, and it is influential in the view taken of Hezekiah and, above all, Josiah. The praise of Hezekiah is mixed with a criticism of his behavior during the visit to Jerusalem of Merodach‐baladan, king of Babylon (2 Kings 20.12–19). Approval of other Judean kings is mingled with the criticism that they failed the acid test by not suppressing the high places: Asa (1 Kings 15.11–15); Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22.43–44); Amaziah (2 Kings 14.3–4); Azariah (2 Kings 15.3–4); Jotham (2 Kings 15.34–35). The final kings of Judah, with whom the disaster of exile is linked, are condemned: Zedekiah did what was wrong in the eyes of the Lord as Jehoiakim had done. Jerusalem and Judah so angered the Lord that in the end he banished them from his sight (2 Kings 24.19–20).

See also Israel, History of; Judah, The Kingdom of; Kingship and Monarchy


William McKane