1 & 2 Kings covers the history of Israel (and, later, Judah and Israel) from David’s death until the destruction of his dynasty. In that time, we see the waxing and waning of the Hebrew nations over the years, as well as many tantalizing hints about the politics of the region. From our little vantage point, we get to see Syria rise, then be replaced by Assyria, and then the rise of Babylon. We see Egypt’s ebb and flow over the region, and the clash of superpowers over the Hebrews’ head. We see periods of peace and prosperity, and we see periods of great upheaval.

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba, by Edward Poynter, 1890

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba, by Edward Poynter, 1890

In reflecting on my reading, it seems a statistical miracle these are the records we have, and that this is the people that survived. Especially given how radically the conception of God had to change over a relatively short period of time in order to survive (which shows through even when the authorial theology is relatively consistent).

There’s a love of narrative conflict in 1-2 Kings. We see a tension between the folk story style that we mostly saw in Genesis and Judges, and an attempt to present an authoritative history. Sometimes the two strains are blended nicely, but sometimes (1 Kings 13 jumps to mind), the mix is very awkward and requires rather more of a suspension of disbelief than even I am capable of.

And then there is the odd intrusion of Elijah and Elisha, who dominate about ten chapters in what is otherwise very much a book of kings.

We also see a good deal of conflict between what the authors believed about their subjects and what the stories actually show. It’s clear that the Deuteronomists knew David as a great king, the proud founder of a long dynasty, and Solomon as Solomon the Wise. And yet in the stories of these two kings, a very different picture emerges. Just in the taste we get of David in 1 Kings, we see a petty, weak old man using his deathbed speech to settle ancient scores (he asks Solomon to kill both Joab and Shimei – Joab who had been too powerful to kill, and Shimei for a personal insult that David had promised not to avenge). And Solomon’s wisdom? The story of the two prostitutes and the baby is completely ridiculous, and his patronage of many cults is clearly at odds with the Deuteronomists’ religious purity campaign.

This conflict between the information the authors had available and the ideology that required historical cooperation is seen in several places, particularly in the mixed up chronologies it causes. There are events that happy after (sometimes centuries after) the folk traditions that they seem to have generated. The easiest example of this is Jeroboam’s calves, which are built generations after the placement of the morality story that condemns them.

I really enjoyed the historical aspect of 1-2 Kings, particularly in later chapters where I got more opportunities to look at extra-biblical sources. I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I rather enjoyed the lists of kings, and the hints they provided about what might have been going on at the time.

Unfortunately, the names were a real problem for me. So many of the names were similar to each other, and I had at least one occasion (that I was able to catch) where I completely messed up familial relationships because of this.

But now we’re done! And with this, we have completed 31% of the Old Testament’s books, and 43% of its pages. If I continue at a pace of two chapters per week, I should be finished in just over 5.5 years. Of course, I’ll have to extend that time a little because I had some personal issues that ate through my post buffer. To help me catch up, I will be taking the rest of June and all of July off, resuming with my normal posts on August 3.