The construction of a coherent chronology of the kings of ancient Israel and Judah is a task fraught with formidable difficulties. The Bible, our only detailed source on the matter, does not specify whether the reigns of any kings in a lineage overlapped, though we know this was a fairly common phenomenon in the ancient Middle East. Furthermore, the Biblical text as we have it probably contains glosses inserted by later scribes who attempted to cross-reference the chronologies of Judah and Israel. Accepting the literal accuracy of these glosses would result in one or more impossible contradictions. The Massoretic and Septuagint manuscripts also vary from one another in several minor details. The Biblical chronology is difficult to interpret, largely because the purpose of the narrative is primarily religious, not historical. The numbers of regnal years come either from royal chronicles that are now lost, or from the calculations of later scribes. Aside from these late glosses, the Biblical record nonetheless may be resolved into a self-consistent chronology that harmonizes with known dates in Babylonian and Assyrian history.
The first step in constructing a chronology is to resolve the several minor differences between the Massoretic Hebrew and Septuagint Greek manuscripts. We confine our analysis to the first and second books of Kings, since similar chronologies in the books of Chronicles (III & IV Kings) are dependent on the former and offer no additional information. The typical form of data for each monarch is shown in the case of Jehoshophat, king of Judah. Jehoshophat became king at the age of 35, in the fourth year of Ahab, King of Israel, and he ruled for 25 years (Massoretic text). Each king has at most three elements of chronological data: age of accession, length of rule, and a cross-reference of his first regnal year with that of the sister monarchy.
The Massoretic and Septuagint texts agree on all ages of accession and lengths of rule, but differ from one another on several of the cross-references. In the case of Jehoshophat, the Septuagint holds that he gained the throne in the 11th year of Omri. This marked departure from the Massoretic version cannot be explained as a copyist's error, so this may indicate that the inter-kingdom cross-references were not part of the original Biblical text, but the result of later calculations. We will later find that the Massoretic version is to be favored over the Septuagint in these instances of discrepancy, though the Massoretic text also contains cross-reference errors in the late monarchical period, implying that these were inserted much later.
Listing all the data from the Massoretic and Septuagint versions in tabular form, and assuming the cross-references to be accurate, we can calculate how many years of overlap there would have to have been between kings in order for each chronology to work. A duration of years in ancient reckoning counted the first year as one, even if it were partial, so what the Bible calls a reign of 25 years we would call a reign of 24 years. Also, since the civil year began in the spring rather than January 1, there will always be an error of a half-year in converting to modern chronology. We may calculate absolute chronology backwards from the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 (all dates B.C.) and the destruction of Samaria in 722. In instances where the Bible mentions a known foreign king, we may compare our chronology with the foreign king's known regnal years.
When this preliminary analysis is conducted, we find that most of the regencies overlap by one year or less, while there are a couple of instances of 2-3 year overlaps. The one year overlaps can be accounted for by partial regnal years, so we now know that the Biblical reckoning of reign durations is generally consecutive and non-overlapping. This does not necessarily mean that extended co-regencies did not exist, but only that they are unaccounted for in Biblical chronology.
There are, however, three anomalies where it would seem a large gap between reigns, rather than an overlap, is required. There appears to be a 12-year gap between Judahite kings Amaziah and Azariah (aka Uzziah), and a 23-year gap between their Israelite contemporaries, Jeroboam and Zechariah. There is also an apparent 7-year gap between the last two Israelite kings, Pekah and Hoshea. These gaps are historically and textually improbable, so they most probably arise from an error in the scribal cross-references between the kings of Israel and Judah.
The first two anomalies are correlated, and they may be corrected once we accept that the cross-reference for Azariah's accession year (the 27th year of Jeroboam) was calculated incorrectly by a scribe who failed to take into account a regnal overlap. There is an additional reason to make Azariah's reign overlap with his successors, since we know Tiglath-pileser III (744-727) claimed tribute from Azariah, requiring Azariah's life to extend into the 740s. This one change parsimoniously addresses at least three problems: two chronological anomalies and harmonization with Assyrian history.
There is also a sound historical reason for supposing an overlap in the reign of Azariah with his successors. The Bible tells us that Azariah contracted leprosy, becoming unfit to rule. His unusually long “reign” of 52 years probably includes this period of exile, when others occupied the throne. Azariah remained a titular monarch, nonetheless, and this appears to have been recognized even by the Assyrians.
We also have reason to believe that Azariah's reign overlapped with his predecessor, Amaziah, who was exiled after being defeated by Israel in battle. We will find that a 12-year overlap, together with other recommended changes, harmonizes with all other data.
The last anomaly to address is the length of Pekah's reign. Pekah is said to have ruled Israel for twenty years. In the third year of Hoshea, Pekah's successor, Hezekiah ascended the throne in Judah. This cross-reference is probably accurate due to its proximity to the well-known date for the destruction of Samaria (722) at the end of Hoshea's reign. Hezekiah's predecessor, Ahaz, is said to have ascended the throne of Judah in the seventeenth year of Pekah, only six year's before Hezekiah's accession, yet Ahaz ruled sixteen years! This is a ten-year discrepancy, and it is probably not coincidental that it occurs at the same time of our third anomaly. If Pekah's reign is reduced to 10 years, the chronology becomes completely consistent internally and externally.
The final revised chronology may be seen here:
To summarize, we determined that the following scribal errors probably exist in the books of Kings:
There are really only two errors, the comparison of Azariah with Jeroboam, and the length of the reign of Pekah, which I believe to have been ten years. No issue of Biblical inerrancy is at stake if we concede that the cross-references between Israelite and Judahite monarchies were later interpolations, as seems likely given the differences between Greek and Hebrew manuscripts. Once these adjustments are made, we are able to work out a coherent chronology that closely follows the remaining data of the Bible and profane history. The chronology works back to simultaneous accession years for Rehoboam and Jeroboam when Solomon's kingdom was divided. We have no way of corroborating the chronological data for David and Solomon, so we use the given values of 40-year reigns.
With these minimal interpretive adjustments, we have developed an astonishingly coherent and self-consistent chronology that agrees with all relevant data in Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian history. It also consistently results in sons being born when their fathers are adults. While this is perhaps not the only possible solution, no other existing chronology achieves these results without taking much greater liberties with the Biblical data.
This revised chronology matches Assyrian history perfectly, if we disregard the reign of Sargon II. The need to eliminate Sargon does not arise from any idiosyncracy of my chronology. It is made necessary by the fact that Samaria is said to have fallen during Hezekiah’s sixth year (722), while Sennacherib attacked Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s fourteenth year (714). This eight-year period leaves us no room to interpolate Sargon's seventeen-year reign between Shalmaneser V, who conquered Samaria, and Sennacherib. As the date of Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem is fairly fixed, even the supposition of a copyist's error would only gain us an insufficient five years, if Samaria fell in the first year of Hezekiah's reign. The destruction of Samaria certainly occurred within Hezekiah's reign, as it is unlikely in the extreme that such a monumental event could have been erroneously attributed to his reign, even abstracting from the issue of Biblical inerrancy. Thus there is no way to insert Sargon between Shalamaneser and Sennacherib. I postulate that Sargon was not a distinct individual (“Sargon” is not really a name, but means “lawful king”), but was probably another title for Sennacherib. Remarkably, another researcher independently arrived at the same conclusion working from strictly non-Biblical data: Sargon is Sennacherib.
© 2003, 2005-2006 Daniel J. Castellano. All rights reserved. http://www.arcaneknowledge.org