Thursday, November 7, 2013

This is my last post introducing the reading of the Deuteronomistic History (DtH; Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings). As with the books of Samuel, first and second Kings were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible. They account for more than four hundred years of Israel’s history, basically from King David’s death, (sometime during the 10th century BCE) up to the ‘liberation’ of king Jehoiachin (6th century BCE).  Even though Jewish traditions have named the prophet Jeremiah the author of 1-2 Kings, due to the similarities in language, style and theology, it is better to state that the Deuteronomistic authors/redactors where the composers of these accounts, since the Deuteronomical point of view is very palpable throughout the whole narration.  Many scholars agree that the narratives of these books can be divided in three parts: the United Kingdom ruled by Solomon (1 Kgs 1-11, we include the death of King David and Solomon’s ascension to the throne here), the accounts of the divided kingdom (1 Kgs 12-2 Kgs 17) and the stories of the southern kingdom of Judah after the northern kingdom was destroyed (2 Kgs 18-25).

Solomon becomes king: " And all the people went up following him,playing on pipes and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth quaked at their noise." (1 Kings 1:40)
(Photo credit: The Brick Testament)
 The story of Solomon’s reign (1 Kgs 3-11) can be divided into two parts.  The first part describes him as the wise king and the builder of the temple. It ends with a long speech by Solomon in 1 Kgs 8, where he ascertains that YHWH has fulfilled all his promises to David. The second part of the Solomon narrative, 1 Kgs 9-11, presents a negative view of the king, especially with regard to his attraction to foreign women and foreign deities. Solomon’s religious and political errors provoke the collapse of the ‘United Kingdom’ after his death (1 Kgs 12-14). Jeroboam, a former civil servant of Solomon, becomes king of Israel, the Northern kingdom. He establishes two yahwistic sanctuaries in Dan and Bethel (i.e., on the northern and southern borders of the kingdom of Israel) as an alternative to the Judean temple in Jerusalem.

Elijah and Elisha
(Photo credit: markmallet.com) 
1Kgs 15-2Kgs 17 relates the parallel history of the two kingdoms. The story is told from a Judean perspective. All kings are submitted to evaluation, which is based on the allegiance to YHWH and their observance of the commandment of cultic centralization. The Judean kings are also compared to David. The synchronic history of the two kingdoms contains numerous prophetic narratives, especially of Elijah and Elisha (1Kgs 17-2Kgs 13) and their ministry with the kings. This section ends with a long comment of the narrator who indicates the reasons that led to the fall of Samaria and the Northern kingdom, which is transformed into an Assyrian province (2 Kgs 17).

The last chapters (2 Kgs 18-25) relate the story of the kingdom of Judah until its end. Two kings receive particular attention: Hezekiah and Josiah, who both conform to YHWH’s will, in contrast with their predecessors and successors. Hezekiah abolishes the illegitimate cults and cult places. Under his reign the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem is abandoned because of YHWH’s intervention.  King Josiah, after the discovery of the book of the law in the temple, devotes himself to a tremendous reorganization of the cult, making Jerusalem the only legitimate sanctuary and destroying the symbols of all illegitimate yahwistic and other cults (2 Kgs 22-23). However, even the Josiah’s reform cannot prevent the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah by the Babylonians, who punish the revolts of Josiah’s successors. According to the author of 2 Kgs 24-25, “all of Judah” went into exile out of its land. The whole story does not end with a final comment as with the book of Judges (17:6; 18:1), but with a rather obscure note about the release of the Judean king Jehoiachin from his Babylonian prison. He stays in Babylon and becomes a ‘privileged guest’ and the table of the king of Babylon (2 Kgs 25: 27-30).

This summary of contents shows that in spite of the very different themes and materials which are collected and assembled in Deuteronomy to Kings, these books are linked by a chronological principle: from the Mosaic origins to the end of Judah. The time of Moses and Joshua appears as some kind of golden age, in contrast to the time of the Judges, which is described as a rather anarchic and chaotic period. The portrait of the monarchy is profoundly ambiguous. On one hand, one can find texts that insist on the divine legitimation of the Davidic dynasty; on the other hand, there are numerous critical remarks about the kings who do not conform to YHWH’s will as exposed in the book of Deuteronomy.
The Babylonian Exile
As it stands now, this historical fresco is a story about exile and deportation, as well as about the failure of monarchy. Nevertheless, the same story contains very positive statements about Judean kings, and even quite triumphant views of Israel’s possession of the land, which fit badly within a context of exile and deportation. This tension is a first indication for the complexity of the material within the books of Deuteronomy to Kings, which, as we have said are commonly called the ‘Deuteronomistic History’.

 Juan Miguel Betancourt
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