The Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, Edward Poynter, 1890, Art Gallery of New South Wales. Poynter’s work, which included the gold frame, attempts to capture the enormous wealth of Solomon’s court.

It is evident from reading the parallel accounts of the reign of Solomon in Kings and Chronicles that the Book of Chronicles (1 and 2 Chronicles was originally one book) is a re-working of the Book of Kings (1 and 2 Kings was also originally one book, perhaps together with 1 and 2 Samuel*) which removes the negative material and adds (and exaggerates) positive details. A close reading of Kings also reveals that this book itself went through a process of re-working which almost certainly began before the writer(s) of Chronicles used it as a source, and probably continued after Chronicles was written, perhaps in response to the Chronicler’s revisions. In the list in 1 Kings 4:1-9 of Solomon’s officials we find “Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud הַמַּזְכִּיר the recorder” (he is also listed in 2 Samuel 20:24 as the recorder during David’s reign). The Hebrew word here comes from the root זכר to remember and suggests this official’s role was to keep a record of the king’s acts and achievements so that they would be remembered by posterity. The list also includes the סֹפְרִים scribes or secretaries whose duties may have included writing various records as well as correspondence, but the appointment of an official “recorder” suggests that the Book of Kings may have begun with Jehoshaphat or an official like him who kept the “Annals of the Kings of Israel” while later recorders added to his history (we find that later kings also had a recorder).

Another interesting thing about the lists of officials in Samuel and Kings is that priests are at the top, above the Commander of the army and other officials, as well as filling other positions in the list. It’s a reminder of the inextricable links between the monarchy and the religious leaders. Scribes and recorders are near the top of the lists as well, emphasising their important roles in the royal bureacracy. An example of how they functioned as principal aides to the king is found in Isaiah 36:3. When the king of Assyria sent an envoy to king Hezekiah, the officials who were sent to meet him were “Eliakim son of Hilkiah, who was in charge of the palace, and Shebna the secretary/scribe, and Joah son of Asaph, the recorder.” Of course, if the records were kept by scribes it’s hardly surprising that they would place themselves near the top of the lists but this serves as a reminder of their tremendous power and influence in affairs of state as well as in the way they shaped how history remembers it. Whether someone was a “hero” or a “villain” depends on how the scribes who wrote about them wanted them to be remembered. So it’s not surprising that the book of Chronicles praises Solomon when it was written by the priest-scribes who were descended from a man who was appointed by Solomon, Zadok the priest. Solomon was their patron and the source of their authority, and they had a vested influence in reinforcing a positive image of him while villainising his opponents. That this is propaganda is undeniable.

It is also undeniable that Kings portrays Solomon in an entirely different way. Is it also propaganda? If it was (initially) written by scribes/recorders who were employed by the king, why would they present him in a poor light? Let’s take the example of the way Solomon taxed the people. I wrote earlier about how Solomon imposed heavy taxes on the northern regions of the kingdom while the south had a tax-free status, and how this caused resentment which led to the division of the kingdom. I mentioned that he appointed twelve officials to collect supplies from each tribe/region to feed him and his household. This might seem reasonable, until we look at the actual numbers and discover the enormous amounts of food which were demanded each day to support his household:

  • 30 ”cors” of choice flour (a כֹּר cor was about 220 litres, so that’s 6,600 litres per day!)
  • 60 cors of meal (13,200 litres)
  • 10 fat oxen
  • 20 pasture-fed cattle
  • 100 sheep
  • an unspecified number of deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fatted fowl.
  • “They also brought to the required place barley and straw for the horses and swift steeds, each according to his charge” (1 Kings 4:22-28. Take note that Solomon had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen, a huge quantity to feed, although that number could be exaggerated.)

To supply that quantity of food every day would have imposed an enormous burden on the people, and each of the 12 regions were required to do that every day for a month, every year. Unsurprisingly, Chronicles makes no mention of this massive tax burden or the resentment it caused. So if Kings was written by the official court recorders why would the writers mention it? This is where we should take note that Kings is a layered book – we have literary evidence that it was edited at various times and new material was added from time to time. While it almost certainly began as a book that was favourable to the kings who commissioned it, later scribal editors with a different agenda and for their own purposes added uncomplimentary or critical material which portrayed the kings in a different light. In fact, several scholars have detected several ‘redactional layers‘ in Kings, which suggests that this editing and re-framing of the story happened more than once. Most scholars agree that one stage of editing was done by “the Deuteronomistic historian” (DtrH), an unnamed scribe or group of scribes whose theological perspective was very much in tune with the book of Deuteronomy. It was once thought that the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings were all written by this ‘Deuteronomistic historian’ but modern scholarship tends to discount this and proposes, instead, that the DtrH was a later editor working with older material. Marvin Sweeney summarises what he considers to be the various “editions” of Kings through its stages of redaction thus:

There is evidence of earlier editions of 1-2 Kings and its role in the Former Prophets. These editions include a final exilic edition of the DtrH from the mid-sixth century B.C.E. that sought to address the problems posed by the Babylonian exile by pointing to the kings of Israel and Judah as a source for divine punishment; a Josianic edition of the DtrH from the late seventh century B.C.E. that sought to identify the sins of the northern kings of Israel as the source for divine punishment and the reigns of the righteous Josiah as the means to address that issue; a Hezekian edition of the DtrH from the late eight century B.C.E. that sought to explain the suffering of northern Israel based on its inability to produce competent and righteous rulers and to point to Hezekiah as an example of the leadership needed; a Jehu edition of Samuel-Kings from the early eighth century B.C.E. that saw the rise of the house of Jehu as the means to ensure the security of the nation and to restore the past glories of the age of Solomon; and finally a Solomonic edition of Samuel-Kings from the late tenth century B.C.E. that sought to present the house of David as the key to the well-being of the united people of Israel and Judah.

Marvin A. Sweeney, I & II Kings: A Commentary (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 3-4.

I won’t argue here about these various layers, except to emphasise what seems most obvious from Sweeney’s proposal: unravelling the various layers in Kings is very complex! Once we realise that the book was probably re-worked a number of times, we can understand why there are apparent contradictions and why the themes and underlying messages are not consistent. Each editor brought his own perspective to the task. Going back to the matter of Solomon and his burdensome taxes, I would suggest that these details were not written by Solomon’s recorder Jehoshaphat, but were added later by someone whose agenda was anti-monarchic, or at least anti-Solomonic. The most likely time when this would have been done was during the exile or soon after, when the people were analysing the causes of the destruction of their nation and their exile and some were blaming their kings for the disaster, or even later in the Persian period when they were preparing to return to the land and discussing whether they should re-institute the monarchy. The consistent criticism of the kings throughout the book suggests that the writers or editors at this stage were opposed to restoring the monarchy and therefore criticised it as an institution.

So while Chronicles praises Solomon, the Kings-editor points out all that was wrong with his administration in order to avoid a repetition of history. Chronicles presents him as a hero, while Kings turns him into a villain; or perhaps he was always a villain, and Chronicles rehabilitated his image and turned him into a hero. We will never know which came first. But we can be confident that in each case the writers were protecting their own vested interests. On one hand, the Zadokite priests who wrote Chronicles were re-writing history to support their own case for establishing a form of government in which they continued to be powerful (which is what actually happened). Solomon’s historical patronage gave them credibility and authority. On the other hand, the final editors of Kings opposed this and emphasised the important role of independant and itinerant prophets, religious sages who would speak truth to power. In these two different versions of Israel’s history we may very well have the roots of the most prominent religious movements in the Second Temple period, and in the time of Jesus: the Zadokites (whose name by this time had been Hellenised to Sadducees) and the Pharisees (or what became known as Rabbinical Judaism).

To be continued …

* In the Septuagint 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings are grouped together and named 1, 2, 3 & 4 Kingdoms.