The Bible in and as History: 2 Kings

An unfortunate element of breaking up my blog-posts into Books, rather than a more regular schedule for example, is sometimes my reading gets ahead of my writing or vice versa.  I’ll speak more at length on the divisions in Kings and Chronicles when I get to Chronicles second half, but it’s enough to realize that the separation of Kings into two separate books is not original to the Jewish text, but a later Christian alteration.  Each of these ‘books’ than will be truncated to a degree, but I’ll try and touch on the larger themes and the events the books themselves see as important.  Perhaps adding some historical context from sources exterior to the bible as time permits.

So following Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam ascends the throne.  There is a short narrative regarding the people desiring a lessoning of their ‘burden’ from the king, and how he harkens not to the wise old counsellors, but to his fellow youths, who urge him to be stern.  This results in open rebellion, and eventually a split of the kingdom into two states; Israel in the North governed by Jeroboam, who is the leader of the rebellion and has some sort of religious justification for his victory; and Judah governed by Rehoboam.  

To shorten the narrative a bit; Both these kingdoms enter into a series of conflicts with each other, and both, according to the text, allow the worship of ‘foreign’ deities.  Or rather religious observation outside the strictures of the Mosaic law.  The Northern Israel is depicted mostly in negative terms, with Kings overthrowing Kings, idolatry, holy prostitution, and other such act proliferation.  The state of Judah is presented more in tension; as a series of kings alternate between those aiming to restore the ‘proper’ worship of the God of David, and those who tolerate or support the worship in the ‘high places’.  

Eventually Ahab, Northern Israel’s king, with the assistance of his wife Jezebel, establish Baal worship in the kingdom, which we are made to understand is really, really bad.  A Prophet tries to return people to the proper worship of God but is rebuffed.  Jezebel sets about trying to destroy the prophets of god, and various acts of treachery, evil and supernatural miracles ensue.  Their is a civil conflict in which Ahab and Jezebel are slain in ignoble ways, and their line extinguished.  Jehu, the man who helped overthrow them, whipes out the cult of Baal, but permits the worship of other gods.

We are than back to the genealogies of the kings, the slow erosion and destruction of Israel via the Assyrians and the eventually destruction of Judah by the Babylonians.  

What comes from this particular history is the obvious attempt to explain history in terms of a religious narrative.  Looking beneath this we might consider it a record of an on-going conflict between the priest-classes and factions within the nobility and the kingship for political power.  Such conflicts have obvious historical parallels, including in the region.  What we can tell from it is that obviously in this period, religion served as a major mechanism of power and social influence, and that there were complex interactions between the centralized temples and the apparatus of the state.  The book continues to have it’s hagiographies; Kings lauded as ‘good’ or at least better than their fellows.  It’s also has it’s villains, Jezebel and Ahab for example.  One must assume they had a fair degree of political power since they are subjected to the historical hatchet-job.  Without other sources it’s hard to suss out a truth, though we can imagine that the central claim; that they instituted widespread worship of gods other than ‘God’ is probably true, or at least historical memory at the time of the books authorship.  As always we must be conscience of who is writing this and why.

In a similar vein we must remember we are not reading a work penned by somebody from the period, but a translation centuries later, based on a few other translations, with it’s own political intent and bias.  We will get more into that in future works but there is much of interest here; Obviously the name Jezebel is a common one in english, entering the language, as I understand it, first to mean merely a bad women before garnering it’s modern-day sexualized conniptions.  Indeed, I would say unusually in the bible to this point, sexual indiscretion is not a focus of Jezebel’s ‘evil’, more-so the focus is on her religious devotion to Baal and the danger of her leading the nation towards such worship.  The words modern connotation than, says as much about the fundamental misogynistic over-tones of English society rather than that of ancient Israel.

Next time I start a rehash of all this again as Chronicles goes over the same period with a slightly different bent.

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