Friday, March 17, 2006

Five theories

If you don't really care about long-dead kings, you might as well skip this entry...

One of the joys of the Bible is its errors. It seems a funny thing for a fundamentalist to say, for we're supposed to believe that the Bible as we have it today (or at least as it was in the original manuscripts) is without error. Perhaps it was, yet it is a fact that every manuscript upon which our bibles are based contains differences from every other, and there is a complete discipline, lower textual criticism, that compares passages in one copy to the passages in the others to discover what the original said. As a result the "final final" text of the Bible always has a bit of uncertainty. Not much, but some.

Does that bother me? Not particularly. I believe that the Bible is authoritative, whether 'perfect' in the version I have or not. And the odds are higher that I will misinterpret some passage - either through translation issues or misunderstanding of culture or context - that is well-attested than that I will come across in insoluble moral dilemma in the few percent of biblical passages that are in question. For all intents and purposes, I take is as read. But there are still issues, especially where several passages cover the same material and seem to disagree. It's the old problem with watches: a man with one watch always knows the time; a man with two is never sure. That uncertainty provides no end of subjects upon which an anal-retentive wannabe historian like me can spend his Friday nights.

2Chron 22:2 and 2Kings 8:26 are one of those problems, for in the first, King Ahaziah is said to begin his one-year reign at 42, yet in the latter, it's said to be 22. As is often the case, there are a multitude of possible solutions, one of them being that there is a genuine copyist error here.

There are some 5 theories that I've located thus far that attempt to explain the discrepancy:

1) That some copyist made an error, since the Hebrew letters representing the numbers ‘22’ and ‘42’ are very similar. This is supported by the fact that a lot of manuscripts say '22' instead of '42.'

2) ‘42’ is the age of Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah, since she was the power behind his throne.

3) ‘Began to reign’ refers not to his actual ascension to the kingship, but to an earlier annointing, so he was annointed at 22, but began to reign at 42, his reign lasting a single year.

4) There were 2 Ahaziahs, one twenty years older than the other, who was the son of a previous marriage of Athaliah.

5) That ‘42 years’ here refers to the House of Omri, not the actual age of Ahaziah.

We shall deal with each of these in turn:

Copyist error: it is possible, given the nature of the Hebrew numbering system, that the original Chron passage has been corrupted in some manuscripts. This, however, should be an answer of last resort, given the existence of other ‘strange’ numbers (e.g. 2Chron 16:1, which I'll address below) which have inconsistencies on the surface, but which can be understood with a little digging. Secondly, the fact that many mss have ‘22’ instead of ‘42’ is just as easily explained as a ‘fix’ to bring the Chronicles passage into conformity with the Kings one as they are a true witness to the original reading.

Ahaziah's mother: This is the view held by Poole, and is also possible, since the Hebrew phrase literally says Ahaziah is ‘the son of forty two years’. So what is ‘forty two years’ but his mother mentioned in the same passage? I find it unlikely, for lack of other verses which follow this pattern, but it does illustrate the difficulties inherent in translation from one culture to another.

Annointed at 22, King at 42: This can be thrown right out, as is it ignores the fact that both versions plainly say he reigned one year. If he was annointed at 22 and died at 43, he should have reigned 21 years. Furthermore, the text says nothing about annointing, but in both passages simply that ‘he began to reign’. If Ahaziah did begin to reign at 42 after being annointed at 21, then he was 2 years older than his father Jehoram who was ‘thirty two years old when he began to reign, and reigned in Jerusalem eight years’ (2Chron 21:20), dying at the age of forty. Clearly, 42 cannot be the age at which he was made king.

2 Ahaziahs: This theory is created to get around the obvious problem, with a strange twist: it is promoted by a few KJV-only people, who cannot (from their understanding that the KJV is ‘inpired in translation’) understand the 42 to be anything other than Ahaziah’s actual age, since the KJV says ‘Forty and two years old was Ahaziah’. The argument is that the Kings passage talks about one Ahaziah, and the Chron passage talks about his older half-brother. The problem is, of course, that both passages are obviously talking about the same person, unless we believe that there are two kings in Jerusalem with the same name, the same parents, who go to battle with the same ally in the same battle, and both visit that ally when he is wounded. These kings are also both killed by the same man (Jehu) in the same place at the same time, yet neither of the Kings/Chronicles authors mentions the other. I think this theory can be discounted on the grounds that these passages and history (e.g. Josephus, ‘Antiquities’ IX/vi/2-3) both only mention one Ahaziah, and the contortions we need to go through to justify it are unsubstantiated in the text and history.

House of Omri: This theory goes to the Hebrew to discover that the phrase which troubles us is an ambiguous one, that Ahaziah was ‘the son of forty two years’ (as mentioned above). Now, looking at the house of Omri, from whom he was descended through his mother, we find that Omri reigned 6 years (1King 16:23), Ahab his son 22 years (1Kings 16:29), Ahaziah his son 2 years (1Kings 22:51), and Joram his son 12 years (2Kings 3:1), for a total of 42 years (6+22+2+12). So a ‘son of 42 years’ could easily mean ‘a son of the dynasty 42 years old’, i.e. Omri, which he proves in verse three where Ahaziah ‘walked in the ways of the house of Ahab’ (who was the son of Omri). A clue to this is that his mother is called ‘the daughter of Omri’ in 22:2, though given the fact that Omri is dead almost 40 years, she is probably his granddaughter. Ahaziah, then, is called a true son of Omri, not only in descent but in morality, and the forty-two years here belong to that house, not his own life.

Now, as you might have noticed from my treatment of Abram's genealogy below, when I find an issue, I find it helpful to see if there is a parallel passage that has the same issue. In this case, like that case, there is: 2Chron 16:1, which states: "In the six and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah, and built Ramah, to the intent that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah."

However, that gives us a problem, for "In the third year of Asa king of Judah began Baasha the son of Ahijah to reign over all Israel in Tirzah, twenty and four years." — 1Kings 15:33

and "In the twenty and sixth year of Asa king of Judah began Elah the son of Baasha to reign over Israel in Tirzah, two years". — 1Kings 16:6

So if Baasha began to reign in the third year of Asa and reigned 24 years, then he was dead and his son Elah took his place in Asa’s 26th year, how then did Baasha come against Asa 10 years later?

The answer is, he didn’t. 2Chron 16:1 says 36 years, which is made up of the ’Kingdom of Asa’, which is the Kingdom of Judah counting from the time of the division. Rehoboam reigned 17 years (2Chron 12:13), Abijah 3 years (2Chron 13:2), and Asa 15 (2Chron 15:10), making 35 years (17+3+15). In Asa’s 15th year (15:10), Asa entered into a covenant with God (15:12), and in the next year, Baasha declared war on him ‘that he might let none go out or come in to Asa’ (16:1). Therefore, the ‘thirty sixth year’ of Asa is counted as the thirty sixth year of his family’s rule, not of his personal rule.

Frankly, I think that the final solution is the correct one, and the author of Chronicles, having a more 'long-term' and 'theological' approach than the drier approach of the author of Kings, approaches his numbering to illustrates dynasties more heavily than individuals. Such is not evident from a newspaper reading, of course, but it does provide a chance to wrestle with the hidden treasures that can be found in God's word.

No comments: