Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

The historical book called in the Hebrew Melakhim, i.e. Kings, is in the Vulgate, in imitation of the Septuagint, styled the Third and Fourth Book of Kings. This designation is justified, inasmuch as the historical narration contained in I and II Kings is herein continued, and, especially, because the history of David's life, begun in I and II, is here concluded. It is, on the other hand, an independent work, distinct from the Books of Samuel (i.e. I and II Kings) in its origin and its style, as well as by reason of the purpose it has in view. Its division into two books--at an awkward place, just in the middle of the history of Ochozias--did not exist in early times, and has only been introduced later into the Hebrew editions from the Septuagint and the Vulgate. A division into three parts would be more in keeping with the contents. The first part ( 1 Kings 1:11 ), beginning with David's enactments concerning the succession to the throne and his last instructions, comprises the history of Solomon : his God-given wisdom, the building of the temple and royal palace, the splendour of his reign, his great fall on account of which God announced to him the breaking up of his realm. The second part ( 1 Kings 12 - 2 Kings 17 ) gives an historical survey of the kindred Kingdoms of Juda and Israel : Jeroboam's falling away from God and worship of the golden calf, the continuous wars between the succeeding kings of Israel and Juda up to Achab, the endeavours on the part of Elias to bring back to God the people misled by Achab, the destructive alliances between the house of Achab and the house of David, the miracles, prophecies, and activity of Eliseus, the destruction of the race of Achab by Jehu, Athalia's abortive attempt to destroy the house of David, the further line of contemporaneous kings of Juda and Israel until the end of the last-named kingdom, with an epilogue setting forth the causes of the fall of the latter. The third part ( 2 Kings 18-25 ) treats of the history of the Kingdom of Juda after the reign of Ezechias : his miraculous deliverance from the power of the Assyrians, his boastful conniving with the Babylonians, which gave rise to the Babylonian Captivity and Exile, the historical account of the reign of Manasses, whose sins evoked the pronouncement of the ruin of Juda, of Josias, who restored the temple, renewed the covenant with God, and endeavoured to stamp out idolatry, of the last kings up to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, with a short postscript concerning the Judeans who had remained behind, and the delivery of King Joachim from his imprisonment. The Books of Kings were not completed in their present form before the middle of the Exile. Indeed 2 Kings 25:27-30 , relates that Joachim was released from bondage (562), and admitted to the court of Babylon for "all the days of his life".

According to the Babylonian Talmud (Baba bathra, fol. 15, 1), the Prophet Jeremias is the author. Not a few among both older and more recent exegetes consider this probable. It is indeed remarkable that Jeremias's activity is not alluded to--his name not even being mentioned--although he stood in close relation to the events of the last few years, while everything other prophets (e.g. Elias, Eliseus, Isaias ) did for kings and people is carefully noted. In case Jeremias was the author, we have to accept the explanation that he did not consider it suitable to relate here what he had set forth at length in his prophecy. Furthermore, Jer., lii, the narrative of the events in which Jeremias's predictions were fulfilled, is taken almost verbatim from 2 Kings 24:18 - 25:30 . The compiler of the Prophecy of Jeremias felt justified in doing this, inasmuch as, in his opinion, the Books of Kings were by the same author. There is an undoubted resemblance in language and style between this historical book and the Prophecy of Jeremias. The same expressions occur in both writings (compare, for instance, 1 Kings 2:4 with Jeremiah 33:17 ; 1 Kings 9:8 with Jeremiah 18:16 and 19:8 , also Lamentations 2:15 ; 2 Kings 21:12 , with Jeremiah 19:3 ; 2 Kings 21:13-14 , with Jeremiah 30:16 and 22:17 , also Lamentations 2:8 ). If Jeremias be indeed the author, it must be accepted as probable that he wrote the book not long before, or shortly after, the fall of Jerusalem (587 B.C. ); the last verses (xxv, 27-30) have possibly been added by a different hand. The style, especially in the second chapter, is entirely different from that of the Books of Samuel (I and II Kings). The well-developed and comprehensive presentation of those books differs noticeably from the dry and chronicle-like reports about most of the kings. Besides, the Books of Samuel never refer to those lost books which served as sources and which contained fuller particulars, while the Books of Kings are full of such references. In the latter books the chronology is very clearly set down; for instance, as long as the two kingdoms exist simultaneously, in considering the history of one king, the year in which the contemporary king of the other kingdom acceded to the throne and the length of his reign are both indicated. Such notices are entirely absent from the Books of Samuel. From them it is even impossible to discover how long Samuel and Saul governed. Moreover, the historian of 1 and 2 Kings himself passes judgment on every king of Israel and of Juda as to whether he did right or wrong in the eyes of God ; whereas the Books of Samuel simply give the judgments of other historians or leave it to the reader to judge for himself.

The Books of Kings cover a period of about four centuries, from the time of the last years of David until the fall of Jerusalem. They do not give the complete history of Israel during this period; such was not the purpose of the writer. He omits many important events or barely alludes to them. For the political history of the two kingdoms, the military exploits of the kings, their public achievements, he constantly refers to three other writings which, at that time, were still in existence. By these references he wishes to indicate that he does not intend to relate everything which may be found in those sources. Whoever wanted information concerning the wars, the treaties, and public acts was to consult the writings referred to. In the Book of Kings, as is shown by its contents, another matter predominates, namely, the relation of each king to revealed religion. For this reason, the narrator judges the conduct of each king, treats more extensively the history of those kings who fostered or brought religion to a flourishing state (such as Solomon, Ezechias, Josias ), or who had, on the contrary, wrought it great harm (Jeroboam I, Achab, and Joram); and therefore he relates particularly what the prophets did to bring back the kings and people to the observance of the laws of religion and to spur them on. The object the writer had in view he indicates very clearly in the epilogue which follows the story of the fall of Israel ( 2 Kings 17:7 sqq. ). With emphasis he points out the cause: "They worshiped strange gods . . . and they hearkened not [to the warnings of the prophets ] . . . and they rejected the covenant that he [ God ] made with their fathers . . . And the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from his sight, and there remained only the tribe of Juda. But neither did Juda itself keep the commandments of the Lord their God ; but they walked in the errors of Israel. . . And the Lord cast off all the seed of Israel." 1 Kings 2:3-4 ; 9:3-9 ; 11:11 , 11:33-39 ; 14:7-11 ; 16:12 sqq. ; 2 Kings 10:30-33 ; 13:3 ; 21:11-16 ; 22:15-17 ; 24:3-20, bring out the same idea. In this manner the writer teaches that the unlawful cult offered in the high places and the idolatry practised both by kings and people in spite of the admonitions of the prophets were the cause of the downfall of Israel and of Juda. Still this is not the entire purpose of the work. The repeated calling to mind of the promises of the God Who had pledged a permanent reign to David, the acknowledgment of the mercy of the God Who, on account of David, Ezechias, and Josias, had suspended the judgment pronounced upon Juda --all this served to revive the hope and confidence of the remnant of the people. From this they were to learn that God, just in His wrath, was also merciful in His promises to David and would be faithful to His promise of sending the Messias, whose kingdom should endure. Not unappropriately this whole work may be called an historical elucidation and explanation of Nathan's oracle ( 2 Samuel 7:12-16 ).

The writings upon which the Books of Kings are based and to which they refer more than thirty times are: the "book of the words of the days of Solomon " ( 1 Kings 11:41 ), the "book of the words of the days [A. V. book of the chronicles] of the kings of Israel " (xiv, 19; etc.), and the "book of the words of the days of the kings of Juda " (xiv, 29; etc.). In the opinion of many, these "chronicles" are the official annals kept by the chancellors of the different kings. However, it is by no means certain that the office designated by the Hebrew mazkir signifies chancellor ( Vulgate a commentariis ); still less certain is it that it was part of the duty of the chancellor, who belonged to the king's household, to keep these annals. It is true that David ( 2 Samuel 8:16 ), Solomon ( 1 Kings 4:3 ), Ezechias ( 2 Kings 18:18 ), and Josias ( 2 Chronicles 34:8 ) counted among their officials a mazkir, but whether the other kings of Juda and of Israel employed such an officer we find nowhere indicated. Even if it were historically certain that so-called year-books were kept in the two kingdoms by the chancellors, and had been preserved in Israel in spite of so many revolutions and regicides, there remains still the question whether these are really the "chronicles" which serve as a basis for the Books of Kings. The chronicles of other peoples, as far as they have been preserved in cuneiform characters and otherwise, contain exclusively that which contributes to the glory of the kings, their deeds of arms, the edifices they built, etc. Our historical work, however, also relates the sins, prevarications, and other atrocities of the kings, which were not likely to be recorded in the year-books by court officials during the lifetime of their kings. According to 2 Kings 21:17 , "The acts of Manasses. . . and his sin which he sinned, are they not written in the book of the words of the days [A. V. book of the chronicles-- 2 Samuel 21:17 ] of the kings of Juda ?"

We may endeavour to determine the nature of these sources in another way. By comparing the accounts in the Books of Kings and those in II Par., one is immediately struck by two things: With frequent verbal similarity, both works carefully indicate the sources which have been consulted. The history of Solomon's reign, III Kings, i-xi, is told in II Par., i-ix, in almost the same manner, and while III Kings, xi, 41, refers to the "book of the words of the days of Solomon ", II Par., ix, 29, refers in the same formula ("The rest of", etc.) to "the words of Nathan the prophet, and the books of Abias the Silonite, and the vision of Addo the seer". The history of Roboam the author of the Books of Kings takes from the "book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah" (A. V. 1 Samuel 14:29 ). The writer of II Par., x-xii, gives an account of the same which in contents and form is almost identical, and refers to "the books of Semeias the prophet, and of Addo the seer" ( 2 Chronicles 12:15 ). The same holds for the history of the following kings of Juda. After an account, often in almost the same words, now elaborate and then again more concise, we find in the Book of Kings the "book of the chronicles" and in II Par. the "prophetic writings" given as sources. It must be added that, while in the life story of four of the seven kings in II Par., reference to the source is omitted, these are also absent in the Books of Kings. Is it then not probable that it is one and the same source whence both writers have gathered their information? The "book of the chronicles" quoted in 1 and 2 Kings the writer of 2 Chronicles designates by the then usual appellation, "the book of the kings of Juda and Israel ". The prophetic writings referred to by this writer are divisions of the last-named book. This the writer states explicitly ( 2 Chronicles 20:34 ) of "the words [or the writings] of Jehu the son of Hanami" (his source for the history of Josaphat ): they are "digested into the books of the kings of Israel [and Juda ]"; also ( 2 Chronicles 32:32 -- Vulgate ) of "the vision of Isaias, son of Amos ": it is embodied in "the book of the kings of Juda and Israel ". Consequently, the source utilized by both writers is nothing else but the collection of the writings left behind by the successive prophets.

That the author of the Book of Kings has thoroughly consulted his sources, is constantly evident. Thus he is able to describe the labours and miracles of Elias and Eliseus with such minuteness and in so fresh and vivid a manner as to make it plain that the original narrator was an eyewitness. This is why he consults the sources and refers the reader to them in his account of the life of almost every king; not a few expressions have been taken over verbally (cf. 1 Kings 8:8 ; 9:21 ; 12:19 ; 2 Kings 14:7 , etc.). The authenticity of his history is further strengthened by its agreement with the accounts of II Par. The difficulties which appear at the superficial perusal of these Sacred Writings vanish after an attentive study, what seemed contradictory proving to be an amplification or else entirely new matter. In many places the historical reliability of the Books of Kings is confirmed by what the prophetic writings of Isaias, Jeremias, Osee, Amos, Micheas, and Sophonias report concerning the same events, either by direct mention or by allusion. Even profane historians of antiquity, Berosus, Manetho, and Menander, are quoted by Flavius Josephus and Eusebius as witnesses to the reliability of our book of sacred history. Especially notable in this respect are the inscriptions concerning the Oriental races discovered during the last century.


More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed in fifteen hardcopy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Jeremiah 13:1-11
1 Yahweh said this to me, 'Go and buy a linen ... Read More

Psalm, Deuteronomy 32:18-19, 20, 21
18 (You forget the Rock who fathered you, the God who ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 13:31-35
31 He put another parable before them, 'The kingdom ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for July 28th, 2014 Image

St. Innocent I
July 28: Innocent was born at Albano, Italy. He became Pope, succeeding ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter