“Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri king of Israel.” (2 Kings 8:26, KJV)
“Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother’s name also was Athaliah the daughter of Omri.” (2 Chronicles 22:2, KJV)
The KJV follows the Masoretic reading of “Forty and two years” as the age of Ahaziah in 2 Chronicles 22:2. Most modern translators speculate that the Masoretic text is in error, seeing that 2 Kings 8:26 says that Ahaziah was twenty-two years old when he began to reign. The seeming contradiction can be explained by the different perspective of the respective historian of each book. First, we must gain a thorough understanding of the complicated background of Ahaziah’s reign.
The background to Ahaziah’s ascendancy to the throne of Judah is one of the most complicated in the Bible for the following reasons:
This was a time when the monarchy of Judah converged with the monarchy in Israel, with Jehoshaphat king of Judah even being called “king of Israel” (2 Chronicles 21:2).
Ahaziah was Jehoram’s son in law, not a biological son (2 Kings 8:27).
Ahaziah is called the “son of Jehoshaphat” (2 Chronicles 22:9).
The respective authors of Kings and Chronicles wrote from different perspectives.
1) The monarchy of Judah converged with the monarchy in Israel
2 Chronicles 18:1 says, “Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab.” The word for “affinity” refers to a marriage alliance, and so it translated in the ESV, NIV, NASB. The identity of the parties to this “affinity” is not made explicit and is somewhat of a mystery, although a theory is proposed in this article. In any event, eventually the two kingdoms would converge through Ahaziah the son of queen Athaliah of Israel and king Jehoram of Judah. Never was there a time like in Ahaziah’s generation that the houses of Judah and Israel converged after the reign of King Solomon. A person who understands this fact will see the discrepant figures of “forty and two years” (2 Chronicles 22:2) and “two and twenty years” (2 Kings 8:26) and understand that the difference might have something to do with the complicated political and relational situation of Ahaziah’s generation.
Jehoshaphat is a household name of the monarchy of Judah, so it is perhaps one of the most well kept secrets that he apparently also held the title of “king of Israel”. 2 Chronicles 21:1-2 says:
“Now Jehoshaphat slept with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the city of David. And Jehoram his son reigned in his stead. And he had brethren the sons of Jehoshaphat, Azariah, and Jehiel, and Zechariah, and Azariah, and Michael, and Shephatiah: all these were the sons of Jehoshaphat king of Israel.” (* NLT and HCSB ignore the Hebrew text and change “king of Israel” to “king of Judah”).
The fact that a single monarch could reign as king of both Judah and Israel during this time is an important key to understand the mystery behind the different ages of Ahaziah given in Kings and Chronicles.
2) Ahaziah was Jehoram’s son in law, not a biological son
Ahaziah is called the “son of Jehoram king of Judah” (2 Chronicles 22:1) but he is more precisely called the “son in law of the house of Ahab” (2 Kings 8:27):
“Two and twenty years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri king of Israel. And he walked in the way of the house of Ahab, and did evil in the sight of the LORD, as did the house of Ahab: for he was the son in law of the house of Ahab.” (2 Kings 8:26-27)
Some people take the phrase “son in law of the house of Ahab” to mean that Ahaziah was son in law to the house of Ahab. But this would not make sense because Ahaziah was the biological daughter of queen Athaliah (2 Kings 8:26, 2 Chronicles 22:2), who was a biological daughter of Ahab (2 Kings 8:18 and 2 Chronicles 21:6), which makes Ahaziah a biological grandson of Ahab. That would make Ahaziah a true son of the house of Ahab, not a son in law. The only house to which Ahaziah could be a son in law is the house of Judah. Thus Ahaziah was son in law to Jehoram king of Judah. The word “of” in the genitive construction, “son in law of the house of Ahab,” is to be understood as a genitive of origin, so the construction could be understood to mean, “son in law from the house of Ahab.”
Since Ahaziah was a son in law to Jehoram, there is no need to suppose that Ahaziah was younger than Jehoram. The marriage between Athaliah and Jehoram was obviously for political purposes (to unite the two kingdoms). Athaliah could have been old enough to have a son close in age to her husband Jehoram. We are given the age of Jehoram (“thirty and two years old”) when he became king (2 Chronicles 21:5). From this information, scholars calculate that Jehoram was born in about 885 BC. Omri, Athaliah’s grandfather, became king in around 885 BC. We are not given Omri’s age at any time but since he died of natural causes 12 years into his reign, we can reasonably believe that he died of old age – perhaps 60 at the earliest. Thus Omri was close to being 50 years old in 885 BC (12 years before his death). If Omri had Ahab at around age 18 (about 917 BC), Ahab would have been slightly past age 40 when he ascended the throne in 874 BC. If Ahab had Athaliah at around age 18, then Athaliah was born at around 900 BC. If Athaliah had Ahaziah by age 15 (about 885 BC), then Ahaziah could have been born at around the same time as Jehoram.
Some believe that Ahaziah could not have been that old at his coronation because “the inhabitants of Jerusalem made Ahaziah [Jehoram’s] youngest son king in his stead” (2 Chronicles 22:1). If the age of Ahaziah given in 2 Chronicles 22:2 is correct, could a forty-two year old son have been the “youngest son” of Jehoram? It may seem unusual that Jehoram would not have had any other son younger than forty-two. But even if Ahaziah were twenty-two, that would still be very old for a youngest son of a king who died at age forty. That would still mean that Jehoram had (or adopted) Ahaziah at age eighteen and no other son for the next twenty-two years. Ahaziah was an unusually old “youngest son” either way. When Jehoram died, “the band of men that came with the Arabians to the camp had slain all the eldest” (2 Chronicles 22:1) so Ahaziah became first in line to the throne of Judah. In this case “eldest” does not refer to Jehoram’s eldest sons, but whoever that was the eldest candidate to the throne of Judah.
3) Ahaziah is called the “son of Jehoshaphat”
If Jehoram was not Ahaziah’s biological father, then the biological father may have been Jehoshaphat. Earlier it has been stated that Jehoshaphat “joined affinity with Ahab.” (2 Chronicles 18:1) and that the parties to the marriage are not described explicitly. However, the wording of 2 Chronicles 18:1 suggests Jehoshaphat himself as one party and someone very close to Ahab as the other party. This marriage alliance, or perhaps an illicit extramarital affair, was probably between Jehoshaphat himself and Athaliah, daughter of Ahab. The details of this affair may have been something that was downplayed by the biblical authors to maintain Jehoshaphat’s reputation or omitted by virtue of them appearing in the extra-biblical histories which existed at the time (1 Kings 14:19, 1 Chronicles 9:1). In any event, from this relationship was born Ahaziah as son of Jehoshaphat. 2 Chronicles 22:9 says:
“And he sought Ahaziah: and they caught him, (for he was hid in Samaria,) and brought him to Jehu: and when they had slain him, they buried him: Because, said they, he is the son of Jehoshaphat, who sought the LORD with all his heart….”
While the term “son of…” could indicate ancestry and not direct sonship, the degree of respect which the people held for Ahaziah seems to suggest a closer relationship between Ahaziah and Jehoshaphat than that of a grandson and grandfather. Since the fact that Ahaziah was son in law to Jehoram begs the question as to who the biological father was, it seems reasonable to posit that Ahaziah’s biological father was Jehoshaphat. As a final point, the chronology of 2 Chronicles 18:1 (of Jehoshaphat having an affair with Athaliah) could be placed some time before Jehoshaphat became king, even during the reign of Asa king of Judah. It does not say that he joined affinity after he became king.
4) The respective authors of Kings and Chronicles have different perspectives
Kings and Chronicles have different perspectives in two aspects. First, Kings is known to focus on both Israel and Judah whereas Chronicles is known to focus primarily on Judah. A startling fact is that Chronicles rarely mentions the infamous reign of King Ahab of Israel except only in passing. Queen Jezebel of Israel is never mentioned in Chronicles. Second, Kings is comparatively a more contemporaneous record of the history than is Chronicles. According to tradition, Chronicles is dated to the time of Ezra whereas Kings is believed to have been written much earlier. Though both sources often cite earlier extra-biblical records, Chronicles, being written with greater hindsight from a human perspective, is able to ignore details that are not relevant to the post-exilic Jews.
RESOLVING THE ALLEGED CONTRADICTION
In light of the above complications, we can piece together some pieces of the puzzle and come up with the following likely scenario and chronology:
Young Jehoshaphat and young Athaliah of Israel engage in an illicit affair for political reasons during the reign of Asa.
Jehoshaphat and Athaliah give birth to Ahaziah, perhaps out of wedlock.
Jehoshaphat and his true wife, a woman of Judah, give birth to Jehoram.
Jehoshaphat becomes king of Judah after Asa’s death.
By virtue of his relationship to Athaliah, Jehoshaphat king of Judah is given some jurisdiction over Israel and is considered also “king of Israel”.
Ahaziah, being Jehoshaphat’s son, shares Jehoshaphat’s limited jurisdiction over Israel and becomes co-regent of Israel with Ahab at age 22.
Despite being co-regent of Israel by virtue of his father Jehoshaphat’s authority, Ahaziah cannot succeed the throne of Israel at Ahab’s death because Ahab has his own sons.
Before Jehoshaphat died, he appointed his younger son Jehoram a pure prince of Judah to become king of Judah, bypassing Ahaziah’s right to the throne.
Jehoram becomes king of Judah after Jehoshaphat’s death.
Jehoram takes Athaliah as his wife.
Ahaziah legally becomes the son of Jehoram, despite being older than Jehoram.
Ahaziah becomes king of Judah at age 42 after Jehoram’s death.
If this is the scenario, then the different ages of Ahaziah given in Kings and Chronicles can be explained by the different perspectives of the two books. Since Chronicles focuses on Judah, Chronicles gives the age (42) at which Ahaziah began to reign from the time that he was the king of Judah after Jehoram’s death. However, Kings, which focuses on both Israel and Judah, gives the age (22) at which Ahaziah began to reign as co-regent of Israel together with Jehoshaphat. Co-regency was typical in the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel. We see that demonstrated in the cases of Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Jotham, Jeroboam II and Manasseh. Since Chronicles does not focus on Israel, its account neglects the twenty years of Ahaziah’s co-regency in Israel. Chronicles further neglects Ahaziah’s twenty years of co-regency in Israel because Ahaziah’s co-regency (a minor detail) may have seemed irrelevant to the later readers of Chronicles who were only concerned about the bigger picture of monarchical reigns.
Both accounts say that Ahaziah reigned one year “in Jerusalem” but neither specify where it is that he began to reign. We must gather that from the context. In 2 Kings the focus is on Israel, so Ahaziah “began to reign” as co-regent in Israel and/or Judah at the age of 22. In 2 Chronicles the focus is on Judah, so Ahaziah “began to reign” as king of Judah at the age of 42. The verse in question in 2 Chronicles is preceded by the following, “And the inhabitants of Jerusalem made Ahaziah his youngest son king in his stead:” (2 Chronicles 22:1 a). The context of 2 Chronicles 22 makes it clear that Ahaziah’s kingship in 2 Chronicles is counted from his ascendancy to the throne in Jerusalem (at which time he was 42 years old). On the other hand in 2 Kings 9:29, after Ahaziah’s death, there is a posthumous retelling that “in the eleventh year of Joram the son of Ahab began Ahaziah to reign over Judah”. Such a posthumous description of where the kings reigned only happens for Ahaziah. It is here that for the first time in the book of Kings we are told that Ahaziah reigned over Judah. It is as if the author later had to make it clear that Ahaziah reigned over Judah during the time period in question because there was cause for confusion about where he reigned at a given time. This would be the case if Ahaziah had reigned over Israel at some point in time in some capacity.
Kings and Chronicles refer to extra-biblical books called the “chronicles of the kings of Israel” (1 Kings 14:19), “chronicles of the kings of Judah” (1 Kings 14:29), “book of the kings of Israel and Judah” (1 Chronicles 9:1). While the immediate readers of Kings and Chronicles had access to these books which may have filled in some gaps in the narrative of the kings, we today are left with a puzzle regarding the reign of Ahaziah. Regardless of whether this article’s attempt to resolve the alleged contradiction is satisfactory to the reader, hopefully the article has at least highlighted the complicated political situation of Israel and Judah at the time as certain pieces of a puzzle so as to cause the reader not to simply dismiss 2 Kings 8:26 and 2 Chronicles 22:2 as mere contradictions, but as verses within a web of contexts deserving further study.
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