«THREE VERIFICATIONS OF THIELE’S DATE FOR THE BEGINNING OF THE DIVIDED KINGDOM RODGER C. YOUNG St. Louis, Missouri Overview of the Work of Thiele ...»
A ndrews U niversity Seminary Studies, V ol. 45, N o. 2, ???-???.
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THREE VERIFICATIONS OF THIELE’S DATE FOR
THE BEGINNING OF THE DIVIDED KINGDOM
RODGER C. YOUNG
St. Louis, Missouri
Overview of the Work of Thiele
Edwin Thiele’s work on the chronology of the divided kingdom was first published in a 1944 article that was an abridgement of his doctoral dissertation.1 His research later appeared in various journals and in his book The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, which went through three editions before Thiele’s death in 1986.2 No other chronological study dealing with the divided monarchies has found such wide acceptance among historians of the ancient Near East. The present study will show why this respect among historians is justified, particularly as regarding Thiele’s dates for the northern kingdom, while touching somewhat on the reasons that later scholars had to modify Thiele’s chronology for the southern kingdom. The breakthrough for Thiele’s chronology was that it matched various fixed dates in Assyrian history, and also helped resolve the controversy regarding other Assyrian dates, while at the same time it was consistent with all the biblical data that Thiele used to construct the chronology of the northern kingdom— but with the caveat that this was not entirely the case in his treatment of texts for the Judean kings. Of interest for the present discussion is the observation that Thiele’s dates for the northern kingdom had no substantial changes between the time of his 1944 article and the 1986 publication of the final edition of Mysterious Numbers.3 The initial skepticism that greeted Thiele’s findings has been replaced, in many quarters, by the realization that his means of establishing the dates of these kings shows a fundamental understanding of the historical issues involved, whether regarding Assyrian or Babylonian records or the traditions of the Hebrews. Rather than trying to cover all the dates and historical data that have brought many scholars to this judgment, I shall focus on just one date that 1 Edwin R. Thiele, “The Chronology of the Kings of Judah and Israel,” JNES 3 (1944): 137-186.
Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 1st ed. (New York:
Macmillan, 1951); 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965); 3d ed. (Grand Rapids:
Zondervan/Kregel, 1983). Unless noted otherwise, page numbers in the present article refer to the third edition.
3 In the third edition of Mysterious Numbers, Thiele moved the beginning date for Jehu down six months from the first half of the year beginning in Nisan of 841 B.C. to the second half of that year. In terms of the sum of years for Israel this makes no difference, because Jehu’s accession was still in the same Nisan-based year. This change was made to accommodate his down-dating of the reigns of the Judean kings Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, and Ahaziah by one year in the third edition as compared to the second edition. The reason for this down-dating will be discussed below, in Section II.3.
is the result of Thiele’s methodology, namely that of the beginning of the divided monarchies at the death of Solomon. This date is verified by three lines of evidence. These lines will be shown to be fundamentally independent of each other, and they all confirm that the monarchy split into two kingdoms at some time in the year that began in Nisan of 931 B.C. The three lines of evidence are the internal and external consistency of Thiele’s chronology that was used to arrive at this date, the Sabbatical and Jubilee cycles, and the Tyrian king list.
First Verification: Internal and External Consistency of Thiele’s Chronology Consistency with Ancient Practices Thiele’s chronology is consistent with ancient practices regarding the measurement of a king’s reign. The first such practice to be considered is how the partial year in which the king came to the throne was reckoned; whether it was his “accession” or “zero” year (accession counting), or whether it was to be considered the first year of reign (nonaccession counting). Both methods were used in the ancient Near East. Thiele’s approach was to see if the textual data, as given by the ancient authors, were sufficient to provide the clues as to which method these authors were using for a particular king. In the case of the early northern kings, we read that Nadab of Israel began in year two of Asa of Judah and reigned two years, ending in year three of Asa. He was followed by Baasha, whose twenty-four-year reign began in Asa’s year three and ended in Asa’s twenty-sixth (not twenty-seventh) year. The evidence then points to nonaccession reckoning for the first northern kings. Continuing this kind of investigation, a comparison can be made between the first kings of the divided kingdom and the time when Ahaziah of Israel died in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat of Judah (2 Kgs 3:1). The sum of reign lengths for this time for the seven kings of Israel (ignoring Zimri’s seven days) exceeds by seven years the sum for Judah, immediately suggesting that Judah, contrary to the practice of Israel, was using accession years for its kings. Thiele illustrated this with a diagram in Mysterious Numbers, and then wrote in explanation, “During this period Israel’s totals increased by one year for every reign over the totals of Judah. This is positive evidence of the use of the accession-year system in Judah and the nonaccession-year system in Israel. When the lengths of reign of the Israelite rulers are expressed in actual [accession] rather than official [nonaccession] years, the totals of the two kingdoms are the same.” 4 Another area where Thiele’s method is consistent with ancient practices is in the principle that whether a given king used accession or nonaccession reckoning was essentially an arbitrary matter. In most cases, which system to use was probably decided by the king himself. Thus the chronological data of the Scriptures show that during the time of rapprochement between the two kingdoms in the middle of the ninth century B.C., Judah adopted Israel’s 4 Ibid., 49.
THREE VERIFICATIONS OF THIELE’S DATE... 3 nonaccession method of counting, whereas at a later time a comparison of the starting and ending years of Menahem and Pekahiah of Israel with the regnal years of Uzziah of Judah shows that Israel eventually went to accession reckoning. Thiele has been much criticized because of these changes in the method of reckoning. But Thiele is not the source of the changes and their apparent arbitrariness. The real source of the changes was the ancient kings and recorders who decided how things were to be done in their day. If someone is to be criticized for arbitrariness, it should be these ancient personalities, not Thiele. The unfairness of the criticism of Thiele’s chronology because kings changed between accession and nonaccession methods can be demonstrated by an example from Assyria. The general rule in the inscriptions of Assyrian kings was to use accession reckoning. Tiglath-Pileser III, however, went against this rule and used nonaccession reckoning for his reign.5 Thus Assyrian inscriptions show that a change was made in the mode of reckoning for Assyria, just as the biblical texts show that changes were made in the mode of reckoning during the time of the divided kingdoms. Thiele’s inferences in the matter of when accession and nonaccession counting were used were not driven by his own presuppositions (as is the case with many who write in this field), and his conclusion that changes could be made is consistent with ancient practice, as demonstrated by the example of Tiglath-Pileser III.
Another parameter that must be considered when attempting to reconstruct the chronology of the divided kingdoms is the question of coregencies. As with the accession/nonaccession question, Thiele again followed the inductive method of first determining the practices of ancient kings and their scribes, rather than starting with presuppositions of what the ancients “should have” done. In this regard, the customs of Egypt’s pharaohs have been the object of considerable study. There are examples of coregencies in the Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, and later, even down to Roman times. Egyptologists consider it essential that coregencies be taken into account when reconstructing the chronology of the various dynasties from the records of the pharaohs. The pharaohs usually measured their years from the start of a coregency, although according to at least one scholar this was not an invariable rule.6 In contrast, rabbinic scholars (the Seder ‘Olam and the Talmud) considered that a king’s years were always measured from the start of his sole reign. In Egypt, the fact of the coregency is sometimes quite clearly expressed in the official records, and sometimes it must be inferred by comparing other chronological data with the year of reign given in the pharaoh’s inscriptions.7 The same practice must be followed when dealing with 5 Hayim Tadmor, The Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser III, King of Assyria (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1994), 232, n. 3.
6 William J. Murnane, Ancient Egyptian Coregencies (Chicago: Oriental Institute, 1977), 76, 82, 83, regarding the coregency of Seti I and Ramesses II.
7 E.g., the coregency of Tuthmosis III and Amenophis II is not supported by any monuments that give corresponding dates for both monarchs, but their coregency “is strongly supported by chronological evidence from their reigns” (ibid., 44).
4 SEMINARY STUDIES 45 (AUTUMN 2007) the records from the royal courts of Judah and Israel. The coregency of Solomon
with David is plainly stated in 1 Kgs 1:32-35 and 1 Chron 23:1. Second Kings 15:5
tells us that Jotham became the effective ruler when his father was stricken with leprosy. For other instances of coregencies in the Scriptures, we must infer the coregency by comparing the king’s reign with other data, just as is necessary for the pharaohs of Egypt. A comparison of 2 Kgs 1:17 with 2 Kgs 3:1 suggests that Jehoram of Judah became coregent in the seventeenth year of his father Jehoshaphat. Other coregencies must sometimes be inferred by a more careful cross-checking of the data than afforded by these simple and fairly explicit references.8 In the past, various interpreters have either ruled out coregencies altogether in determining the chronology of the divided kingdom, or they have accepted coregencies but insisted that regnal years must always be measured in only one way, either from the start of the coregency or from the start of the sole reign. Unlike those who started with such a priori presuppositions, Thiele realized that the data m ust be allowed to tell us if a coregency was involved, and, if so, whether a given synchronism or length of reign was measured from the start of the coregency or from the start of the sole reign. It is of some interest that if this procedure is followed, there is enough information in the 8 The same is true of the two periods of rival reign in the Scriptures: Omri with Tibni and Pekah with Menahem and Pekahiah. The chronology of the first of these is fairly straightforward, the second less so. The rivalry between Omri and Tibni began in the twenty-seventh year of Asa (1 Kgs 16:15, 21) and ended with Omri as sole ruler in Asa’s thirty-first year (1 Kgs 16:23). The rivalry of Pekah with Menahem and Pekahiah is not so obvious, but once it is accepted as a possibility, the regnal data for the kings of Israel and Judah fall into place with an exactness that extends even to the month for Jeroboam II, Zechariah, Shallum, and Menahem. See the second edition of Mysterious Numbers, pp. 87-88, for the meticulous and watertight logic that allows this precision, a precision that Thiele unfortunately omitted in the third edition in his desire to simplify things. It would be very difficult to explain this precision unless the associated data were all in accord with history. A late-date editor could not have made up all these interlocking figures, because although the ancients were good at making up riddles, logic puzzles are a modern invention. Thiele’s defense of Pekah’s rivalry is well explained (Mysterious Numbers, 129-130 of 3rd ed.), but to that defense can be added the observation that the Hebrew (and LXX) text of Hos 5:5 must be read as “Both Israel and Ephraim...”, adding to the evidence cited by Thiele that there were two rival kingdoms in the north at just this time. There is thus a dual evidence that Pekah had set up a rival kingdom: the various texts, including Hos 5:5, that imply two kingdoms in the north during the time of Menahem, and the harmony of all texts for six kings of Israel and three of Judah once it is accepted that Pekah’s twenty-year reign was reckoned from the start of a rivalry with Menahem. There is no consensus of dates for this time among scholars who reject the possibility of a rivalry, and it might be asked if they would apply the same criteria and reject the inferences that Egyptologists make to demonstrate that rival pharaohs were ruling from rival capitals at various times in the history of Egypt. See my further discussion in “When Was Samaria Captured? The Need for Precision in Biblical Chronologies,” JETS 47 (2004): 581-582, n. 11 (online at www.etsjets.org/jets/journal/jets.html).