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Asbury Bible Commentary – II. Authorship, Composition, And Date
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II. Authorship, Composition, And Date

II. Authorship, Composition, And Date

The book of Kings, as is typical of other materials in the Hebrew canon, is anonymous. According to a Talmudic tradition, authorship is to be attributed to the prophet Jeremiah (Baba Bathra, 15a). This view, though generally dismissed by modern scholars who cite the Talmudic tendency to associate all of the biblical writings with prophets, has recently been defended with considerable enthusiasm by Friedman (pp. 146-49).

Rather than speaking in terms of a named individual author, it is customary to associate Kings with a person or group of people known today as “Deuteronomists.” This purely descriptive title derives from the belief that Kings, rather than standing independently, actually serves as the concluding volume in a series that begins with Deuteronomy. More specifically, the story running from Joshua through 2Ki constitutes an edited whole intended to demonstrate how the principles recorded in Deuteronomy can be traced in Israel's actual history. Accordingly, Kings is ultimately attributed to an editor or editors, the precise number of whom cannot be finally determined, who compiled these materials in order to depict the general theological orientation of Deuteronomy.

Beyond the question of authorship, however, considerably more can be said concerning the date and composition of Kings. The concluding event, King Jehoiachin's release from a Babylonian prison in 561 B.C., helps establish the earliest point at which the book could have been completed. However, a good portion of the materials included in Kings dates to the periods of the united and divided monarchies, the same periods that they describe. Furthermore, many of these materials, as we will see, were housed in already existing collections. Indeed, some scholars have argued the difficult position that an original edition of Kings, concluding with Josiah (2Ki 22-23), was completed during that king's reign (Gray, 5; Cross, 274-89; Friedman, 107-16). In any case, the final composition as it now stands took place during the Exile or, in the case of possible editorial changes, beyond (Ackroyd, ch. 5; Harrison, Old Testament, 730-32).

Throughout Kings, the editor makes it clear that he is drawing upon various sources for his information. In fact, three such sources are specifically mentioned in the text itself:

1. The “Book of the Annals of Solomon” (1Ki 11:41), which probably contained materials from the temple archives itself.

2. The “Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel” (occurring repeatedly throughout 1Ki 14-2Ki 15, including 1Ki 14:19), which served as the major source of material from the northern kingdom.

3. The “Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah” (occurring repeatedly throughout 1Ki 14-2Ki 24, including 1Ki 14:29), which served as the major source of material from the southern kingdom following the reign of Solomon.

In addition to these, other sources no doubt provided various materials found in Kings. For example, a cycle of prophetic tradition must have developed, which included stories about Elijah and Elisha, not to mention other prophets. Furthermore, court records from David's reign contributed to the conclusion of the succession narrative in 1Ki 1-2.

Sources such as these would have been maintained in various places, including official court archives. Insofar as the editor, working during or near the time of the Exile, came from the southern kingdom, records from Judah were understandably accessible. With respect to information from Israel, we need only imagine that members of the northern kingdom fled south across the border to escape the oncoming Assyrians. With them came records and stories descriptive of northern affairs. Relying to a degree upon such materials as well as those traditions preserved by prophetic groups themselves, the editor was able to fashion the book of Kings generally into the form that we now see.