When Did Solomon Die?

By Young, Rodger C. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2003 | Go to article overview

When Did Solomon Die?


Young, Rodger C., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


The work of Edwin Thiele has become the starting place for all subsequent studies of OT chronology that take seriously the text of the Hebrew Scriptures as preserved in the Masoretic tradition.1 It is to be lamented that Thiele's original working hypothesis, that the text as received was without factual error when referring to these "mysterious numbers," was abandoned when he was unable to reconcile certain data related to the reign of Hezekiah. It was therefore left to later scholars to point out that the problems that led Thiele to reject the authenticity of the biblical synchronisms for the time of Hezekiah could be overcome by positing a coregency of Hezekiah and Ahaz, under which Hezekiah's sole reign began in 716 or 715 BC.2

Any study which is faithful to the text of Kings and Chronicles must be solidly based on an understanding of certain fundamental questions that must be addressed. Thiele presented these questions as five variables.3 They are: (1) Were the king's years counted according to the accession system, in which the year he came to the throne was his "accession" or zero year, and was thus not counted in the total years for his reign, or was the non-accession system in use, whereby that first partial year was counted in the sum? (2) In which month was the year considered to begin? (3) When reference is made to the years of a king in the rival kingdom, does such a reference reckon the time of reign according to the system of the rival kingdom, or according to the system used in the writer's homeland? (4) Is a coregency involved? (5) Did the same method of chronological procedure continue without change during the period in question?

Thiele resolved these issues to his satisfaction as follows. (1) For the first few kings, Judah applied accession reckoning and Israel non-accession reckoning for their own kings. (2) Judah always began its regnal years in Tishri (the fall), while Israel always began its regnal years in Nisan (the spring). (3) Regarding references from one kingdom to another, Thiele wrote that "both Judah and Israel used their own systems for the years of the neighboring kings."4

Regarding item (4), a careful study of the dates given requires coregencies for certain kings. For item (5), the scriptural data requires and even signals that a change in reckoning methods occurred in the middle of the 9th century BC.

Thiele established the absolute chronology of the kings of Israel based on synchronisms with Assyria. He then combined this data with regnal years and synchronisms for the southern kingdom to produce the chronology of Judah, at the same time using the Judean synchronisms and reign lengths to refine the dates for Israel. The results of this process are shown in Table 1 for the first ten kings of Israel. The middle column shows the beginning year of the king according to the Nisan calendar employed in Israel. The third column shows how the dates are more exactly defined from the Judean synchronisms; in this column, a figure like 931t/930n means a time span beginning on the first of Tishri, 931, but ending before the first of Nisan, 930.

There are two problems related to Thiele's solution for issue number 3 (whether references to the rival kingdom used that kingdom's counting practices). The first is that, in Thiele's chronology, the two kingdoms only partially used the system of their own kingdom when referring to the other kingdom, because they used the starting month of the year that the other kingdom used while rejecting the method of counting years. The other problem is that although Thiele demonstrated that his assumption works, he did not show that no other assumption can give equally satisfactory answers.

The purpose of the present paper is to show that there is an alternate solution to issue 3 which makes sense of the biblical data just as well as, or better than, the approach used by Thiele. Before dealing with the details of this solution, however, there are some statements that can be made about what is affected and what is not affected by this alternate chronology. …

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