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In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, Pete and Jared unpack the centrality of the monarchy in the Hebrew Bible, the function of monarchy within the biblical narrative arc, and how not every story or book of the Bible is meant to be used as a devotional for our modern times. Join them as they ask the following questions:

  • Why is so much of the Hebrew Bible devoted to the concept of the monarchy?
  • How do the Jewish and Christian perspectives vary from one another when it comes to certain books of the Hebrew Bible?
  • How do the prophetic books, or the latter prophets, help us get a sense of the monarchic time period?
  • If the Hebrew Bible isn’t about predicting Jesus, what is it about?
  • What drives the biblical story within the Hebrew Bible?
  • What do we mean by monarchy?
  • What is the timeline for the kingships found in the Hebrew Bible?
  • Does the story of the kings have a certain lens we should be aware of while we are reading?
  • Who are the kings in the Hebrew Bible? How are they presented differently in different books (i.e. Manasseh in Chronicles vs. Kings)?
  • How does the monarchy function within the biblical narrative arc?

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Pete or Jared you can share.

  • If we look at the books of the Hebrew Bible, most of the books are dealing with the monarchy in one way or another. — @peteenns 
  • [The monarchy] takes up a big chunk of our Bible, and it’s important to understand that and understand why, and understand how that might actually impact other parts of our Bible as well. — @jbyas 
  • A large chunk of the Hebrew Bible that’s focused on one thing: are we a nation or aren’t we? — @Peteenns 
  • That is what drives the biblical story: it’s about land. It’s about political organization, which is understood as the very thing that your God will do for you. And if you’re a nation with kings and a temple and a standing army, that is the pinnacle of what it means to be a people worshipping, in particular, God. — @Peteenns 
  • We can easily misconstrue what is talked about in the New Testament with Jesus being Messiah if we don’t understand how tied that is to the idea of the monarchy in the Hebrew Bible. We overspiritualize it as something disconnected from the monarchy. — @jbyas 
  • A huge portion of the Hebrew Bible is dealing directly or indirectly with kingship and the behavior of the kings. — @jbyas  
  • All the prophets are dealing with, essentially, threats to the existence of the monarchy from within and from without, and “What are we going to do about these things?” — @peteenns 
  • It’s important to understand what you’re getting yourself into. When you flip open to the Old Testament, chances are you’re flipping to historical narrative, or an interpretation of historical events, that directly tied to the kingship of Israel. — @jbyas 
  • These stories are dealing with history, but they are fundamentally pieces of theology. What is God like? What does it mean to be the people of God? How does this all work? And we’re eavesdropping on their understanding of what those things mean. — @peteenns 
  • If you’re interested in, “What do I get out of it?” You have to keep reading the whole thing and how the old ways are played with in the Gospels. Jesus just comes out looking not at all like you would expect someone hailed as the Jewish king to act. — @peteenns 

Mentioned in This Episode

Read the transcript

Pete  

You’re listening to the Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared  

And I’m Jared Byas. 

Jared  

[Jaunty intro music] Well hey, everyone, before we get started on today’s episode, two quick announcements. First, there are those who say listening to an audiobook doesn’t count as reading. To those people, I’ll say the same thing as I would to people who argue that being a Christian doesn’t count unless you believe in inerrancy: just go look at history. For hundreds of years, humans got their information from someone reading a book out loud. You might say, it’s more normal than reading silently to yourself. But if you still feel like listening doesn’t count, then this announcement is not for you. It’s for normal people. I’m happy to announce that the audiobook version of Jonah for Normal People is now out, and it’s read by yours truly, who also happens to be the author. So check it out anywhere you get audiobooks. Jonah for Normal People, now available.

Second, you might notice over the next few weeks that our podcast now has ads on it. We hope this doesn’t offend too many people, but we are excited to take a step toward having the podcast be more sustainable. Given how amazing everything is that we do at the Bible for Normal People, you might think from the outside that we’re a giant corporation. But, we are in fact but a humble few who have been doing this part-time as a side hustle to our other occupations for the past six or more years. So hopefully this will help us hustle a little less. But also, we’re excited about new ways we can bring the best in biblical scholarship to everyday people, but those ways unfortunately cost money. So in addition to our campaigns, and the courses and classes we offer, and the wonderful folks at Patreon, we’re giving ads a try. It might feel clunky for a few weeks as we get our feet wet with it, so we’d appreciate your grace. Also, stay tuned for ways you can continue to get the podcast ad-free. We should be announcing that in the next couple of weeks as well. Thanks everyone for your support, let’s get back to the show.

Pete  

Well hey folks! Welcome to this episode, this joint episode, meaning Jared and I together just yakking about something that is just, very spontaneous, although we thought about it a great deal.

Jared  

What does that even mean? 

Pete  

[Laughing] 

Jared  

It’s a spontaneous episode that we’ve thought about a great deal.

Pete  

It’s a paradox, Jared! Come on!

Jared  

“Embrace the mystery, embrace the mystery…”

Pete  

It’s a paradox. Embrace it, for heaven’s sake.

Jared  

Okay, well what we’re going to talk about today is the center of the Hebrew Bible—which some people might think we would talk about a number of things.

Pete  

Yeah.

Jared  

But I think it’s going to be surprising what we talk about, and that is the centrality of the monarchy.

Pete  

Yeah. Boring. No, no, no, wrong, wrong, wrong.

Jared  

One of the reasons I thought it would be good to talk about this was growing up, the Bible is ill fitted for some of the things that we try to make it do. It becomes this devotional where everything is supposed to give us like this life lesson. And it’s supposed to make us like, feel good. It’d be full of like, inspirational quotes. And it can be frustrating with how much of it’s filled with stories that seem very irrelevant to us several thousand years later.

Pete  

Yeah. Like speaking of the monarchy, 2 Kings especially is all like…well, that was horrible, that didn’t work.

Jared  

And then this king did this…

Pete  

This king and that king did the same thing, and we’re in exile. And the whole purpose is like, let’s not do that again. You know? And, you know, it’s hard to—I don’t mind saying this—I think it’s very hard to find true spiritual, devotional excitement for us as Christians, reading certain parts of these stories, but that doesn’t mean they’re not really, really important to how the Hebrew Bible works—which is really the point of this. It isn’t what we like, or what we get out of it. It’s just looking more, let’s say, from a 30,000-foot-view somewhat objectively and saying, Why are we saying the monarchy is central to the Hebrew Scriptures?

Jared  

Right. And yeah, I think that’s exactly right, is also just acknowledging that reality. Because I think again, sometimes we just want to, say like, “oh, well, yeah and then there’s some kings and stuff.” Like, well, this takes up a big chunk of our Bible, and it’s important to understand that and understand why, and understand how that might actually impact other parts of our Bible as well.

Pete  

Right, right. So the monarchy, you know, there are different ways of parsing this out. But if we look at the books of the Hebrew Bible, most of the books are dealing with the monarchy in one way or another. I mean, the books that are most central to it are 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.

Jared  

And then we get a recapitulation in 1 and 2 Chronicles.

Pete  

Right, which is, Jews don’t think of it in the same way that we do. We’ll get to that in a second. But so you’ve got 1 and 2 Chronicles, a retelling of it all. But there’s much more to the centrality of the monarchy than those several books there. And one way of looking at it is, the Torah is almost the prequel. It’s one way—this isn’t the only way to think about Torah, folks, but think of it this way. Torah is a prequel, it’s a ramp to get you where? To get you to Canaan. That’s where the story, it gets there in Exodus and they’re in, you know, they’re on Mount Sinai. And then the whole point is to prepare to go into the land to do what? To be Israel.

Jared  

To be a people, which has a certain way of organizing itself. 

Pete  

Right. Yeah, to be a nation.

Jared  

To be political, to be a nation. And then, so that’s the Torah. And then on the backside of that, we have this whole corpus of books that we call the Prophets. 

Pete  

Yeah.

Jared  

And those, if you read most of the prophets, how they begin are, “in this year of this king’s reign.” So it’s happening in the same time period. It’s the monarchic time period. And it’s usually the kings are doing some not so great things, and it’s going to lead to some bad things if we don’t do something about it.

Pete  

Yeah, the prophetic books, you know, what Christians tend to call the prophetic books—Jews call them the Latter Prophets, right? The Former Prophets…

Jared  

Are the Samuel kings.

Pete  

Are the what we call the “historical books.” And there’s something telling about that, that for Judaism, both of those sections have sort of lessons to learn from, you know, and there’s a prophetic nature to Samuel kings. But be that as it may, the prophetic books, what Christians call the prophetic books, there are 17 of them in our corpus. There’s the minor prophets, the book of the 12—we had a nice podcast about that. And then the five books, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, with Lamentations thrown in there after Jeremiah. Those books are all concerned with the period from like the late eighth century BCE into the Exilic and near post-Exilic periods. So it’s basically…what does that come out to? In terms of like, maybe 200 years roughly. From the 720s/730s down to let’s say, roughly for argument’s sake, around 500 or maybe a little later than that. So maybe 250 years. And then you have the books that deal with the monarchy, like we said, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, and 1 Kings and 2 Kings. You’ve got a large chunk of the Hebrew Bible that’s focused on one thing: are we a nation or aren’t we? And then you throw in, you were talking about Torah being a ramp to get to Sinai, which is to get to Canaan. And then what are Joshua and Judges about? It’s about securing the land, dividing the land. 

Jared  

Right.

Pete  

Why? Because now finally, finally, we have a king. Right? Like we, I think that’s minimized sometimes. You know, it’s not about predicting Jesus, it’s about the monarchy. How did we get there? How did we lose it? Now that we’re back in the land…

Jared  

How do we get back there?

Pete  

And let’s make sure this never happens again. 

Jared  

Right.

Pete  

Let’s not screw up. That’s where I mean, not to jump around too much, but that’s where like Ezra and Nehemiah come in, because it’s like, “Okay, let’s get this Torah thing down, you know, and all these rules to make sure we’re complicit with the covenant so that we don’t find ourselves in a foreign land again.” I think that’s really, really important to understand that. That’s, that is what drives the biblical story. It’s about land. It’s about political organization, which is understood as the very thing that your God will do for you. And if you’re a nation with kings and a temple and a standing army and things like that, that is the pinnacle of what it means to be a people worshiping, in particular, God. The Israelites are not the only ones who thought that.

Jared  

Right.

Jared  

Alright, before we get too far in then, there’s two things I think that would be worth talking about. 1) is let’s define what we mean by monarchy, but then 2) I think going through the story of the monarchic period, because there’s so many things that can throw us off and gets really confusing. I think that’s why a lot of people also kind of bypass some of this. This is like, “well, there’s so many kings, and there’s names, and I get so confused on what’s actually happening in the story, because I get bogged down with the names.” But let’s start with: what do we mean by monarchy? Because we’re talking about it as being central to the Hebrew Bible. But I don’t know if everyone knows what that means.

Pete  

Yeah, it means having a king over you.

Jared  

Right.

Pete  

Which all the nations did—and that’s one of the cries for the Israelites, saying we want a king like every other nation has. And there’s a little discrepancy in the Bible of whether that’s a good idea or a bad idea, which is part of the beauty of the Bible and Deuteronomy. It’s like assumed that’s going to be the case, just make sure you pick one of your own people, and make sure that person reads the law all the time. But in 1 Samuel, it’s like, oh, gosh, you want a king? That’s the worst thing you could possibly do. And Samuel is mad about it. And God says, “Don’t worry, Samuel, don’t be so upset. They’ve not rejected you. They’re rejecting me! So tell them what’s gonna happen when they have a king, it’s gonna be an absolute abject disaster.” Right? So you have these different views already in the Bible about monarchy, but the point is: we have a king on the throne. That King has a military responsibility, has an economic responsibility, and has also a spiritual/religious responsibility. 

Jared  

Religious responsibility.

Pete  

Well and you bring up a good point, because when we talk about the center of the Hebrew Bible as being monarchy, I think we can easily misconstrue what is talked about in the New Testament with Jesus being Messiah, and messianic language if we don’t understand how tied that is to the idea of the monarchy in the Hebrew Bible. We overspiritualize it as something disconnected from the monarchy.

Pete  

They’re not priests, technically speaking. But you know, in some biblical stories, David’s very involved in getting the temple built. That’s in Chronicles actually, that’s not in the other books, but…So the lines are not super clear. But this is a—this is someone that’s so important, Psalm 2 refers to the coronation of the king (that’s not really the right word) but the coronation of the king as being declared “son of God.” So “son of God” is not really divine language, it’s a royal language.

Pete  

Yeah, I mean, yeah, jumping to the New Testament, it’s pretty clear, like read the first couple of chapters of Luke’s Gospel, the birth narrative, and then the whole, you know, Zechariah, John the Baptist thing, and Mary singing a song to Elizabeth—all kinds of stuff. It’s, it’s really, really clear that the notion of the birth of this child by Mary is an anointed one, which means relieving the people of their distress of their persecution and oppression in that context at the hands of the Romans. So that is still a very active idea that that’s the role of kings—to protect the people and to deliver them, to save them, to redeem them, use all that language you want to. And that is something that very much echoes this monarchic period that we’re talking about. It’s brought right into that Second Temple and New Testament period.

Jared  

So when we talk about—before we move on to kind of walking through the story, when we talk about the centrality of the monarchy, what we’re saying is, it really, a huge portion of the Hebrew Bible is dealing directly or indirectly with kingship and the behavior of the kings.

Pete  

Right. I’d say the only books that aren’t dealing with it as much are probably things like Job…

Jared  

Yeah, the wisdom literature.

Pete  

The wisdom literature. Proverbs assumes a monarchic context, right? Ecclesiastes is written, you know, by “Solomon” even though that’s never said in the book, it’s sort of, there’s a kingly persona. And Psalms have kingly kinds of Psalms in them. And you know, how many did David write? And those kinds of things. And Song of Songs, whatever is going on with that. But you know, you have maybe some echoes, but they don’t contribute to the narrative of kingship. The books that contribute to the narrative of kingship are really Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and then all the prophetic literature. And again, I would throw in books like Ruth because the point is a genealogy of David at the end. Ezra, Nehemiah, it’s still very much land/kingship oriented, because we’re coming back to the land, and what’s this going to look like now? Even though the Persians were in charge and they really couldn’t just set up a king, but the hope was there to get back to the way things were.

Jared  

So I know you’re nerdy about this, so I’m going to try to keep you high level. Because I think, let’s stay at the high touchpoints of the monarchy, so that we can give people a timeline here of what we’re talking about. So let’s try to help people because I know it’d be great if we could have a PowerPoint here and all that jazz. But you know, this is a podcast, it’s audio. What are we going to do? We gotta, we gotta create the PowerPoint with our words.

Pete  

People have to do their own PowerPoint.

Jared  

Yeah, we should do like a contest.

Pete  

[excitedly] A contest! 

Jared  

Yeah. Have everyone send in their PowerPoint of what we’re about to say.

Pete  

To see how poorly we’ve communicated. [chuckles]

Jared  

[laughs] Exactly, exactly. Yeah. So let’s start with the beginning. Where would we say—again, I’m gonna ask you to get rid of all your nerdiness because I know you might want to do some prologue, and let’s talk about, “We have to talk about Joshua,” And we’re not gonna talk about Joshua. We’re not gonna talk about Judges. We’re gonna talk about: when do we get a king, and who’s the first king…

Pete  

How about the Marvel movies? Can we get that in there somehow? Because I just watched all of them on sabbatical. 

Jared  

No, yeah.

Pete  

Okay, anyway. So yeah, I mean, I think let’s start around the year 1000. 

Jared  

1000. That’s a good, that’s a good round place to start from.

Pete  

Round number. It’s not absolutely precise, but it’s not bad…

Jared  

It’s close enough. 

Pete  

1000 is around the time of David. So Saul is the first king anointed by Samuel. So you put him a little bit earlier, you know, a few decades before…

Jared  

And Saul is presented as almost like this proto-king, like not—things haven’t really been established. Sort of anointed under a tree, it feels a little tribal still.

Pete  

Exactly. Yeah.

Jared  

And that’s a little before 1000. And then we get David who’s really, you know, the narrative is [that he] unifies the tribes even further, really makes us into what we would consider a kingship. 

Pete  

Or at least getting there. 

Jared  

Right.

Pete  

A lot of people think of David as, yeah, king, but still maybe just a step up from Saul being a tribal warlord.

Jared  

Right. It is evolutionary. Yes, yes. 

Pete  

Kind of a thing like that. And David does come across as a bit of a ruthless warlord here and there.

Jared  

Yeah, that’s true. But…

Pete  

We’ve had podcasts on that.

Jared  

Well, we’re gonna have…Oh, I don’t know…

Pete  

We have another one!

Jared  

Yeah, we are gonna have another one. 

Pete  

Awesome, fantastic, okay.

Jared  

So yeah, so we have Saul—

Pete  

[Pete whispers] Let’s not talk about David too much…

Jared  

I know, exactly. We gotta keep the mystery alive.

Pete  

I know. Keep the mystery alive.

Jared  

So a few decades before 1000 BCE, we have Saul. Around 1000 we have David. And it’s progressing in terms of how sophisticated and how organized the courts are, and the kingship is. And then we get Solomon.

Pete  

We get Solomon, and that, I mean, I think you’d have to say, from the way he’s described in 1 Kings, he is the first true king of Israel because he has a tax system, right? He’s got—he now has a unified place of worship that David set up, you know, this is in Jerusalem, the capital. He has, like it’s in 1 Kings 4, a list of administrators—boring! Yeah it sort of is, but still, that’s very important. And he does kingly kinds of things. He’s wise, you know, all that’s—we’re seeing here, a picture portraying an ancient Near Eastern, successful ancient Near Eastern king. Now, there are some issues with that from a historical point of view that—is this an exaggeration? Maybe? But that’s the story.

Jared  

I think even regardless of the history or the narrative, because within one generation, we don’t have a successor to Solomon within the unified kingdom. Right? 

Pete  

Yeah.

Jared  

So we get, we get Saul who’s not really a king. We get David who’s getting there closer. We get Solomon, first real king, yay, the dynasty begins! And then what happens after that?

Pete  

Yeah. And I think that’s important to note that sometimes we get the sense that there’s this unified nation, but there were tensions throughout, between the tribes, and then specifically between the North and the South. And so by the time we get to Solomon’s, you know, the next generation, to Rehoboam and Jeroboam, we actually now have a divide.

Pete  

It all falls apart. And, and you know, there are different ways of looking at that from within the biblical story. But one of which is that Solomon was really stupid at some point, you know. You know, Solomon himself, let’s put it this way, he wasn’t really that stupid, but he did use the northerners. See he’s from Judah. He’s from the south, that’s where the kingship is located. Jerusalem is basically in the south. It’s right next to Judah. He was using the northerners for like conscripted labor. And that probably wasn’t a smart move, because it created tensions, right? So you have these North/South tensions. And I tell my students not unlike in the American experience, the Civil War happened, there was already a fissure there for where that line was going to be drawn.

Pete  

Right. So you have Solomon’s son is Rehoboam. And he assumes the throne. And so Jeroboam is sort of like the agreed upon guy to come and bring some others to talk some sense into Rehoboam, saying, “Listen, your dad really wasn’t very fair. We’d love to work with you. And if we can just feel like we’re being treated fair, let’s do this.” And so he says, I’ll get back to you. So he confers, Rehoboam confers with the elders, and they’re saying, “Listen to what they’re telling you. This could avert a disaster, do what they say.” And he says, yeah that’s great. So then he talks to the younger guys…

Jared  

Yeah, then he talks to his bros.

Pete  

[Laughs] Yeah, his theobros, his college buddies.

Jared  

What do the old guys know? They don’t know anything.

Pete  

[Pete does a semi-accurate bro voice] And they said, “No, no, bro, bro, don’t do that, bro.”

Jared  

[Jared also does semi-accurate bro voice] “You’re the king, you got to put your mark on this.” 

Pete  

[Pete now pivots into a hippie voice?] “This is your time to shine, man!” [Laughing] So they have this wonderful line that I let my students figure out. Basically, “let them know that your little finger is bigger than your father’s thigh.” 

Jared  

[Laughs]

Pete  

Now thigh, folks, I don’t know if you’re listening to this with your children—but I’m gonna let you guess what “thigh” is a euphemism for…So basically…

Jared  

And little fingers and thighs. Yeah. 

Pete  

Yeah. And it’s portrayed that way because I think readers are meant to see what a bunch of—how could this possibly happen? So anyway, so that’s exactly the advice that Rehoboam took. And when Jeroboam came back, he could see what was happening. He said, you know, “Israel to your tents.” In other words, the dividing lines were already broken. And that’s when you have these two nations, two separate nations, that will each have their own capital. The northern capital became Samaria, which is known, and they had to have their own…

Jared  

You might have heard of the Samaritans.

Pete  

Yes, exactly. That’s where the idea comes from. It’s after the name of the capital. And they had their own, obviously, their own army. They had their own religious system, they had to. You can’t just survive…

Jared  

And this is within 100 years or so of Solomon. 

Pete  

Exactly. Yeah. Well it’s, it’s within 100 years of Saul. 

Jared  

Of Saul. Right. 

Pete  

I mean, if you think like roughly, I mean, this is all stylized, but 40 years for each of the three reigns, it’s like 120 years—that’s the biblical timeline. So around 930 is typically a rough date, it could be in the 940s. 

Jared  

For the split of the two kingdoms. 

Pete  

For the split, right. And that split lasts…

Jared  

For the rest of the, for the next 200 years. 

Pete  

200 years it lasts.

Jared  

So that’s good, let’s go there. Because I think that’s important. Because high level. There’s a lot going on up front, we got Saul, we got David, we got Solomon, we got that split between Rehoboam and Jeroboam in 930. And that continues for 200 years until Assyria comes—722. Assyria carts the North off. And now we just have the southern kingdom.

Pete  

Now the southern kingdom is left, right. 200 years, and during those 200 years in the North, again, how much of this is strictly history? There’s a lot of history happening here, that’s been verified, but it’s hard to know exactly if this is like objective history. But you have 20 kings of the North lasting 200 years. And it’s not just one line. It’s all these series of coups, right? There’s a lot of bloodshed in the North, where just kings would last for like six days, and they’d be hacked to bits and then somebody else would take over. And they’d rule for three, four generations, it was like that. You had several different bloodlines. The South, Judah, they also had their 20 kings. But that dynasty lasted another 150 years, roughly, you know, until 586.

Jared  

So again, the timeline is: 722—the North is carted off by Assyria, the South stays until the Babylonians then take over the Assyrians. And then they come for the South, and in 586, that’s the Exile.

Jared  

And that’s a critical moment in understanding these parts of the Bible. When we talk about Exile, that’s what we’re talking about. 722 Assyria, 586 Babylon in the south. And those are critical crisis moments in the history of Israel in the north, and Judah in the south.

Pete  

That’s the Exile.

Pete  

Yeah. And when the North fell, it’s hard to know exactly how the South would have reacted. I mean, we just have this official literature, but you know, there are theories about how northerners would come down and bring their own traditions. Remember, they’ve been separated for like, 200 years, which is almost—how old our country—

Jared  

Almost as long as America.

Pete  

Exactly, right. So they develop their own traditions in the north, and…

Jared  

It’s almost like England is in the north. 

Pete  

Yes!

Jared  

America is the south, right? Like we, yeah, we used to be united, now we’re split. And you can see how the different traditions and language even and culture…

Pete  

And imagine America falls, and we say, you know, we got to go back to England, right? So you go back, and we wouldn’t just like not have had 200 years of—if we can even call it culture—whatever we’ve had in America, right? So you know, those two things are going to sort of merge and talk to each other and…getting really off the field here, but it ties in with stuff we’ve talked [about] in other podcasts. That is one of the really convincing compelling theories for these different sources in Torah of the northern traditions. Again, there’s no test here. But if you’ve listened to some of the podcasts, the E source is supposedly a northern source that comes from that northern influence that was brought together with the J source, which is more southern. And those things were sort of negotiated and brought together to have one tradition. So there was probably a sense of camaraderie among people. Now, the writer of Kings is like, “well, they got what they deserved, those stupid northerners. Breaking off from us, not listening to us and starting their own religion.”

Jared  

So Kings has a bit of a bias.

Pete  

Yes, he has an ax to grind. He really does. And the ax to grind is God punishes cultic unfaithfulness.

Jared  

That’s right.

Pete  

Cultic meaning having to do with worship.

Jared  

It comes back to, that we set up these places, the high places, they don’t follow the deuteronomic understanding of how you’re supposed to worship…

Pete  

Like the book of Deuteronomy.

Jared  

Like the book of Deuteronomy says, So, of course they get carted off, they’ve been worshiping illegitimately for a couple of 100 years.

Pete  

Yeah. But then the south gets carted off too, so what’s up with that? Well, that’s how the story continues. You have essentially in the south a line of kings, who, likewise, they don’t have their acts together. And some of them are really, really, really bad. One good one is Hezekiah. He’s a good one. He’s around the year 700. He’s a great king. And by the way, surely—

Jared  

Wait, before you go on with Hezekiah, note that 700 is the North’s already been carted off.

Pete  

Exactly right. But you know what? The North is not like, saying, “Okay, we’re done here. Let’s go home.” They had their sights on the rest of the area. And that is, you know, one of the most frankly, amazing scenes in the whole Hebrew Bible, is the unsuccessful Assyrian attack on Jerusalem, and that happened in 701 BC, and Hezekiah was the king. Surely there’s a reason for that. Hezekiah must be this great, amazing king who’s walking with God and so you have—the result is a very good result. And so he is presented as not a perfect king, but a really, really, really good one. 

Jared  

And that helps explain why he was able to ward off the Assyrian attack on Jerusalem in 701.

Pete  

That’s right. And I think it’s, we should, from a historian’s point of view…Again, people can disagree who are listening and that’s fine, but we’re talking about biblical scholarship and things. That is the way that historians understand this episode. Hezekiah is portrayed a certain way by the biblical writers to connect this idea that the righteous are rewarded, and the wicked are punished. Retributional theology.

Jared  

The story of the kings is written through the prism or the lens of retributive or deuteronomic theology. Meaning, if you do good things you get to stay in the land and God will prosper the king and through the king, the people. If you disobey the Deuteronomic laws, then you will be punished—the kings will be punished and through them the people will be punished.

Pete  

And that’s in Deuteronomy. That’s why we keep saying this Deuteronomic perspective. 

Jared  

Yeah, that’s outlined in the book of Deuteronomy.

Pete  

Right. Towards the end the blessings and curses—I mean, there’s a lot of like, “hint, hint, hint” exile language in Deuteronomy—which is what leads people to think Deuteronomy was written in light of exile, which I happen to agree with. I know you do too. So yeah, I mean, that’s, it’s really all these things just sort of woven together. But the South were the good guys, basically. They kept going right? Until this guy Manasseh showed up. And he was a king in the seventh century, like the middle of the century, seventh century, and he had, I’m trying to remember exactly how long it was. It was like 45 or 50 years. He had the longest reign of any king, and he was the worst. He did everything you shouldn’t do: setting up alternate cultic sites, erecting high places, which Deuteronomy is like really clear that you want to tear those things down. He kept erecting these high places.

Jared  

So now, just to clarify, when you’re in the north, you don’t have access to the temple in Jerusalem. So if you want to worship Yahweh, you have to set up high places. But if you’re in the south, you really have no excuse for setting up cultic places. 

Pete  

You have the temple right there, guys.

Jared  

You have the temple. So Manasseh was like double—

Pete  

Get with the program. 

Jared  

—was like doubly bad.

Pete  

Doubly bad, right. Which, by the way, was following a little bit in Solomon’s footsteps, because Solomon had all these foreign wives. And another reason given in 1 Kings for why there was a split in the monarchy, it’s not just the Rehoboam/Jeroboam thing. It’s Solomon basically was disobedient, he got all full of himself, you have the foreign wives, because you have to be nice to them and let them worship their own god *in the Holy Land* the way they want to, and that’s why the kingdom was torn away from him. So you have—which I think is a beautiful thing, part of what makes this literature actually very interesting is you have a theological explanation, Solomon’s infidelity to God, basically his spiritual adultery. And you also have a political answer given for why it’s split. And that’s basically Rehoboam—

Jared  

Mishandled the succession.

Pete  

Was unwise. He was a fool. He was unlike his father early on, he was unwise. And both of those are juxtaposed, they’re right next to each other in the narrative. “Well, which is it?” Well, that’s the wrong question. From their perspective, both of these things are active. Which means—I think there’s a subtlety there that we sometimes lose when we’re too critical about, “Oh they just think God caused everything.” I think they had a sense for, there are theological reasons behind the scenes, but then there are also political reasons that are right in front of us. And I think they were acknowledging both, which means they’re a lot more sophisticated, I think, in their religious thinking, than we sometimes give them credit for.

Jared  

Well, it reminds me for some reason of going back to Genesis with say, the flood narrative. Where it’s, we don’t say, God, everything, God’s behind everything. So it’s not that it’s either/or, it’s that God is acting in the midst of these other actions. So whenever there’s a political reason, that’s fine. But clearly, there’s a theological, there’s always a theological reason as well.

Pete  

Yeah, like the Babylonians coming to invade Judah and carrying them off. It’s like—

Jared  

That’s obviously a political reality.

Pete  

It’s a political reality, because they’re just doing their thing. But it’s also something that Yahweh is somehow behind. 

Jared  

Right, exactly.

Pete  

We have Manasseh, who’s the worst king ever. And it got so bad that he caused his children to “pass through the fire” which is he reinstituted child sacrifice. Which that and worshiping false gods are about the two worst things you can do in Deuteronomic theology. And he’s got them both. So what happens is that he dies and his grandson Josiah, who is by far the best king in all of these stories. And what he does is he completely cleans house. He has a revival, he reinstitutes things like the Passover which had been forgotten, he undoes everything that his grandfather did—but still—see, this is the thing—but still exile came.

Jared  

How far after Josiah do we have Babylon coming?

Pete  

Pretty much right after he dies. Yeah, he dies. By the way, unlike his grandfather Manasseh “the wicked one,” Josiah the super king gets killed in a really dumb battle in a really dumb way. He gets himself involved in some political machinations and he gets killed. You know, the Babylonians are coming from there, the Egyptians from the south, he wants to get in the way to sort of, you know, keep—he wants the Egyptians out of the way. And he wants, the devil you know, I think is better than the devil you don’t know. So the Pharaoh Necco is his name, I always think of him because it’s the candy too. But Pharaoh Necco comes in and winds up killing Josiah in battle, and he’s brought back and there’s great mourning. But the thing is, like, he’s not “supposed” to die.

Jared  

Right, we have a theological crisis.

Pete  

We have a theological crisis.

Jared  

Because Manasseh the evil king survives forever, and has a long reign, and then the good king Josiah dies younger than he should in a dumb military battle.

Jared  

Right, and he’s a good king.

Pete  

And not a good because he undid everything that Manasseh did.

Pete  

And so here’s how the author explains this problem. He says, yeah, we still go into exile because despite what Josiah did Manasseh’s sins were so bad God just could not overlook those. Right?

Jared  

Like, the tidal wave of sin that Manasseh you know, that Manasseh’s earthquake, it couldn’t be undone. The wall couldn’t be built fast enough for…

Pete  

Even though Josiah undid it. So the exile comes anyway. And I’ve always found that to be a little bit of a lame excuse. I mean, it reeks a little bit of propaganda. You know, again, we have to explain, we have to defend God here. Why would God do this? Well, clearly, this sin must be so bad. So you cart people off.

Pete  

Yeah, I mean, this is—not just this, but a lot of the other kings—the story in Chronicles…Okay. Back up. 1 and 2 Kings is written in the context of the, probably the Exile itself.

Jared  

Can we talk for a minute—this may get us off track, but I always love this juxtaposition, because it really helps. Talk about the difference between how Chronicles presents Manasseh versus how Kings presents Manasseh.

Jared  

Well it’s asking the question, “why are we in exile?” It’s very Exhilic. 

Pete  

Right. And it gives the answer.

Jared  

Right.

Pete  

And Chronicles is probably written, well, generations later, and I’m guessing probably, you know, others say this too, but probably like fourth century. 

Jared  

Like very late.

Pete  

Like really, really late. Right? And we know this because there are fifth century names in that boring genealogy we all skip at the beginning of 1 Chronicles. It’s nine chapters of names. There are fifth century names in there, so the writing of this has to be—it can’t be any earlier than probably mid- to late-fifth century. And so it might even be fourth century. So.

Jared  

Well, and I think I just want to—again, side note on this, because I think it’s telling that in the Jewish Bible, we put Chronicles in with the history books. In the Jewish Bible they have three sections, right? They have your Torah, you have your prophets, and then you have your writings. Which are sort of the, writings are usually later and they’re put at the end. And Chronicles is in the writings in the Jewish Bible. Because it’s written much later, and it’s clearly a reinterpretation of things.

Pete  

It’s a reinterpretation of history as we move forward in our existence.

Jared  

Now, we are trying to figure out—are we still God’s people after exile? And we have to rethink that narrative we have in Samuel Kings about all that happened.

Pete  

We have to reframe the whole narrative in order to speak to our circumstance today. And that’s why you know, Chronicles is last in the Jewish canon. 

Jared  

We end with 2 Chronicles.

Pete  

It’s a great send off. It’s a great way to end the Hebrew Bible. It’s like, “and now the future,” you know, what’s going to happen?

Jared  

And also why it starts with pages and pages of genealogy, because we’re trying to connect our story now to the glory days in some ways.

Pete  

Well, back to Adam. That’s the first name. It’s like, here’s an overview of our entire people and what it means. 

Jared  

Because we’re trying to find connections now, because after the Exile, things just don’t feel the same. We’re supposed to be all triumphant, and then we get back to the land and it just doesn’t feel like the glory days.

Pete  

Right. And, but they’re coming! So that’s the idea, they’re coming. And with Manasseh, it’s a fascinating story, because in Kings, he is horrible and wicked, and then he dies like he deserves—sheds a lot of blood. He’s horrible, right? In Chronicles, he’s wicked and horrible, but then what happens is he gets captured and he’s brought to Assyria. He’s taken into exile. And while he’s there, he says…

Jared  

Lo and behold…

Pete  

“I’ve been wrong.” 

Jared  

He repents.

Pete  

He repents, he repents, that’s the story, and as a result, he comes back and has a change of heart and things get better. Now, God’s still punished them because the people were complicit.

Jared  

Well you still have to explain the Exile.

Pete  

You still have to explain the Exile, you still have to explain why things didn’t just become rosy. But I think the point, the way I’ve interpreted this story has been, and again, I’m not the only person to say this, but Manasseh now becomes an object lesson for these Jews living so much later saying, “You know what, if you repent of your sins, God will bless you.” So there’s always repent—God is always ready to hear a repentant heart. And then that is what is needed as we move into the future. “Look at Manasseh and the example of even Manasseh!”

Jared  

“If there’s hope for Manasseh, there is hope for us.”

Pete  

Yes. There is no hope in kings, he’s the culprit, right? Chronicles portrays Manasseh in a way that, in my opinion, is not historically justifiable. 

Jared  

Which for a lot of Chronicles is the case.

Pete  

That is the case. Yeah, I mean, some people disagree, although nuance it differently. And there could be a debate about this, but I think Manasseh—the very idea of him being taken captive by the Assyrians, I just don’t know why Kings would leave that out. Because that’s like, that’s what he deserved. But it’s just he dies, and there’s a succession, and that’s all there is to it. It seems fabricated on the part of Chronicles, well, I shouldn’t say fabricated—that’s a modern bias. He is, he’s preaching the life of Manasseh, and doing it in such a way that’ll benefit the people in the lessons that they need to hear hundreds of years later. So in that sense, it’s really a beautiful story, but they treat him differently. He’s just this figure you have to account for somehow, and treats him differently. So Josiah dies, and that’s when the Babylonian invasion starts because the Babylonians defeat the Egyptians. They have, they’re running the show now. And it starts like in the 590s, slow, like attrition that sort of keeps up for about, you know, 10 years or so. And then Jerusalem fell and the temple was razed to the ground around 586. And that is the exile which lasted…

Jared  

70 years?

Pete  

That’s what they say.

Jared  

Til 539. Right? Cyrus issues the decree?

Pete  

Yeah, although that’s 47 years.

Jared  

Yeah, yeah, I just didn’t do the math right. 539 is, he issues the decree.

Pete  

Well they say 70, you see, because Jeremiah—

Jared  

Yeah, that’s where I get…

Pete  

Talks about 70 years, right? And, and a lot of people think, and I think this is probably the easiest answer—that it’s a round number. It’s a number of perfection. It’s the number of divine intentionality or something like that. There is another answer that my Old Testament professor Ray Dillard mentioned once just in passing, he said it might be this. He argued that the temple wasn’t rebuilt until 516, around that period. So 586 to 516 is around 70 years.

Jared  

And that’s “the Exile” because it’s, we’re exiled from the temple, basically in some ways.

Pete  

Right. Yeah, until God is back in our midst, it’s not the land, right? And that’s always attracted me. And I sort of have bounced this off of people. And no one has said, “Oh, that’s wrong.” They said, “Oh, that’s really interesting.” So there may be…

Jared  

Something to that.

Pete  

Yeah. And we don’t have to choose between those two options either.

Jared  

But again, for our timeline, so again, just to go back—we got 1000, we have the setup of the monarchy, you might say, in 1000. Then by 930, we split the North and the South. 722, the North gets carted off. 586, the South gets carted off. 516, we have the beginnings of the Second Temple. And then basically, what is it? Until 1945 the Jewish people didn’t have their own land.

Pete  

Yeah, ’40 something, ’47.

Jared  

I think maybe ’47. The Jewish people didn’t have their land except for the small period during the Maccabean period, we call it.

Pete  

Well, they didn’t have rulership of their land, but they were living in the land as guests, so to speak.

Jared  

They were living there, but they didn’t have—they didn’t have political autonomy. And except for this little period, which I think is actually important, from about 130 BCE until 37 BCE. So we’re getting close to the time of Jesus. We have this Maccabean revolt, and they do have reign over their land again, until Herod the Great comes and conquers it for Rome. And then the Romans. But I think that’s important. The only reason I say that is I think it’s important because it can explain some of the political unrest during Jesus’s time, is, “Oh my gosh, we just haven’t had our land for so long. And now we had it. And now we don’t again.”

Pete  

And the thing about that roughly 100 year period is that it isn’t like, “and they all lived happily ever after.” Because now they have their kingdom back. Man, there was infighting. There was negotiating with the Greeks, you know, about survival and you know, one reason—will you probably have…We had a podcast on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Essenes who was sort of like the monastics of the day and running off into the desert, probably left Jerusalem, they abandoned that 100 year period because it was so corrupt.

Jared  

So chaotic, yeah.

Pete  

Like the buying and selling of the high priests. And we have that information from other Second Temple texts, things that made it into the Apocrypha, which Protestants never read which is a shame. But they talk about this kind of stuff. So this was not a return to glory days, and then all of a sudden thwarted 100 years later. It was sort of a mess. It was semi-independent rulership. There was always a problem from within and without, so it was a lot of unrest. And then Herod the Great, you know, he took over, and that’s that, you know…

Jared  

Leads us into the New Testament.

Pete  

The story of Jesus and things like that, right?

Jared  

Yeah. So again, I think that’s, we bring this history lesson because it can feel confusing, but if you can remember those high points of the start of the monarchy, the split into the north and the south, the North being taken off by the Assyrians, the South being taken off by the Babylonians, that’s the Exile that’s often talked about, then we have a return from exile. And then we head into the New Testament, you know, a few 100 years later, this intertestamental period, Second Temple period. But that gives us this—that covers a huge swath of our Hebrew Bible, that timeframe.

Pete  

1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, the 17 books that make up the Prophets for us. So that’s 21 books.

Jared  

And then 1 and 2 Chronicles. Those are like directly addressing it.

Pete  

That’s 22, 23 books, you have to throw in Ezra and Nehemiah. 24, 25, might as well throw in Ruth, 26. Esther’s taking place in the Persian period, even though there are “historical problems” with that—you’ve got, you know, an awful lot of the biblical books that are contributing to what is the main historical narrative of the Hebrew Bible—which is from creation to exile. That’s really, that’s the whole historical context. Most of the books of the Hebrew Bible there are whatever, 39 books…

Jared  

39 and we said what, 27 of them?

Pete  

And actually, you know, if you play with it a little bit, it’s really just those five books of wisdom literature and poetry that don’t directly connect to the timeline, the episodes. The rest of it, in some sense, is dealing with the stories of Genesis which are already previewing monarchy. You know, I have a solo podcast on a different way of reading Genesis. I forgot what number it is, but find it. You people are capable on the interwebs, you can find these things. You know, where there are already monarchic overtones in Genesis, because that’s the signal. All this stuff, this is where this story is going. So you have the ramp up to the books that we discussed, starting in 1 Samuel and all the prophets are dealing with, essentially, threats to the existence of the monarchy from within and from without, and what are we going to do about these things?

Jared  

Right. So again, the reason we wanted to talk about this was because as we read our Bibles, it’s important to understand that’s what you’re getting yourself into. When you flip open to the Old Testament, chances are, you’re flipping open to historical narrative, or an interpretation of historical events that directly tied to the kingship of Israel.

Pete  

And maybe the question—it’s a little simplistic because people read the Bible for different reasons, and they get different things out of it, which I totally affirm. But maybe this is an instance where trying to understand the biblical theology, these are historical, they’re dealing with history, but they are fundamentally pieces of theology. What is God like? What does it mean to be the people of God? How does this all work? And we’re eavesdropping almost on their understanding of what those things mean. And let’s just say, and, again, somewhat simplistically, there are lessons to be learned there, but that’s only a part of the story of the entire Christian scriptures, which goes beyond these moments during the monarchic period. And Jesus is supposed to be the ideal king, sort of like David was, sort of was, but you know, that’s the problem again—these stories get sanitized a little bit. But Jesus as king, as Messiah, there’s a whole history behind the centrality of this sort of thing. And then to watch how Jesus essentially, according to the Gospels, undermines the whole thing. That is, to me, that’s a really interesting thing to look at. Not just the monarchic period for itself, although that’s interesting. If you’re interested in like, what do I get out of it? You have to keep reading the whole thing and how the old ways are played with in the Gospels and Jesus just comes out looking not at all like you would expect someone hailed as the Jewish king to act. That’s how Jesus is presented.

Jared  

Well, I think ending with Jesus is a good place to end.

Pete  

Yes, as always.

Jared  

So thanks so much for listening everyone, and we’ll be back in two weeks.

Pete  

Two weeks. See ya, folks.

Outro  

[Jaunty outro music plays] You just made it through another entire episode of the Bible for Normal People! Well done to you, and well done to everyone who supports us by rating the podcast, leaving us a review, or telling others about our show. We are especially grateful for our Producers Group who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. So a big thanks to Jeremy Jones, Becky Davenport, Mike, Edward Glasscock, Dustin Baucom, Phil Spohn, Chris Abbott, Michelle Oney Snyer, Stephen Goulstone, and Kevin Marshall.

Outro  

This episode was brought to you by the Bible for Normal People team: Brittany Prescott, Savannah Locke, Stephanie Speight, Tessa Stultz, Nick Striegel, Haley Warren, Jessica Shao, and Natalie Weyand. [outro music ends]

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.

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