DATING THE REIGNS OF THE KINGS OF JUDAH AND ISRAEL

The annals of the Assyrian Empire discovered by archaeologists record 12 years between the reigns of King Ahab of Israel and King Jehu of Israel.  However, the Biblical record records 14 years between the reigns of these two kings with two kings between them, Ahaziah who ruled for two years and Jehoram who ruled 12 years ( 1 Kings 22:51; 2 Kings 3:1).  What at first glance appears to be a discrepancy can be easily explained by historians.  Ancient kingdoms had different ways of recording reignal years of their kings.  The Assyrians and Babylonians credited the entire year when a king died to his reign, even if he died in the beginning of the year and his successor ruled 11 months of that year.  That first year for the new Assyrian king would be designated his "ascension year" and the new king's "year 1" did not begin until the first day of the following year.  Historians call this method the "accession year" system or the "post-dating" system.

However, in Egypt the newly crowned Pharaoh recorded the actual year he came to the throne as "year 1" of his reign even though it was a partial year. This system of dating a reign is called the "non-accession-year" system, or "ante-dating."  The kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel adopted the Egyptian system of dating a king's reign.  Jeroboam I was the first king of the divided Northern Kingdom of Israel.  He was a prince of the tribe of Ephraim and a descendant of Joseph son of Jacob/Israel and Joseph's Egyptian wife Asenath.  When King Solomon exiled Jeroboam, the refugee Ephraimite prince sought refuge in Egypt, so it is understandable that the Egyptian system is the one adopted by the Northern Kingdom's first king.  The Kingdom of Judah, on the other hand, adopted the Assyrian system of only counting the first full year of a king's reign as "year 1".  Therefore, the two year difference between the Assyrian annals and the Israelite kings Ahab and Jehu are really just one full year plus part of a year that was counted as the predecessor's year.  The 12 years of Joram were 11 full years plus the months from his predecessor's death and so the Biblical account is not in error.  By the Israelite system of counting reigns Ahaziah and Joram ruled for 14 years, but according to the Assyrian system, which only counted the full years of a reign, they ruled for 12 years just as Shalmaneser's Assyrian annals record.

You may have noticed that in many lists of the reign of Rehoboam son of Solomon, King of Judah and Jeroboam I, King of Israel record the double dates of 931/930BC.  Sometimes double dates mean scholars cannot agree on the date but in this case the double dates have to do with the ancient dating system.  Most western nations count their years from January 1 to the last day in December.  This dating system is a gift of the Catholic Church when she established the beginning of the year on the 8th day after Jesus' birth, the day He was circumcised and received His human name.  The Church determined that Christ was born on December the 25th and 8 days later (counting as the ancients counted before the introduction of zero as a mathematical place-holder) gives the date January 1st (December 25 counts as day #1 and the 1st of January as day #8).*   However, in ancient times different peoples had different systems for counting a year.  Some civilizations counted from autumn to autumn, others from spring to spring, and still others from summer to summer.  The ancient Egyptians ran their year from summer to summer without accounting for a leap year so their calendar would lose a day every four years.  Some cultures like the Israelites had both a liturgical calendar and a civil calendar.  The civil calendar ran from the early fall to the next early fall, or from Tishri to Elul in the Hebrew calendar while the liturgical calendar, commanded by God in Exodus 12:1-2, extended from the early spring in Nisan (Abib/Aviv) to the next early spring in Adar in the Hebrew calendar.  So between two different cultures a recorded year could span two parts of our modern years.  This ambiguity in dating existed even for the ancients when neighboring societies used a different dating system.  For example, years in the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah  began in different seasons of the year with a year in one kingdom being half a year in the other and therefore the beginning of the reigns of Rehoboam and Jeroboam I can be dated to both 931 and 930BC—their years overlapping each other.

A logical question might be, "How did historians and Bible scholars arrive at the dates 931-930BC for the beginning of the reign of these two kings?"  Discovered Egyptian records allow scholars to arrive at a good fix on the years of King Solomon's reign.  Historians have a firm date of 664BC for the beginning of the reign of Egypt's XXVI Dynasty Pharaoh.  Prior to 664BC Egyptian records fix the reign of Pharaoh Taharqa (Biblical Tirhakah) at 26 years; giving scholars the date of 690BC.  Egyptian annals record that Taharqa's two predecessors, Pharaohs Shebitku and Shabako each reigned for 25 years, giving scholars the date of 715BC.  Preceding the reign of these kings was the reign of 10 pharaohs of the XXII Dynasty; a dynasty founded by Pharaoh Shoshenq, who in the Bible is called Shishak, the pharaoh who invaded the Kingdom of Judah in the 5th year of Judahite King Rehoboam's reign (see 1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Chronicles 12:1-9) as well as the neighboring kingdom of Israel.  Pharaoh Shoshenq was kind enough to leave behind a record of his victories in a triumphal relief at the great Egyptian Temple of Karnak and a victory stela at Silisila commemorating his military campaigns.  Therefore, calculating the known years the 10 pharaohs of the XXII Dynasty reigned back to Shoshenq/Shishak gives 227 years, or as scholars point out, more likely 230 years since the Egyptians counted only part of a year a king came to the throne as "year 1".  In years that is a span, counting backwards from the 715BC determined from the reigns of Pharaohs Shebitku and Shabako, of 715BC to 945BC, which can be determined to be the beginning of Shoshenq/Shishak's reign as pharaoh of Egypt.   

In addition to knowing the date of the beginning of Shoshenq/Shishak's reign, this pharaoh recorded that his military campaign against Israel and Judah was made in the 20th or 21st year of his reign (as recorded on his victory stela at Silisila which is dated to his 21st year). This evidence dates the campaign to 926/925BC. The Bible records the Egyptian invasion occurred in the 5th year of Rehoboam's reign which gives a date of 931/930 for the death of King Solomon and the beginning of the reign of Rehoboam, King of Judah and Jeroboam I, King of Israel. 

In much the same way Assyrian records can be used to determine the dates of Israel's kings from the divided kingdom period.  The dates derived from the Egyptian evidence agree with the dates derived from the Assyrian evidence to the extent that scholars feel confident dating King Solomon's reign to the mid-10th century BC and his son, King Rehoboam's "year 1" to 931/930BC. 

Note: * Dionysius Exiguus, "Dennis the Short" (c. 500-560) the Greek abbot of Rome circa 525 introduced the new method of dating events from the birth of Jesus Christ instead of using the old system of dating from the year from the beginning of the rule of a Roman Emperor or the founding of the city of Rome in the pagan era.  In dating time from Christ's birth, all dates after this pivot point in history, Dennis suggested, should be dated "in the year of the Lord", in Latin "Anno Domini" which came to be abbreviated as "AD." From the year of Christ's birth forward the years would be dated year 1 AD, year 2 AD, etc.  The years prior to the birth of Christ would be counted backward from the year before Christ's birth.  There was no year "0" because the concept of zero as a mathematical place-holder had not yet been introduced.  He also suggested dating the New Year from the day Jesus was named and circumcised, 8 days after His birth, which the Church determined to be December the 25th .  Unfortunately for Dennis, his new calendar was not immediately accepted.  In the 8th century AD the Venerable Bede, English priest and Biblical scholar, adopted Dennis' system and dated events recorded in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People "Before Christ" and events after the birth of Christ as "Anno Domini."  Other 8th century chronicles adopted the system used by the Bede and King Charlemagne, designated Holy Roman Emperor by the Pope in the year 800, began using the system of dating in his imperial decrees.  Eventually by the 10th century the Latin Church fully accepted Dennis' system of dating from the birth of Jesus Christ.

Archaeological evidence which supports the Biblical record:

  1. The discovery of Pharaoh Siamun's relief: Pharaoh Siamun, a contemporary of Israel's King Solomon, ordered a triumphal relief commemorating his campaign against the Philistines c. 970-960.  The Bible records that a pharaoh conquered the Philistine city of Gezer and gave it as a dowry to his daughter, Solomon's wife in 1 Kings 9:16.
  2. The discovery of Pharaoh Shoshenq's triumphal relief at Karnak and stela at Silisila:  These artifacts commemorate Pharaoh Shoshenq's (Biblically identified as  Shishak) campaign in Israel 925 and in Judah 924BC during King Rehoboam's reign recorded in 1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Chronicles 12:1-9.
  3. Annals of Shalmaneser III (853/52): The Assyrian annals mention King Ahab of Israel by name.
  4. Annals of Shalmaneser III (841/40): The Assyrian annals mention King Jehu of Israel by name.

Please refer to the Chart: "Comparison of the Reigns of the Kings of Judah and Israel" in the Charts/Old Testament section.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2007 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Resources and suggested reading:

  1. Ancient Near Eastern Texts, ed., James Pritchard, Princeton University Press, 1950.
  2. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, E.R. Thiele, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1986.
  3. The Chronology of the Kings of Israel and Judah, Gershon Galil, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996.
  4. "How We Know When Solomon Ruled," Kenneth A. Kitchen, Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2001.
  5. Christianity and the Roman Empire: Background Texts, Ralph Martin Novak, Trinity Press International, Harrisburg, PA.,2001, pages 279-283.
  6. The Age of Faith, Will Durant, MJF Books, New York, 1950, page 125.