The Trouble with Kings. The Composition of the Book of Kings in the Deuteronomistic History (Supplements to Vetus Testamentum XLII)

Written by Steven L. McKenzie Reviewed By Richard S. Hess

McKenzie’s work adds to the growing number of published theses and studies surrounding questions of the composition of the Deuteronomistic History, especially the books of Kings. His thesis represents a departure from the tendency to find multiple redactions and a return to the original theory of Noth, that a single author composed the work, with various additions from various sources (rather than an editor who systematically reworked the entire history). Following an introductory review of scholarship, McKenzie studies the lxx text of 3 Reigns 12:24A-Z. While not accepting the label ‘midrash’, he concludes that the Masorefac Text is prior and that the Greek was written to provide a story of Jeroboam’s ill son, which was missing from the Vorlage of the Greek text but present in the original Deuteronomistic History.

McKenzie examines the following items in Kings: the Jeroboam of 1 Kings 11–14, the oracles against the dynasties, the ‘prophetic additions’ to the books, and the reigns of Hezekiah and Josiah. Identifying 1 Kings 13 as a late addition, McKenzie feels able to isolate a few sources in the remainder of the Jeroboam material, but he observes that the Deuteronomist’s rewriting of the text has been so thorough that the detection of other sources is guesswork. McKenzie rejects an earlier prophetic source as underlying material in the books of Kings. Where sources exist, they have disparate origins. Many of the longer prophetic narratives were added after the Deuteronomist. The Deuteronomist juxtaposed two accounts of Sennacherib’s invasion, A (18:13–16) and B1 (18:17–19:9a and vv. 36–37), wherein the second emphasized Hezekiah’s trust in Yahweh. Hezekiah’s illness and recovery are also Deuteronomistic, but not the account of the Babylonian envoys, which portrays Hezekiah in a negative light. McKenzie argues that the Deuteronomistic portrait of Josiah is optimistic, with an expectancy of divine blessing for the reforms. Thus neither Huldah’s oracle nor the subsequent account of evil kings and disaster are Deuteronomistic. The material following the account of Josiah changes to a pessimistic tone. It omits the prophecy-fulfilment scheme and the themes of cult centralization and Davidic promise, which are key in the earlier sections. Such a distinctive change in the text is best understood as an addition to the Deuteronomist’s work. The Deuteronomist composed the history during the reign of Josiah.

Three observations may be made. First, McKenzie does not give much attention to the regnal formulas and their alterations. This is of importance for those who identify a composition during the reign of Hezekiah which is then updated under Josiah. There are clear patterns and alterations in death and burial formulas which hypothetical changes in burial practices do not explain adequately. Second, McKenzie relies heavily upon what he identifies as major themes (Davidic promise and cult centralization) of the Deuteronomist to determine what is Deuteronomistic and what lies outside the work. It is not clear that an ancient writer was compelled to follow only two themes such as this in the composition of a work. This leads to the third point, which is the question of ancient historiography. Although the contributions of Van Seters and Long are discussed, the implications of the paratactic method of composition may deserve greater consideration in a work whose approach is similar to that of other histories. This is especially true if, as McKenzie argues (following Van Seters), the purpose of the work was not a theological reform programme for Josiah but an account of the national traditions of Israel.

Such reservations lie more at the level of presuppositions regarding method than they do in the application of that method. In this area, McKenzie provides a competent review of the research. His interaction with other views, both on specific texts and on general features of the history, provide the background for a well-reasoned argument. The study brings back into focus in the scholarly debate the importance of Noth’s contention of a single author for the composition of the Deuteronomistic history. Future research of this topic will need to take the carefully reasoned arguments of this work into consideration.

Richard S. Hess

Denver Seminary, Denver