Episode 88: Israel’s Kings with Dana M. Pike

In this episode of LDS Perspectives Podcast, Laura Harris Hales interviews Dr. Dana M. Pike on Israel’s united and divided monarchies.

The Old Testament prepares us for the United Monarchy, telling of Joshua marching Israel into the Promised Land, conquering virtually every city in their path. Joshua then allots land to each of the tribes of Israel. After Joshua, came the reign of the Judges. Their history, Pike notes, only has two judges that actually make decisions, at least according to the Bible: Deborah and Samuel. All of the others are regional leaders, who seek to liberate the local tribes from foreign rule. This system is problematic, as individual tribes are often too weak to protect themselves from foreign invaders. The people ask Samuel for a king, so they can be like the other nations and defend themselves. As seen in the Bible, this worked out to be both a blessing and a curse.

Pike throws greater light on these books of the Old Testament, explaining that Samuel and Kings were written centuries after the United Monarchy ended. The writers’ political and religious affiliation was in the same vein as that of the authors of Deuteronomy, with a focus on the centralization of the temple, the promised blessings for obedience, and grievous curses for disobedience. In this setting, we first see Saul blessed with kingship, but later revoked by Samuel due to his disobedience. Much focus is given on David’s reign and history, from Goliath to establishing the kingdom all the way to the Euphrates River in Babylon.

No one knows for certain exactly how long the United Monarchy lasted, though it is usually estimated at a century. Pike notes that the 40-year reigns of both David and Solomon may not be exactly that period of time, as the number 40 is often used in the Old Testament as a round number to signify a long period of time.

The Divided Monarchies arose after Solomon. The Ten Tribes asked Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, for some changes to make life better for them, but he refused. Led by Jeroboam, the Northern Tribes broke off, forming the kingdom of Israel. Rehoboam and his descendants would rule over the Nation of Judah. The “sin of Jeroboam” is discussed in a new light, showing it to be Northern Israel’s replacement for the worship of Yahweh in the Jerusalem Temple.

Listen in as Dana M. Pike explores the background behind the United Monarchy, reshaping how we view the great king David and his contemporaries.

About Our Guest:

Dana M. Pike is a professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture and in the Ancient Near East Studies program at BYU. Just prior to his assignment as Department Chair, Dr. Pike was an Associate Dean of Religious Education. He has taught at BYU since 1992, including two different years at BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. Dr. Pike received his BS in Near Eastern Archaeology and Anthropology from Brigham Young University and his PhD in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. His research centers on the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as related topics of interest to Latter-day Saints. He was one of the international editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Episode 88 Transcript

A Bible Reader’s History of the Ancient World


LDS Perspectives Podcast

Episode 88: Israel’s Kings with Dana M. Pike

(Released July 11, 2018)

This is not a verbatim transcript.

Some grammar and wording has been modified for clarity, and timestamps are approximate.


LAURA HALES 00:00 This is Laura Harris Hales, and I’m here today with Dana Pike to talk about Israelite monarchies in the Old Testament.


Dana M. Pike is a professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture and in the Ancient Near East Studies Program at BYU. Just prior to his assignment as Department Chair, Dr. Pike was an Associate Dean of Religious Education. He has taught at BYU since 1992 including two different years at BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. Dr. Pike received his BS in Near Eastern archaeology and anthropology from Brigham Young University and his PhD in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.

His research centers on the Hebrew Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as related topics of interest to Latter-day Saints. He was also one of the international editors of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Dr. Pike contributed three chapters to A Bible Reader’s History of the Ancient World, which we’re going to discuss today.

Welcome, Dr. Pike.

DANA PIKE       01:23 Thank you. A pleasure to be with you.
LAURA HALES 01:28 In your chapter, you said that you were writing a history of the United Monarchy, not the history of the period. Before we even start our discussion, why do you think we need to lay that framework?
DANA PIKE    01:48 I think that’s a basic historical approach that is helpful for all readers of the Bible to recognize. One, we do not know everything about what happened in ancient Israel. Two, the authors and redactors, which is a fancy name for editors, chose certain things to highlight, to emphasize, to make the points they wanted to make. And so already, we are dependent upon what they’ve chosen and how they’ve written it up, similar to what Mormon does in the Book of Mormon for Latter-day Saints.


There’s also the aspect of how do I interact with, and how do I interpret what’s written? How do I understand that? What does it mean to me? We’ve got partial information presented in a particular light, and then I interact with that and bring what I bring to the text—all of my life’s experiences and perspectives and beliefs and what have you. We never have a complete, definitive history of any people in any time period including the Israelites and ancient Israel.

I felt it was an important point to make since this is a chapter in a book that’s designed for students to help them think. It’s important to consider what the authors and editors have brought to the table and what do I bring to the table. How do I make the most of that while I still remember that there’s a lot more that could have been said that we don’t know?

LAURA HALES 03:13 Also, in this particular instance, the evidence outside of the Bible for some of these accounts is so minimal and so sketchy. Academics have interpreted it different ways. Dr. Pike may write a chapter on the United Monarchy, but someone else who also has a PhD might analyze the evidence differently. Would you agree?
DANA PIKE    03:42 I would agree. It depends in large measure on how much credence someone is willing to give the biblical account. There are scholars who would say they take the Bible to be essentially true as far as the historical account goes except when they can prove it differently—innocent until proven guilty, so to speak. There are others who say this is so religiously oriented and focused that it’s probably so biased that we shouldn’t take it at all as having any historical value. They’re at the other end of the spectrum.


I would say most biblical scholars fall somewhere in the middle, partly again because, in the early portions of Israelite history, we don’t have much other than the Bible. Archaeology gives us a sense of daily life, but we don’t have names of people. We have a little bit about their beliefs, but it’s hard to do much without the biblical account unless you’re just interested in the anthropological perspective of early Israelite time periods.

LAURA HALES 04:43 Let’s start by discussing what the Israelites had as a governing body before the United Monarchy. We all know that Joshua made the walls of Jericho tumble. After that came what?
DANA PIKE    04:58 Well, the Book of Joshua recounts the Israelite entrance into the lands. Again, a point with which many scholars would disagree with historically, but that’s the biblical depiction. Joshua chapters 13 to 22, the portion we typically skip when we read the book of Joshua, talks about the allotment of the land that went to the different tribes of Israel. Joshua dies at the end of the book of Joshua, and we’re introduced in the next book to the judges. These are not-so-much men who sit behind a desk or a bench and make legal decisions. Deborah and Samuel are the only two who are depicted as actually making decisions about anything.


The rest of the judges are chieftains. The spirit of the Lord rushes upon them, they go into battle, they help defeat the Moabites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, what have you, the Israelite’s neighbors who are oppressing the Israelites with no-central monarchy, no central government. We think the judges were regional and not universally over all of Israel. They’re united according to the Bible by their descent from the family of Israel. They’re Israelites, so they have a kinship factor that brings them together. They have similar beliefs in Jehovah or Yahweh that bring them together. But beyond that, there doesn’t seem to have been any political governing mechanism that united all of Israel. They’re family-based, kinship-based.

LAURA HALES 06:28 How do they make the jump from being ruled by regional judges to a united monarchy?
DANA PIKE    06:35 1 Samuel 8 depicts some of the Israelites coming to Samuel and saying, “We want a king to govern us, to deliver us from our enemies. Let’s have a monarchy. The system of judges that we have with these chieftains that are moved upon by God’s spirit isn’t working sufficiently well.”


In a famous line from 1 Samuel 8, some Israelites are depicted as saying, “We want to be like all the other nations,” which automatically if you’re an astute Bible reader, you know that that’s a terrible thing to want to be from the biblical perspective.

The Lord says to Samuel, “Give them what they want.” They get what they want. It’s good sometimes, but it’s usually bad for them, and the consequences are played out over the next three-and-a-half centuries of Israelite history.

LAURA HALES 07:25 Let’s talk about royalty. What does the term United Monarchy refer to?
DANA PIKE    07:32 United Monarchy is not a biblical term. It’s an academic term to describe the state of affairs during the time of the first three kings of Israel. The term United Monarchy implies that these kings ruled over all of Israel. At a certain point in time after Solomon’s death, the United Monarchy divides and becomes the Divided Monarchy, where Israelites are not all under one monarch. There’s the Kingdom of Israel in the North and the Kingdom of Judah in the South, each with their own capital, each with their own king. And that’s really the state of affairs from the late 900s down until 720s when the Northern Kingdom is conquered and destroyed and eliminated. For about two centuries, there are two kingdoms, North and South, but that’s preceded by about one century of a United Monarchy when all Israel was ruled by one king, again, according to how the Bible relates that to us.


The Bible tells us that the first king of all Israel was Saul. He was descended from the tribe of Benjamin and lived in a town called Gibeah, which is several miles north of Jerusalem.

DANA PIKE    08:49 1 Samuel 9–10 relate how Saul meets Samuel. Samuel, the prophet and judge, anointed Saul to become the first king of Israel. Saul is then later, in Chapter 10 and in a public setting, recognized and acclaimed as king.


We don’t know how long he ruled. It’s an interesting situation. The one verse in the Hebrew Bible that says anything about the length of his reign is a corrupted text (1 Samuel 13:1). In Hebrew, it says when Saul was a year old, he began to reign, and he reigned for two years. That’s problematic in lots of ways because he’s just been described a few chapters earlier as taller than everybody else, so we have a difficulty. The Greek translation, the Septuagint, does not include that verse. Either it wasn’t in the Hebrew text from which they were working or they thought it was so problematic they just chose to leave it out. Scholars typically guess that a nice round number is 20 years for Saul’s reign.

DANA PIKE    10:01 The King James Version that many Latter-day Saints use in English-speaking congregations of the church tries to finesse the situation, but it doesn’t really follow the Hebrew text, which is its base. So, the biblical text is problematic.


Scholars tend to think, given the amount of information about Saul fighting Philistines and other Israelite neighbors, that we just guess about 20 years, which gives us a total of about 100 years for the United Monarchy since there are claims that David ruled for about 40 years, and Solomon ruled for about 40 years.

There’s about a century of United Monarchy, and there’s about two centuries of Divided Monarchy. Then, the Northern Kingdom goes away, and there’s just the Southern Kingdom of Judah for another 150 years after that.

LAURA HALES 10:57 Let’s talk about King David. We finally have a royal family here. Would you say he’s the largest character in the Bible or at least the Old Testament?
DANA PIKE    11:08 David is clearly one of the largest characters, personalities, in the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. I think Moses is right up there as well. And Abraham. But David would clearly be in what I would consider the top-tier of biblical personalities or characters in part because of the way he’s depicted and in part because of how tradition continues to elevate and focus on David.


That has to do especially with the promise given to David that his dynasty would always rule. Christians understand that to be fulfilled in Jesus, but Jews were waiting for the Davidic messiah as well. There were messianic expectations of a descendant of David, and David is the great ideal king who was loyal to Yahweh, or Jehovah alone, which most kings weren’t. That really propels him to the top of the list. I suppose we could say as a seminal figure in both ancient Israel as described in the Old Testaments but then also in later Jewish and Christian traditions.

LAURA HALES 12:35 Before we start our discussion of David, let’s set a new framework. For those of us who are simply going to Gospel Doctrine class and reading the Bible as history, we may not be aware of how highly contested some of these biblical accounts are in regards to whether they’re historical or not. I’ve always just assumed that David was a real person, and he did everything as it was described in the Bible. You mention that because of the purpose of telling the story of David, there may be some hyperbole involved.
DANA PIKE    13:22 There may be some hyperbole, yes. And again, as I’ve said previously, this depends on what you bring to the text whether you accept it at face value or see it as essentially true at its core, but literary and theological influences may have led to some hyperbole or exaggerations (which doesn’t sound quite as nice as hyperbole). For example, as we’re reading in the latter half of 1 Samuel, Saul makes a number of decisions, and then Samuel says to him, “The Lord’s not going to choose you and your family to have a dynasty over Israel. The Lord’s withdrawing his Spirit from you.” David is on the rise; David’s anointed; David defeats Goliath. There’s Saul on a downward arc, as it’s depicted, and David on an ascending arc of success and favor.
DANA PIKE    14:24 Most of us don’t always read 2 Samuel so closely where David does a number of things that are disagreeable to the Lord and his prophets—again, the way the Bible depicts them. The purpose of the biblical texts seems to be to legitimize David as the chosen king whose descendants form this royal dynasty over the Israelites.


The texts that we have are not written in David’s day. They’re written hundreds of years after the fact. They’re looking back, and they’re trying to show how and why David was chosen, how and why his dynasty has continued to rule in Jerusalem ultimately again for three-and-a-half centuries. Later Jews and Christians, as we’ve said, had messianic expectations that a son or descendant of David would be the Messiah of the Lord that helps to focus on the ideal aspects of David. The text emphasizes the prominent and favorable aspects of David and tends to cause us to not think so much about some of the other choices he made in the second half of his life, second half of his rule.

LAURA HALES 15:40 He’s even portrayed as a proto-Messiah. He conquers Goliath, and he saves the nation just like the Messiah will rescue them again.
DANA PIKE    15:51 Yes. Yes. He is. And Saul, who is quite tall, doesn’t go out to battle against Goliath, who was said to be quite tall himself. But this teenager in a T-shirt and cut-offs goes out with his sling and his faith in the Lord and is successful against this giant Goliath, which comes not just to represent success in that particular contest, but as we’ve said has theological connotations about how the Messiah will overcome all of Israel’s enemies.
LAURA HALES 16:29 Also, there’s quite a bit of symbolism in the text regarding the reign of David. For instance, he reigned for 40 years, not 39, not 41. What significance would that have in a Hebrew text?
DANA PIKE    16:49 Well, we have many times in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, where 40 is used. Sometimes we think it’s meant literally. Sometimes it just appears to be an idiomatic way of saying a long time, especially a long, successful time. But it could be a long challenging time. The Israelites are in the wilderness for 40 years, right? There are a number of other 40 days, 40 years instances. The book of Samuel, 2 Samuel in particular, tells us that David ruled for about seven years in Hebron after Saul’s death. And actually, there is a little seven-year glitch in the United Monarchy where there’s a division. But David ruled seven years in Hebron over Judah and then 33 years over all of Israel. 2 Samuel 5 recounts that coming to pass. Then we’re left with this 40, and then Solomon, his son is going to reign 40 years. Most people assume that this is meant to be a nice round, grand number. But since we don’t have any other information, we tend to just go with the 40 years.
LAURA HALES 18:00 What about the conquest and the amount of land governed by King David as recorded in the Bible? How do we take that?
DANA PIKE    18:10 Good question. Again, if we accept the Bible at face value, then it sounds like David conquers most of his neighbors. He never completely conquers the Philistines, and he never conquers the Phoenicians. He has treaties with them. But south, east, and north, he conquers according to the biblical account. His influence is said to have extended all the way up to the Euphrates River. Now, most scholars are going to say, “Nah. It doesn’t look like that. We don’t think anybody in that era in that region had the power to be that strong.”
LAURA HALES 18:47 That’s way up to Babylon.
DANA PIKE    18:49 The Bible says the Euphrates. I’m not sure that it’s trying to tell us that David actually conquered and controlled those areas but rather had treaties with them. They were vassals under his authority and were paying taxes and tribute and what have you. Either way, it’s clear historically that this is a time in which a regional power could exert itself. But it also does not seem that any of those small early nations were able to exercise that much control and power.


Part of what’s going on there is the biblical account is drawing on some prophecies or statements that are attributed to the Lord saying to Abraham that his posterity would have this great region. It appears to me, at least, that the biblical authors are trying to say, “Look. This has been fulfilled.” If there’s one thing that the narrative texts in the Bible want to emphasize, it’s that prophecies are always fulfilled. Whenever there’s an opportunity for them to say, “Look. This was said way back when, and it’s being fulfilled now,” they take that opportunity and emphasize that. That’s just an aspect of the narrative biblical literature that we have.

LAURA HALES 20:17 When was David supposed to have ruled?
DANA PIKE    20:22 Well, we again don’t have exact dates. We build our chronology from dates that we do know in the 700s and the 800s, and then we work backwards further back into time. We typically believe that Saul was a ruler in the late 1000s, the late 11th century. David came to the throne sometime in 1009 or 1001. Those are the most common dates. If we see him reigning for about 40 years, that means Solomon comes to the throne sometime around 960 or 960-something and then 40 years for him down to about 925-ish or something like that.
LAURA HALES 21:06 How developed was the Israelite writing system during the reign of David?
DANA PIKE    21:13 We have hardly any inscriptions from Israelites in the early-to-mid-10th century or the 900s when David is king. It’s hard to know for sure. The biblical account depicts some sort of a growing scribal class to support the monarchy and to support developing trade and economic matters that even in the biblical account comes to greater fruition during the reign of Solomon. Having said that, we do know that at least some people were literate, functionally literate, and some would’ve been more literate than others, obviously. But in the time of David, we assume that most Israelites had little or no capacity as far as literacy goes.
LAURA HALES 22:09 When I was reading about that in your chapter, I was thinking about how I’d grown up always thinking the Psalms were written by David. They’re attributed to him. What does this limited writing system maybe say about the authorship of the Psalms?
DANA PIKE    22:32 Well, I’d say there are two issues there. One is how many people were able to write and then to what extent?
DANA PIKE    22:45 The fact that we don’t have a lot of inscriptions or haven’t discovered them yet doesn’t mean there wasn’t greater literacy than would appear just from the few inscriptions we have. In fact, just within the last 20 years or so, a few inscriptions have been found, which date to the time of Saul and David, in that era, early 10th century. To a certain extent, it’s what has survived and what has been found. But as I said, I imagine that literacy was limited during the reign of David but increasing during the reign of Solomon.
DANA PIKE    23:25 The second issue is whether David really authored all of the 150 psalms that we have in the book of Psalms? Even the book of Psalms doesn’t make that claim. Only about a third of them begin with “A Psalm of David.” Traditionally, it’s just been thought that David wrote all the Psalms, but a number of Psalms have attributions to other people. There’s a Psalm from Solomon; there’s a Psalm from Asaph and others; and some aren’t attributed to anyone.


David is depicted as a great psalmist whether he wrote these down, whether they were preserved orally and transmitted that way until they were written down later, we don’t know. The Hebrew expression “A Psalm of David” doesn’t necessarily mean that he wrote them all. Some people think some of them are in the style of David or were attributed to David even though they weren’t written by him. There are a whole series of factors there in trying to figure out how many of the actual psalms in the book of Psalms were originally produced by David. I am assuming some, but even the book of Psalms tells us they were not all produced by David.

LAURA HALES 24:46 How was Solomon’s rule different than David’s?
DANA PIKE    24:50 The biblical depiction of Solomon’s rule is that it was a time of greater peace, greater organization. Solomon is building on the foundation laid by David to create a kingdom, so bureaucracies are developing, manners in which to organize and retrieve taxes, and there are building projects that required forced labor.


It’s easiest to say it’s a time of consolidation. He is building on David and his accomplishments. We say Solomon, which is the Greek–English form. Shlomo is the Hebrew form related to the root shalom, meaning peace or well-being. His name helps to symbolize that that became a time of prosperity and much more of a peaceful time than the regular warfare that seems to have existed during David’s time, according to the Bible.

LAURA HALES 25:50 You mentioned earlier that redactors put things in the text for theological purposes. What do you think was the purpose of the account of Solomon’s reign?
DANA PIKE    26:11 We learn about Solomon’s reign in 1 Kings 1–11. And actually, David is on his deathbed at the opening of 1 Kings. 1 Kings and 2 Kings, originally one book, were produced in the late 600s down into the 500s—so many centuries after the fact.


As you’ve said, this is religious history or history with a religious purpose. It’s interesting to note that the 11 chapters that recount Solomon’s reign at the opening of 1 Kings were organized as a chiasm, which is a literary term based on the Greek letter chi, which looks like an “X.” Many listeners may be familiar with this as a literary form both in the Bible, and there’s some evidence of it in the Book of Mormon. It most often occurs in poetry, but it certainly occurs in narrative prose as well.

As we look at the first 11 chapters of 1 Kings, chiastically what falls out in the center is the account of the building and dedication of the temple of Jehovah or Yahweh in Jerusalem under Solomon’s direction—chapter 6, the building, and chapter 8, the dedication. That all comes at the core of this account. Clearly, the authors, I think, have consciously chosen to organize the account of Solomon’s reign in such a way that it emphasizes this as his great accomplishment. The sad reality is that when Kings was being produced, the book of Kings produced as we know it, it’s at the time of the destruction of the temple.

DANA PIKE    27:49 So again, for Latter-day Saints, looking at Mormon and the Book of Mormon, here’s somebody looking back over many centuries and saying, “How did we get here? Look what happened? What led to this?” The same sort of thing is driving the production of the book of Kings in the Bible. Three-and-a-half centuries after the inauguration of a monarchy and the building of the temple in Jerusalem, and now we’re being conquered, we’re being deported, and the temple is destroyed. How did we get here? What did we do that brought this about?”


This comes out at least in the Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings historical overview, which we refer to using the scholarly term “Deuteronomistic history,” and that’s just a fancy way of saying Deuteronomy-like. This historical overview draws on the vocabulary and the themes and their perspectives in the book of Deuteronomy: “Love God with all your heart. Only serve Him. Don’t serve other gods.”

Additionally, there is a sense that it’s Jehovah who owns the land, and you’ re only allowed to stay in His land if you’re faithful to Him and serve Him. Clearly, the folks who put the book of Kings together are looking back and saying, “Look at all the times when we’ve had kings and subjects who weren’t faithful, who didn’t love and serve just Jehovah but brought in the worship of other gods, and so on. All of these perspectives that are in the book of Deuteronomy become the orientation for evaluating history and producing this religious historical overview.

DANA PIKE    29:30 The book of Chronicles has a different perspective. If we say that the book of Kings is produced in the late 600s and finalized in the mid-500s BC the book of Chronicles is produced about two centuries later, late 400s maybe into the 300s BC, and it has much more of a priestly, Levitical, and temple-oriented perspective on things. Certainly, the perspective is still, “You need to obey God. Keep the Commandments,” but there is a different emphasis on what’s important. The focus is not so much on the kings of Israel but on temple worship and how faithful the kings were in supporting temple worship in the appropriate worship of Jehovah.


If we go back and think about some of David’s activities recounted in 2 Samuel—the story about Uriah, David committing adultery with Bathsheba, having her husband Uriah killed in battle, and so on, that’s all left out of Chronicles. So already, after the book of Kings is produced, Samuel and Kings and now a few centuries later when Chronicles is produced, there’s a conscious effort to help shine the brightest light on David. They clearly knew about the other activities they recorded in books that became part of the biblical canon, but they stopped talking about them in an effort to highlight and emphasize the good about David and the good about his efforts to worship Jehovah alone.

LAURA HALES 31:09 The United Monarchy only lasted for three rulers. What was the Divided Monarchy, and how long did they rule?
DANA PIKE    31:19 With the death of Solomon, we read in 1 Kings 12 that some of the tribes, the leaders of the some of the tribes from the northern tribal areas, decided they didn’t want to be ruled by Solomon’s son Rehoboam unless he was going to change some policies. This is our basis for understanding how the United Monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon divided. There was no longer one king over Israel, but the northern tribes said, “We’re out of here, and we’ll have our own ruler. We’re not going to be ruled over by the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem anymore.”


From about somewhere in the 920s down to 722, 721, when the Assyrians terminate the existence of the Northern Kingdom, we have two centuries with two Israelite kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom, which is called Israel, which gets confusing, and the Southern Kingdom with its capital still in Jerusalem was called the Kingdom of Judah.

They each have their own kings. There are accounts of prophets serving in the Northern Kingdom and in the Southern Kingdom. The Southern Kingdom continued to be ruled by the Davidic dynasty, descendants from David. The Northern Kingdom had much more of a colorful and fluid political life of multiple dynasties, some lasting for just one or two rulers, some lasting three or four rulers. The two centuries in the Northern Kingdom were less stable politically than the affairs and events in the Southern Kingdom.

LAURA HALES 33:10 The book of Kings recounts this period of time through an interesting literary element called the synchronous scheme. Can you describe that?
DANA PIKE    33:25 The synchronous or synchronistic history is the academic term we use to explain what’s going on in 1 Kings 12—2 Kings 17. That’s the two centuries of time in which there are two Israelite kingdoms during the Divided Monarchy period. The redactors, the people who put the book of Kings together, made an effort to coordinate or synchronize their accounts. So, they’ll say, just as an example, “King so-and-so in the North came to the throne. He ruled for this many years. And so-and-so was King in the South.” There’s this regular effort to organize and synchronize the accounts of the two kingdoms.


What’s interesting again, we mentioned Chronicles has a little bit different take on Israelite history. Not that they’re unaware, but they chose to only include accounts of the reigns of the kings in Jerusalem, the Davidic dynasty. The only time the book of Chronicles mentions kings in the North is when they interact with kings in the South.

DANA PIKE    34:34 The Chroniclers’ focus is on David’s dynasty, Jerusalem, and support of the temple in Jerusalem. Forget those renegade Israelites in the Northern Kingdom except when we have to mention them, then I guess we can. But the rest of the time, we know that true Israel and the true worship of Jehovah in the right way was taking place in Jerusalem.


That’s where the Chronicler chose to focus, which brings us back to a question you asked at the very beginning “is this the history versus a history.” Again, just in looking at Kings and Chronicles, we can see the different Israelites in different time periods with different agendas and attempts to focus on different things have chosen certain information and left out other information.

We do that all the time. Mormon in the Book of Mormon says he had to do that as well. We know Mormon’s name. We don’t know the names of the redactors or editors in the biblical accounts. We do know that Mormon claims, and I believe it, that he was inspired by the Lord to include certain things. Most people assume that the biblical authors were inspired to include certain things as well.

LAURA HALES 35:45 How long did the Divided Monarchy last?
DANA PIKE    35:49 The Divided Monarchy lasted about two centuries from the 920s to the 720s BC.
LAURA HALES 35:57 What caused the destruction of the Northern Kingdom?
DANA PIKE    36:00 We have this interesting collection or combination of data available to us to answer that question. The biblical answer to that is found in 2 Kings 17, which essentially says the Northern Kingdom and the Israelites living in the Northern Kingdom have worshipped other gods in addition to Jehovah. They’ve chased after them. They’ve been involved in inappropriate worship and morality. They haven’t always followed the prophets and prophetic counsel and reproof. And so, the Lord withdrew his spirit and power and protection and allowed and even brought the Assyrians against the Northern Kingdom, with the Assyrian army defeating the Israelites and annexing their territory to become part of the Assyrian Empire.


If we didn’t have that account, and we just looked essentially at other historical information, it’s clear that the Israelite army was no match for the Assyrian Empire. And it’s clear that the Assyrians were on a roll, so to speak, through the Levant, the Eastern Mediterranean region. They had rolled over Syria, the people who were known as the Arameans in antiquity and had come into the Northern Kingdom of Israel. They were working their way down the coast.

If we go beyond 2 Kings 17, we have the Assyrians interacting with the Israelites, the Judahites who were living in the Kingdom of Judah. The Assyrians are clearly the ancient Near Eastern power of the time. The biblical account, again, with its religious perspective, says the Assyrians wouldn’t have been able to be successful against the Northern Kingdom of Israel if the Israelites had been faithful. But since the Israelites weren’t faithful, the Assyrians conquered them.

LAURA HALES 37:57 There were quite a few kings that ruled during this period. We won’t go through each king as that’s the fodder for students of the ancient Near East. Let’s just concentrate on one of them and what it shows about how Israelite redactors wrote scripture. There’s an account of some golden calves that were constructed during the reign of King Jeroboam I. What problem did these calves pose for the redactors?
DANA PIKE    38:32 1 Kings 12 recounts the dissolution of the United Monarchy and the effort of the northern tribes to create their own monarchy. Jeroboam I, we call him the “first” because there’s a Jeroboam later in the 700s who’s also king of the Northern Kingdom.  Jeroboam I in the late 900s establishes a monarchy in the Northern Kingdom. The little bit of information that we have preserved for us in 1 Kings 12, which is our sole basis of information on this episode, recounts that he was concerned about Israelites going to worship in Jerusalem and how that might tend to undermine his rule in the Northern Kingdom since Jerusalem was in the Southern Kingdom now.


In addition to creating new priests and a new calendar, he created at least two national religious shrines, each of which had a golden calf, a young bull. Immediately, if you’re reading the biblical account, you’re supposed to think of Exodus 32, the account of the creation of the golden calf by Aaron and the Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai and how that was destroyed when Moses came down.

But be that as it may, the account tells us that Jeroboam I set up a shrine in Dan, a city in the northern part of Israel and Bethel, which was a city in central Israel, but it’s in the southern portion of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, that new Northern Kingdom. There probably was also a shrine in his capital.

DANA PIKE    40:20 Israelites now in the Northern Kingdom were allowed and encouraged to worship at these shrines. They didn’t have to make the trek to Jerusalem. People have wondered over the years what the golden calves were meant to represent. Clearly, calves and bulls in ancient Near Eastern iconography and mythology represent power and fertility and conquest and what have you.


The standard approach to interpreting this now is to see the golden calves as pedestals, not as Yahweh or Jehovah himself, but as pedestals over which God could appear or could be envisioned or imagined to appear. The basis for that is a number of depictions, mostly carvings, but even some tomb paintings from Egypt in which a variety of ancient Near Eastern deities are depicted standing on the back of lions and bulls and calves.

The sense is that these became functionally equivalent to the Ark of the Covenant, which in earlier biblical passages, is the place where the Lord will appear—especially in accounts about Moses, where the Lord says, “I’ll appear to you over the Ark of the Covenant.”

The Ark begins to be imagined as both the throne or the footstool of God. It’s assumed that Jeroboam and the northern Israelites created the golden calves in Dan and Bethel to function as pedestals over which they could imagine the Lord appearing. Thus, they become functionally equivalent to the Ark of the Covenant in Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.

DANA PIKE    41:57 But the book of Kings was redacted, compiled, and produced by people who lived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, who had maintained their Davidic dynasty, and who had continued to worship in Solomon’s Temple.


As they looked back at history, Jeroboam I and others in the Northern Kingdom were essentially viewed as apostates. Even though Jeroboam and his people could’ve imagined this as a legitimate way of worshiping Yahweh, because the bulls certainly weren’t to be confused with Yahweh over the centuries, looking at it from a different perspective in the South, the redactors are quite negative about this. It becomes known in the text of Kings as the sin of Jeroboam. Every king of the Northern Kingdom is judged against this benchmark. Did they allow the sin of Jeroboam to continue? In other words, that the two golden calves—the one in Dan and the one in Bethel—were allowed to continue to exist or did they eliminate it? None of the kings of the Northern Kingdom eliminated the golden calves, so every king is judged as deficient, apostate, perverse if you will, because they walked in the way of Jeroboam. They followed the sin of Jeroboam as the redactors describe it.

LAURA HALES 43:21 There seems to be an element to the rule of the monarchs as recorded in the Bible that mirrors that of the people in the Book of Mormon. What similarities have you noticed?
DANA PIKE    43:33 Focusing especially on a biblical account from Deuteronomy onwards, there’s this sense that kings were supposed to be loyal to Jehovah and represent him to their people. The book of Kings is full of examples and cases where kings don’t do that. They worship other gods. They include the worship of gods in their capital cities. Ahab is a classic example. Ahab is decried in pretty short accounts in the biblical text as just a terrible king because he worships Baal. He marries the daughter of a Phoenician king and makes her part of his harem and brings in with her the worship of Baal and probably other deities in addition to Jehovah or Yahweh.


From what little we know of Ahab from external sources, from Neo-Assyrian sources, he was a fairly strong king. Ahab probably was a powerful ruler who had a good economy and a good military. Because he was deficient, we would say, in measuring up against the standard that the biblical authors and redactors had, therefore, he is depicted as one of the worst kings of the Northern Kingdom.

DANA PIKE    44:55 We have similar cases in the Book of Mormon—King Noah, for example. Again, he did not follow in the religious tradition of his ancestors. We hear about pride and power and wealth and a lack of devotion to the Lord as understood by the authors and redactors.


It’s interesting for Latter-day Saints to note that the Book of Mormon has pretty much a Deuteronomistic perspective. Early on in the account, we have Lehi teaching that the Lord has told him that if he and his family and their descendants will keep the Lord’s commandments as presented to him that they’ll prosper in the land, and if they don’t, curses and bad things are going to come and happen to them. That’s essentially what the book of Deuteronomy is emphasizing as well. Worship God in the right way, and everything will take care of itself if you’re patient.

LAURA HALES 45:49 Thank you so much for sharing your scholarship with us today.
DANA PIKE    45:53 Thank you. My pleasure.

Disclaimer:     LDS Perspectives Podcast is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The opinions expressed on this episode represent the views of the guests and the podcaster alone, and LDS Perspectives Podcast and its parent organization may or may not agree with them. While the ideas presented may vary from traditional understandings or teachings, they in no way reflect criticism of LDS Church leaders, policies, or practices.

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