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First And Second Books of Kings

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For the First and Second Books of Kings in the Authorized Version see .

In the Vulgate both titles are given (Liber Primus Samuelis, quem nos Primum Regum dicimus, etc.); in the Hebrew editions and the Protestant versions the second alone is recognized, the Third and Fourth Books of Kings being styled First and Second Books of Kings. To avoid confusion, the designation "First and Second Books of Samuel" is adopted by Catholic writers when referring to the Hebrew text, otherwise "First and Second Books of Kings" is commonly used. The testimony of Origen, St. Jerome, etc., confirmed by the Massoretic summary appended to the second book, as well as by the Hebrew MSS., shows that the two books originally formed but one, entitled "Samuel". This title was chosen not only because Samuel is the principal figure in the first part, but probably also because, by having been instrumental in the establishment of the kingdom and in the selection of Saul and David as kings, he may be said to have been a determining factor in the history of the whole period comprised by the book. The division into two books was first introduced into the Septuagint, to conform to the shorter and more convenient size of scrolls in vogue among the Greeks. The Book of Kings was divided at the same time, and the four books, being considered as a consecutive history of the Kingdoms of Israel and Juda, were named "Books of the Kingdoms" (Basileiôn biblía ). St. Jerome retained the division into four books, which from the Septuagint had passed into the Itala, or old Latin translation, but changed the name "Books of the Kingdoms" (Libri Regnorum ) into "Books of the Kings" (Libri Regum). The Hebrew text of the Books of Samuel and of the Books of Kings was first divided in Bomberg's edition of the rabbinical Bible (Venice, 1516-17), the individual books being distinguished as I B. of Samuel and II B. of Samuel, I B. of Kings and II B. of Kings. This nomenclature was adopted in the subsequent editions of the Hebrew Bible and in the Protestant translations, and thus became current among non­Catholics.


I-II Books of Kings comprise the history of Israel from the birth of Samuel to the close of David's public life, and cover a period of about a hundred years. The first book contains the history of Samuel and of the reign of Saul; the second, the history of the reign of David, the death of Saul marking the division between the two books. The contents may be divided into five main sections: (1) I, i-vii, history of Samuel; (2) viii-xiv or, better, xv, history of Saul's government; (3) xvi-xxxi, Saul and David; (4) II, i-xx, history of the reign of David; (5) xxi-xxiv, appendix containing miscellaneous matter. The division between (3) and (4) is sufficiently indicated by the death of Saul and by David's accession to power; the other sections are marked off by the summaries, vii, 15-17; xiv, 47-58; xx, 23-26; xv, however, which is an introduction to what follows, according to the subject­matter belongs to (2).

(1) History of Samuel

Samuel's birth and consecration to the Lord, I, i-ii, 11. Misdeeds of the sons of Heli and prediction of the downfall of his house, ii, 12-36. Samuel's call to the prophetic office; his first vision, in which the impending punishment of the house of Heli is revealed to him, iii. The army of Israel is defeated by the Philistines, Ophni and Phinees are slain and the ark taken; death of Heli, iv. The ark among the Philistines; it is brought back to Bethsames and then taken to Cariathiarim, v- vii, 1. Samuel as judge; he is instrumental in bringing the people back to the Lord and in inflicting a crushing defeat on the Philistines, vii, 2-17.

(2) History of Saul's Government

The people demand a king; Samuel reluctantly yields to their request, viii. Saul, while seeking his father's asses, is privately annointed king by Samuel, ix-x, 16. Samuel convokes the people at Maspha (Mizpah) to elect a king; the lot falls on Saul, but he is not acknowledged by all, x, 17-27. Saul defeats the Ammonite king, Naas, and opposition to him ceases, xi. Samuel's farewell address to the people, xii. War against the Philistines; Saul's disobedience for which Samuel announces his rejection, xiii. Jonathan's exploit at Machmas; he is condemned to death for an involuntary breach of his father's orders, but is pardoned at the people's prayer, xiv, 1-46. Summary of Saul's wars; his family and chief commander, xiv, 47- 52. War against Amalec; second disobedience and final rejection of Saul, xv.

(3) Saul and David

David at Court

David, the youngest son of Isai (Jesse), is anointed king at Bethlehem by Samuel, xvi, 1-33. He is called to court to play before Saul and is made his armour­bearer, xvi, 14-23. David and Goliath, xvii. Jonathan's friendship for David and Saul's jealousy; the latter, after attempting to pierce David with his lance, urges him on with treacherous intent to a daring feat against the Philistines by promising him his daughter Michol in marriage, xviii. Jonathan softens his father for a time, but, David having again distinguished himself in a war against the Philistines, the enmity is renewed, and Saul a second time attempts to kill him, xix, 1-10. Michol helps David to escape; he repairs to Samuel at Ramatha, but, seeing after Jonathan's fruitless effort at mediation that all hope of reconciliation is gone, he flees to Achis, King of Geth, stopping on the way at Nobe, where Achimelech gives him the loaves of proposition and the sword of Goliath. Being recognized at Geth he saves himself by feigning madness, xix, 11-xxi.

David as an Outlaw

He takes refuge in the cave of Odollam (Adullam), and becomes the leader of a band of outlaws; he places his parents under the protection of the King of Moab. Saul kills Achimelech and the priests of Nobe, xxii. David delivers Ceila from the Philistines, but to avoid capture by Saul he retires to the desert of Ziph, where he is visited by Jonathan. He is providentially delivered when surrounded by Saul's men, xxiii. He spares Saul's life in a cave of the desert of Engaddi, xxiv. Death of Samuel. Episode of Nabal and Abigail; the latter becomes David's wife after her husband's death, xxv. During a new pursuit, David enters Saul's camp at night and carries off his lance and cup, xxvi. He becomes a vassal of Achis, from whom he receives Siceleg (Ziklag); while pretending to raid the territory of Juda, he wars against the tribes of the south, xxvii. New war with the Philistines; Saul's interview with the witch of Endor, xxviii. David accompanies the army of Achis, but his fidelity being doubted by the Philistine chiefs he is sent back. On his return he finds that Siceleg has been sacked by the Amalecites during his absence, and Abigail carried off with other prisoners; he pursues the marauders and recovers the prisoners and the booty, xxix-xxx. Battle of Gelboe; death of Saul and Jonathan, xxxi.

(4) History of the Reign of David

David at Hebron

He hears of the death of Saul and Jonathan; his lament over them, II, i. He is anointed King of Juda at Hebron, ii, 1-7. War between David and Isboseth, or Esbaal (Ishbaal), the son of Saul, who is recognized by the other tribes, ii, 8-32. Abner, the commander of Isboseth's forces, having quarrelled with his master, submits to David and is treacherously slain by Joab, iii. Isboseth is assassinated; David punishes the murderers and is acknowledged by all the tribes, iv-v, 5.

David at Jerusalem

Jerusalem is taken from the Jebusites and becomes the capital, v, 6-16. War with the Philistines, v, 17-25. The ark is solemnly carried from Cariathiarim to Sion, vi. David thinks of building a temple; his intention, though not accepted, is rewarded with the promise that his throne will last forever, vii. Summary of the various wars waged by David, and list of his officers, viii. His kindness to Miphiboseth, or Meribbaal, the son of Jonathan, ix. War with Ammon and Syria, x.

David's Family History

His adultery with Bethsabee, the wife of Urias, xi. His repentance when the greatness of his crime is brought home to him by Nathan, xii, 1-23. Birth of Solomon; David is present at the taking of Rabbath, xii, 24-31. Amnon ravishes Thamar, the sister of Absalom; the latter has him assassinated and flies to Gessur; through the intervention of Joab he is recalled and reconciled with his father, xiii-xiv. Rebellion of Absalom; David flies from Jerusalem; Siba, Miphiboseth's servant, brings him provisions and accuses his master of disloyalty; Semei curses David; Absalom goes in to his father's concubines, xv-xvi. Achitophel counsels immediate pursuit, but Absalom follows the advice of Chusai, David's adherent, to delay, and thus gives the fugitive king time to cross the Jordan, xvii. Battle of Mahanaim; Absalom is defeated and slain by Joab against the king's order, xviii. David's intense grief, from which he is aroused by Joab's remonstrance. At the passage of the Jordan he pardons Semei, receives Miphiboseth back into his good graces, and invites to court Berzellai, who had supplied provisions to the army, xix, 1-39. Jealousies between Israel and Juda lead to the revolt of Seba; Amasa is commissioned to raise a levy, but, as the troops are collected too slowly, Joab and Abisai are sent with the bodyguard in pursuit of the rebels; Joab treacherously slays Amasa. Summary of officers, xix, 40-xx.

(5) Appendix

The two sons of Respha, Saul's concubine, and the five sons of Merob, Saul's daughter, are put to death by the Gabaonites, xxi, 1-14. Various exploits against the Philistines, xxi, 15-22. David's psalm of thanksgiving (Ps. xvii), xxii. His "last words", xxiii, 1-7. Enumeration of David's valiant men, xxiii, 8-39. The numbering of the people and the pestilence following it, xxiv.


I-II Books of Kings never formed one work with III-IV, as was believed by the older commentators and is still maintained by some modern writers, although the consecutive numbering of the books in the Septuagint and the account of David's last days and death at the beginning of III Kings seem to lend colour to such a supposition. The difference of plan and method pursued in the two pairs of books shows that they originally formed two distinct works. The author of III-IV gives a more or less brief sketch of each reign, and then refers his readers for further information to the source whence he has drawn his data; while the author of I-II furnishes such full and minute details, even when they are of little importance, that his work looks more like a series of biographies than a history, and, with the exception of II, i, 18, where he refers to the "Book of the Just", he never mentions his sources. Moreover, the writer of III-IV supplies abundant chronological data. Besides giving the length of each reign, he usually notes the age of the king at his accession and, after the division, the year of the reign of the contemporary ruler of the other kingdom; he also frequently dates particular events. In the first two books, on the contrary, chronological data are so scant that it is impossible to determine the length of the period covered by them. The position taken by the author of III-IV, with regard to the facts he relates, is also quite different from that of the author of the other two. The former praises or blames the acts of the various rulers, especially with respect to forbidding or allowing sacrifices outside the sanctuary, while the latter rarely expresses a judgment and repeatedly records sacrifices contrary to the prescriptions of the Pentateuch without a word of censure or comment. Lastly, there is a marked difference in style between the two sets of books; the last two show decided Aramaic influence, whereas the first two belong to the best period of Hebrew literature. At the most, it might be said that the first two chapters of the third book originally were part of the Book of Samuel, and were later detached by the author of the Book of Kings to serve as an introduction to the history of Solomon; but even this is doubtful. These chapters are not required by the object which the author of the Book of Samuel had in view, and the work is a complete whole without them. Besides, the summary, II, xx, 23-26, sufficiently marks the conclusion of the history of David. In any case these two chapters are so closely connected with the following that they must have belonged to the Book of Kings from its very beginning.

The general subject of I-II Kings is the foundation and development of the Kingdom of Israel, the history of Samuel being merely a preliminary section intended to explain the circumstances which brought about the establishment of the royal form of government. On closer examination of the contents, however, it is seen that the author is guided by a leading idea in the choice of his matter, and that his main object is not to give a history of the first two kings of Israel, but to relate the providential foundation of a permanent royal dynasty in the family of David. This strikingly appears in the account of Saul's reign, which may be summarized in the words: elected, found wanting, and rejected in favour of David. The detailed history of the struggle between David and Saul and his house is plainly intended to show how David, the chosen of the Lord, was providentially preserved amid many imminent dangers and how he ultimately triumphed, while Saul perished with his house. The early events of David's rule over united Israel are told in few words, even such an important fact as the capture of Jerusalem being little insisted on, but his zeal for God's worship and its reward in the solemn promise that his throne would last forever (II, vii, 11-16) are related in full detail. The remaining chapters tell how, in pursuance of this promise, God helps him to extend and consolidate his kingdom, and does not abandon him even after his great crime, though he punishes him in his tenderest feelings. The conclusion shows him in peaceful possession of the throne after two dangerous rebellions. The whole story is thus built around a central idea and reaches its climax in the Messianic promise, II, vii, 11 sqq. Besides this main object a secondary one may be observed, which is to convey to king and people the lesson that to obtain God's protection they must observe His commands.


The Talmud attributes to Samuel the whole work bearing his name; this strange opinion was later adopted by St. Gregory the Great, who naïvely persuaded himself that Samuel wrote the events which occurred after his death by prophetic revelation. Rabbinical tradition and most of the older Christian writers ascribe to this prophet the part referring to his time (I, i-xxiv), the rest to the Prophets Gad and Nathan. This view is evidently based on I Par., xxix, 29, "Now the acts of king David first and last are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer." But the wording of the text indicates that there is question of three distinct works. Besides, the unity of plan and the close connection between the different parts exclude composite authorship; we must at least admit a redactor who combined the three narratives. This redactor, according to Hummelauer, is the prophet Nathan; the work, however, can hardly be placed so early. Others attribute it to Isaias, Jeremias, Ezechias, or Esdras. None of these opinions rests on any solid ground, and we can only say that the author is unknown.

The same diversity of opinion exists as to the date of composition. Hummelauer assigns it to the last days of David. Vigouroux, Cornely, Lesêtre, and Thenius place it under Roboam; Kaulen, under Abiam the son of Roboam; Haevernick, not long after David, Ewald, some thirty years after Solomon; Clair, between the death of David and the destruction of the Kingdom of Juda. According to recent critics it belongs to the seventh century, but received retouches as late as the fifth or even the fourth century. No sufficient data are at hand to fix a precise date. We can, however, assign cedrtain limits of time within which the work must have been composed. The explanation concerning the dress of the king's daughters in David's time (II, xiii, 18) supposes that a considerable period had elapsed in the interval, and points to a date later than Solomon, during whose reign a change in the style of dress was most likely introduced by his foreign wives. How much later is indicated by the remark: "For which reason Siceleg belongeth to the kings of Juda unto this day." (I, xxvii, 6). The expression kings of Juda implies that at the time of writing the Kingdom of Israel had been divided, and that at least two or three kings had reigned over Juda alone. The earliest date cannot, therefore, be placed berfore the reign of Abiam. The latest date, on the other hand, must be assigned to a time prior to Josias's reform (621 B.C. ). As has been remarked, the author repeatedly records without censure or comment violations of the Pentateuchal law regarding sacrifices. Now it is not likely that he would have acted thus if he had written after these practices had been abolished and their unlawfulness impressed on the people, since at this time his readers would have taken scandal at the violation of the Law by such a person as Samuel, and at the toleration of unlawful rites by a king like David. The force of this reason will be seen if we consider how the author of II-IV Kings, who wrote after Josias's reform, censures every departure from the Law in this respect or, as in III, iii, 2, explains it. The purity of language speaks for an early rather than a late date within the above limits. The appendix, however, may possibly be due to a somewhat later hand. Moreover, additions by a subsequent inspired revisor may be admitted without difficulty.


It is now universally recognized that the author of I-II Kings made use of written documents in composing his work. One such document, "The Book of the Just", is mentioned in connection with David's lament over Saul and Jonathan (II, i, 18). The canticle of Anna (I, ii, 1-10), David's hymn of thanksgiving (II, xxii, 2-51; cf. Ps. xvii), and his "last words" were very probably also drawn from a written source. But besides these minor sources, the writer must have had at hand, at least for the history of David, a document containing much of the historical matter which he narrates. This we infer from the passages common to I-II Kings and the First Book of Paralipomenon (Chronicles), which are shown in the following list:-

I K., xxxi II K., iii, 2-5 v, 1-10 v, 11-25 vi, 1-11 vi, 12-23 " " " vii

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Bibliography Information
Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'First And Second Books of Kings'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.

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