When Did Baasha Reign?
In the book of 1 Kings we read that Baasha became the third ruler of the Northern kingdom (Israel) “in the third year of Asa king of Judah…and reigned twenty-four years” (15:33). Then, when Baasha died, his son Elah became king over Israel “in the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah” (16:8, emp. added). However, 2 Chronicles 16:1 reads: “In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, Baasha king of Israel came up against Judah and built Ramah, that he might let none go out or come in to Asa king of Judah” (emp. added). The obvious question that anyone has who reads these two passages is: How could Baasha be ruling over Israel in the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign, when 1 Kings 16 clearly indicates that Baasha had died when Asa (the third king of the southern kingdom) was only in the twenty-sixth year of his reign? Is it possible to reconcile 1 Kings 16:8 with 2 Chronicles 15:19-16:1? Or, is this a legitimate contradiction that should lead all of us to conclude that the Bible is a worthless manmade book of myths?
There are two possible solutions to this problem. To begin with, it may be that the numbers recorded in 2 Chronicles 15:19 and 16:1 simply are the result of a copyist’s error. Although skeptics may scoff at attempts to reconcile “contradictions” by claiming a copyist must have made an error sometime in the distant past, the fact is, copyists were not infallible; inspired men were the only infallible writers. Whenever duplicates of the Old Testament Scriptures were needed, copies had to be made by hand—a painstaking, time-consuming task requiring extreme concentration. History records that copyists (such as the Masoretes) had as their goal to produce accurate copies of Scripture and that they went to great lengths to ensure fidelity in their copies. They were, nevertheless, still human. And humans are prone to make mistakes, regardless of the care they take or the strictness of the rules under which they operate. The copyists’ task was made all the more difficult by the sheer complexity of the Hebrew language and by the various ways in which potential errors could be introduced.
In their commentary on 2 Chronicles, Keil and Delitzsch proposed that the number 36 in 2 Chronicles 16:1 and the number 35 in 15:19 are a scribal error for 16 and 15, respectively. The ancient Hebrew letters yod and lamed, representing the numbers 30 and 10, could have been confused and interchanged quite easily (though inadvertently) by a copyist. Merely a smudge from excessive wear on a scroll-column or a punctured or slightly torn manuscript could have resulted in making the yod look like a lamed. Furthermore, it also is possible that this error occurred first in 2 Chronicles 15:19. Then to make it consistent in 16:1, a copyist may have concluded that 16 must be an error for 36 and changed it accordingly (Archer, 1982, p. 226). Hence the numbers 35 and 36 could have arisen out of the original 15 and 16. With such an adjustment, the statements in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles are harmonized easily.
A second possibility as to why the numbers in 1 Kings 16:8 and 2 Chronicles 15:19-16:1 seem contradictory is because the numbers may refer to the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth years after the division of the United Kingdom (which would have been Asa’s fifteenth and sixteenth years), rather than the thirty-fifth and thirty-sixth years of Asa’s reign (Thiele, 1951, p. 59). The Hebrew word for “reign” (malkuwth) also can mean “kingdom.” In fact, 51 out of the 91 times this word appears in the King James Version of the Old Testament it is translated “kingdom” (cf. 2 Chronicles 1:1; 11:17; 20:30; Nehemiah 9:35; etc.). In their commentary on 2 Chronicles, Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown favored this explanation saying, “The best Biblical critics are agreed in considering this date to be calculated from the separation of the kingdoms, and coincident with the 16th year of Asa’s reign” (1997). [The number 16 is obtained by subtracting the reigns of Rehoboam (17 years) and Abijah (3 years) from the 36 years mentioned in 2 Chronicles 16:1.] But, as Gleason Archer recognized,
It is without parallel to refer to the kingdom of a nation as a whole and identify it thus with one particular king who comes later on in the ruling dynasty. And the fact that in its account of the later history of Judah no such usage can be instanced in Chronicles raises a formidable difficulty to this solution (p. 225).
First Kings 16:8 reveals that Baasha could not have ruled over Israel in the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign in Judah. Either the numbers 35 and 36 in 2 Chronicles 15:19-16:1 are a copyist’s error, or they represent the total number of years since the United Kingdom divided. Whichever is the case, both provide possible solutions to the alleged problem that exists between the two passages. In no way should the differences that exist between 1 Kings 16:8 and 2 Chronicles 15:19-16:1 cause one to reject the Bible as God’s inspired Word.
Archer, Gleason L. (1982), An Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Jamieson, Robert, et al. (1997), Jamieson, Faussett, Brown Bible Commentary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft)
Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1996), Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (Electronic Database: Biblesoft), new updated edition.
Thiele, Edwin R. (1951), The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).
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