Reviews of

The Book of Kings and Exilic Identity

In 1 & 2 Kings, Ancient Israel, Bloomsbury, D. Allen Hutchison, HB/OT, Hebrew Bible, Nathan Lovell, T & T Clark on May 11, 2021 at 8:13 pm

2021.5.11 | Nathan Lovell. The Book of Kings and Exilic Identity: 1 and 2 Kings as a Work of Political Historiography. LHBOTS 708; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2021. ISBN 9780567695338 (electronic version).

Review by D. Allen Hutchison, Stellenbosch University.

The Book of Kings and Exilic Identity: 1 and 2 Kings as a Work of Political Historiography by Nathan Lovell is a persuasive macro-examination of 1-2 Kings developed through careful attention to the text’s details. Lovell is the Director of Research and a Senior Lecturer of Old Testament and Hebrew at George Whitefield College in Muizenberg, South Africa. The Book of Kings and Exilic Identity is the revision of his 2019 Ph.D. dissertation of the same name from the University of Sydney.

Lovell focuses on the final form of 1-2 Kings and is most concerned with communicating the book’s “big picture” (xviii). Lovell does not shy away later in the monograph from reflecting on how redaction theories impact the text’s interpretation but reads 1-2 Kings as a unified text that functions as political historiography.

Chapter 1 provides a methodology for assessing political historiography. Lovell’s approach concentrates on how the text’s events are portrayed literarily rather than on what historically transpired (4). He reviews several analytical theories of national identity and selects an ethnosymbolic approach well-suited to ancient societies (5-6). Lovell maintains an exilic date of writing for 1-2 Kings and thus sees Kings as primarily “construct[ing] an authentically Israelite expression of identity that could cope with the temporary absence of [Israel’s] national symbols” (2). Lovell selects four categories for analyzing the political ideology of Kings (covenant, nationhood, land, and rule) because he understands them to come from the text itself. Chapters 3-6 address each of these categories in turn. As Lovell acknowledges, his analysis of these themes is not the final word on political identity within Kings. Other scholars define and explore a nation’s self-understanding in different ways to good effect (6-7).

Chapter 2 provides a narrative framework for evaluating 1-2 Kings, allowing one to see the political historiography of Kings as a unified whole (38, 40). With a particular focus on prophecy-fulfillment language and regnal formulae, Lovell reveals an intercalated literary structure consisting of what he calls Outer Kings (1 Kgs 1.1–16.28; 2 Kgs 16.1–25.30) and Inner Kings (1 Kgs 16.29 – 2 Kgs 15.38). Lovell offers helpful figures which give a visual representation of the prophecy-fulfillment arcs in Kings (52, 58) as well as the locations of the text’s regnal formulae and where they accumulate (53, 57). Lovell then builds upon earlier scholarship with observations of narrative style and plot (59-71). These figures and their explanations, combined with the discussion of the text’s literary features, argue convincingly for the proposed framework.

In Chapter 3 Lovell contends for the important role Israel’s Mosaic covenant plays in Kings. The Mosaic covenant is “the basis of Israel’s political definition” in Kings (88) and establishes both A) an ideal definition of the nation despite its exilic status and B) how the nation’s past, present, and future fates were and are determined by its adherence (or lack thereof) to the covenant (74-75). Lovell titles this ideal concept of obedient Israel “Covenant-Israel” to differentiate it from the appellations used for the nation in Kings (74). The Israelites in exile can hope for a shared future because Kings weaves the Davidic promises with the Mosaic covenant, thus inviting the reader to believe that God will restore Covenant-Israel (88). In light of God’s promises, “Covenant-Israel is not simply an ideal, it becomes a destiny” (114). The selection of stories told in Kings reminds the reader that covenant disobedience led to past judgments and the present exile but also spurs the reader on to future obedience to bring about the promised blessings available to Covenant-Israel. Covenant-Israel recognizes that this obedience can only be realized by Yahweh’s grace and intervention (88, 115).

Chapter 4 investigates the way Kings presents the nationhood of Covenant-Israel. Who exactly makes up Covenant-Israel? Those in exile have broken the covenant, so how could they claim to be a part of it (157)? Lovell argues that Kings depicts Covenant-Israel as the embodiment of both pre-exilic Israel and Judah together, grounded in deuteronomic traditions and identifiable through the remnant (133-134). Other nations can be included in Covenant-Israel as well because the nation of Israel is defined by its covenantal obedience rather than its human lineage (157). Lovell says Kings describes the remnant through the repeated cycle of Sin and Prophecy, Judgement, Deliverer in the kingships of Ahab, Jeroboam I, and Solomon (135-156). The Deliverer phase of Solomon’s kingship is absent in Kings and points the reader to a future deliverer who will lead Covenant-Israel in obedience (156).

Chapter 5 examines how the nation of Israel and Yahweh relate to the land of Israel in Kings. The text emphasizes that Israel’s primary political identity is with their God rather than their land, in contrast to the standard ancient Near Eastern view that a deity’s primary relationship is with a certain land rather than that land’s inhabitants (161-162). “The book of Kings defines the land theologically, as a house for Yahweh’s name, in a city Yahweh chooses, within a territory Yahweh grants” (198, cf. 178). Thus, Kings demonstrates the temple should be used for worship if “available, even though it does not contain or constrain Yahweh in any way” (191). In Kings, Yahweh responds to worship at or towards the Jerusalem temple but is by no means bound there; he is “transcendent over all the earth” (198).

Lovell explores in Chapter 6 the type of kingship that 1-2 Kings promotes. Kings highlights the kingly characteristics of Hezekiah’s faith, Josiah’s obedience, and Solomon’s wisdom yet acknowledges that wisdom like Solomon’s is “secondary because it does not automatically lead to obedience” (220). A model king looks to Yahweh for strength rather than his own power and has courageous faith in difficult times (217, 220). The ideal deuteronomic king in 1-2 Kings obeys the covenant, leads others to do the same, and serves his people humbly (224, 248). Lovell also demonstrates that Kings expects the prophets to replace kingly leadership for a time but ultimately looks ahead to the future fulfillment of the Davidic promise for a king (237-247).

The concluding Chapter 7 provides an overview of Outer and Inner Kings while giving attention to the four major themes rather than simply summarizing the monograph. It is a refreshing and compelling end to the work. The closing pages discuss 2 Kgs 13 and the final raising of the dead in Kings, calling attention to the hope present in 1-2 Kings despite all the text’s narrative tragedy. “The reference to the Abrahamic promise [in 2 Kgs 13.23] creates hope that Yahweh has not abandoned Israel. The juxtaposition with the resurrection of the ‘cast away’ man reinforces this hope. Yahweh can restore Israel from exile because Yahweh can raise the dead” (257).

The strengths of this monograph abound. The second chapter’s well-reasoned presentation of the narrative structure of Kings is the shining feature of the study. The monograph is full of valuable, detailed observations both at the macro and micro levels. These include a consideration of the political relationships and narrative settings in Outer Kings versus Inner Kings (70), exegetical insights regarding Yahweh’s keeping of the covenant and his covenantal love (83-84), and an analysis of the Hebrew syntax in 1 Kgs 19 (139-141). I also appreciate Lovell’s style of asking and responding to questions which the reader presumably has (e.g., 134, 161, 163, 189, 226). This type of engagement makes the book enjoyable to read and feel like a conversation with a knowledgeable friend.

Any weaknesses in the work are minor at most; I mention one as an example. Lovell does well to recognize connections to Deuteronomy throughout 1-2 Kings and their exegetical implications but seemed to downplay links to Deut 12 in his remarks on name theology in 1 Kgs 8 and the centralization of a place of worship (164-167). Initially, I was struck by his general and limited statements about the intertextual argumentation in scholarship and made a note of the failing. When I returned to the section to write this review and supplemented my own examination of the relevant passages, I found Lovell’s line of reasoning clear and additional statements unnecessary. His only “failing” here was not laboriously holding his reader’s hand while making his case.

The Book of Kings and Exilic Identity is an outstanding overview of 1-2 Kings which gives new students of Kings an excellent framework from which to work and challenges experienced scholars to consider the biblical text anew. The themes investigated are illuminating and do originate in the text itself. As noted, the major contribution is Lovell’s description of the text’s narrative arrangement. So convincing is his presentation that future studies on Kings will need to engage with Lovell’s structural observations or find their arguments lacking.

D. Allen Hutchison
Stellenbosch University
dahutchison [at] gmail.com

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