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Q315 : How Old was Ahaziah When He Became King?

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Q315 : How Old was Ahaziah When He Became King?

In 2 Kings 8:26 it states: “Ahaziah [was] twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother's name [was] Athaliah the granddaughter of Omri, king of Israel.”

In 2 Chronicles 22:2, it states: “Ahaziah [was] forty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned one year in Jerusalem. His mother's name [was] Athaliah the granddaughter of Omri.”

Was he twenty-two or forty-two years old when he began to reign? Is one of the verses in error?

A315 : by Tony Garland

How old was Ahaziah?

In answer to your first question: “Was [Ahaziah] twenty-two or forty-two years old when he began to reign?” we can answer that he was twenty-two years old. This is evident from the fact that he cannot have been older than his own father.

Ahaziah was 22, not 42 when he became sovereign of Judah. That this is the undeniable case may be seen in the simple fact that Jehoram, Ahaziah's father and predecessor, was 40 years old at the time of his death. . . .1

Ahaziah might have been twenty-two years old, according to 2K. 8:26 (note), but he could not have been forty-two, as stated here, without being two years older than his own father!2

The answer to your second question: “Is one of the verses in error?” is more complex.

Scribal error?

Most often, Ahaziah’s age in 2 Chronicles 22:2 is considered to be a copying error made by a scribe.

2Chr. 22:2 gives the age of Ahaziah at his accession as 42, whereas in 2K. 8:26 the age given is 22.3

The number 42 is an orthographical error for 22 (כ [] having been changed into מ [m] )4

[A] scribal [error] in the transmission of the [MT] text of 2 Chronicles should be noted. 2Chr. 22:2 says that Ahaziah was 42 years old at the beginning of his reign. If this were so, Ahaziah would have had to have been born before his father. 2K. 8:26 preserves the correct figure: 22 years old.5

The thinking here is that his age was represented using gematria (where Hebrew letters stand for numeric values). Using this technique, the first nine letters of the Hebrew alphabet,6 א - ט (aleph - tet), represent the numeric values 1, 2, 3, ... 9. The nine values which follow, י - צ (yod - tsade), represent the numeric values 10, 20, ... 90. The remaining letters, ק - ת (qof - taw), represent the numeric values 100, 200, 300, and 400.

Using this scheme, the value 22 can be represented in Hebrew (left-to-right) as כ ב (kaf - bet) whereas the value 42 would be represented as מ ב (mem - bet). Many have noted how similar kaf and bet are in appearance and suggest a scribe could have easily misread an original mem (twenty) and copied it as a kaf (forty).

This may be the explanation, but it faces a difficulty. The Hebrew manuscripts at these two verses do not use gematria to represent the age, but give the age using words.

As is readily apparent, the words for forty, אַרְבָּעִים [ʾarbāʿîm], and twenty (עֶשׂרִים [ʿeśrîm]) are not easily mistaken for one another. It would seem to require a conscious effort for a scribe to change twenty into forty (assuming the two values originally matched).

This has led some chronologists to another explanation wherein both statements can be true. How could this be?

A key is found in seeing that the Hebrew phrase does not literally read, “forty-two years old”. Instead, it uses a Hebrew idiom, a son of forty-two years. The question then becomes a son of whom? Although this phrase could mean “a son born of his immediate father forty-two years ago,” the term son has a very fluid meaning in Hebrew which is often applied in relation to a different ancestor than one’s immediate father.

This is what a number of biblical commentators (and chronologists) propose.

A Son of Forty-Two Years

One thing which both passages underscore is that Ahaziah’s “mother’s name [was] Athaliah the granddaughter of Omri” who was king of Israel, the Northern Kingdom. Yes, that’s right! Here is a king sitting on the throne of Judah in the Southern Kingdom who is a descendent of a godless line from the Northern Kingdom.

We may not be all that familiar with Omri, but we will readily recognize his son: the wicked king Ahab who was married to Jezebel. Ahaziah’s mother is none other than the daughter of Ahab and granddaughter of Omri — a king, along with his son Ahab, whose wickedness is emphasized (1K. 16:25; Mic. 6:16).

Thus, some commentators suggest that Ahaziah is 22 years of age (by immediate birth) and 42 years of age (in reference to Omri’s reign)

For the non Biblicist, the solution is quite simple. The 42 is merely another scribal error where 42 was mistakenly written for 22. . . . A crucial problem with this rationale is that the Hebrew Text does not give numbers. Instead, the words “forty and two years” and “twenty and two years” are written out and the words for “twenty” and “forty” are considerably different. . . . Chronicles recorded an incident and referenced it to the beginning of Asa's dynasty rather than to his actual years of reign. Ahaziah's mother is Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and granddaughter to Omri; hence he is in the direct lineage of both the dynasties of Israel and Judah and moreover is said to be of “the house of Ahab” (2Chr. 22:3-4). . . . Note that the verse in question calls attention to Omri and it may readily be seen that it is exactly the 42nd year (Judaic reckoning) of the dynasty of Israel which he founded in B.C. 929 when he slew Zimri. Thus the sense of Ahaziah's being “a son of 42 years” in his reigning is seen to refer to his being a son of the dynasty of Omri which was in its 42nd year.7

But the Holy Ghost will not have him for a son of David's line at all. He is the son of Athaliah, the daughter of Omri and Jezebel. He is no seed of David. He is an imp of the house of Ahab, a son of the house of Omri, and as such a “son of 42 years,” for the dynasty of the house of Omri was exactly 42 years old. That is not the “modern” way of writing history, but it is the way of the Old Testament writers, and the way of the New Testament writers too, and if we want to understand their writings we must put ourselves at their point of view, and not force our meaning into their words. This interpretation is confirmed by St. Matthew, who will have it that Rehoboam begat Abijah, and Abijah begat Asa, and Asa begat Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat begat Jehoram, but Jehoram did not beget Ahaziah—nor Joash—nor Amaziah—but only the fourth in the direct line of descent, “Jehoram begat Uzziah,” his great-great-grandson.8

Forty and two years old = a son of forty-two years: i. e. of the house of Omri, on account of his connection with it through his mother (832-790 = 42). In 2K. 8:26 Ahaziah's actual age (twenty-two years) is given when he began to reign (790) during the two years of his father's disease. His father, Jehoram, was thirty-two when he began to reign with Jehoshaphat, two years before the latter's death (2K. 8:16). This was in 796. Jehoram therefore was born in 828. Ahaziah, his son, being twenty-two when he began his co-regency, was therefore born in 812; his father being sixteen years old. See Appendix 50. V, pp 57:58.9

[One possible solution] is, that these forty two years are not the date of the age of Ahaziah, but of the reign of the family of Omri king of Israel; so the Jewish chronology10

According to that passage, the commencement of his reign is dated in the twenty-second year of his age, and, according to this, in the forty-second year of the kingdom of his mother's family [LIGHTFOOT].11

Drawing upon the talents of biblical chronologists, we have the following dates for the beginning of the reigns of Omri and Ahaziah (B.C.):

Omri Ahaziah Difference Source
832 790 42 E. W. Bullinger12
885n13 842t 42 Roger Young14
929 886 42/43 Floyd Nolen Jones15
937 894 42/43 Martin Anstey16

Matthew Henry mentions another variation by which his son of could be measured: the age of Ahaziah’s mother, Athaliah, when he was 22 and began to rule.

Some make this forty-two to be the age of his mother Athaliah, for in the original it is, he was the son of forty-two years, that is, the son of a mother that was of that age; and justly is her age put for his, in reproach to him, because she managed him, and did what she would—she, in effect, reigned, and he had little more than the title of king.17

As is often the case with bible difficulties, things are not as simple as they may at first seem. Rather than assume the Scripture is in error, more cautious (and experienced) interpreters will hold off on pronouncing judgment and seek a resolution. This is not to deny that there are copying errors and variations in the manuscripts behind both Old and New Testaments (only the autographs are inerranta), but that some differences between passages may have greater insights in store if we wrestle with them rather than assuming a simple copying error must be the explanation.


Endnotes:

1.Ref-0186, 145
2.Ref-1330, 2Chr. 22:2
3.Ref-0075, 469
4.Ref-1373, 3:648
5.Ref-1307, 145
6.The word alphabet is related to the first two letters of the Hebrew character set, aleph and bet
7.Ref-0186, 145-146
8.Ref-1299, 182
9.Ref-0121, 2Chr. 22:2
10.Ref-0904, 2Chr. 22:2
11.Ref-0187, 2Chr. 22:2
12.Ref-0121, 2Chr. 22:2
13.The suffix "n" represents years beginning on the month of Nisan (Abib) whereas the suffix "t" represents years beginning on the month of Tishri (Ethanim). See Counting Yearsb.
14.Young’s seminal article, Tables of Reign Lengths From The Hebrew Court Recordsc, builds on the work of Edwin Thiele: The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings.
15.Ref-0186, chart 5a
16.Ref-1303, 23-24
17.Ref-0399, 2Chr. 22:2


Sources:

Ref-0075Normal L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction To The Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986).
Ref-0121E. W. Bullinger, The Companion Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1922).
Ref-0186Floyd Nolen Jones, Chronology of the Old Testament (Woodlands, TX: KingsWord Press, 1999). ISBN:0-9700328-2-Xd.
Ref-0187Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).
Ref-0399Henry, M. (1996, c1991). Matthew Henry's commentary on the whole Bible : Complete and unabridged in one volume. Peabody: Hendrickson.
Ref-0904John Gill, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments (Broken Arrow, OK: StudyLamp Software, 1690-1771).
Ref-1299Martin Anstey, The Romance of Bible Chronology: The Treatise (Vol. 1) (London, England: Marshall Brothers Ltd., 1913).
Ref-1303Martin Anstey, The Romance of Bible Chronology: The Charts (Vol. 2) (London, England: Marshall Brothers Ltd., 1913).
Ref-1307Andrew E. Steinmann, From Abraham to Paul (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing, 2011). ISBN:978-0-7586-2799-5e.
Ref-1330Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (n.p.: n.p., 1826).
Ref-1373C. F. Keil, F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006, 1866-1891). ISBN:0-913573-88-4f.


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