The Forgotton Judean King that Reunited Israel in the Time of Elija

There is a period in the Deuteronomistic history, that is Judges through Kings in the Bible, that has caused some confusion and controversy. It involves two kings named Joram. Many Bible translations differentiate them by calling the one of Judah Jehoram and the one from Israel Joram, but in fact the names are identical in the original text. One is said to be the son of the infamous King Ahab and Jezebel, the other, the son of the good King Jehoshaphat. Now what is confusing is they both reigned for the same amount of time in their respective kingdoms, approximately 849-842 BCE. The period is one of great interest to the author of the Deuteronomistic history. This is the period during the Elijah and Elisha prophecy in Israel. Much of this portion of the Book of Kings consists of fantastic folktales about these prophets and the mission to remove the cult of Baal from Israel.

Some have proposed that these two kings named Joram are in fact the same individual. The theory that both of these Jorams are in fact the same Joram is explained like this. Jehoshaphat and Ahab are depicted as being very chummy. They make peace after years of war, fight enemies together and Ahab gives Jehoshaphat’s son, Joram, one of his daughter’s to marry. Joram seemed like a fairly ambitious fellow, and began his reign while his father was still king. During the course of his reign, he had his brothers executed to ensure no other claimants to his throne.

Meanwhile, in Israel, king Ahab died and was succeeded by his son Ahaziah. But only two years into his reign Ahaziah dies from complications of a freak accident. Joram seizes this opportunity to assert himself as king of Israel by way of his own sons by Athaliah, who are Ahab’s grandsons. He established himself as the king of all Israel while his father served as a ceremonial king of Judah until his death. At some point later, Joram appoints one of his sons, also named Ahaziah, possibly assumed as homage to the departed son of Ahab, to the throne of Judah while he reigns from Samaria. These two are either killed by Jehu or the Arameans.

Now it may be coincidence that these two kings who reigned at nearly the exact same time. If these were the same people, why did the writer of the Deuteronomistic history make the mistake of believing that they were two separate kings? This can be explained by the author’s purpose in writing this work and the politics of his time. For a detailed study of the Deuteronomistic history’s author, I suggest Richard Elliot Friedman’s indispensible book, Who Wrote the Bible. What we discover about the author is that he is writing during the reign of Josiah and his history is intended to promote Josiah as the successor to the great legacy of David, a refounder of a pure united Israel headed from Jerusalem. The writer of the Deuteronomistic history is a priest from a Northern Israelite line like Elijah, and this explains his great interest in the Israelite prophet. Like Elijah, he is champion of the supremacy of Yahweh to the exclusion of all other cults. Further he rejects bull idol sanctuaries established by the Israelite king Jeroboam in Dan and Bethel because they did not employ priest from his own lineage.

Now if Joram, who is condemned for supporting these detested Israelite sanctuaries, led a unified Israel/Judah, this would really undercut the Deuteronomist’s thesis that Josiah is a unique restorer of Israel under the auspices of proper Yahwhist cult practice. Given the confusing circumstance, it seems plausible that the Deuteronomist made some edits and presented these two as separate kings so that it would be Josiah that unifies Israel.

The consideration that Joram of Israel was also Joram of Judah sets some episodes recorded in the history in new light. For example, while Joram of Judah is condemned for following the ways of the kings of Israel, Joram of Israel is commended for removing the pillar of Baal Ahab. He is only condemned for maintaining the sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel.

My theory is that Joram, as a Judean king supported the cult of Yahweh in the Jerusalem temple. Because of the popularity of the Dan-Bethel sanctuaries he nevertheless acknowledges their sanctity, but of the pillar of Baal he removes, as it is mythological, and Baal inhabited practically the same spot as Yahweh. He was a direct competitor, the supreme son of El that provides the prosperity of the land. Joram seems to be trying to find compromise with the various priestly caste in Israel and Judah.

I suspect that the biblical source called J was composed at some time between the reign of Jehoshaphat and the death of his grandson Ahaziah. One of the things I have noted from reading the Mosaic books divided into sources is that there seems to be considerable harmony between the eponymous ancestors of the Israelite tribes and the Judahite tribes. I was a little perplexed by this since, if the J source was written after the time of Solomon, and most do place it later than that legendary king, why does it portray the Israelite tribes in such favorable light? Edom, which had left the sphere of Judean control before the composition of J is portrayed as a wayward brother of Israel, but the tribes of Israel are all sons of Jacob/Israel and the J and E accounts of Jacob’s sons harmonize very well. No attempt is made in J to diminish the northern tribes contention that  Rachel was the most beloved wife of Jacob. It appears that the account in J and E were substantially similar, and while the  JE redactor uses E for the material related to the northern tribes, it does not contradict J. Now this can be explained by the fact that the list of tribes of Israel seems to have been set earlier, judging from the ancient poem called the “Blessings of Jacob.” So in the popular imagination, the Judean tribes and Israelite tribes were one nation despite the separate kings. However, if J were written while the two states were at war, one might expect that the writer might have created a less flattering depiction of Rachel and her kin. Further, J has Isaac predict that Esau/Edom will serve his brother Jacob but eventually break Jacobs yoke from his neck (see Genesis 25-26 and 29-30). Edom was incorporated into the Judean/Israelite kingdom by David and it is in fact stated that during the reign of Joram of Judah(Second Kings 8.16) Edom rebelled and was never reconquered before the Deuteronomic history was written. This establishes that J was written during or after the time of Joram.

Along with the links provided above, I also recommend Richard Friedman’s “The Bible With Sources Revealed”

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