Ahaziah’s Age When He Became King
How old was Ahaziah when he became king? II Kings (8:26) states he was 22, while II Chronicles 22:2 writes 42. The latter seems to definitely be wrong since his father Jehoram was only 40 when he died (II Kings 8:17 & II Chronicles 21:20).
The Aish Rabbi Replies
It’s nice to see that you’re studying the Torah so carefully. Yes, this is a well-known contradiction. In fact, there are many discrepancies between the earlier books of the Prophets and Chronicles, ranging from very subtle distinctions in language to major disagreements in the Bible’s basic storyline. (In general, the Sages view Chronicles as more allegorical, while the earlier books are taken more literally.)
There are two primary answers to this question. To understand them, I need to quickly give the background to Ahaziah’s coronation. Ahaziah’s grandfather was the righteous King Jehoshaphat while his father was the wicked Jehoram. Jehoshaphat, in the manner of royalty of all ages, arranged a match for his son Jehoram based to some degree on political considerations. His son married Athaliah, daughter of the wicked Ahab, king of the northern Kingdom of Israel (also known as Samaria). (See II Kings 8:18,26; II Chron. 21:6, 22:2.) The Sages further have a tradition that Jehoshaphat himself married Ahab’s sister, the daughter of the wicked King Omri. (This might be implied by II Chron. 18:1 which states that Jehoshaphat “allied himself in marriage” (va’yitchatain) with Ahab – see Rashi to II Chron. 22:1)
Both of these marriages had catastrophic effects on the House of David. The union between the royal families of David and Omri signified that the wickedness of the latter family had entered the former – and the doom which was ultimately decreed upon it would eventually bear down upon the Davidic line as well. In this vein, Seder Olam Rabbah, an important work on Biblical and post-Biblical chronology written in the 2nd century (Ch. 17), writes that on the day on which the righteous King Asa, father of Jehoshaphat, married his son to the daughter of King Omri, God decreed that the destruction which was to befall Omri’s family would extend to the Judean dynasty as well.
This occurred during the reign of King Ahaziah. The King of Samaria at the time was Jehoram son of Ahab, God sent a prophet to anoint Jehoram’s general Jehu to wipe out Ahab’s family and assume the kingship himself (see II Kings ch. 9). As II Chron. 22 describes, Jehu had Ahaziah (who was visiting Jehoram at the time) killed as well, and Ahaziah’s mother Athaliah (daughter of Ahab) then murdered all of the heirs to the throne – save one son Joash whom his sister Jehosheba saved and hid – and took over the reign of Judah herself.
Based on this, Seder Olam explains the discrepancy regarding the age of Ahaziah at the time he became king. He was actually only 22, as the Book of Kings. The 42 refers to the number of years which had transpired between Jehoshaphat’s marriage to the daughter of Omri and the start of his grandson Ahaziah’s reign. When his reign began, the decree against the House of David was destined to take effect – and indeed, he was murdered one year later. Thus, the meaning of “Ahaziah was 42 when he became king” is actually that his coronation occurred exactly 42 years after the decree on his family was first promulgated. (See also Rashi to II Kings 9:29 and Radak to II Kings 8:26 for the details of the calculated 42 years.)
There is a second answer to this question suggested by the commentator R’ Dovid Kimchi (known as “Radak”) to II Kings 8:26. Radak was a great Biblical commentator, philosopher and grammarian of 12th-13th century Provence. Explaining it requires further background into the Biblical story of the time. The Torah attests that because Ahaziah’s father Jehoram married the daughter of Ahab, he fell to wicked ways, veering from the path of his righteous father Jehoshaphat (II Kings 8:18, II Chron. 21:6) Jehoram began his reign by killing off his siblings, as well as many of the noblemen (II Chron. 21:4), and he subsequently led the nation to idolatry (v. 11).
As a result of this, a scathing letter was sent to Jehoram in the name of Elijah the Prophet warning him that God has decreed to smite the entire nation – and his family in particular. He himself would suffer terrible illness in his innards until they fell out (vv. 12-15). (Elijah had actually ascended to heaven long before this. Some of the commentators suggest that he appeared in a vision to dictate the letter to a later prophet.)
As Chronicles continues, all of this came to pass shortly after. The Philistines and Arabs attacked, carrying off his wealth and most of his family – save his son Ahaziah who would succeed him. Jehoram then developed an excruciating bowel illness, which later caused his death. He was furthermore not accorded a royal burial. A funeral pyre was not burnt in his honor (to burn his personal belongings), as is typically done for kings, and he was not buried alongside the other kings of Judah (though he was buried in the same complex – see II Kings 8:24 with commentators). Chronicles (as well as II Kings 8:17) lastly tells us that he was 32 when he began his reign, and his rule lasted for 8 years.
We can now return to our subject – Ahaziah’s age at the time he became king. Some of the commentators make an interesting observation. The Torah never actually wrote that Jehoram died at 40, just that he ruled for 8 years beginning at the age of 32. It further states that he was not treated as royalty at his burial – after succumbing to his terrible stomach ailment. Radak therefore suggests that perhaps Jehoram lived beyond 40, but because he was an invalid, no longer fit to rule (and no doubt reeking to high heaven), his son began functioning as prince regent during his lifetime. Meanwhile, the father was deposed – and so, buried as a commoner later on, at the time of his actual death.
Further evidence for this may be found in the fact that II Chron. 22:1 states that the inhabitants of Jerusalem proclaimed Ahaziah king in his father’s stead. Why the inhabitants of Jerusalem alone and not the entire nation – a language not used anywhere else in Scripture? Perhaps they knew most intimately about Jehoram’s debilitating illness, and deemed it necessary to coronate his successor sooner, before his death. (See ArtScroll edition of Chronicles, commentary to 22:1 for a fuller discussion.)
This would explain the contradiction in the verses. As per II Kings 8:26, Jehoram began ruling at 22 – when his father was deposed at the age of 40. His father, however, lingered on in his suffering for another 20 years, and so Jehoram formally became king only at the age of 42. (If so, the single year Kings states that he reigned would actually be from the age of 42, not the 22 mentioned.) (See also Malbim to II Chron. 22:2 for a variation of this – that Jehoram lingered for only a single year and Ahaziah served as regent for that time. The 42 of the verse thus means that when the father was 40, the son began a two-year reign.)