Palestine Calling
by
W. M. Christie

Chapter XXVII

A Minor Old Testament Problem
"The Twentieth Year of Jotham"


The dating of the years of the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah during the century that preceded the Fall of Samaria, in 722 B.C., is beset with many difficulties. Sometimes the synchronisms can be explained by the double dating of a king's reign, in part conjointly with his father, and then his period of sole rule. In other cases we have to remember varied times for the beginning of the year, and the fact that in connection with a king's reign "a part was counted as a whole." But too often the difficulties are "solved" by what ought to be the last resort of sound scholarship, "forgetfulness on the part of the scribe" or "an ugly blunder."

The statement concerning "the twentieth year of Jotham" (2 Kings 15:30) is considered one of the most serious, for we are told just three verses further on that "he reigned sixteen years." It is quite clear, too, that the incident dated as in the "twentieth" year occurred in 732 B.C., or four years after the death of Jotham.

The Jews themselves felt the difficulty, and offered at least one explanation. In their old Chronicle, the Seder Olam, chapter xxii (also taken up and approved by the great commentator, Rashi), the correctness of the text is recognised, and the statement made that "the writer preferred to count from (good) Jotham in the grave, and not from (wicked) Ahaz alive." This explanation has been adopted by modern Christian commentators, but it hardly satisfies, and there is a feeling that some other solution must be sought.

Now the twenty years carries us back to the year 752 B.C., as the beginning of the reign of Jotham, that is, the commencement of his regency on his father's becoming a leper. Then Josephus (Ant. ix. x. 4), and the Jewish commentators (in loco) tells us that the earthquake (Amos 1:1) was coincident with the attempt of Uzziah to offer incense in the temple, and the consequent leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-21), through which he was removed from active rule. Amos as indicated, dates his book from "the earthquake," and to its severity he refers in 3:4; 4:11; and 8:8, while the terror it inspired was remembered till, at least, the days of the Captivity (Zech. 14:5).

And when we accept "two years before the earthquake" of 754 B.C., as the commencement of Amos' ministry, and we find that in all the allusions there is the fullest harmony with the conditions in Israel and Judah, we read his book with the greatest satisfaction. As a whole it practically confirms the date of the earthquake.

We suggest then that in "the twentieth year" we have neither a "slip" nor a "textual corruption," but the use of "an era dated from the earthquake." In all the uncertainties of chronology in these days there was here a stable, well remembered date, and it might be equally designated the "Era of the Earthquake," or the "Era of Jotham." Amos counted back from it; why should not the writer of Kings count forward?

And if the existing literature give us only two dates from this era, that is no proof that there was not a more extensive use. In the case of two other Old Testament Eras, we have only one single dating. They are 1 Kings 6:1, "the four hundred and eightieth year" of the era of the Exodus; and in Ezekiel 1:1, "the thirtieth year," manifestly from the era of the finding of the Book of the Law in the Temple in 622 B.C.

In connection with various chronological difficulties, and different methods of reckoning, we used to draw the attention of students to a modern case that was easily grasped. Charles I died in 1648, in England, the date also inscribed on his coffin, but it was already 1649 in Scotland, which had accepted the Gregorian Calendar 152 years before England, and this included the change in the beginning of the year, which was moved back from March to the 1st of January.

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