The narrative of four centuries of Israelite history. In the Hebrew Bible the books are included in the Prophets section. In the LXX they are grouped with 1 and 2 Samuel and are then together called the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Books of the Kingdoms (followed by the Vulgate, and some Roman Catholic translations). The whole work is essentially a religious compilation from an editor of the Deuteronomist school who probably inspired the reforms of Josiah in 621 BCE, but the history is genuine enough; even uncongenial events are recorded, such as the peaceful death of an ‘evil’ king (Ahab, 1 Kgs. 22: 40) and the violent death of the ‘good’ Josiah (2 Kgs. 23: 29). Even the surprising intrusion of heathen symbols into the Temple is not omitted. A supplement was added to bring the story down to the Exile (586 BCE) and to mention Jehoiachin’s fate (2 Kgs. 25: 27–30). The complete work might have been published around 550 BCE. It is an attempt to explain the harsh fortunes of the people as God’s punishment for the sins of apostasy and injustice. The editor has used a number of historical records for the work, which he names—e.g. the chronicles (or annals) of the kings of Israel (1 Kgs. 14: 19), and the whole forms a clear structure, though slightly more detail is included for the kings of Judah than for those of the north. The theology assesses every king by the criterion of his faithfulness to the God of Israel. So the northern kings are all condemned; the southern kings at least include two, Hezekiah and Josiah, who are praised for their religious reforms; they got rid of local shrines and they centralized worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. The kings of the north all followed the way of Jeroboam I with his golden calves at Bethel and Dan. But the fact that Jeroboam was elected king by the people of the north who rejected Rehoboam is testimony to a kind of democratic principle in the community.
The history begins with the death of David and the coronation of Solomon (1 Kgs. 1: 1–2: 46) and continues with the stories of the divided kingdom; the story of Israel is taken to its destruction (2 Kgs. 17: 1–41) by Assyria, which is explained by the Deuteronomist editor, in accordance with his principles (Deut. 12), as a just punishment from God. The histories of Israel and Judah are related in tandem up to this point (722 BCE), after which the narrative continues with Judah’s fortunes up to the Babylonian Exile (2 Kgs. 24: 8–25: 21) and the appointment of Gedaliah as governor over the surviving remnant in Palestine (586 BCE).
Included in the history are the somewhat different stories of the prophets Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs. 17: 1 to 2 Kgs. 9, and 13: 14–21). Elijah opposes the kings of Israel for an autocratic style of life alien to the traditions of Israel. Elisha is said to perform miracles which gave great practical assistance to two kings, but he also cured Naaman, the commander of the army of Aram. These prophetic narratives may have originally been a document of the 8th cent. BCE from the north which the editor of the book incorporated.