Was Baasha still king of Israel in the 36th year of the reign of King Asa of Judah?

Posted on Oct.20, 2008. Filed in 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles. Average rating: 4.0 / 10 (Rate It).

In 2 Chronicles we read of how King Asa of Judah’s political dealings removed the threat of King Baasha of Israel. Baasha was building Ramah to close off Judah, but Asa sent tribute to Baasha’s ally King Ben-hadad of Aram, breaking their alliance and forcing Baasha to withdraw. This took place in the 36th year of Asa’s reign:

In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, King Baasha of Israel went up against Judah, and built Ramah, to prevent anyone from going out or coming into the territory of King Asa of Judah. Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the Lord and the king’s house, and sent them to King Ben-hadad of Aram, who resided in Damascus, saying, ‘Let there be an alliance between me and you, like that between my father and your father; I am sending to you silver and gold; go, break your alliance with King Baasha of Israel, so that he may withdraw from me.’ Ben-hadad listened to King Asa, and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel. They conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store-cities of Naphtali. When Baasha heard of it, he stopped building Ramah, and let his work cease. Then King Asa brought all Judah, and they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building, and with them he built up Geba and Mizpah. [2 Chronicles 16:1-6 (NRSV)]

The curious thing about this is that according to 1 Kings, Baasha’s reign ended in the 27th year of Asa’s reign:

In the third year of King Asa of Judah, Baasha son of Ahijah began to reign over all Israel at Tirzah; he reigned for twenty-four years. [1 Kings 15:33 (NRSV)]

If Baasha began to reign in Asa’s 3rd year and reigned for 24 years, then his reign would have ended in Asa’s 27th year.

So was Baasha dead or alive in the 36th year of the reign of King Asa?

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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  1. 1

    One difficulty with writing this off as a copyist’s error is 2 Chronicles 15:19, which together with 16:1 looks like this:

    “And there was no more war until the thirty-fifth year of the reign of Asa. In the thirty-sixth year of the reign of Asa, King Baasha of Israel went up against Judah…” [2 Chronicles 15:19-16:1a]

    If “thirty-sixth” originally read “sixteenth”, then “thirty-fifth” must have originally read “fifteenth”. Two textual corruptions is less likely than one, but that’s what this theory requires.

  2. 2

    This is neither an error in source text or translation. The word “reign” is translated consistently with every other occurrence of the word within the Hebrew text. There is no justifiable precedent for translating this word differently in 2 Chronicles 15:34 and 16:1. It is obviously counting the years from when King Asa began to reign.

    Baasha died in the 27th year of King Asa, and Omri has officially been reigning in Tizra since the 31st year of Asa. The events described in verses 1 through 6 are merely a back history for what happened in the 36th year.

    Something happened in the 36th year of King Asa, so we should find out which event it is referring to. It is the reader that makes the mistake if he stops short of the intended verse 7 that reminds us, “At that time.”

    This appears as a mistake if we interrupt the author at the end of verse 6 before he has finished speaking. We need to read the full text all the way through verse 10. The passage continues on, saying:

    2Ch 16:7-10 KJV
    (7) And at that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah, and said unto him, Because thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the LORD thy God, therefore is the host of the king of Syria escaped out of thine hand.
    (8) Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubims a huge host, with very many chariots and horsemen? yet, because thou didst rely on the LORD, he delivered them into thine hand.
    (9) For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars.
    (10) Then Asa was wroth with the seer, and put him in a prison house; for he was in a rage with him because of this thing. And Asa oppressed some of the people the same time.

    The 36th year describes the event when Hanani spoke with King Asa to explain why he had begun to have wars, for the previous reason explained as back history in verses 1 through 6.

    Clue 1: The reader is already supposed to know that Baasha has been dead for over a decade. Verse 11 even says to check the record of the Kings. The event being referred to is in the 36th year, even if the precipitating events began back in Baasha’s reign.

    Clue 2: All of these events described in verses 1 through 6 are of the sort that would easily have taken place over multiple years. One does not build a city, hire an army, tear down that city, and rebuild multiple cities overnight. Syria remained at war with Israel (because of King Asa) for a long time.

    Clue 3: The important event is the visit of the prophet in verse 7, when King Asa imprisons that prophet, and then begins to oppress the people. The reader is even specifically told that this happened “At that time…” The only “time” mentioned is the 36th year of King Asa.

    The bible often speaks with this style of phrasing, speaking ahead of itself, and looping back. This can be easily seen in the first two chapter of Genesis, and even in the account of the reign of Asa in the book of Kings. For example, 1 Kings 15:8-24 tells of Asa’s entire reign, and then in the next verse 25 it speaks of a king that begins to reign in Asa’s 2nd year. Yet this verse occurs directly after we are told that Asa died.

    Verse 10 also emphasizes that the oppression of the people also happened “at the same time.”

    Verses 1 through 6 were simply the history of the events that explain why the prophet came to speak to Asa. Without these verses the account would not make sense.

    As a previous commenter has mentioned, the odds against a textual corruption are extremely slim considering that the last verse of the previous chapter stated that there was no more war until the 35th year of King Asa. You would have to have two concurrent corruptions at once (very unlikely) so the text itself must be legitimate.

    So one just has to keep reading to find out what happened in the 36th year.

    “In the sixth and thirtieth year of King Asa” … (necessary back history that explains what is about to follow) … “At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa… And Asa oppressed some of the people the same time.”

    Three years after imprisoning the seer, Asa is diseased in his feet. Because he sought to his physicians instead of the LORD for healing, he dies in his 41st year.

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