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#5f THE REGNAL YEARS OF THE HEBREW KINGS

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Introduction 5f

Before we begin this study we need to define some terms in the context in which we will be using them, as they may not be familiar to many people.

Accession is the act of taking possession of the throne, or officially becoming king.
An accession year is the year in which the king begins to reign.
A regnal year is the official year of a reign dating from the kings accession. These are always calendar years.
A co-regency is a period of time when two kings are reigning at the same time.
An interregnum is a period of time in which there was no king reigning.

The first thing that needs to be established is when the regnal year of a king starts. Many may be familiar with the fact that Israel had two calendars; a civil calendar beginning with the month Tishri, and a religious or sacred calendar beginning with the month Nisan, previously Aviv or Abib. The beginning of these calendars are six months apart, and when the regnal year of a particular king starts can be a very important issue. It would be even more complicated if Judah used a Nisan to Nisan regnal year, and the northern kingdom of Israel used a Tishri to Tishri regnal year, as the same event would be recorded by two different people as happening at different times according to their different time systems. This is a bible study which investigates the regnal years of the Hebrew kings in scripture.

#5f1 Scripturally Months are Numbered from Nisan

Regardless of which regnal year system scholars seem to prefer, they all seem to agree that since God told Moses that Nisan would be the first month (Exodus 12:2), the months are numbered from Nisan, not Tishri. The scriptural evidence is all in favour of this.

(Esther 3:7) "In the first month, which is the month of Nisan,"
(Esther 8:9) "So the king's scribes were called at that time, in the third month, which is the month of Sivan,"
(1 Kings 6:1) "in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of Yahweh."
(1 Kings 6:38) "And in the eleventh year, in the month Bul, which is the eighth month, was the house finished throughout all its parts,"
(1 Kings 8:2) "the feast in the month of Ethanim (Tishri), which is the seventh month,"
(Zechariah 7:1) "the word of Yahweh came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, Chislev."

#5f2 The Regnal year before the Divided Kingdom

Concerning the kings before the divided kingdom, the evidence points to the regnal year being from Nisan to Nisan. Here are the scriptures.

(1 Kings 6:1) "in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month Ziv, which is the second month, that he began to build the house of Yahweh."
(1 Kings 6:37-38) "In the fourth year the foundation of the house of Yahweh was laid, in the month Ziv,
And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month the house was finished in all its details according to all its plans.

By implication, 'the eleventh year' (1 Kings 6:38) refers to the eleventh year of Solomon's reign. This evidence indicates that before the divided kingdom, Solomon's regnal year was reckoned from Nisan to Nisan. Logically his father David would have used the same sytem.

#5f3 The Regnal year of the Kings of Judah

Concerning the kings of Judah the evidence points to the regnal year being from Nisan to Nisan. Here are the scriptures.

Example 1: Hezekiah's Passover.

(2 Chronicles 29:1-3) "Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty five years old, ... In the first year of his reign, in the first month, opened the doors of the house of Yahweh, and repaired them".
(2 Chronicles 30:1-3) "And Hezekiah sent to all Israel and Judah, and wrote letters also to Ephraim and Manasseh, that they should come to the house of Yahweh at Jerusalem, to keep the Passover to Yahweh God of Israel.
For the king had taken counsel, and his princes, and all the congregation in Jerusalem, to keep the Passover in the second month. For they could not keep it at that time, because the priests had not sanctified themselves sufficiently, neither had the people gathered themselves together to Jerusalem.
(2 Chronicles 30:13) "And there assembled at Jerusalem many people to keep the feast of unleavened bread in the second month, a very great congregation."

The Passover was usually kept on the 14th Nisan the first month of the year, but there was a provision for it to be kept in certain circumstances on the 14th of the second month. In this case the temple repairs were not finished, the people had not gathered to Jerusalem, and the Levites had not sanctified themselves (2 Chronicles 30:3). This was done in the first year of Hezekiah's reign, showing that his regnal year was counted from Nisan, not Tishri.

Example 2: Jehoiakim in his winter house.

(Jeremiah 36:22) "Now the king sat in the winter house in the ninth month: and there was a fire on the hearth burning before him."

The king referred to hear is Jehoiakim, who was sitting in his winter house in the ninth month of his fifth year (Jeremiah 36:9), which is Chislev (Zechariah 7:1). This is obviously a winter month which would fall around December only if the year was counted from Nisan. The conclusion is that Jehoiakim's regnal year was counted from Nisan, not Tishri.

Example 3: The captivity of Jerusalem

(Jeremiah 39:2) "In the eleventh year of Zedekiah, in the fourth month, the ninth day of the month, the city was broken up."
(Jeremiah 52:5-7) "So the city was besieged to the eleventh year of king Zedekiah.
And in the fourth month, in the ninth day of the month, the famine was severe in the city, so that there was no bread for the people of the land.
Then the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled, and went forth out of the city by night."

Jerusalem was captured in the fourth month of Zedekiah's eleventh year. In the fifth month Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard for Nebuchadnezzar, came to Jerusalem and burned the king's house, and broke down the wall (Jeremiah 52:12-15). During this time Nebuzaradan had dealings with Jeremiah (Jeremiah 40:1-5), and shortly after was the time of gathering wine and summer fruits (Jeremiah 40:12), which would be around the 6th month. In the seventh month Ishmael came with ten men and killed Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:1-2). This all shows that for the wine and summer fruit harvest to be about the 6th month, Zedekiah's regnal years must have been counted from Nisan.

#5f4 The Regnal year of the Kings of Israel

2 Kings 18:9-10
9 And it came to pass in the fourth year of king Hezekiah, which was the seventh year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria, and besieged it.
10 And at the end of three years they took it: even in the sixth year of Hezekiah, that is the ninth year of Hoshea king of Israel, Samaria was taken.

Note: The word translated "at the end of" (Hb. מִקְצֵה Htr. miqtseh) refers to something near the extreme boundary of something, but not past the boundary. Therefore, in this context, it refers to a time just inside the three years, but not more than three years.

Hezekiah's Regnal Year4th5th6th
Hoshea's Regnal Year7th8th9th
Years of Siege123

Therefore, the siege must have started at the beginning of Hezekiah's 4th regnal year, early in the first month, Nisan, and ended at the end of his 6th year, towards the end of the last month, Adar. This would be the same for Hoshea's 7th year and 9th year. What this does tell us is that at this time both Judah and Israel were using the same regnal year system. As we have established already that Judah's regnal year was from Nisan to Nisan, we must therefore conclude that Israel were also using a Nisan to Nisan regnal year.

#5f5 The Non-accession Method of Counting Regnal Years

The non accession method of counting regnal years is equivalent to our definition of inclusive reckoning. It states that any part of a year that a king reigns is counted as a full year to that king. By way of example, Elah began to reign in the 26th year of Asa (1 Kings 16:8), and was killed by Zimri in the 27th year of Asa (1 Kings 16:10). Although he reigned for only part of Asa's 26th year and part of his 27th, he is said to have reigned for two years. So this fits with the inclusive reckoning, the non accession-year method of counting regnal years.

Asa's Regnal Year26th27th
Elah's Reign in Years12

This causes complications when a king dies part way through a year, and another king takes over. The year is counted to both the departing king and the new king, so that it is counted twice. This means that the addition of the regnal years of kings never adds up to the actual years that they reigned. By way of example, if king A dies part way through his 12th year, and king B takes over, it looks like this.

Regnal Year of King A11th12th
Regnal Year of King B1st2nd3rd

#5f6 The Accession Method of Counting Regnal Years

The accession year system is not exactly equivalent to our definition of righteous reckoning, because calendar years are used at the beginning and end of a reign are not rounded to the nearest year. Instead, the first part of the year, which is the accession year, is not counted, but the last one is, regardless of their lengths. With the accession year system the previous example would look like this, with king B's accession year shaded yellow.

Regnal Year of King A11th12th
Regnal Year of King BAC 1st 2nd

The length of a kings reign may not always be counted in regnal years only, but may also be counted as an "exact" period of time. For example, David is said to have reigned seven years and six months (exact time) at Hebron (2 Samuel 5:5, 1 Chronicles 3:4), but elsewhere is is recorded as seven (regnal) years (1 Kings 2:11, 1 Chronicles 29:27).

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