The Problem of Jehoiachin's Age
2 Kings 24:8 vs. 2 Chronicles 36:9
By Fred Butler
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As a believer reads the scriptures,
he will occasionally come across what are termed "copyist’s errors."
These are apparent discrepancies found primarily in the OT, particularly within
the historical books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. The two books of Samuel
with the two books of Kings parallel the two books of Chronicles in recording
the history of Israel.
Together, the six books begin with the monarchy of Saul and then finish with
Cyrus's decree to allow the Jews safe return to the land. The “copyist’s errors” occur when the two
sets of histories are studied concurrently.
Information contained in Kings will be exactly the same as the account
in Chronicles, but a slight alteration exists between the two narratives. This is the case with the two passages before
2 Kings 24:8 reads: Jehoiachin
was 18 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem 3 months.
2 Chronicles 36:9 reads: Jehoiachin
was 8 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned 3 months and 10 days.
The disparity has
to do with Jehoiachin's age: Was he 18 when he began his reign as king or
was he 8?
A standard study Bible will usually
contain a footnote for these two passages that will read something like, “This
is a copyist error and the ‘18’ of 2 Kings 24:8 is the correct rendering.” The
footnote may even state such ancient translations of the original Hebrew like the
Septuagint even correct the “error.” Other scholarly works tend to provide a
similar, vague and inconclusive answer. For example, in Gleason Archer's Encyclopedia
of Biblical Difficulties, the author’s comments on this problem are
identical to the traditional study Bible footnote. Archer writes, “Obviously
there has been a textual error committed by the copyist. This type of error
occurs now and then because of blurring or surface damage in the earlier
manuscript.” Archer then goes on to explain how a miswritten stroke over a
series of numerical characters can be mistaken for an “8” rather than an “18.”
Another book, When Critics Ask, also deals with such problems. The authors, Norman Geisler
and Thomas Howe, give the same answer to the dilemma. They write, “This is
probably a copyist error. The text gives the description of an older man rather
than a younger boy. Additionally, the Chaldeans
condemned him to prison, indicating that they considered him to be a
It seems as if no one really
grapples with the biblical account itself to find an answer. I respect their answer in that these solutions
recognize the presence of textual variants, errors that arise between ancient,
handwritten manuscripts copied and transmitted from one generation to the next
and these variants will produce discrepancies between historical accounts. However, I do not believe all discrepancies
are necessarily “copyist’s errors.” With
many of these difficult passages, I think scholars lazily sweep the problem under
the category of “copyist error” and do not provide a full study of the overall
text where the alleged error is found. Can
we honestly say that all such difficult discrepancies fall into the realm of a
“copyist’s error?” I do not think so and
when we reconsider these portions of scripture, I believe there are some other
reasonable solutions from the actual passages.
(1). The first solution is quite
simple. During a monarchy a king would make a son co-regent with him while he
was still alive. This practice would assure the king's favored son (usually the
first-born of the favored wife) as being the next king. Some of the kings had more than one wife, and
thus several sons from these wives. To prevent civil war and fighting among the
family, he would appoint the selected son as co-regent, so when he died, the
co-regent son would be in place to take over completely. An example of this is
seen in the life of David. In 1 Kings 1 and 2, David in his dying days called
Solomon and had the high priest, as well as the prophet Nathan, anoint him
before the people. David, though he was
still king, made his son Solomon co-regent. Coming to 2 Kings 24:8, the biblical record is
giving the age of Jehoiachin as 18. The
cross-reference of “8 years old” in 2 Chronicles 36:9 could be his age when he
was made the co-regent with his father.
(2). A second
solution involves the king's mother. When Jehoiachin
was 8 years old, his father, Jehoiakim, was deported
(2 Chron. 36:6). The young king ruled jointly with
his mother, the queen, until he too was led away captive. The reasoning behind
this view is that women were not necessarily listed in the historical record.
Even though the king was young and the queen was probably making decisions, the
official record would name Jehoiachin as the
king. The one difficulty with this view,
however, is that the biblical narrative would more than likely be more specific
about such a situation. The one place that names a queen is 2 Kings 11 with Athaliah. If there were a joint rulership
between Jehoiachin and his mother, such a deviation
from the norm would have been discussed in the scripture. Some writers point
out 2 Kings 24:12 where the text describes the king going to Babylon with his mother. They say this
implies she ruled jointly with him, but nothing in the text remotely suggests
such a conclusion. The phrase “his
mother” does not mean she ruled with him anymore than the servants, princes,
and officers also listed in the deportation recorded in the verse. Another passage is Jeremiah 13:8, where it
speaks of the coming deportation of the king and queen. It is argued the queen is
Jehoiachin’s mother, but the text is not specific. This
queen could be his wife for all we know.
(3). The third
solution, and the one that appears to be more biblical, hinges on the phrase 8
years old from 2 Chronicles 36:9. The 8 years does not refer to the actual
age of Jehoiachin but is a time marker pointing to an
event: the first invasion of Judah by
Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. In
605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar invaded the Mediterranean countries including Judah.
It was during this first invasion when
Daniel and many others were taken to Babylon
in what was to be the first of 3 deportations. The second was in 598-597 B.C.
with the taking of Jehoiachin’s father Jehoiakim. The Babylonians left Jehoiachin
in power as a sort of puppet regent, but only for 3 months (2 Chron. 36:9 gives the exact figure of 3 months, 10 days). Like his father, Jehoiachin
rebelled and the Babylonians returned to have him removed. They took him back to Babylon, and left his brother Zedekiah as
appointment as king was 8 years after Nebuchadnezzar came to power and invaded Judah. This is the reason 2 Chronicles 36:9 has “8
years old.” Second Kings 24:12 affirms this solution where it states, “and the
king of Babylon
took him (Jehoiachin) in the 8th year of his
On some occasions the biblical
writers will count chronological dates from significant events. We reckon chronology in similar ways in our
modern world. For all Americans, the 11th
day of the 9th month of the year 2001 will forever be a significant
date. In fact our society speaks of a
pre-9/11 world and a post 9/11 world.
This is the case here with Jehoiachin. The
writer of Chronicles is reckoning his kingly appointment and his eventual
capture from the time Nebuchadnezzar came to rule Babylon. Ezekiel, for example, does this in
his book. He reckons dates and years from the captivity of Judah, (Ez. 1:7, 33:21, 40:1). Another example is found in 2
Chronicles 16:1 where the 36th year spoken of Asa may
refer to the number of years after the division of the kingdom in 930 B.C.,
rather than his actual years as king.
It can be concluded, then, with a
little study, these so-called "copyist errors" can be explained
biblically. Granted, “copyist’s errors” may very well exist, but how much
richer is the Bible to our souls when we first endeavor to dig a little and let
God show us biblical based solutions to problems like these.
Archer, Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties.
Leon Wood, Survey of Israel's History.
Edmund Theile, The
Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings