Mordecai Cogan, 1 Kings. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.
(Anchor Bible 10; New York: Doubleday, 2001), 556 pp.; maps, illustrations, appendices, indices. ISBN 0-385-02992-6. $50
Reviewed by James Linville
University of Lethbridge

This book is a welcome addition to the Anchor Bible Series. More than just fill a significant gap in that series’ offerings on the Hebrew Bible, it finally completes a two-volume set on Kings; the first installment of which having been available to scholars since 1988 (by Cogan and Hayim Tadmor, AB 11). Cogan has now produced a volume that fits in well with the tone and direction of its older sibling, despite being the sole author.

Cogan’s work follows the general structure familiar to readers of the Anchor Bible series and features a complete translation of both 1 and 2 Kings. The translation is followed by an introductory chapter dealing with general issues of language and philology, composition and sources, authorship, chronology and historicity of the book. A substantial bibliography is then found, and only then does the book turn to a sequential commentary on 1 Kings. This rightly proceeds according to discrete episodes identified by Cogan, and so sometimes the analysis cuts across chapter divisions (e.g., 12:33–13:34 is treated as a unit). Translation of the relevant episode is presented and this is supplemented by the translator’s “Notes.” These notes are often the longest section appended to each episode and run the gamut from grammatical and philological issues to historical and interpretative questions. Relevant cross-references to other biblical passages are numerous, and some text-critical issues are also dealt with. Some of the observations seem a little unnecessary, occasionally paraphrasing content that is relatively easy to understand but, in general, Cogan has provided an immensely useful resource to the Kings scholar. A section entitled “Comment” then outlines the literary and form-critical issues in the particular passage. The comments are essentially on the MT, as the author holds that text-critical efforts to reconstruct an original version of the Masoretic Text are “presumptuous” (p. 85). In many instances a further section, “History”, is appended dealing with the historicity of the episode in question. Occasionally, this latter section is actually longer than the corresponding “Comment.” Only a very short (ca. one half page) and inconclusive excursus on the miscellanies of the LXX version of 1 Kings (2:35a-o; 46 a-l) is offered. Cogan says they are important to understand early exegesis of Kings, but not to understanding the textual history of the MT. A longer, but still brief, excursus on the LXX’s alternative story of Jeroboam (12: 24a-z) is also found. It generally concurs with Z. Talshir’s view that it was dependent upon a Hebrew original whose provenance is perhaps to be found with the Samaritan schism.1

A number of maps are provided, as are some illustrations. Three appendices treat relevant extra-biblical texts, a chronology of the kings of Israel and Judah, and another chronology of ancient Near Eastern monarchs. Indices of subjects, biblical and other ancient textual references, and of terms in Hebrew and other ancient languages complete the volume.

Cogan offers a literal and consistent translation which, by his own admission, is a little wooden. This, he claims, “is exactly what a proper rendition calls for: literalness that retains ambiguity” (p. 87), a statement with which I concur completely. Cogan quickly adds that the interpretative process is most enjoyable when the reader is actively involved with the text. The translation is, however, much less wooden than Cogan implies: it is quite readable and clear, and his translation notes offer many clarifying points while often attempting to preserve that rich ambiguity. In view of the many developments in “literary” reading strategies of biblical narrative, his perspectives on active involvement of the reader is certainly a welcome starting point in a commentary. Yet, it is a promise that is just as often left unfulfilled. When Cogan proceeds to the actual elucidation of 1 Kings, active literary interpretation is occasional at best, for his interests as a historian often seem to exclude other perspectives.

As for the history of Kings’ composition, Cogan adopts a modified form of Frank Moore Cross’ dual redaction model of a Josianic Dtr1 and an exilic Dtr2 without much fanfare. Martin Noth’s original thesis of a single, exilic deuteronomistic author/redactor is mentioned briefly, and the dual redaction model is defended by short reference to the standard arguments that 1–2 Kings reaches something of a climax in the episode concerning Josiah, and that there is a notable change in literary tone after that point. A Josianic deuteronomist is then posited. A second, exilic deuteronomist is said to have brought the great history into line with later events. According to Cogan, the later writer saw no further hope for the people, a view not shared by every scholar. Cogan does wonder, however, whether or not Dtr1 and Dtr2 were actually the same person. The exilic-era deuteronomist is given a lesser role in Cogan’s estimation than in some other dual-redaction theories. In 1 Kings 8, Cogan argues that all of the prayer of Solomon is best viewed as pre-exilic in origin since it does not assume the destruction of the temple, even though other proponents of the dual-redaction theory think otherwise. Still, 1 Kings’ statements of conditionality placed on the Davidic royal legitimacy are the later writer’s work (1 Kgs 2:4; 8:25; 9:6). Cogan dates Dtr2’s effort by the lack of mention of the royal history source after 2 Kgs 24:5 employed by Dtr1. Cogan concludes that Dtr2 most likely was an eye-witness to the events of Jehoiachin’s reign and the collapse of monarchic Judah. Curiously, a third major redactional model is ignored: that there were three exilic-era redactions, although some work from this school of thought is cited regarding other matters. This theory was formulated by Walter Dietrich in 1972 and it influenced Kings commentaries by both E. Würthwein and G. H. Jones.2

Cogan posits a diversity of prophetic tales in 1 and 2 Kings as a source for Dtr1. Cogan is not the first to propose such a source and he briefly refers to a few other versions of this modification to Cross’ theory, but he does not go into any detail about the alternatives. The prophetic materials he identifies mostly concern the northern kingdom, and this situation creates what Cogan calls an imbalance in 1 and 2 Kings. A pre-existing prophetic source of northern provenance is identified in 2 Kgs 13:1–32 and 14:8–27 (albeit with some later accretions). On the other hand, the long cycle of Elijah narratives (1 Kings 17–19) is a compilation of originally oral elements. Complicating this issue is the affinity of the Elijah episodes with those of his successor Elisha that are recounted in 2 Kings. While mentioning a number of the issues involved and some modern work on the subject, Cogan leaves this question mostly unexplored. Be that as it may, Cogan is still quite interested in delineating the pre-deuteronomistic sources. He accepts at face value that the other documents Kings refers to, such as a book concerning the deeds of Solomon, and two histories of the kings of Israel and Judah respectively, served as sources for Dtr1. He writes that the histories of the kingdoms are the “closest we are likely to get to the archives and libraries of ancient Israel” (p. 91). These documents were held to be commonly known and authoritative, “since they were most likely” derived from first hand reports of the affairs of the monarchs (p. 91). He discredits Van Seters’ view that the deuteronomist learned of the battles with Assyria and other enemies from surviving cuneiform inscriptions and that the deuteronomist even knew hieroglyphics or demotic.3

Detailed discussions on the purposes and theological perspectives of the deuteronomists who produced Kings are also kept to a minimum, although a good deal can be gleaned from shorter comments made in the introduction and in the context of the treatment of individual passages. In these, however, there is little that is surprising. The key deuteronomistic beliefs were unfailing loyalty to the teaching of Moses and centralization of the cult, while Dtr2 held out no hope for Israel. On the one hand, Cogan provides some insight into the perceived inconsistencies in 1 Kings. His approach, “assumes that the textual tensions are likely the signs of a literary canon”, which the writer would not change, preferring to preserve the variety of a tradition with which he did not always fully agree (p. 95). This, again, is nothing new; but it is a perspective that is defended in many places in the commentary with concise, well-reasoned arguments. On the other hand, narratological explanations for perceived inconsistencies are rarely explored. If one is looking for a new understanding of the deuteronomistic school by a new analysis of their literary presentation of Israel’s early monarchic times, one is well-advised to look elsewhere. Of course, a commentary on 1 Kings need not be primarily concerned with this issue, but the social location and date (and indeed, existence) of the deuteronomists is a topic that has been debated with some vigour in recent years: it perhaps deserved a little more attention.

In general, this book certainly compares well to other contributions to the genre of historical-critical commentaries on Kings, although some proponents of this general approach may share my apprehensions about the lack of argument in support of historical and redactional conclusions. The translation is of a very high order and the copious translation notes are, for the most part, extremely useful regardless of one’s methodological interests, and they are well worth consulting. It is very readable and within the intellectual sphere of the genre, much of its analysis is well argued. In many places, Cogan advises caution where others have drawn firm conclusions from scanty evidence. While it compares well to the standard commentaries on 1 Kings and is much superior to some, it is a book with many flaws. Many of my reservations concern the commentary’s primary focus on the events described in 1 Kings, and not on the events of the composition of 1 Kings itself or the literary world described by the biblical book. Sometimes this leads to Cogan’s otherwise welcome caution being abandoned. None of this is to disparage Cogan’s interest in the history of the early monarchy or his assertion that it is “only natural” for a commentary on 1 Kings to attempt the separation of the, “actual from the legendary, the real from the ideal” (p. 103). I do, however, question the primacy of this focus in view of the absence of much reflection in the book on how such an interest can be pursued, if at all. Cogan writes that the internal histories of the two Israelite kingdoms, “must, in the end, be recovered from an analysis of the book of Kings” (pp. 103–104). To what extent this is possible is at the core of great debates that raged in the 1990’s and continue today. It is surprising and very disappointing, therefore, that the introductory section, “History: Biblical Text, Archaeology, and Extrabiblical Documentation,” spans little more than a page and half (pp. 103–105).

Admittedly, the nearly 1000 items listed in the bibliography is an impressive number and represent only those items that actually merited a citation in the commentary itself. Yet Cogan writes of the bibliography, “it in no way aims to be comprehensive but reflect the commentator’s selection of the discussions that have contributed to his understanding of Kings” (p. 84). Herein lies my critique; while a number of recent commentaries and historical and archaeological studies are included, Cogan fails to cite the primary works of a relatively new historical perspective, such as Philip R. Davies’ In Search of Ancient Israel, published in 1992. It is in this well-known work that some of the most serious and well-articulated (however provocative) objections to the historical rationalizations of conventional historical-critical scholarship are published.4 It is just these sorts of methods that form the heart of Cogan’s book without any form of defence against its critics. What its author implies is that the entire series of heated exchanges between the so-called “maximalists” and “minimalists,” or the “old school” of historical critics and the “revisionists” (or however else one wishes to label the opposing camps) that raged since Cogan and Tadmor wrote on 2 Kings, and would have been available years before the publication of the new commentary, have not really helped him understand the book of Kings. For example, the hotly debated question of the existence of the United Monarchy is a non-issue to Cogan. That it existed and was a major regional political force in the region, is assumed without any real recognition that many other scholars have published their doubts concerning this for several years. Of course, these critics and skeptics have faced their fair share of objections as well, but Cogan’s failure to place his own work in the context of these exchanges only serves to limit the utility of his book. If there is an answer to the skeptics’ charges that would allow the reader of a book like this to accept its conclusions with confidence (and the very writing of this commentary would imply that its author thinks there is), then Cogan would have served his readers better by articulating it. Ignoring the critics might make the job easier for Cogan, but it does not really help his readers, who may be less willing to turn their backs to the storm of controversy that will likely rage for some time.

The weakness of the traditional approach taken by Cogan is evident with a few examples. It is remarkable in these examples how many times Cogan employs the premise of accepting as reliable those passages which simply assume what he needs to prove: that Kings contains ancient and accurate source material concerning the early monarchies. Cogan finds a number of passages describing payments and plunder taken from the temple as reflecting a “threat-payment-relief” scheme (including 1 Kgs 15:16–21; 2 Kgs 12:18–19; 14:14; 16:5, 7–9; 18:13–16; 24:13; 25:13–17). The information in these episodes “might derive from Temple records” (pp. 95). Regarding Shishak’s plundering of the temple in Rehoboam’s fifth year (1 Kgs 14:25–26), however, the pattern is discovered with the unique feature of a precise date for the event, instead of a more general expression of time in the other instances. This suggests to Cogan a rather different source. He writes that it, “points to a putative Temple chronicle of sorts” (pp. 95). Not only does the unique date suggest to Cogan an independent source, but also one that can still provide him a useful level of reliability. On the other hand, the precise date “could be” a complete fabrication, provided to give an air of precision to a single episode for a desired literary effect (conversely, the other dates could plausibly have been edited). Against the grain of much modern literary criticism of the Hebrew Bible, Cogan’s treatment here assumes that a single writer would be perfectly consistent in wording across many different episodes.

In the introduction Cogan writes of the various temple records employed: “All of these chapters in the history of the Temple may well be of monarchic inception,” even if exact dates are indeterminable today (p. 94). Later he rules out a number of theories that date the descriptions of the temple construction in 1 Kings 6 relatively late, or hold that they stemmed from archival or priestly sources. While there is some validity to his objections, there is insufficient analysis to make them conclusive. He seems to be aware of this and writes that “many of their basic components may reach back to monarchic circles,” going on shortly to surmise that “the factual description of the building in 1 Kgs 6 may have been written for an administrative survey or study purposes” (p. 250). He does, however, claim that due to the lack of any concern with wisdom in 1 Kings 6 that it is unlikely that chapter ever composed part of the Book of the Deeds of Solomon mentioned in 1 Kgs 11:41. This document Cogan holds to be a “near-contemporary” of the temple descriptions (p. 250). Cogan’s transition from “may reach back” to the monarchy to claiming near contemporaneousness with another document in the space of less than a page is unsettling. Of that “Book of the Deeds of Solomon” Cogan writes that it “may have been” from “some of the wise men at the court of Jerusalem” in the time of “their king” (p. 92). He has tried to support one “maybe” by reference to another. There is no real proof offered as to the likelihood of such dates. The assumptions at play here and in much of the rest of this commentary are that Kings is a compilation of often accurate source material and only if there is a compelling argument to the contrary should a passage be rejected as having some historical veracity. Identifying the circularity of this procedure was a core argument in works such as Davies’ In Search of Ancient Israel.5 Simply ignoring the critics does nothing to refute them or to instill confidence in the mind of the reader who may be troubled by the apparent impasse in biblical studies.

Despite his obvious skill as a translator of 1 Kings, Cogan is not always a subtle reader of the book, preferring to find reasonably accurate historical notes instead of a well-shaped portrayal of history which may or may not have derived from accurate information. He writes that Provan and Walsh “overread” 1 Kings 3 when they write that Solomon is depicted as undermining his own reign from an early point.6 Cogan emphasizes that 1 Kings is positive about Solomon until very late in its narrative about him: not before 11:1. This, of course, may well be; but Cogan’s own work undermines his assertion, since it is predated on the hypothetical sources, and not the way they are put together by the writer of Kings. For instance, Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Kgs 3:1) is taken in purely historical terms, an unusual alliance that indicates the importance of the Israelite kingdom and the declining fortunes of Egypt at that time. In 1 Kgs 9:16, Pharaoh’s conquest of Gezer is called a “parenthetical note” (p. 301). He finds no reflection of Deut 17:14–17, the so-called Law of the King, in the traditions of Solomon’s acquisition of horses and wealth in 1 Kgs 9:26–28 and 1 Kings 10. Rather, in the view of the author of 1 Kings 3–10, wealth is the gift of God (p. 189). Even so, Cogan writes, one might be inclined to read 10:26–28 together with the condemnation of the king immediately following at 11:1ff, in the light of the Law of the King, as did R. Isaac in BT Shanh 21b. 1 Kgs 11:1, of course, mentions the Egyptian princess directly. Yet Cogan downplays the implication of the collocation by pointing to the apparent implausibility of the trade described in 1 Kgs 10:28–29. As do many others, he considers it extremely unlikely that Solomon obtained horses and chariots in Egypt for resale to the north, which is a more likely source for such commodities. Cogan rehearses two possible solutions to obtain the desired accuracy (at least presumed accuracy). “Egypt” could be emended to the name of a place in Cappadocia, mucri, or the plural chariots could be understood as a singular, very expensive status symbol. This, of course, does not sit comfortably beside his earlier statement that recovering the “original” version of the MT book through text criticism is presumptuous. Cogan might be right, and Solomon was not overtly criticized by the writer until 1 Kings 11. Moreover, all of the information about Egypt in 1 Kings may have originated in generally accurate historical reports (perhaps now with some corruption). Yet, Kings says Solomon got his horses and chariots from Egypt in a book that says very much else about Egypt, Solomon, God and the destiny of Israel and Judah.7 Cogan needs to question what role Egypt was given as a player in this destiny as portrayed by the deuteronomist. This is the difference between the way Cogan and readers like Provan and Walsh read Kings. Cogan should also ask whether an ancient reader of Kings who is either aware of Deuteronomy or is taking up Kings for the second time, would not find the king’s downfall foreshadowed early on.

In sum, Cogan has produced a useful, but ultimately disappointing contribution to scholarship on 1 Kings. It certainly is a good resource for balanced explanations of terms, names, and many other discrete points of interpretation. On the other hand, the value of the commentary on larger issues is limited, to say the least. Cogan adopts a very typical redactional model without seriously engaging equally popular alternatives. More seriously, he often offers little more than a rationalization of the biblical account of the early monarchies, based on claims that statements in the texts “might” be ancient and accurate. This kind of rationalization, to my mind, is obsolete and inadequate. I certainly do not wish to claim here that the conventional historical-critical approaches have nothing left to contribute, but only that the critics of such approaches deserve some recognition for having pointed to the need for greater caution and sophistication than what is demonstrated in Cogan’s commentary. There is precious little in its methodology or presuppositions that could not have informed a commentary one or even a few decades older.8 It is, in this sense, a very loyal sibling to the older work by Cogan and Tadmor. Whatever virtue there is in this level of filial piety seems of little real benefit to the modern reader. If Cogan’s way of doing things is ultimately valid, his readers would have been much better served by at least some answer to the so-called “minimalists.” This would have made the obviously great effort that went into many parts of this book much more readily apparent. The decisions to ignore the importance of the recent debates in a series of such import and reputation as the Anchor Bible amounts to driving a wedge even further between two opposing camps, and I doubt whether Hebrew Bible studies in general is better off because of it.


[1] Referring to Z. Talshir, “The Image of the Edition of the Book of Kings as Reflected in the Septuagint,” Tarbiz 59 (1990), 249–302.

[2] W. Dietrich, Prophetie und Geschichte. Eine Redactionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung zum deuteronomistischen Geschichtswerk (Göttingen: Vandenhoek and Ruprecht, 1972); G. H. Jones, 1 and 2 Kings (2 Vols., NCBC; London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1984); E. Würthwein, Die Bücher der Könige. 1 Könige 1–16 (1 edn; Göttingen: Vandenhoek und Ruprecht, 1977); idem, Die Bücher der Könige. 1 Könige 17–2 Kön. 25 (Göttingen: Vandenhoek und Ruprecht, 1984).The latter two works appear in Cogan’s bibliography, the first does not. Würthwein’s 1 Könige 1–16 also has a 1985 second edition.

[3] Referring (on p. 91, n. 11) to J. Van Seters, In Search of History (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1983), p. 301.

[4] P. R. Davies, In Search of ‘Ancient Israel’ (JSOTSup, 148; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). Nor does N. P. Lemche, who also was instrumental in formulating a new starting point on historical-critical work get a mention.

[5] See especially, Davies, In Search, pp. 36–40.

[6] I. W. Provan, Hezekiah and the Books of Kings. A Contribution to the Debate about the Composition of the Deuteronomistic History (BZAW, 172; Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1988), pp. 44–46, and J. T. Walsh, “The Characterization of Solomon in First Kings 1–5,” CBQ 57 (1995), 471–93.

[7] Indeed, in a short commentary on Kings published in 1995 that does not appear in Cogan’s bibliography, Provan describes the division of the kingdom as deliberately constructed to recall the exodus, with Judah standing in for Egypt, I. W. Provan, 1 and 2 Kings (NIBC; Peabody MS: Hendrickson, 1995), pp. 103–106.

[8] Of course, this is not to say that all secondary scholarship Cogan refers to is that old.