Was Elijah dead when a letter was sent from him?
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It is said from a Skeptic:

After Jehoram succeeded his father Jehoshaphat as king of Judah, "he did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh" (2 Chron. 21:6 ). [So what else is new?] As a result, "a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet" (v:12 ) telling him that because he had not "walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat," he would be afflicted with a disease of the bowels so severe that his bowels would fall out "day by day" (v:15 )...
The only problem is that the parallel story of Elijah and Jehoram in 2 Kings claims that Elijah died during the reign of Jehoshaphat before Jehoram succeeded to the throne. Well, of course, Elijah didn't die. He was "translated" into heaven in a "chariot of fire" (2 Kings 2:11-13 ), but the point is that the biblical account of Elijah's departure from this life occurred in the reign of Jehoshaphat....
All of this being true, how did Elijah write a letter to Jehoram after he had succeeded Jehoshaphat? The only possible explanation would have to be that dead men who can tell no tales can nevertheless write letters.

They can, or something else can happen. Our Skeptic goes on to take to task an explanation by Gleason Archer to the effect that there was a "co-regency" during which Jehoram and Jehoshapat both reigned. Our Skeptic calls this a "dodge," though how a social structure known to have existed in this period automatially can be declared a "dodge" is hard to say. Archer offers six examples of such co-regencies, and our Skeptic repeatedly notes how "confusing" he finds all of this. It isn't confusing at all after study.

Readers may wish to consider The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings by Edwin Thiele, as well as serious study of the ancient processes of kingship and of co-regencies (the most famous non-Israelite example is perhaps Belshazzar's co-regency with Nabodinus, but they were known in Egypt, Babylon, and Assyria. Talk about "arbitrary theories about unreported co-reigns and obscure methods of calculation" comes from those who are merely not familiar with history.

A quite detailed study is offered by William Munrane's Ancient Egyptian Coregencies, which for the most part notes that evidence for coregencies is difficult to discern, even considering the amount of material Egypt has left behind in the form of documents and monuments. "..[S]ometimes we are lucky enough to have direct proof [of a coregency], but often the interpretation of the evidence is in dispute." [xviii] Discussions and proposals of hypothetical coregencies are based on evidence that ranges from the direct and indisputable (direct statements, or double dates showing both kings reigning at once and indicating their respective regnal years) to the indirect or the possible (scarabs or monuments with both names only -- is this a coregency, or some sort of special memorial?).

Several things are worth noting from Munrane's work:

  • Munrane notes the variable use of regnal reckonings [1], in which a reign could be calculated according to actual time, or according to a system in which the first regnal year was equated with the first full calendar year -- something our Skeptic doubts the validity of elsewhere. Munrane also notes that the system of observation was changed in the 18th dynasty [31]. Thus we have a situation where Egyptian documents reflect a change of the sort that has been hypothesized in Biblical reckonings as well.
  • Referring to the 12th Dynasty in particular, Munrane notes that all info on coregencies from this period is from double-dated documents that are all private monuments -- there is no "official documentation" of such coregencies from this period. That the books of Kings and Chronicles, which clearly used royal archives as a source, do not mention coregencies directly does not mean a thing. Moreover, Munrane adds that "the existence of a coregency did not compel the use of double- at the expense of single-dated documents." [7-8]
  • One of the longest coregencies recorded lasted 13 years, with Thutmosis III and Hathshepstut. [43]
  • Obviously, a short coregency would not leave as much evidence as a long one. [201] It is possible that short coregencies left no evidence at all.

So why coregencies? Coregencies had very specific purposes:

  • They were meant to legitimate the rule of one's son (or successor) and avoid any fighting after the man in charge died. Establishing a coregency headed off any potential trouble or power struggles -- theoretically. Actually there was plenty of intrigue around even so; even the best laid plans are not immune to human tinkering, but there was certainly plenty of precedent and need for such an institution.

    That it isn't mentioned as happening in the Biblical text means nothing -- the ancients were not in the business of disabusing us of our ignorance of the social structures they took for granted, that we have lost track of only because of our ignorance.

  • Coregencies allowed an heir to get "used to" the job and be a more effective king when the time came. For example, in Egypt, the junior member might rule Egypt itself, while the senior partner handled foreign affairs and correspondence. [240] In any event a prospective king would usually take on some admin duties beforehand.
  • Finally, a coregency might just be a way to gain honor or enjoy the results. The father of Ramses II said that his son was raised up as a king so that he could see his "beauty" while he was still alive.

That leaves these objections: "In view of Jehoshaphat's dedication to the laws of Yahweh, how likely is it that he would have allowed his son Jehoram to serve as co-regent in such a corrupt manner that the most notable prophet of his religion would have seen the need to write a letter of reprimand?"

This is humanist naivete at work, of the same sort found in a companion article, "How Likely Is It?" How likely is it? Spread a few bribes in the right places, shut the old man up in a room while still paying him lip service before the public, spice it with political intrigue, and there's plenty of room for "allowing" such misbehavior.

In fact, Elijah's letter, with its talk of killing brothers and others, suggests just such a personality. The objection here shows a remarkable lack of cognizance of the realities of politics. Perhaps we should consider the intrigue surrounding the court of Nebuchadnezzar as an example.

The further objections in "How Likely Is It?', asking how the Israelites could have been such unfaithful complainers in the face of Yahweh's displays of power, isn't any better and sounds fine as hindsight (and is also no more than the standard disposition against the miraculous, in essence, "I haven't seen any, so there aren't any.")

After years of working among criminals in my state's prison system, I would know better than to ask things like, "How can these guys misbehave so much when they know it will get their sentences extended?" Or, "How can they commit the same crime over and over after being punished so much?"

Next: "Besides this, the reference to Elijah's letter is near the end of the chronicler's version of Jehoram's life, an indication that it was written well into the eight-year reign of Jehoram (21:5) and not at some time during a hypothetical co-regency."

No such time-marker is attached to the receipt of the letter at all; this is merely an assumption by our Skeptic. Indeed, the letter must have been received earlier in the reign, for Jehoram's affliction lasted two years (21:19) and this happened after the stirring up of the Philistines and the Arabians (21:16) and their action against Judah. War and the formulation of alliances this took as long as years to accomplish in this time.

-JPH