LETTER FROM A DEAD MAN
An old adage says, "Dead men tell no tales." Well, maybe so, but according to the Bible, dead men can
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). Needless to say, the Bible tells
us that Jehoram died exactly as Elijah's letter had predicted (vv:18-20).
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 Eli-
jah's departure from this life occurred in the reign of Jehoshaphat.
How do we know this? It's just a simple matter of "rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). Aha-
ziah succeeded his father Ahab as king of Israel in the 17th year of Jehoshaphat's reign as king of Judah (1
Kings 22:51), but Ahaziah "did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh" and paid with his life (1 Kings 22:52;
2 Kings 1:17). Jehoram the son of Ahab (not to be confused with Jehoram of Judah) succeeded his brother
Ahaziah to the throne "in the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah" (2 Kings 3:1). However, the chapt-
er before this, as noted above, reported Elijah's "translation" in the "chariot of fire" (2:11), after which Elisha
was recognized as chief of the prophets (v:15), a position for which Elijah had been told to anoint him (1 Kings
That the writer of 2 Kings believed that Elijah was no longer on the scene in the latter stages of Je-
hoshaphat's reign is evident from 3:4-20, which tells the story of Jehoram of Israel's attempt to form an alliance
with Jehoshaphat against king Mesha of Moab. Jehoshaphat wanted the opinion of a "prophet of Yahweh"
before agreeing to ally himself with Jehoram, so Elisha (not Elijah) was called in to render a judgment. If
Elijah had still been on the scene at this time, surely he would have been consulted rather than Elisha, because,
of all the prophets of Yahweh, none was more respected than Elijah. Besides that, Elijah's "translation" was
clearly reported in the previous chapter.
It seems rather obvious, then, that the writer of this book thought that Elijah's "translation" had occurred
during the lifetime of Jehoshaphat. Then when Jehoshaphat died, his son Jehoram became king of Judah in
the "fifth year of Joram" (Jehoram) of Israel (2 Kings 8:16). The names are confusing, so the readers should
keep in mind that there was a king Jehoram of Israel and a king Jehoram of Judah whose reigns overlapped.
Suffice it to say that all of this information properly sorted will show that Elijah was "translated" during the
reign of king Jehoshaphat and that Jehoram (of Judah) became king upon the death of his father 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.
Inerrantists, of course, have a how-it-could-have-been scenario that supposedly explains the problem.
Second Kings 1:17 states that Jehoram (of Israel) became king in the second year of Jehoram of Judah (the son
of Jehoshaphat). This clearly contradicts 2 Kings 3:1 (cited above), which says that Jehoram of Israel became
king in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat, but never mind; inerrantists are not going to let a problem like this deter
them from proclaiming the marvelous harmony and unity of the scriptures. Gleason Archer tells us that a solu-
tion can be found in the old co-regency dodge:
This [the statement in 2 Kings 1:17] appears to be in conflict with the notation in 2 Kings 3:1, that Jehoram ben [son
of] Ahab became king in the "eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat." But the discrepancy arises from the fact that just prior to
joining Ahab in the unsuccessful attempt to recapture Ramoth-gilead from the Syrians, Jehoshaphat took the precaution to
have his son Jehoram installed as co-regent on the throne of Judah (Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 204).
So, presto, just like that, Archer has found a way it could have been. Jehoram of Judah was made co-regent
before the death of his father Jehoshaphat, so it was during Jehoram's co-regency that Elijah wrote him the
A major weakness of this "explanation" is that Archer cited no book, chapter, and verse as proof that the
writers of Kings and Chronicles understood that Jehoshaphat did indeed install Jehoram (of Judah) as a co-
regent, and the reason he didn't is because there is none. Like most inerrantists looking for a way out of an
embarrassing situation, Archer just arbitrarily declared that this was the way it was.
Another problem with the quest for harmony in this story is the hopelessly confused chronology in the
story of Jehoshaphat as the writer(s) of Kings told it. When Ahab of Israel was killed in battle, his son Ahaziah
succeeded him in the "seventeenth year of Jehoshaphat" (1 Kings 22:51). He reigned for two years (same verse),
after which his brother Jehoram (of Israel) became king in the "eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat" (2 Kings 3:1).
How could Ahaziah serve as king for two years while only one year was transpiring in Jehoshaphat's reign?
Inerrantists, of course, will say something about different ways of calculating. One passage was counting part of
a year as a full year, so Ahaziah, who reigned for a full year and part of a year, reigned for two years; the other
passage was written in terms of full or complete years. Hence, Ahaziah became king in Jehoshaphat's 17th year
and reigned one full year and part of another, so his brother Jehoram (of Israel) became king in Jehoshaphat's
18th year (in terms of full or complete years). Yeah, right. It's always something like that, isn't it?
Maybe we could swallow a how-it-could-have-been scenario like this were it not for more confusing chro-
nological problems in this story. (Brace yourself; this stuff gets really complicated.) After Jehoram of Israel
became king in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat, the latter died, and Jehoram of Judah succeeded him in the fifth
year of the reign of Jehoram of Israel (2 Kings 8:16). But wait a minute. Jehoshaphat reigned for 25 years (1
Kings 22:42; 2 Chron. 20:31). So if Jehoshaphat reigned for 25 years and if Jehoram of Israel became king in
the eighteenth year of Jehoshaphat, how could it be that Jehoshaphat's son (Jehoram) became king of Judah in
the fifth year of Jehoram of Israel's reign? Eighteen plus five equals only twenty-three, so by necessity, it would
have been in the seventh year of Jehoram of Israel's reign that Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram (of Judah) became
king. Either that, or it was in the twentieth year of Jehoshaphat's reign that Jehoram (of Israel) became king. If
not, why not?
But it gets even worse. After succeeding Jehoshaphat, Jehoram of Judah reigned for eight years (2 Kings
8:17; 2 Chron. 21:5). Very well, this would mean that Jehoram of Judah died in the 13th year of the reign of
Jehoram of Israel, because Jehoram of Judah became king in the fifth year of Jehoram of Israel, but the total
length of Jehoram of Israel's reign was only twelve years (2 Kings 3:1). [I told you it was going to get complicat-
ed.] Second Kings 8:25, however, states that after the death of Jehoram of Judah, his son Ahaziah became king
in the twelfth year of Joram (Jehoram) of Israel. And if that isn't complicated enough for you, consider that one
chapter later (9:29) we are told that Jehoram of Judah's son (Ahaziah) began to reign in the eleventh year of
Jehoram of Israel. About the only thing more confusing than this chronological mess is the audacity of funda-
mentalist preachers who insist that they see no reason in a maze of confusion like this to question the inerrancy
of the scriptures.
Let's just put the matter to the cutting edge of Occam's razor. Which is more likely, that all of this confu-
sion can be explained by undocumented co-reigns and "different methods of calculation," or that the Bible
writers just got some of their "facts" confused? The latter seems far more likely. As any student of the Old
Testament knows, the writers of Kings and Chronicles relied on various sources for their information: Acts of
Solomon (1 Kings 11:41), Chronicles of the Kings of Israel (1 Kings 14:19,29); Chronicles of the Kings of Judah
(15:7,23); Book of the Kings of Israel (1 Chron. 9:1); Book of Nathan the Prophet (1 Chron. 29:29). The vari-
ous references are just too numerous to list them all, but the writer(s) of 2 Kings acknowledged that he (they)
had drawn information about Jehoram of Judah from "the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah" (8:23).
In the midst of all this borrowing of information, wouldn't there have been a distinct probability that the end
result would be a patchwork containing at least some discrepancies that escaped the compilers' notice? If
inerrantists want to talk about how-it-could-have-been scenarios, here is one that makes far more sense than
the arbitrary stuff they resort to. At least, there is biblical documentation to support mine. For theirs, they have
nothing but arbitrary theories about unreported co-reigns and obscure methods of calculation.
So let's put all this confusion on the back burner for a while and return to the matter of Elijah's letter to
Jehoram (of Judah). Gleason Archer wants us to believe that Elijah wrote this letter while Jehoshaphat was still
alive and Jehoram was serving only as his co-regent, but there are problems with this theory other than the
obvious fact that the biblical records mention no Jehoshaphat-Jehoram co-reign. Time after time, the Bible
described the Judean kings as men who "did that which was evil in the sight of Yahweh," but Jehoshaphat was a
rare exception to this rule. He "walked in the way of David and sought not unto the Baalim but sought to the
God of his father, and walked in his commandments and not after the doings of Israel" (2 Chron. 17:3). Be-
cause of this, "Yahweh established the kingdom in his hand" (v:5) and Jehoshaphat "was lifted up in the ways of
Yahweh" (v:6). Later it was said of him that he "walked in the way of Asa his father and turned not aside from
it, doing that which was right in the eyes of Yahweh" (2 Chron. 20:32; 1 Kings 22:44). Even when Jehu the seer
reprimanded Jehoshaphat for allying himself with Ahab in the attempt to recapture Ramoth-gilead, Jehu
praised him for putting away the Asheroth (pagan worship) and setting his heart to seek God (2 Chron. 19:3).
During his reign, he sent his princes with priests and Levites into the cities of Judah to teach the people from
"the book of the law of Yahweh" (2 Chron. 17:7-9), and he restructured the judicial system by setting judges in
all of the fortified cities of Judah with instructions to "judge not for man but for Yahweh" (2 Chron. 19:5-7). 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? Archer's speculative theory requires us to believe that
Jehoshaphat cleaned up just about everything in his government except the evil co-regency of his son. That is
asking a bit too much.
A more reasonable interpretation is that Jehoram (of Judah) became king after Jehoshaphat's death and
then abandoned the righteous principles of his father to such a degree that Elijah sent him the letter of repri-
mand. This is exactly what the biblical text states:
And Jehoshaphat rested with his fathers, and was buried with his fathers in the City of David. Then Jehoram his son
reigned in his place (2 Chron. 21:1, NKJV).
In no sense is this passage describing a co-reign. Jehoshaphat died, and THEN Jehoram his son reigned in his
place. That is about as clear a statement as you will find in this entire confused record of Jehoshaphat's and
Immediately after assuming power, Jehoram removed all competition by executing his six brothers (v:3).
Now how likely is it that Jehoshaphat stood by and allowed this to happen during a co-regency that he shared
with Jehoram? In point of fact, the text makes it very clear that this atrocity was committed after Jehoshaphat
Now when Jehoram was established over the kingdom of his father, he strengthened himself and killed all his broth-
ers with the sword, and also others of the princes of Israel (v:4).
Certainly Jehoram could not have established himself over the kingdom of his father while a monarch of Je-
hoshaphat's power was still alive, so obviously it was after Jehoshaphat was dead that Jehoram murdered his
brothers. If anyone still doubts this, let him consider the full text of the letter that Elijah sent to Jehoram:
Thus says Yahweh, the God of your father David: Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your
father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah, but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel, and have made Judah and the
inhabitants of Jerusalem to play the harlot like the harlotry of the house of Ahab, and also have killed your brothers, those
of your father's household, who were better than yourself, behold Yahweh will strike your people with a serious
affliction--your children, your wives, and all your possessions; and you will become very sick with a disease of your intes-
tines, until your intestines come out by reason of the sickness, day by day (vv:12-15).
Could anything be clearer than this? Elijah (if indeed he wrote this letter) knew that Jehoram had already
murdered his brothers. So to believe that Elijah wrote this letter while Jehoram was simply a co-regent re-
quires one to believe that Jehoshaphat, who had had the power to institute sweeping political reforms and even
maintain garrisons in some of the cities of Ephraim that Asa had regained from the northern kingdom (2
Chron. 17:2; 19:4), was unable to prevent Jehoram from murdering his other sons. Who can believe it?
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. The letter said that Yahweh would strike Jehoram's people with "a serious affliction"
that would include his children, wives, and all his possessions and that then Jehoram himself would be afflicted
in his bowels. Immediately upon continuation of the narrative, the chronicler reported that Yahweh stirred up
against Jehoram the Philistines and Arabians, who invaded Judah and carried away all the possessions in the
king's house as well as his wives and sons, except for Jehoahaz (vv:16-17).
"After all this," the very next verse tells us, "Yahweh struck him [Jehoram] with an incurable disease." Then
after two years, "his bowels fell out by reason of his disease," and he died in great pain (v:19). So the obvious
intention of the chronicler was to report that Jehoram's wickedness became so great during his reign that
somewhere close to six years after Jehoram had become king, Elijah pronounced a curse upon him in a letter,
and then he died about two years later, having reigned for a total of eight years. So the problem for the funda-
mentalists who still want to insist that the Bible is inerrant in every detail is that they must explain how Elijah
wrote this letter when he was no longer on the scene at this time in Jehoram's reign.
Now there is only one loose end to tie up. If there was no co-regency during the reign of Jehoshaphat, why
did the writer of 2 Kings say in 1:17 that Jehoram of Israel began to reign in the second year of Jehoram of
Judah and then say in 3:1 that Jehoram of Israel began to reign in the 18th year of Jehoshaphat? Most assured-
ly, what we cannot do is resort to an assumption of biblical inerrancy as grounds for arguing that there cannot
be a discrepancy in the two passages. Objectivity requires us to admit the distinct possibility that a fallible
human writer simply got his facts confused.
The likelihood that this is exactly what happened can be found in a fact previously mentioned: the writers
of the books of Kings and Chronicles frequently referred to source materials that they had used in compiling
their histories. The writer(s) of Kings acknowledged that "the chronicles of the kings of Judah" had been used
to compile Jehoshaphat's and Jehoram of Judah's stories (1 Kings 22:45; 2 Kings 8:23); the chronicle writer(s)
said that the story of Jehoshaphat had depended on "the history of Jehu the son of Hanai, which is inserted in
the book of the kings of Israel" (2 Chron. 20:34). On the other hand, the story of Ahaziah of Israel was com-
piled from information in "the chronicles of the kings of Israel" (2 Kings 1:18). The writers referred to three
different source books in telling the stories of Ahaziah and Jehoram of Israel and Jehoshaphat and Jehoram of
Judah, so the glaring discrepancy in 2 Kings 1:17 and 3:1 could easily have resulted from contradictory dates in
the writer's sources that he inserted, probably inadvertently, while compiling his own version of the history of
this period. Anyone who doubts that this could have happened is someone who doesn't have much experience
in researching and writing. To argue that it couldn't have happened because the writers were inspired is to
prove inerrancy by assuming inerrancy.
One thing is obvious. The history of Jehoshaphat and the two Jehorams (one an Israelite, the other a
Judean king) is a confusing mess of chronology from beginning to end. That doesn't do much to instill con-
fidence in the fundamentalist claim that the Bible is so perfectly harmonious from cover to cover that only
divine inspiration can account for it.