Recently I was chatting with a fellow who proposed that there may be an error in the Scriptures. So in the course of the conversation he shared what he thought was the error and I’ve worked through what I think are some possible solutions to the apparent error (being someone who loves a challenge, believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, and just plain old loves to study the Bible). So I thought I’d blog my thoughts about this…for whatever its worth.
Here is the problem: 1 Kings 15:2 says Maacah was the “mother” of Abijah and 1 Kings 15:10 says Maacah was the “mother” (depending on what English translation you look at because some say “grandmother”) of Asa–Abijah’s son.
Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, Abijam became king over Judah. He reigned three years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. (1Ki 15:1-2 NAS)
So in the twentieth year of Jeroboam the king of Israel, Asa began to reign as king of Judah.
And he reigned forty-one years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Maacah the daughter of Abishalom. (1Ki 15:9-10 NAS)
Option 1- The term for “mother” may also mean “grandmother” since there are no other words available for referring to a grandmother.
The term in the Hebrew (אֵם) for ‘mother’ has a wider possible meaning than simply ‘mother’, it can also be applied to the matriarch of the family (grandmother, etc.), just as the Hebrew for “father” can also be applied to an ancestor that stands in the lineage of the family without being the specific/anatomical birth-father of the individual named (immediate context and the wider Scriptural context will normally shed light on which it is).
Besides of which, there does not appear to be a Biblical Hebrew word for “grandmother” besides אֵם which means just means “mother”, but has (only in this immediate context) the wider meaning of “grandmother”. So unless it can be demonstrated that the Hebrew of the Old Testament era has another specific word for “grandmother” I would say that אֵם is the appropriate term to refer to each — mother and grandmother. This works just the same as אָב means “father” “grandfather” “great-grandfather” etc. There is only this one word for “father”, “grandfather” in the OT Hebrew (so far as I can tell). So context is the only possible aid in helping to know just what is being meant by the single word which appears to have been the ONLY word possible.
Thus, there are translations which reflect “grandmother” in 15:10 (NIV, NLT, NET) — understanding אֵם to mean “grandmother” in this context. But there are others (KJV, NAS, NRSV, ESV) that retain the reading as “mother” and choose to not try to resolve the possible difficulty posed by Maacah being the “mother” of both Abijam and Abijam’s son Asa. So perhaps other options should be considered as well.
Option 2 – The name of Asa’s “mother” was Ana and not Maacah.
The Greek Septuagint (LXX) in 1 Kings 15:10 actually lists the ‘name of his [Asa’s] mother’ as “Ana daughter of Abishalom” instead of “Maacah daughter of Abishalom” which is what the Hebrew Masoretic text reads. All the English translations (ESV, KJV, NIV, NRSV, NAS, NET, NLT) I’ve looked at take the former (Maacah) reading for 1 Kings 15:10…thus believing that the Masoretic text (being the more difficult reading and therefore the easiest to explain the smoothing towards changing the name to “Ana” found in the LXX) is the preferred reading…whether they chose “mother” or “grandmother” the idea would be that the Masoretic text preserves the original text here (which is most likely and would also be in agreement with the Masoretic and LXX reading of 2 Chronicles 15:16 with the name ‘Maacah’ as the “mother” of Asa). The fact that the LXX only changed the name in 1 Kings 15:10, but not in 2 Chronicles 15:16 speaks more to questions (at least for me) about the texual tradition of the LXX than it does about the dilemma at hand. So I would say that the suggestion that “Ana” was the mother of Asa is to be rejected and we are still left trying to resolve Maacah being the “mother” of both Abijam and his son Asa.
Option 3 – Maacah actually raised Asa as her son (even though he was her grandson by birth) because the mother was out of the picture for some unexplained reason.
This is actually not a strange option, since everyone would agree that even a child who is not biologically a son or daughter may be adopted by someone and therefore have a new “mother” or “father”. Joseph being the “father” of Jesus is a perfect example. So perhaps Maacah acted as the “mother” of Asa and therefore held the rightful name of “mother”. all adoptive parents understand that being a “mother” or “father” of a child is far more than biological.
Option 4 – Maacah was his birth mother, thus the writer of Kings would be implying that Abijam (Asa’s father) slept with his own mother, got her pregnant and she ended up giving birth to Asa.
Thus, she would physically/anatomically be the “mother” of each of them. Often the writer of Kings records activities without offering any specific critique of the rightness or wrongness, but simply reports certain incidences and allows the light of the Torah (Lev.18:6-7) to declare the rightness or wrongness of something. This may indeed be one of those cases.
Option 2 seems to betray a difficulty in the text of the LXX concerning the transmission of Kings (since Chronicles retains the reading of Maacah as “mother” of Asa) and therefore should be rejected out of hand. Options 1, 3, and 4 are actually–in my opinion–viable options given the nature of the text and authors and the lexicography (semantic possibilities) of words. I did at one point lean towards option one (with option 3 as slightly less likely), but currently find option 4 to be the most probable…given the way that the author of Kings has again and again offered the readers a story reflecting the sinful ways of Judah and Israel (and may give further justification for the removal of his “mother” Maacah from a place of prestige and authority beyond her public support and financing of idolatry — see 1 Kings 15:13).
Perhaps there are even other options which I’ve over-looked. If so please feel free to comment on that. Also, I’d be interested in any thoughts on this subject whether positive or negative. Or perhaps you don’t care and you are thinking, “Rick has WAY too much time on his hands”… 🙂