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There are a lot of names in the Bible. Some of them, such as John and Mary, are repeated over and over. Others only appear once or twice. Regardless of how often the name appears, using a person’s name in a chronicle like the Bible, a set of stories and history that is meant to be passed down generation after generation, means that a person was worth remembering. They were important enough that their contemporaries who were composing the accounts knew them by name, and memorable enough that the writers of the Bible felt that their name was worth preserving for generations. Some names were preserved because the people they belonged to showed extraordinary bravery, selflessness or loyalty. Ruth, for example, abandoned everything she knew to stay with and support her mother-in-law, Naomi. Others were preserved because they were the name of a great enemy. Modern Jews, for example, make it a point to boo, hiss or otherwise make noise whenever the name Haman is mentioned.

Some people were not necessarily important because their actions made a great contribution, whether good or evil, to the history of the Jewish people. Some people’s names are preserved simply because of the station they occupied in life. Such is the case for a number of royals in the Bible. They did not necessarily do anything extraordinary in their lives that was worthy of mention in the Bible. They were simply lucky enough to be the oldest surviving child of royal parents or marry a royal person. Some of those royals, such as Esther, also earned their place in the Bible through their actions. Others were of far less note.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the royals that are given the most attention in the Bible are those who had a direct effect on the kingdoms of Israel and Judea. This means that the most commonly named royals are either those who were dangerous enemies of the Jews, such as Nebuchadnezzar; those who helped the Jews, such as Cyrus; or the royals who ruled Israel and Judea. There are, however, an awful lot of royal names to keep track of. So, who were the kings of Israel and Judea?

Saul

Saul was the first king of Israel. He became king of Israel after the people demanded that God give them a king. His sons were Ish-Bosheth, Michal and Jonathan, who was close friends with David. Saul eventually committed suicide during the war with the Philistines, but first he ruled both Israel and Judea for 40 years. He was succeeded briefly by his son Ish-Bosheth before David became king.

Most people think of David as the first king of Israel, but it was actually Saul who was first raised up as king. Saul, however, did not do as God told him. As such, God decided to replace Saul with another king.

David

David is the most famous king of the Old Testament, and he is likely the most famous king in the entire Bible. He was chosen by God to be king and anointed by the prophet Samuel when Saul still reigned. Eventually, Saul grew to see David as a serious threat to his rule and tried to kill him. David, however, survived every attempt. To Saul’s fury, David was helped by his close friend, Jonathan, Saul’s own son.

David was the first king in what would become known as the Davidic line and the main dynasty that ruled Israel and Judea. He ruled for seven years in Hebron and 33 years in Jerusalem. Combined, David ruled for 40 years before he died of natural causes. Prior to his death, he named his son Solomon as his successor.

Despite being the first king in the Davidic line and one of the oldest named figures in the Bible, there is actually archaeological evidence proving that David did exist. A stone stele was unearthed at Tel Dan in Israel in 1933. The stone was dated to the 9th century B.C., and the inscription sent archaeologists, biblical scholars, biblical skeptics, devout Jews and faithful Christians alike into a frenzy. Written on the stone was an account of an Aramean king who defeated his two southern neighbors in battle. Those neighbors were identified as the “king of Israel” and the “king of the House of David.” The stele did not give the names of the two kings the Aramean king defeated, but it is believed that they were Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of Judah by Hazael of Damascus. That the stele mentioned David specifically, however, was even more important than the names of the defeated kings. This is because the stele was proof that King David had truly existed, the first proof found outside the Bible.

Solomon

Solomon was the fourth king of Israel and is probably the second best known king after King David. Solomon was the son of David and Bathsheba. He was not necessarily set to inherit the throne, but Bathsheba convinced David to name Solomon as his successor before his death. After he took the throne, Solomon became know for his incredible wisdom. One of the best known tales about his wisdom was that of two women who were arguing over which oneswas the mother of an infant. Solomon suggested cutting the baby in half so each one could have part of it. He knew immediately that the women who gave up her claim to the child in order to save its life was the real mother.

In addition to being wise, Solomon was also the one who build God’s Temple. This Temple would stand until the Romans destroyed it in A.D. 70. Solomon himself, however, fell into the trap of sacrificing to idols and so greatly angered God before his death.

There are dozens of kings named in the Bible, but few are as important as the first few kings of Israel. These were the men who kickstarted a dynasty and helped turn the descendants of slaves into a nation whose people, language, customs and religion would outlive the mightiest empires of the day and continue to survive until Israel was reborn once more on the banks of the Mediterranean.