As the authors of the books of Kings and Chronicles were writing their histories, they referenced one or more external documents that they used as source material. They refer to this source as “the book of the annals of the kings of Israel,” “the book of the chronicles” (NKJV, ESV, CSB), or “The Book of the History” (NLT).
This historical source is usually cited by means of a rhetorical question that begins, “Are they not written?” For example, in 1 Kings 16:5, the historian writes this: “As for the other events of Baasha’s reign, what he did and his achievements, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?” That formulaic construction appears 33 times in the books of 1 and 2 Kings. Similar wording is found another two times in 2 Chronicles.
All ancient countries kept records of their own histories. A king’s exploits and what happened in his land were recorded in official annals. Esther 10:2, for example, speaks of “the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia.” When a plot to assassinate King Xerxes was uncovered and the conspirators were hanged, the event “was written in the book of the chronicles” (Esther 2:23). The kingdom of Israel also had official records, called “the book of the annals of the kings of Israel.” Judah had similar books, one kept by the prophet Iddo (2 Chronicles 13:22), and one simply called “the Scroll of the Kings” (2 Chronicles 24:27, NET).
The biblical books of Kings and Chronicles give a non-comprehensive overview of the kings of Israel and Judah. The author of Kings often refers his readers to the fuller account by mentioning “the book of the annals of the kings of Israel.” We could consider those references as an ancient form of footnoting or an example of an in-text bibliography.
First and Second Kings focus on the northern kingdom of Israel, and 1 and 2 Chronicles on the southern kingdom of Judah. Chronicles contains a much more thorough commentary on the reigns of the kings of Judah than Kings provides on the kings of Israel. This makes sense, because God’s covenant regarding the coming Messiah was to be fulfilled through the line of David, of the tribe of Judah. David’s line went through Solomon and his descendants, all of whom reigned in the southern kingdom of Judah. The detailed records of the kings of Israel contained in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel were not included in the canon of Scripture. The official documents referred to as “the book of the annals of the kings of Israel” are no longer extant or have yet to be discovered. Thus, God did not deem those volumes of civil records and daily happenings to be useful for our instruction (see 1 Corinthians 10:11), and the non-canonical annals were not preserved along with the Old Testament Scriptures.