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Moses and Joshua. Elijah and Elisha. These are the go-to OT examples of carefully mentored succession. Joshua fills Moses’s shoes to complete the arc of the exodus-wilderness wandering-conquest-settlement story. Elisha follows up Elijah’s onslaught against the Baal-patronizing dynasty of Ahab and Jezebel to bring it to a grisly end. These two narratives are certainly commendable picks for a conversation on preparing successors to leadership positions in Christian ministry—churches, seminaries, and Christian organizations. But perhaps one other type of biblical narrative is a better candidate: stories of regency and coregency. Alongside the biblical examples, I have picked two historical cases of mentored succession—one from ancient Egypt, and one from the recent history of the royal house of Mysore in southern India.
Being a woman in leadership, and having myself practiced mentoring for succession, I should confess that I intentionally picked female regents for the two case studies. Furthermore, readers of Priscilla Papers are committed to women being both mentors and mentees in the church and in other Christian organizations, and the model for mentored succession presented below can help such relationships thrive.
Regency and Coregency
Before we speak about regency, let us understand coregencies. Coregencies are situations in which the throne is held simultaneously by two monarchs, and each can legitimately count this period into their years of rule. As an important example, coregencies were common in ancient Egypt.1 An ageing Pharaoh would appoint for himself a coregent, typically one of his sons. Officially, the two had identical status—both were Pharaoh. The older Pharaoh was saved from abdication. The younger Pharaoh would take on responsibilities that required youthful vigour. He would lead the armies into war, quelling threats to national security or expanding the boundaries of the kingdom. He might involve himself in domestic affairs, in the governance of the realm. Which of the two royal partners was more powerful, and in what ways, varied with the dynamics of each coregency, but common to all were two pragmatic considerations: external threats that might cause the collapse of the empire, and internal dissension that might get in the way of an orderly succession. Coregency was the happy answer to both. It kept the borders safe and kept the dynasty going.2
A variation of coregency was regency, deployed in the case of an underage Pharaoh—a minor prince who came to the throne on the untimely death of his father. In such cases, his widowed mother (or his stepmother) would be Queen Regent, playing caretaker till he came of age. Regency was a temporary and entirely practical arrangement, similar to a vice-regency. Ancient Egypt saw more than half a dozen such cases of female regency, using the practice “to protect the patriarchy, to act as stopgaps, placeholders, until the next man could fill the top spot on the social pyramid.” Many of these regent queens made brilliant rulers, perhaps some even going on to rule as sole (female) Pharaohs.
Ancient Israel seems to have learned from its older neighbour Egypt about the value of coregencies—given that there is no evidence of the practice from Mesopotamia or Canaan. The first is a clear record of transfer of power in the united kingdom—the crowning of Solomon as king and coregent as David lay incapacitated by old age (1 Kgs 1). David participated in the building of the temple within the limits of gathering material (1 Chr 28–29:9), leaving to his son and coregent Solomon the seven-year arduous task of actual building (2 Chr 2–7).
After this, as many as eleven coregencies are proposed for the period of the divided kingdom, covering the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. These are less explicit and have to be inferred. Take for example the one-year coregency proposed for Jehoram of Judah and his son Ahaziah (2 Chr 21:16–20). About two years before Jehoram’s death, Judah was overwhelmed by Arab raiders who inflicted severe casualties. All his sons were killed except for Ahaziah. Shortly after this, Jehoram fell terminally ill with a bowel disease. On his death, he was not accorded the honour due a king—no funeral pyre, just a burial outside the tombs of the kings. It could be reasonably inferred that Jehoram was unpopular—his passing was “to no one’s regret”—and further, that his illness rendered him ceremonially unclean, for which reason his burial location was irregular. The disease probably disallowed him from carrying out his regular duties as well. All this makes a case for a coregent—his son Ahaz—to be in place at some point in the last two years of Jehoram’s reign, a probability which can be supported from Judah’s regnal chronology.
As for regency, a case could be argued for Joash of Judah (2 Chr 22:10 – 24:16). As an infant, he was rescued from a bloodbath of royals by his aunt Jehosheba and his uncle Jehoiada the priest. While he lay hidden for seven years, his unofficial regent negotiated with the army’s commanders, and through them, with both the civil and religious leadership across the land to make possible the coronation of the boy king—disregarding the life-threatening nature of his enterprise. In the process, he effected a political coup dethroning a powerful pretender to the Davidic throne, Athaliah. He proceeded to initiate religious reform, re-established the cultus of the temple, and ensured that the new king had full popular support. It appears that he continued informally in the role of advisor after the king began to rule in his own right, taking care even to pick out wives for him.
We turn to consider in greater detail two regencies, one ancient and one modern, to see what we can learn from them on mentored succession, especially when the mentor is female.
Hatshepsut of Ancient Egypt’s Eighteenth Dynasty (ca. 1479–1458 BCE)
She was a king.3 After she took the throne, she had herself depicted in male clothing, and as the years went by, with a broad and bare male chest, standing with her feet planted firmly apart in the stride-pose of a male Pharaoh. She even strapped the typical Pharaonic cylindrical beard to her chin. There is evidence that some earlier relief sculptures of her were re-carved to give her a male physique. There had been a few female Pharaohs before her, but none who insisted on being a “king.”
Hatshepsut was born a princess, daughter to Thutmose I (ca. 1520–1492 BCE). At some point well before she turned twenty, she was married to her half-brother, Thutmose II—the traditional version of endogamy practiced by Egyptian royalty. Her first taste of power came at this time. Being older than her brother-husband, she became prominent in the court to the extent that she exceeded the status of a mere queen. She was installed as God’s Wife, that god being none less than the chief of the pantheon, the creator god Amun. The task required her to begin each day with entering into the sanctum sanctorum of Amun’s temple in Karnak to pleasure the statue of the creator deity so that his orgasm would re-birth the world. Without her services, it was feared that the cosmos would slip into chaos.
An opportunity to aggrandize her already considerable power presented itself when her sickly husband died, leaving behind as successor a two-year-old Thutmose III, born to a lesser wife. Hatshepsut, as the Dowager Queen, was installed as Queen Regent.
In the early years, statuary shows the child Thutmose III as an enthroned adult Pharaoh engaged in governance while his stepmother-aunt, the regent Hatshepsut, stands modestly to one side. De facto, however, as a tomb biography from this period testifies, “the God’s Wife Hatshepsut managed the affairs of this land.”4 In about the seventh year of her regency, she shed any vestiges of vice-regency by having herself crowned, making her coregent. Nominally, she allowed that her stepson-nephew Thutmose III was king, but made it clear to all that she was by far “the senior partner!”5 From then on, statuary depictions include both of them, foregrounding her in all her splendour, while Thutmose III is rendered in a smaller size and relegated to a secondary position either behind or below her. With inscriptions that described her with grammatical feminine gender, but statues that depicted her as no less a quintessential man than any male predecessor, Hatshepsut became the king herself.
What is more, Hatshepsut proceeded to work on a checklist guaranteed to produce a super-Pharaoh. She launched military expeditions, as warrior-kings like her father did, into Syria and Nubia. She inaugurated building projects that well exceeded the architectural accomplishments of any of her predecessors and (except for Rameses II, 1279–1213 BCE) any who came after her. She sent a trade expedition overseas to Punt (present day Somalia) that brought back an abundance of exotica never before seen in Egypt—and part of the journey involved transporting the flat-packed ships across the desert!
Meanwhile, when her coregent came of age, she allowed him to take charge of the army. He occupied himself within these limits and perhaps survived her thirteen-year reign as “Pharaoh” by discreetly biding his time. Hatshepsut died in her late 40s or early 50s, and Thutmose III finally claimed de facto the throne that had been his for twenty-one years. On acceding to the throne, he backdated his reign to the death of his father Thutmose II, erasing his stepmother-aunt out of Egyptian royal chronology. About twenty years into his reign, he systematically and violently set about destroying material evidence of her existence as “king”: her statues had their eyes gouged out or head hacked off; her images were chiselled off temples, monuments, and obelisks; and her engravings were overlaid with stone. Either Thutmose’s attempts to erase Hatshepsut’s legacy are evidence that, even two decades after her death, he continued to reject her treatment of him, and/or his attempts may have been aimed at expunging the undesirable encouragement she might provide for future queens with an eye on kingship. At any rate, his enthusiasm for obliterating Hatshepsut is ironic, considering she obsessed about etching herself indelibly into history. She set into stone her grand titles, accounts of her lineage and accomplishments, and stories of her history (both real and created). She even left engraved on an obelisk her anxiety about her posterity: “Now my heart turns this way and that, as I think what the people will say. Those who see my monuments in years to come, and who shall speak of what I have done.”6 As remarkable as her achievements were, the Hatshepsut-Thutmose III pair make a less-than-ideal case of coregency. If their relationship was to be translated into mentor-mentee situations in churches and seminaries, here is a mentor who sees their mentee as a bothersome obligation thrust upon them; or as a threat that, since it cannot be eliminated, must be strategically and constantly managed; and, perhaps, as a potential obstacle to their personal aspirations. The mentee caught up in such a relationship goes ignored and untutored, is deprived of any opportunity to learn, remains in a state of inexperience, and becomes increasingly frustrated.
Quite different from Hatshepsut was a queen of the royal house of the erstwhile princely state of Mysore in South India.
Kempa Nanjammani Vani Vilasa Sannidhana of Mysore (1866–1934)
When her husband, the twenty-third maharaja of Mysore, suddenly succumbed to diphtheria in 1894, Kempa Nanjammani Vani Vilasa Sannidhana was twenty-six years old.7 For two days, she gave herself over to grief, and on the third day emerged ready to take on the responsibility the British government entrusted to her: to be the Maharani Regent, custodian of the kingdom of Mysore, till such time as her oldest son, aged ten, came of age to take the throne of the Wadiyar dynasty (1399–1950), a dynasty that had been guardian of the realm for nearly half a millennium.
She picked up the mantle of governance at a time when a grievous famine was crippling the economy (1894–1902). A few years into her regency, just as an outbreak of smallpox subsided, bubonic plague tore through the capital city of Mysore, reducing its population by half (1898–1900). In the eight years that she held the reins of state (1894–1902), the Maharani Regent not only restored the financial fortunes of the princely state of Mysore but took it into an era decades ahead of its time. Her contribution to the famine relief fund was noted for its generosity. She tripled the spending on healthcare, establishing hospitals such as Bangalore’s Victoria Hospital, and decongested Mysore and Bangalore through new, well-planned, and attractive suburbs. She built dams to preempt future droughts—it is said that she sold family jewellery to contribute to the building of the monumental Krishnaraja Sagar Dam. Hydroelectric projects, way ahead of their time, churned electricity out of falling water, bringing lighting to city roads. It was she who donated 372 acres of land to the now prestigious Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. She established schools and colleges exclusively for girls, including widows, and instituted pre- and postnatal care for women. Her oval face with its heavy-lidded eyes and gentle smile only complemented her steel-strong courageous leadership.
The British viceroy Lord Curzon “eulogized the wisdom of her . . . rule.”8 It was said that her “many virtues and noble qualities attract toward her all the love and duty of her subjects.”9 Most telling is the witness of her acting Dewan T. R. A. Thumboo Chetty, a Christian, who said this in praise of her:
In my repeated official visits I was really struck with Her Highness the Maharani’s capacity for business, fair knowledge of things and amiable character. She listened to everything with exemplary patience. Her mind was bold and acute, and whatever be the subject of discussion, she came directly to the point and brought it to a happy completion. Sometimes her enlightened suggestions and direction most agreeably surprised me and afforded ready solution of many difficulties. Her anxiety to promote the highest and best interests of the country was always perceptible. I invariably retired from the interviews I had with a strong sentiment of devotion as well as admiration and respect for Her Highness’ high character and intellectual qualities.10
The British government had honoured her with the Imperial Order of the Crown of India (1893), an award Empress Victoria had instituted for women of highest merit.
All that said, perhaps her most admirable work was her careful fostering of her son, the underaged king. It is on record that “she has been able to make the most satisfactory arrangements for the education and training of His Highness during his minority,” and there was confidence “that the good seed sown in this respect will bear good fruit in course of time, i.e., by the time His Highness attains age and assumes charge of the reins of Government himself.”11 And so it was. When her son reached the legal age of eighteen in 1902, she graciously handed over the throne to him. Taking the throne as Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, he ushered in what came to be known in retrospect as Mysore’s Golden Age—surely made possible by the foundation the Maharani Regent constructed through her wise rule, and equally, through the preparation of her son for independent kingship. The gratitude of the young king for what he had received is apparent. His mother passed away peacefully in 1934 at the age of seventy-five. In the year following, he named Bangalore’s grand newly built hospital after his mother. Here was a regent who well knew that all she had was eight years on the throne, and who carefully stewarded that limited time towards the greater good of her ward.
Transposing this story of regency to mentoring within church and seminary environments, we have a mentor-mentee relationship in which the mentor is, at every point in the journey, aware of the temporary nature of their tenure; intentionally plans the education of the mentee; takes pains to build a stable and prosperous present from which the mentee can launch the future; and undertakes the task of mentoring against the backdrop of the grand plan of generational succession. The mentee, meanwhile, receives an excellent preparation for their future role; steps into it at the right time; and is perhaps able to maximize the advantages received to move on to accomplishments even greater than those of their mentor.
Regency-Coregency as a Model for Mentoring
There are—I think!—good reasons for picking the regency-coregency continuum as a mentoring paradigm over the usual prophetic succession models of Moses-Joshua and Elijah-Elisha.
First, the regency model does start as a relationship between social unequals, but here is where it departs from the prophetic succession model. The very commencement of the relationship is founded on the mentor filling a time-limited space. The regent occupies the throne, but occupies it for their mentee. The regent’s function comes to an end, not upon retirement or death, but when the mentee comes of age. So, whether in terms of position or time span, the practice of regency favours the mentee, not the mentor. This is why we evaluate Hatshepsut as a failure. Rather than direct her energy at grooming her mentee into his role as king, like many queen mothers in the dynasties before her had done, she redirected her efforts into her aggrandizement from regency into a politically illegitimate coregency. “My divine mind is looking out for posterity, the king’s heart has thought of eternal continuity,”12 she says in one of her inscriptions, making it clear that everything she did was motivated by obsessive attachment to her position as monarch and to her hopes to be remembered forever as one. Vani Vilasa, on the other hand, seemed constantly aware that she only held stewardship over the throne of Mysore, and worked towards a smooth handover.
The spirit of the primacy of the underage monarch over the regent, the mentee over the mentor, is wonderfully captured in an inscription by Rameses II, the Pharaoh of movie fame. He describes how his father Seti I perceived him: “the All-Lord himself made me great, while I was a child, until I reigned. He gave to me the land while I was in the egg. . . . When my father appeared in public, I being a child in his arms, [he] sa[id] concerning me, ‘Crown him as king, that I may see his beauty while I live with him’. [Thereupon approached] the courtiers, to set the double diadem upon my head. . . .”13 The regent-mentor must have the mind of Seti I, the desire to rejoice in the “beauty” of the ward. The prophetic model does not make this explicit, and perhaps even lacks this dimension.
Secondly, the primacy of the mentee does not necessarily restrict the regent or the mentor from actualizing their own potential. Vani Vilasa’s achievements put her in an exclusive bracket. Historian Rao Bahadur Narasimhachar counts her as one among the “three jewels in Mysore’s history.”14 King Joash’s regent, the priest Jehoiada, received unprecedented and unparalleled honour by being buried in the tombs of the kings “because of the good he had done in Israel for God and his temple” (2 Chr 24:16 NIV). These are accomplishments gained with an eye to the handover. The regent or the mentor works enthusiastically towards the future success of the mentee by establishing stability, by laying a foundation for prosperity, and by setting an example for best practice.
Thirdly, we understand that in monarchies, regencies have a built-in sunset clause. They lead to coregencies only when the regent plays Hatshepsut and usurps a position that is not legitimately theirs. In contrast, in Christian ministry “regencies” should lead to “coregencies.” What we mean by this is that the mentor gradually eases their position of “regent” as the mentee grows in years and capabilities.
Jesus the Coregent
We remind ourselves that all analogies come with limitations. This one even comes with undesirable associations with monarchy—power, pomp, and presumption. However, coregency is a biblical metaphor, one which describes our place in the age to come: “We will also reign with him” (2 Tim 2:12 NIV; cf. Rev 5:10; 20:4, 6; 22:5). Our future hope is expressed in terms of coregency. What is more, the relationship between the Father and the Son uses the analogy of coregency. In Daniel 7, there is “one like a son of man,” a human, brought into the presence of the Ancient of Days, gloriously holding court. And the Ancient of Days authorizes this figure in the manner of an eastern coregent: “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power. . . . His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Dan 7:14 NIV). The Christ hymn of Phil 2 celebrates the actualization of this in Jesus: “God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9–11 NIV). Among the last pictures of Jesus in the Bible is him as coregent. The one “seated on the throne” in its closing chapters, declaring himself to be “the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End,” is Jesus (Rev 21:6). We know because we have met him at the start of the book, the one who “was dead” but now is “alive forever,” describing himself as the “First and the Last” (Rev 1:17). Indeed, the throne in the new Jerusalem is “the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Rev 22:1). That is perhaps sufficient persuasion for building the practice of mentored succession on the analogical chassis of regency and coregency.
Regencies and coregencies can go horribly wrong, and Thutmose III would agree. But they can also result in a “whole” that is “greater than the sum of its parts,” as Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV would affirm.
While the perfect partnership between God and Jesus should inspire both men and women leaders, I find it telling that, across time and cultures, women were nearly always the immediate choice for the solemn and high office of regent. Perhaps that is an added endorsement for women in leadership to consider this model of mentored succession. And so, like a blue-blooded dynasty, we play our part in perpetuating the mission of God: Not through obelisks, but through a Kingdom version of king-making.
An extended version of this article will soon be published in a festschrift for Graham Houghton by SAIACS Press, Bangalore, India, as a chapter titled “Beyond Moses and Elijah: The Regency-Coregency Continuum as a Model for Mentoring Faculty in Theological Institutions.”
1. For a compact overview see E. Ball, “The Co-Regency of David and Solomon (1 Kings 1),” VT 27/ 3 (1977) 268–79. For a monograph dedicated to the subject, see William J. Murnane, Ancient Egyptian Coregencies, SAOC 40 (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, 1977).
2. Murnane, Ancient Egyptian Coregencies, 263–65.
3. This account of Hatshepsut has been collated from the following sources: Murnane, Ancient Egyptian Coregencies, 32–44; Kara Cooney, The Woman Who Would be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt (Crown, 2014), cited in https://thenotsoinnocentsabroad.com/blog/9-fascinating-facts-about-the-early-life-of-hatshepsut; Joshua J. Mark, “Hatshepsut,” World History Encyclopedia (19 Oct 2016); Chip Brown, “The King Herself,” National Geographic (April 2009), https://web.archive.org/web/20210118013335/, https://nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2009/04/hatshepsut/; Elizabeth B. Wilson, “The Queen Who Would be King,” Smithsonian Magazine (Sept 2006).
4. Murnane, Ancient Egyptian Coregencies, 32.
5. Murnane, Ancient Egyptian Coregencies, 34.
6. James P. Allen, “The Speos Artemidos Inscription of Hatshepsut,” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 16 (2002) 1–17.
7. The account of this Queen Regent has been taken from the following sources: T. Royaloo Chetti, A Brief Sketch of the Life of T R A Thamboo Chetty, C.I.E, formerly Chief Judge and Officiating Diwan of Mysore (Madras: Hoe & Co, 1909); Aditi Gurkar, Swarajya (26 Oct 2020), https://swarajyamag.com/culture/how-the-mysuru-queens-combated-pandemics; Amar Chitra Katha, “Legendary Personalities” (29 Aug 2020), Arpita, “Vani Vilasa Sannidhana: The Queen who led Mysore’s Way to Prosperity” (17 Feb 2020); Gopi Karelia, “This Mysuru Queen Scripted History by Selling Jewellery to Supply Water to Millions,”.
8. Chetti, A Brief Sketch, 211.
9. Chetti, A Brief Sketch, 232.
10. Chetti, A Brief Sketch, 249–50.
11. Chetti, A Brief Sketch, 167.
12. Allen, “The Speos Artemidos Inscription.”
13. Ball, “The Co-Regency of David and Solomon,” 276.
14. T. R. Sathish Kumar, “Women Behind Development of Mysuru State Pretermitted in History,” Deccan Herald (8 March 2018).