Because this episode is not recorded in 2 Kings, several scholars doubt its historicity. Ernst Axel Knauf, for example, argues that Zerah could not have been a ruler from Cush, although he cites no evidence for this. He adds that Zerah also could not have been an Egyptian because Egyptians do not have names starting with “z.” He suggests that the story may refer to a later skirmish with Bedouins, especially since the text mentions camels. See Knauf, s.v. “Zerah,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary (ABD) (New York: Doubleday, 1992), vol. 6, pp. 1080–1081.

Knauf overlooks the fact that Zerah is a Cushite not an Egyptian. The Cushitic language is still not clearly understood, and it is doubtful whether one could state that Cushite names cannot start with a “z” sound.

Pierre Montet states that this invasion was by a Cushite army, but probably done with the pharaoh’s permission, perhaps as part of a treaty. See Montet, Egypt and the Bible, trans. Leslie R. Keylak (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), p. 43. Jacob M. Myers and John Bright state that Zerah was either a Cushite mercenary in the Egyptian army or, perhaps, an Arab. Their evidence for the Arab possibility, Habbakuk 3:7 and Numbers 12:1, is questionable, however, in regard to establishing an Arab connection to the term “Cush.” See Myers, II Chronicles, The Anchor Bible Series (Garden City, NJ: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1965), p. 85, and John Bright, A History of Israel, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), pp. 234–235. The term “Cush” in the Hebrew Bible consistently refers to the area south of Egypt. Habakkuk 3:7 mentions “Cushan” in parallel with Midian, but this one reference to an enigmatic place called “Cushan” hardly justifies the identification of “Cush” as Midian.

The argument that Zerah is an Arab (or Bedouin) is weak. The context includes Egyptians (Shishak in 2 Chronicles 12), which further cements the identification of Cush. The Bedouin or Arab argument is further weakened by the mention of chariots in 2 Chronicles 14:9 and 16:8. The army of Zerah did not come on camels like Arabs, but rather on chariots, like Egyptians. Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible are chariots associated with Arabs, Bedouins, Midianites, or any other Arabian peninsula people. Nomadic peoples did not construct chariots. See Mary Aiken Littauer and J.H. Crouwel, s.v. “Chariots,” in ABD, vol. 1, p. 891.