A neglected biblical book: Chronicles

 

Chronicles, books I and II, were originally a single book, but were, like Samuel and Kings, divided into two simply because the books were too long to be held in a single scroll. Chronicles together with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the Jews from Adam down to the fourth century BCE. The first book of Chronicles goes through chapter 29 with the death of King David. The second, containing 36 chapters goes to the decree of Cyrus around 538 BCE. Chronicles is neglected by most people, even clergy, because it is radically different than the other books of the Bible. Incidences are omitted, new ones inserted, the spelling is different in many places, and the overall goal of the book is not the same as the earlier books. For example, probably as an attempt to extol David, the book does not say that David’s reign in Hebron for seven years only embraced Judah, as narrated in Kings, but says he ruled over all of Israel for forty years, seven from Hebron and thirty-three from Jerusalem. Unable to reconcile the many differences, most people ignore this book or, at best, look at parts of it.

We do not know who composed Chronicles, whether it is the work of a single individual or a group, or when it was composed, although it seems certain that the book is not the work of a single individual and a single time. Scholars contend the book was written sometime during Israel’s Persian period between around 538-333 BCE. We also do not know what sources the author or authors or editor or editors used. It is clear that the earlier books of the Bible were examined, but multiple changes were made in that material.

The Chronicler wrote Chronicles with at least two purposes in mind. The first, which is the chief purpose, is to demonstrate by its version of history that the true Israel is the history of Judah. To accomplish this purpose, the Chronicler focuses on the kingdom of Judah and the vicissitudes of the Northern Kingdom of israel are almost entirely ignored. Additionally, in order to extol Judah, the Chronicles deletes episodes contained in Samuel and Kings that reflect badly on Judah, such as King David taking Bat Sheva and the murder of her husband and his troop.

The second purpose is a presentation of the meaning and purpose of the Jewish past history. The Chronicler stresses that Jerusalem is the only legitimate place of worship, not the two temples that existed in the northern kingdom of Israel, and that the priests and Levites who descended from Jacob’s son Levi, and not the individuals assigned to the temple tasks in the northern nation, are the only proper personnel to function there. He supports this by giving the genealogy of the Levites and priests.

A third purpose was added in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah which many scholars contend was also composed by the chronicler, where it is stressed that strict orthodoxy and exclusivism are of utmost importance to the survival of Judaism. Ezra and Nehemiah emphasized this by insisting that the Judeans of their generation dismiss their non-Judean wives.

Several further examples of how the chronicler attempted to extol the ancient Judeans are:

Solomon does not have a dream where God tells him that he will be wise, as told in I Kings 3; instead Chronicles exalts Solomon by having God appears to Solomon directly.

The famed tale of the two prostitutes appearing to Solomon with each claiming that a live baby belongs to her is omitted from Chronicles. This may have been done to show that Solomon had no dealings with prostitutes or, more likely, because the chronicler realized, as did the Talmud, that Solomon’s reliance upon one prostitute saying give the child to the other woman, is no proof that she is the real mother. She may have said this because of the stirrings of her conscience and wanting to return the child to it true parent. The Talmud resolves the problem of how Solomon knew the true mother by having God tell him so.

Wanting to show Solomon in a favorable light. Chronicles omits Solomon’s defection from God, his building of temples for idol worship, his catering to foreign women, the disaffection to his rule by Hadad and Rezon and their rebellions, and the dissatisfaction of Jeroboam and his rebellion, which was supported by the prophet Ahijah who proclaimed that Solomon acted improperly.

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