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Back to the Bible - Revisiting the Old Testament

Jim Moyers

1 & 2 Chronicles

The two (originally one) books of Chronicles are rather an oddity.  Evidently someone living during the time of the exile or shortly thereafter decided to rewrite the story of Israel-Judah from the reign of David through the beginning of the Babylonian exile using as sources not only Samuel and Kings but parts of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Psalms, and Ruth plus sixteen otherwise unknown sources cited in the text.  Parts of Chronicles are obviously derived from Samuel and Kings with alterations, omissions, additions, and rearrangements to emphasize the role of the Jerusalem temple.  While Samuel-Kings is centered on the history of the monarchy, Chronicles is about the institution of the temple.  Chapter after chapter describes various aspects of the temple and the people involved with it.  It is questionable how much is based on historical realities as opposed to presenting an idealized picture of what the author(s) believed should have been.  

Prophets have a lesser role than in Samuel-Kings while that of priests and Levites is much greater.  Elijah appears only in the form of a letter of reproof sent to a wayward Judean king.  Isaiah and Jeremiah are briefly mentioned.

The first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles are series of complex genealogies from Adam to - well it’s hard to say.  The last set is the family of Saul and his descendants but sorting out all the fathers and sons, along with the few mothers and daughters mentioned, would require a very large genealogical chart.

Chapter 10 describes the death of Saul and his sons.  Then David was crowned king after which he captured Jerusalem.  Much of the David narrative in Samuel is passed over except for accounts of David’s mighty men which go back to when he was fleeing from Saul and brief mentions of his military conquests.  There is nothing about his anointing by Samuel, who isn’t in Chronicles at all, David’s relations with Saul and Jonathan, or his slaying Goliath.  (Although 1 Chronicles 20: 5 seems to clear up the confusion in 1 Samuel 17 and 2 Samuel 21:19 as to who killed Goliath by having one of David’s men kill Goliath’s brother rather than Goliath himself).  The bringing of the ark to Jerusalem is a much grander event than it is in Samuel, involving a great many Levites officiating in various ways and playing music along with “David and the elders of Israel, and the commanders of thousands.”  David danced and “made merry” wearing more clothes than he did in Samuel but still drew his wife’s scorn (1 Chronicles 15).  The psalm of thanksgiving for the arrival of the ark in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 16:8-35) is made up of borrowings from Psalms 105:1-15, 96:1-13, and 106:1, 47-48.

David and Solomon are depicted as ideal righteous rulers.  There is no mention of David’s affair with Bathsheba and murder of her husband or the rape of Tamar and rebellion of Absalom.  The only problematic incident involving David is the census which Yahve punished with a plague.  It seems likely that only reason that story was included is because it explains how David acquired the site on which the temple was built.  While Samuel (2 Samuel 24) states that Yahve incited David to take the census for which he then punished all Israel, 1 Chronicles 21:1 says that “Satan stood up against Israel and incited David to number Israel,” reflecting changes in Jewish theology that emerged from the Babylonian exile.  No longer was Yahve the source of everything, evil as well as good, that happened.  Influenced by Persian dualism, “The Accuser” vaguely depicted elsewhere in Hebrew scripture as a member of the divine court was moving towards becoming the independent agent of evil he would eventually become in Christianity.

According to Chronicles, David planned the temple, collected materials for it, and established every detail of how the priests and Levites would serve in it.  There are a number of chapters describing in detail what was to be done by whom, naming temple staff (and their genealogies!) with duties ranging from guarding the temple gates to performing music.  The role of the singers is particularly emphasized, leading some commentators to think that Chronicles was written by a Levite who was a temple singer.  It is highly unlikely that such elaborate rituals existed during the time of David when the ark was housed in a tent.  Scholars believe that the distinction Chronicles makes between priests and the rest of the Levites didn’t exist until after the return from exile and the building of the Second Temple.  The description of the temple and its services, like much of Chronicles, is highly idealized and may not correspond to the reality of the rebuilt temple either.  In any case, the numbers given of people performing various duties and sacrifices offered are, like many biblical numbers, highly unlikely.

Solomon, like his father, is represented as a near perfect king.  Kings’ account of the political intrigue connected with the beginning of his reign is not in Chronicles.  Instead of backroom deals and murders, Solomon’s reign begins with a religious act, the offering of a thousand burnt offerings at Gibeon where the tent of meeting (without the ark which was in another tent in Jerusalem) was (2 Chronicles 1).  2 Chronicles 2-7 describes the building of the temple and its dedication with a dedicatory prayer (6:41-42) adapted from Psalm 132:8-10.  There are some interesting variations from the description of the temple in Kings.  The vestibule in Chronicles is for instance approximately 200 feet high, four times what it is in Samuel.

As with David, the faults of Solomon noted in Kings don’t appear in Chronicles.  The only reference to his many foreign wives involves the building of a separate house for his Egyptian wife so she wouldn’t be near the holy place where the ark was (2 Chronicles 8:11).  The visit of the Queen of Sheba, and Solomon’s wisdom and wealth is described as in Kings.  But the story of the two harlots both claiming the same baby isn’t in Chronicles and there is no mention of him worshipping other gods.

After the split into two kingdoms Chronicles focuses almost entirely on Judah, which is in several places referred to as “all Israel.”  It was in fact the only part of ancient Israel still in existence when Chronicles was written  The northern kingdom of Israel is mentioned only when there is some connection with events in Judah.   War between Judah and Israel (2 Chronicles 13) is described as conflict between the true worship of Yahve and apostasy.  Yahve’s Chosen People are the Judeans and no one else.  There is nothing about the destruction of the northern kingdom by Assyria.  The writer of Chronicles doesn’t seem very familiar with the northern kingdom; 2 Chronicles 25:13 mistakenly places Samaria and another northern city in Judea.

Chronicles account of the kings of Judah follows that of Kings with some changes including both omissions and expansions.  The crowning of good king Joash following a ruler allied with wicked Ahab of Israel involved Levites and temple singers (2 Chronicles 23) rather than the military of Kings.   According to 2 Kings 21:10-15 the evil done by the long reigning king Manasseh brought about the eventual destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon.  But according to 2 Chronicles 33:10-13 he was taken captive to Babylon by the Assyrians (it’s not clear why the Assyrians would take him there) where he repented.  Yahve heard his prayer “and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom” where he eliminated the worship of gods other than Yahve.  While there is nothing of this in Kings, there may be some historical basis for the account of his Assyrian captivity as his name appears in Assyrian inscriptions as a vassal to Assyrian rulers (Oxford Bible note).

After Josiah’s reforms as described in Kings, Chronicles follows a similar but somewhat briefer course with the last rather sorry kings of Judah, the Babylonian siege, destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and exile which fulfilled “the word of Yahve by the mouth of Jeremiah” (36:21).  But there is a hopeful postscript in the last two verses, skipping past seventy years of exile to describe Cyrus making a proclamation ordering the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.  In the Tanak 2 Chronicles is the last book; perhaps someone thought it needed to end on a hopeful note?

© 2021 James Moyers