The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles were the focus of scholarly debate in the nineteen and twenty centuries. This debate centered on the issue of authorship and the relation of 1 and 2 Chronicles to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Today I begin a series of studies on 1 and 2 Chronicles. These studies will address several topics, including the historical background of the book, the date and authorship of Chronicles, the purpose of the genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1-9, and the Chronicler’s theology.
In the English Bibles, the two books of Chronicles are part of the historical books of the Old Testament. They are the 13th and 14th books of the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, the title of the book of Chronicles is dibre hayyamim. The name of the book literally means “The Events of the Day.” The name “Chronicles” derives from Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew Bible into Latin called the Vulgate. The title of the book in the Vulgate is Chronicon. Jerome called the book “a chronicle of the whole divine history.”
The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, divided the book of Chronicles into two books. The Greek name of the book is Paraleipomena, a word that means “the things omitted.” The author of the book of Chronicles implies by this title that he has included supplemental material omitted by the other historical books, mainly Samuel and Kings. The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles were originally considered to be one book in the Hebrew Bible. The division of Chronicles into two books was made by the translators of the Septuagint in the second century B.C.E.
Position in the Canon
In the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles belongs to the third division of the Hebrew canon called the Kethubim or the “Writings.” This division is also called Hagiographa or “Holy Writings.” Chronicles is the last book in the Hebrew Bible, appearing after Ezra-Nehemiah which are also considered to be one book. In the English Bibles, Chronicles is part of the historical books of the Old Testament and it appears after 1 and 2 Kings and before Ezra and Nehemiah.
The books of 1 and 2 Chronicles are divided into five sections:
1. 1 Chronicle 1-9. This section introduces the history of Israel from Adam to Saul. This history is presented in the form of lists and genealogies. Some of the genealogies, however, mention the names of people who lived many years after David, even the names of people living in postexilic Judah.
2. 1 Chronicles 10-29. This section presents the history of David’s kingdom, including the preparations he made for the building of the temple and the organization of the Levites.
3. 2 Chronicles 1-9. This section focuses on the history of Solomon’s kingdom. The central point of the history of Solomon’s reign is the building of the temple.
4. 2 Chronicles 10-36:21. This section centers on the history of the kingdom of Judah. The history of the kings of the Northern Kingdom is largely ignored by the author of Chronicles.
5. 2 Chronicles 36:22-23. An appendix which introduces the opening section of Cyrus’s decree providing for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.
Until recently most commentators of 1 and 2 Chronicles affirmed that Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah formed a single work known as the Chronicler’s History. Several reasons were given to affirm this view.
First, the decree of Cyrus at the end of 2 Chronicles (36:22-23) appears at the beginning of Ezra (Ezra 1:1-3). According to this view, the history presented in Ezra begins where 2 Chronicles ended.
Second, both Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah emphasize the temple, the cult, and the work of the Levites and priests.
Third, the use of genealogies and statistical records in Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah.
Fourth, the similar language and common vocabulary present in Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah.
This view for the unity of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah has been challenged recently by several authors. Sara Japhet (1968: 330-71), although acknowledging the similarity of language, she emphasized the linguistic differences between Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. A similar suggestion was made by Williamson (1982:7). He said that an analysis of the language and style of Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah indicates “differences of usage between the two bodies of writing.”
Braun (1979: 63) has demonstrated that the emphasis on retribution and on the Davidic monarchy present in Chronicles are absent in Ezra-Nehemiah. In this commentary, Braun assumed that Chronicles is a work separate from Ezra-Nehemiah. Since the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles is unknown, most commentators call the author of 1 and 2 Chronicles the “Chronicler.”
It is difficult to ascertain the precise date for the composition of the book of Chronicles. However, there are indications in Chronicles itself that point to the end of the 5th century or the beginning of the 4th century B.C.E. In 1 Chronicles 3:19-24, the genealogy of David is extended to the sixth generation after Zerubbabel. Since, according to Haggai 1:1, Zerubbabel can be dated to 520 B.C.E., the sixth generation must be dated after 400 B.C.E. Hence, the final composition for the book of the book of Chronicles should be dated between 400-350 B.C.E.
When the Chronicler wrote his theological interpretation of the history of Israel, the nation had no king. The people of Israel were trying to reestablish their identity and their religious life following the return from exile. The purpose of Chronicles is to provide a positive view of the past and a hope for the future.
A central theme that emphasizes the Chronicler’s message is the centrality of the temple and worship in the life of the nation. Since the temple was at the center of the life of the postexilic community, worship served to provide continuity with the traditions of the past and a sense of identity for those who had returned from exile. Another theme developed by the Chronicler is the centrality of the Davidic monarchy. David served as the model of leadership for the new Israel.
In his attempt to idealize David, the Chronicler omits from the story of David many of the events that tend to tarnish David’s image. He omits the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, his order to Joab to have Uriah killed, and Nathan’s rebuke of David (2 Samuel 11-12). He omits the narrative detailing Absalom’s revolt against David (2 Samuel 13-19), the rebellion of the Northern tribes under the leadership of Sheba (2 Samuel 20), David’s willingness to sacrifice part of Saul’s family at the request of the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1-14), and several others.
The emphasis of the Chronicler is David’s preparation for the building of the temple. Yahweh had chosen David and his house to lead Israel, to bless the people, and to build the temple. David acquired the temple site, organized the temple service, and made preparations for the building of the temple.
Solomon also receives unconditional approval of the Chronicler. Solomon was designated by Yahweh to build the temple (1 Chronicles 28:10; 29:1). Another theme in Chronicles is the doctrine of retribution. The Chronicler believed that the hope of Israel was dependent upon the obedience of the leaders and the people to Yahweh. The Chronicler correlates blessing with obedience and punishment with disobedience. When the king and the people obey the laws of Yahweh, Yahweh will bless them (1 Chronicles 28:8). When a leader is unfaithful, he will be punished (1 Chronicles 10:13-14).
TO BE CONTINUED
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Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
Braun, Roddy. 1 Chronicles. Word Biblical Commentary. Waco: Word Books, 1986.
Japhet, Sara. I and II Chronicles. Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993.
Williamson, H. G. M. 1 and 2 Chronicles. New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.
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