Is the Book of Chronicles the Last Book in the Hebrew Bible?

The book of Chronicles, that book most Christians do not read because of the genealogies in chapters 1–9, has a different place in the Christian Bible and in the Hebrew Bible.

In the Christian Bible, the book of Chronicles is listed among the historical books: 1–2 Samuel, 1–2 Kings, 1–2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. The Christian order of the historical books follows the order found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The Christian Bible follows the Alexandrian Canon which contains 39 books plus the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha is mostly used in the Catholic and Orthodox churches; it contains 39 books plus 15 additional books or additions to biblical books.

The historical books of the Old Testament begin with Israel’s settlement in the land of Canaan (Joshua) and then deals with the life and the struggles of the Israelites after the death of Joshua (Judges), the rise of the monarchy under Saul (1 Samuel) and under David (2 Samuel), and the history of the kings of Israel and Judah until the exile of Judah (1–2 Kings).

Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther present the life of Israel during and after the people’s return from their exile in Babylon. The book of Chronicles serves as a summary of the history of Israel. It begins with the genealogy of Adam and ends with Cyrus’ decree allowing the people to return to Canaan.

The Hebrew Bible follows the Palestinian Canon. In the Hebrew Bible the book of Chronicles is listed among the Kethuvim, “Writing.” The books that form the Kethuvim are: Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, and Chronicles.

Malachi is the last book in the Christian Bible (Old Testament). The book of Chronicles is listed as the last book in the Hebrew Bible. But is it correct to say that the book of Chronicles is the last book in the Hebrew Bible? Recently, someone has objected to the view that the book of Chronicles is the last book in the Hebrew Bible.

Among his selections for the August Biblical Studies Carnival, Brent Niedergall listed a recent Tweet by Chris Fresch @cjfresch. Fresch chided scholars who say that the book of Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible. He wrote, “Stop saying that 2 Chronicles in the last book of the Hebrew Bible! It is listed last only in Baba Bathra. In our mss, it’s usually at the head of the kethuvim.”

So, is the book of Chronicles the last book in the Hebrew Bible? The answer to this question is not simple. However, before an answer is given, one must understand the process of canonization of the Kethuvim.

In 132 BCE, when the grandson of Ben Sirach translated his work from Hebrew into Greek, he mentioned “the Law and the Prophets and the other books of our ancestors.” The New Testament mentions “the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms” (Luke 24:44). Thus, by the time of the New Testament, the third section of the Hebrew Bible was already established, even though it had not yet received an official name.

The tradition that says that the book of Chronicles is the last book in the Hebrew Bible is found in the statement in the Babylonia Talmud in Baba Batra 14b:

The Sages taught: The order of the books of the Prophets when they are attached together is as follows: Joshua and Judges, Samuel and Kings, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and Isaiah and the Twelve Prophets. . . . The baraita continues: The order of the Writings is: Ruth and the book of Psalms, and Job and Proverbs; Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations; Daniel and the Scroll of Esther; and Ezra and Chronicles.

Before I discuss the placement of Chronicles in the Hebrew Bible, a correction is in order. Fresch mentions 2 Chronicles as the last book of the Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew Bible the book of Chronicles is one book. The division of Chronicles into 1 and 2 Chronicles was introduced by the Septuagint and it was introduced into the Hebrew Bible in the fifteenth century.

Fresch says that “In our mss, it’s usually at the head of the kethuvim.” There are two manuscripts that list Chronicles first: the Codex Lenigradensis (L) and the Aleppo Codex. The Codex Lenigradensis and the Aleppo Codex follow a Palestinian tradition. They place Chronicles as the first book in the Writings.

The order of the books in the Writings mentioned in the Talmud follows a Babylonian tradition (Japhet 1993:2). This tradition places Chronicles as the last book in the Writings. Although Chronicles is listed as the first book of the Kethuvim in the Codex Lenigradensis and the Aleppo Codex, Kalimi says that the order of the books listed in Baba Batra is older (Kalimi 1998:23).

According to Ralph Klein (2006:2), the location of Chronicles as the first book of the Kethuvim may represent an attempt to put the books of the Kethuvim in a chronological order. The book of Chronicles begins with Adam so, it should come first. Daniel represents Israel in exile and Ezra-Nehemiah represents the postexilic period. Thus, Ezra-Nehemiah is listed as the last book of the Writings.

Sara Japhet (Japhet 1993:2) says that the majority of manuscripts place Chronicles as the last book of the Kethuvim. She writes that in the Talmud, “the Book of Chronicles appears at the end of the Writings, which is also the place it occupies in the majority of the manuscripts and printed editions.”

Kalimi (Kalimi 1998:23) says that “Chronicles is also placed last in the list of books mentioned in Mishnah Yoma 1, 6: ‘Job and Ezra and Chronicles.’” Reflecting on the placement of Chronicles as the last book in the Kethuvim in Baba Batra, Kalimi writes, “This is the location of the book in the majority of the old manuscripts and the printed editions, as of today. The classification of the book of Chronicles at the end of the Hebrew Bible is also reflected in Jewish-Christian literary heritage” (Kalimi 1998:23).

The Codex Lenigradensis was used as the basis for the edition of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). However, the editors of the BHS refused to place Chronicles as the first book of the Writings. They followed the much older Babylonian tradition and placed Chronicles as the last book of the Writings. In their Foreword to the BHS, the editors wrote, “The BHS, following the BHK, deviates from the order of the Biblical books in L. only in placing 1, 2 Chronicles at the end” (BHS, XI).

A New Testament reference may allude to the place of Chronicles in the Writings. Luke 11:51 mentions the murder of Abel and Zechariah, “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary” (Luke 11:51). The text in Luke is a reference to 2 Chronicles 24:20–21. “Thus these martyrs appear in the first and the last books of the Bible, Genesis and Chronicles” (Klein 2006:2).

In his study on the order of the biblical books, Menahem Haran said that in ancient Israel each book of the Bible was written on a separate scroll. Since each book was kept separately on a shelf, the scribes did not have to worry about the sequence of books since each book was identified with a tag. Haran says that the statement in Baba Batra 14b is only possible when longer scrolls began to be used to include several books in one large scroll such as the whole Pentateuch, all the Prophets, and all the Writings.

Haran writes that with the use of larger scrolls to include several biblical books, “an innovation took place: the scrolls that previously were cut according to the size of the individual work were partially replaced and were joined by large rolls containing entire series of books. The baraita dealing with the order of books in the Prophets and Hagiographa is itself one of the proofs of that change” (Haran 1993:61).

So, is the book of Chronicles the last book of the Hebrew Bible? The fact that the editors of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia had the fortitude to change the order of the Codex Lenigradensis which lists Chronicles first to follow the Babylonia tradition which lists Chronicles last, provides strong evidence that the Babylonia tradition has the original order of the books that form the Writings.

I am sorry, Chris, but scholars are right: the book of Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible.

Claude F. Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Elliger, K. and W. Rudolph. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1967.

Haran, Menahem “Archives, Libraries, and the Order of the Biblical Books.” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 22 (1993): 51–61.

Japhet, Sara. I & II Chronicles. Old Testament Library. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993.

Kalimi, Isaac. “History of Interpretation: The Book of Chronicles in Jewish Tradition from Daniel to Spinosa,” Revue Biblique 105 (1998): 5–41.

Klein, Ralph. 1 Chronicles. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.

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