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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Reading the Book

Solomon

The story of Solomon (2 Chr 1–9 ) deals exclusively with the building of the Temple as envisioned by David. Again the Chronicler does not repeat the negative aspects of Solomon's story that 1 Kings recounts. For example, the Chronicler omits the details about how Solomon secured his throne through the execution of potential opponents, including his half brother Adonijah (1 Kgs 2 ). Also unmentioned is Solomon's marriage to the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kgs 3, 1 ) and other non‐Israelite women (1 Kgs 11, 1–13 ) that the book of Kings presents as a compromise of the exclusive loyalty that Solomon owed to the God of Israel. In his description of the wealth and glory of the Temple, the Chronicler goes beyond the words of Kings (compare 2 Chr 3–4 with 1 Kgs 6–8 ). After Solomon's prayer of dedication, fire falls from heaven and consumes the sacrifice. God's glory fills the Temple (2 Chr 7, 1f ). Here the Chronicler models the story of the Temple's dedication on that of the tabernacle in the wilderness (Ex 40, 34f ). Throughout the description of Solomon's achievement in building and dedicating the Temple, the Chronicler reminds his readers of David's preparations ( 2, 6.13.16; 3, 1; 5, 1; 6, 3–11 ). In the eyes of the Chronicler, the Temple was the combined enterprise of David and Solomon, who each made his own contribution to the completion of this great work.

The Kingdom of Judah

The remaining chapters of the book ( 10 through 36 ) rehearse the history of Judah to the Babylonian Exile from the singular perspective of the Chronicler. 2 Chronicles passes over much detail important in 1 and 2 Kings without a mention because of its focus on the liturgy of the Temple. On the other hand, the Chronicler mentions various building activities, military, and administrative matters that the Deuteronomist ignores. Most of these reports occur in passages about kings that the Chronicler evaluates positively because they promoted what the Chronicler regarded as the proper worship of Israel's God.

Rehoboam, Solomon's son and successor, builds fortifications ( 11, 5–12 ) at the beginning of his career. His failure to remain completely faithful to the Law of God results in the partial conquest of his realm by the pharaoh Shishak ( 12, 1–5 ). The Chronicler is favorable to Abijah, Rehoboam's successor, in contrast to 1 Kings, which calls him Abijam (1 Kgs 15, 1–8 ). At the outset of a war he wages against the Northern Kingdom, Abijah addresses a long theological speech to his opponents. In it he states that the legitimate cult of Judah guarantees its victory over Israel because Israel has forsaken the true worship of the Lord (2 Chr 13, 4–12 ). This speech is a good indicator of the Chronicler's principal concerns. Both Asa and Jehosophat, Judah's next two kings, receive a positive evaluation from the Chronicler, who recounts their building, military, and cultic projects ( 14, 5–15,15; 17, 6–9; 19, 4–20, 30 ). Second Chronicles, then, depicts the first four kings that ruled Judah following the breakup of the Davidic‐Solomonic empire as conscientious, qualified, and loyal to the Lord.

Following the lead of 2 Kings, the Chronicler rates positively several other kings from the Davidic dynasty: Uzziah (2 Chr 26, 4; see 2 Kgs 15, 3 , which calls him Azariah; see also the note to 2 Kgs 14, 21, OT, p. 420 ), Jotham (2 Chr 27, 2; see 2 Kgs 15, 34 ), Hezekiah (2 Chr 29, 2; see 2 Kgs 18, 3 ), and Josiah (2 Chr 34, 2; see 2 Kgs 22, 2 ).

Chapters 29 through 31 describe a thoroughgoing reform of Judah's liturgy under Hezekiah. This reform included a confession of past neglect of proper worship (2 Chr 29, 5–11 ), the cleansing of the Temple ( 29, 16f ), and the celebration of the Passover. Hezekiah invited the northerners who survived the Assyrian conquest to join the people of Judah in the renewal of the covenant ( 30, 1–9 ). The account of Hezekiah's reign in 2 Kings 18–20 says little about Hezekiah's reform because 2 Kings wished to portray Josiah as a second David who restored the covenant (2 Kgs 22–23 ). Another striking contrast to 2 Kings is the Chronicler's portrait of Manasseh, whom 2 Kings presents as the most evil of all Judah's kings. His sins were responsible for the fall of the Southern Kingdom (2 Kgs 21, 1–18 ). The Chronicler rehabilitates Manasseh by describing his conversion, which leads to a reform of Judah's worship (2 Chr 33, 11–17 ). It is likely that the Chronicler wanted his readers to identify with Manasseh by confessing their sins and renewing their commitment to the proper worship of Israel's God. The Chronicler's portrait of Manasseh inspired the apocryphal work known as the Prayer of Manasseh, a second‐century BC text that is a classic of penitential devotion. (Although Jerome included a translation of this work in the Vulgate, the Council of Trent decided not to include the Prayer of Manasseh in the canon of the Old Testament.)

The Chronicler's version of Josiah's reform (2 Chr 34–35 ) distinguishes several stages. This probably reflects the actual event more accurately than the account in 2 Kings 22–23 that telescopes all the activities of the reform into a single year (see the note to 34, 3, OT, p. 504 ).

The Chronicler evaluates the last three kings of Judah (Jehoiachin, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah) negatively (2 Chr 36, 5–14 ). After an editorial comment explaining the cause of the exile (2 Chr 36, 15–21 ), the book ends with the decree of Cyrus that calls for the restoration of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of its Temple (2 Chr 36, 22–23 ).

The Purpose of the Chronicler

Why did the Chronicler bother to retell the story of Judah's monarchy? After all, 2 Samuel through 2 Kings already told that story. Indeed, the Chronicler derived much of his story from these books. Still, when we look more closely at the Chronicler's treatment of the Judahite national state and its kings, we can see that the basic purpose of this new version of the story of David and his dynasty was to guide the Jerusalem community as it was reestablishing itself following the exile. In the eyes of the Chronicler, the one lasting contribution of the Davidic monarchy was the Temple, its rituals, and its priesthood. The Jewish community as a whole functioned as the successor of that dynasty. Once the people rebuilt the Temple and restored the proper form of its liturgy, the essential elements of Jewish life were in place. According to the Chronicler, David and Solomon combined forces to establish a divinely ordained liturgy in Jerusalem. The people, led by Ezra and Nehemiah, have resumed the service of God according to the pattern set by David. In the Chronicler's scheme, the restoration of the national state and the Davidic dynasty was not as crucial as the reestablishment of the proper worship of the Lord in Jerusalem. The people who supported the Temple and resumed the authentic worship there have fulfilled all the really important tasks of monarchy.

The Theology of the Chronicler

The Chronicler's account of the ancient Israelite monarchy differs markedly from that found in the books of Samuel and Kings. Although the Chronicler used these books as sources for his own work, he reinterpreted the material in them in order to provide his readers with a new understanding of the Davidic dynasty. While the books of Kings underscore the failure of the dynasty, the Chronicler presents the dynasty in the best possible light. The Chronicler wants to assure his readers that Judah's future depends upon the resumption of Temple service as established by David and as maintained by most of his successors. But there may have been political considerations at work in the Chronicler's telling of the story of Judah's monarchy as well. Determining this depends upon the question of dating the books of Chronicles. The introduction to 1 Chronicles dates these books to “the end of the fifth century BC” [OT, p. 436 ]. At this time, relations between the people of Judah and the people of the former Northern Kingdom were strained. Apparently the northerners were attempting to exert political control over Judah. This caused the animosity that grew over the years and continued into the New Testament period. The people of Judah came to regard the northerners, whom they called “Samaritans” after their ancient capital Samaria, as apostates. Both theological and political considerations combined to lead the Chronicler to reinterpret the history of Israel's monarchy in the way he did. He believed that the future of Judah depended on its absolute commitment to the authentic worship of the Lord in the Jerusalem Temple, which the Northern Kingdom rejected.

Jews and Samaritans

The books of Chronicles reflect one stage in the division that arose between the Jews and the Samaritans. Historical reconstruction has not been able to identify any sudden and dramatic act that divided the two groups irrevocably. According to Samaritan sources, the division took place at the end of the period of the judges (eleventh century BC) when Eli left Shechem and established a high‐priestly line at Shiloh. According to the biblical tradition (2 Kgs 17 ), the separation took place in the eighth century BC, when the people of the former Northern Kingdom intermarried with foreign peoples whom the Assyrians introduced into their territory. Although it is not possible to treat either of these two accounts as straight history, they do point to important concerns. In the Chronicler's perspective, the Samaritans did not have the true priesthood (2 Chr 13, 9 ), and therefore their sacrificial worship was worthless.

Aside from the polemics of Jewish and Samaritan sources, the Samaritans were one example of the rich diversity in early Judaism. Their religious traditions developed independently of the leadership of the community that arose around the priests of Jerusalem. Other examples of the variety of religious perspectives in early Judaism include the Hasidim, the Essenes, and the Pharisees. An important moment in this development was the building of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim (near Shechem) sometime in the early Hellenistic period (late fourth century BC). It was the building of this temple by the Samaritans and its later destruction by the Jewish king John Hyrcanus in 128 BC that led to the definitive break between the Jews and the Samaritans.

It is within this context that one should read John 4 in which Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well in Shechem. Her comments reflect the religious and historical conflicts between her people and the Jews. Jesus, of course, says that there will come a day when true worship of God will transcend the conflict between Jew and Samaritan (Jn 4, 21 ). The Chronicler's attitude toward those outside the community who worshipped the Lord centered in Jerusalem offers a striking example of an unwillingness to accept too great a diversity among those who considered themselves to be worshippers of the Lord. The reasons for the Chronicler's attitude are complex. In part they were political and economic. Apparently the province of Samaria wanted to control Jerusalem, while the leadership of the Jerusalem community wished to remain independent of such control. In part the reasons were religious and liturgical. Although the people in the north wished to help with the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple (Ezr 4, 2 ), the Judahites refused their help. Perhaps they did not believe that the northerners were sincere because of their continued use of the sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel. The Judahites considered the cult at these sanctuaries to be illegitimate. In part the reasons for the rift were historical. The Israelite tribes in the north and the south developed somewhat independently of one another, and the northerners cherished this independence fiercely. Whatever the reasons for the Chronicler's attitude toward the northerners who considered themselves to be authentic worshippers of the Lord, it was decidedly negative. It contributed to the tension between Jews and Samaritans that has lasted into the present.

The Chronicler's approach to the problem of religious diversity was understandable given the political and religious realities of the fourth century BC. The rigid application of the directives of Ezra and Nehemiah and the intensity of the Chronicler's rhetoric (see 2 Chr 13, 4–12 ) made it difficult for succeeding generations to overcome the division between Jew and Samaritan. Indeed, further divisions occurred within the Jewish community. The Essenes opposed the Hasmoneans. The Pharisees disputed with the Sadducees. The Herodians fought with the Zealots. In the middle of all this, Christianity emerged. Eventually, because of historical circumstances, the Pharisaic party survived the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and was the precursor of rabbinic Judaism. The Kairites of Babylon refused to accept the authority of the rabbis. Even within Judaism today, some Orthodox rabbis do not accept the legitimacy of Conservative and Reform Judaism. The Chronicler did not succeed in eliminating religious diversity among those who considered themselves worshippers of the Lord.

Relationships among Christian Churches

Until the Second Vatican Council, the attitude of Catholics toward other Christians was similar to the lack of tolerance that the Chronicler showed toward religious diversity. One of the principal concerns of the Council was promoting the restoration of unity among all Christians (Decree on Ecumenism, 1). Like the Chronicler, who is in part responsible for the rift between Jew and Samaritan, the Catholic Church, according to the Council, shares in responsibility for the divisions among Christian churches (Decree on Ecumenism, 3). One way to overcome these divisions is through dialogue that leads to a knowledge and appreciation of the doctrine and religious life of the many Christian churches.

Of the two main kinds of division within the Christian community, that which separates the East from the West resembles the separation between Jew and Samaritan that developed in the last four centuries before Christ. Although there were tensions between East and West for a long time, they came to a head in AD 1054 with the excommunication of the Patriarch of Constantinople by the papal legate and the patriarch's consequent excommunication of the pope's delegate. Four centuries later, other divisions arose in western Christianity as a result of the Reformation. The differences between Christian churches are not simply theological but are also historical, political, sociological, cultural, and even psychological.

To help overcome these divisions within Christianity, the Council suggested that dialogue among Christian churches focus first on those elements that the various Christian churches share: the Scriptures, belief in Christ, baptism, and the Eucharist. The diversity of customs and doctrines will not then necessarily be obstacles to unity. We will recognize them as contributing to the Church's beauty, helpful adaptations to differences of culture, necessary for the good of the faithful.

To the Christian churches that today are struggling with the project of restoring the Church's unity, the Chronicler presents an object lesson regarding what can happen when concern for the survival of one religious community leads to a type of narrow exclusivism that ignores the values of other people's approach to God. The tasks of Ezra and Nehemiah and the duty of the Chronicler were clear: to ensure the survival of the small community of the Lord surrounding Jerusalem whose continued existence was in doubt. They fulfilled their responsibilities. The responsibility of Christian churches is somewhat different today: to restore Christian unity. To make unity a possibility, Christians will need to be more willing to live with religious diversity than they have been. The Chronicler's hesitancy regarding religious diversity is understandable. Judaism was struggling for its very survival. Christianity today is not as beleaguered as was Judaism in the Chronicler's day. Achieving unity while respecting diversity should be easier for us.

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