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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

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1 Chronicles - Introduction

THE TITLE “THE BOOK OF CHRONICLES,” a reflection of the Hebrew divrei hayamim (e.g., 1 Kings 14.19 , “Annals”), is a misnomer. The book is neither a dry chronicle nor an analytic work, but a complex theological‐historical composition beginning with Adam and concluding with the Cyrus declarations (538 BCE). Chronicles should not be identified with the Annals of the Kings of Israel or the Annals of the Kings of Judah which are frequently mentioned in Kings, since Chronicles was written after Kings. Furthermore, even though in English Bibles, following the tradition of the Septuagint (the ancient Greek Bible translation), Chronicles is divided into two books like Samuel and Kings, in the Hebrew tradition, it is a single book. It is thus proper to speak of the book rather than the books of Chronicles.

Rabbinic tradition (b. B. Bat. 15a) assigns authorship of part, but not all, of Chronicles to Ezra the scribe; medieval Jewish commentators differed over the scope of the Ezran material. Modern scholarship remains divided over the book's relationship to Ezra; through most of the 19th and 20th centuries scholars accepted the rabbinic position, based on several considerations, including linguistic similarities between Ezra‐Nehemiah and Chronicles, similarity in outlook and theology, and the fact that the conclusion of Chronicles is identical to the introduction of Ezra. These scholars used the term “the Chronicler” to refer to the single author of Chronicles‐Ezra‐Nehemiah. Most scholars now reject this position, arguing that the two works, though similar because they were written in approximately the same period, differ substantively in matters of outlook and theology. Three key examples of this difference in outlook are: (1) the uncompromising stance of Ezra‐Nehemiah regarding all forms of exogamy (marrying outside of the clan), as opposed to Chronicles' relatively liberal attitude on the matter; (2) Chronicles' inclusive definition of the true Israel, which contrasts sharply with Ezra‐Nehemiah, in whose view only those Jews returning from the Babylonian captivity are viewed as the true Israel; and (3) the heightened place of the Davidic covenant in Chronicles, in contrast to the emphasis on the exodus‐Sinai traditions found in Ezra‐Nehemiah. In addition, there are significant linguistic and stylistic differences between the two corpora. Most scholars now use the term “the Chronicler” to refer to the author of Chronicles only and believe that he was likely a member of Levitical circles. Some suggest that the Chronicler was aware, and made use, of Ezra‐Nehemiah in formulating his own positions.

The book's date of composition has also been the subject of considerable debate, with estimates ranging from approximately 500 (the early Persian empire) through the early 2nd century BCE (i.e., the Hellenistic age). All in all, the late middle or, possibly, early 4th century—i.e., mid‐late Persian period (375–325)—appears the most likely. As for the literary growth of Chronicles—that is, the number of authors responsible for the book's final form—most scholars maintain that the main body of the book is the product of one author or circle. Nonetheless, some passages are commonly viewed as later additions to the book's basic stratum; therefore Chronicles probably reached its final form after the 4th century. Awareness of the Second Temple provenance of Chronicles has significant implications for understanding the purpose and methods of its author(s). The bulk of Chronicles is a retelling of the books of Samuel and Kings. The material selected or omitted, however, along with the new formulations and literary “spins” given to older material, indicate that the author imbues this material with new perspectives and meanings, in order to address the needs of his audience. In addition, the book's relatively late date of composition means that its author was familiar with the (completed, redacted) Torah in a form essentially identical to that preserved to our own day, and almost all of the prophetic, historical, and lyric works (e.g., Psalms) which comprise the present canon of the Bible. Accordingly, the author's understanding of a given subject or passage is likely to reflect not only the developed belief systems of his own period, but the influence of relevant passages from the earlier biblical corpus, as they were understood in his time. Indeed, the author's interest in harmonizing various biblical passages informs much of the author's novel, if perhaps idiosyncratic, reformulation of earlier texts.

Despite the large mass of material common to Chronicles and earlier biblical sources, particularly Samuel and Kings, there are many differences, both stylistic and substantive, between the two blocks of material. These may be the result of several factors. First, a deliberate change in the text may either be the creation of the author, reflecting his own tendentious concerns and perspectives or, alternatively, may indicate that the author has reformulated his text on the basis of source material not preserved in the canonical biblical corpus. On the other hand, the differences between the synoptic portions of Chronicles, namely those portions which have parallels elsewhere in the Bible, and the earlier compositions may simply indicate that the version of the older sources known to the author differed from that preserved in today's Bible (the Masoretic Text) or one of the ancient translations, such as the Septuagint. This latter scenario now seems more likely in light of the fluid and diverse textual forms displayed by the biblical texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. A somewhat different approach has been proffered by scholars who maintain that Chronicles and Samuel‐Kings are wholly independent works which draw on a common source, but this remains a minority position. While the relationship of Chronicles to its sources has important implications for understanding the nature of Chronicles and its approach to its sources—i.e., its author's willingness to rework older sources—the book's final form presents a well‐defined, and independent, view on a whole range of subjects.Thus, any discussion of Chronicles must look at it as a complete and unified work as well as considering the sources that were likely utilized by the Chronicler.

Chronicles affords us evidence of the ways in which biblical authors utilized, interpreted, supplemented, and reformulated earlier source materials, evidence which has far‐reaching implications for our understanding of biblical “historiography” and, more generally, inner‐biblical exegesis (how later parts of the Bible interpret earlier parts). The numerous and substantive differences between Chronicles and earlier sources have led to widely divergent views concerning the quintessential nature and purpose of Chronicles. Many earlier scholars labeled Chronicles a tendentious falsification of Israel's past. More recent students have viewed Chronicles as a kind of edifying fiction or “exegetical” companion to Samuel‐Kings. Others, noting that the presence of much nonsynoptic and wholly rewritten material does not allow for application of the term “exegesis,” have argued that the work is an independent, genuine piece of historical writing—presented, like all “history,” through the (idiosyncratic) prism of its author. Each of these perspectives has some merit.

The existence of many discrepancies between Chronicles and Samuel‐Kings was noted already by Jews living shortly after the book's composition. Ancient readers of the Bible, as well as virtually all premodern exegetes, assumed as a matter of course that there could be no substantive contradictions between Chronicles and its earlier biblical sources. The Jewish translators responsible for the Septuagint translation, living in the pre‐Christian era, thus called Chronicles “Paraleipomenon,” i.e., a “supplement to things omitted.” This title implies an exegetical stance, according to which the additional material of Chronicles is not the literary creation of the author of Chronicles; rather, it represents a genuine “historical” tradition which, for one reason or another, was not included in Samuel. While this approach is incorrect, it does reflect the fact that at points Chronicles presupposes the reader's familiarity with earlier sources (see, e.g., 1 Chron. ch 10 ). Rabbinic tradition, which clearly indicates awareness of the numerous differences between Chronicles and its sources, tends to view the earlier biblical compositions as historically veracious, while viewing Chronicles as a kind of midrash to these works. (On the genre midrash, see “Midrash and Jewish Interpretation,” pp. 1863–75.) At the same time, it is important to note that the Rabbis of antiquity produced no systematic commentary to Chronicles, and there is little way to determine how they resolved the many discrepancies—or, for that matter, what they viewed as a true “discrepancy”—between Chronicles and its sources. This state of affairs improved only marginally in the post‐talmudic and medieval periods, during which time this work was largely neglected. Indeed, one prominent medieval exegete openly acknowledged that he had never read the book prior to composing his commentary to Samuel (Isaac Abravanel's Introduction to Samuel; see also Radak's Introduction to Chronicles). In general, the available evidence suggests that, at least with respect to historical traditions, Jews of antiquity accepted the version of the accounts as preserved in the earlier Deuteronomistic sources of Samuel and Kings over that of Chronicles. The relative unimportance of Chronicles is also reflected by the fact that only a handful of copiesof Chronicles have been uncovered among the literary finds of the Second Temple community at Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls).

Chronicles advances several major themes and religious perspectives. In some cases Chronicles has merely reworked and highlighted positions addressed, in different form, in other biblical books; in other instances, Chronicles charts a wholly new course. A brief overview of some of the salient issues follows. Other issues will be addressed in the commentary.

The central topic in Chronicles is the Temple cultus (service), the institution that lies at the center of Jewish/Israelite life, and around which Chronicles weaves its view of Israel's history. This position reflects the religio‐political reality of Second Temple life, in which the cultus, rather than the (defunct) Davidic monarchy, occupied center stage. For much of this period the Temple remained a modest structure, and support for its personnel was not always forthcoming; accordingly, Chronicles' formulations reflect a call for rejuvenating the national cultus.

One of the principles long viewed as a hallmark of Chronicles is its strict notion of divine providence and retribution. On this view, virtuous deeds lead to a reward (wealth, children, etc.), while bad deeds bring punishment and suffering. Similarly, so it is held, Chronicles rejects the notion of vicarious punishment and/or reward; an individual is neither punished nor rewarded for the actions of another individual. This theodicy has generally been understood as largely, but not exclusively, retrospective in nature, accounting for national (and personal) misfortunes of the past, but also offering Jews of the Second Temple period theological guidance in their day‐to‐day lives. Indeed, some have argued that this position is Chronicles' raison d'etre. However, there is inconsistency in Chronicles' application of this principle. This fact has led some scholars to suggest that Chronicles does not differ fundamentally from other biblical books in its understanding of vicarious punishment and retribution. Rather, the book's uniqueness lies in its view of divine compassion or grace as the operative principle. It is this quality, so it is argued, which allows for repentance and forgiveness of transgressions, thereby conveying the message of eternal hope. Chronicles' approach is thus seen as primarily forward‐looking and hope‐inspiring, rather than retrospective.

A potentially related issue concerns Chronicles' realpolitik and the place of messianic or eschatological expectations in the work. Scholarly views differ widely, largely as a result of differing uses of the term “eschatology.” To be sure, Chronicles—perhaps because of its nature as a rewriting of First Temple material, perhaps out of fear of upsetting the contemporary hegemony—contains no explicit statement on either matter. This has led to the view that the author of Chronicles was a “pragmatist” who saw contemporary Jewish society, with its functioning cult, as the fulfillment of Israel's role; Persian hegemony is accepted with no monarchic or royalist expectations. However, Chronicles' glorified and expanded depiction of the Davidic dynasty—and denigration of all other monarchs, including David's predecessor, Saul—along with the book's emphasis on “all Israel” may suggest that anticipation of a Davidic, messianic figure is a central feature of Chronicles.Indeed, some see this messianic/eschatological yearning as the driving force behind Chronicles' forward‐looking notion of grace: Proper conduct, together with divine compassion, can bring about Israel's restoration with a Davidic king at its head.

Chronicles' view regarding the northern monarchy is quite clear: Its very existence is illegitimate, since the Davidic kings alone constitute the earthly expression of the LORD's kingdom. For this reason, Chronicles discusses the fortunes of the northern monarchy only to the extent that they impact on Judah. Positions differ, however, regarding the importance of the populace of the northern tribes. Many scholars now acknowledge that the book's frequent use of the expression “all Israel,” and its references to “pan‐Israelite” participation in various passages (both synoptic and otherwise) indicate that Chronicles' author, in contrast to that of Ezra‐Nehemiah, viewed the unification of (northern) Israel and Judah as an issue of paramount importance. This contrasts with the view of earlier scholars, who understood these same passages to mean that the true claim to the title “Israel” rests with Judah and those northern tribes aligned with her or living within her borders, yielding a position close to that of Ezra‐Nehemiah.

A notable feature of Chronicles is its reticence concerning several pivotal events in the nation's history, e.g., the exodus from Egypt, the theophany at Sinai, and the “conquest” of Canaan. Many scholars see in these omissions Chronicles' expression of the eternal connection between the people of Israel and its land as an unbroken chain, having no real starting point, nor involving a hiatus after the First Temple period. At the time of Chronicles' composition, Jews constituted only one part of a heterogeneous population in their ancestral land, while a significant proportion, perhaps even a majority, of Jews lived in foreign lands. Chronicles makes a clear statement regarding the true owners of the land as well as the need for all Jews to return to their homeland.

Several aspects of Chronicles' worldview are reminiscent of views encountered in rabbinic literature. Two examples are the importance of intention (e.g., joy, sincerity) as opposed to concrete deeds alone in the service of the LORD, and the view that people are legally culpable for wrongdoing only if duly warned prior to commission of the offense. In light of this, some scholars have described Chronicles as a bridge between the “classical period” of the Bible and later rabbinic society. While there is some truth in this depiction, the points of similarity between Chronicles and rabbinic thought may have other explanations. Chronicles' frequent insistence on warning the king and/or people of Israel as a sine qua non for religious culpability may simply be part of the book's view of grace, with its repeated attempts to steer Israel in the right path. Similarly, the importance of joy, appearing mostly in connection with the cultus, may be the author's way of highlighting the centrality of the cultus, rather than constituting a general theological principle regarding the importance of intentions. Hence, while Chronicles certainly reflects positions differing from those of other biblical works, the scope of views common to Chronicles and earlier biblical works places it squarely within the biblical matrix, rendering the depiction of Chronicles as a “bridge” somewhat exaggerated.

The following is a schematic description of Chronicles' structure.

  • 1 Chronicles 1–9: The genealogical tables

  • 1 Chronicles 10: The reign of Saul

  • 1 Chronicles 11–29: The reign of David

  • 2 Chronicles 1–9: Solomon's reign

  • 2 Chronicles 36.10–36.16: Post‐Solomonic kings

  • 2 Chronicles 36.17–23: Destruction of Temple, exile, and Cyrus's proclamation

[DAVID ROTHSTEIN]

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