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

The Historical Books in Kethuvim

MANY OF THE BOOKS IN KETHUVIM (Ruth, Esther, Chronicles, Ezra‐Nehemiah, Daniel chs 1–6 ) may be understood as historical books in the sense that they narrate a past. Much like the historical texts now found in the Former Prophets (see p. 453), however, those found inKethuvim are not historical in our sense, that is, they are not narratives giving an accurate systematic account that conforms to what really happened.

This is particularly true of the book of Chronicles, which is a retelling with significant variations of the books of Genesis through Kings. It is unclear if its author had access to a significant number of external sources not found in our canonical Bibles, but in any case, a close examination of the book illustrates the remarkable way in which its author deals with sources, rewriting them to fit a particular notion of “historical probability,” namely, what really should have happened based on notions of how the world worked. For example, in the book of Kings, which does not have a clear retribution theory (a theory concerning punishment and reward), the Judean King Manasseh (698/687–642 BCE) is depicted as the most evil king of Judah, who is ultimately responsible for the destruction of the Temple in 586 (2 Kings ch 21 ). The same source, however, indicates that Manasseh reigned for fifty‐five years.

This “contradiction” between the behavior of Manasseh and his long reign did not bother the Deuteronomist, who did not believe that each individual king needed to be punished or rewarded for his behavior. The Chronicler, however, did believe in this type of retribution theology, and the Deuteronomist's depiction of Manasseh in Kings was clearly very troublesome. For this reason, the Chronicler rewrote the life of Manasseh, adding 2 Chronicles 33.10–13 : “The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not pay heed, so the LORD brought against them the officers of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh captive in manacles, bound him in fetters, and led him off to Babylon. In his distress, he entreated the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to Him, and He granted his prayer, heard his plea, and returned him to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD alone was God.” Thus, Manasseh fits the paradigms that the author of Chronicles believed to be true: All people need to be warned before they are punished; repentance is extremely efficacious; and individuals may only succeed if their behavior is meritorious. These external beliefs forced a revision of the source's account so that Manasseh's life could be properly illustrative. Other examples of this type of revisionism are found throughout Chronicles, and are discussed in the introduction to that book (pp. 1712–1717).

Scholars have found similarities between Chronicles and Ezra‐Nehemiah and have posited that these works belong to a single large history composed by the Chronicler, which parallels the Deuteronomistic History. A closer look at Chronicles and Ezra‐Nehemiah, however, shows that they differ from each other in outlook and vocabulary, and that the general similarities between them are best attributed to the common time in which they were written, most likely the fourth century BCE. Like Chronicles, a strong ideological bias may be detected in Ezra‐Nehemiah, and even though it purports to be written close to the events it describes, it must be used with great care by the contemporary historian of ancient Israel.

Ruth and Esther, both now found among the five scrolls, and Daniel are different in genre from Chronicles or Ezra‐Nehemiah. They are fictional stories set in historical backgrounds,serving ideological and perhaps esthetic purposes. Clearly artistic from a literary point of view, these books are not simply entertainment: They narrate a past (sometimes a fanciful past) in order to convey lessons relevant to the community. Ruth, a deceptively simple pastoral tale, promotes the principles of ḥesed, “loyalty,” and of family continuity, elevating it to the national level with the genealogy of David. Esther, a comic farce that uses drinking parties as a major plot device, provides an etiology or origin for the festival of Purim and shows that, despite dire threats to their security, Diaspora Jews can triumph and succeed. Daniel chs 1–6 , like Esther, models success in a foreign court and, unlike Esther, stresses that Jews should be faithful to their religious beliefs and practices in the Diaspora. The particular characteristics of these three very different books may be found in the introductions to each book (pp. 1578–79, 1623–25, and 1640–42).

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