1 Chronicles - Introduction
Like other books in the Bible, Chronicles was originally untitled. The title given to it by the early rabbis, “the book of the events of the days” (“seper dibre hayyamim”), suggests that the book is a history, addressing past events in chronological order; the same phrase is used often in Kings (e.g., 1 Kings 14.19 ) for one of the sources of Kings. The name of Chronicles in the ancient Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, the Septuagint, is Paraleipomena, meaning “the things left out,” and this name similarly testifies that Chronicles records the events left out of earlier biblical history. These understandings of Chronicles are not accepted by most modern scholars. It was the church father Jerome's description of the book as a “chronicle,” a summary of divine history, that has proved to be most influential in the history of modern interpretation.
Like the books of Samuel and Kings, Chronicles was originally one book. It was probably divided by the Greek translators, perhaps because of its length. The break between the two books, however, comes at a natural point, with the notice of the death of King David at the end of 1 Chronicles, and the account of the reign of his successor Solomon at the beginning of 2 Chronicles.
Most likely the anonymous author lived in Jerusalem and had great familiarity with the Temple and its assorted traditions. Since the book of Ezra begins where Chronicles ends, with the Persian king Cyrus the Great's decree allowing the exiled Jews to return home and rebuild the Temple (538 BCE), some scholars have suggested that Chronicles, Ezra, and its continuation in Nehemiah, had a single author or editor. Other scholars think that the linguistic, thematic, and historiographical differences between Chronicles and Ezra‐Nehemiah are too great to warrant positing a common author. In this view, which is followed here, the Chronicler's history, which begins with the first person (Adam) and ends with the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE and Cyrus's summons to the exiled Jews to return home (2 Chr 36.21–23 ), should be separated from the postexilic history of Ezra‐Nehemiah. Although there are significant similarities between the Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, the differences outweigh the similarities, and one individual is unlikely to have written all three works. Hence, in the following pages, “the Chronicler” designates the author of Chronicles.
The Chronicler wrote after much of the Hebrew Bible had already been written, and he draws extensively upon this rich literary tradition. The dependence of Chronicles upon Genesis is evident in the genealogies (1 Chr 1–9 ); the dependence upon Samuel is clear in the narration of Saul's demise and David's reign (1 Chr 10–29 ); and the dependence upon Kings is unmistakable in the narration of Solomon and the Judahite kingdom (2 Chr 1–36 ). The Chronicler's work is also informed by a variety of other biblical texts. Citations from or allusions to the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), and the books of Joshua, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Psalms, and Ruth all appear in Chronicles. Scholars generally agree that the Chronicler also had access to sources that did not become part of the Bible, but their nature and extent are disputed.
It is difficult to date Chronicles precisely, beyond noting that it must be postexilic, since it begins with Cyrus's decree. A range of over three hundred and fifty years, from the late sixth to the mid‐second century BCE, has been suggested for its time of composition. A date in the fourth century seems most plausible, because it would account both for the author's references to other biblical writings and for literary features within the work that anticipate similar features in Jewish Hellenistic writings. But there are no specific references, no absolute synchronisms, and no extrabiblical citations that definitively date the book to a given decade or quarter‐century.
Chronicles has three major sections: the genealogies (1 Chr 1–9 ), the history of the United Monarchy (1 Chr 10–2 Chr 9 ), and the history of the Judahite monarchy (2 Chr 10–36 ). The first section, which forms the introduction to the work, begins with Adam (1 Chr 1 ), but focuses upon the identity, interrelationships, and location of Israel's twelve tribes (1 Chr 2–9 ). In traditional societies, such genealogies explain the place and function of various individuals, people, and institutions. In 1 Chr 1–8 , the Chronicler stresses the ties between Israel and the land. The very scope and structure of the Chronicler's genealogical system underscore the indivisibility of Israel. Within this larger structure, Judah, Levi, and Benjamin receive by far the most extensive genealogies. In the Chronicler's view, these tribes are critical to preserving Israel's distinctive legacy. The list of those who returned from exile (1 Chr 9 ) concludes these chapters by highlighting the continuity between earlier Israel and postexilic Judah (the Persian province of Yehud). In the second section, after briefly addressing and condemning the reign of Saul (1 Chr 10 ), the Chronicler devotes most of his attention to the successful reigns of David (1 Chr 11–29 ) and Solomon (2 Chr 1–9 ), which clearly represent a high point of the history. The rest of the book relates the emergence, continuation, and fall of the kingdom of Judah (2 Chr 10–36 ). By placing David and Solomon's achievements at the center of Israelite history, the author underscores the prominence of those Israelite institutions he believed developed, were consolidated, or were transformed during this period—the priesthood, descended from Aaron; the Levites in all their responsibilities as singers, teachers, administrators, and ancillaries to the priests; the Davidic dynasty; and, last but not least, the Temple itself. Having set the establishment of Israel's normative political and religious institutions in the time of David and Solomon, the Chronicler never reneges on their pertinence to the lives of all Israelites in later centuries.
Following the death of Solomon and the ascension of his son Rehoboam, the ten northern tribes secede (2 Chr 11.1–17 ). Whereas the author of Kings follows the course of both kingdoms, the Chronicler concentrates on the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi, who make up the Southern Kingdom of Judah (2 Chr 11.5–6,12,13–17,23 ). In Chronicles the course of the Judahite monarchy is characterized by both defeats and successes. The Chronicler consistently documents the achievements of Judah's best kings—Abijah (2 Chr 13.2–21 ), Asa (2 Chr 14.1–6; 15.8–15 ), Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 17.1–9; 19.4–11 ), Hezekiah (2 Chr 29–31 ), and Josiah (2 Chr 34.1–7 )—to institute reforms, reunite the people, and recover lost territories. Regressions occur in the reigns of Ahaz (2 Chr 28 ), Manasseh (2 Chr 33.1–11 ), and the final kings of Judah (2 Chr 36.1–13 ). In depicting their history, the Chronicler is largely dependent on Kings, but as the episode concerning Manasseh's repentance and restoration (2 Chr 33.12–19; cf. 2 Kings 21.1–16 ) demonstrates, he may revise these sources to fit his theology, making major and minor changes, additions, and deletions. Throughout the work, God sends prophets to warn monarchs, leaders, and people alike about the consequences of their actions, imploring them to repent. Thus, in his commentary on the defeat and exile of Judah, the Chronicler states that Judah was exiled only after the LORD sent a steady supply of prophets to stir the people and priestly leaders to reform, but their warnings went unheeded (2 Chr 36.14–16 ).
Both Kings and Chronicles end by describing the Babylonian invasion and exile in the sixth century BCE, but Chronicles also includes Cyrus's decree allowing the exiles to return to Judah (2 Chr 36.22–23 ), offering a clearer hope for the future than does the conclusion of Kings. In this manner Chronicles contains and relativizes the tremendous tragedy of the Babylonian deportations soberly depicted in 2 Kings 24–25 . Thus Chronicles, with its positive ending and emphasis on the power of repentance, may be seen as more optimistic than the history of Samuel‐Kings, which it has rewritten. As the beginning of Chronicles introduces the people of Israel and charts their emergence in the land, the ending of the book anticipates their return.