Title.

As with Samuel and Kings, the two books of Chronicles are in reality one: the counting of words and sections customary in the Hebrew text appears only at the end of 2 Chronicles. The division was first made in the Septuagint and thence in the Latin Vulgate; hence it was adopted in other translations and by the sixteenth century also in printed Hebrew Bibles. The Hebrew title is “book of the acts of the days,” that is, annals, a phrase used frequently in this sense to describe royal acts or records (e.g., 1 Kings 14.29, and cf. Esther 6.1). The title is not entirely appropriate: there is much material of other kinds to be found in Chronicles. Even if it reasonably fits the larger part of the work, it too easily gives the impression that we are dealing with a work of history, which is only very partially the case. In the Greek, the title given is “the thing(s) left out” (paralipomenon); this is intelligible on the common assumption that Chronicles was intended to supplement the books of Samuel and Kings by providing information not given there, but it is an inaccurate description for what the work really is. Indeed, it may be recognized that this misunderstanding has often led to a use of Chronicles, for example in simplified histories of Israel and in church lectionaries, that does not do justice to a writing that needs to be read for its own sake and in the light of its own style of approach and not just to fill gaps in a differently conceived presentation.

Contents.

Briefly, the contents are:

  • 1 Chronicles 1.1–9.34: Genealogies from Adam onward, culminating in lists of those who returned from exile in Babylon
  • 1 Chronicles 9.35–29.30: The kingship of David
  • 2 Chronicles 1–9: The kingship of Solomon
  • 2 Chronicles 10–36: The kingdom of Judah to its destruction by the Babylonians and the beginning of restoration under Cyrus the Persian.

The outline suggests a twofold approach to the story. In the first, the opening chapters (1 Chron. 1–8), consisting almost entirely of lists of names, offer a survey from the earliest figures of Israelite tradition, through a concentration on the tribes of Israel to the family of Saul, the first king: this ushers in chap. 9, where there is a leap forward to Judah's unfaithfulness that led to exile in Babylon, and to the return, listing family groups, priests, and other religious officials. In the second approach, the story begins over again (at 9.35), with a repetition of the Saul genealogy (cf. 8.29–40), which here serves to introduce Saul's failure as a foil to the establishment and achievements of David in chapters 10–29. With its sequel in 2 Chronicles, this second approach offers a survey covering the whole period of the monarchy, itself to end with a short reference to Cyrus, and the promise of a return from exile. The question whether the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which continue the story, are to be regarded as part of the same work or are independent of Chronicles will be considered subsequently.

Text.

Like all other biblical books, the text of Chronicles presents numerous problems resulting from errors in transmission. But the more serious difficulties here arise from the considerable degree to which these books offer duplicate texts of material found elsewhere in the Bible. The main overlaps are with sections of Samuel and Kings: a substantial part of 1 Chronicles 10 to 2 Chronicles 36 contains such parallels. The relationship is not all at one level: there are passages where the Chronicles and Samuel or Kings texts are virtually the same, but many more where numerous smaller and larger differences are to be seen. Some of these differences may derive from the simple substitution of more familiar words or forms than those found in what are clearly the older texts; some of the exact coincidences may be due to cross‐influence from one text to the other at a relatively late stage. Some differences are evidently the result of exegetical activity, as indeed at least some of the additional material, unparalleled in the older texts, is likely to be due to the interpretive inventiveness of the author of Chronicles. The study of the relationship is complicated by some evidence in the Qumran texts of Samuel which suggests that the text known to the writer of Chronicles may have been closer to those texts than to Samuel as it appears in the Hebrew Bible.

There are numerous other textual overlaps. Much of the genealogical material in 1 Chronicles 1–9 is paralleled in the Pentateuch or elsewhere. The psalm passage in 1 Chronicles 16.8–36 is paralleled in parts of Psalms 105, 96, and 106; and there are numerous other quotations or allusions to psalms and to other works, especially to various prophetic writings (e.g., 2 Chron. 20.20; cf. Isa. 7.9). These last are usually of greater interest as representing the exegesis of earlier material than for textual relationship.

Sources and Integrity.

As has just been indicated, we may recognize the books of Samuel and Kings as the major source for Chronicles, allowing for the probability that the text used was not exactly the same as that familiar to us; other materials provided further sources on which the writer drew. In addition, however, we find a substantial number of passages where no parallel is known. Thus, in 2 Chronicles 28, in relating the reign of Ahaz, the Chronicler clearly knows the parallel in 2 Kings 16; but there is additional material not found there. In this particular case, we may note the probability that some of the smaller differences—but no less important for that—are due to the Chronicler's own exposition of the already familiar material. But the whole of the war narrative in 28.5–15 is not so easy to explain. The same is true of archival material about fortifications (e.g., 2 Chron. 11.5–12) and of a good deal of what is devoted to modifications in the Jerusalem Temple, regarded favorably or unfavorably (e.g., 2 Chron. 28.24–25: Ahaz's antireforms; 2 Chron. 29.3–31.21: Hezekiah's reforms). These extra passages have been variously assessed. Some would regard them as genuine extracts from archival and other sources that existed alongside the books of Samuel and Kings. Others would see in such unparalleled material evidence of the Chronicler's imaginative inventiveness; but it is not easy to see why some of this material should be pure invention. It is more important that we attempt to link such embellishments of the narratives with what may be detected of the main purposes of the work, and at the same time recognize that Chronicles does not simply reuse older material but offers exegeses of it. Thus, the portrayals of Ahaz and Hezekiah, already alluded to, may serve as examples of an interpretive process by which a bad king, according to 2 Kings, becomes the worst representative of the Judean monarchy; while a good king, again as 2 Kings describes him, has become a virtually ideal figure. For the latter, it is instructive to observe not only the enormous additional account of religious reform in 2 Chronicles 29–31 (contrast the extreme brevity of 2 Kings 18.4), but also the skilled reworking of the narrative material of 2 Kings 18–20 in 2 Chronicles 32.

It is in the light of this that the sources named in the books of Chronicles should be considered. At a number of points, in the summaries of the kings' reigns, allusion is made to the sources employed; thus 1 Chronicles 29.29–30 refers to “the records of the seer Samuel, and … the records of the prophet Nathan, and … the records of the seer Gad” (cf. the similar statement for Solomon in 2 Chron. 9.29, and for Hezekiah in 2 Chron. 32.32). In other instances, as in the books of Kings, reference is made simply to annals—“the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel” and the like. It would appear that the Chronicler is here both following the pattern of the books of Kings in citing such annalistic works, and also developing the understanding of the earlier writings and emphasizing the relationship between their stories of kings and the activity of prophets. The earlier works, from Joshua to 2 Kings, came in time to be known as the “Former Prophets” and were to stand alongside the “Latter Prophets,” namely the prophetic books, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (See Canon, article on Order of Books in the Hebrew Bible). Such a description of the earlier writings suggests that, whatever precisely the Chronicler may have had at his disposal, he was accepting and developing a particular understanding of the writings familiar to him; whatever sources unknown to us were available, we must expect that they too were handled with the same kind of creative reinterpretation.

One further question needs a brief mention here: Does the work exist essentially as it came from its author, or has it been modified to a greater or lesser extent? Various theories of stages in its formation have been proposed, but none appears entirely convincing; there is insufficient evidence to support the idea of a “first” and a “second” Chronicler, or that of a first stage belonging to the early Persian period and second and third stages from a later date. The possibility that 1 Chronicles 1–9 is a later addition has also found some supporters; but the relationship between these chapters and what follows makes that view difficult. Perhaps, and this has been particularly argued for 1 Chronicles 24–27, some expansions have been made; but unless it is possible to see clear evidence of a shift in standpoint, it is difficult to be sure. And even with such an apparent shift, we cannot be certain how far such a different emphasis was inherent in material being taken over from another source and incorporated by the author in spite of the fact that its outlook did not agree at every point with that of the main work.

The Place of Chronicles in the *Canon.

In English translations, Chronicles is placed, as in the Septuagint and the Vulgate, in the group of books that may be roughly described as “historical.” Thus, it follows the books of Kings and is in turn followed by Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. (The canons of some churches include Tobit, Judith, and 1 and 2 Maccabees in this group as well). There is clear logic in this arrangement: all these writings, whatever their differences, are mainly narratives of one kind or another. The Hebrew Bible offers a different picture. As has been noted, the “historical” books from Joshua to Kings there appear as the Former Prophets. Chronicles, as also Ezra‐Nehemiah (as one book) and Esther, appear in the third part of the Hebrew canon, entitled the Writings. Most commonly, in manuscripts and printed editions, Chronicles stands last, preceded by Ezra‐Nehemiah; this is problematic, since clearly Ezra‐Nehemiah provides a continuation of the Chronicles narrative. In some manuscripts, Chronicles stands first among the Writings, immediately before Psalms; in such a position it provides a context for the Psalter, traditionally associated with David, for much of 1 Chronicles is concerned with David and lays great stress on his organization of Temple worship and singing (for the latter, see especially 1 Chron. 16). When placed at the end of the Writings, it may be regarded as setting out by both warning and example how the true Temple and true worship must be maintained. It then follows Daniel, ostensibly concerned with the disasters of the sixth century BCE and the destruction of Temple and worship then—though, in reality (see especially Dan. 9), it points to the defilement and hoped‐for reestablishment of the Temple in the second century BCE in the period of Antiochus IV Epiphanes; and Ezra‐Nehemiah, which relates various stages in the restoration of Temple and people in the Persian period. By placing Chronicles at the end, the Hebrew Bible, which eventually reflects later concerns of the Jewish community, may be seen to look to a future restoration of Jerusalem and its shrine, beyond the still later disasters of Roman rule (especially the events of 70 and 135 CE).

A Literary Work and an Interpretation.

The term “the Chronicler” is often used as a convenient shorthand to refer to the unknown author of the books of Chronicles. It has the advantage of simplicity, but it can too easily seem to imply that we know who the author was. In fact, nothing at all is known; the traditional view named Ezra, but there is no real evidence for this, and it must be regarded as part of the process by which the authority of biblical writings was associated with noteworthy biblical characters. Nor do we know when Chronicles was compiled. In part, a decision on this is connected with the relationship between Chronicles and Ezra‐Nehemiah; if these together form a unity, then the final shaping must be later than the events there described, which would point to the late fifth or the fourth century BCE, or perhaps later still. It is clear that, with its dependence on Samuel and Kings, whose final form cannot be earlier than the sixth century BCE, we must look in all probability in the Persian period: there is no clear evidence of the change to Greek rule. A fourth century BCE date is reasonable, but remains a balanced guess.

There can be no certainty on whether the work is the product of a single author or was produced within a particular circle whose members shared views and ideals about the nature of their community. The very fact that so much earlier material has been reused makes the assessment of literary unity very difficult. Indeed, we may wonder how far the idea of literary unity is really appropriate to such a writing. The supposition that an ancient writer would endeavor to produce a completely unified and consistent work is too much based on modern conceptions of how an editor should update older material. We should more probably expect to find general consistency, but expressed in a variety of ways.

This is particularly relevant to the debated question of whether the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are separate or belong to the same work. They are treated as separate in the Hebrew Bible, and, as noted above, they normally stand in the reverse order from that found in the Greek and derived translations. There is a small overlap between the two (2 Chron. 36.22–23 = Ezra 1.1–3a); in the alternative form in 1 Esdras, which covers from 2 Chronicles 35 to Ezra 10 plus Nehemiah 7.73b–8.13, the material runs continuously, but the evidence of 1 Esdras is problematic. It seems clear that, whatever the actual relationship, the reader is intended to see Ezra‐Nehemiah as a sequel. Alternative views range from the assumption of unity, so that Chronicles‐Ezra‐Nehemiah are referred to as the Chronicler's work; to the maintenance of single authorship, but with the two parts written at different times, with either order of writing proposed; and to stress disunity, the marked differences between the two works in language, style, and ideology. Such differences of view suggest that certainty cannot be achieved. In part, the decision comes down to assessing whether and to what extent the differences within the books are too great for the books to be considered other than superficially related; to what extent unity in the literary sense demands complete unity of thought and style; and to what extent disunity is related to the use in all parts of the work of source material that has its own language and style and has often been taken over virtually unaltered. If we demand very strict unity of thought and style, then we will decide to separate them; but if we think in terms of a circle of thought, in which the main lines are shared but with differences of view on many matters of detail, then an overall unity may embrace variety of approach.

Whatever the decision in this delicate matter, it seems clear that the author of the books of Chronicles, as we know them, was setting out to give to his contemporaries an understanding of their current position as a small subject people under alien (Persian) rule, in the light of his interpretation of the past. This involved seeing that small community in the light of the whole story from creation to the restoration under Cyrus (so in 1 Chron. 1–9); a similar approach may be seen in the Pentateuch, which traces the story from creation to conquest. It also involved offering an understanding of the contemporary significance of the two major institutions of that history: kingship and Temple. The total loss of the former, with no realistic possibility of its recovery, is explained through a retelling of the story with the stress laid on David as creator, and on his worthy successors as continuers, of the religious life of the Jerusalem Temple; in this view, the real function of the monarchy was religious. The restoration of the Temple under Persian rule described in Ezra 1–6 is implicit in the material of 1 Chronicles 9 and set in motion in the final verses of 2 Chronicles. Whoever was responsible for Ezra‐Nehemiah was providing the logical conclusion to the story. At the same time, the books of Chronicles provide an idealized picture of the true people, loyal to their God and to the law of Moses (Torah); the story does not shirk the recognition of failures by rulers and people, from the disastrous disloyalty of Saul (1 Chron. 10), to the secession of the north from the true inheritance (2 Chron. 10), to the apostasy of other rulers, reaching a climax in Ahaz (2 Chron. 28), and so to the final disobedience that led to the exiling of the people to Babylon, leaving an empty land to recover by observing its forgotten sabbaths (2 Chron. 36.17–21). But the author does not merely paint a gloomy picture; numerous instances of repentance are included, the most remarkable being the total reinterpretation of the reign of Manasseh who, from being the worst of the kings of Judah in 2 Kings, now becomes an exemplar—punished for evil by captivity in Babylon, he returns in repentance and becomes a reformer (2 Chron. 33.1–20), an interpretation that clearly understands Manasseh as a symbol of Judah in exile and return. Within the broad sweep of interpretation, which gives the work a clear unity of purpose, there is a rich mixture of story and comment, of homiletic development and imaginative depiction, almost like a series of sermons, all on central themes but developed in a variety of ways.

This is not a history of Judah; attempts to prove historical accuracy are as misguided as criticisms of it as fabrication. It is a work of literary skill, significant for its theological relevance to the needs of the postexilic community and to any period that demands the rethinking of long‐held beliefs.

Peter R. Ackroyd