What is the First and Second Chronicles of the Old Testament about? Information about the structure, composition and philosophy.
First and Second Chronicles
The First and Second books of Chronicles are canonical books of the Old Testament. The name “Chronicles” was first used about the late 4th century a. d., in its Latin eguivalent, by St. Jerome. The Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament compiled in the 2d century b. c., uses the name Paralipomena, or “things omitted” (from other biblical books). The Hebrew name for Chronicles is Dibre Hayamim, meaning annals, or history. In the Greek, Latin, and most Bibles in modern languages, the books of Chronicles are placed between Kings and Esdras or Ezra-Nehemiah; in the Hebrew Bible, it comes at the very end.
I and II Chronicles originally were one book. The division, which dates back to the Septuagint, was adopted in the Hebrew Bible in the late Middle Ages. There is also evidence, in the Bible itself, that Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah originally formed one book.
Structure and Composition
Four sections can easily be recognized in Chronicles by their content: (1) genealogical lists from Adam to David (with appendices; I Chronicles I to 9); (2) the death of Saul (I Chronicles 10) and the history of David’s reign (I Chronicles 11 to 29); (3) the history of Solomon (II Chronicles 1 to 9); and (4) the history of the Kingdom of Judah (II Chronicles 10 to 36). The last two verses duplicate the opening of the Book of Ezra, which as previously noted is thought to have formed the continuation of Chronicles. These verses contain the beginning of the proclamation of King Cyrus of Persia permitting the Jews to return to their land from the Babylonian captivity.
The material that Chronicles comprises is quite varied. Excerpts from earlier historical Old Testament books (notably Genesis) for the genealogy, and from Samuel and Kings for the history from David to the end of the Judean monarchy, form the basic component. Chronicles often follows these sources closely, even literally, yet there are many characteristic deviations (which are discussed below in the section on the philosophy of Chronicles).
For the history from David on, and particularly that of the Judean kingdom, the narrative parallels that of Samuel and Kings. Much more limited is the material from extra-Biblical sources. Chronicles refers explicitly to a number of them, for example, “The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel” (II Chronicles 16:11), or “The Words of Samuel, the Seer …” (I Chronicles 29:29). It is a moot question how many, if any, of these citations refer to genuine sources, and how many to inventions of the Chronicler, the author, who wished to embellish his work by imitating similar but authentic references in Kings. Other sources, not referred to as such, may have been employed.
Another component of Chronicles is the personal contributions of the Chronicler, including notes intended to correct his sources or to change their meaning; narratives; prayers; sermons; and lists. These, and the author’s biased selection from earlier Biblical books, reveal his philosophy and his purpose.
Later additions to the book of the Chronicler are, for the most part, found in the genealogies and the history of David. Their extent and intent are a matter of debate, linked with the question of the date of the book. If passages claimed to originate in the 2d century b. c. (for example, I Chronicles 24) are additions, the original book can be dated to an earlier period. Most scholars do acknowledge later additions, and the prevailing opinion gives a 4th century b. c. date of authorship.
The philosophy of Chronicles is best discerned in the focus of four themes: legitimacy, short-range retribution, cult, and Davidism.
Legitimacy in Chronicles has been epitomized by Professor Robert North as follows: “In order that the will of God be done, it is important that the right people be in charge.” This is the raison d’etre of the first 405 verses (virtually only names).
The philosophy conceming retribution is that man is rewarded for his good deeds and punished for his bad deeds, and the sooner requital comes, the more clearly the doctrine is proved. By extension, this doctrine impels the Chronicler to read the cause and effect sequence backwards, seeing in the historical events effects for which he constructs religiomoral causes. This quest for causes leads him to a radical rewriting of Biblical history. For example, II Kings 21, the source of II Chronicles 33, has only bad things to say about King Manasseh. To Chronicles, this is incompatible with Manasseh’s long and peaceful reign. Chronicles therefore tells that Manasseh was exiled for his sins, whereupon he repented, returned to the throne of his country, and thence-forth led a good life (II Chronicles 33:11—13).
The ideas of cult and Davidism are interrelated. The Jerusalem Temple, with its Levitical clergy, and the Davidic dynasty are to Chronicles the institutional foundations of the people and the religion of Israel. The book, totally unsupported by ancient sources, telis that David prepared the construction of the Temple in every detail—blue-prints, funds, materials, and personnel—and that Solomon was concerned only with the mechanical implementation of the plans. Furthermore, according to Chronicles, David instituted the Temple music and organized the priestly guilds for the sacred service. David and his dynasty are the outstanding Symbol and pledge of Ûıe grace God shows to Israel, besides which little else deserves notice.
What results from this philosophy is a totally new view of Israelite history and religion. Only the history of the Judean, the Davidic, monarchy is told; the sister Israelite, or Ephraimite, monarchy is thought to have no history worthy of record. Messianism, as developed by the prophets, has left no trace in Chronicles. The dynasty of David has in its history come so close to the perfect order of things as to render the longing for the ideal future unnecessary. Most important, the pivotal events and personalities of Old Testament history are virtually ignored outside of quotations or genealogies.
The Exodus from Egypt, Sinai, the conquest of Palestine, go almost unmentioned, as do the patriarchs or Moses. Zion (David’s stronghold in Jerusalem) and David have usurped their roles. According to Chronicles, it appears that God made no covenant with Abraham on Canaan or with Israel on Sinai, only with David on Zion. With this theology, Chronicles has moved itself to the fringes of the Bible, and no interpretation has succeeded in bringing it closer to the core.