October 3, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: Chronicles repeats Judah’s history

John F. Fink(Thirty-ninth in a series of columns)

The two books of Chronicles repeat the Jewish history from Adam to the destruction of Jerusalem—in other words, through the 12 books of the Bible that I’ve already discussed in this series. Do we really have to repeat all that?

It appears that both Jews and Christians have never known quite what to do with Chronicles. Since the books end with the same events recounted in the Second Book of Kings, and since they serve as a sort of supplement to the books of Samuel and Kings, Christians put Chronicles after Kings and before the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Besides, there’s evidence that Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah once formed a single literary work.

The Hebrew Bible, though, has Chronicles at the very end, even after Ezra and Nehemiah. In that way, the Jewish scriptures end with the decree from King Cyrus of Persia that enabled the people of Judah to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their Temple. Ever since the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 A.D., the last words in the Hebrew Bible have been a call to return to Jerusalem.

The First Book of Chronicles begins with Adam and concludes with King David’s reign. The Second Book begins with Solomon and concludes with that decree by Cyrus.

The first nine chapters of the first book are a trivia geek’s delight since they consist of genealogies. If you want to know who the children of Reuben or Gad (two of Jacob’s sons) were, you can learn it here. Otherwise, skip ahead to the history of David.

The Chronicler, possibly writing about 400 B.C., included none of the negative things we learned about David, such as his adultery with Bathsheba or the two revolts by his sons. He was much more interested in emphasizing David’s religious influence—in the fact that he made Jerusalem the center of the true worship of the Lord.

He continued that emphasis in the second book, with Solomon’s great achievement of the building of the Temple. His purpose was to impress upon his readers the supreme importance of the Temple in order to convince them that their future had to include careful observance of the rituals handed down by God to David, and preserved by the remnant that survived the exile in Babylon and returned to Jerusalem.

The Chronicler’s history from Solomon through the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians concentrated on the kingdom of Judah, with mention of the kingdom of Israel only when necessary. The Chronicler believed that the people of the northern kingdom were in schism because they did not worship in Jerusalem’s Temple.

The division between Jews and Samaritans took place when the people of the northern kingdom (the Samaritans) intermarried among people the Assyrians brought into their territory. So as far as the Chronicler was concerned (and the Jews at the time of Christ), the Samaritans were not true Jews.

The only true Jews, as far as the Chronicler was concerned, were those in exile in Babylon. It was time for them to return to Jerusalem. †

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