1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Chronicles, Books of

CHRONICLES, BOOKS OF, two Old Testament books of the Bible. The name is derived from Chronicon, first suggested by Jerome as a rendering of the title which they bear in the Hebrew Canon, viz. Events of the Times. The full Hebrew title would be Book of Events of the Times, and Position
and date.
this again appears to have been a designation commonly applied to special histories in the more definite shape—Events of the Times of King David, or the like (1 Chron. xxvii. 24; Esth. x. 2, &c.). The Greek translators divided the long book into two, and adopted the title Παραλειπόμενα, Things omitted [scil. in the other historical books].

The book of Chronicles begins with Adam and ends abruptly in the middle of Cyrus’s decree of restoration, which reappears complete at the beginning of Ezra. A closer examination of those parts of Ezra and Nehemiah which are not extracted from earlier documents or original memoirs leads to the conclusion that Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah was originally one work, displaying throughout the peculiarities of language and thought of a single editor, who, however, cannot be Ezra himself as tradition would have it. Thus the fragmentary close of 2 Chronicles marks the disruption of a previously-existing continuity,—due, presumably, to the fact that in the gradual compilation of the Canon the necessity for incorporating in the Holy Writings an account of the establishment of the post-Exile theocracy was felt, before it was thought desirable to supplement Samuel and Kings by adding a second history of the period before the Exile. Hence Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible, following the book of Ezra-Nehemiah, which properly is nothing else than the sequel of Chronicles.

Of the authorship of Chronicles we know only what can be determined by internal evidence. The style of the language, and also the position of the book in the Jewish Canon, stamp the book as one of the latest in the Old Testament, but lead to no exact determination of the date.[1] In 1 Chron. xxix. 7, which refers to the time of David, a sum of money is reckoned by darics, which certainly implies that the author wrote after this Persian coin had been long current in Judaea. In 1 Chron. iii. 19 sqq. the descendants of Zerubbabel seem to be reckoned to six generations (the Septuagint reads it so as to give as many as eleven generations), and this agrees with the suggestion that Hattush (verse 22), who belongs to the fourth generation from Zerubbabel, was a contemporary of Ezra (Ezra viii. 2). Thus the compiler lived at least two generations after Ezra. With this it accords that in Nehemiah five generations of high priests are enumerated from Joshua (xii. 10 seq.), and that the last name is that of Jaddua, who, according to Josephus, was a contemporary of Alexander the Great (333 B.C.). That the compiler wrote after the fall of the Persian monarchy has been argued by Ewald and others from the use of the title king of Persia (2 Chron. xxxvi. 23), and from the reference made in Neh. xii. 22 to Darius III. (336–332 B.C.). A date some time after 332 B.C. is now accepted by most modern critics. See further Ezra and Nehemiah.

What seems to be certain and important for a right estimate of the book is that the writer lived a considerable time after Ezra, and stood entirely under the influence of the religious institutions of the new theocracy. This standpoint determined the nature of his interest in the early history of his people. Character
of the work.
The true importance of Hebrew history had always centred in the fact that this petty nation was the people of Yahweh, the spiritual God. The tragic interest which distinguishes the annals of Israel from the forgotten history of Moab or Damascus lies wholly in that long contest which finally vindicated the reality of spiritual things and the supremacy of Yahweh’s purpose, in the political ruin of the nation which was the faithless depository of these sacred truths. After the return from the Exile it was impossible to write the history of Israel’s fortunes otherwise than in a spirit of religious pragmatism. But within the limits of the religious conception of the plan and purpose of the Hebrew history more than one point of view might be taken up. The book of Kings looks upon the history in the spirit of the prophets—in that spirit which is still echoed by Zech. i. 5 seq., but which had become extinct before the Chronicler wrote. The New Jerusalem of Ezra was organized as a municipality and a church, not as a nation. The centre of religious life was no longer the living prophetic word but the ordinances of the Pentateuch and the liturgical service of the sanctuary. The religious vocation of Israel was no longer national but ecclesiastical or municipal, and the historical continuity of the nation was vividly realized only within the walls of Jerusalem and the courts of the Temple, in the solemn assembly and stately ceremonial of a feast day. These influences naturally operated most strongly on those who were officially attached to the sanctuary. To a Levite, even more than to other Jews, the history of Israel meant above all things the history of Jerusalem, of the Temple, and of the Temple ordinances. Now the writer of Chronicles betrays on every page his essentially Levitical habit of mind. It even seems possible from a close attention to his descriptions of sacred ordinances to conclude that his special interests are those of a common Levite rather than of a priest, and that of all Levitical functions he is most partial to those of the singers, a member of whose guild he may have been. From the standpoint of the post-exilic age, the older delineation of the history of Israel, especially in the books of Samuel and Kings, could not but appear to be deficient in some directions, while in other respects its narrative seemed superfluous or open to misunderstanding, as for example by recording, and that without condemnation, things inconsistent with the later, post-exilic law. The history of the ordinances of worship holds a very small place in the older record. Jerusalem and the Temple have not that central place in the book of Kings which they occupied in the minds of the Jewish community after the Exile. Large sections of the old history are devoted to the religion and politics of the ten tribes, which are altogether unintelligible and uninteresting when measured by a strictly Levitical standard; and in general the whole problems and struggles of the prophetic period turn on points which had ceased to be cardinal in the life of the New Jerusalem, which was no longer called to decide between the claims of the Word of Yahweh and the exigencies of political affairs and social customs, and which could not comprehend that men absorbed in deeper spiritual contests had no leisure for the niceties of Levitical legislation. Thus there seemed to be room for a new history, which should confine itself to matters still interesting to the theocracy of Zion, keeping Jerusalem and the Temple in the foreground, and developing the divine pragmatism of the history, not so much with reference to the prophetic word as to the fixed legislation of the Pentateuch, so that the whole narrative might be made to teach that the glory of Israel lies in the observance of the divine law and ritual.

For the sake of systematic completeness the book begins with Adam, as is the custom with later Oriental writers. But there was nothing to add to the Pentateuch, and the period from Moses to David contained little that served the purpose. The early history is therefore contracted into a series of Contents.tribal and priestly genealogies, which were doubtless by no means the least interesting part of the work at a time when every Israelite was concerned to prove the purity of his Hebrew descent (cp. Ezra ii. 59, 62). Commencing abruptly (after some Benjamite genealogies) with the death of Saul, the history becomes fuller and runs parallel with the books of Samuel and Kings. The limitations of the compiler’s interest in past times appear in the omission, among other particulars, of David’s reign in Hebron, of the disorders in his family and the revolt of Absalom, of the circumstances of Solomon’s accession, and of many details as to the wisdom and splendour of that sovereign, as well as of his fall into idolatry. In the later history the ten tribes are quite neglected (“Yahweh is not with Israel,” 2 Chron. xxv. 7), and political affairs in Judah receive attention, not in proportion to their intrinsic importance, but according as they serve to exemplify God’s help to the obedient and His chastisement of the rebellious. That the compiler is always unwilling to speak of the misfortunes of good rulers is not necessarily to be ascribed to a deliberate suppression of truth, but shows that the book was throughout composed not in purely historical interests, but with a view to inculcating a single practical lesson. The more important additions to the older narrative consist partly of statistical lists (1 Chron. xii.), partly of full details on points connected with the history of the sanctuary and the great feasts or the archaeology of the Levitical ministry (1 Chron. xiii., xv., xvi., xxii.-xxix.; 2 Chron. xxix.-xxxi., &c.), and partly of narratives of victories and defeats, of sins and punishments, of obedience and its reward, which could be made to point a plain religious lesson in favour of faithful observance of the law (2 Chron. xiii., xiv. 9 sqq.; xx., xxi. 11 sqq., &c.). The minor variations of Chronicles from the books of Samuel and Kings are analogous in principle to the larger additions and omissions, so that the whole work has a consistent and well-marked character, presenting the history in quite a different perspective from that of the old narrative.

The chronicler makes frequent reference to earlier histories which he cites by a great variety of names. That the names “Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah,” “Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel,” “Book of the Kings of Israel,” and “Affairs of the Kings of Israel” (2 Chron. xxxiii. Sources. 18), refer to a single work is not disputed. Under one or other title this book is cited some ten times. Whether it is identical with the Midrash[2] of the book of Kings (2 Chron. xxiv. 27) is not certain. That the work so often cited is not the Biblical book of the same name is manifest from what is said of its contents. It must have been quite an extensive work, for among other things it contained genealogical statistics (1 Chron. ix. 1), and it incorporated certain older prophetic writings—in particular, the debārīm (“words” or “history”) of Jehu the son of Hanani (2 Chron. xx. 34) and possibly the vision of Isaiah (2 Chron. xxxii. 32). Where the chronicler does not cite this comprehensive work at the close of a king’s reign he generally refers to some special authority which bears the name of a prophet or seer (2 Chron. ix. 29; xii. 15, &c.). But the book of the Kings and a special prophetic writing are not cited for the same reign. It is therefore probable that in other cases than those of Isaiah and Jehu the writings of, or rather, about the prophets which are cited in Chronicles were known only as parts of the great “book of the Kings.” Even the genealogical lists may have been derived from that work (1 Chron. ix. 1), though for these other materials may have been accessible.

The two chief sources of the canonical book of Kings were entitled Annals (“events of the times”) of the Kings of Israel and Judah respectively (see Kings). That the lost source of the Chronicles was not independent of these works appears probable both from the nature of the case and from the close and often verbal parallelism between many sections of the two Biblical narratives. But while the canonical book of Kings refers to separate sources for the northern and southern kingdoms, the source of Chronicles was a history of the two kingdoms combined, and so, no doubt, was a more recent work which in great measure was doubtless based upon older annals. Yet it contained also matter not derived from these works, for it is pretty clear from 2 Kings xxi. 17 that the Annals of the Kings of Judah gave no account of Manasseh’s repentance, which, according to 2 Chron. xxxiii. 18, 19, was narrated in the great book of the Kings of Israel. It was the opinion of Bertheau, Keil and others, that the parallelisms of Chronicles with Samuel and Kings are sufficiently explained by the ultimate common source from which both narratives drew. But most critics hold that the chronicler also drew directly from the canonical books of Samuel and Kings as he apparently did from the Pentateuch. This opinion is not improbable, as the earlier books of the Old Testament cannot have been unknown in his age; and the critical analysis of the canonical book of Kings is advanced enough to enable us to say that in some of the parallel passages the chronicler uses words which were not written in the annals but by one of the compilers of Kings himself. In particular, Chronicles agrees with Kings in those short notes of the moral character of individual monarchs which can hardly be ascribed to an earlier hand than that of the redactor of the latter book.[3]

For the criticism of the book it is important to institute a careful comparison of Chronicles with the parallel narratives in Samuel-Kings.[4] It is found that in the cases where Chronicles directly contradicts the earlier books there are few in which an impartial historical judgment will decide in Treatment of history. favour of the later account, and in any point that touches difference of usage between its time and that of the old monarchy it is of no authority. The characteristic feature of the post-exilic age was the re-shaping of older tradition in the interest of parenetic and practical purposes, and for this object a certain freedom of literary form was always allowed to ancient historians. The typical speeches in Chronicles are of little value for the periods to which they relate, and where they are inconsistent with the evidence from earlier writings or contain inherent improbabilities are scarcely of historical worth. According to the ordinary laws of research, the book, being written at a time long posterior to the events it records, can have only a secondary value, although that is no reason why here and there valuable material should not have been preserved. But the general picture which it gives of life under the old monarchy cannot have the same value for us as the records of the book of Kings. On the other hand, it is of distinct value for the history of its time, and presents a clear picture of the spirit of the age. The “ecclesiastical chronicle of Jerusalem,” as Reuss has aptly called it, represents the culminating point (as far as the O. T. Canon is concerned) of that theory of which examples recur in Judges, Samuel and Kings, and this treatment of history in accordance with religious or ethical doctrines finds its continuation in the didactic aims which characterize the later non-canonical writings (cf. Jubilees; Midrash).

The most prominent examples of disagreement with earlier sources may be briefly noticed. Thus, it would appear that the book has confused Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin (2 Chron. xxxvi. 5-8) and has statements which directly conflict with 2 Sam. xxi. 19 (1 Chron. xx. 5; see Goliath), and 1 Kings ix. 10 seq. (2 Chron. viii. 2); it has changed Hezekiah’s submission (2 Kings xviii.) into a brave resistance (2 Chron. xxxii. 1-8) and ignored the humiliating payment of tribute by this king and by Joash (2 Kings xii. 18; 2 Chron. xxiv. 23 sqq.).[5] That Satan, and not Yahweh incited David to number Israel (1 Chron. xxi.; 2 Sam. xxiv. 1) accords with later theological development.

A particular tendency to arrange history according to a mechanical rule appears in the constant endeavour to show that recompense and retribution followed immediately on good or bad conduct, and especially on obedience or disobedience to prophetic advice. Thus, the invasion of Shishak (see Rehoboam) becomes a typical romance (2 Chron. xii.); the illness of Asa is preceded by a denunciation for relying upon Syria, and the chronology is changed to bring the fault near the punishment (2 Chron. xv. seq.). The ships which Jehoshaphat made were wrecked at Ezion-geber because he had allied himself with Ahaziah of Israel despite prophetic warning (2 Chron. xx. 35 sqq.; 1 Kings xxii. 48; cf. similarly the addition in 2 Chron. xix. 1-3), and the later writer supposes that the “Tarshish ships” (large vessels such as were used in trading with Spain—cf. “Indiamen”) built in the Red Sea were intended for the Mediterranean trade (cf. 2 Chron. ix. 21 with 1 Kings x. 22). The Edomite revolt under Jehoram of Judah becomes the penalty for the king’s apostasy (2 Chron. xxi. 10-20; 2 Kings viii. 22), Ahaziah was slain because of his friendship with Jehoram (2 Chron. xxii. 7). The Aramaean invasion in the time of Joash of Judah was a punishment for the murder of Jehoiada’s son (2 Chron. xxiv.; 2 Kings xii.). Amaziah, after defeating Edom (2 Chron. xxv., esp. verses 19-21; see 2 Kings xiv. 10 seq.), worshipped strange gods, for which he was defeated by Joash of Israel, and subsequently met with his death (2 Chron. xxv. 27; 2 Kings xiv. 19). Uzziah’s leprosy is attributed to a ritual fault (2 Chron. xxvi. 4 seq., 16 sqq.; cf. 2 Kings xv. 3-5; see Uzziah). The defeat and death of the good king Josiah came through disobedience to the Divine will (2 Chron. xxxv. 21 seq.; see 2 Kings xxiii. 26 sqq.).

In addition to such supplementary information, another tendency of the chronicler is the alteration of narratives that do not agree with the later doctrines of the uniformity of religious institutions before and after the exile. Thus, the reformation of Josiah has been thrust back from his eighteenth to his twelfth year (when he was nineteen years old) apparently because it was felt that so good a king would not have tolerated the abuses of the land for so long a period,[6] but the result of this is to leave an interval of ten years between his conversion and the subsequent act of repentance (2 Chron. xxxiv. 3-6; 2 Kings xxii. seq.). References to Judaean idolatry are omitted (1 Kings xiv. 22-24; see 2 Chron. xii. 14; 2 Kings xviii. 4; 2 Chron. xxxi. 1) or abbreviated (2 Kings xxiii. 1-20; 2 Chron. xxxiv. 29-33); and if the earlier detailed accounts of Judaean heathenism were repulsive, so the tragic account of the fate of Jerusalem was a painful subject upon which the chronicler’s age did not care to dwell (contrast 2 Kings xxiv. 8-xxv. with the brief 2 Chron. xxxvi. 9-21). At an age when the high places were regarded as idolatrous it was considered only natural that the good kings should not have tolerated them. So 2 Chron. xiv. 5, xvii. 6 (from unknown sources) contradict 1 Kings xv. 14, xxii. 43 (that Asa and Jehoshaphat did not demolish the high places), whereas xv. 16-18, xx. 31-34, are quoted from the book of Kings and give the older view. The example is an illustration of the simple methods of early compilers. Further, it is assumed that the high place at Gibeon was a legitimate sanctuary (2 Chron. i. 3-6; 1 Kings iii. 2-4; 1 Chron. xxi. 28-30; 2 Sam. xxiv.); that the ark was borne not by priests (1 Kings viii. 3) but by Levites (2 Chron. v. 4), in accordance with post-exilic usage; and that the Levites, and not the foreign bodyguard of the temple, helped to place Joash on the throne (2 Chron. xxiii.).[7] Conversely 1 Chron. xv. 12 seq. explains xiii. 10 (2 Sam. vi. 7) on the view that Uzza was not a Levite, hence the catastrophe.

Throughout it is assumed that the Levitical organization had been in existence from the days of David, to whom its foundation is ascribed. In connexion with the installation of the ark considerable space is devoted to the arrangements for the maintenance of the temple-service, upon which the earlier books are silent, and elaborate notices of the part played by the Levites and singers give expression to a view of the history of the monarchy which the book of Kings does not share.[8] Along with the exceptional interest taken in Levitical and priestly lists should be noticed the characteristic preference for genealogies. Particular prominence is given to the tribe and kings of Judah (1 Chron. ii.-iv.), and to the priests and Levites (1 Chron. vi., xv. sq., xxiii.-xxv.; with ix. 1-34 cf. Neh. xi.). The historical value of these lists is very unequal; a careful study of the names often proves the lateness of the source, although an appreciation of the principles of genealogies sometimes reveals important historical information; see Caleb, Genealogy, Judah. But the Levitical system as it appears in its most complete form in Chronicles is the result of the development of earlier schemes, of which some traces are still preserved in Chronicles itself and in Ezra-Nehemiah. (See further Levites.)

The tendency of numbers to grow is one which must always be kept in view—cf. 1 Chron. xviii. 4, xix. 18 (2 Sam. viii. 4 [but see LXX.], x. 18), 1 Chron. xxi. 5, 25 (2 Sam. xxiv. 9, 24); consequently little importance can be attached to details which appear to be exaggerated (1 Chron. v. 21, xii., xxii. 14; 2 Chron. xiii. 3, 17), and are found to be quite in accordance with similar peculiarities elsewhere (Num. xxxi. 32 seq.; Judg. xx. 2, 21, 25).

But when allowance is made for all the above tendencies of the late post-exilic age, there remains a certain amount of additional matter in Chronicles which may have been derived from relatively old sources. These items are Historical value. of purely political or personal nature and contain several details which taken by themselves have every appearance of genuineness. Where there can be no suspicion of such “tendency” as has been noticed above there is less ground for scepticism, and it must be remembered that the earlier books contain only a portion of the material to which the compilers had access. Hence it may well happen that the details which unfortunately cannot be checked were ultimately derived from sources as reputable as those in the books of Samuel, Kings, &c. As examples may be cited Rehoboam’s buildings, &c. (2 Chron. xi. 5-12, 18 sqq.); Jeroboam’s attack upon Abijah (2 Chron. xiii., cf. 1 Kings xv. 7); the invasion of Zerah in Asa’s reign (2 Chron. xiv.; see Asa); Jehoshaphat’s wars and judicial measures (2 Chron. xvii. xx.; see 1 Kings xxii. 45); Jehoram’s family (2 Chron. xxi. 2-4); relations between Jehoiada and Joash (2 Chron. xxiv. 3, 15 sqq.); conflicts between Ephraim and Judah (2 Chron. xxv. 6-13); wars of Uzziah and Jotham (2 Chron. xxvi. seq.); events in the reign of Ahaz (2 Chron. xxviii. 8-15, 18 seq.); reforms of Hezekiah (2 Chron. xxix. sqq., cf. Jer. xxvi. 19); Manasseh’s captivity, repentance and buildings (2 Chron. xxxiii. 10-20; see 2 Kings xxi. and Manasseh); the death of Josiah (2 Chron. xxxv. 20-25). In addition to this reference may be made to such tantalizing statements as those in 1 Chron. ii. 23 (R.V.), iv. 39-41, v. 10, 18-22, vii. 21 seq., viii. 13, xii. 15, examples of the kind of tradition, national and private, upon which writers could draw. Although in their present form the additional narratives are in the chronicler’s style, it is not necessary to deny an older traditional element which may have been preserved in sources now lost to us.[9]

Bibliography.—Robertson Smith’s article in the 9th ed. of the Ency. Brit. was modified by his later views in Old Test. in the Jewish Church[7], pp. 140-148. Recent literature is summarized by S. R. Driver in his revision of Smith’s article in Ency. Bib. and in his Lit. of Old Test., and by F. Brown in Hastings’ Dict. Bib. (a very comprehensive article). Many parts of the book offer a very hard task to the expositor, especially the genealogies, where to other troubles are added the extreme corruption and many variations of the proper names in the versions; on these see the articles in the Ency. Bib. Valuable contributions to the exegesis of the book will be found in Wellhausen’s Prolegomena (Eng. trans.), pp. 171-227; Benzinger in Marti’s Hand-Kommentar (1901); Kittel in Sacred Books of the Old Test. (1895), History of the Hebrews, ii. 224 sqq. (1896), and in Nowack’s Hand-Kommentar (1902). W. H. Bennett in Expositor’s Bible (1894), W. E. Barnes in Cambridge Bible (1899), and Harvey-Jellie in the Century Bible (1906), are helpful. Among more recent investigations are those of Howorth, Proc. Soc. of Bibl. Archael. xxvii. 267-278 (Chronicles a late translation from the Aramaic).  (W. R. S.; S. A. C.) 

  1. See the lists in Driver, Lit. of Old Test. pp. 502 sqq.; and the exhaustive summary by Fr. Brown in Hastings’ Dict. Bible, i. 289 sqq.
  2. R.V. “commentary,” properly, an edifying religious work, a didactic or homiletic exposition. A distinct tendency to Midrash is found even here and there in the earlier books.
  3. The problem of the sources is one of considerable intricacy and cannot be discussed here; the introduction to the commentaries of Benzinger and Kittel (see Bibliography below) should be consulted. The questions depend partly upon the view taken of the origin and structure of the book of Kings (q.v.) and partly upon the results of historical criticism.
  4. “A careful comparison of Chronicles with Samuel and Kings is a striking object lesson in ancient historical composition. It is an almost indispensable introduction to the criticism of the Pentateuch and the older historical works” (W. H. Bennett, Chronicles, p. 20 seq.).
  5. But xxxii. 1-8 may preserve a tradition of the account of the city’s wonderful deliverance mentioned in Kings (see Hezekiah), and the details of the invasion of Judah in the time of Joash differ essentially from those in the earlier source. Even 2 Chron. viii. 2 cannot be regarded as a deliberate alteration since the writer does not appear to be quoting from 1 Kings ix. 10 sqq. (the two passages should be carefully compared), and his view of Solomon’s greatness is already supported by allusions in the earlier but extremely composite sources in Kings (see Solomon).
  6. But that this was not the invention of the chronicler appears possible from Jer. xxv. 3. Similarly, Hezekiah’s reforms are dated in his first year (2 Chron. xxix. 3), against all probability; see Hezekiah (end).
  7. 7.0 7.1 2 Chron. xxiii. is an excellent specimen of the redaction to which older narratives were submitted; cf. also 2 Chron. xxiv. 5 seq. (2 Kings xi. 4 seq.), xxxiv. 9-14 (2 Kings xxii.), xxxv. 1-19 (2 Kings xxiii. 21-23).
  8. Passages in the books of Samuel and Kings which might appear to point to the contrary require careful examination; they prove to be glosses or interpolations, or are relatively late as a whole.
  9. The view that the chronicler invented such narratives is inconceivable, and in the present stage of historical criticism is as unsound as an implicit reliance upon those sources in the earlier books, which in their turn are often long posterior to the events they record. Although Graf, in a critical and exhaustive study (Geschichtlichen Bücher des A.T., Leipzig, 1866), concluded that the Chronicles have almost no value as a documentary source of the ancient history, he subsequently admitted in private correspondence with Bertheau that this statement was too strong (preface to Bertheau’s Commentary, 2nd ed., 1873).