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Introduction to the Books of Chronicles of the Old Testament


What are the Books of Chronicles?

The Books of Chronicles parallels the stories found in the Books of Samuel and the Books of Kings. In some ways it works as a summary of the events found in Samuel and Kings with a few extra details added.

Where it differs most significantly, though, is that instead of presenting a historical narrative the purpose of the Books of Chronicles appears to be didactic and theological. Less attention is given to political events and more to events that can be used to teach moral or religious lessons.

Another interesting difference is that Chronicles sometimes presents a more positive spin on events depicted more negatively in Samuel or Kings. It's believed that the latter two texts were written during the exile in Babylon when people were looking for explanations for their suffering and placed the blame on people who lived during the time of those stories.

Chronicles, in contrast, was written after people's returned from the exile, and probably a couple of centuries afterward. By this point people may have been looking back on the pre-exile times with some measure of nostalgia and perhaps with a desire to emulate them to some degree. Thus, despite the events leading up to an exile from their homes, people were looking at those events less negatively.

Scholars are not, however, certain which depiction is more accurate: the negativ depiction found in Kings and Samuel or the more positive depiction found in Chronicles.


Facts About the Books of Chronicles

  • The Hebrew title Divrei Hayyamim means "The words (matters) of the day."
  • The title Chronicles comes from St Jerome (347/8-420 CE) who gave the text the name Chronicon totius divinae historiae, or Chronicle of the Whole of Sacred History
  • First Chronicles has 29 chapters and 941 verses
  • Second Chronicles has 36 chapters and 822 verses
  • Chronicles was originally one book but divided up in the Greek Septuagint


Important Characters in Ezra

  • David: Second king of Israel, successor of Saul, killed the Philistine champion Goliath
  • Solomon: Son of David and King of Israel
  • Rehoboam: Solomon's son and successor, then the first king of Judah
  • Hezekiah: King of Judah
  • Josiah: King of Judah


When Was Chronicles Written?

The Books of Chronicles ends with Persian ruler Cyrus the Great conquering Babylon and deciding to send the Hebrew exiles back to Jerusalem. This puts the earliest date for writing the text 539 BCE. Most scholars, though, tend to date the text to some time during the 3rd or 4th century BCE.


Who Wrote the Books of Chronicles?

For a long time scholars believed that the author of the Books of Chronicles was the same as the author of all or most of Ezra and Nehmiah. This was also the tradition among Jews and was based in large part on the similarity between 2 Chr 36:22-3 and Ezra 1:1-3.

More recently, though that view has been rejected by scholars as unlikely at best. Even where the three texts are similar, their language and content are now viewed as simply being too different to have been written by the same person or even persons.

For example, Ezra and Nehemiah show little interest in the House of David and object to mixed marriages with foreigners whereas Chronicles is focused primarily on the House of David and doesn't object to marriage with foreigners.

No author is listed in the text itself. Some scholars have suggested that more than one person was involved with writing the text, but most have rejected this and believe that it was produced by a single person.


Summary of the Books of Chronicles

Genealogy (1 Chronicles 1-10): The first part of the Books of Chronicles presents genealogical lists, starting with Adam proceeding to the rise of David under the kingship of Saul.

David's Reign (1 Chronicles 11-29): The second part of the Books of Chronicles is a history of David's 33-year reign as king over the united kingdom of Israel and Judah.

Solomon's Reign (2 Chronicles 1-9): The third part of the Books of Chronicles is a history of the 40-year reign of King Solomon, the son of King David.

Kings of Judah (2 Chronicles 1036): The fourth and final part of the Books of Chronicles is a history of the kings of Judah after King Solomon and through the Babylonian exile, ending with the decision of Cyrus the Great to return the exiles to Jerusalem.


Books of Chronicles Themes

Yahweh Acting in Human History: The author of Chronicles appears to have been well educated and thus would have been aware of the histories being written by people elsewhere in the Fertile Crescent. Those histories tended to locate the origins of human civilization with their own cultures, but the author of Chronicles offers a contrast by locating the source of human civilization with Yahweh.

Although Yahweh is generally portrayed as distant and not interacting personally with people, Yahweh is still the author of everything that happens. For example, the author of Chronicles describes Yahweh as imposing his monarchy on Judah and Israel and the kings sit on his throne. The kings may not be mere puppets, but they are still answerable to Yahweh.

House of David: The origin and actions of the family of David is one of the primary concerns of the author of Chronicles. This appears to be one of the reasons for the extensive genealogy presented at the beginning of the text, thus demonstrating David's connection to Adam (even though everyone supposedly descended from Adam).

Retribution and Reward: The author of Chronicles repeats and reinforces the Deuteronomist theology of Yahweh punishing those who fail to live up to his expectations and rewarding those who faithfully adhere to his laws. Because this principle is applied in retrospect, it is also applied in reverse.

Instead of arguing that faithful people will be rewarded and faithless people will be punished, the author of Chronicles argues that wealth and power are signs that one was faithful while suffering and disaster are signs that one was faithless. Thus a king who has a long, healthy, and wealthy reign must therefore be one who has been faithful to Yahweh; a king with a short and poor reign must necessarily have offended Yahweh.

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