The Book of Chronicles

The final book of the Bible recounts the nation's history, but what it emphasizes and de-emphasizes is telling.

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Chronicles is the last book of the Hebrew Bible, according to the ordering in the Talmud (Tractate Baba Batra 14b) and in most printings of the Bible. (In the Aleppo Codex, a very accurate 11th-century C.E. manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, the last book is Ezra-Nehemiah.) The division into I Chronicles and II Chronicles is first found in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible done in the second or third century B.C.E. 

Chronicles is generally considered to have been written in the fifth century B.C.E., and is therefore one of the latest books of the Hebrew Bible. The author of Chronicles evidently had access to most of the earlier books of the Bible, including Samuel and Kings, from which the book draws much of its material.

History With an Agenda

Chronicles retells the story of the Israelite/Jewish people, briefly summarizing the history until the reign of King David, and then focusing on the reigns of David, Solomon, and the later kings of Judah. (It largely omits any mention of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.) But Chronicles does not simply retell the narrative of the Davidic kings. Chronicles has its own particular view of Israel's history to tell, in which particular events and groups are highlighted, while other events are de-emphasized.

One aspect of this phenomenon is the fact that Chronicles never mentions the Exodus from Egypt. One passage in particular--the story of Ephraim's sons who were born in Canaan (I Chronicles 7:21)--suggests that the Chronicler does not think that all of the children of Israel were in Egypt. The period of the wandering in the desert and the giving of the Torah also do not figure prominently. Chronicles also does not focus on the Babylonian exile: All periods when the Israelites did not live in the land of Israel are de-emphasized.

leather booksOn the other hand, Chronicles very clearly emphasizes the two dynastic political institutions of Judah, the Davidic monarchy and the Temple. It highlights the covenant that God made with David, and describes David and his descendants as sitting "on the throne of the Lord" (I Chronicles 29:23). David and Solomon are idealized and the period of their reign is described in glorious terms. The story of Solomon's succession highlights this idealization: David is described as announcing to all of Israel that God has chosen Solomon as David's successor (I Chronicles 28:5).

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Shawn Zelig Aster is Assistant Professor of Bible at Yeshiva University.