Biblical Studies 1 and 2 Chronicles
by
Steven Shawn Tuell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0021

Introduction

Although divided into two books in modern Bibles (a division dating to the Septuagint), Chronicles was originally a single book. In Jewish Bibles, Chronicles closes the canon, coming at the end of the Kethubim (Writings) after Ezra-Nehemiah; there, the mention of Adam at the beginning of its genealogies (1 Chr 1:1) provides a neat parallel to Genesis, the first book of the Bible. In Christian Bibles, Chronicles is placed where it appears in the Septuagint: grouped with other “historical” books, following 2 Kings and preceding Ezra and Nehemiah. The content of Chronicles is arranged in four parts. The book begins with a collection of genealogical lists (1 Chr 1–9), spanning from Adam to Anani, seventh son in the seventh generation of David’s line after the Babylonian exile (1 Chr 3:24). Then Chronicles relates the stories of David (1 Chr 10–29), Solomon (2 Chr 1–9), and the kings of Judah in David’s line, from the dissolution of the united monarchy to the fall of Jerusalem (2 Chr 10–36). But the emphasis on David’s line has more to do with religion than with politics. Although Solomon builds the temple and sets its cult in motion, David is architect of the temple and author of its liturgy. David’s descendants, charged with preserving the temple and the worship of the Lord conducted there, are praised for their faithfulness, or cursed for their faithlessness. The destruction of the temple and the fall of Jerusalem are blamed upon the failure to seek the Lord in Scripture and in worship, as David had done. Therefore, the community of Chronicles, living in the days of the second, rebuilt temple, is warned to avoid the mistakes of their forebears and urged to be faithful to their ancient heritage. In recent years, Chronicles scholarship has undergone a renaissance and a considerable shift in emphasis. Until about forty years ago, it was assumed that Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah had been composed together, probably in the late 5th or early 4th century BCE. This Chronicler’s history was understood to share a common theological perspective and common attitudes regarding what constitutes the people of Israel. However, the work of Japhet and Williamson in particular (see the multiple listings below) has effected a shift in the consensus and the reopening of some questions once considered closed. The mainstream of contemporary scholarship now regards Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah as separate works, with divergent composition histories and theologies. Chronicles is dated by some as late as the 3rd or 2nd century BCE and by others as early as the 5th. As a result, the study of these once-ignored texts has become an exciting and sometimes heated conversation, marked by the convergence of studies in text criticism, ancient historiography, the composition of Scripture, and the history of Israelite religion in the Persian and Hellenistic Periods.

General Overviews

These dictionary and encyclopedia articles and short commentaries provide a useful and concise introduction to the major issues in the interpretation of Chronicles. As such, they are a good place to begin the study of this book. Sara Japhet helped shape the current consensus on the book’s dating, composition, theological perspective, and relationship with Ezra-Nehemiah; her article in Encyclopedia Judaica (Japhet 1971) provides a neat summary of her ideas. This consensus is largely reflected by Klein 1992, Klein 1993, and Knoppers 2006. The short article by Ackroyd 1985 and the short commentary by Braun 1988 tend rather to reflect the older positions regarding these issues, still found persuasive by many.

  • Ackroyd, Peter R. “Chronicles, the First and Second Books of the.” In Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Edited by Paul Achtemeier, 163–165. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985.

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    A concise introduction to major issues in the interpretation of Chronicles.

  • Braun, Roddy. “1 Chronicles” and “2 Chronicles.” In Harpers Bible Commentary. Edited by James L. Mays, 342–371. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.

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    While a one-volume commentary on the Bible clearly cannot fully explore any one issue, it can raise important ideas and serve as an entry into study. Braun’s commentary is short but useful.

  • Japhet, Sara. “Chronicles, Book of.” In Encyclopedia Judaica. Vol. 5. Edited by Cecil Roth and Geoffrey Wigoder, 517–534. Jerusalem: Keter, 1971.

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    A brief overview by one of the pivotal figures in the study of this book, written from a Jewish perspective.

  • Klein, Ralph W. “Chronicles, Book of 1–2.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 1. Edited by David Noel Freedman, 992–1002. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

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    A concise but complete treatment of the issues Klein raises in far greater depth in his commentary (Klein 2006, cited under Commentaries), together with a short, helpful bibliography.

  • Klein, Ralph W. “Introduction and Notes to 1 and 2 Chronicles.” In HarperCollins Study Bible. Edited by Wayne Meeks, 605–698. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993.

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    Klein contributes a brief, accessible introduction to Chronicles, and his useful footnotes provide a running commentary to the biblical text in English translation (NRSV).

  • Knoppers, Gary. “Chronicles, First and Second Books of.” In The New Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible. Vol 1. Edited by Katherine Doob Sakenfeld, 623–631. Nashville: Abingdon, 2006.

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    This piece provides entry into Knoppers’s ongoing research into Chronicles, presented more fully in his commentary (Knoppers 2003 and Knoppers 2004, cited under Commentaries).

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