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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

2 Chronicles Overview

 

 


THE SECOND BOOK OF THE CHRONICLES.

THE REIGN OF SOLOMON (2 Chronicles 1-9).

II. Chronicles.

BY

THE REV. C. J. BALL, M.A.

1. 2 Chronicles 1. describes a national sacrifice at Gibeon, and in connection therewith a dream in which God reveals His will to Solomon (1 Kings 3:5). A few details are added respecting Solomon’s power, wealth, and commerce.

2. 2 Chronicles 2-7. are concerned with the principal topic of the writer’s presentation, viz., the building and consecration of the Temple.

3. 2 Chronicles 8, 9 supply further particulars of Solomon’s public works, his regulation of worship, his foreign relations, his revenues, wisdom, and glory; followed by a reference to authorities, and notice of his death.

§ 1. Title.—In the Hebrew MSS. the Books of Chronicles form a continuous work, bearing the general name of Dibrê hayyâmîm (“Events of the Days,” or “History of the Times”), which is no doubt an abridgment of Sêpher dibrê hayyâmîm—i.e., “The Book of the Events (or History) of the Times.” (Comp. 2 Kings 14:19; 1 Chronicles 27:24; Esther 6:1; Esther 10:2.) This designation is not given in the text of the work itself, but was prefixed by some unknown editor. Accordingly we find a different title in the LXX., which divides the work into two books, called παραλειπομένων πρω ̑ τον and δευτερὸν (“First and Second [Book] of Things omitted”); or, παραλειπομένων βασιλέων or, in some MSS., τῶν βασιλείοον ιονδα Ì, α and β (“First and Second Book of omitted Notices of the Kings or the Kingdoms of Judah”). This title indicates that, in the opinion of the Greek translators, the work was intended as a kind of supplement to the older historical books. In that case, however, great part of Chronicles could only be considered redundant and superfluous, consisting, as it does, in the mere repetition of narratives already incorporated in Samuel and Kings. (See § 5, infra.) The name by which we know the work, and which fairly represents the Hebrew designation, is derived from St. Jerome, who says:—“Dibre hayamim, id est, Verba dierum, quod significantius Chronicon totius divinae historiae possumus appellare, qui liber apud nos Paralipomenon primus et secundus inscribitur” (Prolog, galeat.). The work, however, is not a mere chronicle or book of annals, although somewhat resembling one in its external form, and deriving its facts from annalistic sources (§ 7, infra). In the Vulgate we find the heading, “The First Book of Paralipomena, in Hebrew Dibre Haiamim.” In the Peshito-Syriac, “Next the Book of the Rule of Days [Dûbor yaumâthâ) of the Kings of Judah, which is cailed Sephar debar yamîn.” In the Arabic, “In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate. The First Book of the Kitâb ’akhbâri ’l’ayyâmi—the Book of the Histories of the Days; which is called in the Hebrew, Dibrâ hayyâmîn.”

That Chronicles was originally a single, undivided work, is evident from the Masoretic note at the end of the Hebrew text, which states that 1 Chronicles 27:25 is the middle verse of the whole book. Moreover, Josephus, Origen (ap. Euseb. Hist. Eccl. vi. 25), Jerome, and the Talmud reckon but one book of Chronicles. The Peshito-Syriac ends with the remark”: “Finished is the book of Debar yamin, in which are 5,603 verses”—implying the unity of the work. The present division into two books, which certainly occurs in the most suitable place, was first made by the LXX. translators, from whom it was adopted by St. Jerome in the Vulgate, and so passed into the other versions and the modern printed editions of the Hebrew Bible.

§ 2. Relation to the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.—An attentive examination of the Hebrew text of the Books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah, soon reveals the important fact that the three apparently separate works resemble each other very closely, not only in style and language, which is that of the latest age of Hebrew writing, but also in the general point of view, in the manner in which the original authorities are handled and the sacred Law expressly cited, and, above all, in the marked preference for certain topics, such as genealogical and statistical registers, descriptions of religious rites and festivals, detailed accounts of the sacerdotal classes and their various functions, notices of the music of the Temple, and similar matters connected with the organisation of public worship. These resemblances in manner, method, and matter, raise a strong presumption of unity of authorship, which is accordingly asserted by most modern scholars. As regards Chronicles and Ezra, this result is further indicated by the strange termination of the Chronicles in the middle of an unfinished sentence, which finds its due completion in the opening verses of Ezra. (Comp. 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 with Ezra 1:1-4.) Had Chronicles been an independent work, it might have ended less abruptly at 2 Chronicles 36:21. But there is no real break in the narrative between 2 Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1; and the awkwardness of the existing division simply points to the perplexity of some editor or transcriber, who did not know where to leave off. It is absurd to lay any stress on the two trivial variants between the two passages. They are not marks of an editorial hand, but merely errors of transcription. (See Notes on 2 Chronicles 36:22-23.)

There are other facts which combine with the above considerations to prove that Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah originally constituted a single great history, composed upon a uniform plan by one author. Thus there is actually extant part of a Greek version of the three books which ignores their division. The Third Book of Esdras is, with certain important omissions and additions, an independent translation of the history from 2 Chronicles 35 to Nehemiah 8:12. In this work the edict of Cyrus occurs but once; and it is evident that the author’s Hebrew text did not divide the history into three distinct books.

Further, the ancients did not separate Ezra and Nehemiah in the modern fashion. The Talmudic treatise Baba bathra (fol. 15. A), the Masorah, and the Christian fathers Origen and Jerome, regard Ezra-Nehemiah as a single work; and it appears in the Vulgate as 1st and 2nd of Esdras, a non-fundamental division like that of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, into two books each. Indeed, the Book of Ezra as it stands is an unfinished fragment, which finds its natural continuation in Nehemiah 8 sea., where the history of Ezra’s part in the restoration is further pursued. Lastly, the notes of time in Chronicles and Nehemiah coincide (see § 3 infra); and the genealogies of the high priests from Eleazar to Jehozadak in 1 Chronicles 6:4-16, and from Jeshua to Jaddua in Nehemiah 12:10-11, are given in the same form, and are obviously complementary, covering, as they do, when taken together, the whole period from Moses to Alexander the Great.

The LXX. translators found Chronicles already severed from Ezra-Nehemiah. This division is explicable in connection with the formation of the Hebrew Canon. In the Hebrew text the Book of Ezra-Nehemiah precedes Chronicles, apparently because the value of this, the newer and more interesting portion of the whole work, was recognised first. Chronicles may well have been regarded as of less importance, because to a great extent it merely repeats the familiar narratives of Samuel and Kings. In no long time, however, it was perceived that the new relation of the ancient history was animated by the spirit of the age, and its catalogues of family descent, and its detailed treatment of religious matters, won for it first, perhaps, general use as a manual of instruction, and then the last place in the sacred Canon.

§ 3. Date.—The orthography and language of the Chronicle, its Levitical tendency, and its position at the end of the Hagiographa, conspire to suggest a comparatively late origin. Other internal evidence of a more definite character enables us to settle the question of date with approximate precision. The partially confused passage, 1 Chronicles 3:19-24, carries the line of David’s posterity down to at least the sixth generation from Zerubbabel, who along with the High Priest Jeshua conducted the first return, B.C. 536. According to R. Benjamin in the Me’or ‘enayim (fol. 153. A, quoted by Zunz), as many as nine generations must be reckoned from Jesaiah to Johanan in this genealogy. In like manner, the LXX. makes eleven generations from Zerubbabel to the last name in the list. This brings the date of the author down to about B.C. 200, if we count thirty years to the generation. This was the opinion of Zunz, whom Nöldeke follows. Kuenen also favours a late epoch, asserting that “the author must have lived about B.C. 250.” These views, however, are not accepted by the majority of modern scholars; and they rest upon a highly questionable interpretation of the passage under consideration. (See Notes on 1 Chronicles 3:19, seq.)

What is certain is, that both in this genealogy of the house of David, and in that of the high priests, the writer descends several generations below the age of Ezra and Nehemiah, who flourished about B.C. 445. Thus in Nehemiah 12:10-11 the line of the high priests is traced as far as Jaddua, who was the fifth successor of Jeshua the contemporary of Zerubbabei. Josephus informs us that Jaddua came into personal contact with Alexander the Great (Antiq. xi. 7, 8). This points to a date about B.C. 330. Again, Nehemiah 12:22 appears to speak of Jaddua and “Darius the Persian” (i.e., Codomannus) as belonging to an earlier age than the writer; and Nehemiah 12:47 refers to “the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah” as to a past already distant

It is an acute suggestion of Ewald’s that the chronicler’s designation of Cyrus and Darius as “kings of Persia,” indicates that he lived and wrote after the fall of the Persian monarchy. The reckoning by “darics” in 1 Chronicles 29:7 does not prove authorship during the Persian dominion. The Persian coinage would not disappear from use immediately upon the establishment of the Greek supremacy. A few other terms survived in the language as vestiges of the Persian age; and the Temple fortress was still called the Baris (comp. the Persian baru) in the days of Josephus. On the other hand, Prof. Dillmann is probably right in asserting that “there are no reasons of any sort for fixing the authorship of the Chronicle as late as the third century, or even later.” The limits of the two genealogies above considered are evidence against such a conclusion. Upon the whole, it appears likely that the great historical work, of which Chronicles forms the largest section, was compiled between the years B.C. 330 and B.C. 300, and perhaps somewhat nearer the latter than the former date.

§ 4. Author.—“Ezra wrote his own book, and the genealogy of the Chronicles down to himself.” Such is the assertion of the Talmud (Baba bathra, fol. 15. A). But we are no more bound to accept this as fact than the preceding statements which connect Moses with the Book of Job, and—more wonderful still—Adam with the Psalms. The grain of truth embodied in the tradition is simply this, that the compiler of the last great book of history has drawn largely upon the authentic memoirs of Ezra and Nehemiah, incorporating whole sections of their journals in his work. But, as every Hebrew scholar knows, a single hand can be traced throughout the three books now called Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah; and the original documents stand out in sharp contrast to their modern setting, wherever the compiler has been contented to transcribe verbally. From the entire tone and spirit of the work, it is reasonably inferred by most critics that it was the production of a Levite attached to the Temple at Jerusalem in the latter half of the fourth century B.C. Ewald further supposes the author to have belonged to one of the guilds of Levitical musicians: a conjecture which is highly probable, considering how much the work has to tell us about the Temple choirs and their music. Keil objects that the porters are mentioned as often as the musicians, and that therefore we might just as well assume the chronicler to have been a porter or Temple-warder. But an acquaintance with musical technicalities such as the writer displays almost certainly proves him to have been a member of one of the musical guilds. Similarly, it is no reply to allege that priests are made quite as prominent in the work as Levitical warders and musicians. The priests are naturally mentioned on all religious occasions as being the principal functionaries. The fact that the inferior ministers are so persistently brought forward in their company—which is not the case in the older history—proves the peculiar interest of the author in these latter.

§ 5. Contents.—Character and Scope of the Work. The Chronicle opens with an outline of primeval history from Adam to David. The Pentateuchal narratives, however, are not repeated, because the five books were already recognised as canonical, and the writer had nothing to add to them. In like manner, the times of the Judges and the reign of Saul are passed over. The chronicler had no special sources for that period, and it did not appear to lend itself easily to the illustration of the particular lesson which he wished to enforce upon his readers. Accordingly the first section of his work takes the driest and most succinct form imaginable, that of a series of genealogies interspersed with brief historical notices (1 Chronicles 1-9). The writer’s extraordinary fondness for genealogical and statistical tables is apparent also in other parts of his history, and is to be explained by reference to the special requirements of the post-exilic age. (Comp. Ezra 2:59, seq.) Here, after tracing the generations from Adam to Jacob, the writer gives a flying survey of the twelve tribes, lingering longest over Judah, the tribe of David, and Levi, the tribe of the priests; after which (in 2 Chronicles 8, 9) his horizon narrows at once from all Israel to the southern kingdom only (Benjamin, Judah, Jerusalem). 2 Chronicles 10—the death of Saul—is transitional to the reign of David, which follows at length (1 Chronicles 11-29).

The second and main portion of the work (1 Chronicles 11 -2 Chronicles 36) relates the history of the kings who reigned in Jerusalem from David to Zedekian, thus covering a period of between four and five centuries (B.C. 1055-588). The third part contains the history of the restored community under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah (B.C. 536-432), and is now known as the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. (See the Introduction to those books.)

When we consider the second part of this great compilation, we are immediately struck by the large space occupied by the reign of David. To the chronicler, as to the prophetic historians before him, that reign, it would seem, was the golden age of his people’s history. The greater distance at which he stood from the old heroic times of the monarchy only intensified the spell which they wrought upon his imagination. He does not, however, repeat the familiar tale of David’s romantic adventures, of his reign at Hebron, of his sin against Uriah, of the revolt of Absalom, and similar matters. His point of view and the needs of his contemporaries are different from those of the older historians; and it is as the true founder of Jerusalem and the Temple, with its beautiful service of music and song, and as the prime author of the priestly organisation, that the heroic figure of David engages his highest interest. Accordingly, all that refers to the activity of the king in these directions is described with intentional fulness and emphasis. (See 1 Chronicles 13-18, 12-29)

The reign of Solomon is treated much more briefly, though at considerably greater length than any subsequent one (2 Chronicles 1-9). Here again we observe a fuller description of whatever relates to religion and its ministers. In fact, the account of the building and dedication of the Temple occupies by far the largest part of the narrative (2 Chronicles 2-7).

The rest of the history is told from the same standpoint. After the division of the kingdom, the writer follows the fortunes of the Davidic monarchy, which was the more important from a religious, if not from a political, point of view. The northern kingdom he almost entirely ignores, as founded upon apostasy from the orthodox worship, as well as from the legitimate rule of the house of David. Even in this limited field, political, military, and personal facts and incidents are subordinated to the religious interest, and it is obvious that the real subject of the history is everywhere that holy religion which made Israel what it was, and upon which its historical significance wholly depends. Thus the reigns of Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Hezekiah, and Josiah are especially prominent, because they witnessed the initiation of important religious reforms, and the restoration of Jerusalem and its sanctuary to their hereditary rank as the religious centre of the nation. And thus “traditions about the Temple and its worship, the sacerdotal orders and their functions, the merits of the kings and others in the matter of the cultus, are presented with great fulness, and the author expatiates with evident delight on the sacred festivals of the olden time. Reigns of which little of the sort could be told are briefly treated” (Dillmann).

From all this we may gather the aim of the work. The writer has produced not so much a supplement of the older histories, as an independent work, in which the history of the chosen people is related afresh in a new manner, and from a new point of view. That point of view has been characterised as the priestly-Levitical, in contradistinction to the prophetical spirit of the ancient writers. To understand this, we must remember that in the chronicler’s day the political independence of Israel was a thing of the past; and that the religion of the Law was the most precious survival from the great catastrophe which had finally shattered the nation, and the principle of cohesion and the basis of all order, public and private, in the new community. The writer’s main object, therefore, is to urge upon his contemporaries a faithful observance of the Mosaic Law; and he seeks to impress his lesson by presenting a picture of times and occasions when, with the Temple as its centre, and the priests and Levites as its organs, the legitimate worship flourished and brought blessing upon the land.

§ 6. Documental Authorities. Relation to the Books of Samuel and Kings.—Besides a number of narratives running parallel to those of Samuel and Kings, the Books of Chronicles contain other important accounts which are without parallel in the older histories. Such are many of the genealogical and statistical tables, as well as certain supplementary details and stories inserted in different reigns. The former, which possessed a very special interest for the chronicler’s contemporaries, were ultimately derived from those ancient taxation rolls or assessment lists, which were so highly valued by the Jews in the times, immediately preceding and subsequent to the captivity (Ezra 2:59; Ezra 2:62). These catalogues may in some cases have been preserved independently, but it is probable that the chronicler found most of them already incorporated in the historical compilations which constituted his principal authorities. (Comp. 1 Chronicles 5:17; 1 Chronicles 7:2; 1 Chronicles 9:1; 1 Chronicles 23:3; 1 Chronicles 23:27; 1 Chronicles 26:31; 1 Chronicles 27:24; Nehemiah 12:23; Nehemiah 7:5.) The censuses, for instance, to which reference is made in 1 Chronicles 5:17; 1 Chronicles 7:2, were doubtless entered in the state annals.

The second, and to us more important, historical element peculiar to Chronicles is equally based upon trustworthy records of an earlier period. The writer refers from time to time to documents which he presumes to be well known to his readers, for further details upon subjects which he does not himself care to pursue. At first sight the number of these documents appears to be so considerable as to excite surprise, especially when we remember that the compiler of Kings mentions only two or three such primary documents. For almost every reign a different source appears to be cited; which is the more remarkable, inasmuch as the titles indicate that more than one of the histories referred to must have contained the entire history of the kings of Jerusalem. The references in question are:

1. The History of Samuel the seer,

2. The history of Nathan the prophet,

3. The history of Gad the seer,

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in 1 Chronicles 29:29, for David.

4. The prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite,

5. The vision of Je-edi or Je-edo the seer against Jeroboam ben Nebat,

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in 2 Chronicles 9:29, for Solomon.

6. The history of Shemaiah the prophet,

7. The history of Iddo the seer,

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in 2 Chronicles 12:15, for Rehoboam.

8. The Midrash of the prophet Iddo, in 2 Chronicles 13:22, for Abijah.

9. The book of the kings of Judah and Israel, in 2 Chronicles 16:11; 2 Chronicles 25:26; 2 Chronicles 28:26, for Asa, Amaziah, and Ahaz.

10. The history of Jehu the son of Hanani, inserted in the book of the kings of Israel, in 2 Chronicles 20:34, for Jehoshaphat

11. The Midrash of the book of the Kings, in 2 Chronicles 24:27, for Joash.

12. The history of Uzziah, by Isaiah the prophet, 2 Chronicles 26:22.

13. The book of the kings of Israel and Judah, in 2 Chronicles 27:7; 2 Chronicles 35:27; 2 Chronicles 36:8, for Jotham, Josiah, and Jehoiakim. Perhaps also in 1 Chronicles 9:1.

14. The vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, in the books of the kings of Judah and Israel, 2 Chronicles 32:32, for Hezekiah.

15. The history of the kings of Israel, 2 Chronicles 33:18,

16. The history of Hozai (or, The words of the Seers), 2 Chronicles 33:19,

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for Manasseh.

Six reigns, viz., those of Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah, are without any such references.

The similarity of some of these sixteen titles favours the supposition of their being merely variations of each other. “The book of the kings of Judah and Israel” (9) may at once be equated with “the book of the kings of Israel and Judah” (13). “The history (words) of the kings of Israel” (15) is an expression tantamount to “the book of the kings of Israel” (10). Five at least, then, of the above citations refer to a single work, a “history of the kings of Judah and Israel.” This work appears to have been a compilation based upon the same annalistic sources as the canonical books of Kings—viz., “the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel,” and “the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah.” It was probably younger than the canonical Kings, and was perhaps in some degree influenced by the form and contents of that work. That it was not identical therewith, as used to be assumed, is certain, because it contained much which is not found there—e.g., genealogical and other lists, and the account of Manasseh’s captivity and restoration (2 Chronicles 33:18); and the chronicler often refers to this work for fuller information in cases where the narrative in the existing Book of Kings is even briefer than his own. (Comp. 2 Chronicles 27 with 2 Kings 15:32-38.)

The references to prophetic “words” (dibrê), or rather histories, are by some supposed to imply the existence of a number of historical monographs written by the prophets with whose names they are connected. But “the history of Jehu the son of Hanani” (10) is expressly cited, not as an independent work, but as a section of the great Book of the Kings; and “the vision of Isaiah the prophet (14) is another section of the same work. Moreover, when the chronicler does not refer to the history he generally mentions a prophetic account, but never both for the same reign (unless 2 Chronicles 33:18-19 be an exception). It is likely, therefore, that the other prophetic histories (Numbers 1-7) were integral parts of the same great compilation, and are merely cited in briefer form, perhaps as the chronicler found them already cited in that his principal source. We do not know what were the grounds which determined the selection of a work by the unknown collectors of the Canon, but it seems certain that had a number of separate writings of such prophets as Samuel, Nathan, Gad, and Isaiah been extant in the chronicler’s age, they would have been included in the Canon.

The “history of Uzziah, which Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz wrote” (12; see 2 Chronicles 26:22), does not appear to be an exception to the above general inference. Whether, as Prof. Dillmann thinks, the chronicler himself supposed Isaiah to have been the author of the history of Uzziah as embodied in the great Book of the Kings (comp. Isaiah 6 l), or whether, as is more likely, he merely copies the reference from that source, makes no difference. On the other hand, it is, of course, quite possible that an independent monograph of Isaiah’s did exist and was known to the chronicler, although no trace of it is to be recognised in the canonical Books of Kings or Isaiah. Similar considerations would apply to “the history of Hozai” (16; see 2 Chronicles 33:19), which is apparently contrasted in 2 Chronicles 33:19 with “the history of the kings of Israel,” were it not likely that the text of that passage is unsound.

Lastly, the chronicler refers besides to a “Midrash of the prophet Iddo” (8), and a “Midrash of the book of the Kings” (11). The former may have been a section of the latter work. In this, as in the preceding cases, it was natural to cite a particular passage of a large book of history, by mentioning the name of the prophet with whose activity it was chiefly concerned; because the division of the canonical books into sections and chapters was unknown to antiquity (comp. our Lord’s reference in Mark 12:26, “in the bush,” i.e., in the section relating to the burning bush; and St. Paul’s “in Elias,” Romans 11:2.)

The term “Midrash” occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament. It means “search,” “investigation,” “study,” and is the neo-Hebraic term for the Rabbinical exegesis of the sacred books. A Beth-midrash is a school in which the Law and other scriptures are studied under the lead of a Rabbi, whose disciples are called talmîdîm, a word first occurring in 1 Chronicles 25:8. “The Midrash of the book of the Kings” was probably a kind of commentary or expository amplification of the great “history of the Kings of Judah and Israel;” and the chronicler may have derived other narratives from this source, besides the two for which he cites it. But it is pure dogmatism to say, with Reuss, that “his work from one end to the other is drawn from a Midrash; and it is this Midrash that is responsible for all that provokes our doubts, including the history of Uzziah written by Isaiah.” The Midrash which the chronicler consulted may really have been an early predecessor of that series of works so well known to students of Rabbinical Hebrew as the Midrashim (Bereshith rabba, Shemoth rabba, &c. &c.); but its intrinsic superiority to all these later works is evident from the extracts preserved in the Chronicles.

We have now characterised the two principal sources of the accounts peculiar to the Books of Chronicles. The compiler may, of course, have had at his command other documents besides those to which he refers by name; but probably they were few in number, and certainly of subordinate importance.

It remains to ask what is the precise relation between the forty or more passages of Chronicles which are more or less exact duplicates of parallel passages in Samuel and Kings?

This question can hardly be answered with certainty. The negative criticism which flourished in Germany at the beginning of the present century found an easy offhand reply in the theory that the chronicler transcribed his parallel accounts directly from the canonical Books of Samuel and Kings. All deviations and peculiarities were results of misunderstanding, fictitious embellishment, and wilful perversion of the older history. It would hardly be worth while to revive the memory of this unhistorical and obsolete criticism, were it not still salutary to signalise the former errors of scholars whose theories for a time enjoyed unbounded influence, by way of suggesting caution to such persons as are inclined to accord a too hasty acceptance to similarly destructive hypotheses advocated by men of acknowledged ability at the present day. What is certain is, (1) that the chronicler must have known the great history now divided into the Books of Samuel and Kings; (2) that many of his narratives at different points verbally coincide with these books, and so far might have been transcribed from them; but (3) these coincidences may be accounted for by the supposition advanced above, viz., that the same ancient state annals were the principal source from which both the compiler of the older canonical history, and the compiler of that “book of the kings of Judah and Israel” which supplied the chronicler with so much of his narrative, derived the staple of their history; and further, that the “book of the kings of Judah and Israel” may have been in part constructed on the model of the already existing Books of Samuel and Kings. At the same time we may freely admit that the form into which the history was already cast in the older work would naturally exert some, and perhaps a considerable, influence upon the mind and work of the latest historian of Israel.

§ 7. The Historical Value of Chronicles.—This question has in part been already decided by the results at which we arrived in discussing the prior question of the sources. All that remains to be determined is, whether and how far the chronicler was faithful to his authorities. Whatever charges of distortion, misinterpretation, falsification, fictitious embellishment, &c. &c, of the ancient history have been levelled against him by earlier critics, have been amply disproven by their successors. Such charges depended for the most part upon the assumption that he had no other documents than the canonical books of the Old Testament—an assumption sufficiently rebutted by impartial examination of internal evidence. Comparing the parallel sections with their duplicates in Samuel and Kings, we find in general an assiduous and faithful reproduction of the sources, which warrants us in supposing that the important passages of the narrative which are peculiar to Chronicles were likewise extracted with substantial accuracy from other historical records no longer extant. Often, indeed, in such passages the style is so much purer than that which we identify as the chronicler’s own, as to suggest at once that he is simply transcribing from an ancient document; though more usually he has recast what he found in his authority. It is admitted that the chronicler wrote with a distinct purpose, and that his aim was not so much history for its own sake, as edification. He writes neither as a modern scientific historian, nor as a mere annalist, but with a distinctly didactic and hortatory object. Accordingly, in the exercise of his lawful discretion, he omits some well-known passages of the ancient history, and adds others more to his purpose. He habitually inserts remarks of his own, which put the facts narrated into relation to the working of Divine Providence, and so bring into prominence the religious aspect of events, while religious conceptions prevalent in his own age naturally find expression through his pages. (Comp. 1 Chronicles 21:1 with 2 Samuel 24:1) Moreover, he does not hesitate, nor would any writer of his time have hesitated, to put appropriate speeches into the mouths of leading personages, some of which betray their ideal character by a close similarity in form and matter; and although in some cases he undoubtedly had genuine tradition at his command, and simply followed his documents, in others he has freely expanded the meagre records of the past, and developed the fundamental thoughts of the speakers according to his own taste. In the description of ancient religious solemnities he has reasonably enough been influenced by his minute professional knowledge of the ritual of his own day, and has thus succeeded in his purpose of lending animation to the dry memoranda of the past. Yet it must not be forgotten that he probably had substantial precedents for this mode of treatment, and, further, that in antiquity religious custom is the least likely sphere of innovation. Besides all this, the chronicler has considered the needs and tastes of his own time by substituting current for obsolete Hebrew words, phrases, and constructions, and by interpretation, paraphrase, and correction of what seemed obscure or faulty in the ancient texts. The mode of spelling (scriptio plena), and the Aramaisms which characterise his work, are what were to be expected from a writer of his age. In these latter respects the Chronicle already foreshadows the Targum or “Chaldee” Paraphrase.

Many deviations from the older canonical history, especially in the matter of names and numbers, are due to errors of transcription in one or the other text; and many may be ascribed to the licence of editors and copyists, which in those early times far exceeded what would now be considered allowable. To appreciate this argument, it is only necessary to examine the LXX. translation of the Books of Samuel, which obviously represents a Hebrew original differing in many important particulars from the present Masoretic Recension. Discrepancies due to such causes obviously do not affect the credibility of the chronicler. And with regard to excessive numbers, in particular, we have to bear in mind “the tendency of numbers to grow in successive transcriptions,” and the fact already demonstrated (§ 6) that Chronicles was only indirectly derived from the same primary sources as Samuel and Kings. The existing text of the older books is itself not free from exaggerated numbers (see 1 Samuel 6:19; 1 Samuel 13:5); and in some instances the figures of Chronicles are lower and intrinsically more probable than those of the older history. (Comp. 2 Chronicles 9:25 with 1 Kings 5:6.) After making every allowance upon these and similar grounds, the impartial critic will still acquiesce in the conclusion of Ewald, that “we should deprive ourselves of one of the richest and oldest sources of the Davidical history, if we failed to do justice to the very remarkable remains of the state annals fortunately preserved to us in the Book of Chronicles;” and that “this work, when rightly understood and applied, not only yields very valuable supplements to the history of the (Davidic) monarchy, the foundation of which undoubtedly rested on the original state annals, but also tells us of many prophets, of whose very names we should have otherwise been wholly ignorant” (Hist. of Israel, Martineau’s Translation, p. 195).

§ 8. Literature of the Subject.—A list of the older commentators may be read in Carpzov and in Lange’s Bibelwerk. The principal modern works known to the present writer are Bertheau’s (English Trans, in Clarke’s Foreign Library, 2nd ed. 1860); Keil’s, also translated in Clarke’s series (ed. 1872); Zockler’s, in Lange (English trans., 1876); and that of Reuss (ed. Paris, 1878). He has also had before him L’Abbé Martin’s Commentary (ed. Paris, 1880), a recent work by a Roman Catholic priest, which closely follows Keil and Zöckler. The criticisms of Thenius in his Die Bücher der Könige (Leipzig, 1873) have always been considered, and specially noticed whenever it seemed advisable.

The following have been consulted upon introductory questions:—Gramberg (Die Chronik nach ihrem geschichtlicheii Charakter, &c. Halle, 1823). His reasonings are interesting from a historical point of view, but his conclusions are thoroughly unfair, and no longer require refutation. Graf (Die gesch. Bücher des alt. Test. Leipzig, 1866), Also a hostile criticism. De Wette’s Einleitung, as re-edited by Schrader, who modifies the more extreme dicta of the original author. Movers (Kritische Untersuchungen iiber die bibl. Chronik. Bonn, 1834); a reply to Gramberg and De Wette. Keil’s Einleitung (Frankfurt, 1853). Zöckler’s Handbuch der theolog. Wissenschaften (Nõrdlingen, 1882). Ewald’s History of Israel (Martineau’s English Transi., Longmans, 1876). Kuenen’s History of Israel (English Transl., 1875) follows Graf in exaggerating the subjective and unhistorical tendency of the chronicler. Wellhausen’s tract, De gentibus et familiis Judaeis quae 1 Chronicles 2-4 enumerantur (Göttingen, 1870), is very important for the right understanding of the genealogies. The article Chronik, by Prof. Dillmann, in Herzog’s Real-Encyclopädie is a specially fair estimate of the work; and the same may be said of Prof. Robertson Smith’s Chronicles in the Encyclopœdia Britannica. The writer has also to acknowledge considerable obligations to the same author’s Old Testament in the Jewish Church, and The Prophets of Israel, and to Schrader’s Keilin-schriften und das Aite Testament (Giessen, 1883). For several important suggestions he is indebted to his friend Prof. Sayce, who kindly looked through the Notes on the greater part of the first book.

§ 9. Ancient Versions. State of the Hebrew Text.—The translation of Chronicles in the LXX. is carefully and skilfully done, is strictly literal, and one of the best works of those translators, far surpassing the Books of Samuel and Kings, which proceed from another hand. In many passages it still preserves an unquestionably better reading than that of the Masoretic Recension. In too many instances, however, it has had its readings altered into conformity with later Greek versions of the textus receptus, and thus its originality has in part been obliterated by the hands of injudicious editors. (See Movers’ Untersuch., p. 93.) In the Greek of 2 Chronicles 35, 36 there are a few interpolations corresponding to passages in 2 Kings 23, 24

The old Latin versions, upon which the Vulgate is based, followed the LXX.

The Peshittâ (Peshito) Syriac version presents many surprising peculiarities of omission, interpolation, transposition, and paraphrase, insomuch that it resembles a Jewish Targum rather than a literal version. This phenomenon suggests that Chronicles was perhaps not received with the original collection of sacred books in the Peshito (Dillmann).

The Arabic version is a daughter of the Syriac, and possesses little independent value for the criticism of the text.

The Targum is late (seventh century?) and is not printed in the Rabbinical Bibles. Lagarde has recently edited another, which I have not been able to procure. The four versions have been consulted in Walton’s Polyglot; and for the LXX. Tischendorf’s edition has also been used. The unsatisfactory condition of the Hebrew text, due perhaps to the fact that Chronicles was never so highly valued as other portions of the Canon, may in part be remedied by careful comparison of the data of the versions, as well as of the other books of the Old Testament.

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Chronicles:4 Overview". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/2-chronicles-0.html. 1905.

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