Book Overview - 1 Chronicles
by Joseph Parker
The best modern criticism has represented that the two Books of Kings originally formed a single work, and that the two Books of Chronicles were also a single production, undivided in the Hebrew copies so late as the time of Jerome. It appears that the present division into two books, which certainly occurs in the most suitable place, was first made by the Seventy translators, from whom it was adopted by Saint Jerome in the Vulgate, and so passed into the other versions, and the modern printed editions of the Hebrew Bible. According to The Speaker"s Commentary, the Seventy translators were dissatisfied with the appellation, which is certainly not very appropriate, and substituted one which they regarded as more suitable to the contents of the work, and the position that it occupies among the historical books of the Bible. The curious name which the Seventy translators fixed upon was paralipomena, a word which means "the things omitted," and was intended to imply that Chronicles is supplementary to Samuel and Kings, written mainly for the purpose of supplying the omissions of the earlier history. For this reason it is not necessary for us to go through the Book of Chronicles with the same minuteness as that which we have bestowed upon the earlier records. It will be enough to fix upon points here and there which may be taken as elucidatory of the whole. The English word "Chronicles" relates primarily to the question of time; it may be taken, therefore, as a day by day book, rather than as constituting a consolidated and exact history, in a purely literal sense, of the events which are recorded. In Bishop Ellicott"s Commentary, considerable attention is given to the relation which the Chronicles bear to the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. According to that high authority, the Books of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah 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. Upon these resemblances in manner Bishop Ellicott founds a strong presumption of unity of authorship, which he represents as being asserted by most modern scholars. The Commentator upon the Chronicles in Bishop Ellicott"s Commentary says: "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 between2Chronicles36 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 upon the too trivial variants between the two passages; they are not marks of an editorial hand but merely errors of transcription."
It is not our intention, however, in writing this Bible for the People, to enter minutely into such criticisms, at the same time it is important to note the probable unity of the authorship of the books in question. It has been argued that the orthography and language of the Chronicles, taken together with their Levitical tendency, conspire to suggest a comparatively late origin; whether this is so or not, it has been regarded as matter of certainty that both in the 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.c445. There is little but confusion amongst the highest authorities who attempt to assign the date of the Chronicles. One says it cannot be earlier than b.c538. A great German critic puts it down as b.c400; and a still greater critic, Ewald, assigns it to the time of Alexander the Great, b.c336-323; another distinguished critic gives it as his opinion that the Book of the Chronicles was not written till about b.c260. The Speakers Commentary argues that if Ezra was the author, the date could not well be much later than b.c435, for Ezra probably died about that time. As to the authorship, it is by very general consent ascribed to Ezra. The same spirit breathes through the Chronicles and the Book of Ezra, and numerous little expressions almost identical seem to point to the same hand. As to the writer"s sources of authority, it may be pointed out that his most frequent reference is to a general history, the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah, called in one place, the Book of the Kings of Israel. [For proof of this abbreviated title, see 2 Chronicles 33:18, where the words cannot be misapprehended, as the kingdom of Israel proper had ceased to exist] The Book of the Kings of Israel is supposed to have been a compilation from the two histories constantly mentioned in Kings,—namely, the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, and the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah. It has been well pointed out that it was not the "Book of Kings," as we know it as part of the sacred canon, since it contains the deeds of the monarchs "first and last" ( 2 Chronicles 16:11; 2 Chronicles 25:26; 2 Chronicles 28:26; 2 Chronicles 35:27), and it also contains "all their wars, and all their ways" ( 2 Chronicles 27:7). From incidental phrases it would appear that the author avails himself of several partial histories, probably the works of prophets who dealt with particular portions of the national annals. Some twelve or thirteen works of this class have been identified, for example;—"the Chronicle of King David" ( 1 Chronicles 27:24); "the Book of Samuel the Seer," "the Book of Nathan the Prophet," "the Book of Gad the Seer" ( 1 Chronicles 29:29); "the Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite," "the Visions of Iddo the Seer" ( 2 Chronicles 9:29); "the Acts of Shemaiah the Prophet," "the Commentary of the Prophet Iddo," "the Acts of Jehu the son of Hanani," and others. We have no precise knowledge of any of these works, but they were evidently considered by the writer of the Chronicles as books which treated with some fulness of the histories of the kings. To the supposition that the Books of Samuel, Gad, and Nathan, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 29:29, are simply our present two Books of Samuel under a different title, The Speaker"s Commentary says there is perhaps no very serious objection. It is enough for our purpose, however, to accept the Books of Chronicles as they are given to us in the sacred canon, and to find what we can in them of instruction adapted to our own civilisation, and the discipline and culture of our own spiritual life.
As to the scope of the work, it opens with an outline of primeval history from Adam to David; the Pentateuchal narratives are hardly touched upon at all, and the times of the Judges and the reign of Saul are passed over in silence: the first section of the work takes the driest and most succinct form imaginable, merely a series of genealogies interspersed with brief historical notices: in tracing the generations from Adam to Jacob, the writer glances at the twelve tribes, lingering longest over Judah, the tribe of David, and Levi, the tribe of the priests; then, it has been pointed out, his horizon narrows at once from all history to the southern kingdom only, comprising Benjamin, Judah, Jerusalem; then is noted the death of Saul as transitional to the reign of David, which is dwelt upon at length: the second and main portion of the work relates the history of the kings who reigned in Jerusalem from David to Zedekiah, covering a period of between four and five centuries. The third part contains a history of the restored community under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
The Speaker"s Commentary deals very frankly with one or two charges which have been brought against the two Books of Chronicles. The assailants of those books seek to prove that its author contradicts himself; that he contradicts other scriptural writers; and that he is guilty of mistakes from ignorance, or misunderstanding of his authorities. The same Commentary says—"The charges of self-contradiction may be disposed of without difficulty. They seem to amount to four. Asa is said to have "taken away the high places out of all the cities of Judah" ( 2 Chronicles 14:5); yet we are told that in his time "the high places were not taken away" ( 2 Chronicles 15:17). Similarly of Jehoshaphat it is said that "he took away the high places and groves out of Judah" ( 2 Chronicles 17:6); yet "the high places were not taken away" ( 2 Chronicles 20:33). Hezekiah and Josiah both celebrate passovers, the like of which had not been known in Judah for ages ( 2 Chronicles 30:26, and 2 Chronicles 35:18); lastly, we hear of a king"s son slain by Zichri, early, as it would seem, in the reign of Ahaz, though Ahaz at his accession is no more than twenty years of age ( 2 Chronicles 28:1, 2 Chronicles 28:7). With respect to the high places, the true explanation probably Isaiah, that, when a monarch is said to have taken them away, the writer speaks broadly and with special reference to the monarch"s aim and intention; while, when it is remarked that they still continued to exist, the writer refers to the actual fact, and notes a failure in the full carrying out of the king"s wish. It is evidently not likely that a writer would in terms directly contradict himself within a chapter, unless he had a ready means of reconciling the two conflicting statements in his own mind, and expected the common-sense of his readers to supply it. In regard to the two passovers of Hezekian and Josiah, a contradiction can no otherwise be made out than by assuming that in both passages, or at any rate 2 Chronicles 35:18, it is meant that no passover at all had been celebrated since the time mentioned. But the writer carefully guards himself against this misapprehension of his meaning by using the expressions "like this," "like to that," "such a passover"; which make it clear that he means only that on each of the two occasions specified the feast was celebrated with peculiar pomp and solemnity, not that it was not celebrated at other times also. The occurrence of the phrase "king"s son" ( 2 Chronicles 28:7) constitutes a real difficulty, but falls very far short of a "self-contradiction." For, in the first place, it is not said in what year of Ahaz, Maaseiah was slain, nor is it said that he fell in battle, nor that he was Ahaz"s son. Most probably he was the son of Jotham, who in his father"s lifetime had been invested with the office whereto the title "king"s son" attached, and had retained it under his brother Ahaz. Possibly he was a son of Ahaz, put to death by Zichri, though a mere boy. Or, if the war with Pekah took place later in the reign of Ahaz than is commonly supposed, he may have been a son of Ahaz slain in battle, and grown up. Any of these suppositions, which are all compatible with the text of Chronicles, would reconcile the death of the "king"s Song of Solomon," recorded 2 Chronicles 28:7, with the statement made (in 2 Chronicles 28:1) that Ahaz was but twenty at his accession.
These quotations are from high authorities, not that we attach any particular value to the objections against which they are directed, but simply to show ordinary readers that whatever apparent discrepancies may have been discovered in the historical records of the Bible, they have been either frankly recognised by religious commentators, or have been so far answered and reconciled as to show that those which have not yet been treated, or which may come suddenly upon the reader, are quite as likely to be open to frank and satisfactory treatment. In perusing such annals as the Kings and Chronicles, general readers must not imagine that what appears to them to be literal discrepancies are real historical discords. Upon all such matters they should consult the highest scholarship of the day, but above all things be sure to seek out the base-line of thought and purpose, and abide by that, leaving others who are competent to deal with such difficulties to settle all questions of chronology, discrepancy, and apparently direct contradiction as between historical events.
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30