Thoughts on Chronicles

In (re)reading the Books of Chronicles, I was reminded of the significant amount of time Homer spends listing the various kingdoms composing the Achaean armies in Troy, an its similarity to the genealogical record listed by the author of Chronicles. Both texts provide extensive lists as a matter of record. What is added to the text by the author’s need to recite an extensive list? In the Biblical book(s) of Chronicles the point of the text is to detail genealogical record from Adam to Abraham, Ishmael to Israel, Saul, David, and Solomon (Book I), and down through the transgressions of the tribes of Israel. The second part of Book I serves as a kind of summary of the David story, as detailed in I and II Samuel. Book II of Chronicles summarizes the latter kings of Israel up until the Judean rebellion and destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the subsequent reconstruction of the temple by Cyrus of Persia.

One of the main themes of Chronicles is the struggle for the Israelites to find a house for the Ark, a housing place for God. In Chapters 15-22 of Book I, David prepares to build the temple in Jerusalem where the Ark will be held. He leaves his instructions upon his death to Solomon who will build the temple in Chapter 5 of Book II. In Chapter 10 of II Chronicles Rehoboam becomes king and a rebellion occurs in Judah against the Babylonian empire that divides the kingdom, north and south. The remainder of Chronicles concerns Jerusalem being plundered by the Babylonians, and the Jews enslaved for 70 years, until the arrival of the Persians under Cyrus who decrees that the temple be rebuilt, after Persia conquers Babylon. The instability of the house of God, the height of ancient Israelite culture, finds new hope in the figure of Cyrus, perhaps the most respected word leader of the ancient world, as evidenced not simply in the Biblical canon, but also in the writings of Herodotus.

For the ancients, Chronicles was a single scroll, and the original title can be roughly translated as “The Matter of the Days”. It was only later that Chronicles was divided with the formulation of the Septuagint -divided at the point at which Solomon becomes king of Israel upon the death of David. The modern title of the text comes down to us from Jerome’s translation of the Vulgate, as Chronikon. 

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