An Introduction and Commentary
Tyndale Old Testament commentaries (Volume 11)
Tyndale Old Testament commentaries (Volume 11)
The English title of the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles has an unusual history. It originates neither from the original Hebrew, nor (despite the fact that `chronicle' comes from a Greek word chronikon) from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. It was not in fact until the fourth century AD that Jerome, the famous Bible translator, first applied the term `Chronicle' to these books. He suggested in the prologue to his Latin translation of Samuel and Kings that in place of the Greek title Paraleipomena (see below) usually given to the work, `we might more plainly call it the chronicle (chronikon) of the whole of sacred history'. Though Jerome wrote no commentary on Chronicles and retained the traditional Greek title, his proposal eventually became the basis of the title now used in the English Bible. The mediating influence came from Luther, whose German title, Die Chronika, passed into English when Bible translations proliferated during the Reformation period.
Despite its comparatively late appearance, `chronicle' is a good idiomatic translation of the expression dibere hayya-mim, the accepted Hebrew title of the work. This phrase means literally `the events of the days', i.e. `annal, chronicle', and though it appears only once in the body of Chronicles (1 Chr. 27:24), it became associated with the work through its frequent appearance in Kings (cf. e.g. 1 Kgs 14:19, 29; 15:7, 23, 31). It may well have been used as a title for Chronicles from quite early on, judging by the similar usage of the phrase in other Old Testament books of the same general period (cf. Neh. 12:23; Esth. 2:23; 6:1; 10:2). The Greek translators of the Old Testament, however, produced a quite different title, viz., Paraleipomena, `the things omitted', i.e. omitted from Samuel and Kings. This reflected a rather different understanding of the book from that implied by the Hebrew title, and it is the Greek approach which has had much the greater influence on the church's view of Chronicles down the centuries. Unfortunately it also contributed to the book's widespread neglect, since the Greek title implied that Chronicles was a kind of supplement or appendix and was therefore of only marginal value in the Old Testament.
The division of Chronicles into two parts, viz. 1 and 2 Chronicles, goes back to the Septuagint, though it is attested no earlier than the third century AD. In the Hebrew tradition, it is no older than the first printed edition of the Hebrew Bible in 1448 AD. This division was probably made for practical reasons, and has no other significance. On the contrary, the textual history of the Hebrew Bible as well as the contents and ideology of 1 and 2 Chronicles show that the two books are really a single unit. Once this is recognized, the length and scope of the work make clear that it is an extremely important part of the Old Testament. Its subject matter covers the whole of Israelite history from creation (1 Chr. 1:1) to near the author's own time (1 Chr. 9:2-34), and in terms of the number of chapters it is the third largest compilation in the Old Testament, after Psalms and Isaiah.
2. What kind of book is Chronicles?
The existence of different titles for the book raises a fundamental question as to its nature and purpose. This issue must be considered at the outset, since the reader's expectations of the book are bound to have a direct effect on the way he or she interprets it. If people fail to grasp its real character, they are likely to miss the heart of what the author is saying. Out of the variety of alternative understandings that have been put forward, four will be examined here.
(a) First of all, Chronicles can be treated as a history book. This assumption is implicit in both the Hebrew and Greek titles, though each involves quite different understandings of what type of historical writing is involved. If the book is really a chronicle, for example, the reader is likely to expect a record of actual events in Israelite national life during the period under consideration. On this basis, Chronicles would be a parallel or alternative version of the historical record in Samuel and Kings. This approach to the interpretation of Chronicles has long been followed by Jews and Christians alike, and on this basis Chronicles was frequently regarded until the late nineteenth century as an additional source for pre-exilic Israelite history. Although in more recent times the Chronicler's contribution as a historian has sometimes been understood more in terms of the provision of an overall framework of interpretation rather than in compiling an objective record of events, categorizing Chronicles as a work of history is still a frequent approach.
However, it is doubtful whether this description is adequate, even allowing for differences in attitudes to historical writing in biblical as compared with modern times. ...