The Bible in and as History: 1 Chronicles

A facet of doing this project has consisted not just in the actual reading of the text of the bible, which has been at times fascinating, at times boring.  It also consists of gathering information to fill in what the text leaves out, or to lend context to that content.  Some of it is pretty easy to come by or to look up.  The various range of thoughts on dating different sections of the bible for example to give context as to who we suspect or know will have written it.  Others are a little more obscure.  I have found a half-dozen different states reasons for the divisions that Kings, Chronicles and such are put to.  A common one seems to be that when it was translated into greek, the translators were restricted in the length of their scrolls and thus divided the books at a point so as each would occupy one scroll.  Certainly a work being adjusted on the basis of technological or bureacratic limitations is not without historical example.  The thrust however, is that I couldn’t locate anything definitive on the subject, other than to localize that it seemed to have occurred with the translation of the bible into greek.

I highlight this point also because it’s important to remember that with history we seldom get the entire picture.  There are things that will forever remain unknown, and things we think we do know may be based on flimsier information than we thought, only to be overturned with new historical or archaeological evidence.  In any case, on to the text.

Chronicles it appears, was written after the Babylonian captivity, and it is expressly a historical text, a compilation of events up until this point almost.  It starts with a lengthy genealogy, one that is actually more involved than the famous ‘begat’ sections of genesis.  Historically this makes a great deal of sense; assuming a religious authorship after the captivity, the idea of genealogy would be of obvious import to a people separated from their land and history.  The destruction of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel likely meant the destruction of much history and records as well, so a genealogy is a way to reconnect the present people with the past.

We are than concerned principally with the rise to prominence of King David and his rulership over the Israelites.  In this the book covers much of the same territory as previous works have, leading up to David handing the reigns to his son Solomon, and his death.  There are a few differences here however.  The most notable to me was how the prestige and credit for building the second temple is shifted quite heavily towards David.  It lays out that the materials were already appropriated, and makes David the author of much of the architecture, rolls handed to Solomon in Kings.  This further builds up David, but somewhat as Solomon’s expense.  The reason for this isn’t immediately obvious to me, save perhaps to make the early narrative appear more complete and generate a larger ‘culture hero’ narrative around David?  There are military conquests.  David’s wives, concubines and children, and the dissonance between obedience to god and disobedience.

Given that it covers things already touched on, what I’d mostly cover in this first book of Chronicles is the nature of the author. Likely a priestly figure of the 4th century BCE, writing for other priests and the literate elite of his time.  The first book places the narrative within the key events related earlier in the Bible, and seems to the building a theological point of view regarding history in some regard.  Something I’ll touch on in part 2.  It covers up to the actual end of the Kings of Judah and Israel and thus occurs after these events.  It seems likely this work is meant to explain continued reasons to worship the God of the Levite preists in light of the destruction of their power base and the kingdoms of their peoples.  A way to explain why such worship should continue that challenges the idea of early events between nations being explainable by the supremacy of this nation or that nations gods.  Or in simpler terms, a way to lay out ‘Yes we lost, but it’s because God wanted us to loose because we broke faith’ or something similar.  The idea that the defeat of a people was parallel to the defeat of it’s gods has very ancient ancients, and continued to be a common motif well into the Roman Era.

I’ll touch on more idea’s when we hit 2 Chronicles.


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