The Bible in and as History: 2 Chronicles

2 Chronicles covers much material that has already been touched on by Kings 1 and 2, and like it’s predecessor it touches on elements of myth and history.  Most importantly, it gives us an interesting look into the mindset of it’s author.  We can surmise, given the end-point for the narrative and it’s structure that it was written some-time in the 5th century, and by a priest with the intent of conveying a specific theology.

While some of the previous history is framed as a an explanation of Gods power, the author here had to deal with the realities of the end of the state of Judah and the end of the line of David.  As I have previously discussed, theologically ancient peoples often connected the supremacy of military victory(or indeed of natural disasters, or bountiful harvests etc.) to the particulars of their deities.  The edifices of defeated peoples, their Idol’s, shrines, and holy objects, were often appropriated by conquerers to demonstrate the power of their own divinities.  Sometimes conquered objects were incorporated into new synthetic religious expression(as seems the case in much of Greek and Roman Religious practice).  Sometimes it became a trophy, sometimes it was likely destroyed.  I think this last is the most likely outcome from the Ark of the Covenant.  Discussed at great length previously, and of course the focus for the ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ movie, while there has been plenty of rumination about the objects final resting place, given the Babylonian captivity it seems foolish not to contend the obvious ‘choice’.  That the Ark hasn’t been hiding for almost three millennia, but was taken, used in religious ceremonies, and likely melted down as a way to demonstrate the power of Babylon’s gods over the god of the Jews.

Regardless, the author of Chronicles is dealing with the fall of his kingdom and the subjugation of his religion.  As well as having to deal with competing religions whom he cannot suppress by appealing to authority.  The theology that emerges in one that places gods hand in the events of the fall of the kingdom.  The victory of the Babylonians, and the later ‘mercy’ of the Persian king Cyprus, are framed both as act of God, showing at once his fierce displeasure when his law is ignored, and his mercy to his ‘chosen’ people.

I wont’ go over the events too much.  Solomon reigns, he is wise, he builds the first temple.  The Queen of Sheba comes from a far away land and gives him gifts.  This later strikes as historical construction.  A sort of ‘And than a person famous for wisdom and wealth came and gave our ancient king wealth, totally legitimizing his reputation for wisdom.’  The later cycle of kings, this time mostly following the line of david as they ruled in the southern kingdom, show wise and immoral kings both, and a slow degeneration away from Gods grace and into depravity, until the final indignity of complete conquest and than the end of the ‘captivity’.

The question of the historical content here is thus judged through both what we ‘know’ of the author and what we can read from the text compared to other sources.  Cyprus is a historical figure we have evidence for in terms both of contemporary historical record and archeological evidence.  He expanded the Persian Empire and at one point basically controlled almost all of what we now consider the ‘middle east’.  His administration was multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and operated by granting degrees of local autonomy to it’s subjects in the interests of reducing rebellion and promoting imperial cohesion.  His recorded ‘restoration’ of the Jews thus coincides with other evidence.  Rather than a radical policy, it can be seen as a continuation of his policy elsewhere, restoring to the conquered people of the Jews a measure of their autonomy in return, most likely, for loyalty and taxes.

So than, the Author is producing this theology in order to sustain and expand a newly reformed Jewish temple in the face of competing religious ethics, without being able to appeal to a Jewish Monarch.

Next time I’ll deal with the return from the Captivity in the Book of Ezra.

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