As was the case with 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles was originally a single book, divided in the Septuagint. It is also thought to have included the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The unknown author(s) is known as the Chronicler.
Interestingly, the Greek name for the book of Chronicles is Paralipomena, or “things omitted.” The implication being that this is the filler book, adding in the details that had been missing from 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings. Of course, this rather misses the mark since, as we shall see, this is a separate work written with its own ideological purpose.
That purpose seems to be two-fold: First to show the ideal kingdom that could be, second to warn of what might happen if those who return from the exile fail to build that kingdom. The Chronicler accomplishes the first purpose by presenting David and Solomon, stripped of their less-than-ideal moments, as archetypal godly kings. Kenneth C. Davis calls this “a perfect example of revisionism”:
But “he” wanted to tell a safer version with some considerable changes in detail. These weren’t small details. For instance, David’s relationship with Bathsheba, a central event in the Samuel version, is ignored, and David’s role in planning the Temple is greatly enhanced. Solomon’s worst excesses are similarly glossed over, and Chronicles dwells on his more glorious achievements in constructing the Temple. (Don’t Know Much About the Bible, p.207)
The second goal is similar to the Deuteronomist’s – presenting each disaster as a punishment for failure to maintain proper cultic purity.
Sources & Authorship
Aside from Samuel and Kings, which are sometimes quoted verbatim, the Chronicler also seems to have had access to at least some parts of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, and Ruth, plus approximately sixteen other books that he names but that are no longer extant.
The Jewish tradition ascribes authorship to Ezra, but this seems rather unlikely. My New Bible Commentary suggests that this might stem from a misunderstanding, and that Ezra was only meant to be credited with 1 Chronicles 1-9 – the genealogies – and that Ezra may have compiled much of the information that the Chronicler later used (p.369).
Beyond that, we must look to the text for clues in constructing the Chronicler’s identity. Several sources have pointed out that the Chronicler adds some detail to the Samuel/Kings narrative, and that these details tend to be about the Temple staff, particularly musicians. According to my study Bible, it is on the basis of this evidence that “it has been conjectured that the Chronicler was both a Levite and a singer.”
The Chronicler seems to identify strongly with the southern tribes, omitting most of the details 1-2 Kings includes about Israel. Beyond simple disinterest, there may be some actual hostility toward Israel, as the predecessors of the Samaritan people. We can see evidence of this attitude when Jesus references it rhetorically in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).
In dating the book, we have two likely limits: It cannot have been written earlier than 537 BCE, which is when the Persian king Cyrus commissioned the building of the Second Temple, an event mentioned in 2 Chronicles 36:22. My study Bible indicates that some scholars have dated the book’s composition as late as 250 BCE, but that this would have put it “well into the Greek period” (Jerusalem was captured by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE). The lack of evidence of Greek influence in the writing seems to indicate that this is too late.
If Ezra and Nehemiah are included with the book and the same author(s) is assumed, Chronicles can’t be dated prior to 400 BCE. It seems that a fairly safe estimate is between 350 and 300 BCE.
Chronicles can be divided into four parts:
- 1 Chronicles 1-9 covers genealogies, emphasizing that the subjects are the Chosen People.
- 1 Chronicles 10-29 covers David and the organization of civil and cultic duties.
- 2 Chronicles 1-9 covers Solomon and the construction of the Temple.
- 2 Chronicles 10-36 covers the remainder of David’s dynasty, ending with the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem.