Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 5 (2004-2005) - Review

M. Patrick Graham, Steven L. McKenzie and Gary N. Knoppers, eds. The Chronicler as Theologian: Essays in Honour of Ralph W. Klein. (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 371; London/New York: T. & T. Clark, 2003). Pp. xvi + 285. Cloth, $110.00. ISBN 0-8264-6671-0.

            This collection of essays is the third in a series arising from the Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, the first two having dealt with The Chronicler as Historian (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1997) and The Chronicler as Author (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1999).  In this volume, dedicated to Ralph Klein, whose role in the biblical guild as well as theological education is celebrated in the first two chapters, thirteen contributors highlight various aspects of the theology of the books of Chronicles.  Five of these contributions approach this theological framework through a limited portion of text while the remaining eight highlight broad themes discerned throughout the books. 

            Gary N. Knoppers’ contribution (“Shem, Ham and Japhet”) provides a superb review of the ideology lying behind the genealogy of 1 Chron 1:1-2:2 in the larger context of 1 Chronicles 1-9 and the Chronicler in general.  He contradicts Rudolph’s view that the section is not only disunified within itself, but also disconnected from the rest of Chronicles, before proceeding to highlight five theological aspects of the genealogy: its provision of a universal context for the work as a whole; its lack of a special title for Adam or any figure, this being left for the sections on Israel where the name of YHWH is introduced for the first time; its provision of a spatial context for Chronicles; its admission that Israel is a latecomer to the stage of world history, lending legitimacy to the nations; and finally its admission that Israel was not indigenous to the land of Canaan since their lineage is linked to Eber in Shem’s line.

            Although Gerrie F. Snyman (“A Possible World of Text Production for the Genealogy in 1 Chronicles 2.3-4.23”) does not provide a close reading of the genealogy, by leveraging perspectives gleaned from observing South African (both Apartheid and post-Apartheid) uses of genealogy he advances a helpful reflection on the role of genealogy within the early Persian period (boundary maintenance, conflict resolution, elite justification, group solidarity, social order).  According to Snyman, genealogies are powerful in the hands of the elite and assuredly the elite are the ones responsible for its creation and preservation in the books of Chronicles, for writing is the activity of the elite in this period of history.  Snyman narrows the functions to Wilson’s tripartite structure: domestic (determines social position), juridical (regulates relations and controls land) and religious.  After linking these functions to 1 Chron 2:3-4:23, Snyman concludes that the genealogies have been created by elites who came from outside but who sought to include others beyond themselves.

            In his article (“The Secession of the Northern Kingdom in Chronicles”), Ehud Ben Zvi enters the theological world of the Chronicler through the Chronicler’s presentation of the secession of the North.  In this he presents some of the theological tensions in the book (why YHWH caused the secession, thus making possible an anti-Jerusalem), but also notes the implications for Yehud-Samaria relations.  Therefore, for the Chronicler Samaria is Israel, even if their polity is to remain separate from Yehud.  In tension is the fact that the theological pious Israelite is one who must embrace “the exclusivity of the Jerusalem temple, its personnel and associated elite” (p. 78).

            Philippe Abadie’s “From the Impious Manasseh (2 Kings 21) to the Convert Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33)” uses the classic example of Manasseh to echo classic interpretations of the theology of Chronicles, focusing on its theology of retribution and exile-restoration.

            Mark A. Throntveit’s article “The Relationship of Hezekiah to David and Solomon in the Books of Chronicles” is a reprint of a paper presented in 1988.  He draws together earlier research that argued for Hezekiah as a Second David or Second Solomon in order to argue that he is both.  He concludes that the intention of the Chronicler’s presentation of Hezekiah is to show that under this king there was a restoration of the United Kingdom, providing a solution to the thorny problem of the Divided Kingdom.  For Throntveit this has implications for the structure of Chronicles as whole: 1 Chronicles 1-9 (Genealogies), 1 Chronicles 10-2 Chronicles 9 (United Monarchy), 2 Chronicles 10-28 (Divided Monarchy), 2 Chronicles 29-36 (Reunited Monarchy).

            Leslie C. Allen (“Aspects of Generational Commitment and Challenge in Chronicles”) traces the use of the phrase “God of the fathers” in Chronicles, showing that it is used to refer to the Patriarchs, the Exilic generation, David, the immediately preceding generation as well as to previous generations in general.  He concludes that it functions as a rhetorical device for spiritual challenge so that the Chronicler’s and later generations may grasp the baton of faith.

            Focusing on “The Ark in Chronicles,” by tracing the story of the ark from Saul to Josiah, Christopher T. Begg suggests that the Chronicler may harbor hope for its return to the Second Temple.  He finds it interesting that the Chronicler adds references to the ark in his account that are not found in his Vorlage, that the ark is linked to the Davidic-Solomonic period for which there is much hope of renewal both of objects as well as royal rule, that the Chronicler has been highly influenced by P, which also betrays hope for such renewal, that the ark was key to the legitimation of the First Temple and that by portraying David assembling all Israel to fetch the ark 1 Chron 13:1-4 is the Chronicler’s call to his own generation to “turn its attention to the ark once again” (p. 144).

            Roddy L. Braun (Cyrus in Second and Third Isaiah, Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah”) focuses his attention on OT passages that refer to Cyrus, seeking to delineate the nature of the Chronicler’s hope and discern whether Cyrus could be in any way “the messiah”.  Braun argues that Second Isaiah transferred the Messianic hope (“or at least part of its function”) to Cyrus and the people as a whole.   The Chronicler, however, concentrated on the rebuilding of the temple and remained silent on the issue of Cyrus and Zerubbabel.  In this way the future remained open even as the focus was on the renewal of worship under the high priest.  

            John C. Endres traces the “Theology of Worship in Chronicles” and identifies these key features: the regular incorporation of the great litany (“his mercy endures forever”), the regular description of the mood as one of joy, and the regular pattern of worship as burnt offerings, public sacrifices, music and song, thanksgiving sacrifices and eating of joyful meals together.  Endres argues that this theology of worship (praise, thanks, petition offered to God in this ritual complex) can help the people realize their identity as the people of God.

            Isaac Kalimi’s focus is on the dominance and importance of Jerusalem in the Chronistic history (“Jerusalem—The Divine City”).  He demonstrates that Jerusalem is the only capital of the “kingdom of the Lord” where God’s presence is timeless within his legitimate temple.  This is made clear by contrasting the Chronistic presentation with that of prophetic and apocalyptic Hebrew works which spiritualize and idealize Jerusalem.  In contrast, the Chronicler treats Jerusalem in “realistic, earthly, geographic terms, rather than according to some heavenly ideal” (p. 198).  He links this to the fact that the Chronicler lived in an era without dramatic events, thus “his environment did not provide the appropriate historical context to develop a completely new Jerusalem” (p. 201).

            Brian E. Kelly (“Retribution Revisited”) continues his attack on the traditional view of retribution in Chronicles established by the likes of Wellhausen, von Rad, North and Japhet.  Within this stream of research, however, he is able to draw on Japhet, Rudolph and Williamson to show the accent placed on penitence within the Chronicler’s history.  Kelly provides an extended review and critique of the recent work of Johnstone before providing his own overview of the Chronicler’s theology related to sin and punishment.  Kelly argues that the Chronicler presents YHWH as personally active in the history of Israel, eschewing any “mechanical” sense of retribution.  Although the Chronicler does present the punishment of Israel as deserved, one should not assume that the blessing is anything less than God’s “electing love for his people” (p. 214).   In the end, Kelly points to the centrality of the Davidic Covenant to the theology of grace in the books of Chronicles and demonstrated most poignantly in the two divine addresses in 1 Chron 17:3-15 and 2 Chron 7:12-22.  This leads him then to conclude that the “message of prayer, repentance and restoration is the central theme of the subsequent presentation in 2 Chronicles 10-36, rather than a supposed theory of divine rewards and punishments” (p. 217).  Such prayers are to be seen “as a benefit that Israel derives directly from its constitution by the Davidic covenant” (p. 217).

            William M. Schniedewind traces “The Evolution of Name Theology” in Hebrew tradition.  He argues that the pre-exilic Deuteronomic History uses the phrase “house of YHWH’s name” to focus on the exclusivity of worship at that sanctuary, rather than to produce an abstraction of God’s presence.  With the destruction of the temple, the exilic literature (Lamentations; 1 Kings 8; Ps 103:19) envisions YHWH dwelling in heaven while only his name is present in the temple.  In “post-exilic” texts there is a hypostasization of God’s name, that is, God’s name is equated with YHWH himself (Is 56:6; 60:9; Zech 14:9) and ultimately the name “God” replaces “YHWH” in the Second Temple period (even in personal human names).  This trend can be seen in book of Chronicles where “God” replaces “YHWH” (“house of God” 33x; “house of YHWH” 70x, half of latter are synoptic; see also “ark of YHWH” v. “ark of God”), showing that the Chronicler has a marked preference for “God” over “YHWH”.  This trend should be seen as a move away from the exilic abstraction of God’s presence, something confirmed in the Chronicler’s inclusion of an excerpt from Psalm 132 in 2 Chron 6:41-42, an insertion that emphasizes the personal return of YHWH to the temple.  Thus the Chronicler “underscores the importance of the temple by re-emphasizing the physical presence of Yahweh in the face of the theology of the name, which implied that only God’s name dwelt in the temple” (p. 238).  According to Schniedewind, this can be transferred to the Second Temple because of the notation in Ezra 3:8 that the Second Temple construction began at the same time of year as the First Temple, a conclusion only possible if Ezra was originally part of Chronicles.

            Using rhetorical critical methodology, John W. Wright (“Beyond Transcendence and Immanence”) challenges the traditional caricatures of YHWH as transcendent (Wellhausen, von Rad) or immanent (Japhet).  Wright accomplishes this by calling into question the usefulness of such binary dogmatic categories.  Much more significant for Wright is the “where or when of divine presence and activity, and how this presence and activity is simultaneously, at least to some degree, absence and silence” (p. 265).  Thus for Wright, “God is not simply immanent or transcendent but epiphanal …a strange and different character in the narrative world of Chronicles” (p. 266). 

            With so many contributions, each with their own argument, it is a challenge to present much more than their ideas.  However, reading through this rich collection of research one would like to listen in on conversations between participants that should have arisen from their presentations.  In some cases it would be nice to hear how the insights of one article may enrich another.  So, for instance, it would be fascinating to see how Knoppers’ focus on the nations and Israel’s status relates to the genealogical functions that Snyman has highlighted.  Does this show a greater embracing of the nations by this exclusive group?  In some cases divergent views need to challenge one another.  For example, it would be nice to hear Throntveit’s response to Ben Zvi’s contention that the kingdoms are never “reunited” from the Chronicler’s perspective.  Furthermore, does not Abadie’s leveraging of traditional views of the retribution theology in Chronicles need to be reevaluated now in light of Kelly’s refashioning of this theological stream?  Finally, in other cases one sees how two writers may be lending support to each other.  Thus, Schniedewind’s focus on the Chronicler’s allusion to God’s presence may find support from Begg’s contention that the Chronicler expects the ark to return to the temple.  Or, one can see how Ben Zvi’s sensitivity to the mystery of God in Chronicles is highlighted even more strongly by Wright.  Finally, Braun, Endres, and Kalimi reveal the satisfaction of the Chronicler with the political, liturgical, and civic realities of his day, emphasizing the centrality of Jerusalem, its temple and worship to his conception of restoration.

            It is Allen who remains unmentioned and ironically he is the one who highlights the importance of previous generations to challenge us to take up the “baton”.  This volume truly showcases the way in which the later generation has truly taken the baton from not only Allen but also the one to whom this volume is dedicated.  Both the maturity of reflection represented by the group that has been assembled in this book as well as the very fact that my reading of this volume leads me to imagine further conversations, is a fitting tribute to Ralph Klein whose early activity made possible such research and dialogue through the establishment of this enduring section at SBL.

Mark J. Boda
McMaster Divinity College
McMaster University