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

Steven L. McKenzie, 1-2 Chronicles (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004). Pp. 381. Paper, US$36.00, UK£23.99, CAN$51.99. ISBN 0-687-00750-X.

 Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries is a relatively new series from Abingdon Press that is written for “theological students and pastors.” The present volume by Steven L. McKenzie covers the books of 1-2 Chronicles.

 The format of the series serves McKenzie’s task very well. The series allows McKenzie to divide and analyze the contents of Chronicles according to his own logical units rather than being forced to follow a strict chapter by chapter or verse by verse analysis. For each unit of text, he provides a summary introduction, a literary analysis, an exegetical analysis, and a theological analysis. This organization results in a well-rounded approach that provides a broader range of insights to the text than the formats of comparable commentaries usually allow.

In the literary analysis, McKenzie typically chooses to engage in some form criticism and also provide analysis of the overall structure of each unit. In the exegetical analysis, he discusses key interpretive issues of the unit. This often involves a discussion, at some length, of the relationship between the Chronicler’s composition and parallel passages in Samuel-Kings or other texts. It also involves analysis of problematic or difficult words and phrases in the passage in a very accessible yet informative way. In the theological analysis, McKenzie supplies a pragmatic discussion of devotional and homiletic insights into the passage. Of the three sections, McKenzie generally devotes the most attention, as one might expect, to the exegetical analysis, while the others are less developed or irregular in length. For example, at some points, McKenzie provides extensive discussion in the literary analysis while elsewhere it is frustratingly short. On the other hand, the theological analysis is usually quite brief and appears primarily intended to stimulate thinking rather than provide definitive perspectives.

  Throughout the commentary, McKenzie works diligently to balance scholarship and accessibility. Most of the analyses are clear and consistent, reflecting a careful multi-dimensional methodology.  He provides references to the leading scholarship yet never overwhelms the reader with the academic debate. Notably, while bringing his own extensive experience in Chronicles to bear as well as a reliable cross-section of recent scholarship, McKenzie is clearly influenced by Gary Knoppers’ recent contribution on 1 Chronicles to the Anchor Bible series.

Given the limitations of this series, McKenzie’s discussion of the genre of Chronicles is quite short but it nevertheless points to one of the clear tendencies throughout the commentary. Considering proposals that Chronicles is rewritten Bible or historiography, McKenzie ultimately concludes that it is a “unique work”: “a theological rewriting of Bible history for instructional purposes” (34). McKenzie’s conclusion attempts to combine many different genres: theology, rewritten Bible, history, and didactic literature. While the definition is understandable, in that Chronicles does actually exhibit all of these forms, Chronicles certainly is not unique in combining them and I fail to see why it is not ancient historiography. The standards that McKenzie applies preclude a single genre classification for most significant works of literature. Theology, rewriting, and didacticism are elements in nearly all ancient and also classical historiography. Should we also say that Herodotus is not quite historiography but unique, and so conclude that it is “a schematized rewriting of folk tales, travelogues, myths, and history, with oracular pronouncements and didactic aims”? Micro-forms should not preclude a macro-classification.

 Moreover, as it pertains to McKenzie’s work, the focus on rewriting in particular shifts the commentary away from an analysis of Chronicles as its own work to a focus on differences between Chronicles and the literature it is rewriting. This, in turn, results in considerable speculation in paralleled passages about whether or not a given difference was in the Chronicler’s Vorlage and the possible intent for the changes. Although a common tendency in commentaries and studies on Chronicles, this is likely to be a tangential issue for the audience of this series, especially when such discussions come at the expense of commentary on the greater part of the narrative that, though identical to the Vorlage (or nearly so), is nevertheless a new and its own story in its context within the book.

 Finally, one additional observation: McKenzie comments on Chronicles through the lens of an established characterization of the Chronicler’s ideology. For example, (1) McKenzie’s emphatic stress on a theology of individual reward and punishment and (2) his position that the Chronicler envisions the restoration of the monarchy. In my opinion, McKenzie occasionally ignores the nuances of the text that contradict such perspectives and so does not adequately acknowledge the tension in aspects of the Chronicler theology. Also, while McKenzie refers to Riley on the latter issue, he does not refer to Ben Zvi’s important article, “A Sense of Proportion” in SJOT 9 (1995):37-51, either in situ or in the select bibliography, on the former. Still, the positions that McKenzie advocates remain majority opinions and so are representative of current scholarship on Chronicles. As such, McKenzie’s analysis serves the purpose of the series.

Overall, McKenzie has succeeded wonderfully in writing a pastoral and lay commentary on Chronicles that utilizes recent research. Not only should the intended audience of theological students and pastors find this a useful resource for their research but scholars too. 

Ken Ristau
Penn State University