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

Isaac Kalimi, The Reshaping of Ancient Israelite History in Chronicles (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2005). Pp. xiv + 473. Cloth, US$44.50. ISBN 1-57506-058-2.

The purpose of this monograph is “to identify and define the literary and historiographical forms and techniques” of the author of Chronicles and place them within the broader context of biblical literature and ancient historiography (p. 2). The volume has an introduction, twenty chapters examining major devices and various sub-varieties, a short conclusion, a bibliography, and indices of authors, scripture, and ancient sources. The twenty chapters and accordingly, the major devices they discuss, are Literary-Chronological Proximity, Historiographical Revision, Completions and Additions, Omissions, Given Name-Equivalent Name Interchanges, Treatment of Problematic Texts, Harmonizations, Character Creation, “Measure for Measure,” Allusion, Chiasmus, Chiasmus between Parallel Texts, Repetitions, Inclusio, Antithesis, Simile, Key Words, Numerical Patterns, Generalization and Specification, and Inconsistency, Disharmony, and Historical Mistakes. Each chapter begins with a short explanation of the technique, an example or two in biblical or extra-biblical literature, and a representative analysis of the technique in Chronicles, including exegetical, theological, and historical-critical comments. 

The monograph is a long-awaited English translation and revision of The Book of Chronicles: Historical Writing and Literary Devices (Biblical Encyclopaedia Library 18; Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 2000), which was itself a Hebrew translation and revision of Zur Geschichtsschreibung des Chronisten: Literarisch-historiographische Abweichungen der Chronik von ihren Paralleltexten in den Samuel- und Konigsbuchern (BZAW 226; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1995), which was a revision of the author’s thesis. Ehud Ben Zvi reviewed the Hebrew translation in this journal(

Though, according to the preface, this is a significant revision of the Hebrew, the problems identified in Ben Zvi’s review persist in this volume and remain the major problems. In particular, Ben Zvi made two critical observations: omissions in the bibliography and an abbreviated conclusion.

 First, while Kalimi has expanded the bibliography, most notably to include, as Ben Zvi suggested, Japhet’s 1993 commentary on Chronicles, the bibliography still lacks significant and relevant works by prominent scholars of Chronicles, such as Ehud Ben Zvi, Gary Knoppers, and Ralph Klein, as well as the two-volume commentary by William Johnstone and Riley’s superb work, King and Cultus. There is also very little bibliography pertaining directly to the literary and rhetorical devices under examination, especially from the fields of linguistics and discourse analysis. These omissions in the bibliography are symptomatic of some of Kalimi’s more questionable analyses and interpretations throughout the monograph.

 Second, while Kalimi does raise some important implications of his work in the conclusion, the conclusion struck me as perfunctory and unsatisfying. This problem seems related to one of the peculiar aspects of this volume, which is the inconsistent application of historical-critical judgments. Kalimi sporadically makes judgments in his commentary regarding the historicity of particular passages. These historical judgments are often a digression from the literary analysis and so distract from it. Consequently, I think the volume would have benefited from a summary analysis of the significance and purpose of the literary techniques for the ancient readership(s) at the end of each chapter rather than these occasional digressions concerning historicity. In turn, this might have allowed Kalimi to develop a more cohesive thesis in the conclusion concerning the use of the various literary techniques as modes to communicate historical and/or theological messages for the text’s community, even or especially when it is not an accurate representation of wie es eigentlich gewesen. In this way, Kalimi might have more ably fulfilled his purpose to situate “the literary and historiographical forms and techniques” in their ancient context and also have provided greater insight into the purpose and form of ancient historiography in general. As it stands, the conclusion is not nearly thorough enough, perhaps begging a second volume.

 Despite these shortcomings, Kalimi’s work makes several important contributions to the ongoing study of Chronicles:

(1)               Kalimi proves that the Chronicler is a sophisticated author, who possesses an adroit command of his sources and considerable literary skill. Rather than treating Chronicles as the poorer sibling of Samuel-Kings, Kalimi invites students and scholars to appreciate Chronicles as an important source for the history of ideas and thought in post-exilic Yehud and as a creative literary production in its own right. While readers are unlikely to agree with all of Kalimi’s interpretations of the Chronicler’s communicative intent, Kalimi leaves no doubt about the Chronicler’s literary and intellectual sophistication.

(2)               Kalimi’s analysis of the literary techniques has and will continue to inspire students and scholars to take seriously the aesthetic value of the text in their analyses. The focus on a variety of literary techniques necessarily demands that students and scholars read the text more closely and so, it is hoped, they will draw more responsible conclusions about the actual claims made within it.

(3)               The catalogue of techniques and the supporting examples, while not comprehensive, can be regarded as thorough and seminal. As such, Kalimi’s volume is an important reference work for the study of Chronicles and should be consulted regularly by all scholars studying in this area. The excellent and detailed table of contents and indices make it particularly attractive in this regard.

In addition, apart from these general contributions, scholars will draw on the many particular insights that Kalimi provides throughout the monograph. Whether through agreement or disagreement, this monograph will spur considerable research and discussion on Chronicles and remain a staple of scholarly articles and footnotes–an impressive accomplishment.

Ken Ristau
Penn State University