Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Giffone, Benjamin D., ‘Sit At My Right Hand’: The Chronicler's Portrait of the Tribe of Benjamin in the Social Context of Yehud (LHBOTS, 628; New York: Bloomsbury, 2016). Pp. xviii + 258. Hardback. US$114.00. ISBN: 978056766731.

Giffone's book is a slightly modified version of his dissertation under the supervision of Louis Jonker at Stellenbosch University. The first part focuses on aspects concerning the socio-historical context of Chronicles within Persian Yehud while the second part focuses on the literary portraits of Benjamin in the DtrH and Chronicles.

The introduction outlines the purpose for the study where the lacunae of Benjamin studies is revealed. Giffone outlines eight arguments that he will seek to address, among which are: the Persian period was a formative time for the Hebrew Bible and therefore Persian-era concerns would have “left their mark” on the canon; the tribes of Judah, Levi, and Benjamin were the primary constituent tribes in Yehud; sectarian conflict existed between the largely Benjaminite she‘erit and the Jerusalemite golah community, which can be characterized as a Judah-Benjamin rivalry; Benjamin, as the lone “self-standing” tribe save Judah, is a “test case” for the Chronicler's “all-Israel” message; and, a comprehensive comparison between the presentations of Benjamin and its relations with Judah in Chronicles and in the DtrH will offer a “significant contribution to the understanding of the Chronicler's context, his ideology of ‘all Israel,’ and his view of the centrality of the Jerusalem cult” (p. 7).

In chapter 2 (the first of Part One), Giffone overviews historical and literary constructs. The first section overviews historical criticism and its relation to historiography, while the second section summarizes much of Jonker's approach to identity with concepts gleaned from Berquist in terms of ethnic, national, and religious identity. The third and final section overviews two theories from political game theory: selectorate theory and heresthetics. Giffone sees the wealthier inhabitants of Yehud constituting a selectorate that could form a winning coalition which the leadership would require to achieve power. The theory of heresthetic strategy is marshalled to propose the Chronicler utilized such a theory to “re-present” three symbols—temple, David, Torah—for the community in Yehud.

The next chapter seeks to summarize “key questions and issues” within Chronicles studies (p. 47). Giffone follows the lead of most other scholars in terms of dating, sources, and literary composition (i.e., contra “common source” theories, though Giffone does provide speculation should common source theory be validated). Some theological themes (monotheism, reward and retribution, cult centralization and confession, kingship, and “all Israel”) are summarily noted with a “potential significance” concerning Benjamin and Benjaminites for the Chronicler's theology highlighted (p. 73). The chapter closes with a section focusing on the historical setting of Chronicles within Yehud.

Chapter 4 traces the tribe of Benjamin in history and literature (Hebrew Bible). During the divided kingdom, Benjamin played a key role as a border tribe between North and South, though, as Giffone admits, the exact nature of the role is much debated. What becomes evident, however, are the intertribal tensions embedded in the biblical texts, whether between Benjamin and Ephraim or Benjamin and Judah (p. 92). As Benjamin was the lone Israelite region to remain “mostly unaccosted” under the Assyrians and Babylonians, their territory again rose to prominence, which contributed to the conflict between she‘erit Yehudians and returning golah elites who desired Jerusalem to regain its primacy (p. 99). Following this discussion, Giffone briefly traces Benjamin and Benjaminite aetiologies in the Hebrew Bible as well as surveying the literature concerning Saul in story and tradition.

Having laid the contextual groundwork, Giffone moves to the heart of his study in Part Two. Chapter Five contains portrayals of Benjamin in the DtrH. According to Joshua, the largest land allotments are given to Judah and the Josephite tribes, whereby Benjamin clearly occupies a central region between them. Great victories and miracles are present at Benjaminite sites and the great heroes in the book of Joshua belong to Ephraim (Joshua) and Judah (Caleb). Giffone considers the book of Judges “pro-David and anti-Saul” (p. 144) and is concerned with answering the question “‘Who is going to lead Israel?’” (p. 133), with the only plausible answer being a Judahite (David) in line with the prototypical, though brief treatment of, Othniel. The Book of Samuel is also considered pro-David and prominently features Benjaminite persons and places. By use of brief character analyses of both major (Eli, Samuel, Saul, David) and minor Benjaminite characters (Jonathan, Michal, Ishbosheth, Abner, Mephibosheth/Ziba, Shimei, Sheba, and Saul's grandsons), Giffone purports that the ideal Benjaminite is one who provides loyalty to the anointed Judahite leader (p. 159). In the final section of this chapter, Giffone surveys the book of Kings. Ultimately, the most prominent Benjaminite references are condemnations of the Bethel cult, though Benjamin's overall political status appears ambiguous.

In chapter 6, Giffone approaches the tribe of Benjamin in Chronicles. Following a listing of possible Benjaminite names, Benjaminite places are traced through Chronicles generally and then more specifically in each “literary unit” of Chronicles (Genealogies, Reign of David, Reign of Solomon, Kingdom of Judah). Assuming a chiastic structure to the genealogies, Benjaminites are said to be held in high esteem by the Chronicler and are presented as performing the proper functions of “all Israel” (p. 189). Following a terse treatment of the literary units of Chronicles, Giffone moves to survey the omissions from the DtrH. In summary, the brief inclusion of Saul and the excision of Bethel in Chronicles are explicable as a pro-Benjamin agenda.

As the final chapter (save the Conclusion), Chapter Seven draws further connections between the literary portraits of Benjamin in the DtrH and Chronicles. As a result, it becomes clear that the Chronicler sought to associate Benjamin with Judah “early and always” (p. 209). Giffone, then, situates Chronicles in the social context of Yehud postulating such contexts as audience and the Chronicler's rhetorical strategy in terms of the Jerusalem cult, Davidic monarchy, and eschatology. In the end, though the differences between the DtrH and Chronicles should not be overplayed, the Chronicler's story is “more slanted in favor of Benjamin” than the DtrH (p. 226). Following this chapter is a brief conclusion highlighting further avenues of study, an Appendix based on Jonker's previous work of references to Benjaminite persons and places in Chronicles, a Bibliography, and Indices of Scripture References and Authors.

While Giffone's book is clearly well written, providing smooth transitions along with timely summaries, the title is cause for disillusionment, at least for the current reviewer. The treatment of the Persian-era provides an excellent context for Giffone's study of the Chronicler's portrait of the tribe of Benjamin, however, it is precisely at this point that the disillusionment occurs: the treatment of Benjamin in the book of Chronicles. In an effort to appeal to an “all Israel” rhetoric being held solely by the tribe of Benjamin, Giffone has left silent a vast array of Chronicles scholarship, not least of which is a near void of the foundational work of Williamson (Israel in the Book of Chronicles), which is relegated to a single passing reference (p. 55).[1] As well, especially in a work espousing intertribal relations, the blithe dismissal (cf. p. 189), and thus general absence, of the tribe of Levi, appears questionable provided the prominence the Chronicler bestows on this tribe (Langston's work, for example, elicits an apt question of Benjamin-Levi tensions that seems too readily dismissed, though, commendably, is at least referenced by Giffone, pp. 219–220).[2] With less than 30 pages, out of 270 in total, devoted to the tribe of Benjamin in the Book of Chronicles, it may appear somewhat restrained when seeking to establish the Chronicler's portrait of Benjamin. Though a sufficient amount of works are listed in the Bibliography, the study relies primarily on the otherwise seminal works of Knoppers, Klein, and Jonker accounting for more than 80% (or all but 15) of all references to scholarly works in Chapter Six, thereby limiting engagement with the remainder of Chronicles' scholarship. Overall, Giffone's book provides a necessary and welcome contribution to the lacunae of studies on the tribe of Benjamin, although one could have wished for a more in-depth study of the role of Benjamin as a tribe in the book of Chronicles itself.

Brendan Youngberg, McMaster Divinity College

[1] H. G. M. Williamson, Israel in the Book of Chronicles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977). reference

[2] Scott Langston, Cultic Sites in the Tribe of Benjamin: Benjaminite Prominence in the Religion of Israel (New York: Lang, 1998). reference