Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 15 (2015) - Review

Kim, Yeong Seon, The Temple Administration and the Levites in Chronicles (CBQMS, 51; Washington D.C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 2014). Pp. viii + 227. Paperback. US$16.00. ISBN 978-0-91517-050-0.

Over the last two decades, the role of the Levites in the book of Chronicles has become a topic of increased scholarly attention. Many commentators have noted that the Chronicler's interest in Levites may reflect changes in their social and religious functions throughout the course of the Persian period (the era in which most scholars place the composition of Chronicles), especially regarding their place in the temple faculty and, consequently, their role in the preservation and transmission of its texts. Yeong Seon Kim's monograph falls into this category of scholarship. It examines the function of the Levites in Chronicles as a way of better understanding intellectual and social trends in late Persian period Yehud. Kim, however, argues that Chronicles is not a transparent window into the realia of the Levites' role in late Persian Yehud, but instead constitutes the Chronicler's attempt to persuade the reader that the presentation of the Levites in his historiographic work reflects the type of role or position that the Levites should play in temple affairs. The Chronicler's presentation of the Levites vis-à-vis the temple is not descriptive but prescriptive, and his literary rendering of the past is an argument for adjusting the present and envisioning the future.

Following a brief introduction, Kim's monograph is divided into four chapters: chapter 1, “Groundwork” (pp. 17–33), chapter 2, “Analysis of Gatekeepers, Treasurers, and Tax-Collectors” (pp. 35–97), chapter 3, “Temple Gates, Revenue, and Staff” (pp. 98–161), and chapter 4, “The Chronicler's Agenda and Influence” (pp. 163–93), with end matter following. Kim's discussion in chapter 1 revolves primarily around redactional development and the compositional setting for Chronicles. He advances the view that Chronicles is substantially the work of a single compositional effort in the fourth century b.c.e. rather than the result of multiple redactions. In this, Kim is certainly in good company, since the majority of Chronicles scholars generally agree on this temporal setting. The matter of redaction, however, is more contested, and Kim makes a compelling argument for seeing compositional unity in the texts he examines, especially the unit he calls “David's Installation Block” (pp. 26–33). In this block Kim identifies the central text that lays out the Chronicler's vision for Levitical function in the temple; assigning it to a single author provides the basis for his subsequent analysis of the block as a prescriptive work instead of the result of a textual expansion meant to reflect extant social institutions.

Chapters 2 and 3, which constitute the majority of the study, provide a rigorous analysis of texts that detail the various temple duties of the Levites against additional sources (biblical and extrabiblical) regarding temple culture in the Persian period in Yehud and elsewhere. Chapter 2 carefully examines texts regarding the Levites' role as gatekeepers and treasurers, identifying the rhetorical/exegetical strategy employed by the Chronicler that projects this role back into much more ancient sources (and ostensible historical eras). The chapter concludes with a useful summary of the Chronicler's literary methods (pp. 92–97) that facilitate this process. Chapter 3 then moves into a comparison of sources beyond Chronicles that address the same general topics regarding temple economy and safeguarding, providing a detailed overview of temple administration in texts relating to preexilic Israel, Mesopotamia, and Persia. Kim notes that the Chronicler draws different temple functionaries into the ranks of the Levites (p. 155)—a position that other scholars have advocated in the past—yet for Kim this is not a result of changing socio-political circumstances, but arises from the Chronicler's theoretical proposals. Kim's evaluation of the evidence also highlights that, while differences existed between civic leadership and cultic leadership, the line dividing these two spheres of influence was fluid and permeable (p. 159), though the Chronicler's historiography maintains a clearer distinction between the two.

Chapter 4 (despite its relative brevity) carries the most important discussion in Kim's monograph, synthesizing the implications of the previous few chapters and setting them within a considerably larger literary/intellectual context. Kim addresses the Chronicler's picture of the Levites over against that of Ezra-Nehemiah, the Deuteronomistic History, and the Pentateuch within contemporary scholarship, arguing that the Chronicler's primary goal was to envision a temple cult that more fully realized the material enshrined in the Pentateuch (pp. 163–71). The chapter goes on to consider whether or not the Chronicler's intentions were successful: Kim looks to the wealth of Second Temple literature that take up the topic of Levitical authority and social location (pp. 171–90), and observes that Levites remain pivotal figures in texts that sought to challenge, realign, or otherwise reconfigure hierarchical structures associated with the temple or priesthood as a conceptual topos. The chapter, and the monograph, conclude with the statement that the Chronicler wrote for his time and contemporary audiences, but his work operated as part of an intellectual universe where theoretical attitudes could be countenanced and qualified through discourses relating to real groups and institutions (p. 192). Chronicles, then, provides “an unparalleled glimpse into some of the logistical and practical problems” in Persian Yehud (p. 193), even if its contents are not analogous to the actual mechanics of the temple administration.

Kim notes that Chronicles “is not an easy or aesthetically pleasing read” (p. 27), but his own monograph is. Kim writes clearly and persuasively, and he deftly navigates between critical exegesis of the source texts and comprehensive discussions of the major scholarly proposals regarding these texts. Though other scholars have also recently identified Chronicles as a platform for theoretical discourse,[1] Kim's focus on texts dealing with the Levites in particular is a significant contribution not only to the study of Chronicles, but to currents of scholarship on the rising importance of the Levites in the Persian and early Hellenistic periods. It is becoming increasingly clear that the Levites were not simply a “second class” priesthood, but held a unique position as mediators of traditional institutions/praxes and communities revolving around the Jerusalem temple and its cult. While their roles in the Chronicler's work may not speak to their actual function in the temple administration, the very fact that the Chronicler was able to conceive of Levites occupying such positions presupposes that the audience of Chronicles could accept this vision of how the temple ought to function. This raises possibilities not only for obtaining a better understanding of the Levites' actual social and sacral functions in late Persian Yehud, but also for reconsidering the perceptions of historiography by audiences in this period. Kim's monograph makes a fine contribution to this avenue of study and will no doubt prove to be a valuable resource in future research.

Mark Leuchter, Temple University

[1] E.g., Steven Schweitzer, Reading Utopia in Chronicles (LHBOTS, 442; London: T&T Clark, 2007). reference