1–2 Chronicles are part of the “Chronistic History” from the post-exilic period, which includes also the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. It retraces many of the events of history known from the so-called “Primary History” (Genesis to 1 Kings), with some new material as well. The authors of 1–2 Chronicles did not intend to replace the older venerated historical work, but to provide a second national epic to supplement and update the account for circumstances in the Persian period.
The name of the books of Chronicles is a translation of its Hebrew title, dibre hayyamîm, “events of the days”. The Septuagint’s title paraleipomena, “things left out”, is misleading because the books are more than a compendium of things omitted from the Primary History.
Like the Primary History, the books of Chronicles relate events from the first human, Adam, to the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet the ideological and theological perspective is different in these books since they are writing for a later generation of readers.
1 Chronicles covers Adam to David (1 Chr 1–9) and the United Monarchy to the death of King David (1 Chr 10–29). There is much more here on King David than we have in 1–2 Samuel, providing in great detail David’s preparations for building the temple, and portraying him as a prototype of restoration. The Chronistic History in general is more focused on King David and his dynasty than the earlier books of history, including institutions of worship established allegedly by David himself.
2 Chronicles covers Solomon’s reign (2 Chr 1–9) and a history of the rest of the Davidic dynasty (2 Chr 10–36). The northern kingdom of Israel is mentioned only when it relates to the overarching interest in Yahweh’s temple in Jerusalem.
Date and authorship
1–2 Chronicles are written anonymously. The final editors of the Old Testament wanted readers to take them together with Ezra-Nehemiah. This is highlighted by a link between them embedded at the conclusion of 2 Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra, which is the edict of King Cyrus the Persian (2 Chr 36:22-23 and Ezra 1:1-4). This duplicate reference to the Persian edict serves as a literary hinge, an ancient cross-reference, intentionally tying the books of Chronicles to Ezra-Nehemiah and inviting the reader to continue into Ezra.
For most of the 19th and 20th centuries, scholarship assumed Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah came from the same author, a position that emphasizes literary similarities and shared objectives, taking these books as a single continuous historical work. Since the 1960s and 1970s, however, most scholars assume 1–2 Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah were originally independent of each other and from separate authors, based mostly on linguistic evidence and the contents of each. The literary features and phraseology shared between these works are probably characteristic of historical works from the Persian period generally, and are no indication of common authorship. A less likely approach assumes 1–2 Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah were two independent works but written by the same author.
Most scholars assume 1–2 Chronicles are literarily dependent upon the books of Samuel and Kings, or that they exhibit some variation of literary dependence. A minority view meriting consideration is the possibility of a “shared text” as a common source for the books of Chronicles and Samuel-Kings (see Auld).
Because of the uncertainty about authorship, dates for the composition of 1–2 Chronicles range from the late 5th century BCE to the mid-3rd century BCE.
1–2 Chronicles aimed to comfort readers in the restoration community in Jerusalem by highlighting David’s dynasty, the legitimacy of Yahweh worship in Jerusalem’s temple, and the legitimacy of the community itself as the continuation of pre-exilic Israel. They assumed the truthfulness of Israel’s older historical works preserved in the Bible’s Primary History, and took those narratives as a point of departure.
In 1 Chronicles, the genealogies of chapters 1–9 condense vast periods of history in order to highlight the tribes of Levi and the Levitical priesthood, as well as that of Judah with its Davidic monarchy. Saul’s reign is summarized briefly as a prototype of the exilic situation, representing King Saul as the pattern of unfaithfulness that recurs throughout Israel’s history and is therefore an example not to follow. By contrast, King David becomes a prototype of restoration, especially by highlighting in great detail David’s preparations for building the temple (1 Chr 21–29).
The account of Solomon’s reign in 2 Chronicles avoids the failures of the king, and highlights instead the religious institutions supporting the worship of Yahweh at the temple. Like David, King Solomon becomes a prototype of salvation and restoration, especially as an example of humble repentance and forgiveness (2 Chr 7:13-14). Together with David, Solomon becomes a pattern for restoration from exile, which Israel must follow in order to become once again the people of God in the post-exilic community.
Kings of the southern kingdom are covered in rapid succession in the rest of 2 Chronicles (chapters 10–36). The Jerusalem temple, supported by the Davidic monarchy, is the real “Israel” in the books of Chronicles. The north is mentioned only when it relates to this overarching interest in Yahweh’s temple.
Following David and Solomon in the pattern or restoration, 2 Chronicles highlights those kings who properly “sought Yahweh/God” or otherwise promoted seeking Yahweh among the people. These included especially Asa, Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah, and Josiah.
The authors and editors of the books of Chronicles envisioned an audience of Israelites that encompassed “all Israel”, including the inhabitants of the former northern kingdom of Israel (2 Chr 30:1-12).
Unlike the corporate retribution theology of the Deuteronomistic History, the books of Chronicles perceive each generation bearing responsibility for its own righteousness or sin. Each generation determines its own fate. In this way, the books of Chronicles share a doctrine of individual accountability with the prophets of the exilic and post-exilic periods (especially Ezekiel).
In the history of Jewish and Christian interpretation, 1–2 Chronicles have been neglected, partly because it was assumed they were merely supplementing 1–2 Samuel and 1–2 Kings, and partly because it was assumed they contained little of historical value. In the influential treatment of Julius Wellhausen near the close of the 19th century, great significance was placed on the ahistorical nature of the books of Chronicles as part of a late and imaginative reconstruction of early Israelite religion. More recent interpretations have been less skeptical of the historical significance of 1–2 Chronicles.
Auld, A. Graeme. Kings without Privilege: David and Moses in the Story of the Bible’s Kings. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994.
Graham, M. Patrick, K. G. Hoglund, and S. L. McKenzie. The Chronicler as Historian. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement 238. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1997.
Japhet, Sara. I and II Chronicles. Old Testament Library. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1993.
Knoppers, Gary N. I Chronicles. 2 vols. Anchor Bible 12. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 2004.
Williamson, H. G. M. 1 and 2 Chronicles. New Century Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982.