1. Like the two Books of King, the two Books of Chronicles formed originally a single work, the separation of which into two “books” is referable to the Septuagint translators, whose division was adopted by Jerome, and from whom it passed to the various branches of the Western Church. In the Hebrew Bibles the title of the work means literally “the daily acts” or “occurrences,” a title originally applied to the accounts of the reigns of the several kings, but afterward applied to general works made up from these particular narratives.
The Septuagint translators substituted one which they regarded as more suitable to the contents of the work and the position that it occupies among the historical books of the Bible. This was Paraleipomena, or “the things omitted “ - a name intended to imply that Chronicles was supplementary to Samuel and Kings, written, i. e., mainly for the purpose of supplying the omissions of the earlier history.
The English title, “Chronicles,” (derived from the Vulgate) is a term primarily significative of time; but in practical use it designates a simple and primitive style of history rather than one in which the chronological element is peculiarly prominent.
2. The “Book of Chronicles” stands in a position unlike that occupied by any other book of the Old Testament. It is historical, yet not new history. The writer traverses ground that has been already trodden by others.
His purpose in so doing is sufficiently indicated by the practical object he had in view, namely, that of meeting the special difficulties of his own day. The people had lately returned from the captivity and had rebuilt the temple; but they had not yet gathered up the threads of the old national life, broken by the captivity. They were therefore reminded, in the first place, of their entire history, of the whole past course of mundane events, and of the position which they themselves held among the nations of the earth. This was done, curtly and drily, but sufficiently, by genealogies, which have always possessed a special attraction for Orientals. They were then more especially reminded of their own past as an organized nation - a settled people with a religion which has a fixed home in the center of the nation’s life.
It was the strong conviction of the writer that the whole future prosperity of his countrymen was bound up with the preservation of the temple service, with the proper maintenance of the priests and Levites, the regular establishment of the “courses,” and the rightful distribution of the several ministrations of the temple among the Levitical families. He therefore drew the attention of his countrymen to the past history of the temple, under David, Solomon, and the later kings of Judah; pointing out that in almost every instance temporal rewards and punishments followed in exact accordance with the attitude in which the king placed himself toward the national religion. Such a picture of the past, a sort of condensed view of the entire previous history, written in the idiom of the day, with frequent allusions to recent events, and with constant reiteration of the moral intended to be taught, was calculated to affect the newly returned and still unsettled people far more strongly and deeply than the old narratives. The Book of Chronicles bridged over, so to speak, the gulf which separated the nation after, from the nation before, the captivity: it must have helped greatly to restore the national life, to revive hope and encourage high aspirations by showing to the nation that its fate was in its own hands, and that religious faithfulness would be certain to secure the divine blessing.
3. That the Book of Chronicles was composed after the return from the captivity is evident, not only from its closing passage, but from other portions of it.
The evidence of style accords with the evidence furnished by the contents. The phraseology is similar to that of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, all books written after the exile. It has numerous Aramaean forms and at least one word derived from the Persian. The date cannot therefore well be earlier than 538 B.C., but may be very considerably later. The very close connection of style between Chronicles and Ezra, makes it probable that they were composed at the same time, if not even by the same person. If Ezra was the author, as so many think, the date could not well be much later than 435 B.C., for Ezra probably died about that time. There is nothing in the contents or style of the work to make the date 450-435 B.C. improbable; for the genealogy in 1Ch 3:23-24, which appears to be later than this, may be a subsequent addition.
4. The writer of Chronicles cites, as his authorities, works of two distinct classes:
(a) His most frequent reference is to a general history - the “Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah,” This was a compilation from the two histories constantly mentioned in Kings - the “book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel,” and the “book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah,” which it had been found convenient to unite into one.
(b) The other works cited by him were 12-part or 13-part histories, the works of prophets who dealt with particular portions of the national annals. Of none of these works is the exact character known to us; but the manner in which they are cited makes it probable that for the most part they treated with some fullness the history - especially the religious history - of the times of their authors. They may be regarded as independent compositions - monographs upon the events of their times, written by individual prophets, of which occasionally one was transferred, not into our “Books of Kings,” but into the “book of the kings of Israel and Judah;” while the remainder existed for some centuries side by side with the “Book of the Kings,” and furnished to the writer of Chronicles much of the special information which he conveys to us.
There is also ample proof that the writer made use of the whole of the earlier historical Scriptures, and especially of the Books of Samuel and Kings, such as we have them. The main sources of 1 Chr 1–8, are the earlier Scriptures from Genesis to Ruth, supplemented by statements drawn from private sources, such as the genealogies of families, and numerous important points of family history, carefully preserved by the “chiefs of the fathers” in almost all the Israelite tribes; a main source of 1 Chr. 10–27 is Samuel; and a source, though scarcely a main source, of 2 Chr. 1–36 is Kings (compare the marginal references and notes). But the writer has always some further authority besides these; and there is no section of the Jewish history, from the death of Saul to the fall of Jerusalem, which he has not illustrated with new facts, drawn from some source which has perished.
5. The indications of unity in the authorship preponderate over those of diversity, and lead to the conclusion that the entire work is from one and the same writer. The genealogical tendency, which shows itself so strongly in the introductory section 1 Chr. 1–9, is remarkably characteristic of the writer, and continually thrusts itself into notice in the more purely historical portions of his narrative. Conversely, the mere genealogical portion of the work is penetrated by the same spirit as animates the historical chapters, and, moreover, abounds with phrases, characteristic of the writer.
That the historical narrative (1 Chr. 10–2 Chr. 36) is from one hand, can scarcely be doubted. One pointedly didactic tone pervades the whole - each signal calamity and success being ascribed in the most direct manner to the action of Divine Providence, rewarding the righteous and punishing the evil-doers. There is everywhere the same method of composition - a primary use of Samuel and Kings as bases of the narrative, the abbreviation of what has been narrated before, the omission of important facts, otherwise known to the reader; and the addition of new facts, sometimes minute, and less important than curious, at other times so striking that it is surprising that the earlier historians should have passed them over.
6. The abrupt termination of Chronicles, in the middle of a sentence, is an unanswerable argument against its having come down to us in the form in which it was originally written.
And the recurrence of the final passage of our present copies of Chronicles at the commencement of Ezra, taken in conjunction with the undoubted fact, that there is a very close resemblance of style and tone between the two books, suggests naturally the explanation, which has been accepted by some of the best critics, that the two works, Chronicles and Ezra, were originally one, and were afterwards separated: that separation having probably arisen out of a desire to arrange the history of the post-captivity period in chronological sequence.
7. The condition of the text of Chronicles is far from satisfactory. Various readings are frequent, particularly in the names of persons and places; omissions are found, especially in the genealogies; and the numbers are sometimes self-contradictory, sometimes contradictory of more probable numbers in Samuel or Kings, sometimes unreasonably large, and therefore justly suspected.
The work is, however, free from defects of a more serious character. The unity is unbroken, and there is every reason to believe that we have the work, in almost all respects, exactly as it came from the hand of the author.
8. As compared with the parallel histories of Samuel and Kings, the history of Chronicles is characterized by three principal features:
(a) A greater tendency to dwell on the externals of religion, on the details of the temple worship, the various functions of the priests and Levites, the arrangement of the courses, and the like. Hence, the history of Chronicles has been called “ecclesiastical,” while that of Samuel and Kings has been termed “political.” This tendency does not detract from the credibility, or render the history undeserving of confidence.
(b) A marked genealogical bias and desire to put on record the names of persons engaged in any of the events narrated; and
(c) A more constant, open, and direct ascription of all the events of the history to the divine agency, and especially a more plain reference of every great calamity or deliverance to the good or evil deeds of the monarch, or the nation, which Divine Providence so punished or rewarded.
There is no reason to regard Chronicles as less trustworthy than Samuel or Kings. A due consideration of disputed points, the “Levitical spirit,” contradictions, alleged mistakes, etc., does not, speaking generally, impugn the honesty of the writer or the authenticity of his work. The book may fairly be regarded as authentic in all its parts, with the exception of some of its members. These appear to have occasionally suffered corruption, though scarcely to a greater extent than those of other books of equal antiquity. From blemishes of this kind it has not pleased God to keep His Word free. It will scarcely be maintained at the present day that their occurrence affects in the very slightest degree the authenticity of the rest of the narrative.
The style of Chronicles is simpler and less elevated than that of Kings. Excepting the psalm of David in 1 Chr. 16 and the prayer of Solomon in 2 Chr. 6, the whole is prosaic, level, and uniform. There are no especially striking chapters, as in Kings; but it is less gloomy, being addressed to the restored nation, which it seeks to animate and inspirit. The captive people, weeping by the waters of Babylon, fitly read their mournful history in Kings: the liberated nation, entering hopefully upon a new life, found in Chronicles a review of its past, calculated to help it forward on the path of progress, upon which it was entering.