The book, whose name Chronicles is borrowed by Luther from Jerome, is very late. Ezra-Nehemiah with which Chronicles goes must be, as we have seen, as late as Alexander the Great; but the lateness of Chronicles can be proved without going beyond the book itself. The Hebrew text of 1 Chron. iii.19ff. carries the date six generations beyond Zerubbabel (520 B.C.), that is, at the earliest, to 350 B.C., while the Greek text postulates eleven generations, which would compel us to come as late as 250 B.C. We shall not go far astray if we consider the date as roughly 300 B.C. It is thus seven centuries later than the reign of David, with whose ecclesiastical enterprises it deals so elaborately, and about two and a-half centuries from the exile, with which it closes. The distance of the record from the events has to be borne in mind when estimating its religious spirit and historical value. [Footnote: See p.355.]
The book of Chronicles is an ecclesiastical history in a sense very much more severe than the book of Kings; on every page it reflects the ritual interests which were predominant when the book was written. To it the only history worth recording is the history of Judah. The first ten chapters are occupied with the preparation for that history, and the rest of the book (i Chron. xi.-2 Chron. xxxvi.) with the history itself from the coronation of David to the exile. Israel is the apostate kingdom; she had revolted alike from Judah and Jehovah, and had been swept for her sins into exile, from which she never emerged again. The Chronicler makes a man of God say to Amaziah, "Jehovah is not with Israel," 2 Chron. xxv.7, and this exactly represents his own attitude. He therefore all but absolutely ignores the history of the northern kingdom, touching upon it only where it is in some special way implicated in the history of Judah.
This practically exclusive attention of the Chronicles to Judah is based upon her unique religious or rather ecclesiastical importance. In Judah God made Himself known as nowhere else (cf. Ps. lxxvi.1, 2); she was the religious metropolis of the world (Ps. lxxxvii.); Jerusalem was the capital of Judah, and the temple was the centre of Jerusalem. Therefore the temple and its affairs completely dwarf all other interests. Not only is the story in Kings of its building and dedication by Solomon repeated and expanded (2 Chron. i.-ix.), but the story of David's reign (1 Chron. xi.-xxix.) is almost entirely monopolized by an account of the arrangements which he made for the temple ordinances and the material which he collected for the building. He is said to have given Solomon a plan of the temple with all its furniture and sundry other details, the pattern of which he is said to have himself received from the hand of God (xxviii). Every opportunity is taken in the course of the history to dwell with an affectionate elaboration of detail on the temple services or festivals; and the resultant contrast between the corresponding accounts of the same reign in Kings and Chronicles is often very singular -- nowhere more so than in the story of Hezekiah, most of which is devoted to an account of the great passover held in connexion with the reformation (2 Chron. xxix., xxx.).
The Chronicler betrays, if possible, even more interest in the Levites than in the priests. It is a Levite who is moved by the Spirit to encourage Jehoshaphat before the battle (2 Chron. xx.14), and special attention is called to their enthusiasm at the reformation of Hezekiah (2 Chron. xxix.34). The Chronicler also displays exceptional interest in the musical service -- in his account, e.g., of the inauguration of the temple and of the passovers of Hezekiah and Josiah; so that it has been not unreasonably conjectured that the author was himself a Levite and member of one of the guilds of temple singers or musicians.
Since, then, the interests of the Chronicler are so undeniably ecclesiastical, the question may be fairly raised how far his narrative is strictly historical. It must be confessed, e.g., that the impression made by his account of David is distinctly unnatural and improbable, in the light of the graphic biography in 1 and 2 Samuel. It is not a supplementary picture, but an altogether different one. The versatile minstrel-warrior of the earlier books is transformed into a saint, whose supreme aim in life is the service of religion; and this transformation is thoroughly characteristic of the Chronicler. He deals with his literary sources in the most sovereign fashion, and adapts them to his theories of Providence. His omissions, e.g., are very significant. He has nothing to say of David's adultery, nor of Solomon's idolatry, nor of the intrigues by which he succeeded to the throne, nor of the tribute of silver and gold which Hezekiah paid Sennaccherib (2 Kings xviii.14-16). It may be urged in extenuation of his silence that his public were already familiar with these stories in the books of Samuel and Kings; but he repeats so many sections from these books word for word that his failure to repeat the sections which militate against his heroes can only be regarded as part of a deliberate policy. Especially must this be maintained in the light of his numerous modifications or contradictions of his sources. David's sons, he tells us, were chief about the king (1 Chron, xviii.17); he cannot allow that they were priests, as 2 Sam. viii.18 says they were. Nor can he allow that Solomon offered his dedicatory prayer before the altar (1 Kings viii.22) -- that was the place for the priest -- so he erects for him a special platform in the midst of the court, from which he addresses the people (2 Chron. vi.13).
The motive of these changes is obviously respect for the priestly law. Sometimes the motive is to glorify his heroes or to magnify their enthusiasm or devotion. Where, e.g. in 2 Sam. xxiv.24 David pays Araunah fifty shekels of silver for the ground on which the temple was afterwards built, in 1 Chron. xxi.25 he pays 600 shekels of gold. Similarly, in 1 Kings ix.11 Solomon gives Hiram certain cities in return for a loan; in 2 Chron. viii.2 it is Hiram who gives Solomon the cities. David accumulates 100,000 talents of gold and 1,000,000 of silver for the building of the temple (1 Chron. xxii.) -- a fabulous and impossible sum when we remember that Solomon himself had only 666 talents of gold yearly (1 Kings x.14). In 2 Sam. xxi.19 Elhanan is the hero who slays Goliath; the Chronicler sees that this conflicts with the romantic story of David (1 Sam. xvii.) and therefore makes Elhanan slay the brother of Goliath (1 Chron. xx.5). In 2 Kings xxii., xxiii., the reformation of Josiah follows very naturally upon the finding of the law in the eighteenth year of the king, but the Chronicler represents the reformation as taking place in his twelfth year, i.e. as soon as he came of age (2 Chrori. xxxiv.3). He still, however, dates the finding of the law in his eighteenth year (cf.8), i.e. six years after the reformation, and thus throws the history into an impossible sequence, apparently for no other object than to illustrate the youthful devotion of his hero-king. He is not even always consistent with himself; following Kings (1 Kings xv.14, xxii.43) he says that Asa and Jehoshaphat did not remove the high places (2 Chron. xv.17, xx.33), and yet he had just before told us that they did (2 Chron, xiv.5, xvii.6) as, on his theory, -- being good kings, they should. The motive for the change is usually obvious. In 2 Sam. xxiv.1 Jehovah had tempted David to number the people. This is intolerable to the more advanced theology of the Chronicler, so he ascribes the impulse to Satan (1 Chron. xxi.1). A similar transformation may be seen in his notice of the doom of Saul. In 1 Sam. xxviii.6 it is implicitly said that Saul earnestly sought to discover the divine will; in 1 Chron. x.14 this is roundly denied-he did not inquire of Jehovah.
These and similar transformations, amounting sometimes to contradictions of the original sources, are due to a religious motive, and they appear to be made in perfectly good faith. The Chronicler is a religious man who, unlike Job, finds no perplexities in the moral world, but everywhere a precise and mechanical correspondence between character and destiny. Not only is piety rewarded by prosperity, but prosperity presupposes piety. The most pious kings have the most soldiers. David has over a million and a half, Jehoshaphat over a million, while Rehoboam has only 180,000. Manasseh's long reign of fifty-five years -- a stumbling-block, on the Chronicler's theory -- has to be explained by his repentance (2 Chron. xxxiii.11ff.). Religious explanations are everywhere assigned for facts. Josiah's defeat and death are the penalty of his disobedience to the word of God which came to him through the Egyptian king (2 Chron. xxxv.21ff). So Uzziah's leprosy is the divine punishment of his pride in presuming to offer incense despite the protests of the priests (2 Chron. xxvi.16ff.), The Chronicler sees the hand of God in everything; He is the immediate arbiter of all human destiny. That is why rewards and punishments are so swift and just and sure. The divine control of human affairs is most conspicuously seen in the Chronicler's account of battles, where the human warriors count for nothing. God fights or causes a panic among the enemy; the warriors do little more than shout and pursue (2 Chron. xiii.15, xx.). The battle-scenes show how little imagination the Chronicler possessed; clearly he had never seen a battle, and he has no conception of one (cf. Num. xxxi.). He thinks nothing of describing a conflict between 400,000 Judeans and 800,000 Israelites, in which half a million of the latter were slain (2 Chron. xiii.). It is all so different from the stirring and life-like tales of the Judges or the Maccabees.
In the face of these historical improbabilities, what are we to make of the Chronicler's continual appeal to his sources? These are ostensibly of two kinds: (a) historical, (b)
Yet it is almost equally certain that that is not the book to which he continually refers his readers. The "book of Jehu," which recorded the history of Jehoshaphat, is said to be incorporated in the book of the Kings of Israel (2 Chron. xx.34); it is not, however, in our canonical Kings. Neither is the prayer of Manasseh (2 Chron. xxxiii.18), nor are the genealogies referred to in 1 Chron. ix.1. Again, for further information about Jotham the reader is referred to the book of the kings of Israel and Judah (2 Chron. xxvii.7), when, as a matter of fact, the Chronicler has more to tell about him than our book of Kings (2 Kings xv.32-38). Clearly, then, the book so frequently cited is not the canonical book of Kings. What sort of production it was may be inferred from the reference in 2 Chron. xxiv.27 to the "midrash of the book of the Kings." Doubtless the book in question was a midrash, i.e. an edifying commentary on the history, of the sort preserved in the very late story of 1 Kings xiii. The tendency towards midrash, which so powerfully affected the later Jewish mind, appears as early as the stories of Elisha. (b) Prophetic sources are also frequently cited or alluded to, e.g. the books of Samuel, Nathan, Gad (1 Chron. xxix.29), the prophecy of Ahijah, the book of Shemaiah, the book of Iddo (2 Chron, xii.15), the vision of Isaiah (2 Chron. xxxii.32), etc. Probably, however, these were not independent prophetic works. The reference to the "midrash of the prophet Iddo" (2 Chron. xiii.22) suggests that these works, like the history of the kings, were midrashic; in all probability they were simply extracts from the midrashic book of Kings already alluded to. Practically all the prophets to whom books are ascribed in Chronicles are mentioned in the canonical books, and probably they were regarded as the authors of the sections in which their names occur, so that the books of Samuel, Nathan and Gad would be none other than the relevant portions of Samuel and Kings, or of the midrash of these books. Thus the Chronicler's imposing array of citations may be without injustice reduced to two books -- the canonical book of Kings (or Genesis to Kings) and the midrash to those books.
These facts have led many to deny all value whatever to the Chronicler's unsupported statements. But such a condemnation is too sweeping. The genealogies in 1 Chron. i.-ix., though they no doubt received many later additions, probably rest on good sources, and there are other notices bearing, e.g., on the fortifications of Rehoboam (2 Chron. xi.), Jotham (2 Chron. xxvii.), etc., on Uzziah's enterprise in peace and war (2 Chron. xxvi.5-15), on Judah's border warfare (2 Chron. xvii.11, xxi.16, xxvi.7, xxviii.17f), etc., which do not display the Chronicler's characteristic tendencies and appear to be authentic. On the whole, however, the historical value of Chronicles must be rated low. Nor is its religious value high. Its attitude to the problems raised by the moral order is exceedingly mechanical, and with one noble exception (2 Chron. xxx.18, 19), its general conception of religion is ritualistic. But it is a valuable monument of the Judaism of the third century B.C., and we learn from it to appreciate the daring independence of such books as Job and Ecclesiastes.