Continuity In The Old Testament Historical Literature -- By: R. Laird Harris

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 14:3 (Summer 1971)
Article: Continuity In The Old Testament Historical Literature
Author: R. Laird Harris

Continuity In The Old Testament
Historical Literature

R. Laird Harris*

It is probably well-known that at the end of certain Old Testament books there are indications that they form an historical narrative which is continuous with the book that follows. A couple of these examples are rather clear. These clearer cases can perhaps be used to suggest that other Old Testament historical narratives had the same tendency.

The first and most obvious instance of such a juncture of historical books concerns the end of II Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra. As is well known, the last two verses of II Chronicles are practically identical wtih the first two and a half verses of Ezra. There is one minor divergence. The Tetragram in Chronicles is the sussive of the verb hayah in Ezra, but this difference is surely transscriptional. The Septuagint in both texts uses the verb “to be.”

A further interesting point in the comparison of these parallel verses is that the one at the end of Chronicles is clearly secondary. The book of Chronicles ends in the middle of a sentence. It says “The Lord his God is with him, and let him go up.” The sentence in Ezra continues: “his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and let him build the house of the Lord, etc.” It seems very clear that the first sentence of Ezra was appended to the book of Chronicles.

The reason for this connection is rather obvious. In ancient times there were no codices—bound volumes such as we use—and it was more difficult than now to keep scrolls and tablets in their proper order. Therefore, the catch line practice was adopted whereby the first line of the following tablet appears as a catch line at the end of the previous tablet. In the case of the Gilgamesh epic, the ends and beginings of most of the tablets are destroyed, but tablet IV ends wtih the catch line, “They stood still and looked at the forest.” Tablet V begins, “They stood still and looked at the forest. They beheld the heights of the cedar. They beheld the entrance to the forest, where Humbaba was wont to walk” etc.1 It seems that the first tablet ends in the middle of a sentence, or at least in the middle of a poetic couplet, much as does Chron-

*Dean and Professor of Old Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.

icles. In the case of Tablet VI, there is at the end also a colophon noting that this is Tablet VI and that it was collated with its original. In the case of Tablets X and XI, there: is a catch line and a colophon both. The catch line of X is “Gilgamesh said to him, to Utnap...

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