The Purpose Of The Books Of Chronicles -- By: William J. Dumbrell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 27:3 (Sep 1984)
Article: The Purpose Of The Books Of Chronicles
Author: William J. Dumbrell


The Purpose Of The Books Of Chronicles

William J. Dumbrell*

The closing few verses of 2 Chronicles (2 Chr 36:22–23) inform us that in the first year of the Persian king Cyrus the end of the exile, prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer 25:12), occurred. Yahweh stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, who then made proclamation throughout his kingdom, putting thereby his own realm into the context of a general world rule by Yahweh. The decree directed the exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple of Yahweh. All this was in the terms of a commission given to Cyrus by Yahweh. As is well known, these closing verses of Chronicles appear in nearly identical form as Ezra 1:1–3. This suggests the continuity of the two works, a position that was axiomatically held until perhaps the last two decades. On such an assumption the books of Chronicles were theologically preparatory for the work of Ezra-Nehemiah that followed. Thus the purpose of Chronicles was traditionally assumed to be supportive of the community reforms that Ezra and Nehemiah had endeavored to implement.

Increasingly, however, there has been the disposition to divorce Chronicles from Ezra-Nehemiah on what have seemed to be convincing grounds. Thus the connection between the two works that the Greek Ezra (1 Esdras) established by commencing with the material of 2 Chronicles 35 and continuing uninterrupted until Ezra 1:11 is dismissed as secondary, notwithstanding arguments advanced for the priority of the Greek Ezra over Ezra-Nehemiah.1 The literary connection that the canonical Chronicles now displays with the beginning of Ezra is further suggested to speak for merely an arbitrary junction between the two works rather than for a natural interdependence.2 The balance of scholarship now seems to favor the separation of the two works for the above and for additional reasons. The most compelling of these latter is the appeal to wide theological differences between the stance of Chronicles and that of Ezra-Nehemiah. Though an appeal to stylistic differences is customarily made,3 it cannot be said to be conclusive, and argumentation of that character is often circular. Since the question of the theological distinctiveness of the two works seems the major issue, it is to this that we now turn.

*William Dumbrell is academic dean and professor of Biblical studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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