In his article on the “Books of Chronicles” in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, R. K. Duke posits that “there is no such thing as objective history.”1 This statement comes during his discussion of the literary understanding of the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, the inference being that while the books contain historical narrative, there is an obvious bent to the pericopes that comprise the recorder’s history. Such is the case for Chronicles as it is in its canonical form, argues Duke, a book whose historicity has been scholastically questioned in decades past. “Historical stories,” Duke continues, “do not simply present subjectively interpreted data and observations, but also, and more importantly, they capture and reveal a worldview, a presentation the nature of reality.”2 It is this fundamental premise of biblical historical narrative which serves to attend one into fuller, more robust view of not only the events of scriptural history but the theological weight of those events in history.
One is aided by such interpretive conceptions of biblical history, especially as one seeks to engage the books of Kings and Chronicles, all of which attempt to communicate the monarchical period of Israel’s history and the events which led to her exile. The tenor in which this historiography is relayed, however, varies significantly between the accounts of the Kings and Chronicles. This can be recognized by examining how each portrayal of history presents the events of Israel’s past. For example, in 1 and 2 Kings, one notices a myriad of characters which populate the narratives, complete with strong plots and storylines. Without digressing on one particular monarch for too long — except, perhaps, for Solomon (1 Kgs 1—11) and Josiah (2 Kgs 22–23) — the historian of Kings ventures to recount the numerous political and spiritual crises which plagued Israel, both in the northern and southern regimes. J. G. McConville attests:
The final composition of the book is an exilic (or perhaps postexilic) reflection on a period of political existence that has now ended and has little prospect of revival . . . Thus the books of Kings are a document born in severe crisis, a theology wrestling with the meaning of terrible experience.3
Each crisis is, then, assessed against David the exemplar, whose reign is seen as a model of piety and power. (1 Kgs 11:12–13, 34; 14:8; 15:4–5, 11; 2 Kgs 8:19; 14:3; 16:2) The patterns of true and false modes of worship, of apostasy and reform, comprise a historiography which is “designed to prove the failure of kings and people to take the covenantal opportunity offered of old to David.”4 Israel’s failure to remain true to Yahweh leads to her eventual division, which further demonstrates the ineffectuality of humanity to uphold Yahweh’s standards of righteousness. When one is bombarded by the abundance of political collapses and spiritual disintegration apparent throughout 1 and 2 Kings, one is left with an uncertain hope of the future.
By way of contrast, 1 and 2 Chronicles deal almost explicitly with the Davidic kings, taking time to establish the dynasty of Davidic rule through the record of multiple genealogies, which becomes paradigmatic for the rest of the narrative. The Chronicler’s inclusion of genealogical data, while tedious, would have been critical for his audience to grasp. In so doing, he bound the present postexilic generation of Israel to the Israel of the past. The Chronicler, according to Duke, “apparently sought to establish for the postexilic community an identity of continuity with the past and to encourage them to actualize the traditions and lessons from their past in their current lives.”5 This is effectively done by retelling the story of Israel, repeating much of the history of Samuel and Kings, but in a manner which is unique to the Chronicler. “Chronicles,” Duke continues, “is neither merely a supplement nor a chronicle of events; it retells Israelite history from a unique perspective with its own themes and emphases.”6
Chronicles particularly diverges from Kings in the timbre in which its events are retold. In contrast to the fatalistic history of Kings, Chronicles recounts a history in which the possibility for change is always possible. The narratives are tinged with a much more hopeful positivity simply because of who Yahweh is. In Chronicles, Duke asserts, “the existence of Yahweh and his supreme sovereignty were foregone conclusions. The Chronicler did not seek to prove them; rather, he sought to show how Yahweh interacted in the life of Israel and why.”7 Namely, to bring “all of Israel” to a place of repentance and owning their responsibility before him. This, of course, is not a distinct feature of Chronicles — Kings, likewise, sees mankind’s past failures brought to the present in order to bring to the fore the timeless faithfulness of Yahweh throughout all generations. This is the true “nature of reality.”
R. K. Duke, “Books of Chronicles,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, edited by Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 170.
J. G. McConville, “Books of Kings,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books, edited by Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 624.