Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Chronicles' Levitical Covenant

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Chronicles' Levitical Covenant

Article excerpt

The Book of Chronicles presents a version of history, a selective account of times gone by. Its purpose is to revitalize, reinvigorate, and renew Judaism for its audience, namely, the returning exiles from Babylon and their descendants now living in Judah in the fifth-fourth centuries BCE. (1) With neither a Davidic dynasty ruling nor a fully independent state, that community is despondent. (2) Second Isaiah's glorious future is unrealized; life is difficult. The community needs to reinvent its understanding of its Covenant with God. The old covenants, the Mosaic/Sinai Covenant that created a nation from a group of slaves and the political Davidic/Zion Covenant that created a dynasty, are part of Israel's memory. Yet they are not enough to sustain and revitalize this present community.

Chronicles focuses on the religious system based on the Jerusalem Temple, the cultus, and the attending Levitical personnel as the expression of the Covenant between God and Israel. (3) Although this idea is not

the sole purpose of Chronicles, it is a major theme of the book. Chronicles is a "general and comprehensive theological stock-taking, striving to achieve a new religious balance in the face of a changing world." As Sara Japhet explains, the goal of Chronicles "is a comprehensive expression of the perpetual need to renew and revitalize the religion of Israel" (emphasis added). (4)

Chronicles' interests are "primarily ecclesiastical," (5) and it desires "a rehabilitation of the national-cultic institutions" according to King David's directions (see Ezra 3:10; Neh. 12:45). Yet for Chronicles, this is done without a "specific linking of hope with a kingly figure or with the Davidic house." (6)

Chronicles is content with Cyrus's support of the Temple's construction. "For all his focus on David and his descendants and the everlasting promise made by God to David, the Chronicler nowhere explicitly advocates the reestablishment of the Davidic monarchy, let alone a rebellion against the Persian Empire. He seems relatively content with life under Persian suzerainty, provided that the worship at the temple in Jerusalem is able to continue without restraint." (7)

The Chronicler borrows from the Torah (Pentateuch) and what is known as the Deuteronomic Histories (Deuteronomy through Kings, though largely ignoring the Book of Judges). Scholars dispute about the Chronicler's sources. Gary Knoppers thinks it likely that there were different, perhaps older, sources than those which were eventually incorporated in the Masoretic text. (8) Chronicles' focus on the southern kingdom (9) and David's role, as well as on the Jerusalem cultus, might reflect different material not found in those other documents.


In Samuel and Kings, David has a rich, but morally problematic history. Chronicles seeks to portray a David who has, as a prime purpose, the establishment of the cultus. "For his depiction of David he utilized those materials from the [Deuteronomic History] that would enhance David's qualifications as builder of the temple or highlight his position as a victorious and powerful king. Thus he omitted most of the narrative commonly known as the History of David's Rise (I Samuel 16-II Samuel 5), in which David gradually gained ascendancy over Saul and kingship over all Israel, and almost all of the Succession Narrative (II Samuel 9-20; I Kings 1-2)." (10)

Consequently, in his description of David, the Chronicler deletes the more problematic details of David's life; he selects only those passages that fit Chronicles' positive agenda:

David at Hebron (II Sam. 5:1-3)   Parallel in Chronicles (I Chron.
David and Philistines (II Sam.    Parallel in Chronicles (I Chron.
  5:17-25)                          14:8-17)
David and Abigail (I Sam. 25)     No parallels in Chronicles
David and Bathsheba (II Sam. 11)  No parallels in Chronicles

The sanitized David becomes an idealized ruler. …

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