Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Who Was the Chronicler's Audience? a Hint from His Genealogies

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Who Was the Chronicler's Audience? a Hint from His Genealogies

Article excerpt

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In the past couple of decades the book of Chronicles has gone from being "the Cinderella of Biblical Studies"1 to being one of the most studied and researched of all biblical books. One reason for this seems to be the fact that, while the date and authorship of the books that make up the so-called Primary History (the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History), so long thought of as solved, have recently been called into question once more,2 opinion on the date, authorship, and situation of the Chronicler has almost reached consensus. So while scholars who either accept or disagree with the "traditional" dates of, say, the Yahwist in the tenth century B.C.E. or the Deuteronomist in the late seventh must immediately show that they recognize and can contend with the opposing views, most recent scholarship on Chronicles, my own included, can safely assume that (1) the Chronicler lived in late Persian-period Yehud, probably before the Macedonian conquest of 333 B.C.E.,3 and (2) the author of Chronicles is distinct from the roughly contemporaneous author of Ezra-Nehemiah.4 These two statements have achieved the status of "widely accepted assumptions" that do not have to be defended every time they are used.

The intention of this paper is not to question either of those assumptions but rather to address another question that has occupied Chronicles research in recent years, namely, the social and idealistic milieu in which the Chronicler operated-the audience for whom he wrote-as indicated by the information that he saw fit to include in his genealogies.

I. Recent Research on Biblical Genealogies

Of the various literary genres that are to be found in the Hebrew Bible, the genealogies are probably the most perplexing to scholars, exegetes, and lay readers alike. To the common reader or exegete, they often seem at best boring, at worst impossible to understand. Before the advent of modern critical biblical research, the biblical genealogies were considered to be either accurate statements of kinship ties between real historical persons or nations through their eponymous ancestors, or a subject for midrash or exegesis.5 Only with the introduction of modern research, the discovery and decipherment of the literature of the ancient Near East, the beginning of anthropological study of present-day tribal societies and the development of the study of archaeology and historical geography of the biblical world did it become possible to understand the basic nature of the genealogies and their form and function in the society, the literature, and the thought of that world.

The Hebrew Bible contains two major collections of genealogical material: the many separate lists that are incorporated into the narrative of the book of Genesis and the massive and complex genealogies, containing short narrative passages, town lists, and the like, that make up most of the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles. The two collections contain both linear and segmented genealogies, sometimes combining the two forms (such as in Gen 4:17-22; 1 Chr 7:20-27). Shorter lists of the children of Israel appear in Exod 6:14-27 and in Num 26:5-65. Most of the genealogies recorded in the rest of the "historiographic" books (1 Sam 1:1; 2 Sam 5:13-15; 1 Kgs 11:26; 2 Kgs 9:2; Ruth 4:18-22; Esth 2:5; Ezra 7:1-5) are short (three to six generations) linear genealogies meant to introduce a central character into the narrative or to clarify such a character's position and importance.

Modern research on the genealogies has followed two paths: while some scholars have attempted to understand the literary and theological purposes of the biblical genealogies as they stand in the text, others have concentrated on the social, political, and historical uses of the genre, by comparing the biblical genealogies to the genealogical material found in ancient Near Eastern inscriptions and to the genealogical material collected from the oral traditions of present-day tribal societies. …

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