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Chronicler, Biblical


The name given to the Biblical author who produced the historical corpus comprising the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. These books give a religious history from the beginning of the world to the reforms of Nehemiah and Ezra in the postexilic Jewish community. They set forth the reign of David as the ideal for which the restored theocratic state should again confidently strive, in view of God's promises through the Prophets and their partial fulfillment in the restoration of the Jewish community.


Originally this was copied as one literary work in the Hebrew textual tradition. Because of its size, however, it came to be written on two scrolls, with 1 and 2 Chronicles as one book on the first scroll, and Ezra and Nehemiah as one book on the second. An unknown editor made the continuity of the scrolls evident by repeating the beginning of Ezra (Ezr 1.13a) at the end of Chronicles (2 Chr 36.2223), thus also closing the latter on a happy note.

The greater bulk of the work in its Greek translationthe Greek alphabet wrote vowels as well as consonants, whereas ancient Hebrew wrote only consonants led to a further division of the work into the four books of our present Bibles. This fourfold division passed from the Septuagint into the Vulgate and thence into the modern versions. It even made its way into the transmission of the Hebrew text, beginning with a manuscript dating from a.d. 1448.

Canonicity. Palestinian Jews placed the Chronicler's work at the end of the Writings, their third major division of the Bible. By a strange inversion of historical sequence, Ezra-Nehemiah precedes the book (s) of Chronicles. This fact supports the supposition that Chronicles was accepted at a later period among the inspired books, perhaps because its matter was already found in a somewhat different form in the earlier books of Samuel and Kings. Chronicles seems to have won acceptance by New Testament times, however, at least if Jesus' allusion in Mt 23.35 to the deaths of Abel (Gn 4.8) and Zechariah (2 Chr 24.2122) is to be taken as a reference to the first and last murders mentioned in the Scriptures and so to the whole sweep of the Jewish Bible. It is possible that the Chronicler's idealization of David and of the theocratic community may have influenced the Pharisees to accept Chronicles into the canon.

In the Septuagint and later translations, the four books appear in their normal order as supplements to, and continuation of, the earlier histories of Samuel and Kings.

Despite the variations of its position in the canon, the Chronicler's work has never been wanting from the canonical lists of Judaism and Christianity, if one excepts the earliest hesitation of the Syrian Church, which did not at first include 1 and 2 Chronicles in its translation of the Bible. The long history of acceptance of these books culminated in the declaration of the Council of Trent that they are among the books to be received by the faithful as "sacred and canonical" (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer 150102).

Text and Versions. In general the Hebrew text of the Chronicler's work has been well preserved in transmission, despite the fact that many proper names and possibly some numbers have been garbled. The septuagint version is faithful to the traditional Hebrew text, sometimes so slavishly as to simply transliterate Hebrew words into Greek characters. Only the Old Latin version has value as an independent witness to the original text, since it is seemingly based on a Greek version that followed a Hebrew textual tradition other than the one represented in the Masoretic Text. The later versionsthe vulgate, the Aramaic Targum, and the Syriac Peshittoare less useful for textual criticism, the last named being sometimes a mere paraphrase of the Hebrew original.

Date of the Chronicler's Work. When they come to assigning dates for the Chronicler's work, authors vary widely, partly because they cannot agree on the work's unity of authorship. The most frequently accepted limits for the Chronicler's activity are the late 5th century b.c. (when the most recent events narrated took place) and the early years of Alexander's domination of Syria-Palestine, 333 to 323 b.c. (since these books show little Greek influence). Within these outer limits opinion fluctuates, although many scholars now favor a date near 400 b.c. for the work's appearance in its final form.

Other dates assigned may serve to illustrate the disagreements which exist: D. N. Freedman (441) says that the Chronicler, a monarchist, composed the basic work about 515 b.c. and that later a clericalist author added the Ezra-Nehemiah memoirs (and certain other sections) to the work toward the end of the 5th century b.c. W. F. Albright (95) accepts a date shortly after 400 b.c. and sees Ezra himself as the Chronicler. A. M. Brunet (Dictionnaire de la Bible, supplement ed. L. Pirot et al. 6:1256) dates the work to the end of the 4th century b.c., about the time of Alexander the Great. C. C. Torrey, M. Noth, and R. H. Pfeiffer place the work well within the Greek period, Pfeiffer (580) dating it about 250 b.c. Unity of Authorship and Identity of the Chronicler. Disagreement in dating the Chronicler is inevitably linked with disagreement over the literary unity of his work. However, strong arguments favor this unity. Not only does 2 Chr 36.2223 repeat Ezr 1.13a, but the same spirit and themes can be found throughout the historiography. There is the same attachment throughout to the Jewish community and its legitimate civil and religious institutions; the same special love for the Temple and its cultic organization; the same special attention given to the lesser cultic ministers, particularly the Levites; the same concern for genealogies; andperhaps the strongest argument of allthe same stylistic features of vocabulary, grammar, composition, and use of sources.

To these literary evidences of a single authorship can be added the traditional view of the rabbinic literature, the Church Fathers, and early commentators, who generally accepted these books as the work of one man, Ezra. The Babylonian Talmud says in fact (Baba Bathra 15a) that Ezra wrote his own book and the genealogies of Chronicles, beginning his own genealogy, which was completed by Nehemiah. Suspect though it is in points, this testimony reflects the ancient view that the leading reformer of postexilic Judaism was largely responsible for the four Biblical books in question.

In modern times, J. W. Rothstein (1927), G. von Rad (1934), and A. C. Welch (1939), among others, have seen two strata (Deuteronomist and Priestly) in the Chronicler's work. K. Galling (1954) and D. N. Freedman (1961) have also seen successive editions in the work. But M. Noth (1943) and W. Rudolph (1955) have returned to the idea of a basic unity of authorship for the work as a whole, and W. F. Albright (95), basing his opinion in part on the observation of C. C. Torrey that the style and point of view of the Ezra memoirs are those of the entire work of the Chronicler, supports the earlier tradition that Ezra is indeed the author.


Although Chronicles was originally one work, it was first divided into two books in the Septuagint, a practice followed by subsequent versions and even by the Hebrew textual tradition since 1448.

Title. Palestinian Jews (and Hebrew printed Bibles) called these books (sēper ) dibrê hayyāmîm [literally (the book of) the words of the days], a title idiomatically equivalent to "happenings of the times" or "annals." Greek-speaking Jews in their Septuagint (followed by the Vulgate and some modern editions) referred to these books by the name παραλειπόμενα (Paralipomenon), which Jerome (Ep. 53, Ad Paulinum, Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 22.548) and Theodoret (Quaest. in libros Regum et Paralipomenon, Patrologia Graeca 80:801) understood as designating the books' content, "things omitted" (from previous Biblical histories). Some scholars, however, prefer to translate παραλειπόμενα as "things transmitted." J. P. Audet [Journal of Theological Studies 1 (1950) 154] proposes "things left aside" (for later translation from an Aramaic Targum).

The modern name for these books, "Chronicles," goes back to Jerome's Prologus Galeatus (Patrologia Latina 28:554), in which he writes of these books that they form a "χρονικόν [chronicle] of the whole of divine history." In his translation of the Bible M. Luther took up the term and called the books Die Chronika, and the name, thus popularized, is now generally accepted by the modern versions.

Contents of Chronicles. The Books of Chronicles have four clearly defined sections. (1) In 1 Chr ch. 19 a series of genealogies traces descent from Adam to the descendants of David and Solomon who were dwelling again in Jerusalem after the Edict of Cyrus in 538 b.c. (2) In 1 Chr. 1029 the reign of david, as it is described in his civil and religious organization of the kingdom, is idealized. (3) In 2 Chr ch. 19 the story of solomon emphasizes his wisdom, which is particularly evident in his building and dedicating the Temple at Jerusalem. (4) In 2 Chr ch. 1036 an account is given of the successors of David and Solomon; but the rulers of the schismatic Northern Kingdom of Israel are ignored, and even of the kings of Juda only the three "good, " i.e., reforming, kingsJosaphat (Jehoshaphat; c. 873c. 849), Hezekiah and Josiahare treated at length. The evil conduct of the other kings, the priests, and the people eventually brought about the destruction of Jerusalem and the nation (2 Chr 36.1316). Here the story of Chronicles ends, to be completed by the Chronicler in Ezra-Nehemiah.

Sources. In the composition of his work the Chronicler had recourse to many earlier writings, most of which he mentioned explicitly. Although he often adapted these documents to suit his own purposes, they still retained considerable historical value.

Biblical Sources. Among the sources used by the Chronicler are clearly some of the earlier books of the Bible, which he had in a form substantially identical with their present text. Although the Chronicler did not cite any of them by their known titles, he drew upon the following: (1) the Pentateuch (e.g., Gn 10.2229 in 1 Chr1.1723); (2) Joshua (e.g., Jos 19.18 in 1 Chr 4.2833);(3) 1 and 2 Sm (e.g., 1 Sm 31.113 in 1 Chr 10.112; 2 Sm 5.110 in 1 Chr 11.19); (4) 1 and 2 Kings (e.g., 1 Kgs 8.152 in 2 Chr 5.26.40; 2 Kgs 16.220 in 2 Chr 28.126); and (5) Ps [e.g., Ps 104(105).115 in 1 Chr 16.822; Ps 95(96) in 1 Chr 16.2333; Ps 105(106). 1, 4748 in 1 Chr 16.3436)]. This list of Old Testament citations is by no means complete.

Sources Explicitly Mentioned. Certain royal, prophetic, and other sources are mentioned in the Books of Chronicles.

The royal sources are: (1) The Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah (1 Chr 9.1; 2 Chr 27.7; 35.27; 36.8); (2) The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel (2 Chr 25.26;28.26; 32.32; 16.11); (3) The History of Jehu, the son of Hanani, which is inserted into the Book of the Kings of Israel (2 Chr 20.34); (4) The History of the Kings of Israel (2 Chr 33.18); and (5) The Midrash of the Book of Kings (2 Chr 24.27). Probably all these royal sources are in reality the same work.

The prophetic sources are: (1) The History of Samuel the Seer (1 Chr 29.29); (2) The History of Nathan the Prophet (1 Chr 29.29; 2 Chr 9.29); (3) The History of Gad the Seer (1 Chr 29.29); (4) The Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite (2 Chr 9.29); (5) The Visions of Iddo the Seer (2 Chr 9.29; 12.15); (6) The History of Shemaiah the Prophet (2 Chr 12.15); (7) The Midrash of the Prophet Iddo (2 Chr 13.22); (8) The History of Uzziah by the Prophet Isaiah, the son of Amos (2 Chr 26.22); (9) The Vision of the Prophet Isaiah, the son of Amos (2 Chr 32.32); and (10) The History of His [Manasseh's] Seers (2 Chr 33.19). Scholars dispute whether any, most, or all, of these sources belong to the same work that includes the royal sources.

Other sources are: (1) Family Records of Gad (1 Chr5.17); (2) The Book of Chronicles of King David (1 Chr 27.24); (3) David's Exact Specifications for the Temple and Its Furnishings (1 Chr 28.19); (4) The Prescriptions of David and Solomon for the Levites (2 Chr 35.4); and (5) Jeremiah's Lamentation over Josiah (2 Chr 35.25).

Use of the Sources. The manner in which the Chronicler used his sources can be seen from a comparison of his work with the earlier Biblical books. With his own specific purposes in mind he repeated, omitted, rewrote, shortened, and expanded his source materials. Some examples follow: (1) repetition, e.g., 1 Sm 31.113 in 1 Chr 10.112; (2) omissions, e.g., of David's troubles with Saul, his adultery with Bathsheba, and his murder of her husband; and of the revolt of Absalom and the dynastic intrigues at Solomon's accession; (3) rewriting of material, e.g., 2 Sm 24.1 in 1 Chr 21.1; (4) shortening, e.g., 2 Kgs 18.1319.37 in 2 Chr 32.123; and (5) expansion, e.g., 2 Kgs 23.2123 in 2 Chr 35.119.

Evaluation of the Sources. As in so many other matters affecting the Chronicler's work scholars differ in their assessing of his sources. It is evident that he knew and used the earlier Biblical books, from Genesis to Kings, and Psalms. Whether he used additional materials is in dispute. Torrey and Pfeiffer think that he probably did not. In the parts of his work that are not clearly derived from Biblical sources, they say, the spirit and language is that of the Chronicler himself, showing that these parts do not derive from other source materials. Torrey (Ezra Studies 223) even says that "there is no internal evidence, anywhere, of an intermediate source between our Old Testament books and the Chronicler. " And he explains the numerous explicit references to source material as fabrication of the Chronicler in his need to "parade authorities. " However, this argument based on stylistic and thematic consistency is not convincing if one considers that the Chronicler need not have reproduced his sources slavishly and that in fact he did not do so, even when he clearly drew from earlier Biblical books. Note, for instance, how 2 Chr 1.36 expands upon 1 Kgs 3.4.

More probably, then, as Brunet (Dictionnaire de la Bible, supplement ed. 6:1241) and others maintain, the Chronicler's references point to one or more sources distinct from our canonical books. (Some even think that it was not the Biblical Books of Samuel and Kings that the Chronicler used, but their sources.) Finally, some authors reduce the Chronicler's non-Biblical sources to one, identified as the Midrash on the Book of Kings (2 Chr 24.27).

Historical Worth. The free use that the Chronicler makes of his sources has called into question the historical worth of his narrative. For example, in 2 Chr 13.3 the monstrous figures of 400,000 men in the army of Judah under Abijah and of 800,000 men in the opposing army of Jeroboam I are obviously of no historical value; according to 2 Chr 8.12 Hiram, King of Tyre, gave to Solomon certain cities that were in reality given by Solomon to Hiram (1 Kgs 9.10); and David paid only 50 silver shekels for the threshing floor of Ornan (2 Sm 24.24), not 600 shekels of gold as stated in 1 Chr 21.25.

These and similar examples are best understood in the light of the Chronicler's chief interestthe theological significance of his material. It is this interest that leads him to exaggerate the size of the armies so that God's victory might be more striking. This same interest impels him to exalt Solomon by having Hiram give him the cities and to stress beyond its worth the value of the site purchased by David as the spot for his altar and eventually the Temple. Allowance must be made, then, for the Chronicler's handling of materials to achieve his theological purposes, but once this is done, the books of Chronicles become valuable historical references. In some instances, e.g., in 2 Chr 11.512, they preserve reliable historical details not available elsewhere.


Like Chronicles, which they continue, these two books were originally one work and they first became separate works in the Septuagint. Even in the current Hebrew Bibles the Book of Nehemiah follows the Book of Ezra on the same page with merely the usual paragraph division.

Titles. The first of the two books is named for the Priest-Scribe ezra, whose name (Heb. and Aram. ezrā, transcribed in Greek as 'Εζ[δ]ρας or 'Εζ[δ]ρα[ς] means "help." In the Vulgate and some other Catholic Bibles the book is known also as 1 Esdras. The second book is named for nehemiah (Heb. n ehemyâ transcribed in Greek as Νεεμίας), whose name means "Yahweh consoles." This work is known in the Vulgate and some other Catholic Bibles also as 2 Esdras.

In the Septuagint, the apocryphal book 'Εσδρας A, the Vulgate's 3 Esdras, precedes the canonical books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which together constitute the Septuagint's 'Εσδρας B. The nomenclature is further complicated by the apocryphal Apocalypse of Esdras, which is known in the Vulgate as 4 Esdras. Finally, Protestant editions of the apocrypha refer to the Vulgate's 3 and 4 Esdras as 1 and 2 Esdras. The accompanying table shows the correspondences.

Contents. In Ezra ch. 16 the story of the chosen people is continued where Chronicles left off. These chapters tell of the edict of restoration issued by Cyrus the Great in 538 b.c., of the first return under Sassabasar, of early attempts to reconstruct the Temple, and of its final completion and dedication in the time of Zerubbabel and joshua, son of Josedec. This leads to the story of Ezra's mission and his reforms as told in Ezra ch. 711. In Nehemiah ch. 17 an account is given of the building of the walls and the city of Jerusalem by Nehemiah. The rest of the Book of Nehemiah (ch. 813) narrates the covenant concluded under Ezra's direction, gives census lists, and tells of the dedication of the city's wall and of Nehemiah's reforms during his second administration of Juda.

Sources. The following materials were available to the Chronicler as he composed his work.

  • 1. The Memoirs of Ezra (Ezr 7.279.15)
  • 2. The Memoirs of Nehemiah (Neh 1.17.5; 11.12;12.2713.31)
  • 3. Aramaic documents
  • a. A document in Ezr 4.723 embodying the protest of Rehum to Artaxerxes I, King of Persia, about the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls (Ezr 4.1116) and the King's answer (Ezr4.1722)
  • b. A document in Ezr 4.246.18 that contains the letter of Thathanai to Darius I, King of Persia, about the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem (Ezr 5.717) and the King's answer (Ezr6.312)
  • c. The decree of Artaxerxes commissioning Ezra to reorganize Temple worship at Jerusalem (Ezr7.1226)
  • 4. Official documents in Hebrew
  • a. Cyrus's edict of liberation of 538 b.c. (Ezr1.24), which differs from the Aramaic form of the decree in Artaxerxes' letter to Thathanai (Ezr 6.35).
  • b. A list of those first returning from Babylon (Ezr2.170; Neh 7.672)
  • c. A list of those returning with Ezra (Ezr8.114)
  • d. A list of those promising to give up foreign wives (Ezr 10.1844)
  • e. A list of those who helped repair the walls of Jerusalem (Neh 3.132)
  • f. A list of those signing the covenant agreement (Neh 10.128; the provisions of the pact are in Neh 10.2940)
  • g. A list of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and vicinity in Nehemia's time (Neh 11.336)
  • h. Lists of priests and Levites (Neh 12.126).

Historical Worth. Since the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah form the major source for the history of Judah in the postexilic period down to the late 5th century b.c., it is important to know whether, and to what extent, they are reliable.

Some scholars, such as Torrey and Pfeiffer, treat the Chronicler's documentation with skepticism. Others are more inclined to find his sources reliable. Admittedly, as in the Books of Chronicles, the author is motivated chiefly by theological interests. Consequently he gives a decidedly Jewish tone to Ezra's commission from Artaxerxes, in which the Mosaic Law is referred to as the "wisdom" of God (Ezr 8.25). The Chronicler's rewording may be seen also in the two accounts of Cyrus's edict of 538 b.c. (Ezr 1.24; 6.35). But fundamentally there is no adequate reason to impugn the basic authenticity of these or other documents that he employs.

Despite this confidence in the Chronicler's materials, however, it is not easy for the modern scholar to reconstruct the age about which the Chronicler writes, since the documentation in these books is obviously not in chronological order. Note, for example, how the patch that is Ezr4.24 joins the later episode of Ezr 4.723 to the earlier situation in Ezr 5.16.22; logically (and chronologically) Ezr 5.16.22 should have followed Ezr 4.5.

But this is not the only disturbance of historical sequence. The order of Ezra's and Nehemiah's ministries is another case in point. If the ministry of Ezra began in the 7th year of Artaxerxes I (465424 b.c.), as Ezr 7.7 states, there would be no coordination between Ezra's ministry and that of Nehemiah, contrary to Neh 8.9; 10.1. A date in the reign of Artaxerxes II (404358 b.c.) would make him much later than Nehemiah. A plausible solutionthat the "7th year" of Artaxerxes in Ezr 7.7 should be read as the "37th year" of Artaxerxes Iresolves the difficulty and results in a Nehemiah-Ezra sequence of activity.

Other historical difficulties remain to plague the interpreter, but in spite of them modern opinion favors the basic reliability of the Chronicler's work.


The Chronicler's major interest was in the history of the theocracy embodied in the Davidic dynasty and in the restored Jewish community of the postexilic period. The genealogies of 1 Chronicles ch. 19 are merely introductory, leading swiftly to David and his accomplishments.

Ideal Theocracy in the Davidic Dynasty. David's dynasty had proved to be, even before the Exile, the only legitimate one, the only one enjoying divine favor. And so the Chronicler ignored the history of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Not all of David's descendants, however, proved worthy of him. In fact, only threethe reforming kings Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 17.79; 19.411), Hezekiah (2 Chr ch. 2932), and Josiah (2 Chr 34.133)received favorable comment from the Chronicler. But even these three were not sufficient to ward off Yahweh's displeasure with His people, who had spurned the oracles of His Prophets (2 Chr 36.1517; Neh 9.30). Chastened by the experience of the Exile, God's people returned to the Holy Land and rebuilt Jerusalem and its Temple. This return, which is described in Ezra-Nehemiah, was the partial fulfillment of the prophetic promises (Jer 29.10 in 2 Chr 36.22 and Za 8.1112 in Ezr9.8, 13; Neh 9.31).

The Ideal Postexilic Community. Since the community had no Davidic ruler when the Chronicler wrote, it had to prepare for one by becoming the ideal community. This goal obliged it to a greater fidelity to God's word as contained in the Mosaic Law (Ezr 9.1014) and to greater exactitude in worship. To inculcate this ideal of the perfect community, the Chronicler sought to legitimize the liturgical usages of his own day, and so he linked them to David (1 Chr ch. 2329). Great importance was given also to Solomon's Temple and its ministers, particularly the Levites and the singers (2 Chr5.1113).

Thus constituted as a holy people, the Jews, who had been reduced to the service of a foreign king (Neh9.3637), turned in hopeful expectation to the next intervention of Yahweh their true King (Ezr 9.13; Neh 9.32).

Bibliography: a. m. brunet, "La Théologie du Chroniste:Théocratie et messianisme, "Sacra Pagina 1 (1954) 384397; Dictionnaire de la Bible, supplement ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928) 6:122061. a. lefÈvre, ibid. 6:393424. r. h. pfeiffer, g. a. buttrick, ed., The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible 1:572580; 2:215219. h. cazelles, Catholicisme 2:10981102; 4:428434; Les Livres des Chroniques (2d ed. BJ; 1961). m. rehm, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 2:118485. h. schneider, ibid. 3:110102; 7:868869. k. galling, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 1:180306; 2:694697; 4:139698; Die Bücher der Chronik, Esra, Nehemia (Göttingen 1954). Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 361368. m. noth, überlieferungsgeschichtliche Studien I (2d ed. Tübingen 1957). w. rudolph, Chronikbücher (Handbuch zum Alten Testament, ed. o. eissfeldt (Tübingen 1934) ser.1, no.21; 1955). a. c. welch, The Work of the Chronicler (London 1939). c. c. torrey, Ezra Studies (Chicago 1910); The Chronicler's History of Israel (New Haven 1954). w. f. albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra (pa. New York 1963). d. n. freedman, "The Chronicler's Purpose, "The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 23 (1961) 436442. r. north, "Theology of the Chronicler, "Journal of Biblical Literature 82 (1963) 369381.

[n. j. mceleney]

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