James Patrick’s Blog

April 21, 2010

How genealogies reveal the purpose of Chronicles

Genealogies are very important for revealing the purpose of texts in traditional societies, and in Chronicles this is particularly the case as they are drawn mostly from records not preserved elsewhere (unlike many of the narratives), and are therefore more obviously distinctive to Chronicler’s purpose.  Genealogies reveal lines of descent and inheritance of authority over one’s brothers, and the last person in the genealogy is usually the one about whom it is written (for example, Phinehas in Exodus 6 – cf. Numbers 25).  In this post we will look first at the message of the genealogical section, then at the narrative section, and finally draw these together with an explanation of the purpose of the book as a whole.

Genealogies

1Chr 1 introduces the following genealogies by gleaning from Genesis all the relevant passages that show Israel’s inheritance from Adam.  Then 1Chr 2-7 lists the genealogies of the tribes of Israel in order to establish which tribe has rightful authority over the others.  Judah is first (the leader is from him – 5:2) [2:3-4:23].  Simeon is listed next to show that his territory is mostly outside Judah’s now, at least since the time of David [4:24-43].  The two-and-a-half tribes (Reuben, Gad, 1/2 Manasseh) do not have the birthright despite Reuben being firstborn, because they were idolatrous and have been exiled up to the present [ch 5].  Levi is described in two halves, the first [6:1-53] designed to show that the distinction between the Aaronic high priesthood and the three Levitical divisions was actually officially recognised by David himself (note that the line of Zadokite high priests extends no further than the exile [6:15], unlike the line of Davidic heirs [3:17-24]), and the second to establish Levitical claim to certain cities in the land during this resettlement after exile [6:54-81].  Then the remaining tribes are listed (apart from Zebulun and Dan, who had perhaps not returned from exile?) – Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Ephraim and Asher [ch 7].  Note that Ephraim’s inheritance of Joseph’s birthright is traced no further than Joshua [7:27], although evidently leaders of the Joseph tribes felt it their duty to live in the capitol even after the Return [9:3], in apparently very small numbers.

1Chr 8  then rehearses the genealogy of Benjamin again, this time mentioning their claim on the leadership of Israel (Ehud [8:6], Saul [8:33]), but also especially their claim over Jerusalem [8:28, 32], the city on the border of Judah and Benjamin.  Apparently Benjamin was insisting too on sharing territorial rights over the capitol along with Judah and Joseph [9:3-9] in the years following the return.  1Chr 9:2-34 considers on the other hand the justification for Levitical rights over Jerusalem, not only of priests but even of Levitical gatekeepers, and to support this, appeal is made to the appointments of Samuel and David [9:22] and the records of Nehemiah [Neh 11:3-19].  1Chr 9:35-44 is then a shortened recapitulation of Saul’s genealogy, as an introduction to the brief summary of his failed reign in chapter 10, apparently to reinforce the Davidic claim to leadership in Jerusalem.

Narratives

After the crowning of David, the first event described is the capture of Jerusalem [11:4-9], followed by an extended list of all the warriors of every tribe in Israel who supported David’s claim to the leadership [11:10-12:40], and who also agreed with David’s plans to re-establish worship of the LORD in Jerusalem [13:1-17:27].  This was done despite opposition from Israel’s enemies [14:8-17; 18:1-20:8] and despite even David’s own fallibility, shown by his sin in taking the census [21:1-22:1].  David himself established the Levitical responsibilities and priestly/Levitical divisions at the same time as establishing secular authorities over the kingdom [26:29-27:34], and he himself was entirely responsible for the plans and resources of the Temple even though Solomon built it [chs 22-29].  The message here is that the true son of David will fulfil all that was in David’s heart for the Temple and for priestly/Levitical worship in Jerusalem.

The account of Solomon brackets his building and dedication of the Temple (including the priests and Levites at their posts [2Chr 5:12-14; 7:1-11; 8:14-15]) with an emphasis on his wisdom [chs 1; 8-9] and the wealth and fame that followed the Temple building.  The warning to Solomon in 2Chr 7:12-22 is effectively a warning to all of Solomon’s heirs that failure to worship the LORD properly at the Temple in Jerusalem would eventually result in exile and the destruction of the Temple.  The following history of the Divided Monarchy [chs 10-36] describes the successes and failures of the various Davidic kings consistently as a direct consequence of their attitude and behaviour towards prescribed worship of the LORD at the Temple in Jerusalem.  It particularly emphasises those times when all the tribes assembled, even from the northern kingdom, to worship at Jerusalem (e.g. Rehoboam [11:13-17], Asa [15:8-15], Hezekiah [chs 29-31], Josiah [chs 34-35]; cf. also Jehoshaphat [17:7-9; 19:4-11; 20:4-28] and Jehoiada / Joash [23:1-24:14]).  Even the sins of Manasseh were forgiven because of his renewed piety and devotion to true worship in Jerusalem [ch 33].

Explanation

Significantly, the beginning genealogy of Judah appears to be focused on defending the Davidic claim (of Elioenai and his seven sons [3:24]) over against others who were claiming authority over Judah and Jerusalem through descent from Perez’s firstborn son Hezron.  We would not have expected there to be a need in post-exilic Yehud [Judah] to defend the claim of the David to authority over Judah, let alone Israel, but the fact that his claim is defended has implications for our interpretation of subsequent narratives.  The Chronicler includes much material not found elsewhere about the links between David and the Temple, and many have suggested that he invented them simply to reinforce the importance of the Temple by appealing to David’s authority.  If in fact David’s claim was also not uncontestable, however, it is more likely that this material was drawn from actual records that would not be disputed; in a sense, the claims of both David and the Temple are being defended, so the historical evidence for their connection is meant to be mutually reinforcing.

Looking at the genealogy of Judah, the focus of the claim to leadership of this tribe is on the first of Judah’s twin sons, Perez, who in fact received the rights of the firstborn because his mother was Tamar, the wife of Judah’s firstborn son Er [Gen 38], and therefore Judah had effectively ‘raised up seed’ for his deceased firstborn [Deut 25:5-10].  The sons of Chelubai/Caleb, Perez’s third son, are traced to various towns and regions of Judah, and the only individuals highlighted are from ancient history (e.g. Hur and Bezalel [2:20], Othniel and Caleb son of Jephunneh [4:13, 15]).  The firstborn son of Perez, Jerahmeel, is traced through a second wife, several sons who had no sons of their own, and worst of all through an Egyptian servant who married into the family – all this seems to be deliberately disproving any claim that Elishama [2:41] might have made to the inheritance of the tribe of Judah.  (This Elishama is probably the same as the ‘royal’ grandfather of Ishmael who murdered Gedaliah at the time of Jeremiah and then fled to Ammon, and whose descendants probably returned from there to Jerusalem after the exile.)  Therefore David’s claim stands, even though he was descended from Perez’s second son Ram, because David’s ancestor Nahshon had been ‘leader of the sons of Judah’ under Moses [2:10].

Evidently the book of Chronicles is contributing to a debate in his time about who had the right to live in Jerusalem, the capitol of the restored community of Israel after the exile, and especially about which tribe and clan could claim the authority over their brothers.  The Davidic claim was obviously under attack from various sides (Elishamites, Benjamites, Ephraimites), most probably because there was no immediate likelihood of a restoration to kingship under Persian rule, and people must have been questioning whether the tribes should revert to traditional tribal inheritance based on the rights of the firstborn instead.  Jerusalem was evidently seen as the capitol, but David’s claim to have conquered it was opposed by the Benjamite claim to have been apportioned it as tribal inheritance by Joshua [Jos 18:28; cf. Jdg 1:5-8, 21; Jos 15:63].  The approach of the Chronicler was therefore to allow for Benjamite claims to live in it, but nevertheless to reinforce the Davidic claim to the throne that had been acknowledged by all the tribes, and therefore the right of Judahites also to live in the capitol.

Furthermore, the Chronicler not only defended the Davidic claim to the leadership of the tribes (if not to the birthright [5:2]), but then also tied this leadership as tightly as possible to the responsibility for leading the tribes in correct worship of the LORD in the Jerusalem temple according to the Law and the regulations of Samuel and David especially.  In fact, the suggestion was made in the accounts of Manasseh and others that if the Davidic leader repented and humbled himself by honouring the LORD’s temple, He would restore them from exile and deliver them from their enemies, and thus establish their kingship over the tribes of Israel.

Thus the purpose of Chronicles is to reinforce temple-focused Davidic messianism.  Working out how many generations had passed between the return from Exile under Zerubbabel and the Davidic claimant at the time this book was written (Elioenai [1Chr 3:19-24]) gives us a probable date of around 400BC, a generation or so after the last of Nehemiah’s reforms [cf. Neh 13:6-7].

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