What is the Chronicler up to as a writer? He quotes Bible passages, expands them homiletically, he omits sections not of interest to him, and he interprets them according to his approach as a theological preacher in the post-exilic era. Not unlike what we do! The Chronicler takes the Bible and ancient historical documents, and he interprets them for the discouraged community of believers in the Persian Empire.
The Chronicler’s source and narrative selection have already been discussed in the last blog. In terms of sources, his main source is without a doubt the Deuteronomist’s history in 1 Samuel 31 to the end of 2 Kings, although many other biblical (Psalms and the Pentateuch in particular) and possibly non-biblical sources were also used. The Chronicler’s method as a writer is 1) to quote from his main source, Samuel and Kings, and make judicious additions, expansions, or omissions where necessary; 2) quote or synopsize his other sources; and 3) add his own interpretive and explanatory details. The difference between his pre-exilic main source and his own post-exilic writing is striking—like someone quoting half of a Shakespeare play, and then updating the other half to modern English on every other page.
Time fails us to look in detail at the Chronicler’s method as an author. We can simply focus on one text, which shows us his use of sources to construct new texts. Turn to 1 Chronicles 16 as one of the best examples of the Chronicler’s method of selection and composition.
First, vv. 1–3 are quoted almost verbatim from 2 Samuel 6:17–19. Since the Chronicler is very interested in the post-exilic function of the Levitical courses of singers and gatekeepers—something not spelled out at all in Samuel and Kings—he adds in vv. 4–7 he includes the ancestors of the Levitical families associated with singing (raising the question in my mind whether the Chronicler was a musician and composer himself, and is correcting an egregious omission!). Beginning in v. 8, and continuing until v. 36, is the “Chronistic Psalm,” a non-synoptic addition of the Chronicler, but a quotation from three other biblical sources. “David’s song,” sung on the occasion of the installation of the ark of the covenant into the tent he had erected for it in Jerusalem. This psalm is constructed from the bricks and mortar of three canonical psalms, thus:
1) Psalm 105:1–15 begins the psalm. It is quoted, with a very few alterations, in 1 Chron. 16:8–22. Vv. 8–13 are an introduction to David’s “new psalm,” while vv. 9–22 comprises the “remember” section.
2) Psalm 96 is quoted almost in its entirety—psalm 96:1b–13a. It is found in 1 Chron. 16:23–33. This is the “praise” section.
3) Psalm 106:1b and vv. 47–48 is the most severely truncated of the psalm quotations, including only the introductory verse of the psalm and the closing verses of book four of the Psalter. Vv. 34–36 is the “give thanks” section.
Though ostensibly from the pen of David, the Psalm 105 and Psalm 106 quotes, especially the latter, are clearly post-exilic (Psalm 106 even mentions the need for return from the nations). David’s psalm is the sort of thing David might have sung at the ark celebration, but in words and structural movement meaningful to the Chronicler’s post-exilic community. Here is the structure of the “new song,” constructed from the bricks and mortar of three older ones:
1) 1 Chronicles 16:8–13: Introduction to the new “song of David.” This section introduces the sections of the psalm which follow, based upon the three functions of the Levitical singers: to cause remembrance, to thank, and to praise. These three words are also found in the introduction:
O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name,
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength,
seek his presence continually.
Remember the wonderful works he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he uttered…
All three of the Levitical functions are mentioned here, as well as two other imperative verbs, also important to the Chronicler: the command to “seek the Lord” is mentioned three times, as well as two commands to “sing.” It is hard to believe another psalm more suitable to the Chronicler’s agenda than these! The three sections of the Chronistic psalm which follow are in reverse order.
2) 1 Chronicles 16:14–22: The “Remembrance” Section. Here, the Chronicler continues his quote of psalm 105, but begins with the command to “remember” the period of the patriarchs, particularly the covenant with Abraham and the promise of the land of Canaan. The Chronicler’s age is not unlike the time of Abraham—the Jews are strangers in their own land, with foreign kings likely to molest them. The covenant with Abraham is a continuing source of confidence in the God who made unequivocal promises to the patriarchs.
3) 1 Chronicles 16:23–33: The “Praise” Section. This is almost the entirety of psalm 96, except for v. 1a and 13b. This psalm does not begin with the command to praise, but does begin with “sing,” and the warrant for singing praises is found in psalm 96:4, “For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.” The command to sing praises is grounded in God’s functions as divine king and judge, his worthiness of worship, and his power over the nations and over all creation.
4) 1 Chronicles 16:34–36: The “Give Thanks” Section: This is a quotation from psalm 106:1 and 47–48. Only the elements of the psalm important to the Chronicler are quoted. The psalm is a communal lament for the people’s history of sin and angering God, ending in exile. The Chronicler only uses the first verse, for it corresponds to the “give thanks” command to the Levitical singers, and the closing verses, the exhortation to the Lord to “gather them from the nations,” still a very real petition in the post-exilic age. The entire content of the communal lament in the original psalm 106 has been left out, for it was not pertinent to the Chronicler’s needs.
What we have in the Chronicler’s new psalm is something not altogether different from such TV shows as Mash, ostensibly about the Korean War, but making application and commentary on the Vietnam War 20 years later, or like a medieval painting of the Passion, where the Roman soldiers are wearing medieval armor. The history is real, and based upon the Chronicler’s sources, but the dress is post-exilic, late biblical Hebrew.
This is only one example of the Chronicler’s literary method and “Bible study.”