Farewell, For a While, to Chronicles

I’ve had the personal goal for a while, a pretty nerdy and distinctly Old Testament one, of reading through the entire Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) in its original languages. I began in 1998, at bible college in Queensland, Australia, when I took my first Hebrew subject. I expect to finish this year. I have about eight chapters to go – the final chapters of Ezekiel. I’m no high church guy, and I’m not deliriously excited to be about to read eight or nine chapters of temple dimensions, but amidst the detail I almost always find a gem or two, and I suppose this will be no different.

This morning, I finished 2 Chronicles.

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The Analytics Trap

One million hits on the blog, and #1000 in the Amazon sales ranking!!

That would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Actually, this little blog has had its 1000th view, and the sales ranking for my book just passed through #1 million, going the wrong way!

I remember a colleague at my teaching college, Melbourne School of Theology, saying that she had posted something on FaceBook, and then found herself checking back to see how many ‘likes’ she had received for it. Maybe you’ve done that too. Maybe I have, if I’m honest, checked the analytics for this blog more than once or twice, to see whether anyone reads what I’ve spent hours writing. Perhaps you have too, if you have a blog or other social media presence. Continue reading

Tentative Thoughts on the Rationale of 1 Chronicles

Wow! How about that book of 1 Chronicles!!!

That’s something I don’t hear very often. Ever.

I’ve just about finished reading it in the Hebrew. More names than you can shake a stick at (is that an Australian expression?), and great for practising your Hebrew numbers, Hebrew students! 1 Chronicles 24-25 will make sure you know all your numbers from 1-24, and there are lots of other places where your numbers in the hundreds and thousands will be tested. Continue reading

A Chicken and Egg Problem in Ancient Israelite History: The Law Book and Josiah’s Reform

This thought stemming from my reading of the long and classy introduction to the book of Jeremiah by Jack Lundbom in his vast commentary that makes up 3 vols. of the Anchor Bible series… see his Jeremiah 1-20, 105-106.

Lundbom Jeremiah 1-20

Critical scholarship for a long time believed and often still believes that the law book that was found in the temple in the 18th year of the reign of king Josiah (i.e. about 622 BC) according to 2 Kings 22:3-10 consisted of a large middle portion of what we know now as the book of Deuteronomy.  This is seen to be the catalyst for Josiah’s ensuing reformation of religion in the Judah of his day, which particularly sought to purify worship of Yahweh by eliminating religious ritual in outlying sanctuaries and restricting it to the temple in Jerusalem.  The narrative in 2 Kings 23 in fact focuses on the destruction of pagan altars outside of Jerusalem, but texts like 1 Kings 3:2 imply that a more thorough program of centralization of worship was undertaken.  This interpretation of the cause-and-effect relationship, that the law book inspired Josiah’s reformation, is clearly supported by the order of events in the Kings narrative.

Lundbom, however, says, “More recently, however, the Chronicler’s account has been given preference,” referring to 2 Chronicles 34, where the reason the law book is found in the temple is that Josiah has already, from 628 BC, undertaken religious reforms of the kind that led to the temple’s renovation.  This sequence has a certain credible logic to it.  Without such reform, no renovation might be expected.  Chronicles has usually been regarded as an inferior historical source to Kings, partly by virtue of being clearly composed later and being somewhat derivative in relation to Kings.  But every history has agendas or axes to grind, and the editor of Kings may in fact want to show that the Law of Moses in textual acts as an effective catalyst for religious renewal.  As an instance of Chronicles’ stricter historical accuracy, I think of its faithful relaying of the names of Saul’s sons despite their being compounded on the name of the rival god Baal (1 Chron. 8:33-34).  In any case, it is interesting to consider the alternative possibility that the discovery of the law book might have been the culmination for Josiah’s reforms rather than their initial catalyst.

As a footnote to this, Lundbom adds another unique suggestion – that the law book discovered in the temple was not the body of Deuteronomy at all, but the poem, some (esp. from the Albright school) would say ancient, known as the Song of Moses and found in Deuteronomy 32.  Often when I have sought to trace archaic or potentially archaic language through the Old Testament, it has appeared in this unique poem along with other well-known texts such as the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 and the Song of Deborah in Judges 5.  I am not yet in a position to evaluate Lundbom’s suggestion, but it shows an ability to stand outside of the mainstream consensus and find new answers to old questions, which is always good for keeping our thinking flexible!

Articles of the Temple part II

Right, back and fed.  Well, the temple articles are mentioned in the texts that talk about the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar, along with its earlier sacking by the same (2 Kings 24:13; 25:14, 15; 2 Chron. 36:7, 10, 18-19).  Then in the accounts of the return from exile they feature very prominently as well (Ezra 1:7-11; 5:13-15).  To the Babylonians this stuff was war booty, but to the Jews of the return they were sacred things, essential for worship.  It was scandalous and shameful in their minds that they had fallen into pagan hands.  It was a key part of the restoration of worship to return them to service.  It was a setback when, near the end of Nehemiah, the temple rooms intended for the storage of such sacred articles ended up storing Tobiah the Ammonite’s personal gear (the same Hebrew word in each case, ‘kĕlî‘, Neh. 13:5, 8-9).

But the role the temple articles play in Daniel is also interesting.  Their seizure by King Neb is mentioned in Dan. 1:2, and then they come back with a vengeance when in chapter 5, Belshazzar decides to use the temple cups and saucers (now the Aramaic term, ‘māʾn‘) to have a party in honour of the local gods – a double sacrilege.  It’s clear that this double offence is the key to the sentence written on the wall plaster by the disembodied hand (5:23-24).  Like precious articles, Belshazzar himself has been weighed on the scales (5:27), but hasn’t come up to scratch, and the Giver of Kingdoms decides that his has had its day.

So like the Ark, the articles of God are successfully confiscated by the conquering foreign king, but, like the forbidden fruit, to his own hurt, until the deliverer Cyrus (to call the book of Ezra back here) returns them to their rightful place.

Well, I thought it was interesting, anyway.  Hadn’t noticed this before now in all those years of Bible reading.