Book Reviews

The Reshaping of Ancient Israelite History in Chronicles

Isaac Kalimi Winona Lake, IN 2004-12-01

At the outset Kalimi repeats the well-known observation that “Chronicles is the only comprehensive book of the Bible whose sources are, for the most part, available to us” (p. 1). By this he means primarily Samuel-Kings (the so-called “deuteronomistic history”) but also the thirty or more lesser-known and/or nonextant writings to which the chronicler refers. Then at the end Kalimi states that the main focus of his study “is to expose and define systematically and comprehensively the Chronicler’s writing methods and techniques and to explore certain methodological aspects of biblical historiography” (p. 404). The pages in between observation and statement of purpose are packed with analyses and arguments to support his conclusions that “the Chronicler was a prolific, industrious, and creative writer who should be considered an author as well as a redactor” (p. 412) and that 1 and 2 Chronicles as a whole represent a unified composition.

Among the many aspects of Chronicles studies that Kalimi addresses are literary-historiographical elements that differentiate parallel texts; historiographical revision; completions and additions; omissions; harmonizations; character creation; key words; and inconsistency, disharmony, and what he calls historical mistakes. This review can address only two of these categories—content harmonizations and “historical mistakes”—and with a single example of each.

Many of the examples of content harmonizations (as opposed to textual harmonizations) proposed by Kalimi are reasonable and require no or very few adjustments contrary to a high view of biblical historicity. Others, however, presuppose original and irreconcilable disharmonies that could be fixed only by heavy editorializing by the chronicler to bring them in line. Usually these are based on a source-critical view of the composition of the Pentateuch, however, a theory that itself lacks objective verification. One example is that of Solomon’s observance of Sukkoth (pp. 147–49). Kalimi suggests that Solomon’s ritual lasted only seven days according to the deuteronomist (1 Kings 8:65–66), who makes no reference to the eighth day of assembly (the Azeret). The chronicler on the other hand refers to the Azeret (2 Chron. 7:8–10), based on the clear instruction in Leviticus 23:33–36. Since the Leviticus text is attributed to the postexilic Priestly source, the deuteronomist could not have been aware of it and was content to follow Deuteronomy 16:13–15, which does not mention the eighth day. However, absence of reference to the eighth day by no means precludes its reality, especially if the chronicler was free to pursue his own agenda. Moreover there was no need to repeat in Deuteronomy what had already been stated in Leviticus.

As for alleged “historical mistakes,” Kalimi cites 1 Kings 9:26–28 and 2 Chronicles 8:17–18, parallel passages describing Solomon’s maritime partnership with King Hiram of Tyre. According to Kalimi’s interpretation of Kings only sailors were sent by Hiram to Ezion-geber on the Gulf of Aqaba (or Eilat), whereas Chronicles suggests that ships were sent as well. The problem is an obvious logistical one: How could ships from Phoenicia make their way to the Gulf of Aqaba without circumnavigating the continent of Africa? The problem here, however, is not a contradiction between sources but a closed-minded reading of texts. First Kings 9:28 says literally that King Solomon made ships at Ezion-geber, suggesting that they were built there. Second Chronicles 8:18 states that Hiram sent ships to Ezion-geber, suggesting that they were already built. However, Occam’s Razor allows that it is entirely possible that the ships were prefabricated in Phoenicia, hauled overland from somewhere near Gaza perhaps, and refitted at Ezion-geber (see Martin J. Selman, 2 Chronicles [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994], 352). Charges of “historical mistakes” should never be leveled until every reasonable option is considered.

On the whole, Kalimi has presented a fresh, stimulating, and carefully thought-out way of examining the major “synoptic problem” of the Old Testament, namely, the relationship between Samuel-Kings and Chronicles. Used with discretion, his painstaking work can yield a rich payoff.

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Eugene H. Merrill
Eugene H. Merrill is a former faculty member of DTS. Dr. Merrill has been heavily involved in international Christian ministry in Europe, Asia, and the Near East. As a scholar Dr. Merrill regularly contributes to leading journals, periodicals, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and commentaries. Academia runs in his family as his wife, Janet, holds a doctorate in counselor education from Columbia University and his daughter, Sonya, earned a Ph.D. in medical ethics from the University of London and an M.D. from Harvard University.
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