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Chronicler’s History: Retelling the Story

1 Introduction

2 First and Second Chronicles

3 Ezra and Nehemiah

4 Chronicler’s History as a Collection

5 Apocryphal History

Study Guide


Chronicler, Chronicler’s History, Cyrus, Ezra, Jeshua, Joshua, Nehemiah, Second temple, Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel

George Santayana

George Santayana

George Santayana (1863–1952), a philosopher and poet, made one of the most famous statements regarding history:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness . . .
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Others observe the power of historians:

God cannot alter the past, but historians can.
SAMUEL BUTLER (1835–1902)

The stars are dead. The animals will not look:
   We are left alone with our day, and the time is short,
   History to the defeated
   May say Alas but cannot help nor pardon.
W. H. AUDEN (1907–1973)

Who controls the past controls the future.
Who controls the present controls the past.
GEORGE ORWELL (1903–1950)

Until the lions have their historians, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.

Source: Drawing of George Santayana by Daniel Hornschemeier Bandstra

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Modern historians assert that writing an entirely objective record of the past is impossible. All history, they say, is an interpretation of the past shaped by the historian’s present. Furthermore, the one who has political power, which determines who gets to speak, is more often than not the one who shapes the written record. The Judean priestly party, in the absence of the monarchy, emerged out of the Babylonian exile firmly in control. They were the preservers and guardians of Israel’s traditions and historical memory, and they shaped the period of Judean restoration. Not surprisingly, the priests and Levites wrote the biblical history that came out of the postexilic period.

The Torah together with the Former Prophets, otherwise known as the Primary History, is a comprehensive account from the Creation to the Babylonian exile. Chronicles is a history of equal scope, but the shape of the telling is quite different. Chronicles, along with Ezra and Nehemiah, is called the Chronicler’s History (or CH) and extends the historical narrative into the Persian period.

Some authorities dispute whether Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah should be considered a single unified work produced by a single author, rather than two works, Chronicles and Ezra–Nehemiah. Their main focuses are not the same. First and Second Chronicles emphasize David and the Prophets. A combined Ezra and Nehemiah emphasize Moses and the Torah.

On the other hand, these books have a number of features in common. The ending of Chronicles is the same as the beginning of Ezra, suggesting an overlap or connection of some sort. Both works abound in lists and genealogies. They also share technical vocabulary pertaining to the Levites and certain phrases that are infrequently found elsewhere, such as “house of God.” Both works are preoccupied with the temple in Jerusalem, the institutions of the priesthood, and Levitical functions.

Earlier generations of scholars and students tended not to study the Chronicler’s History all that much due to the fact that it seems to cover much the same ground as the Deuteronomistic History (DH). This neglect may also be due to certain research biases that favored older sources over more recent ones. Earlier scholarship was often obsessed with the drive to recover the earliest texts, thinking that these texts automatically were more accurate and provided the best chance of recovering “what really happened.” The CH is a comparatively late source, so it was neglected in favor of the DH. And since the Chronicler used Samuel and Kings as his main source and he did not add much to them, what he did add was late and of little value.

Scholars of the biblical text are now looking afresh at the Chronicler’s History. A study of how the Chronicler retold the history of Israel opens up a window on the beliefs and expectations of the postexilic community of the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. The CH turns out to be an important source for recovering the thought world of this period. These days, the CH is read not so much to recover the facts of early Israel’s history but to recover the beliefs of the leadership in Jerusalem at this time of its writing.

A comparison of the Chronicler’s History and the Deuteronomistic History provides an occasion to analyze how history writing is conditioned by particular historical and cultural contexts (see Table 17.1). The DH reflects a sixth-century exilic perspective, while the CH reflects a late fifth-century postexilic perspective. The

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TABLE 17.1 Comparison of the Deuteronomistic and Chronicler’s Histories


Deuteronomistic History

Chronicler’s History
Authorship Northern Levites Postexilic Levites
Date of composition 550 BCE 400–250 BCE
Audience Exilic community Restoration community
Reasons for God’s judgment
Jerusalem temple, worship, Levites

CH used the DH as its main source and essentially “repurposed” it to serve the rebuilding of postexilic culture and religion along priestly lines. Such recasting of history is sometimes called revisionist history.

The Chronicler’s History retells the story of God’s people from Adam to Ezra. It makes obvious use of preexisting written sources. The sources include letters, lists, genealogies, and the block 1 Samuel 31–2 Kings 25 of the Deuteronomistic History. The Chronicler also drew on the Torah, Judges, Ruth, Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Zechariah. As would any good historian, the Chronicler cited sources (though certainly not all of them). Unfortunately, most of the sources cited by the Chronicler, including “the records of the seer Samuel” and “the midrash on the Book of Kings,” are unknown outside the Bible. Some scholars date the composition of the CH to the time of Ezra in the fifth century BCE, others to the fourth century, and still others place it in the Hellenistic period of the third century.

The Chronicler focused on the Judean monarchy and the Jerusalem religious establishment. The northern kingdom of Israel is mentioned rarely and then only in passing. The Chronicler idealized the reigns of Solomon, Hezekiah, and especially David. The latter became the model of the good and pious monarch. But to do this effectively, the historian had to leave out certain stories from the DH that put David in a bad light, such as his affair with Bathsheba. The CH presents David as a king who ruled obediently and established religious service as it was meant to be, with the temple, its priesthood, singers, prayers, rituals, and offerings. He traced the establishment of important priestly and Levitical institutions back to David although other historical evidence suggests this is unlikely. It appears the Chronicler’s intention was to ground proper worship practices in the traditions of the past, mainly those of David’s time, to give them increased validity.

The Chronicler’s main focus in writing his history was the priesthood, the temple, and worship practices in Judea. All of history was viewed in terms of how it promoted these concerns. Kings were evaluated in terms of their disposition to temple and cult. And history moved to a climax at the time of Ezra and Nehemiah with the reestablishing of temple worship. The Chronicler was a defender of the status quo and had no vision for an independent political future. As long as Yhwh could be worshiped properly, seemingly all else was acceptable.

1.1 Reading Guide

• Read 1 Chronicles 20:1–3 and compare it with 2 Samuel 11 to see how the Chronicler handles David’s affair with Bathsheba.
• Read 1 Chronicles 22:2–19 to see how the Chronicler gets David involved with the temple, for which there is no record in Samuel.

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• Read the decree of Cyrus in Ezra 1, which authorizes the return of Judean refugees to Palestine.
• Read Ezra 9–10, which describes Ezra’s decree forbidding mixed marriages and the reaction to that.
• Read Nehemiah 8–9 where Ezra reads the book of the Torah of Moses to all the people and Nehemiah 13 on the reforms of Nehemiah.


The two books of Chronicles were originally one book. Like the books of Samuel and Kings, they became two in printed editions. We will refer to combined First and Second Chronicles simply as Chronicles. Jewish tradition holds that most of Chronicles, along with the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, were written by Ezra the scribe and completed by Nehemiah. In Jewish tradition, Ezra is venerated to a degree second only to Moses. Chronicles can be divided into two main parts on the basis of content: premonarchy history and the history of the Davidic monarchy.

2.1 Premonarchy History (1 Chronicles 1–9)

The first part of Chronicles retells history from Adam to Saul. Most of the story is told by means of lists of names and genealogies. Some of the genealogical lists extend all the way into the postexilic period by including individuals from that time, indicating that this material was finally edited in the postexilic period.

There is very little storytelling narrative in this first part of Chronicles. It is dominated by genealogies. Special attention was given to the names of priests and Levites. The genealogies also focus on the tribe of Judah and its line of David, the tribe of Benjamin and its line of Saul, and the tribe of Levi. These comprised the nucleus of the Persian province of Yehud (Judea) in the postexilic period.

Genealogies serve different purposes within the biblical world. Within the family, they define privilege and responsibility, as with the firstborn son in relation to later-born children and children of concubines. Within tribes, they establish political and territorial claims, especially land ownership, and might also reflect military conscription lists. Within the religious sphere, they establish membership in the priestly and Levitical classes. Membership determines who can and cannot hold priestly offices and who can acquire the privileges and responsibilities associated with them. All of these uses of genealogies are present in Chronicles (see Wilson, 1977; Knoppers, 2003).

2.2 History of the Davidic Monarchy (1 Chronicles 10–2 and Chronicles 36)

This part of Chronicles covers the history of the Davidic monarchy from David to the Babylonian exile. It can be subdivided into three sections:

1. David’s reign: 1 Chronicles 10–29

2. Solomon’s reign: 2 Chronicles 1–9

3. Kings of Judah from Rehoboam to Cyrus’s edict of return from exile: 2 Chronicles 10–36.

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The Chronicler used the books of Samuel and Kings from the Deuteronomistic History as his main source in retelling the history of the Judean monarchy. About half of Chronicles comes from the books of Samuel and Kings.

2.2.1 David’s Reign (1 Chronicles 10–29)

This section contains an extended account of the reign of David. In it there is no record of Saul’s conflict with David. It begins with all Israel at Hebron asking David to be their king. This in itself is a recasting of the Samuel account where Judah is the first to acclaim David as king, followed seven years later by the remainder of the tribes. Throughout his account, the Chronicler uses the phrase “all Israel” to promote a perception of the unity of God’s people (see Williamson, 1977).

The account continues with a description of David’s capture of Jerusalem and his moving the ark of the covenant into the city. A comparison of how Samuel and Chronicles tell the story of the ark’s trip to Jerusalem demonstrates how the Chronicler repurposed the older account to validate the essential role of the Levites. Second Samuel 6:1–11 is closely paralleled in 1 Chronicles 13:1–14, telling the story of the death of Uzzah when he touched the ark and the abandonment of the ark with Obed-edom. Second Samuel moves directly to David’s fetching the ark from Obed-edom and taking it to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12–19). Before 1 Chronicles picks up the story at that point, it inserts a lengthy account of the appointment of the Levites to carry the ark on to Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:1–24), including these words:

Then David said that carrying the ark of God is not allowed except by Levites, for Yhwh chose them to carry the ark of Yhwh and to minister to him forever. David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem to bring up the ark of Yhwh to the place he had prepared for it.” . . . Then David summoned the priests Zadok and Abiathar, and the Levites Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel, and Amminadab, and said to them, “You are the heads of the families of the Levites. Sanctify yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of Yhwh, the God of Israel, to the place I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it the first time, Yhwh our God exploded in anger on us, because we did not seek out the rules for handling it.” So the priests and the Levites sanctified themselves to bring up the ark of Yhwh, the God of Israel. And the Levites carried the ark of God with the poles on their shoulders, as Moses had commanded according to the word of Yhwh. (1 Chronicles 15:2–3, 11–15)

Whereas no lesson was drawn from Uzzah’s death in the Deuteronomistic historian’s account, the Chronicler used this as the occasion to validate the special role of the Levites and to draw the lesson that only the Levites are allowed to handle the ark.

Generally speaking, the Chronicler’s deviations from the Deuteronomistic History are noteworthy. The Chronicler omitted any reference to David’s war against Saul and his alliance with the Philistines. He omitted the story of how David intimidated Nabal and then married Abigail. David’s affair with Bathsheba was completely ignored. In one way or another, all of these stories might reflect negatively on David or tarnish his image, so they were conveniently left out.

On the other hand, the Chronicler added information not present in Samuel–Kings. David’s extensive preparations for the building of the temple are detailed in

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1 Chronicles 23–28. This effectively makes David the founder and sponsor of the Jerusalem temple. In contrast, the book of Kings attributes the entire process of planning and building the temple to Solomon.

An especially interesting retelling of history is found in the Chronicles account of David’s census of the nation. Taking a census was an act of disobedience because it signaled a reliance on military forces rather than the power of God. The Samuel account implies that Yhwh incited David to take a census in order to have an occasion to punish the people:

Deuteronomistic History Chronicler’s History
2 Samuel 24:1: Again the anger of Yhwh was inflamed against Israel, and he incited David against them, “Go, count the people of Israel and Judah. 1 Chronicles 21:1: Satan stood up against Israel and incited David to count the people of Israel.

In the Samuel account, Yhwh is responsible for getting David into trouble. The Chronicler’s account removes Yhwh and introduces Satan as the instigator. Notice that the instigator is now Satan (a name), and not “the satan” (a title) as in the book of Job. This reference to Satan reflects the growing interest in Satan in the late postexilic period and the Chronicler’s concern to distance God as far away from evil as possible. The Chronicler probably would have chosen to omit this story altogether because of the picture it gives us of David. But he retained it because the account goes on to describe how David secured the threshing floor of Araunah as the future site of the temple. Thus, it still fits his overall purpose of comprehensively accounting for the institution of the temple.

2.2.2 Solomon’s Reign (2 Chronicles 1–9)

Most of this section is devoted to a description of the building and dedication of the Jerusalem temple, taken almost verbatim from the book of Kings. The Chronicler idealized Solomon just as he did David by omitting those stories in the DH that put Solomon in a bad light, including the following:

• The bloody political struggle between Adonijah and Solomon that ended with Solomon’s triumph (1 Kings 2:13–46a): too violent
• Solomon’s adjudication of the case of the two prostitutes and their babies (1 Kings 3:16–28): too sinful
• Solomon’s wealth, power, and wisdom (1 Kings 4:22–34): too rich
• Solomon’s marriages to the multitude of foreign women and the building of shrines in Jerusalem to their foreign gods (1 Kings 11:1–13): too pagan
• Solomon’s enemies and the prophecy of Ahijah (1 Kings 11:14–40): too divisive

The Chronicler’s account of Solomon in his role as temple builder adds details not found in the Kings account. In particular, it depicts Solomon as Bezalel, who was the architect of the tabernacle at the time of Moses. Bezalel is mentioned nowhere outside the book of Exodus except in the Solomon narrative of Chronicles. In their parallel roles, both Bezalel and Solomon were designated for their tasks by God, came from the tribe of Judah, received the spirit of wisdom to complete their tasks, built a bronze altar for the sanctuary, and made the sanctuary furnishings. Solomon, as the new Bezalel and great temple builder, continued in the sanctuary tradition of Moses.

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2.2.3 Kings of Judah (2 Chronicles 10–36)

This section is devoted almost entirely to the kings of Judah after the division of the kingdoms. Virtually no mention is made of the northern kingdom. The Chronicler dwells on the role of the kings of Judah in promoting worship and proper ritual. When disaster finally came by way of the Babylonians, it was because certain kings somehow failed in their religious duties.

The Chronicler’s account supplements the Deuteronomistic History on a couple of points. The reform program of Hezekiah, not detailed in Kings, is given extended attention in Chapters 29–32. This includes an account of his temple cleansing and his celebration of the Passover. Also, Josiah’s Passover celebration is given increased attention. All this accords with the Chronicler’s interest in the right performance of religious ritual.


The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are the main biblical sources for the history of the return of Jewish refugees from exile. These books were compiled fairly close to the events they report and can be considered reliable historiography for the most part (see Talmon, 1987). They are generally considered to be two parts of one book; the Septuagint and the Babylonian Talmud refer only to the book of Ezra when citing material from both Ezra and Nehemiah. The focal events of Ezra–Nehemiah are the major moments in the rebuilding of a religious community after the time of Babylonian exile.

The return from Babylonian exile, the process of rebuilding Jerusalem, and the restoration of Jewish community life back in Judea, now part of the Persian Empire (see Figure 17.1), took place in four stages (see Table 17.2).

The editorial history of Ezra–Nehemiah is difficult to sort out, and scholars debate the original order of the chapters. Although opinions vary, it is reasonable to suggest that the book of Ezra–Nehemiah was completed around 400 BCE (see Figure 17.2). The book of Ezra–Nehemiah is a single unit consisting of three identifiable sections, each centered around a significant leader of the restoration (see Table 17.3).

3.1 Book of Zerubbabel (Ezra 1–6)

The first section of Ezra, termed the Book of Zerubbabel, relates the history of the early returns from Babylonian exile. It covers the period from the end of exile in 538 to the completion of the rebuilt temple in 515. The book begins with a verbatim record of the decree of Cyrus allowing the Judean refugees to return to Jerusalem:

Thus says King Cyrus of Persia, “Yhwh the Elohim of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has commanded me to build him a house in Jerusalem of Judah. Who among you are from his people—May his Elohim be with him. Go up to Jerusalem of Judah and build the house of Yhwh, the Elohim of Israel, the Elohim who is in Jerusalem! Let all who remain behind assist the people of their place with silver, gold, goods, and livestock in addition to freewill offerings for the house of the Elohim which is in Jerusalem.” (1:2–4)

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Persian Empire Map

FIGURE 17.1 The Persian Empire

This decree was issued in 538 and authorized the rebuilding of the temple. Notice how Cyrus, a Persian, acknowledges that Yhwh is the God—the Elohim—of Israel and attributes to him the gift of his own power. The fact that Cyrus authorized the temple rebuilding becomes important later in the book when Samaritans from the north and others opposed rebuilding activities in Jerusalem.

TABLE 17.2 The Return from Exile



538 Sheshbazzar (Davidic prince) Led a return after Cyrus, king of Persia (550–530), gave permission; temple rebuilding began, but due to economic hardship and local opposition it was not completed at that time.
522 Zerubbabel (Davidic prince) and Jeshua (high priest) Led a second group of Jews back to Palestine during the reign of Darius I (522–486); this group succeeded in completing the temple in Jerusalem in 515, called the second temple.
458 Ezra (Jewish priest and scribe) Led a group of Jews back to Palestine during the reign of Artaxerxes I (465–424) and imposed the Torah of Moses as civil law.
445 Nehemiah (Jewish cupbearer to Artaxerxes) Organized the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem and returned religious and civil authority to the Levites.

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Timeline Ezra-Nehemiah

FIGURE 17.2 Time Line: The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah

The first group of returned refugees was led by Sheshbazzar, who had been appointed governor of Judea. He may have been the son of Jehoiachin, Judah’s king in exile. Sheshbazzar and the first group of returnees succeeded in laying the foundations of the temple. For unspecified reasons the work broke off and the temple remained unfinished until a subsequent return of Jewish refugees.

The most productive return was led by Zerubbabel, another leader from the line of David, in 522 BCE near the beginning of the reign of Darius I (see Figure 17.3). The most significant restoration event of this period was the completion of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem.

Authorities call this structure the second temple because the one built by Solomon was the first temple. The second temple remained intact until it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Zerubbabel, the civic leader, was assisted by the high priest Jeshua and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (see RTOT Chapter 12; note that the name of the high priest is spelled Jeshua here in Ezra–Nehemiah, but Joshua in the books of Haggai and Zechariah). Together they motivated the people to complete the project begun by Sheshbazzar, and it was finished in 515. This section of Ezra ends with an account of the dedication of the temple and the celebration of Passover.

3.2 Ezra Memoirs (Ezra 7–10 and Nehemiah 8–9)

Chapters 7–10 of the book of Ezra, along with Nehemiah 8–9, which were misplaced, deal with Ezra the scribe. There is a gap of about sixty years between the events of the book of Zerubbabel and those of the Ezra Memoirs.

Ezra was a priest descended from the line of Aaron through Zadok. He was also a scribe, which essentially means that he was a royal administrator; he served under the Persian king Artaxerxes I. He presumably returned to Judea from Babylon in 458 with another group of refugees. However, scholars debate this date of Ezra’s mission. The seventh year of Artaxerxes I (Ezra 7:7) would be 458 BCE, the date used here.

TABLE 17.3 Structure of Ezra and Nehemiah


Book of Zerubbabel

Ezra 1–6
2 Ezra Memoirs Ezra 7–10, Nehemiah 8–9
Nehemiah Memoirs
Nehemiah 1–7, 10–13

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FIGURE 17.3 Darius

Darius I (522–486 BCE) was the Persian king at the time of Zerubbabel’s return. The second temple was completed during his reign. The story of the book of Esther also takes place during his reign.

Source: Drawing by Daniel Hornschemeier Bandstra based on the Persepolis treasury relief. See E. F. Schmidt, The Treasury of Persepolis (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1939), figure 14.

The problem is this: Ezra and Nehemiah do not seem to acknowledge each other, and they seem to work independently of each other even though the straightforward reckoning of their dates puts them in Jerusalem at the same time. Consequently, some scholars place Ezra after Nehemiah, and read thirty-seventh year of Artaxerxes, rather than seventh, thus placing the beginning of Ezra’s mission in 428. Still others place the beginning in 398 during the reign of Artaxerxes II (404–358). Complicating the matter further, Nehemiah 8:9 and 12:26, 36 do place Ezra and Nehemiah in Jerusalem at the same time, though these are often judged to be late editorial insertions.

Ezra had authorization from the Persian government to reestablish proper modes of Yhwh worship and adherence to the Torah of Moses. In Ezra’s analysis, one of the most serious problems among the Judeans was mixed marriages. In the interim of the exile, male Judeans had married Canaanite, Hittite, Ammonite, Moabite, and Egyptian women. Ezra saw this as a breach of the injunction to remain separate from non-Israelite people. Intermarriage promoted assimilation and was a threat to Yahwistic religion. Israel’s theological historians had concluded that one of the biggest reasons for Israel’s downfall was intermarriage with Canaanites, which led to idolatry.

Ezra required Jewish men to divorce their non-Jewish wives and expel them from Judean territory, along with any children from the marriage. It was a time of great anxiety and mourning, but the priests, Levites, and ordinary people who had married foreign women dutifully carried out Ezra’s directive.

Ezra also rededicated the people to keeping the Torah (Nehemiah 8–9). He assembled all Jewish adults in Jerusalem and read the Torah to them in Hebrew.

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However, because Hebrew was no longer their vernacular, having been replaced by Aramaic during the exile, there were translators who interpreted the text to the people as he read. Such an Aramaic translation of a Hebrew original is called a targum. This is the first biblical attestation of the practice of Scripture translation from one language to another.

After the Torah was read and interpreted, the people celebrated the Festival of Booths, which is a commemoration of the wilderness-wandering period of their early history. Then Ezra offered a prayer addressed to Yhwh, the Elohim of the Jews, citing the manifold ways that he directly intervened in history from Creation to that moment. This is not unlike other covenant-renewal events such as the ones under Moses (the entire book of Deuteronomy), Joshua (Joshua 24), and Samuel (1 Samuel 12), which typically included a narrative recounting of the people’s historical experience to that point. Such covenant-renewal occasions were times of corporate reflection and rededication to the compact with Yhwh.

3.3 Nehemiah Memoirs (Nehemiah 1–7 and 10–13)

Nehemiah was an official at the court of Artaxerxes I in Susa and probably a eunuch. He traveled to Jerusalem in 445 BCE to be the governor of the Persian Empire’s province of Yehud—that is, Judea. His great accomplishment was rebuilding the enclosure walls of Jerusalem. His work was opposed by Sanballat, leader of the Samaritans, and Tobiah, leader of the Ammonites. They saw his efforts as a threat to their power and influence in the region. On various occasions, they tried to stop the work, and they even tried to assassinate Nehemiah. Nehemiah and his crew were able to complete the rebuilding of the walls in fifty-two days despite the opposition. These walls gave Jerusalem the protection and security that its people needed.

Shortly afterward he returned to Jerusalem and instituted some important social and economic reforms. He closed the city on the Sabbath so that no trading could take place. He guaranteed that the Levites would receive their proper support, and like Ezra he forbade mixed marriages. Nehemiah served twelve years as governor of the province and then returned to Babylon in 433.


In Christian Bibles, the Chronicler’s History immediately follows Kings, giving the work of the Chronicler the character of a historical supplement to the Deuteronomistic History. In the ordering of the Old Testament, Ezra and Nehemiah are separate books and they follow 2 Chronicles.

In Jewish tradition, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles are included in the division of the Writings in the Hebrew Bible. Curiously, even though the events recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah chronologically follow the events of Chronicles, they are placed before the books of Chronicles within the Writings. The placement of 1 and 2 Chronicles at the very end of the Hebrew Bible is presumably deliberate and may have been meant to suggest that they are a summary of the entire course of history of the people of God. In fact, Chronicles does span Creation to the end of exile.

The Chronicler’s History essentially parallels the coverage of the Primary History, Pentateuch combined with the Deuteronomistic History. But why should there be two accounts of the same history in the Hebrew Bible? The fact that multiple versions of biblical history were retained implicitly affirms that each generation needs to

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rethink, reevaluate, and rewrite history in order to understand it in relation to present concerns. The CH retells Israel’s history with almost single-minded focus on worship institutions because at its moment in time the community needed the temple as the core of its rebuilding efforts and the priests were the prime movers.

It is significant that the Chronicler’s History did not replace the Deuteronomistic History. Both are still valid and need to be read. In the end, the CH is evidence of a continuing historiographic tradition within the community of faith. Each generation needs to be reappropriate the past, and this in turn is evidence of the value of studying history to understand the present. Studying the CH enables us to see how retelling history in Israel grounded the changed identity of the Jews.

Finally, the Chronicler’s History, including Ezra and Nehemiah, is notable for its focus on two heroes of the faith from the Torah and the Prophets. Chronicles focuses on David in his role in the development of the temple, and Ezra–Nehemiah focuses on the importance of Moses and the Torah for community rebuilding. This is a witness for the continuing relevance of Israel’s founding fathers.

The role of Ezra in reading and reinterpreting the Torah for the fifth-century Jewish community has canonical implications. It demonstrates that the Mosaic Torah continued to provide the foundation for the faith of Israel, even though it needed reinterpretation and updating. The reappropriation of Torah demonstrates its ongoing vitality and adaptability. Ezra’s role has been considered so significant for the development of the canon that he has been considered by some the final compiler of the Pentateuch, in addition to having had a role in the formation of the Chronicler’s History. Still today Ezra is considered the “father of Judaism.”


The tradition of retelling history and the need for it continued beyond the canon of the Hebrew Bible. A variety of histories were written in the early rabbinic period of roughly 100 BCE to 100 CE, and in Christian circles called the intertestamental period. Some of this historical literature is included in the Apocrypha. Two apocryphal books are connected with the figure of Ezra, and four are related to the Maccabees.

5.1 Maccabees

The four books of the Maccabees (see Table 17.4) are treated differently in the various canons of Christian communities. First and Second Maccabees are included in Roman Catholic, Greek, and Slavonic Bibles; Third Maccabees in the Greek and Slavonic Bibles; and Fourth Maccabees in an appendix to the Greek Bible. All four are included in the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books section of the NRSV.

5.1.1 First Maccabees

The Maccabean period is essential for understanding the period when Torah Judaism in Palestine was faced with extinction. In the second century BCE, the Greek Empire, within which Judea resided, became subject to a systematic program of forced assimilation. Antiochus IV, a king of the Seleucid Greek kingdom, aggressively attempted to eradicate Jewish practices and beliefs. This provoked a strong response from certain segments of the Jewish population led by the family of Mattathias and his sons. This was the beginning of the Hasmonean dynasty that

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TABLE 17.4 The Four Books of the Maccabees



1 Maccabees 100 BCE Alexander the Great, rise of Antiochus IV, Maccabean revolt, Hasmonean dynasty to John Hyrcanus I (333–134 BCE)
2 Maccabees 104–63 BCE Persecution of Palestinian Jews under the Seleucid kings Seleucus IV, Antiochus IV, and Antiochus V (180–161 BCE)
3 Maccabees 100 BCE Suffering of Egyptian Jews under the Ptolemaic king Ptolemy IV (221–203 BCE)
4 Maccabees 63 BCE–70 CE Treatise on the superiority of reason over emotion

transformed Judea into an autonomous state within the Greek Empire. The book of 1 Maccabees is the essential source for understanding the history of this development. For example, we saw that the apocalypses of the book of Daniel can best be explained as they symbolic history of this period (see RTOT Chapter 16). The conflict between Judaism and Hellenism as told in 1 Maccabees was both a political and a cultural confrontation, and it had far-reaching consequences for the subsequent character of Judaism.

5.1.2 Second Maccabees

This book is essentially an account of events leading up to the desecration of the Jerusalem temple by Antiochus IV and the campaign of Judas Maccabeus in retaking and rededicating it. The account is a summary of a five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene (see 2:23), about whom nothing is known and whose work has not survived. This summary is framed by two letters addressed to Jews living in Egypt. The letters explain that the account was sent in the hope that Egyptian Jews would join in the Hanukkah celebration of rededication of the Jerusalem temple. The book is notable because it is one of the earliest sources for the expectation of the resurrection of the dead (7–8) and attests prayers being offered for the dead (12:39–45). It also explicitly mentions creation out of nothing (creatio ex nihilo, 7:28), which later becomes an important Christian doctrine but is not the way Creation is presented in Genesis 1. Overall, it sees the events surrounding the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus and Jewish opposition as part of a divine plan and reinforces the importance of the temple for Judaism.

5.1.3 Third Maccabees

Beginning as early as the Babylonian exile, there is mention of Jewish expatriates living in Egypt. Jeremiah the prophet was among a group that went there (Jeremiah 43–44). A collection of papyrus documents written in Aramaic from Elephantine in Egypt dating to the 400s BCE provide insight into a Jewish community there. The book of 3 Maccabees also relates to Egyptian Jewish experience and describes events that purportedly took place in Alexandria in the period immediately preceding the time of the Maccabees.

The story has to do with the persecution that the Ptolemaic king Philopator IV visited on the Jews after he was unsuccessful in plundering the temple in Jerusalem.

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His attempt to execute all Jews was thwarted by a pious priest named Eleazar. Philopator then had a change of heart and rescinded the execution order. Afterward, there was a great celebration marking the deliverance.

5.1.4 Fourth Maccabees

This book is not history as such. It is related to the Maccabees because it uses Maccabean era Jewish martyrs as examples of religious virtue and reason, which is its main focus. It is included in this category of our discussion of the Apocrypha because of its canonical name, but it might better be classed with apocryphal wisdom literature because it is a philosophical treatise on using reasoned judgment to control the emotions. The writer clarifies that by reason he means “the mind that with sound logic prefers the life of wisdom” (1:15). The writer further asserts that wisdom finds its truest expression in the Torah and is not independent of it. Wisdom combined with rational discernment enables a person to master lesser impulses and passions.

The writer goes on to describe an Eleazar, who was a Jew governed by reason. He refused to surrender his principles and eat pork even when Antiochus IV threatened him with torture. His death, and the deaths of seven brothers and their mother, a story told later, are used to illustrate lives governed by reason: “None of the seven youths proved coward or shrank from death, but all of them, as though running the course toward immortality, hastened to death by torture.” (14:4-5 NRSV). These examples of martyrdom are also used to affirm immortality, a rather new notion that emerges in Judaism at this time.

5.2 Esdras

Esdras is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Ezra. The books of Esdras (see Table 17.5) are apocryphal works that have been ascribed to the biblical figure Ezra who lived in the 400s BCE. None of them were actually written by him. Instead, they illustrate the practice of pseudonymous authorship of books that is attested beginning in the second century BCE. Daniel may be another such example. Neither First nor Second Esdras is included within the Roman Catholic or Protestant canons of Scripture.

5.2.1 First Esdras

The book of 1 Esdras in the Apocrypha appears to be a newer, or at least alternate, edition of historical material from 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah in the Hebrew Bible and follows that material closely. The only major different is found in Chapters 3–4, which relate the story of Darius’s three bodyguards. They held a writing contest in which each would make a case for what he considered the strongest thing in the world. Darius would both judge the contestants and reward the winner. Three strong things are argued: wine, the king, and women. It is a cute

TABLE 17.5 The Books of Esdras



1 Esdras 100 BCE Josiah’s Passover celebration to Ezra’s reforms (621–458 BCE)
2 Esdras
100 CE

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TABLE 17.6 Contents of 2 Esdras




1–2 150 CE Christian prophecy of divine rejection of Israel and acceptance of the church 5 Ezra
3–14 100 CE Seven Ezra dream visions and dialogues on Israel’s suffering 4 Ezra
15–16 200 CE Christian prophecy of doom against the nations and coming persecution 6 Ezra

and entertaining disputation, but you will have to read the story yourself to find out what the king considers the strongest of all.

The 1 Esdras condensed version of the Chronicler’s History selected episodes that concern the temple as the focus of religious community, hence its choice of Josiah as the starting point. After the destruction of the temple, it treats the leaders who directed efforts to rebuild community by rebuilding the temple and restoring temple worship. It concludes by treating Ezra’s efforts to focus marriage on Jewish family and to restore the Torah as the law of the community. With these essential components of Jewishness restored, the people could once again live in God’s good graces as his unified people.

5.2.2 Second Esdras

Second Esdras is not historical in genre but largely apocalyptic. It is included in our account of the Apocrypha here because it is attached to the figure of Ezra. The book called 2 Esdras is actually a collection of three separate works (see Table 17.6).

The earliest and longest component, Chapters 3–14, takes the form of apocalypse and is a collection of seven dream visions that came to Ezra in the form of dialogues with the interpreting angel Uriel. The focus of these visions is on the future: when God’s people can expect the end of time and what it will be like.



1. Chronicler’s History. Which books constitute the CH, and why they are grouped together under this heading?

2. David. Given its context of writing, to what end did the Chronicler make David a major focus?

3. Restoration. What were the four major stages in the Jewish return to Jerusalem and the restoration of Jewish community life there?

4. Jewishness. What did Ezra identify as a main source of the Jews’ troubles, and how did he address it?

5. Jerusalem. What did Nehemiah do to rebuild the Jewish community?


1. Deuteronomistic History and Chronicler’s History. Compare the DH with the CH. For what purpose and with what focus did each historical work give an account of Israel’s history? To what end and in what way might Jews today retell the history of ancient Israel? Why might Christians retell that history? How and why might Muslims?

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2. Second temple. Why was the rebuilding of the temple so important for reestablishing a viable Jewish community in Jerusalem? Why was the restoration of the Jews at this time so dependent on religious institutions and worship?

3. Reading history. What does the inclusion in the Hebrew Bible of both the DH and the CH suggest about the purpose of studying history? What are the dangers of not studying history? Do you think that it is important to study history, and if so why? Do you enjoy studying history? Why or why not?


A Synoptic Harmony of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles: With Related Passages from Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezra, by James D. Newsome (1986), is a useful tool for comparing the Deuteronomistic and Chronicler’s Histories. The Anchor Bible commentary on 1 Chronicles (two volumes), by Gary Knoppers (2004), is recommended especially for its comprehensive introduction.