AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Title and Place in the Canon. | Chronicles and Ezra‑Nehemiah. | Contents. | Date. | Sources. | Compilation. | Religious Standpoint. | Historical Value. | The Versions. | Chronology - Table ITable II


The Hebrew title, Dibre hayyamim, means literally " the things of the days," i.e. the events of the times. The Septuagint title Paraleipomena, " things omitted," i.e. from the other historical books, would seem to be due to a misunderstanding (see below). The Vulgate follows it: Paralipomenon, primus et secundus. But Jerome (Prologus Galeatus), suggested the Latin title, Chronicon todus historiae divine; and it is from this that the title in the English Bible is derived.

In the Hebrew Canon Chronicles belongs to the Kethubim, or " Writings " (Hagiographa), and it comes last of all the Old Testament books. Originally Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah formed a single work (see below, § II). That the historically earlier portion (i ii Chron.) should be placed after the later is probably to be accounted for by the fact that Ezra-Nehemiah first found a place in the Canon without i ii Chron., the history of which was covered by i ii Kgs. (in the main). Afterwards, however, it was thought well to include i ii Chron. - though only as an appendix - for it presented the history from a point of view that appealed to the later dominant school of thought. However this may be, there cannot be any doubt that the admission into the Canon of Chronicles was later than that of Ezra-Nehemiah; had that not been the case the former would certainly have been placed before the latter in the order of the Old Testament books. That the English Bible places Chronicles after Kings and before Ezra-Nehemiah, differing therein from the Hebrew Canon, is due to the Vulgate.


That these books originally formed a single work is generally recognized: the reasons for this conclusion are as follows:

  1. The end of ii Chron., i.e.xxxvi.22, 23, which records the opening sentences of the decree of Cyrus, is repeated at the beginning of the book of Ezra (cp. also iii Ezra ii.1ff.). But in the former the sentence is incomplete, while in Ezra the whole of the decree is recorded. ii Chron. has therefore, properly speaking, no ending, as the words with which its present form ends are really the beginning of the book of Ezra (i.e.ii Chron.xxxvi.22, 23 = Ezra i.1-3a). The narrative runs on from one to the other. This does not, it is true, necessarily mean that the two books form part of one whole; but the fact that in Ezra the history is taken up from the point reached in ii Chron. does give the impression that the two belong together. The repetition is probably to be accounted for in this way: originally it was, of course, not there. The whole was a continuous narrative; but the part of the narrative comprised in Ezra-Nehemiah was, as has been pointed out, admitted into the Canon, while this was not the case with that contained in i ii Chron.; this latter was thus left without a conclusion. Later, when i ii Chron. was also admitted into the Canon, though not in its original position before Ezra-Nehemiah, it became necessary to add what was deemed a fitting conclusion. And what are now the last two verses of ii Chron. offered this in so far as they made the book end on a note of triumph. That Ezra i.1ff., and not ii Chron.xxxvi.22, 23, has the original text is evident, because the latter has only the opening sentences of the decree of Cyrus, whereas the former gives this in its entirety.
  2. A second reason is the identity of religious standpoint, which is peculiarly characteristic, found in Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah. The Temple with its worship, and all that pertains to the priesthood, are matters of central interest in both.
  3. The love of genealogies and statistical records occurring throughout also points to the work of a single compiler, apart from later redactional elements.
  4. And most convincing of all is the similarity of language and style, which runs through the whole series of what now appear as four books. Details of this would be out of place here; but reference may be made to Driver's Introduction.



The work is divided into the following four main divisions:

  1.  i Chron.i-ix: the earliest history, presented in the form of genealogies, which start from Adam. Noteworthy is the special care given to the genealogies of Judah (ii.3-iv.23) and; Hebr.v.27-vi.66.
  2. i Chron.x-xxix: the history of David. The importance attached to the Temple, and especially to the Levites, priests, singers, and minor officials, is seen by the long sections devoted to these (x.1-xxvi.32).
  3.  ii Chron.i-ix: the reign of Solomon. Here, again, the Temple occupies the central place of interest ii.1-vii.(Hebr. I.18-vii.10).
  4.  ii Chron.x-xxxvi.21: the history of the kingdom of Judah. The history of the northern kingdom is almost wholly ignored. The last two verses of xxxvi belong, as we have seen, to the book of Ezra.



It will be shown, when we deal with Ezra-Nehemiah, that there is convincing evidence in support of the contention that Ezra began his work in Palestine in 397 BC. How long his work continued there are no means of knowing; but even if it was not of long duration, the compilation of the book that now bears his name, together with that of Nehemiah, cannot well have been made before the middle of the fourth century at the earliest. Since then, as we have seen, Chronicles and Ezra-Nehemiah formed originally one work, the earliest possible date for Chronicles is about 350 BC.

Further, in Neh..22 the High-priest Jaddua is mentioned. According to Josephus (Antiq.xi.322, 347) he lived at the time of Alexander the Great (died 323); his death is recorded as having taken place soon after that of Alexander. In the same passage in Neh. the designation "Darius the Persian" occurs. This also points to the Greek period. The same applies to the title "King of Persia" (Cyrus) in ii Chron.xxxvi.23. For the titles given to Persian rulers in earlier days were: "the King" (Hag.i.1, 15), or "the Great King", as on the Cyrus Cylinder and elsewhere; also "King of Kings", "King of the lands", on a Darius inscription. [Rogers, A History of Ancient Persia, p.103 (1929).]

In I Chron. there are also one or two indications of date. The genealogy of David, given in iii.19-24, is brought down to the sixth generation after Zerubbabel. [The Septuagint makes it the eleventh generation.]

His date is about 520. So that even if only twenty years to a generation are assumed, the book cannot have been written until after 400. Further, in xxix.7 mention is made of a Daric, a Persian coin named after Darius i (died 486). Its circulation in Palestine points to a time considerably after it was first issued. This, therefore, suggests a date well on in the Persian period (538-332).

Taking these various indications into consideration, we may with considerable confidence assign the date of the book to the second half of the fourth century, but possibly even later.


The chief source utilized by the Chronicler is quite obviously part of the Old Testament itself: The Pentateuch, Joshua, i ii Samuel, and, above all, i ii Kings.

He refers to "the books of the kings of Israel and Judah" (ii Chron.xxvii.7; xxxv.27; xxxvi.8), and doubtless the same work, though with a slightly different title, is referred to in i Chron.ix.1; ii Chron.xvi.11; xx.34; xxv.26; xxviii.26; xx.32; xxi.18. In comparing the many passages in Chronicles with the corresponding ones in these books it is evident that they were substantially, though not absolutely, in the form in which they now appear. The question as to whether the Chronicler had before him, in addition, any of the earlier sources utilized by the compilers of the historical books, and what use he made of them, is of considerable interest. One passage certainly points to this having been the case. In ii Chron.xvi.11 it is said: "Behold, the acts of Asa the former and the latter, behold they are written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel". The passage then goes on to summarize these (verses 12-14). When this is compared with the corresponding passage in i Kgs.xv.23, 24 (which speaks only of the book of the Chronicles of the "kings of Judah"), it is seen that ii Chron. gives some details not recorded in i Kgs. This looks, therefore, as though the Chronicler had before him the source utilized by the compiler of Kings, and that he made a larger extract from it than that found in Kings. Thus, the possibility suggests itself further that in some cases the Chronicler may have made use of sources independently of what he took from Kings. One such source may have been "The Midrash to the Book of Kings," mentioned in ii Chron.xxiv.27. A Midrash is a comparatively late form of exegetical commentary, which seeks out and investigates - this is the root meaning of the word - the sense of Scripture from various standpoints, and goes beneath the surface of the literal sense in order to discover what cryptic meaning a passage may contain. The Midrashic method will, by inference or deduction, often discern in a word or passage of Scripture a meaning for which the text itself gives no justification. The Midrash referred to by the Chronicler was, as its name implies, a source distinct from that just mentioned. Another Midrash, of smaller extent as its title implies, is named in ii Chron.i.22, "The Midrash of the prophet Iddo". Whether this was an independent source, or whether it was merely a section of the large Midrash just spoken of, cannot be said with certainty; it may have at one time circulated independently, and have been later incorporated in the larger work.

In the next place, there occur a number of titles of what appear to have been collections of narratives about prophets, viz. "the words (or acts ') of Samuel the seer", "the words of Nathan the prophet", "the words of Gad the seer". These occur together in i Chron.xxix.29, and were doubtless all parts of the same book; further, "the words of Nathan the prophet", "the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite", "the visions of Iddo the seer". These occur together in ii Chron.ix.29; and "the words of Shemaiah the prophet and of Iddo the seer" (ii Chron..15). These, again, may originally have been independent writings; but that by the time they were used by the Chronicler they had been incorporated in the large history of the Kings is suggested by the fact that in two other cases it is definitely stated by the Chronicler that they had been so incorporated, viz. " ... they are written in ' the words of Jehu the son of Hanani', which is inserted in the book of the kings of Israel " (ii Chron.xx.34) ; and " ... they are written in 'the vision of Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz', in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel" (ii Chron.xx.32). It would, therefore, seem likely that all these writings belonged to what was one and the same source; to this must also be reckoned "the words of Manasseh", mentioned in ii Chron.xxi.18, 19.

A further source, which at first sight appears unpromising, but which has a value of its own, is to be discerned in the large body of genealogies; they occur especially in i Chron.i-ix. These genealogies must have been gathered from official documents. They are not all of equal authority (eg. the omission of i Chron.i.11-23 in the best Septuagint text suggests that these verses are a later addition). But as a whole they are of importance as illustrating certain theories of Israelite and Judahite descent, held in different circles and possibly at different times. [For details see Rothstein-Hanel, and Richter in ZATW 1931, pp.260-270; and in 1932, pp.130-141.]

Finally, from ii Chron.xxvi.22 (cp.xx.32 already referred to) it is clear that the Chronicler made use of the book of Isaiah. The conclusion is that the sources from which the Chronicler compiled his work were the canonical books, already mentioned, the Midrash on Kings, the Midrash on the prophet Iddo, and the book of Isaiah.


Closely connected with the subject of sources is that of their compilation. There is much in Chronicles which supports the contention that the compilation of the material gathered from these sources was not the work of a single compiler, and that the whole compendium cannot be assigned to one and the same period. Both suppositions are in the nature of things. The purpose for which Chronicles was compiled (see ? VII) was one of profound interest to certain religious circles of more than one generation; so that it is to be expected that the book should have been enlarged from time to time by those whose special interests it embodied. It is not as though the literary material utilized was all gathered ready for use like a collection of manuscripts in a modern library. Doubtless there were state archives in which national records were kept, e.g. in the Temple. But it can hardly be supposed that among the documents there preserved were to be reckoned such very unofficial writings as the book of Kings or the great Midrash on this. These are more likely to have been in the care of guilds or schools of scribes in different localities (cp. Kiriath-sepher, "the book-city", Josh.xv.15; Judg.i.11). So that both from the nature of things, as well as from indications in the book itself, it may be taken for granted that the compilation of Chronicles extended over a period of a number of years, and that more than one compiler took a hand in it. When, however, the task is attempted of seeking to discern the hands of different compilers, it is, naturally enough, seen to be both difficult and precarious.

The most important contributions to this intricate study are those of Kittel [Die Bucher der Chronik, in Nowack's "Handkommentar zum AT." (1902).] and Rothstein-Hanel, (Das erste Buch der Chronik (1927).) the latter followed by Rad. [Das Geschichtsbild des Chronistischen Werkes (1930).]

Kittel's searching scrutiny discerns four hands of compilers, not necessarily individuals, but more probably groups. A Levite, or group of Levites who were followed by another similar group first undertook the work. The former gathered together those portions of Chronicles that are identical, or almost identical, with passages from Old Testament books. The latter were responsible for those passages that were in part identical with those in other books. Then came the Midrashic scribe, or scribes, and added the Midrashic portions; and finally there was the Chronicler himself. In addition to these some later scribe inserted certain portions, which occur especially in i Chron.i-ix, not taken from the canonical books; some of this material Kittel believes to be, in substance, pre-exilic. The possibility of the correctness of Kittel's careful scrutiny is not denied, but whether it holds good all through is at least questionable.

The other scholars also discern several hands at work. But according to them, there were two main compilers. The earlier of the two follows, as a rule, but not wholly, the Priestly Code, while the later is guided rather by the Deuteronomic Code. The correctness of this view hardly admits of doubt in view of the convincing evidence presented. It is of great interest, since it shows that even in pronounced priestly circles there existed in the fourth century a sympathetic feeling for the prophetic (i.e. Deuteronomic) Point of view.


Two outstanding subjects call for brief mention in this connexion. The Chronicler's interest is centred in the Temple and its worship (the same applies whether there were one or more compilers). The conception of these is presented from a strictly Levitical point of view, and in a form that can have arisen only under the influence of the Priestly Code. This priestly legislation is assumed to be of Mosaic origin, and it is the norm by which all things are governed. The liturgical service of the sanctuary is the centre of religious life; in comparison with this all other interests sink into insignificance. An ecclesiastical system rather than religion in the deeper sense is the ideal inculcated. By this is not meant that the Chronicler was lacking in religious instinct; but to one for whom the religious sense is believed to be best expressed by the rigid observance of ritual worship, ceremonial and the laws governing it necessarily assume an exaggerated importance.

Illustrations of the Chronicler's ecclesiastical bent are abundant. They are most clearly to be discerned in comparing the way in which he presents occurrences of the past with the accounts given in the earlier books. Of many examples that could be offered one of the most striking is the narrative of the reign of David in i Chron.x-xxix when compared with the corresponding passages in ii Sam, and i Kgs.

The other subject under this head is the Chronicler's doctrine of divine retribution. He not only represents the traditional belief here in a very pronounced manner, but he goes somewhat beyond it by insisting that divine reward for well doing, and punishment for wrong-doing, follows immediately upon the act. In applying this theory to the doings of men in the past he often distorts history. Yet it is only fair to recognize the motive that impels this proceeding, mistaken though it be. The Chronicler's conviction of God's direct and immediate intervention in all human affairs is thoroughly sincere, and he wishes to impress this on his readers. He is not so much concerned with the illustrations whereby he drives home this truth, as he believes it to be, as with emphasizing the truth itself. He is a Midrashist, and claims the right to manipulate history in the interests of his teaching.


From what has been said it will be clear that not much importance can be attached to the history as presented in Chronicles. It does not even pretend to be a history of Israel, for it deals practically with that of Judah only, setting this forth especially as an account of the Davidic dynasty. The many almost absurd exaggerations (see, e.g. i Chron.x.14 and i Kgs.x.14, 15; ii Chron. i.3, 17, xiv.8, 9, xvii.14-19), though sometimes these may be due to textual corruption, illustrate the unreliability of the compiler. And, above all, the tendencious cause of so much that is recorded forbids one to take the history seriously. Nevertheless, here and there some scraps may be gathered which are probably reliable data, but which have been overlooked in the earlier historical books (e.g. ii Chron.xxvi.6-15, xxviii.17, 18, and others).

Thus, while it is possible to form but a low estimate of both the religious and historical value of our book, we whole-heartedly endorse Buchanan Gray's words, that "as a document that preserves the spirit, and the moral, religious and ecclesiastical ideals of the Jews about 300-200BC. Chronicles is invaluable, and most so because then its meaning is most clearly expressed, when we can watch the author modifying those earlier sources which we still possess."  [A critical Introduction to the Old Testament, p.92 (1927).]


The Septuagint is the only Version, as is so often the case, which comes into consideration, though in a few instances the Vulgate seems to have retained a right reading against the Septuagint (e.g. i Chron.xxvi.26). So far as i ii Chronicles are concerned the value of the Septuagint lies in the large number of small details in which it has preserved the right reading against the Massoretic text. In the genealogies the form of the names differs frequently, and although the Septuagint form is quite obviously often wrong, there are instances in which the Massoretic reading is to be corrected by that of the Septuagint. In quite a number of cases the correction of the Hebrew by the Septuagint gives the text one might expect. These are often small points in themselves, but they make just the difference to the understanding of the text (e.g. ii Chron.ii.50; iii.21; v.13; xxv.8; xxvi.5; xxviii.22; xxx.22, and many others). Sometimes the smaller numbers given in the Septuagint suggest that the larger ones in the Hebrew are not in their original form (e.g. i Chron.v.21; ii Chron.x.2). The reliability of the Septuagint is in some cases attested by its agreement, against the Hebrew text of Chronicles, with the corresponding passage in Sam. or Kgs. (e.g. ii Chron.xxi.20). In one instance the best Septuagint text omits a comparatively long passage in the Hebrew (i Chron.i.11-23); but this is exceptional. There are many cases of corruption in the Hebrew text for which the Septuagint offers no help (e.g. ii, thus indicating that the corruption was already present in the text used by the Greek translators. Upon the whole, while the use of the Septuagint is necessary, it is of less importance for Chronicles than for most of the Old Testament books.