RELS 120AM: Old Testament
Response Paper #3: The Synoptic Parallels: Samuel/Kings and Chronicles
It is always a question in an Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament course, where does one begin to tell the story of Ancient Israel. Do we begin with Abraham? Moses? David? The Creation Narratives? Since the goal is to get some sense of how the Bible came to be and an overview of the range of the Bible’s organization—what is the best point of entry?
I have found the most effective point of entry—the key that unlocks the door for me—to be the story of David’s two high priests, Abiathar and Zadok: Abiathar, David appointed from the northern sanctuary of Shiloh; Zadok from the southern sanctuary of Hebron. It is the Deuteronomist who tells the story of Abiathar and transition of power from David to Solomon. I have asked that you begin reading the Bible in the Synoptic Parallels on page 144 (section 547) in David’s elder years, behind the closed doors of his bedroom where we meet David with circulation problems and a bit forgetful (a David we don’t meet in Chronicles). It is clear that David is coming to the end of his reign as king and we are getting the Deuteronomist’s view of the transition of power to his successor. It didn’t go as smoothly as we sometimes assume. Recall that
the Deuteronomist is dated to the time of Josiah in 622 B.C.E. and carries the voice of the Mushite Levites, the priestly group who preserved the northern stream of tradition of the Moses conditional covenant, symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant housed at Shiloh before it was transferred to Jerusalem. It wasn’t until the fall of the north, that Levitical Priests, now refugees back in Judah, get their chance to tell their side of the story about what happened to Abiathar— their representative in the halls of power—at the hands of Solomon whom they do not like.
In the Deuteronomist’s view, Solomon usurped the throne from his elder brother Adonijah, the legitimate heir to David’s throne by normal dynastic succession. Supporters of Adonijah were either killed or, in Abiathar’s case, fired. Solomon’s subsequent abusive rule of the northern tribes —they having lost their advocate in the halls of power—would ultimately lead to a civil war that would split the kingdom and a 200 year period of a divided monarchy, Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Each kingdom felt it was the true Kingdom of God: hence the two streams of tradition, the Deuteronomistic History (the voice of the north); and Chronicles (the voice of the south).
With the Chronicler and Priestly stream of tradition (P) we hear the Aaronid Zadokite voice which comes from those much more comfortable working within the system, because they had the jobs.
We began with the Chronicler’s presentation of Rehoboam, to an audience of Jews who had survived the exile and are now in Persian occupied Yehud, a colony of the Persian Empire. For their own reasons, the Persians have agreed to allow the Jews to return to their homeland, even to give them resources to rebuild their (second) temple (520 B.C.E.) and live under their own law (these are the days of Ezra). This gives them a space within which to retell their own story—a version of which we find in Chronicles. We are assuming that the Chronicler had some written version of Samuel/Kings before him and could thus choose what to include and what not to include. Chronicles is the control text in the Synoptic Parallels, which puts us, the reader, in a position to discern the special point of view of the Chronicler.
The Chronicler faced two fundamental challenges: 1) as an Aaronid Zadokite priest, he felt called of God to keep the stream of tradition grounded in the royal theology of David and Solomon and an eternal covenant symbolized in God’s House located in Jerusalem’s Zion, alive and relevant to the next generation of Jews who had survived the devastation of exile; and 2) he had to be politically shrewd enough to negotiate with the Persians who held the political and military power
at the time in Palestine, for a physical space for Jews to be Jews. Under Darius I (520 B.C.E.) they had discovered a ruler who was prepared to give them the resources to rebuild the Second Temple and even let them live under a law of their choosing (after being cleared)—in return for law and order. Of course they could not have a king or army; they were a colony of the Persian Empire, an empire that extended as far as India. So we are thinking of Persian occupied Yehud and the origins of Judaism as a religious institution.
So think of the Chronicler as among a scribal community as described by Van Der Toorn, working with written documents, among them some version of the Deuteronomistic work of Samuel/Kings which had been completed about 100 years earlier. The Chronicler was editing, as we learned from Van Der Toorn, to fit the circumstances of his present. Some of the kings and events he was describing lived some 450-500 years prior to his time. We are not getting a “newspaper account” of events. He was seeking to discern how God operated in the world of the ancient past, and thus offering advice to the faithful of the Chronicler’s time, on how to deal with the Persian presence— in a manner not to offend the Persians. Perhaps re-read Millar, Priesthood in Ancient Israel chap. 2 (for my reading of Chronicles) and chap. 3 (for my reading of Samuel/Kings). Read chapter 1 for the role of Abiathar and Zadok. See the video-lecture for the Samuel/Kings narrative.
Write an essay on one of the topics below [I will be receiving topic proposals from Tuesday November 14 until Friday noon, November 17. I will add them as approved]. Formulate a thesis [one idea expressed in the affirmative: no conjunctions, no dependent clauses, no prepositional phrases, no internal punctuation] that identifies where you personally stand on the topic. Once that is clarified, then from the stance of your personal view on the topic, critique [which means evaluate] two relevant illustrations: 1) one drawn from Samuel/Kings; and 2) one drawn from Chronicles. Be sure to contextualize your discussion to the social and political context of the two respective streams of traditions involved: 1) the Deuteronomistic History which we have discussed with Friedman and Van Der Toorn; and 2) Persian occupied Yehud, that is, the advice the Chronicler is giving the Jewish faithful who survived the exile and are now living in a colony of the Persian Empire.
Essays should be 5-7 pages, typed double-spaced and submitted as an attachment in the Response Paper section of Blackboard. Essays are due Sunday midnight (11:59 pm), November 19. I am happy to give feedback on thesis positions or selection of illustrations in advance of submission of essays. If you have questions or comments, feel free to get in touch with me.
1. “Discuss the respective interpretive paradigms being used by the Chronicler and
the Deuteronomist that draw a favorable, or unfavorable, assessment of a king’s leadership from the respective writers of Chronicles and Samuel/Kings.” Begin by identifying what bottom-line quality you personally look for in a leader, apart from Chronicles or Samuel/Kings in the Bible. What would lead you today to vote for a person in an up-coming election? “Effective leadership requires decisiveness”; “Effective leadership requires compassion” etc …. You don’t have to prove your thesis, since you are the authority on what you personally believe. Once where you personally stand is clarified, then from the perspective of your personal thesis, critique [which means evaluate] two relevant illustrations: 1) one drawn from Chronicles; and 2) one drawn from Samuel/Kings. Perhaps discuss the two different presentations of the same king. In your discussion, be sure to contextualize your evaluation to the social and political context of the Deuteronomist for Samuel/Kings and Persian occupied Yehud for Chronicles. For the Chronicler, focus on the advice being given by the Chronicler to the faithful who have survived the exile and are now having to deal with the Persian occupation of their homeland; for the Deuteronomist, focus on the social and political context of Josiah’s reign and the implications of the Assyrian threat.