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Knoppers et al on Kalimi’s An Ancient Israelite Historian: Studies in the Chronicler

17th March 2006

The latest edition of the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures has an article edited by Gary N. Knoppers with contributions by Ehud Ben Zvi, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Gary N. Knoppers, Ralph W. Klein, Mark A. Throntveit with a response by Isaac Kalimi, entitled, “Chronicles and the Chronicler: A Response to I. Kalimi, An Ancient Israelite Historian: Studies in the Chronicler, his Time, Place and Writing,” Journal of Hebrew Scriptures 6/2 (2006).

This article began at a session of the Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah section of last year’s SBL devoted to Isaac Kalimi, An Ancient Israelite Historian: Studies in the Chronicler, His Time, Place, and Writing (Studia Semitica Neerlandica, 46; Assen: Royal Van Gorcum, 2005). After an introduction by Knoppers, each author presents an expanded review of Kalimi’s book, and then Kalimi responds.

While I am not going to repeat the contents of the article here, one criticism that a number of the authors noted was Kalimi’s characterization of the Chronicler as an ancient historian and the book of Chronicles as historiography. While most of the authors appear to be fine with classifying Chronicles as ancient historiography, they don’t like some of the implications that Kalimi draws from this assertion. First, when Kalimi calls the Chronicler a “historian” he means by implication that he isn’t a “midrashist” or a “theologian.” While I would agree that the Chronicler is a historian, I would characterize him as a theological historian who at times employs midrashic techniques.

Second, Kalimi appears to imply that because the Chronicler is a historian, this should influence our assessment of the reliability of the information contained within Chronicles and the book’s usefulness as a historical source for the history of monarchic Israel. Again, while I would agree with Kalimi’s characterization that the genre of Chronicles is ancient historiography, that does not mean that the book is necessarily reliable as a modern historical source. Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that Chronicles can’t be used to reconstruct this history of monarchic Israel or Persian Yehud. What I am saying is that Chronicles is an ancient history book and that the Chronicler has very different standards for writing history and very different literary and historiographic techniques than modern historians — and these differences have to be taken into consideration when evaluating the reliability of his accounts. In this regard, I quite liked Mark Throntveit’s comments:

Three of the designations (Exegete, Theologian, and Historian), at least in Kalimi’s critique of those who have proposed them as characterizing the Chronicler, are rather modern ideological constructs. The Chronicler was neither what we understand a modern exegete, theologian, or historian to be any more than he was a Democrat, Republican, or Green Party member. Proposing modern vocational conceptions as characteristic of the Chronicler’s work or activity seems to me to be akin to asking the question, “What would Jesus drive?� interesting, thought-provoking, edifying, perhaps, but essentially conjectural.

In his very thorough response, Kalimi further nuances his understanding of Chronicles as historiography in a way that I think would satisfy most scholars. At any rate, I encourage you to take a gander at this article — it’ll be well worth your time. In addition, I encourage you to pick up Kalimi’s work. He is one of the major scholars studying the book of Chronicles today.


2 Responses to “Knoppers et al on Kalimi’s An Ancient Israelite Historian: Studies in the Chronicler

  1. Awilum.com » Chronicles and History Says:

    [...] Tyler Williams of the Codex blog has an interesting post about an of article in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures.  Gary Knoppers discusses whether the book of Chronicles should be classified as historiography.  If you’re interested in ancient Near East historiography and history, or the book of Chronicles, check it out. [...]

  2. isaac kalimi Says:

    1. I say clearly, that chronicles is a “sacred history,” that is, exactly what you say in other words!
    2. While I characterize the genre of Chronicles is ancient historiography, that does not mean that the book is necessarily reliable as a modern historical source. The reliability of the book should be examined case by case!
    Please read CAREFULLY my book and my response!
    Many thanks!