Retelling the Story of David 1–2 Chronicles and Psalms

During Judah’s long period of restoration several Jewish literary works were collected and edited. In particular, it is during this period that many of the texts from the third division of the Bible, the “Writings,” were either written or edited. This chapter discusses two major works from the Writings: the books of Chronicles and Psalms.

Chronicles

The books of Chronicles are a work that covers a wide range of Jewish history from the time of Adam to the Persian period. Since Chronicles has been discussed in several chapters of this work, this chapter will only focus on some of the important features of the text. Originally 1 and 2 Chronicles were composed as one work and only later were divided into two volumes. The primary focus of Chronicles is the southern kingdom of Judah, with only very limited attention given to events in the northern kingdom of Israel.

            As we have seen in earlier chapters, Chronicles borrows extensively from other biblical sources. The primary source for Chronicles is the Deuteronomistic History and especially the books of 2 Samuel and 1–2 Kings. In addition, the text uses other biblical sources, including near complete forms of the Pentateuch and Psalms, and includes both direct and indirect references to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Other sources for Chronicles are nonbiblical works, including writings from various prophets that are otherwise unknown. This is valuable because these sources provide details that are found nowhere else in the Bible.

            The dating of Chronicles is highly debated, but references to events in the fifth century, including Persian rule and the descendants of Zerubbabel, suggest a fifth or fourth century BCE date for composition. However, this is not a consensus, and some scholars prefer either a late sixth or early fifth century date or a series of revisions with the nucleus originating in the sixth century. Another link that places Chronicles in the Persian period is its apparent relationship to Ezra and Nehemiah. Traditionally these three works were all attributed to the same author because of certain thematic connections and because the end of Chronicles is repeated at the beginning of Ezra. In more recent scholarship, the view that these works were all written by the same author has increasingly fallen out of favor. Specifically, it has been observed that there are differences in language and content between Chronicles and Ezra and Nehemiah. Most notably, Chronicles is not concerned with intermarriage, and it is not as hostile toward the northern kingdom of Israel.

Genealogies

The genealogies in Chronicles are significant because they give us some important details about the author’s focus and possible background. The Chronicler begins with Adam and gives a cursory genealogy up to Abraham, followed by condensed ancestral narratives up to Jacob. The Chronicler focuses on the sons of Jacob, who are discussed not by order of birth but in order of importance to the Chronicler. Included in the genealogy of Judah is a list of the descendants of David, demonstrating the importance of the Davidic dynasty to the author. The Chronicler also focuses on the Levites and their functions, suggesting that the author himself may have been a Levite.

David

David and the Davidic dynasty are primary concerns in Chronicles. Moreover, the Chronicler’s depiction of David has several substantive differences from the Deuteronomistic Historians’ account of his life. Perhaps the most important feature is the omission of the Succession Narrative from 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. In omitting this source, the Chronicler portrays David as a much more one-dimensional, almost perfect, figure. Furthermore, David is constructed as the measuring stick against which all other kings of Israel will be judged. As such, all other kings whom the Chronicler describes positively resemble David in some ways. Specifically, the Chronicler describes the piety of kings such as Solomon and Hezekiah while also highlighting how the reigns of these individuals promoted unity in Israel.

Psalms

The book of Psalms is the longest in the Bible, traditionally numbering 150 chapters. It is a collection of hymns from ancient Israel that was probably edited into its final form in the fifth or fourth century BCE. Some of the psalms date to the monarchic period in Israel, while others that mention that there is no Temple are probably exilic in date. The book of Psalms contains evidence of earlier stages of editorial development as well, indicating that the evolution of Psalms was a lengthy process. While some of these editorial markers are stated clearly within the text itself, others are evident only through modern scholarship. Like many other parts of the Bible, the psalms have parallels in Near Eastern literature. Babylonian laments have a similar structure to biblical laments. Furthermore, Psalm 104 shows similarities to the Egyptian Hymn to Aten. However, there are no direct links between biblical psalms and their Near Eastern antecedents.

            All but twenty-four of the psalms have introductory notes or “titles.” The most common title is “Of David,” used in seventy-three psalms. Since David was celebrated as a musician and poet, it is not surprising that many psalms are attributed to him. However, it is unlikely that David wrote most of the psalms that bear his name. Psalms 68 and 122 are good examples of this; since these two texts mention the Temple, any connection to David is anachronistic.

Form Criticism of the Psalms

Although the sources and origins of the psalms are difficult to identify, form criticism has been enormously helpful for the study of these texts. Specifically, by grouping the psalms by genre, German scholar Herman Gunkel was able to identify psalms of individual and communal lament (which we will call “petitions”), thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and hymns. While there is some overlap between these categories, Gunkel’s overall categorization is largely followed by subsequent scholars.

            The petitions are the most common psalm form, occurring as both individual and communal petitions. In these, the individual or group prays to God for relief from a particular affliction that is more or less clearly identified. These psalms also include cursing of the enemy and an expression of confidence that God will hear the prayer. Another common type of psalm is the hymn that praises Yahweh. These psalms can be divided into three main categories: praise of God’s divine kingship, praise of his creation, and celebrations of his divine actions that have benefited Israel throughout history. Another important category is the liturgies; their contents suggest that they were used for public worship. In addition to these forms, modern scholarship has identified many more categories of psalms as well, including psalms of wisdom, trust, and pilgrimage.

Implications for Our Study

Although Chronicles closely parallels the Deuteronomistic History, the work itself is unique and important in its own right. Chronicles was written as a revised and more positive account focusing on the period between the reign of David and the fall of Jerusalem. To the Chronicler, Israel was a unified entity that was led by faithful and pious leaders. The emphasis is not placed on the belief that Israel’s troubles were caused by repeated transgressions of the law of God. Rather, the past was something that should be celebrated and could act as a model for the restoration of Israel in the Persian period. In their final form, both Chronicles and Psalms illustrate the paradigmatic role of King David in postexilic Israel. The past holds an important role for understanding postexilic Israel’s values and institutions.