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Monotheism and Institutions in the Book of Chronicles. Temple, Priesthood, and Kingship in Post-Exilic Perspective
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2013. X, 307 S. = Studies of the Sofja Kovalevskaja Research Group on Early Jewish Monotheism, 1; Forschungen zum Alten Testament. 2. Reihe, 64. Kart. EUR 79,00. ISBN 978-3-16-152111-9.
Hugh G. M. Williamson
In this revised Emory University doctoral dissertation, supervised by David Petersen, Matthew Lynch succeeds in breaking new ground in our understanding of what, in the older days of the Biblical Theology movement, used to be labelled the kerygmatic rhetoric of the Chronicler. In L.’s own more accessible wording, ›how does Chronicles do theology?‹(4).
After two introductory chapters which set the scene and which are quite demanding on the reader, his three main exegetical chapters discuss the major institutions of temple, priesthood, and kingship in their relationship with the God whom the Chronicler clearly regarded as unique. As members of the research group based in Göttingen are showing, the term ›monotheism‹ is a good deal more complicated than many people realize, not least because the word itself is a relatively recent invention. Thus L.’s own working definition is helpful to avoid misunderstanding: ›the assertion of Yhwh’s categorical supremacy (or supreme uniqueness)‹ (27).
Although there is little to make direct comment on the topics he considers, L. succeeds by the most careful analysis of texts to draw out the presuppositions of the Chronicler’s theology, and to do so in a way that then also shows how it might have been read by a Judean in the late Persian or early Hellenistic period. To give one prominent example which undergirds his discussion of both the temple and the priesthood (so that here and elsewhere there is sometimes the danger of virtual repetition) 2Chron 2:5 records part of Solomon’s message to King Huram of Tyre, seeking his help with the construction of the temple: ›the house that I am about to build will be great, for our God is greater than other gods‹. This represents a change from the Chronicler’s presumed Vorlage in Kings and is the only place in the whole Hebrew Bible where there is any sort of claim that the temple bears witness to Yhwh’s superiority over other gods. Furthermore, in the previous verse the temple is said to be built as the proper place for a number of sacrifices and offerings, so that by the same logic the priesthood is drawn into this same circle of ideas.
While temple and priesthood are closely associated, the chapter on kingship inevitably has a slightly different feel to it. Here, the exalted status of the Davidic king is first shown by those passages where, usually through a change to the parallel text in Samuel and Kings, the throne is entitled the throne of God, or equivalent. On the other hand there is ›a counterveiling [sic] tendency to highlight the delimitation of the king’s power by means of the cult‹ (210). These two elements are then traced in detail through the descrip-tions of the reigns of David and of Solomon, particular texts being carefully analysed where the gift of kingship is linked to expres-sions of God’s sole divinity (e. g. 1Chron 17:16–27). In this way L. hopes to be able to break the somewhat stale debate about whether or not the Chronicler anticipated a hope for the future of the Da-vidic line in his own day and, if so, in what form. It was not clear to me by the end of the chapter, however, quite how he had succeeded in the latter hope.
Frequently the passages discussed are allusive, and L. is to be commended for the care with which he establishes their relevance to the predominant theme, doing so with both exegetical skill and a broad mastery of the secondary literature. It is worth then noting further two major consequences, which he does not belabour, but which come through clearly and attractively, especially when he moves into one of his frequent and detailed summaries.
In the first place, he has a good sense of how this theology should be received by its first audience. This is important, because the majority of commentators on these books observes the theological patterns in the work but frequently fails to make any convincing case beyond the platitudinous as to what they might be attempting to convey. Given that in the small province of Judah there was no king or national independence and where God’s room for ma-noeuvre might have seemed to be restricted, the temple and related institutions both gave a strong link with the pre-exilic period when so much of God’s powerful activity was recorded as having been seen and also gave expression to the fact that he was a unique God. In the same way, the accounts of glorious victories of old, as in 2Chron 20, could not be literally repeated now, given that Judah had no political independence or armed forces of its own, but the narrative there is famously told in such a way that the liturgy of psalms and priestly address is shown to be the decisive element in the battle. Through faithfulness in these matters the Judeans could still overcome threats of whatever kind to their communal survival. ›Israel witnessed Yhwh’s supreme power amidst priest-led worship‹ (179).
Second, however, L. shows himself well aware of the danger (sadly so often demonstrated in history) of the ›ideological temptation‹ which confronts any group which believes that its religious expressions and political leadership are uniquely chosen and guided by the one true God. In the chapter on kingship in particular he not only picks out correctly the astonishingly high value that the Chronicler put upon his ideal kings – David and Solomon, and to a lesser extent Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah – but also the strongly conditional element that is shown by the several other kings who failed and were judged, often at the hand of foreign enemies. There is there-fore no self-satisfied contentment here with the status quo of temple and priesthood but a strongly conditional element which maintains that the ideal has been realized in the past on some occasions and which therefore encourages faithfulness in the present as a way to recapture those past glories, albeit expressed in other, largely apolitical terms.
This is a superior thesis which I am sure will make its impres-sion widely felt among the small band of Chronicles scholars.