Monday, February 15, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 8

In this chapter, we are given another, more extensive genealogy of Benjamin through the line of Saul.

I'm not sure why the genealogy of Benjamin is duplicated rather than moved here.  This genealogy is much longer and more extensive than the genealogy of Benjamin in the previous chapter, and I don't know why the Chronicler wanted both.  I think the purpose of this genealogy is fairly clear: it is very near the beginning of the narrative section (which starts in chapter 10), and since the narrative begins with the death of Saul, it transitions between these two segments very smoothly by concluding with the genealogy of Saul.  1 Chron 9:1 makes it clear that chapter 8 is the end of the "formal" genealogy as the author regards it, even though chapter 9 includes more names and people.  Actually, chapter 9 includes another copy of the genealogy of Saul, showing once again how important it is regarded by the Chronicler.

Benjamin was the last and youngest son of Jacob, which also makes it appropriate that his genealogy be given last.

What's less clear to me is why the Chronicler wanted the shorter and less relevant genealogy of Benjamin in chapter 7.  I think it might just be there because of the structure of the underlying source material.  Like, maybe the original source genealogy had Issachar, Benjamin and perhaps Naphtali and the Chronicler just copied it wholesale without regards to duplicating a given tribe in the formal genealogy of the twelve tribes.

Similar to Issachar, Benjamin and Asher from the previous chapter, this genealogy of Benjamin is also possibly from a military source.  The term "heads of families" occurs several times, i.e. captains, and v. 40 tells us that some of these men are brave warriors who would be capable in battle.

Verses 6-7 refer to an exile of some parts of Benjamin, but without telling us exactly which one.  I'm not sure if this refers to the Assyrian exile when the northern kingdom was destroyed or the Babylonian exile when the southern kingdom was destroyed.  This would actually make a pretty big difference because Benjamin was a tribe on the border between these two kingdoms so it could have swung either way and we have very little textual evidence to indicate what ultimately happened to Benjamin.  In fact, I think the very existence of this genealogy may imply that Benjamin was at least partially associated with the southern kingdom, because otherwise the records would possibly not even exist for the Chronicler to have copied them.  Verse 28 tells us that these chiefs of Benjamin lived in Jerusalem, which strengthens the claim that Benjamin might have been part of the southern kingdom Judah, and also explains how the Chronicler has their genealogical records.

Verse 29 begins what appears to be a separate genealogy from the passage in verses 1-27.  They look separate because as far as I can tell there is no overlap between the names in one list and the names in the other list.  They are both genealogies from Benjamin, though, so they are taken together as one section.  The first genealogy is difficult to place in any particular timeframe because none of these names are referenced anywhere else in the bible, though v. 6-7 suggests these men could be from the exilic period.

On the other hand, v. 29-40 can be clearly dated to the early kingdom because it is a genealogy of Saul and his descendants.  It includes references to some people we know, Ish-bosheth and Mephibosheth, as well as a bunch of Saul's later descendants who (like Mephibosheth) probably remained in Jerusalem.

Anyway, I don't think there's anything terribly significant about this chapter.  I think it's mostly just a setup for the narrative that begins in chapter 10.

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 7

In this chapter, we are given genealogies of the final six tribes.

I want to take a moment to point out that Zebulun and Dan are not given tribal genealogies.  This is possibly because they were wiped out in the Assyrian exile.  I tried counting the genealogical lists in the last couple chapters and there are only eleven distinct tribes described in chapters 2-7.  Twelve is a significant number in Jewish thought, and the discrepancy is made up by listing the half tribes of Manasseh twice (i.e. the eastern half of Manasseh is listed in chapter 5 and the western half is listed here in chapter 7), making a total of twelve.

With that said, it should be pretty clear that the genealogies of these tribes are much abbreviated compared to Levi and Judah.  While the previous chapter had 81 verses for Levi alone, this chapter has 40 verses for six tribes.  The next chapter has additional genealogies for Benjamin, but for the other five tribes this is all they get.  The entire tribe of Naphtali is described with a single verse.  I think this chapter is listing the six tribes for the sake of completeness rather than because of the Chronicler's genuine interest.

We can also distinguish between two different kinds of genealogies in this chapter.  Issachar, Benjamin and Asher are genealogies derived from military censuses.  We know this because they have official counts of "fighting men" as well as the term "heads of families" (NIV) that can also be used to indicate "leader of a company", i.e. a military unit.  Family trees are often co-opted in the bible into a parallel military organization (for instance, see Numbers 1-2), and for that reason genealogies can serve a double purpose as a military census, and vice versa.  From the military terms, it is very likely that these three genealogies are copied from some other military census.  Interestingly, v. 2 refers to these men as "during the reign of David" suggesting that the data may be coming from David's census in 2 Samuel 24.

On the other hand, Manasseh, Ephraim and possibly Naphtali are all derived from non-military sources because e.g. they do not count the number of men in these tribes and do not list any "heads of families" or leaders over these tribes.  I think this is really cool because this is one of the simplest and most obvious examples of how we can distinguish between original sources that are feeding into the Chronicler's genealogy and from this we can tell that the Chronicler is actually patching together a collection of prior sources to write both this genealogy and his subsequent narrative.

Another example of this sort of discrepancy is that the genealogy of Joshua (v. 20-26) contains ten generations between Ephraim and Joshua, while the genealogy of Moses in chapter 6 presents three generations between Levi and Moses.  This is a considerable difference since Ephraim and Levi are contemporaries, and Joshua and Moses are contemporaries as well.  The ten generations between Ephraim and Joshua is plausible, while the three generations between Levi and Moses is very likely syncopated, and the difference between these two parallel genealogies may also signify that they come from different sources.

We can also find differences in the lists of Benjamin's sons.  Verse 6 gives us three sons of Benjamin, 1 Chron 8:1-2 (the next chapter) lists five sons of Benjamin, and Gen 46:21 describes ten sons of Benjamin.  Even the names are different amongst these lists.  While it may be possible to study the names in depth and find some kind of pattern, for our purposes it's sufficient to note that each different arrangement of Benjamin's sons likely indicates a distinct genealogical source, and Chronicles contains two of them (neither of which are taken from Genesis alone).

The genealogy of Manasseh is also unusual because it includes references to several women: Maacah (Makir's sister or wife - v. 15 and 16 give different accounts of Maacah) and the daughters of Zelophehad (the same Zelophehad from Numbers 27).  This is uncommon but not unheard of (for instance, the punchline of the entire book of Ruth is that she is part of David's genealogy).  I'm not really sure that I could explain why this genealogy has so many women, but I do think it plausibly indicates yet another distinct source for the Chronicler's material.  Ephraim and Asher both refer to a handful of woman as well (v. 24, 30, 32).

Although some parts of this genealogy are copied from elsewhere, large sections of this chapter are also unique to the OT.  I don't think this represents original research by the Chronicler, however.  It's much more likely that the Chronicler is copying from some unknown or lost original source.

Having established that there are both military and non-military sources in this chapter, and having established the strong probability that this genealogy is copied from prior sources and not original, there is another significant observation that we can make.  The genealogies and particularly the military censuses of the northern tribes like Issachar and Asher must almost certainly predate the division of the kingdom of Israel in the time of Rehoboam.  The divided kingdom is unlikely to have unified records, especially sensitive military records.  After the division of the kingdom, most of the records of the northern kingdom would have been kept in Samaria and almost certainly would have been destroyed when Samaria was burned by the Assyrians.  Chronicles must be primarily derived from records from Jerusalem, which was the capital of the united kingdom and after the split, the southern kingdom.  Jerusalem was also sacked by the Babylonians, but since the Chronicler is also from Judah he would be far more likely to have access to the royal archives of Judah than the hated Samaritans.

We can even find hints of these differences in the length of the genealogies.  The genealogy of Judah goes all the way through to the Babylonian exile, the genealogy of Simeon (who was a southern tribe) makes reference to Hezekiah (a king who lived well after the division between north and south, 1 Chron 4:41), the genealogy of Levi goes all the way through the Babylonian exile, but every other tribe has a genealogy that goes no further than Saul.  1 Chron 5:17 says that the genealogy of the Gadites was entered "during the reigns of Jotham... and Jeroboam", but it's a sparse genealogy with very little information, in keeping with the conflict between these two nations at the time.

Lastly, as a minor note, verse 21 gives us a sense of the enduring conflict between Israel and the Philistines.  Even in the time of Jacob and Ephraim, two of Ephraim's own sons died while they were attacking Gath to steal livestock.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 6

In this chapter, we are given a genealogy of the tribe of Levi, their assignment to roles in the temple, and the distribution of the Levitical towns throughout Israel.

This is quite a long chapter (81 verses) and it is also quite diverse in the topics it covers, which makes it a bit hard to find a unifying theme. As far as I can tell, this chapter is meant to give a broad overview of the Levitical tribe in every way that the Chronicler cares about them. It begins by listing all of the high priests from Levi down to Jehozadak and the Babylonian exile (which incidentally shows that Chronicles must have been written some time after the exile). Then it lists the clans of Levi (a traditional genealogy), and then it lists the genealogies of several temple musicians appointed by David, and then it concludes with the Levitical towns in Israel. The emphasis on the priesthood and temple musicians is relevant to the later narrative sections in Chronicles. The author of Chronicles shows a deep interest in everything related to the temple. It’s not clear to me why the author is interested in the Levitical towns.

In general, the length of this section is evidence of the author’s preoccupation with Levi compared to the other tribes like Reuben, Gad or Manasseh. All put together, those 2.5 tribes were describe in 26 verses, less than 1/3rd of the length of the passage for Levi alone. I think this preoccupation is driven by two factors: the first, as I said, is that the author is trying to glorify and honor the temple-building operation by David and Solomon, and the second is to implicitly legitimize the religious institutions in his own time. There are several tribes in the post-exilic period that maintain a lot of significance and power, and all of these tribes receive extended treatment in the genealogy. Foremost amongst them are Judah and Levi, with somewhat lesser coverage for Benjamin and I’d also say Simeon.

Those are my general thoughts. Now let’s dig into some details.

One of the first thing I noticed in v. 1-3 is that according to this genealogy Moses is just three generations removed from Levi. It is exceedingly unlikely that 430 years (Ex 12:40) could have passed in three generations, which indicates that genealogical telescoping is likely occurring here. That is, I think the Chronicler is possibly omitting people from the genealogical record for the sake of poetic symbolism or (more likely) because his original sources also omit certain people between Levi and Moses from the genealogical records.

Next, when listing the high priests in v. 3-15, Nadab, Abihu and Ithamar are all mentioned as sons of Aaron, but Nadab and Abihu died when they rebelled against Moses so even though they were both older than Eleazar, they never served as high priest and their families were also wiped out.  Strangely, there are known high priests from Samuel and Kings, who are recorded by name in those books, but are omitted from this listing of high priests.  For instance, Jehoiada (2 Kings 12:2), Uriah (2 Kings 16:10), Eli (1 Samuel 1:9) and Abiathar (2 Samuel 8:17) are all omitted.  It's possible that Eli and Abiathar are left out because they weren't part of the priestly line  that continued through Zadok, but I don't know why Jehoiada and Uriah are left out.  The author of Chronicles demonstrates clear knowledge of Samuel and Kings, so these omissions cannot possibly be by accident or ignorance.  It's definitely intentional, perhaps for brevity or perhaps because he's trying to emphasize the priestly line of Zadok vs. the other priestly lines (like Abiathar).  Verses 50-53 gives the same priestly line from Aaron to Ahimaaz, because this is the line that is permitted to offer sacrifices in the most holy place (v. 49).  It's pretty clear from here and elsewhere (especially 1 Kings 1-2) that there was a power struggle between Zadok and Abiathar, and the Chronicler emphatically sides with Zadok.

This section of the genealogy is (as I described it elsewhere) vertical, but then in v. 16 it becomes a horizontal genealogy, expanding outwards to describe the clans of Levi across the three main groupings: Gershon, Kohath and Merari. The vertical genealogy indicates the author's interest in the high priestly line, and the transition back to a horizontal genealogy permits the author to broaden the context in preparation for his next topical focus.

The reference to Amminadab is interesting because in most cases, the name Amminadab is usually affiliated with Judah (Num 1:7).  In fact, this is the only place in the bible where Amminadab is called a son of Kohath.  Usual listings (e.g. Ex 6:18) and even later in this same chapter place Izhar as a son of Kohath instead of Amminadab.  It's possible that Amminadab is called a son of Kohath because Amminadab's daughter married Aaron (Ex 6:23), and more to the point, the Chronicler may wish to associate Judah and Levi together to justify David's interference with temple affairs as well as the temple's placement in Judah.

I also think it's noteworthy that Samuel is called a descendant of Kohath.  This is actually contrary to 1 Samuel 1:1 that specifically calls Elkanah (the father of Samuel) an Ephraimite.  It's interesting because I remember one of the most confusing parts of the book of Samuel is why Samuel, an Ephraimite, would be permitted to minister in the temple and to remain in the tabernacle before the mercy seat (1 Sam 3:3).  It would actually explain a lot if Samuel were really a Levite.  I'm just skeptical because this is the first time it's ever implied that Samuel was a Levite and the book of Samuel is much closer to a primary source than Chronicles.  Chronicles shows that it's willing to bend the truth to make certain political or theological points, and it may be doing that here also.  However, many sections of Chronicles shows that the author of Chronicles had access to a lot of what are now missing works, so I don't think it's impossible that the Chronicler is deriving this section of the genealogy from a historical source that no longer exists, which could also explain the deviation from 1 Samuel.

The Chronicler is especially focused on Samuel because verses 22-28 and 33-38 form a chiasm centered around Samuel and his son Joel.  Verses 22-28 give a genealogical descent from Kohath to Samuel, and verses 33-38 give a reverse genealogy from Samuel back up to Kohath.  Samuel is very important in the kingship narrative because he's the man who anoints both Saul and David.  The Chronicler begins his historical narrative in chapter 10 with Saul and David, so it's appropriate that the genealogy would emphasize the men related to those stories.  The genealogy in verse 33 also associates Heman (an important musician) with Samuel (an important priest and prophet).  It's a subtle point, but I think it says a lot about the Chronicler's intentions with this book: he wants to tie together the legendary heroes of Israel's past with the "modern" (in his time) worship and temple ministry.

Verse 31 (in the middle of this chiasm) also transitions the genealogy to the next major section, the musicians.  Besides Heman's association with Samuel, this section just as importantly declares that the musicians are appointed by David (v. 31).  There are three chief musicians, one from each clan of Levi, and we are given their genealogies as well.  Heman (from Kohath) is the chief musician, perhaps because Kohath is also the clan of Moses and Aaron and the high priests.  This at least partially establishes the equality of the Levitical clans, since they each have a representative, though Heman from Kohath is given the preeminence.

Lastly, this chapter concludes by listing the Levitical towns (which they received in lieu of a tribal inheritance), which is largely copied from Joshua 21.  I'm not sure why this is mentioned here, except perhaps to remind the readers that while the other tribes received land, the tribe of Levi received their temple ministry as their inheritance.  This could again be a subtle way of implying that the Levites are the only proper men to offer sacrifices and serve in the temple.  I also want to mention that there are four groups of towns, the first going to the sons of Aaron and then the three clans of Levi.  Even though Kohath is not the oldest son of Levi, he effectively gets a double portion of the Levitical towns because of the prominence of Aaron and the priestly line.  Other than that, I don't think there is anything notable or interesting in the list of towns.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bible Commentary - 1 Chronicles 5

In this chapter, we read the genealogy for the two and a half tribes east of the Jordan.

Reuben, Gad and half of the tribe of Manasseh settled east of the Jordan in the conquered lands of Bashan and the Amorites.  We first read about this story in Numbers 32.  The author of Chronicles groups these three tribes together and gives their genealogical records grouped together, which makes sense when you consider the historical connection between them.  Sadly, these three tribes were most likely destroyed in the Assyrian invasion which was a couple hundred years before Chronicles was written, so this genealogy is more of a memorial to these tribes than anything else, and v. 25-26 refers to the events surrounding their exile.

Verses 1-2 explain why Judah was listed first in the genealogy: not because he had the right of the firstborn (which was given to Joseph) but because "a ruler came from him", referring to David.  When Reuben "defiled his father's marriage bed" back in Genesis 35:22, Jacob took away his right as the firstborn (Gen 49:3-4) and that's why these hundreds of years later Reuben is not given a place of honor in the genealogical record.

In verses 4-6, the genealogy becomes linear again, listing the father-to-son descent from Reuben down to Beerah, who was a tribal leader over Reuben in the time that they were destroyed.  When the Reubenites were exiled into Assyria, the genealogical records also ceased, which ominously marks the end of the northern tribes as a distinct people.

These tribes originally went to the Transjordan region because they had large flocks and these lands were large and well-suited for semi-nomadic shepherding.  It appears that they fought wars to expand their territory during the time of Saul when Israel was more successful and entering their golden age.  The Hagrites (possibly related to Hagar, a.k.a. Ishmaelites, i.e. Arabs) are a nomadic people who were probably also pastoralists with large flocks and entered into conflict with the Transjordan tribes because they wanted the same resources and land.  During later times, the Transjordan tribes gradually declined until they were destroyed by the Assyrians.

By the time this genealogy was written, the victories were distant memories, and even the Assyrian exile was fading into the past.  However, all of these stories are written with a sense of immediacy because much of it is copied from historical records, like v. 17 which indicates that the genealogy of Gad (and possibly also Reuben and Manasseh) was recorded during the reign of Jotham.

I think if there are two themes that I want to draw out of this chapter, they are as follows:

1) The historical connection between the genealogy and previous stories from the Pentateuch;
2) Obedience to God and the Law dictates the fate of the nation.  As they follow God, they are victorious, and as they turn from God they are defeated.

In light of everything I've written above, I think the connection is very clear between this genealogy and Israel's history.  Not only does this genealogy reference events from Genesis and Kings, but even the layout of this chapter is derived from the book of Numbers.

The second point is just as obvious.  Both the Gadites and the Manassites were valiant warriors and powerful, but God gives them victory or defeat based on their faith or lack thereof.  In verse 20, the Transjordan tribes are given victory because they "cried out" in prayer and God answered them, but later in v. 25 the Manassites are "unfaithful to the God of their fathers" so God stirred up the Assyrians to come and destroy them.  What I think is most interesting about this theme is how strongly it resonates with the book of Deuteronomy, where Deut 28 links the nation's obedience or lack thereof to God's covenant to all kinds of material blessings or curses respectively.  I think we find this kind of pattern in the book of Kings as well (where good kings are blessed when they draw the nation back to God and evil kings suffer in their idolatry), but this pattern in general represents a very specific kind of theology where material circumstances (i.e. wealth, famines, victory or defeat in wars) are directly responsive to the people's faithfulness towards God.  By identifying similarities in this kind of theology, we can see that the author of Chronicles not only knew the stories from the Pentateuch, but he also understood the ideas of the Pentateuch, in particular Deuteronomy.

We can juxtapose this kind of thinking with the book of Job (which we have not yet read) where Job suffers or is blessed regardless of how he responds to God.  In a similar vein, we could study the life of Joseph son of Jacob as being non-responsive to his faithfulness towards God.  He was faithful to God, got sold as a slave by his brothers, rose up in power, was thrown in prison again, and then rose up again.  His story is very dynamic and it involves numerous rises and falls from power completely independent of his faithfulness towards God (which we can reasonably assume was consistent).  Joseph's life is not the kind of life that easily fits into the Deut 28 pattern where blessings and curses are the result of your obedience to God's covenant.  David is another figure (principally described in the book of Samuel) who has many rises and falls from power that is (mostly) independent from his faithfulness towards God.

That said, I do think there Joseph's life fits into the Deut 28 pattern if you reinterpret the idea of "curses" in the context of Joseph's life.  Joseph was never cursed by God.  Though he suffered many setbacks, we can see that God actually blessed him with favor and success in nearly every situation he entered.  This is a much more nuanced concept than what you get in Deut 28, but I think it is more correct.  This chapter in Chronicles appears to promote the simpler notion that when the tribes sought God they were victorious, and when they sought idols they were defeated.  Not to say that the Chronicler is lying to us, but I think it's interesting how he presents these ideas in a way that very much agrees with Deuteronomy vs. the lives of Joseph and David.

For instance, the book of Chronicles leaves out many of the most difficult parts of David's life.  It never describes his years fleeing from Saul in the southern desert or the various revolts against him (several of which are directed by his own sons).  While there are multiple ways to interpret the book of Chronicles, I think it's possible that the Chronicler is viewing David's life through a Deut 28 lens, and sees it as inappropriate to describe David being "cursed" with hardships if he is faithful towards God, and hence tries to portray him as successful and exultant in everything he does.  Of course, we haven't gotten to that part of the story yet, but I would like my readers to be thinking about this theology (of blessings and curses) while they read Chronicles, since I think it is emblematic of the Chronicler's view on David's life in particular and Israel's history in general, up until their descent into the Babylonian exile.