Sunday, November 23, 2008

2 Chronicles 33-36: The Fall of Judah, Again


In 2 Kings 21:1-18, we learn that Manasseh about as bad as it gets in terms of religious orthodoxy. It doesn't look like there is any diety that he didn't worship, and he builds altars to just about anybody with a cult right inside the Temple. Manasseh leads the people of Judah so far astray, we are told, that they become worse than the peoples that God had wiped out to make space for the Israelites.

We are given the same story in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20, but the story continues on in an interesting arc. In the Chronicles account, God punishes the lapsed Israelites by having them defeated by the Assyrians, and Manasseh is led on an unpleasant trip to Babylon in shackles and with a hook in his nose. Perhaps not surprisingly, this experience makes him feel pretty repentent, and in his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. God is sympathetic, and somehow he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. A reformed Manasseh becomes a more effective king, and has all the altars he had built early in his reign torn down again.


A young man who serves only two years before he is assassinated, Amon gets the last four verses of 2 Kings 21 and the last six of 2 Chronicles 33.


Josiah is the king of Judah during whose reign Moses' Book of the Law is found in the Temple. The account in Chronicles 34-35 is pretty much the same as that in 2 Kings 22-23. Realizing that the Israelites have strayed far from the Law of Moses, Josiah does his best to restore religious practice.

In the Kings version, God appreciates Josiah's efforts but subsequently allows Judah to be destroyed anyway because he's still so angry about Manasseh. This doesn't work in Chronicles, where Manasseh has managed to rehabilitate himself. In this version, God informs Josiah -- through a female prophet named Huldah -- that he will destroy Judah out of a more general anger for the generations of religious neglect. Since God promises not to start until Josiah is dead, the people must be especially horrified to see him attack, for no good reason I can divine, an Egyptian army on its way to war with someone else. He is killed by archers, and it's all over but the shouting for the last independant Israelite kingdom.

The Shouting

Johoahaz, Johoiakim, Johoiachin, and Zedekiah are covered in 2 Kings 23:31 - 24:7 and 2 Chronicles 36:1-14. None of them is able to do anything but preside over the erosion of Judah by the rising powers of Egypt and Assyria. Both books end with an account of the fall of Jerusalem, the corruption and destruction of the population of Judah, and the enslavement of everyone who remained in Babylon.

Both books, however, end on a positive note. 2 Kings ended with the release of Jehoiachin, the penultimate king of Judah, and his humane treatment under King Evil-Merodach of Assyria. Here in 2 Chronicles, if I'm reading it right, an Assyrian king apparently undergoes a religious conversion after the Israelites have been in exile for seventy years. Here's how it ends:

22 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:

23 "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: " 'The LORD, the God of heaven, has
given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you—may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.' "
Well, THAT certainly seems like a lucky break for the Israelites. Perhaps we'll read all about it next time.

But first!

It's time for the annual MRtB Winter Sabbatical. In fact, it's a little past time, but I wanted to finish up Chronicles before taking the break. I'll start up again sometime in January with the Book of Ezra. It's kind of exciting to me that I'm getting into some of those really short chapters of the Old Testament that I've always wondered about. What's in those chapters, anyway? Guess we'll find out!

Got Stats?

I've finished 14 of the Bible's 66 books now, which puts me 21.2% of the way in. In chapters, though, I've finished 403 of 1189, a little more than a third of the way through (33.9%). My favorite measure is verses, though; having completed a whopping 12017 verses, I'm 38.6% of the way through the 31102 verse Bible.

I stayed on task pretty well in 2008, covering 7124 verses (compared to 4687 in 2007 and 206 in 2006). At the current pace, I would wrap up in Summer 2011, at which point I guess I'll have to find a new hobby.

Thanks to anybody who's reading. See ya sometime in January!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

2 Chronicles 26-32: Four More Kings!

2 Chronicles continues to parallel the time span covered in 2 Kings, focusing on the lives of the kings of Judah. I'm kind of fascinated by this parallel narrative, so I'm going to continue to compare and contrast.

Uzziah. Or, um, Azariah.

King Uzziah is covered in 2 Chronicles 26. You won't find him if you look back to my coverage of 2 Kings, because he is called "Azariah" back there. We don't hear much about him, only 7 verses, and even that little bit is ambivalent. We're told that he is a good kind who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord (15:3), but also that because he didn't destroy the altars in the "high places" (which are altars to God, but unauthorized -- there's only supposed to be the one alter in Jerusalem) God afflicted him with leprosy and he had to abdicate in favor of his son.

Here in Chronicles, you get a very positive picture of an able administrator who expanded agricultural production and defense and built fortifications and artilliary pieces, the big-budget military expenditures of the ancient world. After that, though, he has a confrontation with the high priest, whose name is... wait for it... "Azariah." God then afflicts him with leprosy during the argument, and he has to move out of the palace and abdicate his rule.

It's entirely possible that Azariah was an incredibly common name, and that both the civil and religious leaders could have both had that name or one much like it. But, it's hard not to wonder if this confusion of names is static in the historical record.


Jotham is dealt with in six verses of 2 Kings 15. He gets his own chapter in 2 Chronicles 27, but it's one of the shortest chapters we've seen so far. You get a brief portrait of another king who expanded Judah's influence, build towns and public works, and enjoyed military success.


Ahaz is covered in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28, and they tell stories with very different spins. In the Kings version, Ahaz is attacked by both Aram and Israel, and seeks help from the king of Assyria, who stomps on Aram and provides Judah some relief. Ahaz, impressed by Assyria's success, builds a new Assyrian-style temple in Jerusalem and conducts sacrifices there, an obvious no-no.

The Chronicles story casts Ahaz as a pathetic figure. Here, Judah is completely at Israel's mercy, but God makes the army of Israel play nice and give up their prisoners and plunder. When Ahaz turns to Assyria for help he gets no assistance, but is set upon by a new enemy to whom he has advertised his weakness. And instead of just borrowing Assyrian temple architecture, he actually turns to worshiping the Assyrian gods. The two Ahazes of Kings and Chronicles are not impossible to reconcile as two different takes on the same guy -- but it takes some real effort.


Of Hezekiah, too, we get very different depictions, but in this case they are not hard to reconcile. The 2 Kings 18-20 version focuses on his foreign policy, his successful resistance to Babylonian encroachment. In 2 Chronicles 29-32, you hear a little of this, but a lot more about his restoration of the Temple and of religious orthodoxy. Note that he gets six chapters all to himself. Hezekiah is a big shot!

His restoration of the Temple is kind of interesting. Ever since Moses -- hell, ever since Adam -- we've seen a regular rhythm of ebb and flow, where people fall away from God and then return to him, fall away and return, fall away and return, over and over and over. Hezekiah's religious revival could just be the 300th iteration of this pattern. But, you get the impression in Chronicles that the population as a whole has completely abandoned the practices of Moses, and that when the new king restores the Temple and the Levite priests, everything has to be reestablished from scratch. They aren't even able to celebrate Passover the first year, because no one remembers how and because there aren't enough priests. They end up having an ad hoc celebration several months later, and Hezekiah has to intercede with God because none of the people understand ritual purity and they are all practicing the sacrifices and ceremonies while they are completely unclean.

Hezekiah lives at the same time with, and interacts with, the prophet Isaiah. This makes sense: you've got a active, famous figure of religious revival coinciding with a big push to reform and reestablish the state religion. But the depth from which the religion needs to be salvaged really makes you wonder what was going on before them. Both Uzziah and Jotham are described as kings who "walk in the way of the Lord," and only the 16 year reign of bad King Ahaz is between them and Hezekiah. I'm unsure whether we're supposed to infer that worship had been on the skids for generations, despite the good behavior of many of the kings, or whether Ahaz was just so irreligious that worship according to the laws of Moses nearly disappeared under his watch.

Next Time: Only seven more kings! Only three more chapters!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

2 Chronicles 21-26: More Kingly Cross-Reference

In 2 Chronicles, we continue our cross-referencing of the kings of Judah, all of whom were discussed earlier in 2 Kings.


In 2 Kings 7:16-24, we learned that Jehoram did evil in the eyes of the Lord and that he was too much like a king of Israel rather than a king of Judah, probably because he was related to Israel's royal house. In 2 Chron 21, we get more specifics. For instance, he put all his brothers to the sword along with some of the princes of Israel when he came to the throne, which I think we can all agree is no sort of way to behave. In his later reign, he has some military success, but builds alters that are either to other gods or to God, but not to God's specifications. For this offense, he gets the kind of letter from Elijah that you really hate to see in your mailbox:

"This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: 'You have not walked in the ways of your father Jehoshaphat or of Asa king of Judah. 13 But you have walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and you have led Judah and the people of Jerusalem to prostitute themselves, just as the house of Ahab did. You have also murdered your own brothers, members of your father's house, men who were better than you. 14 So now the LORD is about to strike your people, your sons, your wives and everything that is yours, with a heavy blow. 15 You yourself will be very ill with a lingering disease of the bowels, until the disease causes your bowels to come out.' "
Subsequently, this prophecy comes unpleasantly true.


This is the guy that in 2 Kings 8:25 - 9:29 pays a visit to the king in Israel, Joram, and they both end up getting assassinated by the rebel Jehu. The interesting thing here is that they die quite differently in Kings and Chronicles.

27 When Ahaziah king of Judah saw what had happened, he fled up the road to Beth Haggan. Jehu chased him, shouting, "Kill him too!" They wounded him in his
chariot on the way up to Gur near Ibleam, but he escaped to Megiddo and died there. (9:27)

9 [Jehu] then went in search of Ahaziah, and his men captured him while he was hiding in Samaria. He was brought to Jehu and put to death. (22:9)
This is not a hugely important point, but the contradiction is pretty blatant. For those of you who like the idea of contradictions in the Bible, here is a total smoking gun for you. Those of you who don't think contradiction within the Bible is possible have a problem on your hands here. However, it's worth remembering that, whatever your perspective, the exact way that Jehu killed Ahaziah is not exactly a point critical to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition.


Athaliah, the matriarch who kills off most of her family to consolidate power, is discussed in 2 Kings 11 and 2 Chronicles 23 with only minor divergences of detail and wording.


Joash, in 2 Kings 12 and 2 Chronicles 24, is the king who is brought up in secret in the Temple and then takes the throne when the high priest engineers a coup against Athaliah. More details about his major Temple repair project show up in Chronicles, in an account that hints at a running power struggle between the religious and civic leadership. Moreover, we learn that Joash had Zechariah, the son of the high priest who put him in power, killed for criticising him. This sheds some light on why Joash himself is assassinated a while later.


In both accounts -- 2 Kings 14 and 2 Chronicles 25 -- Amaziah is most noteworthy for provoking Israel and then getting stomped by Israel; Jerusalem is sacked, and many of its walls torn down. In Chronicles, we also learn that he adopts the gods of the Edomites after conquering them, clearly a no-no. There is also an interesting passage in which, obeying a prophet of God, Amaziah dismisses an army of Israelite mercinaries he had hired, and they proceed to raid, plunder, and kill all up and down Judea. This is the only passage in which I remember seeing such explicitly negative consequences for obeying God's instructions. There is also this little detail, neutral in the Bible but likely to color a modern reader's impression of Amaziah:

The army of Judah also captured ten thousand men alive, took them to the top
of a cliff and threw them down so that all were dashed to pieces.
These kind of passages are, in a way, just gratuitous gore and just signs of the ancient times. But they are still worth meditating on, I think, when you hear someone talking about how the ethical code of the Old Testament is the foundation stone of all morality.

Next Week: Finishing up with Chronicles.

Monday, November 03, 2008

2 Chronicles 10-20: Reheboam, Asa, Jehoshaphat, and ol' whatshisname.

Last time, we took a quick look at 2 Chronicles 1-9, a biography of Solomon that covered pretty much the same terrain as 1 Kings 1-11. The next 11 chapters of 2 Chronicles continue to run more or less parallel to 1 Kings, covering the lives of the first four kings of Judah. The accounts differ in that there is considerably more detail on these guys here in Chronicles, and in that unlike 1 Kings, 2 Chronicles does not cover the Kings of post-Solomonic (a word I just made up, but which sounds very scholarly!) Israel. Also, in one case the accounts are just... different.

Here's how the material lines up in the two books:

Solomon: 1 Kings 1 - 11; 2 Chronicles 1 - 9
Reheboam: 1 Kings 12 & 14; 2 Chronicles 10 - 12
Abijah/Abijam: 1 Kings 15: 1-8; 2 Chronicles 13
Asa: 1 Kings 15: 9 - 24; 2 Chronicles 14 - 16
Jehoshaphat: 1 Kings 22; 2 Chronicles 17 - 20

Reheboam is still the same headstrong jerk (remember, he's the "chastise you with scorpians!" dude) who provokes the schism in the Israelite kingdom. In Chronicles, however, we're given a suggestion that he eventually grew into the job and was eventually a halfway decent administrator. We're given a lot more detail on Asa and Jehoshaphat, but they still come off as good, successful kings who follow God's laws and stay mostly in God's favor. The additional material is mostly military history, plus oddments such as that Asa contracts a disease of the feet late in life.


But what about this Abijah/Abijam situation? Well, in both books there is a son of Rehoboam, the father of Asa, who ascends the throne in the 18th year of King Jeroboam of Israel and rules Judah for three years. But in Kings he's named Abijam, and in Chronicles he's named Abijah. It's especially confusing because theres another Abijah back in Kings; that Abijah is the son of Jeroboam, not Rehoboam, and he dies before reaching the throne. With me so far?

Well, a typo is not quite a contradiction. But the Abijam of 1 Kings is quickly dismissed as one of the unrighteous kings who turns his back on God.

3 He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been. 4 Nevertheless, for David's sake the LORD his God gave him a lamp in Jerusalem by raising up a son to succeed him and by making Jerusalem strong.
The Abijah of 2 Chronicles, on the other hand, leads his army into a battle in which it is greatly outnumbered and outmaneuvered, but then prevails but calling on and trusting God to defeat his unrighteous enemies. So, while neither account makes a statement of fact that the other explicitly indicates is untrue, they certainly present radically different accounts of King Whatshisname.

The Library of Fragments

It is always interesting to see the Biblical texts talking to each other, though. The writer of 1 Kings, after covering Jehoshaphat, asks:
45 As for the other events of Jehoshaphat's reign, the things he achieved and his military exploits, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?
Why yes, yes they are -- and here we are reading about them, in the annals of the kings of Judah. Meanwhile, in Chronicles we are told that:

34 The other events of Jehoshaphat's reign, from beginning to end, are written in the annals of Jehu son of Hanani, which are recorded in the book of the kings of Israel.
Which, like so many of the books casually mentioned in the Old Testament, is presumably lost to us forever. Bummer.

Next time: Wrapping up the Bible-readin' year.