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Ending of Chronicles - Beginning of Ezra?

The SAME - Why?

Explaining the Identical Lines at the End of Chronicles and the
Beginning of Ezra

by Menahem Haran

From the Fall issue 1986 "Bible Review"



     Scholars know it, but most lay people don't. The first two
and a half verses of the Book of Ezra (Ezra 1:1-3a) are identical
with the last two verses of the second Book of Chronicles (2
Chronicles 36:22-23).
     These repeated verses a the end of Chronicles are called
"catch-lines." In ancient times, catch-lines were often placed at
the end of a scroll to facilitate the reader's passing on to the
correct second bookscroll after completing the first. This
scribal device was employed in works that exceeded the scope of a
single scroll and had to be continued on another scroll.
     In Mesopotamia, where writing was on clay tablets rather
than scrolls, when a work extended over several tablets, the
scribe meticulously inserted catch-lines a the ends of the
completed tablet that would lead the reader to the next tablet.
     The catch lines that connect Chronicles with Ezra are
decisive evidence of the compositional connection between the two
works. It is generally recognized among scholars that the two
books of Chronicles (originally, one, uninterrupted book) and the
Book of Ezra/Nehemiah are the work of a single author, who is
often referred to as the Chronicler.* The four (actually two)
books together are sometimes called the Chronistic Work.
     The case for this unity of authorship is easily buttoned up
by the catch-lines. It is hardly conceiveable that two entirely
independent works would be connected with one another by an exact
repetition of a passage, one that creates a direct continuity
between the two. The ovetall unity of the Chronistic Work is also
demonstrated by a common ideology, the uniformity, of legal,
cultic and historical conceptions and specific style, all of
which reflect one opus if these marked features were not enough,
then mention may also be made of the direct continuity between
the two parts, with the second (Ezra/Nehemiah) being an immediate
sequel to the first (Chronicles).
     The Chronistic work is a retelling of the history of the
world beginning with Adam and extending to the return of the
exiles from Babylonia and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, following
is destruction in 586 B.C. The two books of Chronicles end with
the proclamation of Cyrus, king of Persia, allowing the exiled
Jews to return. The Book of Era begins at this point and,
together with the Book of Nehemiah, tells the story of the return
and rebuilding
     The Chronistic Work is preceded in the Bible by an earlier
telling The Pentateuch (the five books of


* Originally, Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book entitled
"Ezra." They still appear as such in the Masorah and among the
first medieval exegetes. The division into two is first reflected
in the Greek Septuagint and in the Latin translations, although
in the Scptuagint's Alexandrian version and the Peshitta the
division is not yet found.


Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers) tells
the story from the beginning of the world to the death of Moses
in sight of the Promised Land. Then the so-called Deuteronomic
Historian, or the Deuteronomist, tells the story of Israel's
subsequent history. The Deuteronomic history consists of six
books - Joshua, Judges, I and 2 Samuel and I and 2 Kings.* The
Deuteronomic history ends with Jerusalem's destruction in 586
B.C. by Babylon, the captivity of King Jehoiachin of Judah and
his subsequent release from prison 37 years later. It is called
the Deuteronomic history because of its adherence to the
concepts, historiographic viewpoints and legal precepts of the
Book of Deuteronomy.

     The Bible includes three compositions that were too long to
be contained in a single scroll. These are the Pentateuch, the
Deuteronomic history, and the Chronicler's work, encompassing the
two books of I and 2 Chronicles and Ezra/Nehemiah.
When these three works first appeared and for a considerable time
afterwards, there was no possibility of containing such long
compositions on


* Samuel and Kings (as well as chronicles) were first divided
into two books in the Greek translation of the Bible known as the
Septuagint. The Septuagint dates to the third century B.C., and
was made in Egypt where it was copied on papryus scrolls. At that
time, papryus scrolls could not be practically made as long as
parchment or leather scrolls that were used in Judea. Hence, in
the septuagint, Samuel and Kings (as well as Chronicles) were
each divided into two parts, designated first and second.


single scrolls. Much time was to pass until, in the first
centuries of the Christian Em, the process of producing leather
or parchment became sufficiently refined to enable the
preparation of scrolls long enough to contain such works. Indeed,
only in the talmudic literature, in the third and fourth
centuries AD., do we first hear of the possibility of
encompassing the entire Pentateuch, or all the prophetic books
(both the Former Prophets and the Law Prophets*), or the entire
Hailographa,** in one big roll.

     The division of the Pentateuch into five books is not merely
mechanical, however. The division reflects thematic significance,
so that each book concludes a discrete narrative cycle from the
point of view of contents and subject matter, This is also true
of the Deuteronomic history from Joshua through Kings. As a
result, each of these books could be and was placed on a single
scroll, without ending with catch-lines to indicate the next
scroll.
     Indeed, the small extent of the books of Joshua and Judges
in relation to the much greater length of Samuel and Kings can be
explained only by the assumption that beyond the technical
necessity of dividing the whole composition into several books,

* In Jewish tradition, the second division of the Bible falls
into two parts. The Former prophets includes what modern scholars
call the deuteronomic history; the Latter Prophets refers to the
books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 minor prophets.

** The Hagiographa is the third section of the Hebrew Bible, the
so-called Writings.


there was an intention to delimit the books in accordance with a
theological discernment of special periods in ancient Israelite
history.
     Thus, the books of the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomic
history (Joshua, Judges, Kings and Samuel) are parts of two large
cyclical compositions, while at the same time also constituting
self-contained units.
     That is not true of the Chronistic Work which includes the
two books of Chronicles and Ezra/ Nehemiah. Here we have one
continuing composition not easily divided; and the technical
necessity of continuing onto a second scroll is quite
conspicuous, since the first pan of this work (the Book of
Chronicles) most probably reached the maximum possible length of
a scroll.

     In any case, catch-lines are used in the Bible only between
the end of Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra.
     Scholars have long debated whether these catchlines really
go with the end of Chronicles or the beginning of Ezra. Some
claim that their proper place is at the beginning of the Book of
Ezra; it was from there, they say, that they were copied to the
end of Chronicles. Others say, on the contrary, that the correct
place is at the end of Chronicles.
     The debate has been somewhat fruitless, however, because of
the scholars' failure to appreciate that the repeated passage
does not fit entirely comfortably in either book alone.

     Let us look at the repeated passage more closely: 

"In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, when the word of the
Lord spoken by Jeremiah was fulfilled, the Lord roused the spirit
of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his
realm by word of mouth and in writing as follows:
'Thus said King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord God of Heaven has
given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has charged me with
building Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone of
you of all His people - may the Lord His God be with him and let
him go up'" (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-3a).

     Just before this, in the last chapter of Chronicles, we are
told that the Judeans who survived the Babylonian destruction of
Jerusalem were exiled until the rise of the Persian kingdom -
specifically in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah. So the
reference in the repeated passage to the fulfillment of "the word
of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah" makes sense here. At the
beginning of Ezra (if we assume it to be a separate work),
however, it is practically meaningless and must be explained from
somewhere else.

     On the other hand, it is also clear that the two verses at
the end of Chronicles are cut off in the middle of things. The
sentence is not even brought to its end: "The Lord his God (be)
with him and let him go up." Only in Ezra 1:3 is it possible to
read the continuation of this sentence: "may his God be with him
and let him go up to Jerusalem that is in Judah and build the
house of the Lord God of Israel, the God that is in Jerusalem."
Likewise, only in Ezra 1:4 do we find the second half of Cyrus's
edict ("and all who stay behind [in Babylon] ... let the
people of his place assist him with silver, gold, goods," etc.)
which is NOT referred to at the end of Chronicles at all.

     Turning again to Ezra, however, we cannot understand the
subsequent events related there without being told of Cyrus's
edict permitting the Jews to return to their ancient homeland.
Indeed, the subsequent account in Ezra loses its meaning without
a reference to Cyrus's edict because the continuation of the
narrative results from that edict and even resounds with its
language. Thus we read in Ezra 1:5-6:

"Then the heads of families ... prepared to go up and build the
house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, and all their neighbors
supported them with silver vessels and gold and goods...."

     Consequently, the elimination of Cyrus's edict from the
beginning of the Book of Ezra would entail the necessity of
skipping the whole of chapter 1. It is therefore unthinkable that
the opening verses of Ezra were originally only part of
Chronicles.

     The answer is neither that the repeated verses belong only
at the end of Chronicles nor only at the beginning of Ezra. The
division here is caused by the limits of the size of the scroll.
     We have here an uninterrupted textual continuity of one
work, extending from book to book - that is, from scroll to
scroll.
     The two catch-verses at the end of the Book of Chronicles
open up something new, the appearance of Cyrus (entirely
unmentioned in the preceding verses) and the edict he issued
"throughout his kingdom" The whole story is reported, however,
only in the first chapter of Ezra. The catch-lines appearing at
the end of Chronicles and anticipating the beginning of the Book
of Ezra/Nehemiah attest to the fact that this is indeed the end
of a scroll.

     We can thus conclude that the length of Chronicles was the
maximum possible size of a book scroll of the time, and this was
the reason for inscribing the remaining part of the work on
another scroll.
     Naturally, those who made the division also tried to make it
relate to the content and its thematic cycle. Yet, it was
technical necessity that, in this case, determined where the
break came.

                            ..................


Entered on this Website April 2008


 
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