Gentiles in Chronicles

In a contribution to The Chronicler as Author, Ehud Ben Zvi reviews five statements about Israel from foreigners in the book of Chronicles. The foreigners are Huram of Tyre, the Queen of Sheba, Sennacherib, Neco king of Egypt, and Cyrus the Persian.

The first and last two are positive statements about the God of Israel; the central statement, from Sennacherib, is blasphemy. Ben Zvi concludes that “four out of five of the aforementioned foreign kings are construed for the rereadership (sic) as positive characters and so are unequivocally supported by an authoritative, reliable narrator” (225). Importantly, “all good foreign monarchs must remain ‘foreigners’ to some extent, but at the same time, they are ‘Israelized’ in a substantial manner” (225). Their status as “outsiders” gives their testimony a special degree of rhetorical heft.

Despite their outsider status, foreigners are given important supportive roles in the Chronicler’s characterization of Israel: “One may mention, for instance, (1) the only two references in Chronicles to the widely accepted idea in postmonarchic communities that YHWH loves Israel are conveyed by two of these foreign monarchs [Huram and Sheba]; (2) the last two godly messages conveyed to Israel or to its proper king are assigned to two kings, each of whom represents one of the two main powers dealing with the Jerusalemite/Yehudite community in the Achaemenid period; and (3) one of these foreign monarchs (the Persian) is directly associated with the building of the temple” (226).

All this gives hope to the Chronicler’s original readers that “foreign monarchs (and by implication all people) have at least the potential to acknowledge and recognize the supreme deity of YHWH along with the elevated status of Israel/Judah/Jerusalem vis-a-vis ‘the nations’ (see the words of Huram and the queen of Sheba, and perhaps those of Cyrus, too)—to be partially Israelized and, accordingly, to be able to play a positive role in YHWH’s economy. These positions are consistent with the views regarding a future in which the nations will come to acknowledge YHWH and the role of Zion/Jerusalem and Israel (cf., e.g., Isa. 2.2-3; Mic. 4.2-3;47 Zech. 8.21- 22)” (227).

In particular, the Chronicler intends to convey the view that “the principal kings of the area are not necessarily evil, nor do they necessarily oppose the will of YHWH (i.e. just as Davidic kings varied in their piety). In particular, the concluding reference to Cyrus suggests not only that the rule of foreign kings over Jerusalem is not necessarily a bad thing, but, in fact, it seems to raise the possibility that YHWH’s kingship over Jerusalem may be executed by Cyrus. This possibility is consistent with references to Cyrus as YHWH’s anointed and as YHWH’s shepherd (both royal attributes) in Isa. 44.28; 45.1. Moreover, these meanings are also consistent with and seem to reflect a particular aspect of the conceptual world of the community. In this respect, a bright future is one in which foreigners will recognize YHWH and the role of Israel in the divine economy” (227-8).

All this fits neatly with the Chronicler’s position in redemptive history. He lives and writes after the exile, when the Davidic-Solomonic task of building and maintaining the temple and its personnel has been handed to Gentile emperors. Chronicles is history for an ecumenical age.

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