Benjamin in the Book of Chronicles

Benjamin Giffone’s “Sit At My Right Hand” is a study of the tribe of Benjamin in the book of Chronicles and “in the social context of Yehud” (as the subtitle indicates). After sections examining the Chronicler’s setting in the Persian era and the role of Benjamin in the “Deuteronomistic History,” he turns to the role of Benjamin in Chronicles.

Few Benjamites have significant roles in the history recounted in Chronicles. Saul and his family are the main individuals. The Chronicler takes a dim view of Saul: He “unambiguously denigrates his reign ([1 Chronicles] 10:14), his military might (10:1), his courage (10:4), and his moral character (10:13-14). At Hebron, all Israel affirms that David was the true leader of Israel even while Saul was still king” (11:2)” (171). Michal enters the story only long enough to despise David’s celebration before the ark. There is a glimmer of glory in 1 Chronicles 5:10, which describes the victory of Reuben over the Hagrites “in the days of Saul” (174).

Yet Benjamin looms larger in Chronicles than this suggests. Benjamin is named in all the main parts of Chronicles (genealogy, David’s reign, Solomon’s reign, divided kingdom). In the 72 chapters of Samuel and Kings that the Chronicler overlaps with, Benjamin is mentioned only 19 times; in the 56 chapters of Chronicles, “Benjamin” or “Benjamite” appears 30 times (170). There are Benjamites among David’s mighty men and royal administrators; Uzziah has a secretary with a name that matches a Benjamite name in the genealogy; Josiah has an official who shares a name with a Benjamite (179).

Most importantly, Benjamin is regularly connected to Judah. The phrase “Benjamin and Judah” appears only once in 1-2 Kings; it appears 11 times 2 Chronicles 10-36 (195). In Kings, Benjamin has an ambiguous place: Is the tribe among the ten tribes claimed by Jeroboam? Or has it been absorbed into the “one” tribe of David? In Chronicles, Benjamin is unambiguously with Judah, and the two tribes together constitute the nucleus of an “all Israel” that remains under the Davidic kings throughout the divided monarchy.

As Giffone summarizes, “The Chronicler highlights the close relationship between Benjamin and Judah – almost certainly exaggerating the connection and oversimplifying the historical complexities along the way. The Chronicler believes that his main emphases – the Davidic monarchy, Jerusalem cult, confession and repentance, the unity of ‘all Israel’ – should be embraced equally by Benjamites as well as Judahites and Levites, whose interests are represented more explicitly in Chronicles” (197).

Giffone’s study is not profound, but he has done a service by assembling the material concerning Benjamin and highlighting the often-ignored place that this tribe has in the Chronicler’s vision of Israel’s history.

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