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Exploring the Place of the Book of Chronicles in the Jewish Tradition

From: Hebrew Studies
Volume 53, 2012
pp. 365-371 | 10.1353/hbr.2012.0033

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The history of interpretation and reception is a rapidly growing field in biblical studies, as witnessed by the steady flow of books and articles on the topic and the launching of a new reference work, The Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009-), and a new annual journal, Biblical Reception (Sheffield Phoenix Press, to begin publication in October 2012). The field is vast, but one of the essential topics deserving attention is the role that the various biblical books played in the history, literature, and culture of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, something that is only beginning to be addressed. Thus, the comprehensive study of Chronicles in the history of Jewish tradition and literature by Isaac Kalimi is a welcome pioneering effort, unprecedented in the sheer scope of its coverage.

Chronicles has not traditionally been a very popular book for Jews to study. But in recent years, it has become an important subject of research for biblical scholars, among them, Isaac Kalimi, who has made the study of Chronicles the main focus of his scholarly career. He has written several monographs and many articles on the Chronicler and his work, dealing with the book of Chronicles in its historical context, as well as a classified bibliography of Chronicles scholarship. In the work here under review, he expands his range to deal with the history of interpretation and reception of the book in Jewish literature and tradition from the Second Temple Period until the end of the seventeenth century, a very ambitious undertaking. This book is certainly impressive in its thoroughness and scope. Sixteen chapters cover the use of Chronicles in the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Hellenistic-Greek literature (Septuagint, Judeo-Hellenistic historians, Philo of Alexandria), Dead Sea Scrolls and Cairo Genizah, Dura-Europos and cognate arts, the mosaic inscription in the ancient synagogue of En-Gedi, rabbinic literature, Targum Chronicles, Jewish liturgy and ritual, medieval Jewish biblical interpretation, the Zohar, medieval Hebrew poetry, Jewish-Christian disputations, and early modern critical scholarship (Azariah de' Rossi, Uriel da-Costa, Joseph Solomon Delmedigo, and Baruch Spinoza).

The author is certainly to be praised for his thoroughness and comprehensiveness of coverage. Hardly a stone (or better, leaf) is left unturned in his quest for references or allusions to Chronicles in post-biblical Jewish literature. Nevertheless, a study of such ambitious scope is bound to have lacunae and include some erroneous information which the reader should be aware of. The author is at his best in discussing Chronicles in late biblical and early post-biblical literature, the periods he has done most of his research on. Most of my remarks will focus on the Middle Ages, the area I am most familiar with.

I find the title of the book a little misleading. In almost every case cited, what is under review is not the retelling of Chronicles, but rather, the use of quotations from Chronicles, allusions to verses in the book, or the use of themes mentioned in it. As the author points out, there is no midrashic compilation on Chronicles, and even the late collection in Yalqut Shimoni is sparse, compared to that of other books, such as Samuel and Kings, in relation to its size. Thus, a better title would have been The Reception of the Book of Chronicles in Jewish Tradition and Literature or simply The Book of Chronicles in Jewish Tradition and Literature.

The book of Chronicles did not receive a lot of attention from medieval exegetes; in fact there are only nineteen extant commentaries till the end of the eighteenth century, a very low figure. The best known are the commentaries attributed to Rashi, that was published in standard editions of the Rabbinic Bible under Rashi's name, and that of David Kimh. i, the Provencal grammarian and exegete, whose work marked the culmination of that school's exegetical enterprise. His commentary has recently been translated into English by Yitzhak Berger. The commentary, whose attribution to Rashi originated among the school of disciples of Rashi, was recently treated in a monograph by Eran Viezel. Both of these works are also reviewed in this essay.

Kalimi devotes a section to Saadia Gaon even though Saadia...

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