1 and 2 ChroniclesWritten by Simon J. De Vries Reviewed By R.B. Dillard
Simon De Vries has been a prominent contributor to form-critical studies of OT narrative. His Prophet against Prophet (Eerdmans, 1978) provided a taxonomy for narrative stories concerning the prophets, and his form-critical analysis of narrative expanded beyond prophetic stories in his commentary on 1 Kings (Word, 1985). His new commentary on 1 and 2 Chronicles provides the most extensive form-critical analysis available for this corpus and is a singularly valuable addition to Chronicles studies.
Each chapter includes a helpful bibliography, analysis of the structure of the pericope, classification of the genres and subgenres within it, and a discussion of the setting and intention of the text. The commentary itself is followed by a fourteen-page glossary of the genre types and genre elements De Vries identified within the text. This is a helpful reference tool while reading through the volume, and the editors have determined to include a glossary in all subsequent volumes of the FOTL series (p. xiii). De Vries’ system of classification for the genres within Chronicles is both lucid and thorough.
Methodologically De Vries is somewhat between an older diachronic approach to the text via form criticism and more recent synchronic approaches emphasizing the role of genre identification in determining a reading strategy. As in his earlier works, De Vries does use his form-critical analysis to make inferences about the past history of particular pericopes and the process of development that may have led to the present form of the text. However, along with most recent practitioners of form criticism, he has all but jettisoned the past excesses of the discipline in associating a single genre with a single Sitz im Leben. For that matter, his discussion of ‘setting and intention’ is more oriented to the place of the pericope within the larger work and its contribution to the Chronicler’s theology than to recovering an underlying diachronic sociological matrix as was common practice in the older form criticism. In this respect De Vries appears far closer to more recent synchronic approaches which view genre identification as a key to reading strategy and interpretation instead of diachronic inferences. It is primarily the setting within Chronicles rather than within the traditional notion of Sitz im Leben. This is symptomatic of a shift in form-critical studies in general, and it is a welcome change. All would agree to the importance of genre identification in establishing the ‘rules’ for interpretation of a text, and careful consideration of De Vries’ analysis will be important for all further work in Chronicles. This shift in the tenor of form-critical studies has largely taken place during the twenty years since the FOTL series was conceived, and it is striking to note that the emphasis in the editors’ foreword (p. xii) is still almost exclusively on diachronic concerns. I am not confident that De Vries would himself agree with this assessment; for that matter the book could have been improved slightly if space had been allotted to the author to reflect on how he sees the current state of the discipline.
De Vries casts his lot with the growing number of commentators (Japhet, Williamson, Braun, Dillard) who do not consider Chronicles to be from the same hand/s that produced Ezra-Nehemiah. He assigns the Chronicler to a date in the fourth century BC (pp. 16–17). Throughout the volume De Vries distinguishes between ChrH (the Chronicler as historian) and ChrR (the Chronicler as redactor); though the two may in fact be the same person (p. 16), the distinction highlights two separate literary procedures.
By and large De Vries’ conclusions about the compositional history of Chronicles tend to be restrained. He does not see much secondary glossing of the text and interacts thoroughly with those who see more. For example, the genealogies are often subjected to analysis which suggests numerous later expansions; De Vries, on the other hand, argues that the only secondary material in 1 Chronicles 1–9 is the transitions and glosses for which ChrR himself is responsible (p. 22).
De Vries is not willing to identify Chronicles as midrash (pp. 55, 57, 106). His approach to the issue of eschatological expectation or messianism in Chronicles is quite balanced (pp. 99, 115, 157). He views Chronicles not so much as the history of a nation, but as the history of a congregation (p. 18); interests in the legitimate cult are foremost.
In addition to his extensive form-critical analysis, De Vries identifies four schemata as prominent in Chronicles (pp. 102–103, 426). A schema is not a genre but a pattern that replicates itself in different passages. De Vries singles out schemata (1) of reward and retribution, (2) of revelational appearances, (3) of dynastic endangerment, and (4) of festivals.
De Vries has made a major contribution to Chronicles studies with this volume; he has furthered the work of all who will follow him.
Westminster Theological Seminary