Saturday, April 25, 2015

II Chronicles 30

II Chronicles 30 is about righteous King Hezekiah’s Passover, which Judahites and some Northern Israelites attended.

There is debate about whether or not Hezekiah’s Passover actually happened.  After all, does not II Kings 23:22 state regarding the Passover of a later king of Judah, Josiah: “Surely there was not holden such a passover from the days of the judges that judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel, nor of the kings of Judah” (KJV)?  Why would that passage say that, if the author was aware of a previous Passover under King Hezekiah?

Raymond Dillard, in his Word Biblical Commentary, refers to a couple of arguments that may coincide with the historicity of Hezekiah’s Passover.  One argument is that the Deuteronomist in II Kings wants to exalt King Josiah, and that he may have chosen not to mention Hezekiah’s Passover so as not to detract from the Passover of Josiah; II Kings 23:22, therefore, does not mean that Hezekiah’s Passover did not occur, according to this argument, but that the Deuteronomist, for ideological reasons, chose not to mention it.

Another argument is that the Chronicler, who values the cult, would not invent the sort of chaotic Passover that we see in II Chronicles 30.  In II Chronicles 30, the Israelites are simply not ready to observe the Passover, and so the festival is pushed forward by a month, and Hezekiah asks God to show mercy to the Northern Israelites who eat the Passover in a state of ritual uncleanness.

There may be something to the first argument.  At the same time, I should note that the Chronicler himself makes a statement similar to that in II Kings 23:22.  II Chronicles 35:18 states regarding the Passover of King Josiah: “And there was no passover like to that kept in Israel from the days of Samuel the prophet; neither did all the kings of Israel keep such a passover as Josiah kept, and the priests, and the Levites, and all Judah and Israel that were present, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (KJV).  The Chronicler could simply be relying on II Kings here, but I doubt it, for the verses are not entirely similar: the Kings passage mentions the judges, whereas the Chronicles passage mentions Samuel the prophet.  Dillard may have a point about why the Deuteronomist fails to mention Hezekiah’s Passover, or perhaps the Deuteronomist does not mention it because, as far as he is concerned, Josiah was the first king to hold a national Passover.

As far as the Chronicler goes, the Chronicler may mean that no such Passover was held until the Passover of Josiah in the sense that Josiah’s Passover was the best, better than the one that Hezekiah held.  (Abarbanel held this sort of view.)  Indeed, in II Chronicles 35, Josiah’s Passover does run smoothly, due to the help of the Levites.  Moreover, while, in II Chronicles 30, there were Northern Israelites who were unwilling to attend Hezekiah’s Passover, Josiah’s Passover may have gathered more Northern Israelites.  II Chronicles 34:33 seems to indicate that Josiah compelled Northern Israelites to worship God, and 35:3 affirms that the Levites taught all Israel.

On the second argument—-that the Chronicler would not invent a chaotic Passover like Hezekiah’s Passover in II Chronicles 30, and thus the Chronicler was reporting what happened—-I am not convinced.  The reason is that, a couple of other times in Chronicles, we see stories about the religious leadership of Judah delaying what it is supposed to do to honor God (II Chronicles 24:5-6; 29:34).  That tells me that one could have reason to believe that a theme of delay is part of the narrative ideology of the Chronicler, and thus it is not unreasonable to think that he could invent a chaotic Passover.

Could this reflect Israel’s post-exilic period in any way, the period in which many scholars believe the Chronicler wrote?  I think so, for the prophet Haggai rebukes the returned Jewish exiles for failing to rebuild the Temple.  Could the Chronicler, by mentioning the theme of delay, be exhorting the post-exilic Jews to get on the ball?  And could his depiction of Josiah’s Passover be designed to show post-exilic Jews about what could happen if they take their first step to the construction of the Temple: that, even if there may be chaos, eventually things will pan out and go more smoothly?

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