Good Old Days, Ancient Version

Image illustration of Good Samaritan
The Good Samaritan follows in these footsteps
Rossano Gospels [public domain] at Wikimedia Commons

According to Steven Schweitzer, in Reading Utopia in Chronicles, the Chronicler uses prophecy and speeches for two purposes. On one hand, prophecy serves to create a utopian past for Israel that functions as a critique of the Chronicler’s present and as a vision for future possibility. On the other, the prophetic source confers authority.

“The ability of the Chroncler to convince his audience that the utopia presented in the text is indeed a better alternative reality rests heavily on the authoritative status of Chronicles itself.”1

The Chronicler’s project depends heavily on the issue of authority, and Schweitzer sees the author drawing on multiple sources of authority to establish that of his own text and vision. Thus,

The prophecies and speeches related by prophets share similar concerns with the speeches by non-prophetic figures, especially by kings. These ‘royal speeches’ mirror the content of the prophetic words. Thus, these speeches demonstrate how two sources of authority – the prophet and the monarch – are employed as mouthpieces for the Chronicler’s message. And yet the Chronicler’s concern for authoritative entities is not restricted to prophetic and royal speeches.2

In Schweitzer’s view, the authority figures the Chronicler draws on – prophets, kings, written (scribal) sources, the Levites, etc. – and already existing authorities within the tradition, which are available to assist in the legitimation of the Chronicler’s project. What Schweitzer sees as possible, however, is that the Chronicler has added rhetorical content of his own, more consistent with his utopian vision of Israel’s past.3

All of this implies that Schweitzer would read the episode of the humanitarian repatriation of the Judahite prisoners of war in 2 Chronicles 28 as a utopian text. What happens in the narrative is what should have happened, whether or not it is exactly what happened in the actual past. The authoritative voices of a prophet and of suggestively-named chieftains give traditional legitimacy to the Torah embodied in the care given to the prisoners. From Schweitzer’s perspective, then, 2 Chronicles 28 might be read as analogous to King Arthur’s or Saladdin’s legendary chivalry: it establishes a high-water mark in the past which, because it is situated in the past and because it is given approbation by traditional authority figures, is at once clearly “possible” (since “we’ve done it before”) and normative (it’s advocated by the prophet and the leaders) “now” – that is, in the Chronicler’s own day, possibly the Second Temple period.

1Steven Schweitzer, Reading Utopia in Chronicles, New York: T&T Clark, 2007, 43.
2Ibid., 44.
3Ibid., 46.

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