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“The Chronicler’s Code: The Rise and Fall of Judah’s Army in the Book of Chronicles”, JHS 17 (2017)

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This article focuses on the specified numbers for the armies of the Judean kings in the book of Chronicles, with an emphasis on the sequence of the first four kings of Judah, and reveals that they were inserted by the Chronicler according to a clear
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     Volume 17, Article 3 DOI:10.5508/jhs.2017.v17.a3 The Chronicler’s Code: The Rise and Fall of Judah’s Army in the Book of Chronicles NERIAH KLEIN Journal of ebrew Scriptures  Articles in JHS are being indexed in the ATLA Religion Database, RAMBI, and BiBIL. Their abstracts appear in Religious and Theological  Abstracts. The journal is archived by Library and Archives Canada and is accessible for consultation and research at the Electronic Collection site maintained by  Library and Archives Canada. ISSN 1203–1542 http://www.jhsonline.org and http://purl.org/jhs   T HE C HRONICLER  ’ S C ODE :    T HE R  ISE  AND F  ALL OF  J UDAH ’ S  A  RMY IN THE B OOK OF C HRONICLES   N ERIAH K  LEIN   B  AR  -I LAN U NIVERSITY One of the book of Chronicles’ most striking features is its fasci-nation with detail. The Chronicler did not spare his readers from extensive lists, numbers and names in a plethora of various con-texts, and his fondness for this kind of data is evident throughout the work. This article engages with the observation that the Chronicler’s penchant for detail was not limited to its mere inclu-sion within his book; rather, he made creative and literary use of this material according to his needs and objectives. This discussion  will focus on numbers; to be precise, upon the numbers given for the royal Judean military throughout the work. I wish to point out the systematic manipulation of these numbers, which has been pre- viously unnoted in scholarship; an arrangement which simultane-ously testifies to the fictitious quality of these numbers, and to the sophisticated literary design woven into the narrative as a whole. 1   L  ARGE N UMBERS IN THE B IBLE   Many of the large numbers that feature in the Bible are famously regarded as exaggerated estimations that cannot reasonably be con-sidered historically accurate. A classic example is the scholarly  world’s preoccupation with the number of Israelites who left Egypt and lived in the wilderness, as reflected in the figures provided, for example, in Exodus 12:17 and Numbers 1:6–26. The idea that around 600,000 men of military age (around 2,000,000 people in all) left Egypt is considered grossly unrealistic, 2  and various 1  This article is an extended version of my lecture in the ‘Literary Fea-tures: Fact or Fiction’ unit in the EABS annual conference, Leuven 2016.  Thanks are due to Prof. Michael Avioz, Dr. Karolien Vermeulen, Dr. Noga Ayali-Darshan and Dr. Yitzchak Amar for their helpful, insightful comments that improved this article to no end. Any inaccuracies, of course, are mine and mine alone.    This article uses the NRSV translation.   2  The reason for this is based on both comparison with other biblical data, and upon various demographic analyses proposed in research. For  various surveys of this approach, see: E.W. Davies, “A Mathematical  2 J OURNAL OF H EBREW S CRIPTURES  attempts have been made to justify these figures; one such tactic involves interpreting the expression ףל , which generally denotes the number 1000 in the Bible, as relating to military units, tribal sub-units, or to military officers. 2F 3  More often than not, such attempts are subjected to fierce criticism and deemed deficient, 3F 4  although there are still those who stand by such interpretations. 4F 5   Alongside scholars who seek to explain that these numbers express actual reality, 5F 6  others have argued that the numbers are purely fictitious, and that any efforts to justify their historicity are  vain. If the latter claim is accepted, however, the question already posed by Segal in 1965 immediately arises: “When a writer of the Old Testament had freedom of choice in his use of numerals, what  were the motives that prompted him to employ one particular number rather than another?”. 6F 7  And indeed, various explanations have been proffered for the census figures in the book of Num-bers, usually involving complicated mathematical calculations, 7F 8   Conundrum: The Problem of the Large Numbers in Numbers I and XXVI,” VT   45 (1995), 449–69 (449–52); D.M. Fouts, “A Defence of the Hyperbolic Interpretation of Large Numbers in the Old Testament,”  JETS   40 (1997), 377–87. 3  Various versions of this have been proposed. See, for example:  W.M.F. Petrie, Researches in Sinai   (London: Murray, 1906), 207–20; G.E. Mendenhall, “The Census Lists of Numbers 1 and 26,”  JBL   77 (1958), 52–76; J.W. Wenham, “Large Numbers in the Old Testament,” TynBul   18 (1967), 19–53; R.E.D. Clark, “The Large Numbers of the Old Testa-ment,”  Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute   87 (1955), 82–92;  J.W. Wenham, “Large Numbers in the Old Testament,” TB  18 (1967), 19–53; C.J. Humphreys, “The Number of People in the Exodus from Egypt: Decoding Mathematically the Very Large Numbers in Numbers I and XXVI,” VT   48 (1998), 196–213. 4  See, for example: B.A. Levine,  Numbers 1–20  (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1993), 139; Davies, “A Mathematical Conundrum,” 460–65; J. Milgrom, “On Decoding Very Large Numbers,” VT   49 (1999), 131–32; M. McEntire, “A Response to Colin J. Humphreys’s ‘The Number of People in the Exodus from Egypt: Decoding Mathematically the Very Large Numbers in Numbers I and XXVI’,” VT   49 (1999), 262–64; R. Heinzerling, “On the Interpretation of the Census Lists by C. J. Hum-phreys and G. E. Mendenhall,” VT   50 (2000), 250–252 .   5  See, for example, Rendsburg’s sympathetic criticism on Humphreys’ article noted in n. 3 above: G. Rendsburg, “An Additional Note to Two Recent Articles on the Number of People in the Exodus from Egypt and the Large Numbers in Numbers I and XXVI,” VT   51 (2001), 392–96. 6  Besides those who interpret the term ףל in various ways, Albright’s approach is worth noting. He claims that these censuses are based upon the actual reality of the united Israelite kingdom. See: W.F. Albright, “The  Administrative Divisions of Israel and Judah,”  JPOS   5 (1925), 17–54; idem, From the Stone Age to Christianity   (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1946), 222. 7  J.B. Segal, “Numerals in the Old Testament,”  JSS   10 (1965), 2–20 (2). 8  R. Heinzerling, “Bileams Rätsel: Die Zählung der Wehrfähigen in   T HE C HRONICLER  ’ S C ODE  3   ancient astronomy, 9  and even  gematria  . 10  The results — perhaps un-surprisingly  — are not usually convincing. 11   The most sound and cautious approach, I believe, is repre-sented by Fouts and Davies, who argue that the employment of large, exaggerated numbers should be seen as an accepted, inten-tional literary convention calculated to achieve a certain effect — for example, in order to glorify the name of some king or god —  wherein the actual given numbers lack significance in themselves. 12  In any case, it seems that the debate between the “realistic-histori-cal” approach and the “literary” approach in regard to large num-bers in the Bible has yet to be resolved.  There is, however, general consensus that the numbers in the book of Chronicles are   exaggerated. 13  To illustrate, Ralph Klein Numeri 1 und 26,” ZAW   111 (1999), 404–15. 9  M. Barnouin, “Les recensements du livre des Nombres et l’astronomie babylonienne,” VT 27 (1977), 280–303. 10  H. Holzinger,  Numeri   (Tübingen/Leipzig: J.C.B. Mohr, 1903), 5–6, 134; D.M. Fouts, The Use of Large Numbers in the Old Testament, with Particu- lar Emphasis on the Use of ’elep  (Ph.D. Thesis; Dallas Theological Seminary, 1992) , 167–70. 11  See, for example, the survey and criticism of Davies, “A Mathemati-cal Conundrum,” 452–60. 12  Fouts, The Use of Large Numbers  ; idem, “A Defence of the Hyper-bolic Interpretation”; idem, “The Incredible Numbers of the Hebrew Kings,” in D.M. Howard Jr. and M.A. Grisanti (eds.), Giving the Sense: Understanding and Using Old Testament Historical Texts   (Grand Rapids: Kregel  Academic, 2003), 283–99; Davies, “A Mathematical Conundrum,” 465– 69. This approach is supported by Near Eastern material, mainly royal  Assyrian inscriptions, which make intentional use of exaggerated numbers in order to glorify certain Assyrian kings; see, among others: Fouts, The Use of Large Numbers  , 68–124; idem, “Another Look at Large Numbers in  Assyrian Royal Inscriptions,”  JNES   53 (1994), 205–11. See also:    A.R. Millard, “Large Numbers in the Assyrian Royal Inscriptions,” in M. Cogan and I. Eph’al (eds.),  Ah, Assyria…: Studies in Assyrian History and Ancient  Near Eastern Historiography Presented to Haim Tadmor   (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1991), 213–22. In contrast, see De Odorico’s more cautious conclusion: M. De Odorico, The Use of Numbers and Quantifications in the Assyrian Royal Inscriptions   (Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project, University of Helsinki, 1995), 161–62. 13  See, for example: E.L. Curtis and A.A. Madsen, The Books of Chroni- cles   (ICC; Edinburgh: Clark, 1910), 374–75; W.A.L. Elmslie, The Books of Chronicles   (The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1916), 239; R.W. Klein, “How Many in a Thou-sand?,” in M. Graham et al. (eds.), The Chronicler as Historian   (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1997); G. Galil et al. (eds.), 2 Chronicles   (Olam HaTa-nach; Tel Aviv: Davidson-Atai, 1995), 98, 112, 135 (Hebrew). Rainy comments that the use of exaggerated numbers is consistent with accept-ed literary conventions of the Chronicler’s time. See A.F. Rainy, “The Chronicler and his Sources – Historical and Geographical,” in M. Graham et al. (eds.), The Chronicler as Historian   (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1997), 30–72 (55). See also K.G. Hoglund, “The Chronicler as Historian:  4 J OURNAL OF H EBREW S CRIPTURES  notes that the 500,000 warriors who fell in a single day (!) during the battle between Abijah and Jeroboam (2 Chr 13:17) is equivalent to the total number of casualties from both sides during the Ameri-can Civil War, or the total number of Americans killed during  World War Two; 13F 14  while Rudolph has estimated that the 100,000 golden talents David prepared for the construction of the Temple (1 Chr 22:14) is roughly nine times the amount of gold produced all over the world (!) in the year 1900. 14F 15  Some have tried to apply the theory that the term ףל is a military expression representing far fewer than a thousand soldiers to the book of Chronicles as well, thus bringing the numbers into the realm of the feasible and the historical, 15F 16  but Klein convincingly argues that this interpretation is not acceptable 16F 17   and concludes, “Now, as before, the high numbers in Chronicles cannot be taken as reflecting historical reality. Rather, the interpreter’s goal should be to see how these numbers are a part of the Chronicler’s message or of his theological agenda.” 17F 18   With this statement, Klein parts ways with Davies and Fouts.  Whereas the latter, as mentioned, do not ascribe significance to each and every number, and are satisfied with the general claim that  A Comparativist Perspective,” in M. Graham et al. (eds.), The Chronicler as Historian   (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1997), 19–29 (26–27). 14  Klein, “How Many in a Thousand?,” 270–82. 15    W. Rudolph, Chronikbücher (HAT; Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Sie-beck], 1955), 151, n. 2.   16  See, for example: J.M. Myers, II Chronicles   (AB; New York: Double-day, 1965), 78; J.B. Payne, “The Validity of the Numbers in Chronicles,” Bibliotheca Sacra   136 (1979), 109–28, 206–20. 17  Beyond the challenges he poses to those who hold by this theory in relation to the censuses in Numbers, he shows that it simply cannot be applied to the book of Chronicles: for example, the Chronicler also ampli-fied numbers of non-human objects, such as chariots (1 Chr 19:7), gold and silver (1 Chr 19:6; 22:14; 29:4,7) and animals (2 Chr 7:5; 30:24; 35:7– 9), and the term ףל cannot be understood as a military expression in these cases; moreover, a comparison between the terms “officers of hun-dreds” and “officers of thousands” in Chronicles clearly shows that the Chronicler understood the word ףל as a number, just as he used “hun-dred.” Another example that disproves this theory is the number given for the descendants of Bela, son of Benjamin: 22,034 (1 Chr 7:7); if ףל denotes a military unit, then Bela supposedly had thirty-four people divided up into twenty-two military units, which would mean an average of 1.5 soldiers in each unit. Similarly, Uzziah’s army, according to 2 Chr 26:13, numbered 307,500 —  which, according to the theory in question,  would mean that each of the 307 units would consist of fewer than two soldiers. Another challenge is that the 200,000 captives that Pekah son of Remaliah took from Judah (2 Chr 28:8) cannot be interpreted as 200 mil-itary units, as this figure included women and children. See Klein, “How Many in a Thousand?”. Dillard also rejected the idea that ל means a military unit. See: R.B. Dillard, 2 Chronicles   (WBC; Waco: Word, 1987), 94– 95. 18   Klein, “How Many in a Thousand?,” 281 .  
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