Friday, February 24, 2012

Graham on Chronicles

Today we had our annual Coil Lectures with M. Patrick Graham (Emory) speaking on his expertise, the Books of Chronicles (noted here). He said a lot of interesting things, of which I can't possibly note all now. Hopefully we'll get the audio up pretty soon and you can listen for yourself.

I'll mention a few things. Dr. Graham dates Chronicles to about 350 BCE. During that period, the Persian province of Yehud was about 800 sq. miles. This is remarkably close to the size of the county in which I live: Lauderdale County, Alabama is 718 sq. miles. But Lauderdale County has around 100,000 people, whereas Yehud had perhaps 15,000-30,000 people, and Jerusalem itself only 1250 inhabitants. The population for which the Chronicler wrote was exceedingly small.

Dr. Graham argued that the Chronicler's main purpose was theological--not that he wanted to change particular religious practices, or legitimate religious practices of his day, but that he wanted 'Israel' of his day to see itself as God's people, as part of the story of Israel, and that God has great purposes for them. He wanted his audience to understand that though desolation has happened, and they are apparently not in a land flowing with milk and honey, that they are still a people in covenant with the God of heaven and earth.

Of course, the Chronicler would not have expected many people to read his work, because not many people could read. This prompted me to ask a question after the second lecture--"How did the Chronicler expect to make an impact with his work? How did he expect to read it?" Dr. Graham proposed three possibilities: (a) the literate elite would read it and they would in turn teach others (Dr. Graham put it this way: the Chronicler wanted to influence the influencers); (b) he suggested the possibility of public readings of Chronicles, perhaps at the Temple in Jerusalem (but not at synagogues, yet; the mid-fourth century--Graham's date for Chronciles--is still a century or more before our earliest attestation for synagogues, I believe); and (c) perhaps literate Levites took the composition to various parts of Yehud and used it as a basis for teaching (cf. 2Chron. 17:7-9, where Jehoshaphat sends Levites out to teach in villages the book of the law of the Lord).

There were many other things Dr. Graham said that were very interesting. One of the best parts of the day, other than having breakfast with him this morning at Cracker Barrel, was listening to him speak during lunch about his own academic history, and having a little informal Q&A about his academic and library work. It was a lot of fun.

I'm already looking forward to next year when we have Thomas Long, and then Ralph Klein the year after that.

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