The Book of Chronicles, Divrei Hayamim, is the final book of Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. It is traditionally attributed to Ezra the scribe, a leader of the Jews who returned to the Land of Israel from the Babylonian exile. The first nine chapters of the book contain a series of genealogies, tracing the lineage of the Jews who returned from Babylon from the time of creation. The second part of the book, starting with I Chronicles chapter 10, is mainly a review of many the events contained in the biblical books of Samuel and Kings. It starts with the death of Saul and continues until the Babylonian exile, focusing primarily on the Kingdom of Judah. The book ends with a brief epilogue mentioning the proclamation of Cyrus allowing the Jews to return to the Land of Israel and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, as described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
When studying the Book of Chronicles, a number of questions arise. Most significant are the following: what is the connection between the genealogies and the rest of the book, and what is the prophetic purpose or agenda of the book which is, for the most part, a repetition of other books of Tanakh?
Arnold Franklin, in his book “Cultivating Roots: The Promotion of Exilarchal Ties to David in the Middle Ages,” examines the tendency among Jews in Muslim countries during the Middle Ages to maintain extremely detailed genealogies of the lineage of the Davidic monarchy, showing how it had been preserved until their time. Franklin claims that they did this because it gave them faith in the Messianic destiny of the Davidic family, and hope that the Davidic Messiah would indeed come. However, it also gave them a sense of legitimacy and trust in the ruling family. According to their records, the family entrusted by the Muslims to rule over the Jews was descended from the Davidic monarchs of the First Temple.
This approach can be applied to the genealogies of the Book of Chronicles as well. Perhaps part of the reason Ezra chose to include the genealogies in the Book of Chronicles is to prove the legitimacy of Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel during the return from Babylonian exile. By enumerating the genealogies of so many people involved in the resettlement of the Land of Israel and the re-construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, he sought to emphasize that the people who had come to Israel were not merely interlopers trying to seize the Holy Land and its trade routes. Rather, they returned to their homeland as a matter of right. Additionally, it legitimized the claim of the priests and Levites of that time that they were descendants of the original priests and Levites of the First Temple period, for these tasks were hereditary.
Even though the return to the Land of Israel happened only seventy years after the Jews had left, their claim to the land had already come under question. As described in Ezra chapter 4, the new inhabitants of the land were angry that the Jews were returning to resume residence of the Land of Israel and rebuild the Temple, and they repeatedly tried to prevent that from occurring. As such, we can see why Ezra and the Jews of that time felt the need to prove the legitimacy of their claim to the Land. This might also be the reason that the Book of Chronicles ends with the permission granted by Cyrus, king of Persia, for the Jews to return to the Land of Israel. This was additional confirmation to the new residents of the land, and to the returning Jews, that the Land of Israel is indeed the property of the Jewish people.
Since the purpose of the book is to justify the Jewish claim to the Land of Israel, Ezra felt it necessary to repeat the history of the Kingdom of Judah. On the one hand, including the history of the Jews in their land strengthens their claim that the land belongs to them. Additionally, the original leader of the return from exile, Zerubbabel, was descended from the Davidic dynasty (see I Chronicles 3:19). This further bolsters the legitimacy of the Jewish resettlement as well as Jewish sovereignty in the land, as the Book of Chronicles continuously stresses that the Davidic line has a eternal claim to kingship in the Land of Israel. Finally, the repeated sins of the Davidic monarchs, their repentance and God’s forgiveness, shows that God had not given up on the Jewish people when he exiled them from the Land of Israel. Rather, He intended for the Jewish claim over the Land of Israel to be everlasting.
In modern times, as in the times of Ezra, there are those who seek to delegitimize the Jewish people’s claim to the Land of Israel. Like the “adversaries of Judah and Benjamin” in the Book of Ezra (Ezra 4:1), they contend that the Jews are no longer the rightful inhabitants of the land, that others have an equal claim and that the Jews should be prevented from building and expanding Israel. The message of the Book of Chronicles, justifying the eternal Jewish claim to the Land of Israel, is therefore as relevant today as it was at the time that it was written. Concluding Tanakh with the Book of Chronicles, which strongly supports the Jewish people’s connection to their ancient homeland, highlights the central role of the Land of Israel which appears so prominently in every single chapter of the Hebrew Bible.