Peter B. Dirksen’s commentary on 1 Chronicles is a translation of his Dutch-language commentary published in 2003. He notes (Preface) that few changes have been made during the preparation of this volume. In some ways, this volume does not entirely live up to the description of its series (Historical Commentary on the Old Testament): it does not pay “explicit attention to the history of interpretation of biblical tradition in all its stages” (back cover)–unless one considers the history of interpretation to be limited to scholarship post-Wellhausen; nor does it “stand in the Christian exegetical tradition” in that it is not specifically Christologically oriented; nor is it well-suited to pastors (below). That aside, this is a competent commentary on a difficult book.
The volume begins with a brief preface, followed by a general bibliography (each section of the commentary has its own detailed bibliography and references). Next is a short introduction to 1 Chronicles, of necessity also serving as a short introduction to the whole of 1-2 Chronicles. Dirksen begins by discussing the state of recent scholarship on Chronicles, highlighting the major commentaries and monographs, and pointing out some of the critical issues. Then he turns to the book itself: its title, place in the canon, relationship to Ezra-Nehemiah, relationship to its sources, and current textual condition. His discussion of authorship and date is key: he thinks that the entire book of 1 Chronicles is the product of one author, the Chronicler, with the exception of 1 Chronicles 23–27 and some short passages in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles 1–9 (5:27–41; 6:33–38; 9:26b, 28–33) (p. 5). As such he diverges from the most recent scholarship, and this conception of authorship has implications for his position on the purpose of the book (below). He dates the book to the first half of the fourth century BCE, which is in line with current consensus.
The sections on form and purpose lay out what Dirksen argues throughout the rest of the commentary, namely that 1 Chronicles has the form of a “thematic historiography” with the purpose of arguing that “the temple is the culmination point of God’s saving actions for Israel” (p. 13). The temple is the most important part of Israel’s life and faith and the entire biblical book is dedicated to expounding on its importance. All other aspects of Chronicles are subordinate to this over-arching purpose; Dirksen deals with contradictions or inconsistencies in the book (e.g., the post-Saul genealogies given in 1 Chr 8:34–40 // 9:40–44, and the notice that Saul’s whole house had ended in 1 Chr 10:13–14 [p. 156]) by suggesting that accuracy was subordinate to this theme. The other major themes of the book that he names are subordinated to the over-arching theme. Unlike most commentators, Dirksen does not highlight the Levites as an important theme of the book, because he excises 1 Chronicles 23–27 from the “original” text of the book (above). Dirksen concludes the introduction with a discussion of particular terms important in the book; these are well-known to scholars, but Dirksen’s analyses are thoughtful and useful.
The commentary itself breaks 1 Chronicles into sections: 1–9, 10–12, 13–16, 17, 18–20, 21:1–22:1, 22:2–19, 23–27, 28:1–29:25, and 29:26–30. Generally, the commentary on each section begins with an overall introduction to the section. Then each subsection is introduced by the provision of a “new” translation (a new translation into Dutch then translated into English?), followed by a summary of the main points of the subsection, followed by a detailed verse-by-verse exposition. The general introductions to the sections are very useful in setting the section in its context; the summaries of the subsections lay out Dirksen’s arguments about the purpose of the subsection. The exposition is weighted heavily towards discussion of text-critical and thematic issues: emphasis is placed on Chronicles rather than on a comparison with the source-text(s) or on a discussion of the historical events recounted in Chronicles.
I might note that there is some tension between the desire to deal with the final form of the text, and the actual excision of passages as not “original” to the book. For example, as the book stands today, surely the role of the Levites is a central theme. By excising 1 Chronicles 23–27 as not original, Dirksen has effectively eliminated the Levites from consideration. The Chronicler’s book then becomes a book focused on the Temple, but without a discussion of the Temple personnel. In essence, Dirksen is torn between writing a commentary on 1 Chronicles and writing a commentary on the work of his reconstruction of the Chronicler.
One of the best features of this volume is its pre-2003 bibliography and critical analyses of (particularly) continental European scholarship. Dirksen assumes that the reader has access to Isaac Kalimi’s bibliography (The Books of Chronicles: A Classified Bibliography [Jerusalem: Simor, 1990]), and in many places directs the reader to that volume. However, he offers his own succinct analyses of the arguments of previous scholarship on Chronicles. These summaries are the most useful parts of the book.
The timing of the publication of this volume will not work in its favour. It was published just after Gary N. Knoppers’ magisterial Anchor Bible commentary (I Chronicles 1-9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [New York: Doubleday, 2003]; I Chronicles 10-29: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary [New York: Doubleday, 2003]), just before Ralph W. Klein’s elegant Hermeneia commentary (1 Chronicles: A Commentary [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006]), and at roughly the same time as Steven L. McKenzie’s Abingdon commentary (1-2 Chronicles [Nashville: Abingdon, 2004])–this latter being aimed at the same audience of pastors as well as scholars. The insights and analysis of both Knoppers and Klein did not appear in time to be considered for this volume; McKenzie’s volume is more concise and clear for the pastor or student. There is a little glut of commentaries on 1 Chronicles at the moment, and this volume may not be able to compete. That is unfortunate, because Dirksen’s critical analysis of previous scholarship is sound, and some new exegetical insights are given. Scholars will want to check this volume for those additional insights, but this volume will not replace either Knoppers’ or Klein’s commentaries on their shelves.