Scholars know it, but most lay people don’t. The first two and a half verses of the Book of Ezra (Ezra 1:1–3a) are identical to the last two verses of the second Book of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 36:22–23).
These repeated verses at the end of Chronicles are called “catch-lines.” In ancient times, catch-lines were often placed at the end of a scroll to facilitate the reader’s passing on to the correct second book-scroll after completing the first. This scribal device was employed in works that exceeded the scope of a single scroll and had to be continued on another scroll.
In Mesopotamia, where writing was on clay tablets rather than scrolls, when a work extended over several tablets, the scribe meticulously inserted catch-lines at the ends of the completed tablet that would lead the reader to the next tablet.
The catch-lines that connect Chronicles with Ezra are decisive evidence of the compositional connection between the two works. It is generally recognized among scholars that the two books of Chronicles (originally, one, uninterrupted book) and the Book of Ezra/Nehemiah are the work of a single author, who is often referred to as the Chronicler.a The four (actually two) books together are sometimes called the Chronistic Work.
The case for this unity of authorship is easily buttoned up by the catch-lines. It is hardly conceivable that two entirely independent works would be connected with one another by an exact repetition of a passage, one that creates a direct continuity between the two. The overall unity of the Chronistic Work is also demonstrated by a common ideology, the uniformity of legal, cultic and historical conceptions and specific style, all of which reflect one opus. If these marked features were not enough, then mention may also be made of the direct continuity between the two parts, with the second (Ezra/Nehemiah) being an immediate sequel to the first (Chronicles).
The Chronistic Work is a retelling of the history of the world beginning with Adam and extending to the return of the exiles from Babylonia and the rebuilding of Jerusalem, following its destruction in 586 B.C. The two books of Chronicles end with the proclamation of Cyrus, king of Persia, allowing the exiled Jews to return. The Book of Ezra begins at this point and, together with the Book of Nehemiah, tells the story of the return and rebuilding.
The Chronistic Work is preceded in the Bible by an earlier telling. The Pentateuch (the five books of 019Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers) tells the story from the beginning of the world to the death of Moses in sight of the Promised Land. Then the so-called Deuteronomic Historian, or the Deuteronomic, tells the story of Israel’s subsequent history. The Deuteronomic history consists of six books—Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings.b The Deuteronomic history ends with Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 B.C. by Babylon, the captivity of King Jehoiachin of Judah and his subsequent release from prison 37 years later. It is called the Deuteronomic history because of its adherence to the concepts, historiographic viewpoints and legal precepts of the Book of Deuteronomy.
The Bible includes three compositions that were too long to be contained in a single scroll. These are the Pentateuch, the Deuteronomic history, and the Chronicler’s work, encompassing the two books of 1 and 2 Chronicles and Ezra/Nehemiah.
When these three works first appeared and for a considerable time afterwards, there was no possibility of containing such long compositions on single scrolls. Much time was to pass until, in the first centuries of the Christian Era, the process of producing leather or parchment became sufficiently refined to enable the preparation of scrolls long enough to contain such works. Indeed, only in the talmudic literature, in the third and fourth centuries A.D., do we first hear of the possibility of encompassing the entire Pentateuch, or all the prophetic books (both the Former Prophets and the Latter Prophetsc), or the entire Hagiographa,d in one big roll.
The division of the Pentateuch into five books is not merely mechanical, however. The division reflects thematic significance, so that each book concludes a discrete narrative cycle from the point of view of contents and subject matter. This is also true of the Deuteronomic history from Joshua through Kings. As a result, each of these books could be and was placed on a single scroll, without ending with catch-lines to indicate the next scroll.
Indeed, the small extent of the books of Joshua and Judges in relation to the much greater length of Samuel and Kings can be explained only by the assumption that beyond the technical necessity of dividing the whole composition into several books, 020there was an intention to delimit the books in accordance with a theological discernment of special periods in ancient Israelite history.
Thus, the books of the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomic history (Joshua, Judges, Kings and Samuel) are parts of two large cyclical compositions, while at the same time also constituting self-contained units.
That is not true of the Chronistic Work which includes the two books of Chronicles and Ezra/ Nehemiah. Here we have one continuing composition not easily divided; and the technical necessity of continuing onto a second scroll is quite conspicuous, since the first part of this work (the Book of Chronicles) most probably reached the maximum possible length of a scroll.
In any case, catch-lines are used in the Bible only between the end of Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra.
Scholars have long debated whether these catch-lines really go with the end of Chronicles or the beginning of Ezra. Some claim that their proper place is at the beginning of the Book of Ezra; it was from there, they say, that they were copied at the end of Chronicles. Others say, on the contrary, that the correct place is at the end of Chronicles.
The debate has been somewhat fruitless, however, because of the scholars’ failure to appreciate that the repeated passage does not fit entirely comfortably in either book alone.
Let us look at the repeated passage more closely:
“In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, when the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah was fulfilled, the Lord roused the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his realm by word of mouth and in writing as follows:
“ ‘Thus said King Cyrus of Persia: “The Lord God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has charged me with building Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone of you of all His people—may the Lord His God be with him and let him go up’ ” (2 Chronicles 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–3a).
Just before this, in the last chapter of Chronicles, we are told that the Judeans who survived the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem were exiled until the rise of the Persian kingdom—specifically in fulfillment of the prophecy of Jeremiah. So the reference in the repeated passage to the fulfillment of “the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah” makes sense here. At the beginning of Ezra (if we assume it to be a separate work), however, it is practically meaningless and must be explained from somewhere else.
On the other hand, it is also clear that the two verses at the end of Chronicles are cut off in the middle of things. The sentence is not even brought to its end: “The lord his God (be) with him and let him go up.” Only in Ezra 1:3 is it possible to read the continuation of this sentence: “may his God be with him and let him go up to Jerusalem that is in Judah and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, the God that is in Jerusalem.” Likewise, only in Ezra 1:4 do we find the second half of Cyrus’s edict (“and all who stay behind [in Babylon]…let the people of his place assist him with silver, gold, goods,” etc.) which is not referred to at the end of Chronicles at all.
Turning again to Ezra, however, we cannot understand the subsequent events related there without being told of Cyrus’s edict permitting the Jews to return to their ancient homeland. Indeed, the subsequent account in Ezra loses its meaning without a reference to Cyrus’s edict because the continuation of the narrative results from that edict and even resounds with its language. Thus we read in Ezra 1:5–6:
“Then the heads of families…prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem, and all their neighbors supported them with silver vessels and gold and goods…”
Consequently, the elimination of Cyrus’s edict from the beginning of the Book of Ezra would entail the necessity of skipping the whole of chapter 1. It is therefore unthinkable that the opening verses of Ezra were originally only part of Chronicles.
The answer is neither that the repeated verses belong only at the end of Chronicles nor only at the beginning of Ezra. The division here is caused by the limits of the size of the scroll. We have here an uninterrupted textual continuity of one work, extending from book to book—that is, from scroll to scroll.
The two catch-verses at the end of the Book of Chronicles open up something new, the appearance of Cyrus (entirely unmentioned in the preceding verses) and the edict he issued “throughout his kingdom.” The whole story is reported, however, only in the first chapter of Ezra. The catch-lines appearing at the end of Chronicles and anticipating the beginning of the Book of Ezra/Nehemiah attest to the fact that this is indeed the end of a scroll.
We can thus conclude that the length of Chronicles was the maximum possible size of a book scroll of the time, and this was the reason for inscribing the remaining part of the work on another scroll.
Naturally, those who made the division also tried to make it relate to the content and its thematic cycle. Yet, it was technical necessity that, in this case, determined where the break came.
Scholars know it, but most lay people don’t. The first two and a half verses of the Book of Ezra (Ezra 1:1–3a) are identical to the last two verses of the second Book of Chronicles (2 Chronicles 36:22–23). These repeated verses at the end of Chronicles are called “catch-lines.” In ancient times, catch-lines were often placed at the end of a scroll to facilitate the reader’s passing on to the correct second book-scroll after completing the first. This scribal device was employed in works that exceeded the scope of a single scroll and had to be continued on another […]
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Originally, Ezra and Nehemiah were considered one book entitled “Ezra.” They still appear as such in the Masorah and among the first medieval exegetes. The division into two is first reflected in the Greek Septuagint and in the Latin translations, although in the Septuagint’s Alexandrian version and the Peshitta the division is not yet found.
Samuel and Kings (as well as Chronicles) were first divided into two books in the Greek translation of the Bible known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint dates to the third century B.C., and was made in Egypt where it was copied on papyrus scrolls. At that time, papyrus scrolls could not be practically made as long as parchment or leather scrolls that were used in Judea. Hence, in the Septuagint, Samuel and Kings (as well as Chronicles) were each divided into two parts, designated first and second.
In Jewish tradition, the second division of the Bible falls into two parts. The Former Prophets includes what modern scholars call the Deuteronomic history; the Latter Prophets refers to the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 minor prophets.
The Hagiographa is the third section of the Hebrew Bible, the so-called Writings.