Q. I was reading in Chronicles today and it references “the records of Samuel the seer,” “the records of Nathan the prophet,” and “the records of Gad the seer.” Are these books in evidence in the historical record anywhere? And what is a “seer,” from a biblical perspective?
There are no surviving copies of the actual books listed there in Chronicles. Nor do we have copies of other books mentioned as sources in the Bible, for example, “the book of Jashar” that is referenced in Joshua and Samuel-Kings. It’s clear, however, that these books once were available to the believing community and that they were among the sources that went into writing the long history of the monarchy in Samuel-Kings as well as the parallel history you’re reading now in Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah.
While we don’t have these books, the references to them within the Bible do show that the biblical authors used available written sources as they composed their own works. (To give another example, Luke explains in the dedication to his gospel that he has examined the “accounts” that others have undertaken to “draw up” about the life of Jesus and the early growth of the community of his followers.)
In other words, the biblical books didn’t just drop fully formed out of heaven. They are in many cases the product of the same kind of research that goes into scholarly historical works today. The statement you’re asking about, in fact, is the ancient equivalent of a footnote, acknowledging the sources that were used for a certain part of the history and referring readers to them for further information.
As for the meaning of the term “seer,” it is an older term that, as the narrative in Samuel-Kings explains, means the same thing as “prophet”: “Formerly in Israel, if someone went to inquire of God, they would say, ‘Come, let us go to the seer,’ because the prophet of today used to be called a seer.” So the titles in Chronicles actually mean, for example, ”the records of Samuel the prophet,” etc. The use of the archaic term “seer,” which has to be explained to later readers, suggests that the source books themselves are significantly older than the final products–more evidence that biblical books like these are the result of careful historical research. Here we see the human side of the Bible’s composition.