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Josiah or Yoshiyahu ( , in English ) (c. 649–609 BC) was a king of Judah (641–609 BC) who instituted major reforms. Josiah is credited by some historians with having established or discovered important Jewish scriptures during the Deuteronomic reform that occurred during his rule.


Josiah was the son of King Amon and Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. His grandfather Manasseh was one of the kings blamed for turning away from the worship of YHWH. Manasseh even adapted the Temple for idolatrous worship. Josiah's great-grandfather was King Hezekiah who was a noted reformer.

Josiah had four sons: Johanan, Eliakim (born c. 634 BC) by Zebidah the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah, Mattanyahu (c. 618 BC) and Shallum (633/632 BC) both by Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah.

Shallum succeeded Josiah as king of Judah, under the name Jehoahaz. Shallum was succeeded by Eliakim, under the name Jehoiakim , who was succeeded by his own son Jeconiah ; then Jeconiah was succeeded to the throne by Mattanyahu, under the name Zedekiah. Zedekiah was the last king of Judah before the kingdom was conquered by Babylonmarker and the people exiled.

Josiah's reign

The genealogy of the kings of Judah, along with the kings of Israel.
Josiah became king of Judah at the age of eight, after the assassination of his father, King Amon, and reigned for thirty-one years, from 641/640 to 610/609 BC.

At the start of Josiah's reign, the international situation was in flux: to the east, the Assyrian Empire was beginning to disintegrate, the Babylonianmarker Empire had not yet risen to replace it, and Egyptmarker to the west was still recovering from Assyrian rule. In this power vacuum, Jerusalemmarker was able to govern itself without foreign intervention.

The chief sources of information for his reign are and . Considerable archaeological evidence exists, including a number of "scroll-style" stamps which date to his reign. ( also discusses Josiah, but is clearly based entirely on the relevant portion of 2 Chronicles.)

Josiah's early reforms

In the eighteenth year of his rule, Josiah orders the High Priest Hilkiah to use the tax monies which had been collected over the years to repair the neglect and damage suffered by the Temple of Solomonmarker during the reigns of Amon and Manasseh. 2 Kings 22

It was during this time that Hilkiah discovers the Book of the Law. While Hilkiah is clearing the treasure room of the Temple he finds a scroll described as "the book of the Law" or as "the book of the law of YHVH by the hand of Moses" . The phrase "the book of the Torah" (ספר התורה) in 2 Kings 22:8 is identical to the phrase used in Joshua 1:8 and 8:34 to describe the sacred writings that Joshua had received from Moses. The book is not identified in the text as the Torah and many scholars believe this was either a copy of the Book of Deuteronomy or a text that became a part of Deuteronomy as we have it per De Wette's suggestion in 1805.

Hilkiah brings this scroll to Josiah's attention, and the king orders it read to a crowd in Jerusalem. He is praised for this piety by the prophetess Huldah, who made the prophecy that all involved would die without having to see God's judgment on Judah for the sins they had committed in prior generations. ;

Josiah encourages the exclusive worship of Yahweh and outlaws all other forms of worship. 2 Kings 23 Josiah destroys the living quarters for male prostitutes, which were in the Temple, and also destroys foreign pagan objects related to the worship of Baal, Ashterah (or Asherah), "and all the hosts of the heavens". Josiah has living pagan priests executed and even has the bones of dead pagan priests exhumed from their graves and burned on their altars, which was viewed as an extreme act of desecration against the pagan deities by their adherents. ( ) Josiah even destroys altars and images of pagan deities in cities of the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, "and Simeon, as far as Naphtali" ( ), which were outside of his kingdom, Judah. According to an unnamed "man of God" had prophesied to King Jeroboam of Israel, approximately three hundred years earlier, that "a son named Josiah will be born to the house of David" and that he would destroy the altar at Bethel. And the only exception to this destruction was for the grave of an unnamed prophet he found in Bethel ( ), who had foretold that these religious sites Jeroboam erected would one day be destroyed (see ).

Josiah also reinstitutes the Passover celebrations and returns the Ark of the Covenant to the Templemarker. This is the last historical record of this central Jewish artifact. (see List of Artifacts Significant to the Bible)

Josiah's Death and Pharoah Necho II

In the spring of 609 BC, Pharaoh Necho II personally leads a sizable army up to the Euphrates River to aid the Assyrians.[65757][65758] At the head of a large army, consisting mainly of his mercenaries, Necho takes the coast route Via Maris into Syriamarker, supported by his Mediterranean fleet along the shore, and proceeds through the low tracts of Philistia and Sharon. He prepares to cross the ridge of hills which shuts in on the south the great Jezreel Valleymarker, but here he finds his passage blocked by the Judean army led by Josiah, who may see weakness in the Assyrians and Egyptians with the death of the pharoah Psamtik I only a year earlier (610 BC), who had been appointed and confirmed by Assyrian kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal.[65759] Josiah attempts to block the advance at Megiddomarker, where the fierce battle is fought and Josiah is killed ( , ). Necho then joins forces with Ashur-uballit and together they crossed the Euphrates and lay siege to Harran, which they fail to capture, and then Necho II retreats back to northern Syriamarker.

The date of Josiah's death can fairly well be established. The Assyrians and their allies the Egyptians fight the Babylonians at Harranmarker, which the Babylonian Chronicle dates from Tammuz (July-August) to Elul (August-September) of 609 BC. Josiah was therefore killed in the month of Tammuz, 609 BC, when the Egyptians were on their way to Harran.

There are two accounts of Josiah's death in the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament. The Book of Kings merely states that Necho II met Josiah at Megiddomarker and killed him ( ). The Book of gives a lengthier account and states that King Josiah was fatally wounded by Egyptian archers and was brought back to Jerusalem to die. His death was a result of "not listen[ing] to what Necho had said at God's command..." when Necho stated:

"What quarrel is there between you and me, O king of Judah?
It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war.
God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you."

Josiah did not heed this warning and by both accounts his death was caused by meeting Necho at Megiddo. Jeremiah wrote a lament for Josiah's passing, which is stated in .

Political situation at Josiah's death

Leaving a sizeable force behind, Necho returned to Egypt. On his return march, he found that the Judeans had selected Jehoahaz to succeed his father Josiah, whom Necho deposed and replaced with Jehoiakim. He brought Jehoahaz back to Egypt as his prisoner, where Jehoahaz ended his days ( ; ).

Necho had left Egypt in 609 BC for two reasons: one was to relieve the Babylonian siege of Harranmarker, and the other was to help the king of Assyria, who was defeated by the Babylonians at Carchemishmarker. Josiah's actions suggest that he was aiding the Babylonians by engaging the Egyptian army.


Subsequent kings undid many of Josiah's reforms and re-instituted polytheistic religion . Judah was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians and the people were sent into exile.

Modern critics of the Biblical text

The Biblical text states that the priest Hilkiah found a scroll called "the Book of the Torah" in the temple during the early stages of Josiah's temple renovation, possibly in a type of Genizah. Some modern critics maintain that this book was probably the Book of Deuteronomy or part of it. However, the text itself does not say it was "a book of the Torah" or "a book of law (Torah);" it was, according to the rules of Hebrew syntax, "the" book of "the" Torah (ספר התורה), the same phrase used in the book of Joshua (1:8, 8:34) for the Torah that Joshua received from Moses, as explained above. Hilkiah then gave the scroll to his secretary Shaphan who took it to king Josiah.

Books found in temple walls

In the ancient Near East it was commonplace for religious scrolls to be deposited in temple walls when they were constructed (Hertz 1936), and according to the Swiss Egyptologist Édouard Naville, this was the custom amongst the Jews at the time of Solomon.

It would have been more unusual if such scrolls were not found during the renovation of a temple building, and Naville recounts a similar find recounted in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It is interesting to note in this respect that the specific text cited by Naville is one of many which are attributed to famous figures of the past, typically sons of a Pharaoh, and which are all known to have been written at a much later date.

Speculations regarding forgery

Some modern critics speculate that the book was a forged by the priests in order to centralize power under Josiah. Other scholars such as W.R. Smith, Rudolf Kittel, Dillman and Driver disagree, arguing that priestly forgery of the Deuteronomic text was unlikely, as the text itself placed restrictions on the privileges of the priestly class, who were a thorn in the side of King Josiah.

Scholars who do not believe that these laws were a revelation of God to Moses assume that Deuteronomy was forged by Josiah's priests, and that the core narrative from Joshua to 2 Kings up to Josiah's reign comprise a "Deuteronomistic History" (DtrH) written during Josiah's reign. This history compiled the hypothesized "J", "E", and "D" narratives, all already textual at this point, of which the J narrative at this time would have extended into the history of David's court; the DtrH further attempted to portray narratives as history of the times of Joshua and the Judges. The hypothetical DtrH is distinguished from the surviving Biblical books in that it omits the priestly "P" narrative. This viewpoint maintains that the DtrH portrayed King Josiah as the ideal ruler as Deuteronomy had defined it, and thus as the rightful ruler of Judah. (This interpretation is often confused with the position of "Biblical Minimalism", which denies that David and Solomon ruled a united kingdom; but Baruch Halpern has noted that DtrH must still be treated as a history, and as largely accurate at least for the reign of Josiah.) See Dating the Bible and The Bible and history. Such claims are detailed in Who Were the Early Israelites? by William G. Dever (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI, 2003). Another such book is The Bible Unearthed by Neil A. Silberman and Israel Finkelstein (Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001).

Chronological notes

As was mentioned above, Josiah's death at the hands of Pharaoh Necho II occurred in Tammuz (the summer) of 609 BC. By Judean reckoning that began regnal years in the fall month of Tishri, this would be in the year 610/609 BC, or, more simply, 610 BC. Josiah's first year, 31 years earlier, was 641/640 BC.

After the Book of the Torah was found in the Temple, Josiah had the Book read to all the people (2 Kings 23:1-2). This is of chronological interest because such a reading of the Law to all who could understand was an activity commanded for a Sabbatical year in Deuteronomy 31:10. That Josiah's 18th year, when the Torah was found and read to the people, was a Sabbatical year can be deduced from the various arguments that establish that a Jubilee year began when Ezekiel saw the vision occupying the last nine chapters of his book. In Ezekiel 40:1, the vision is dated to Rosh Hashanah on the tenth of the month, and it was only in a Jubilee year that Rosh Hashanah (New Year's Day) was celebrated on the 10th of Tishri (Leviticus 25:9; for further explanation, see the Jubilee article). Ezekiel's vision was on the Day of Atonement, 574 BC, beginning the Jubilee year 574/573. Josiah's reading of the Law was 49 years, or seven Sabbatical years earlier, and so this would have been a Sabbatical year also, following the evidence presented by Jean-François Lefebvre and others that the Jubilee was identical to the seventh Sabbatical year. When the Torah was found, it would have been too late to read it to the people at the Feast of Tabernacles at the start of the year, as was specified in Leviticus 25:9, but at least Josiah did the next best thing and called a special convocation for its reading.

That Josiah's 18th year was a Sabbatical year might be of only passing interest if it were not part of a larger pattern that has relevance to the question of whether the book found in the Temple really was an ancient copy of the Law, or was a fraud as maintained by De Wette, Wellhausen, and many others, as stated above. The first part of this pattern that could be mentioned is that the Sabbatical year that followed Sennacherib's invasion in the days of Hezekiah was an even number of Sabbatical cycles before Josiah's 18th year. Sennacherib's invasion is dated by most historians to 701 BC, so that the "second year" in which the people were not to sow or reap (Isaiah 37:30, 2 Kings 19:29), even though the Assyrians were gone in that year, would be 700/699 BC, which was 77 years, or 11 Sabbatical cycles before Josiah's 18th year, 623/622 BC. (The first year of Isaiah's prophecy could not have been a Sabbatical year because the people were to eat the saphiah in that year, and Leviticus 25:5 forbade the harvesting of saphiah in a Sabbatical year.) One other evidence of the pre-exilic observance of the commands related to a Sabbatical year is in 2 Chronicles 17:7-9, where Jehoshaphat had the Law read to all the people in his third year. According to the chronology accepted here, the year was 868/867 BC, 245 years or 35 Sabbatical cycles before Josiah's 18th year.

The Seder Olam and the Talmud state that Ezekiel's Jubilee was the 17th Jubilee, and both state that Josiah's 18th year was also a Jubilee. This might be expected since Josiah's 18th year was seven Sabbatical cycles, or one Jubilee cycle, before Ezekiel's Jubilee. Rodger Young argues that these two Jubilees must have been a matter of historical remembrance, not rabbinical back-calculation, because the known chronological methods of the Seder Olam and the Talmud were incapable of measuring correctly the 49 years between Josiah's 18th year and Ezekiel's 25th year of captivity, much less being able to calculate back the 17 cycles to get correctly when the Jubilee/Sabbatical counting would have started. Neither could editors or inventors in the days of Josiah and later have manufactured the relevant texts and gotten all the years right. Measuring back 17 Jubilee cycles from the Jubilee in 574/573 gives 1406 BC as the year in which counting started, identical to the year of entry into Canaan that can be calculated from a literal reading of 1 Kings 6:1 and Edwin Thiele's widely-accepted date of 931/930 BC for the year of the division of the kingdom after the death of Solomon. Young maintains that this is evidence that the counting of Sabbatical and Jubilee years was retained by the priests all the time that Israel was in its land, even though their stipulations were not observed faithfully, and therefore the Mosaic legislation that instituted these laws, Leviticus 25 through 27, was in existence in 1406 BC. Leviticus 25-27 is assigned to the "P" (or H within P) code according to those who accept the DtrH hypothesis, and it is also maintained that the P sections were written after the Deuternomist sections, explaining why it was said above that what was found by Hilkiah in the Temple did not contain any P texts. If the DtrH hypothesis that P was written after the rest of the Torah is true, then the rest of the Torah must also have been in existence in 1406 BC, contrary to theories of late-date composition of these texts. Young makes the following conclusion that is relevant to the question of what Hilkiah found in the Temple and Josiah read to the people:
It is difficult to imagine how this remarkable agreement for the year of the Exodus as derived by two independent means of calculation can be explained by theories that place Israel’s entry into Canaan at any time other than 1406 BC, or that deny that Israel, at that time, had in its possession the legislation of the Book of Leviticus that established the Sabbatical and Jubilee cycles.
Thus the Talmud’s two Jubilees are compatible with a careful exegesis of Ezek 40:1, and dates that can be calculated for these two Jubilees provide a verification that the 480 years of 1 Kgs 6:1 and the date of the Exodus that can be determined from this number are historically authentic figures.
The elegance of the system of Sabbatical and Jubilee cycles in providing a long-term calendar for Israel and thereby supplying this verification should be manifest to anyone except to those who have a fixed commitment to the subjective source-analyses of the higher critical schools, since such theorizings start from the a priori presupposition that the Book of Leviticus could not have been written as early as 1406 BC.

See also


  1. entry "Josiah"
  2. , , ,
  3. ,
  4. , ,
  5. Edwin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (3rd ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Kregel, 1983) 217.
  6. ( )
  7. ( )
  8. (
  9. )
  10. , ,
  11. )
  12. Thiele, Mysterious Numbers 182, 184-185.
  13. In construct chains, if one noun is definite they are all definite. See Gary D. Pratico and Miles V. Van Pelt, Basics of Biblical Hebrew (1st ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001) 98.
  14. D. J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldean Kings (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1956) 94-95.
  15. Jean-François Lefebvre, Le Jubilé Biblique: Lv 25—Exégèse et Théologie (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003) 154-166.
  16. Seder Olam chapter 11; Babylonian Talmud, Arakin 12b.
  17. Seder Olam chapter 24; Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 14b.
  18. Rodger C. Young, "The Talmud's Two Jubilees and their Relevance to the Date of the Exodus," Westminster Theological Journal 68 (2006) 77.[1]
  19. Ibid., 80-81.
  20. Ibid., 82-83.

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