2 Chronicles 34-35: Josiah the Reformer

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The story of King Josiah here is basically in agreement with 2 Kgs 22-23, at least as far as the macro structure is concerned. But, as usual, there are quite a few important deviations.

In the last chapter, King Amon was assassinated by his own subjects. If it had been an attempted coup on the dynasty, the conspiracy failed and Amon was avenged. Personally, though, I like to imagine that Amon (like Manasseh before him) was a challenge to the authority of the priests, diluting their control over the nation by allowing (and perhaps even encouraging) other faiths and forms of worship. In my headcanon, the priests orchestrated the assassination of Amon, then scapegoated the individual assassins and installed Amon’s son – an eight year old child they could keep under their direct influence for several years, at least – on the throne.

I’m finding some evidence for my little conspiracy theory in the first big deviation from the Kings account. See, in Kings, Josiah is just going about his business, ruling the country, until the 18th year od his reign when the priest Hilkiah happens to find the Book of the Law somewhere in a Temple cellar. When it is read to Josiah, he has a conversation experience and gets to work trying to purify the nation.

This order of events is just a little too perfect, and hints at revisionism and propaganda. Biblical scholars tend to assume that either Hilkiah or Josiah wrote (or commissioned) the Book the Law, and that the finding of an ancient text was merely to give it a sense of added authority.

Once we allow for this, the conversion narrative no longer makes much sense. Rather, we should see a pattern of reform leading up to the finding of the book (people rarely change their entire outlook through epiphanies, no matter how satisfying that narrative may be in conversion stories).

Here, however, we see Josiah hit the ground running. He is already seeking God in the 8th year of his reign (when he was 16, so perhaps the relevance here is that he began to seek God independently, as an adult – or near enough – with personal agency). A mere four years later, he begins a religious purging of Judah and Jerusalem.

Despite occurring several years earlier, the Chronicler’s account of the purge is similar to Kings. It’s the usual fare of removing high places, cutting down Asherim, and destroying graven and molten images – which he is said to have personally overseen.

In 2 Kgs 23:20, Josiah has the priests serving at these high places slaughtered over their altars, defiling the shrines. The Chronicler doesn’t mention this slaughter, but keeps the detail of turning the shrines and images into dust and sprinkling the dust over the graves of the people who had sacrificed to them – a difficult feat unless those people are dead, though the Chronicler does not credit Josiah with their deaths. In any case, sprinkling the ashes onto graves is another example of religious defilement.

The New Bible Commentary gives us an extra possible reason to believe the Chronicler’s order of events: “The main reason for the gradual introduction of the reformation was that it was political as well as religious. In Josiah’s 8th year (632 BC) Ashurbanipal, the last great king of Assyria had just died. Failure to worship the Assyrian gods, and even more the removal of their symbols and altars from the Temple, would be regarded as a sign of rebellion. Josiah and his advisers evidently decided that they must act slowly to find out the repercussions” (p.393).

In other words, it may be that tearing down the altars that had been set up during vassalage to Assyria was an attempt at establishing independence.

There also seems to have been an expansionist (or revivalist) side to Josiah’s reforms. While not stated outright as an attempted conquest, we read that Josiah went out to the “ruins” (2 Chron. 34:6) of the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, and even as far as Naphtali, destroying their altars and Asherim as well. While cast in religious terms, this seems like it could indicate a failed conquest attempt to re-establish what might have been seen as Israelites “traditional” borders.

Jeroboam’s shrine, which Josiah destroys in 2 Kgs 23:15, is never mentioned here. Presumably because the Chronicler just doesn’t see it as relevant as anything other than yet another idolatrous shrine, whereas the author of Kings seems to have been very concerned about its existence.

Temple Maintenance

By the 18th year of his reign, Josiah had succeeded in purging the territory under his control. After that, he set his sights on making repairs to the temple.

To accomplish this, he sent Shaphan son of Azaliah (the secretary), Maaseiah (the governor of Jerusalem), and Joah son of Joahaz (the recorder) to oversee the repairs. They approach the high priest, Hilkiah, and give him the money that had been collected for the Temple from Manasseh, Ephraim, all the remnants of Israel, Judah, Benjamin, and Jerusalem.

In 2 Kgs 22:3, only Shaphan is sent to Hilkiah, and the northern territories are not mentioned. Bringing them up here may be more historically accurate, if we assume that Josiah had, in fact, been leading a military/religious campaign in the northern territories. There may have been spoils even if he was unable to hold the lands. Another possibility is that this detail was included by the Chronicler as a sort of invitation to the northern territories, a message that it isn’t too late to cease being “in rebellion” against the true nation of Israel (2 Chron. 10:18).

The funds are delivered to the workmen in charge of repairing the house. In 2 Kings 22:7, Josiah instructs the officials not to do any accounting of the money given to the workmen because they are just so gosh darn honest. The Chronicler omits this detail, but does tell us that the workmen worked “faithfully” (2 Chron. 34:12). Either way, it seems that these contractors had excellent reputation. (I’m sure there’s a “my my, how things have changed” joke to be made, but that seems too easy.)

The workmen were under the oversight of Jahath and Obadiah, who were Levites. Meanwhile, all the musically-inclined Levites were in charge of overseeing the burden bearers. Others acted as scribes, officials, and gatekeepers.

The Book of Law

In Kings, the circumstances of finding the Book aren’t really explained. He just sort of casually brings up that, oh, by the way, he’s found this ancient book written by Moses. Here, however, the narrative is much more fluid – interesting, given that the finding of the Book seems to have been so much more narratively important and pivotal for the author of Kings, and yet…

According to the Chronicler, the Book was found in a storeroom as they were bringing out the money for the Temple repairs.

Of course, we don’t actually know what the Book is. We are told that it was written by Moses, suggesting that it may have been something from the Pentateuch. Given clues from Kings, the Book is often understood to have been a proto form of our book of Deuteronomy (and some commentaries go so far as to narrow it down to an early form of Deut. 12-16).

Conveniently, neither Kings nor Chronicles gives us any more information about it, such as when it was supposed to have been lost. Some commentaries argue that it may have been hidden away by the priests during Manasseh’s purges in 2 Kgs 21:16.

More likely, however, I think that the Book was commissioned or composed by either Josiah or Hilkiah (or both), as both would have had plenty of reason to do so. If the Book really is an early form of Deuteronomy, then the emphasis on the Jerusalem cult and the Temple may have been an attempt to hold on to power in rocky times. Given that Josiah’s predecessor was assassinated, we know that there must have been some amount of instability. And binding the worship of YHWH to the Temple would certainly have served the Temple priesthood (under Hilkiah’s authority) quite well.

But back to the story, both versions have Hilkiah tell Shaphan about the Book, and it is Shaphan who brings it to Josiah while making his report on the Temple’s repairs.

When Shaphan reads the Book out to Josiah, Josiah tears his clothes in grief and fear that God’s commands haven’t been followed. But just in case there’s been a mistake, he sends Hilkiah, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Abdon son of Micah (who is called Achbor son of Micaiah in 2 Kgs 22:12), Shaphan, and Asaiah the king’s servant to consult with God.

Hilkiah & co. go to Huldah the prophetess, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath son of Hasrah (called Shallum son of Tikvah son of Harhas in 2 Kds 22:14), the keeper of the wardrobe.

For reasons that should be obvious, Huldah is an important figure for feminist scholars. Like Deborah and Miriam, she is a woman who was seen to have the authority to speak with God and on his behalf. Unfortunately, her prophecy also happens to be wrong.

Huldah tells Josiah’s servants that yes, God is really angry that Judah hasn’t been following his laws, and yes, he does intended to destroy them all. However, because Josiah has repented (which he has only done because he happened to have found the Book, which hardly seems fair to the rest of the nation), he will go to his grave in peace and won’t have to witness the coming evil.

Which, if we want to be really generous, can technically be considered correct, as he will die at the hands of the Egyptians, not the coming evil of Babylon. Also, since Josiah will be joining a battle between two other nations, neither of whom are at war directly with Judah, we can also argue that he will technically be going to his grave in a time of peace, even if he does so because of a fatal battle wound.

Josiah gathers up the leadership of Judah and assembles the congregation at the Temple. In the list of people gathered, 2 Chron. 34:30 replaces the “prophets” from 2 Kgs 23:2 with “Levites”. It’s an interesting choice. I could see him adding Levites, since he adds Levites all over the place, but why remove the prophets?

Two verses later, in 2 Chron. 34:32, he writes that Josiah makes “all who were present in Jerusalem and in Benjamin stand to [the book].” Why mention Benjamin specifically, but not Judah? It’s an odd detail.

In any case, once the people are assembled, Josiah reads the Book out to them and makes a renewed covenant.

On the importance of the Book of Law, Collins writes:

The long-term effects of the reform were more profound than anyone could have anticipated in 621 B.C.E. Less than a generation later, Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed and the leading citizens were taken into exile in Babylon. The exiles in Babylon had to live without their temple, but they had “the book of the law,” which acquired new importance in this setting. Henceforth, Judaism would be to a great degree a religion of the book. Study of the law would take the place of sacrifice. The synagogue would gradually emerge as the place of worship, first for Jews outside the land of Israel, later even within Israel itself. These changes took place gradually, over centuries, but they had their origin in the Deuteronomic reform, which put a book at the center of religious observance for the first time. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.91)

Josiah’s Passover

In Kings, Josiah’s Passover is a really big deal. Here, however, it comes only a few short chapters after an extraordinarily similar Passover hosted under Hezekiah, and the effect is rather diluted.

Iosias sepultus in mausoleum patrum, by Salvador Dali, 1967

Iosias sepultus in mausoleum patrum, by Salvador Dali, 1967

In both accounts, we are told that “no passover like it had been kept in Israel since the days of Samuel the prophet; none of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as was kept by Josiah” (2 Chron. 35:18, with a very similar passage in 2 Kgs 23:22-23). This is, of course, a problem because of Hezekiah, so why did the Chronicler keep the statement unmodified?

James Bradford Pate allows the possibility that it could have been an error, a careless copying of Kings, but points out the fact that the verse is not copied word-for-word (Kings says that a Passover of this kind had not been seen since the times of the judges, rather than the days of Samuel). It’s had to see what the Chronicler’s point was. 

I’ve seen some commentaries claim that Josiah may have invented the Passover as part of his reforms. Personally, I find that unlikely. It seems more probably that it was a local ceremony that Josiah brought to the national stage.

Tremendous quantities of lambs and bulls are slaughtered for the ceremony. Interestingly, they seem to have been offered as gifts, with Josiah giving the sacrificial animals to the common people, the princes giving them to the people and to the priests and Levites, the head honchoes of the Temple (Hilkiah, Zechariah, and Jehiel) giving them to the priests, and the Levite leadership giving them to the Levites. It’s unclear whether anyone had to bring sacrifices of their own to this “first” Passover, but it seems unlikely given the numbers involved.

Interestingly, though the Passover is so important to Kings, the author skips over it fairly quickly – giving us the whole account in 2 Kgs 23:21-23. Here, however, the Chronicler expands the narrative to describe the celebration itself, perhaps providing a model for the ceremony’s reinstatement in his own time.

The Chronicler describes the mass-splashings of blood, the flaying of carcases, and of course all priests and Levites stand around according to their divisions, as they always seem to be doing in Chronicles.

The Levites cook up the animals and distribute them out to the people. They also cook for themselves and for the priests, who were too busy slaughtering to cook for themselves.

Asking the important questions, Brant Clements wonders whether the Passover lambs were roasted or boiled: “The translations mostly say “roasted” though the Hebrew literally says “boiled with fire.” Exodus 12:8-9 said the lamb should be roasted. Deuteronomy 16:7 said boil it.” He recommends grilled and served with mint jelly, and I can’t help but agree.

When the Passover was over, they celebrated the feast of the unleaven bread for seven days.

During this time, Josiah told the Levites who were teaching around Israel and who had remained holy to God to return to the Temple (an offer they refuse in 2 Kgs 23:9). He also instructs them to return the ark to the Temple – a detail omitted by Kings. Josiah tells them that they needed carry the ark on their shoulders any more, so they can make themselves useful around the Temple.

And if you’re wondering why the ark wasn’t already in the Temple in the first place, so am I! Was it taken into hiding during Manasseh’s religious purge? The New Bible Commentary likes the idea that it might have been removed from the Temple temporarily for repairs (p.393), though I don’t see how that can be taken from the text. It also proposes that the text should read: “From the time that they placed the holy ark in the house which Solomon… [sic] built, you have had nothing to carry on your shoulders, so now serve the Lord your God and his people Israel” – which would no longer indicate that the ark was not in the Temple, but merely allude to how useless the Levites have been since they had charge of it.

My thinking is that the reference to the ark here may be an error, confusing it with the tabernacle that was left with Zadok at Gibeon in 1 Chron. 16:39-40. It could also be something entirely separate, another tribal ark that was in use in a local cult that Josiah was trying to consolidate with the national religion.

Fighting Egyptians

King Neco of Egypt – who is likely Neco II and for some reason not referred to as Pharaoh as he is in 2 Kgs 23 – went to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates. According to Wikipedia, the Egyptians were fighting against the Babylonians, in aid of their allies, the Assyrians. This may be significant if the New Bible Commentary‘s assertion that Josiah’s religious reforms may have been an opportunistic expression of independence from Assyrian control. It would certainly give us Josiah’s motive for getting involved.

According to my study Bible, Assyria had mostly fallen to Medes and Chaldea, and everyone in the area seemed to be taking advantage of its weakness. Certainly, the Assyria Wikipedia page describes something that might properly be called a ‘pile on’.

In 2 Kgs 23, he merely rushes in and his killed. The Chronicler, however, has Neco send Josiah an envoy, asking him why he is coming to fight when the conflict is none of his business. The Chronicler goes even further, having Neco say: “God has commanded me to make haste. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you” (2 Chron. 35:21).

So that’s a pretty big bomb to drop – why is God with the Egyptians? Why is God sending the Egyptians out to fight Babylonians? Why does Josiah go anyway, disguising himself to do so? Why did he “not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God” (2 Chron. 35:22)?

One possibility requires us to look ahead a bit, as the Babylonians will be the ones who destroy the Temple and take the Israelites into exile. Are we to infer, then, that God was sending Egypt up to hold the Babylonian’s back, to weaken them and prevent them from becoming the superpower they would soon become, in an attempt to spare Jerusalem? But then Josiah interfered and ruined the plan?

Or could it be as simple as the Chronicler trying to bend history into his ideology? The Chronicler has been clear throughout that obedience earns reward and disobedience earns punishment. This is never more clear than when it comes to battles, where Judah’s enemies are beaten by supernatural means, despite overwhelming numbers, again and again. To have Josiah simply fall in battle is too problematic, it doesn’t fit, therefore he must have done something for God not to be on his side. He had to disobey God in the end.

And for that, he was struck by archers and fatally wounded. His servants took him from his chariot and brought him to Jerusalem. The implication of 2 Chron. 35:23-24 is that he then died in Jerusalem, though 2 Kgs 23:29-30 seems to imply that it was his corpse that was brought home. That’s a fairly trivial detail, though, and both passages are rather open to interpretation.

When he died, Josiah was buried in the tomb of his fathers (as good kings are), and he was mourned by all of Judah and Jerusalem. Jeremiah uttered a lament for him (though the prophet isn’t mentioned in Kings), and singers have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day.

In all, Josiah ruled for 31 years. For the rest of his acts, the Chronicler sends us to the Book of the Kings of Israel and Judah. As with the rest of our recent kings, the Chronicler has failed to mention his mother’s name, though 2 Kgs 22:1 gives it as Jedidah, daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath.

2 Chronicles 33: Manasseh the Repentant

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The Chronicler agrees with the general impression of Manasseh and his son Amon given to us in 2 Kings 21, though there are some rather significant differences between the two accounts.

We begin when Manasseh is raised to the throne at the age of twelve. 1 Kgs 21:1 tells us that his mother’s name was Hephzibah – a detail that the Chronicler omits. Unless I am mistaken, this is the first time that the Chronicler doesn’t give us a queen mother’s name that is found in Kings (both sources neglected Ahaz’s mother). It could have been an error, but there’s always the intriguing possibility that it was an intentional choice, and the fun speculation about why that might have been. The fact that Manasseh was only 12, and therefore likely under the control of a regent for several years, offers up a few possibilities.

But whether on his own or shared at times, Manasseh managed to rule for 55 years, though neither source thinks those were very good ones.

Manasseh, you see, doesn’t seem to have been quite on board with the whole YHWH cult thing. All of Hezekiah’s hard work is undone as Manasseh goes around building altars to Baals and making Asherahs (though both appear in the singular in 2 Kgs 21:3, but the pluralization definitely makes it sound worse!), and worshipping “all the host of heaven” (2 Chron. 33:3). From what I can find, it seems that the host of heaven either refers to God’s heavenly court (perhaps angels, perhaps other gods, perhaps a non-unified Trinity if that’s your bent) or to celestial bodies. Though I don’t suppose the two are mutually exclusive.

Manasseh also burned his sons in offering in the valley of the son of Hinnom. You’ll remember this as the same place where Ahaz sacrificed his own sons in 2 Chron. 28:3. The location is identified with child sacrifice elsewhere, such as 2 Kgs 23:10, where Josiah defiles the area so that no one would sacrifice their children to Molech there any more. Wikipedia identifies Gehenna as the Aramaic version of the name, and argues that the association with the cult of Molech led to the name being used figuratively to refer to hell (or a hell-like concept). However, 2 Kgs 21:6 only has Manasseh sacrifice a single son, and the location of the ritual is not indicated. So either the Chronicler was working with another source, or he placed Manasseh’s rituals in the valley of Hinnom because of the place’s reputation.

Manasseh practised soothsaying and augury and sorcery, and he dealt with wizards and mediums.

He also added several altars, dedicated to the host of heaven, and an idol to the Temple. In 2 Kgs 21:7, the idol is specified as a “carved image of Asherah,” while the Chronicler doesn’t indicate that the idol was for any god other than YHWH. While he doesn’t specify that the idol was of God, it seems like he would tell us if it wasn’t.

Under Manasseh’s seduction, the people of Judah were led to evil beyond even what the Canaanites had managed.

Predictably, God wasn’t particularly pleased.

Bringing Manasseh Around

The Chronicler tells us that God tried to speak to Manasseh and his people, but they didn’t listen. Strangely, he doesn’t bother to give us God’s words, nor does he tell us – as Kings does – that they were relayed through prophets. 2 Kgs 21:10-15, on the other hand, gives us God’s lengthy curse so terrible that it is sure to induce ear tingles in anyone who hears it.

I’m often confused by the details that the Chronicler chooses to leave out – in this case cutting what has been presented as God’s own words. I suppose he felt that his audience would already be familiar with them from other sources, but it just seems so… odd.

Having gone unheard, God reached for the next best thing: the Assyrian army.

I found it interesting that the Chronicler frames the arrival of the Assyrians as a punishment, even though the same thing happened to Hezekiah. It reminds me a bit of the modern “personal Jesus” who punishes the people I don’t like by making them lose their keys, but rewards me for faithfulness by helping me find mine.

Manasseh taken captive, by Bernard Picart and Louis Surugue, 1728

Manasseh taken captive, by Bernard Picart and Louis Surugue, 1728

Though I suppose the attack got a little more serious this time, as Manasseh himself was taken to Babylon in fetters. His captivity earns no mention in Kings. That said, my study Bible tells me that Manasseh’s name does appear in an inscription as “a vassal of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, sometimes under suspicion. Thus the Babylonian captivity of Manasseh is historically possible.”

James Bradford Pate argues that there may be some evidence that Assyrians released captive monarches who “repented” by submitting to their authority. From there, Pate raises the possibility that Manasseh’s subsequent building projects (which we will get to shortly) had more to do with protecting Assyria’s southern border from the Egyptians than strengthening Judah.

As for why the Assyrians would take Manasseh to Babylon rather than to an Assyrian city, I have no answers. Pate offers a possible solution, but I lack the knowledge base to tackle the question.

In any case, the Chronicler writes that it is in Babylon that Manasseh finally cried out to God and humbled himself, and it is for this reason that he was sent back to Jerusalem. Once home, he set to work trying to undo the damage he had done, taking down the altars to foreign gods and the idol from the Temple and tossing them outside the city (though, it’s worth noting, no destroying them, and no mention is made of Kidron – the place where all idols go to die).

He also restored God’s own altar and made some sacrifices and commanded the people of Judah to worship God. Unfortunately, it was too late, and the people of Judah are not easily unseduced. Though the Chronicler does note that they at least only worshipped God, even if they did so at the high places.

Manasseh’s repentance isn’t found in Kings, and the Chronicler doesn’t mention Manasseh’s slaughter of the innocents (presumed by many commentaries to be the faithful followers of God) from 2 Kgs 21:16. The New Bible Commentary argues that Manasseh’s repentance might have occurred very late in his reign, which would make his reforms “too little, too late” for Kings to bother mentioning (p.392). Other commentaries argue that Kings focused on the harm done by the kings leading up to Josiah to better emphasize the saviour aspect of the boy-king, whereas the Chronicler perhaps had reason to soften the rough edges of the Davidic dynasty as he was trying to argue for its desirable return. Another possibility, of course, is that Manasseh was a complex and sometimes contradictory person, as are we all, and that his life was compressed and contorted by different authors to fit their own two-dimensional image of him.

Other than that, Manasseh seems to have set himself to working on Judah’s defences: building up a a very tall outer wall around the city of David, and appointing commanders in all the fortified cities of Judah. As in other places, the Chronicler adds unique passages detailing construction projects that are not found in Kings. The obvious explanation for this is that he had access to a source that lists the building works of each king, though I can’t help but wonder if he had a purpose for these details.

For the rest of the acts of Manasseh, including his prayer to “his God” (2 Chron. 33:18 – not the emphasis on possession, which underscores Manasseh’s repentance), as well as the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of God, the Chronicler sends us to the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. But for information on his prayer and how God received it, as well as a list of all his sins and the sites on which he built high places and Asherim before he humbled himself, the Chronicler asks us to consult the Chronicles of the Seers.

When Manasseh dies, he is buried in his own home, as is proper for a king who wasn’t terribly berries. However, the Chronicler’s Shadow Council of Burial actually agrees with Kings for once, as 2 Kgs 21:18 puts the king’s corpse in the garden of his house.

Enter Amon

After his death, Manasseh was succeeded by his son, Amon. As was the case with Manasseh, Amon’s queen mother is skipped over (2 Kgs 21:19 gives us Meshullemeth as her name). Also as was the case with his father, Amon was just awful, though the Chronicler doesn’t explain why he failed to listen to Manasseh’s conversion.

Amon’s reign began when he was 22 years old, and lasted for a mere two years. In this time, he made sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made, and he failed to humble himself the way his father had.

In the end, Amon was murdered by his own servants, in his own house. In retaliation, his subjects killed the conspirators, and they made Josiah, Amon’s son, king.

Interestingly, the Chronicler fails to tell us where Amon was buried, though 2 Kgs 21:26 puts him in the garden with his father.

2 Chronicles 29-31: Dedicated and Dedicating

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Sorry for the lateness! But at least my tardiness is thematically relevant! 

We now move into Hezekiah, who is one of the greats. He gets a lot of page space, too, with three chapters in 2 Kgs 18-20 and four chapters in 2 Chron. 29-32. But for all that, the breadth is really missing. Essentially, Hezekiah whips up a religious revival, but, like so many of his predecessors, he fell short at the very end.

We begin with Hezekiah’s record entry: He was 25 years old when his reign began, and he ruled for 29 years. His mother’s name was Abijah, daughter of Zechariah.

On the first day of the first month of the first year of his reign, Hezekiah decided to purify the Temple. This needs a bit of unpacking, because while it’s certainly possible that it truly refers to the first day of Hezekiah’s reign, it seems like rather incredible timing in light of 2 Chron. 30:1, where Hezekiah postpones the Passover celebration for a month. Passover is normally held in Nissan, the first month, meaning that Hezekiah would have had to just happen to start his first day on our equivalent of January 1. This seems lie rather too unlikely, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that the author means that Hezekiah started his focus on the Temple on the first day of his first full year.

Which gives us a new question: Why would Hezekiah wait before turning his attention to the Temple – especially when it will mean not being ready in time for Passover and having to delay the celebration. One possibility is that the new year, as a new beginning, was just too symbolically resonant to pass up even if it meant delaying the Passover. Another has to do with the Chronicler’s own motives. I’ll discuss this in more detail later, but there may be a theme of lateness in Chronicles that, perhaps, relates to the rebuilding of the cultic structure.

In any case, Hezekiah reopened the Temple and began purging it of inappropriate cultic items on the first day of the first year of his reign – whatever that happens to mean.

Not to get too nitpicky, but the detail about reopening the doors of the Temple is in line with 2 Chron. 28:24, where Ahaz closed the Temple’s doors, but does not align with 2 Kgs 16:10-16, where it’s apparent that Ahaz continued the use of the Temple for worship. The New Bible Commentary harmonizes this by arguing that the author would not have considered the worship of foreign gods as real worship (p.391), making the closing of the doors a symbolic description (or perhaps it was the inner sanctuary doors that were literally closed).

Hezekiah then gathered up the priests and Levites and, in keeping with the idea of a fresh start, told them all to sanctify first themselves, then the Temple. He gives his reasoning for this in a speech about how their parents had forsaken God, and this is why their fathers have fallen to swords and their sons, daughters, and wives have been taken into captivity.

If this sounds a bit like a post-exilic formula to you, I would agree. That said, 2 Chron. 28 does feature an awful lot of warfare and taking into captivity.

The priests and Levites got to work under the leadership of:

  • Kohathites: Mahath son of Amasai, and Joel son of Azariah;
  • Merarites: Kish son of Abdi, and Azariah son of Jehallelel;
  • Gershonites: Joah son of Zimmah, and Eden son of Joah;
  • Of the sons of Elizaphan: Shimri and Jeuel;
  • Of the sons of Asaph: Zechariah and Mattaniah;
  • Of the sons of Heman: Jehuel and Shimei;
  • Of the sons of Jeduthun: Shemaiah and Uzziel.

Together, on the 8th day of the month, they brought all the uncleanness that had gathered in the Temple, though the Chronicler doesn’t mention Moses’s Nehushtan (2 Kgs 18:4). All the refuse is brought out to the brook of Kidron – Kidron being the favoured place for idol disposal (as we saw in places like 1 Kgs 15:13, 2 Kgs 23:4-6, and 2 Chron. 15:16).

The sanctification process takes eight days, ending on the 16th of the month. When they tell Hezekiah that they are done, he gathers up the Jerusalem city officials to make a big sacrifice and splash lots of blood around. Hezekiah then stations Levitical musicians in the Temple to sing the words of David and of Asaph the seer.

The Passover Celebration

It took a while to get the Temple (and its officiants) up to snuff, so Hezekiah conferred with the “princes” (likely meaning the people of his court with social clout, rather than his own sons) and they decided to postpone the Passover until the second month. The measure was necessary because the priests still hadn’t finished sanctifying themselves, and the people hadn’t had a chance to make it to Jerusalem.

Brant Clements, of Both Saint and Cynic, points out that the idea of celebrating a belated Passover when either travelling or purity requirements can’t be met on time can find precedent in Num. 9:9-11.

In discussing the possibility that Hezekia’s Passover might be a fabrication, James Bradford Pate brings up the idea that the Chronicler wouldn’t invent such a messy, chaotic, and delayed celebration. However, Pate cites 2 Chron. 24:5-6 as another example of delay, and proposes that perhaps there is a purposeful theme to be found. Specifically, Pate ties it to the post-exilic “lateness”, both forgiving the lateness itself and “exhorting the post-exilic Jews to get on the ball.” Sort of a “better late than never” message.

From the 'Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum', by Guillaume Rouille

From the ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’, by Guillaume Rouille

The reason that the historicity of Hezekiah’s Passover is that it isn’t found in 2 Kings, and Josiah’s proclamation in 2 Kgs 23:21-23 certainly seems to indicate that, if there had been a grand Passover in Hezekiah’s time, Josiah wasn’t aware of it. Turning back to Pate, he presents the argument that the author of Kings was trying to be literary – he wanted to highlight Josiah, and mentioning a similar Passover in the context of Hezekiah would have diluted that story. So the absence of the Passover in 2 Kings doesn’t necessarily indicate that Hezekiah’s Passover is a fabrication.

At this point the story is a bit muddled, and there may be some time-skipping. There could have been multiple sacrifice events, but I’m picking a chronology and sticking with it. However, I am noting that the text isn’t nearly as clear.

Hezekiah sends invitations out to all of Judah, as well as all of Israel, encouraging everyone “from Beer-sheba to Dan” (2 Chron. 30:5) to attend the Passover in Jerusalem. The language here mimics the language of the unified nation – both pre-monarchy and unified. The use of the phrase “from Beer-sheba to Dan” serves to underscore the point, as it’s a phrase we’ve seen quite a bit before when referring to the nation as a whole (see, for example, Judges 20:1, 1 Sam. 3:20, 2 Sam. 3:10, 2 Sam. 17:11, 1 Kgs 4:25). My Study Bible calls Hezekiah’s invitation a “prophetic hope of the return of the northern tribes to their former loyalty to Jerusalem”, and compares it to Ezek. 37:15-23.

The invitation explains that the Passover hasn’t been properly kept, and the people need to do better. But if they come now and are good, then their children and brethren’s captors will show compassion, and perhaps allow them to return home.

It really is hard not to see some post-exilic sentiments creeping in here.

Incidentally, John Collins writes in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible that there is “a famous letter from Elephantine in Egypt in the late fifth century B.C.E. regarding the observance of the Passover, but letters are anachronistic in the time of Hezekiah, some 300 years earlier” (p.233).

Unfortunately, most of the people just laughed at Hezekiah’s couriers. Only a few men of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun came out to Jerusalem. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we have some anti-Samarianism cropping in here. But also, my New Bible Commentary points out that the fact that “Hezekiah’s messengers went only as far as Zebulun suggests that in the far north of Galilee the Israelite elements had already disappeared” (p.392). Turning back to Collins, he notes that the “fact that emissaries are sent to Ephraim and Manasseh presupposes that the northern kingdom of Israel is no more. Yet, amazingly, the Chronicler has not even mentioned the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.233).

Even so, the assembly in Jerusalem was quite impressive, and perhaps it was a good thing that so few Samarians showed up because the priests couldn’t keep up with all the sacrifices. Eventually, the Levites had to step in to fill the gaps, “for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in sanctifying themselves” (2 Chron. 29:34).

Many commentaries note the dig at non-Levitical priests, but more interesting is the idea that the priests are the ones doing all the slaughtering, causing the backlog problem. The New Bible Commentary, for example, notes that it should normally be the worshiper’s job to slaughter the offerings, so the issue shouldn’t really be an issue in the first place (p.392). I’m seeing verses like Ex. 12:3-6, Deut. 16:5-6, and Lev. 1:1-6 in support of this, though I personally found all those verses to be rather ambiguous.

Unfortunately, many of the people in the congregation (specifically many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun) had failed to properly cleanse themselves, yet ate the Passover offerings anyway. Hezekiah addressed them in prayer, saying that God pardons all who seek them out, even if they aren’t doing it by the rules – sort of an Old Timey equivalent of “it’s the thought that counts” – a sentiment that quite surprised me but, in retrospect, makes a lot of sense in the post-exilic context, when the Chronicler must be absolutely frantic about just  getting the Israelites back “to the old ways,” even if they aren’t quite perfect about it.

Also worthy of note is, as Victor Matthews points out in Manners  Customs of the Bible, the way in which the king’s involvement in cultic practices has been diminishing as we make our way down the line:

While David was credited with establishing the temple priesthood (1 Chr 15:1-24), and Solomon was recognized as significantly reorganizing it (1 Kgs 2:35), the Levitical priesthood eventually disputed the idea of the king as both political and religious leader. Over time, the Levites gained more complete control of the sacrificial rituals; and the king, while still an advocate for the people with God, took a secondary role. For example, whereas Solomon functions in a priestly role by offering sacrifices, prayers, and blessings at the dedication of the temple (1 Kgs 8), generations later, Hezekiah offers only a brief prayer on behalf of the people, as the priests and Levites offer sacrifices during the reinstatement of the Passover (2 Chr 30:13-27). (p.130)

Still, Hezekiah’s prayer is seen as pivotal, and it is when God hears it that he heals the people (though, of course, it’s unclear what is actually meant by that – were there miraculous physical healings, or were the people spiritually healed?).

The feast of the unleavened bread lasted for seven days. At the end of this time, the people rushed out into all the cities of Judah and broke up the pillars, Asherim, high places, and altars they could find in the territories of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, destroying them all before heading home.

Administration

The Passover over, Hezekiah turns his attention to appointing the divisions of the priests and Levites. The priests may have been taking control over the religious side of ancient Israelite life, but it’s clear that there was still a strong interplay between the secular and religious powers.

Hezekiah also provided the priests with regular offerings to make, and commanded the people living in Jerusalem to give the priests the portions they were due, “that they might give themselves to the law of the Lord” (2 Chron. 31:4) – which I interpreted to mean that the people of Jerusalem are to support the Temple so that the priests can focus their energies on God, rather than on subsistence.

It’s interesting that Hezekiah only tells the inhabitants of Jerusalem to give to the priests, whereas elsewhere the rules have been universal.

In any case, the people of Israel give abundantly anyway. So abundantly that special chambers had to be prepared in the Temple to store it all, and the person in charge of these donations was Conaniah the Levite (with his brother, Shimei, as his second-in-command). Conaniah was also assisted by Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah, Mahath, and Benaiah, who had all been appointed by Hezekiah and the Temple’s chief officer, Azariah.

Kore son of Imnah, a Levite, was keeper of the east gate and was in charge of freewill offerings, as well as apportioning the contribution reserved for God. He was assisted by Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah, who distributed the donations out to the priests in their cities, according to their divisions.

2 Chronicles 17-18: The Old Switcheroo

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Jehoshaphat’s narrative, as Asa’s, is considerably bloated. While he takes up only a single chapter in Kings (1 Kgs 22) – which he must share with King Ahab of Israel – the Chronicler gives him four chapters.

Cultic Concerns

2 Chron. 17 kicks us off on a fairly positive note, and is largely unique to Chronicles.

We learn that Jehoshaphat was a faithful king, that he “walked in the earlier ways of his father” (2 Chron. 17:3 – as opposed to Asa’s later days in which he forgot to turn to God in his moments of need). He sought God to the exclusion of other gods, so God established his rule and built up his wealth.

Contradicting 1 Kgs 22:43, we learn that Jehoshaphat succeeded where his father had fallen short, and he removed all the high places and Asherim from Judah. (We can play the same games we played with Asa and say that he did fail to remove the YHWH shrines, but that he managed to oust the shrines to other gods that had cropped up since Asa’s purges. If we want to.)

In the third year of his reign, he sent his princes throughout Judah, in the company of Levites and priests, to teach the law to the people. The princes he sent were: Benhail, Obadiah, Nethanel, and Micaiah. The Levites who went along were: Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah, and Tobadonijah. The priests were: Elishama and Jehoram.

There are two questions that might be raised by this passage. The first is raised by the New Bible Commentary, which claims that it would have been prohibitively expensive to equip all these priests and princes with scrolls (p.388 – it also brings up the claim of widespread illiteracy, but easily smacks it down. Princes and priests would be just the sorts of people to have had access to education, at least so far as reading is concerned).

I find the claim difficult to swallow. Would scrolls have been expensive? Sure! But prohibitively so? Especially since we don’t actually know what they were carrying along with them. Was it the whole Pentateuch? Or merely a short-ish list of laws that, later, became the basis for parts of it? If we allow that it might have been a shorter text, and that it was only needed in 16 copies (assuming that each prince and priest carried his own), it seems well within the range of what a sufficiently-motivated monarch could manage.

Let’s not forget how many texts are mentioned as sources and references throughout Chronicles alone, written by court chroniclers and prophets (where there’s a difference). If the seer Iddo could get his hands on paper, couldn’t the king?

The second question, raised by James Bradford Pate, is why princes were sent along with the priests. One possibility he gives is that the princes were there to teach the secular law, while the priests taught the religious laws. I suspect, however, that such a dichotomy is rather anachronistic. Certainly, having now read through the Pentateuch, there’s little indication that its authors would have understood the difference.

Another possibility Pate raises is that the princes were there to give the priests backing, to make it clear that they taught with the king’s authority. A third is that they were there to serve the Chronicler’s own ends, to provide a precedent for members of the laity teaching cultic law, as he says was happening in synagogues in the Chronicler’s own time.

Personally, I suspect that this is just further evidence of theological evolution. In many cultures of the ancient Near East, secular and religious duties were conflated, with the roles of the king and high priest being filled by the same individual. It seems that the same was true in the early monarchy as, in 2 Sam. 8:18, we learn that David’s sons were priests. Why couldn’t Jehoshaphat’s sons also be priests? The Chronicler typically tries to erase these bread crumbs from his sources, but may have left this passage as Jehoshaphat’s devotion – that he would send his own sons out with the priests to, say, lead by example. He almost certainly added Levites to whatever his original source might have said, and perhaps made priests into a distinct category (as opposed to, say, “Jehoshaphat’s sons and other priests”). Perhaps he felt that was enough to fudge over his religion’s history, and bring it in line with his current belief system.

Military Might

We also learn about Jehoshaphat’s military might. We learn that he garrisoned all the fortified cities of Judah, as well as the surrounding land. He also garrisoned the cities of Ephraim that Asa had conquered (perhaps a reference to what might have fallen to him during Syria’s Benhadad’s attack on Israel in 2 Chron. 16).

He surrounded himself with soldiers and mighty men. In Jerusalem, his army commanders from Judah were:

  • Adnah, who oversaw 300,000 men;
  • Jehohanan, who oversaw 280,000 men;
  • and Amasiah, son of Zichri, who was a volunteer for the service of God and oversaw 200,000 men.

The commanders from Benjamin were:

  • Eliada, who was one of the mighty men and oversaw 200,000 archers;
  • and Jehozabad, who oversaw 180,000 men.

These were only the commanders in Jerusalem, and there were plenty more scattered about in the fortified cities.

Jehoshaphat’s power grew, and he built up fortresses and store-cities, not to mention the contents of those stores. All the surrounding nations were so afraid of God that they left Judah alone. In fact, some even made gifts and tributes to Jehoshaphat, including the Philistines and the Arabs. (This verse is used to support the possibility that Zerah, from 2 Chron. 14, had been an Arab king rather than an Ethiopian one, and that this “gift” arrangement was a result of that conflict.)

Consulting Micaiah

2 Chron. 18 is taken almost verbatim from 1 Kgs 22, and is pretty much all that the author of Kings felt worthy of mentioning about Jehoshaphat. The Chronicler doesn’t much bother with the northern kingdom, but makes an exception of Ahab for Jehoshaphat’s presence in the story. Where there are differences, it is usually to trim some of Ahab’s narrative detail, or to enhance Jehoshaphat’s.

While 2 Chron. 17 paints a rather rosy picture of Jehoshaphat, we learn here that he made a marriage alliance with Ahab. In real terms, whatever respite it might have brought in the multi-generational conflicts between the two half-nations seems like it would have been a blessing (to use the term in a secular sense), particularly for border communities. To the theologically motivated Chronicler, however, it was no such thing.

After a few years, Jehoshaphat visits Ahab in the Israelite capital of Samaria. To make Jehoshaphat seem more like a highly honoured guest, the Chronicler adds a detail about Ahab slaughtering a great many sheep and oxen for Jehoshaphat and his retinue.

2 Chronicles 17-18It is during this trip that Ahab asks Jehoshaphat to join him in attacking Ramoth-gilead, which had fallen into Syrian hands. Jehoshaphat agrees, but asks that they consult with God first.

The scene is painted in surprising detail, with the two kings in their full display. They are arranged in their robes, on their thrones, at the entrance of the gate of Samaria, and 400 sycophantic prophets were before them, all prophesying that they should go, that God would deliver Ramoth-gilead into their hands.

One prophet in particular, Zedekiah son of Chenaanah, goes above and beyond with the theatrics. He makes himself iron horns, and declares that God will use them to push the Syrians until they are all destroyed. The other 399 prophets agree.

But Jehoshaphat isn’t quire sure, and he asks for a 401st opinion. As it happens, there is one prophet, Micaiah son of Imlah, who had not been invited. Micaiah, you see, is an absolute Debbie Downer. But he is summoned at Jehoshaphat’s insistence.

When the kings’ messenger finds Micaiah, he tells him what the other prophets have said, and warns him to bring his own prophecies in line. But Micaiah, man of integrity, insists that he will say whatever God tells him to say, and not a word contrary.

Despite this pledge, he ends up agreeing with the other prophets when he is before the kings.

Ahab is suspicious. Malaise Micaiah would never say something so rousingly positive! And Micaiah confesses his lie, that his vision was actually of all Israel scattered upon the mountain, “as sheep that have no shepherd” (2 Chron. 18:16).

You see, he saw a vision of God on his throne, surrounded by his heavenly court. God announced that he wanted a way to lure Ahab to his doom in Ramoth-gilead. Members of the court made a few suggestions until, finally, one spirit suggested putting lies in the mouths of the prophets, assuring Ahab that he would succeed in his battle against the Syrians.

Zedekiah, a bit of a sore loser, punches Micaiah in the face, and asks him how the Spirit of God went from him into Micaiah. Micaiah responds that he will know on the day that he goes into an inner chamber to hide himself. Whatever that is supposed to mean (perhaps there was a second part of the story, one involving Zedekiah, that we no longer have?).

Ahab, also a sore loser, has Micaiah imprisoned and fed nothing but bread and water until Ahab returns in peace. To which Micaiah replies that he will only return in peace if God has not spoken through him [Micaiah]. Personally, I think something about “guess I’ll die on bread and water, then!” would have had more zing, but I’m not the author here.

Despite his insistence that Micaiah be consulting, Jehoshaphat doesn’t appear to have been particularly moved by what he had to say, and he goes to Ramoth-gilead with Ahab.

James Bradford Pate rightly asks why Jehoshaphat would have gone along with Ahab after Micaiah’s words. It seems very inconsistent. He also asks why Jehoshaphat, if he was so powerful, would have consented to an alliance with Ahab in the first place. Pate answers both by suggesting that the Chronicler may have been a little too generous, and that Jehoshaphat was the weaker party in the alliance. This explains why he might have been obligated to go along with Ahab’s plan despite whatever reservations he may have had.

Personally, I think it’s equally likely that Jehoshaphat’s insistence on a second opinion is the fictional addition (perhaps to make him look good by having him doggedly seek out God’s will, or perhaps to make Micaiah look good by introducing him as a prophet with a reputation for bucking authority).

As for the idea that it had to have been Jehoshaphat seeking the alliance, I’m not sure that we can make that assumption. The two might have been equally matched, or Jehoshaphat might have accepted a royal Israelite wife as a vassal price. For all we know, there was an exchange of brides. It’s also possible that Jehoshaphat was the stronger party in absolute terms, but not strong enough to thoroughly crush Israel. He might then have sought an alliance just to put an end to the border skirmishes that seem to have been going on since his great-grandfather’s day.

The Battle

We have a little more confusion with the battle itself. Before going in to fight, Ahab decides to disguise himself, and has Jehoshaphat wear Ahab’s robes.

If we assume historicity, it seems strange that Jehoshaphat would have agreed to this. One possibility, though, is that they believed Jehoshaphat would be protected by not being Ahab, but that a disguise might protect Ahab by confusing the Evil Eye (or equivalent). We see plenty of similar folk traditions, like not giving a newborn a name (keeping them liminal and therefore safe from curses) until they are past the high risk early days.

As for dressing Jehoshaphat up like Ahab rather than simply putting both kings in disguise, it would have been necessary for the army to see that they had a leader (morale and whatnot), and this was clearly Ahab’s venture. Therefore, Ahab had to be seen to be on the battlefield, even if it wasn’t actually him. And having the substitute still be a monarch might not have violated the honour of the engagement.

Another possibility is simply that the story is a fabrication, following the typical pattern of a “you can’t escape your fate” fable. These stories often have fairly ridiculous set ups, with characters behaving in terribly odd ways in attempts to save themselves, only to bring themselves right into the situation they had been trying to avoid.

As it happens, the king of Syria had commanded his chariot captains to focus on killing Ahab, at the expense of going after his soldiers. As planned, they focus on Ahab (who is actually Jehoshaphat in disguise) and pursue him.

Jehoshaphat is spared when he cries out to God, and God draws away (or “seduces,” apparently) the chariot captains. Still, one of them drew his bow, just on a lark, and shot into the fray. Predictably, it just so happens to strike Ahab, and thus he is delivered his fatal wounds.

Kings gives us some more details of Ahab’s slow and gruesome death, but the Chronicler tells us only that he propped himself up in his chariot, facing the Syrians as he attempted retreat, until evening. He died with the sun.

2 Kings 23: To Little, Too Late

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This chapter mostly focuses on Josiah’s rather violent religious reforms. But first, he gathers all the people together at the temple to read out his new Book of Law, and to reconsecrate Judah under the covenant.

The reforms themselves are everything we’ve come to expect. Altars to other gods (and astral bodies) are destroyed, Asherah are burned, priests are murdered.

One thing that stands out is the length to which Josiah goes, not just to destroy non-approved shrines, but to totally desecrate them. He murders priests over their altars, burning their bones there in mock sacrifice. He cuts down the Asherim and fills the holes with human bones. He burns religious objects and spreads the ashes “upon the graves of the common people” (2 Kings 23:6).

Amidst all of that, there is a mention of priests that I believe refers to priests of YHWH serving at local shrines. These, Josiah seems to invite to serve in Jerusalem, but they refuse to come. Even so, however, they “ate unleavened bread among their brethren” (2 Kings 23:9). In trying to make sense of this, my New Bible Commentary suggests that we may interpret this to mean that “these priests were admitted to the sacred meal but were not allowed to sacrifice” (p.366). However, the impression I got was that it was the priests who refused Josiah’s reforms, rather than that they were barred from participating. It is, without a doubt, a difficult passage to make sense of.

A final act worth mentioning is Josiah’s destruction of Jeroboam’s shrine at Bethel, which has been causing so much hand-wringing through our narrative. Just to be an extra jerk about it, he digs up corpses from nearby tombs and burns them on Jeroboam’s altar to defile it.

As he’s looking for more bodies to defile altars, Josiah comes upon a particular monument and asks the locals about it. They tell him that it’s the tomb of a Judahite prophet who had predicted what Josiah is currently doing to the Bethel shrine. This sounds an awful lot like the unnamed prophet from 1 Kings 13.

I had pointed out at the time that the chapter had a very “folk myth” feel to it. In it, the unnamed prophet tells Jeroboam that his altar will someday be destroyed by a Davidic king named Josiah. Jeroboam, furious, raises his hand to command that the prophet be arrested. This hand withers, until the prophet takes pity on Jeroboam and restores it.

I noted that the story was very out of place among the histories. In particular, the fact that such a specific prophecy was made, yet had no impact on any of the named characters (despite the fact that Jeroboam witnessed a very specific and very powerful miracle) strongly suggests that it was added to the record of Jeroboam’s reign, probably after the fact. Given the explicit mention of Josiah, it seems likely that one of Josiah’s supporters either wrote the story from whole cloth, or adapted some local folk tradition for propagandic purposes. As Brant Clements of Both Saint and Cynic puts it, the prophecy is “suspiciously specific.”

Finding some measure of respect for the dead – or, at least, this dead – Josiah commands that this tomb remain unmolested, along with the bones of another prophet, this one from Samaria. Again, this second prophet is not identified. My study Bible suggests that the mention of Samaria “is probably an error for Bethel,” perhaps suggesting that there is some special grave for local prophets. However, I saw it as a reference to the Israelite prophet mentioned later on in 1 Kings 13 (though I’m not sure why Josiah should preserve that grave).

While our narrative talks about destroying, burning, and grinding up ashes, Victor Matthews suggests that perhaps Josiah wasn’t quite as thorough as he’d like us to think:

Archaeological findings from this period include fragments of a horned altar found incorporated into a wall at Arad. That the altar was dismantled and used in the construction of a non-sacred structure suggests an attempt to eliminate sacrificial activity at Arad. (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.98)

Back in Jerusalem, Josiah enacts one final reform: the “restitution” of the Passover celebration. I use scare quotes because it’s not really clear what the history of the celebration is. I’ve seen some commenters suggest that Josiah invented the practice, which I personally find unlikely. The narrative itself claims that it was done up until the days of the judges, and then not again until now (in Josiah’s 18th year). Personally, I find it likely that it was a local festival that perhaps had been celebrated for quite a while, and that Josiah simply made part of the centralized/orthodox version of the YHWH cult that he was trying to create.

But not all was well

Josiah was a wonderful king, and close to God’s heart. In fact, there had never been and never will be a king who gave himself so entirely over to God. But, unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. God had already decided to erase Judah, and to cast away the city and temple he had chosen for himself, mostly because of that big baddie Manasseh. It’s hard not to read this account as personal.

Despite the prophecy in 2 Kings 22:20, there is war. Although Josiah seems to have brought his fate on himself.

The narrative tells us that Neco, pharaoh of Egypt, went to the king of Assyria. At this time, Josiah decided to meet the pharaoh at Megiddo, where their armies clash and Josiah is killed.

A small kneeling bronze statuette, likely Necho II, now residing in the Brooklyn Museum

A small kneeling bronze statuette, likely Necho II, now residing in the Brooklyn Museum

My study Bible helps to fill in the details, explaining that Assyria had mostly fallen to Medes and Chaldea (though it seems that nearly everyone in the area was taking advantage of Assyria’s weakness – the Wikipedia page describes something of a pile-on), but was still fighting to survive. Egypt, Assyria’s ally at that time, may have been moving to help fight some other enemy. Since Judah had so recently been a vassal state (or perhaps still was), it would have made sense for them to join the fray in the hopes of further weakening Assyria, and perhaps scooping up some of its lands.

In any case, it appears to have been the wrong choice, and Josiah’s corpse was brought back to Jerusalem in a chariot for burial.

With Josiah dead, the people raise his son, Jehoahaz, to succeed him. Jehoahaz, son of Hamutal, was 23 years old at the time, and lasted a mere 3 months. He was deposed by Pharaoh Neco, imprisoned, then died in Egypt.

Neco installed a successor of his own choosing: Josiah’s other son, Eliakim (whom the Pharaoh renames Jehoiakim). The condition of Jehoiakim’s rule appears to have been vassalage, and the new king of Judah pays a tribute to Egypt.

Jehoiakim was 25 years old and the son of Zebidah. He lasted 11 years. Both sons are described as evil, though it’s difficult to imagine how Jehoahaz had the time to prove himself such.

There are a few tantalizing hints here as to Judah’s political landscape. Perhaps the biggest is that Jehoahaz, who was appointed by the people, was the younger of Josiah’s two sons. For whatever reason, the Judahites decided to forego the tradition of primogeniture to give him the crown.

Perhaps the fact that Egypt crowned Jehoiakim can give us a clue. It may be reasonable to assume that Jehoiakim had expressed a desire to give in to Egypt, whereas Jehoahaz was in favour of resistance. We may be seeing a glimpse, then, of competing factions within Judah. The fact that the narrative condemns both as evil complicates matters, and I’m really not sure what to make of that.

In any case, we are clearly approaching the fall of Judah.

2 Kings 17: Of the ashes, Samaria is born

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We’ll see a few different editorial layers in this chapter. The essence of it is that Israel falls, its people are displaced, and the land repopulated with people from other nations. So, of course, the Deuteronomists are all over that, fighting for line space in attempts to turn the event into a moral lesson for Judah (which, of course, would suffer the same fate some 150 years later).

The styles differences and individual particular concerns are easily read through the text. My study Bible specifically identifies passages its editors identify as having been composed by the second Deuteronomist (who already knew that Judah would also fall) and a third who wanted to make absolutely clear that the Samaritans (as the inhabitants of Israel would be known after the nation was conquered) were absolutely incorrect in their worship of YHWH.

The Fall of Hoshea

The opening has our familiar formula as we return to Israel. In the twelfth year of Judah’s King Ahaz, Hoshea son of Elah became king in Israel. We had covered this much in 2 Kings 15, learning that Hoshea took over the crown in a coup in a time when that was clearly in vogue.

I noted then that an Assyrian inscription has the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser directly involved in the coup, perhaps installing Hoshea as a puppet. This seems to have been a poor choice.

Hoshea reigned for nine years, walking in the way of evil (though at least not in the same evil way as his predecessors, though the statement is not clarified). In that time, Israel was a vassal of Assyria, and he paid an annual tribute to Shalmaneser V.

At some point, and for reasons that are not explained, he started communicating with So, the king of Egypt, and stopped paying tribute to Assyria. If Egypt made promises that it reneged on, it’s not mentioned here, and it seems rather foolish of Hoshea to simply stop making tributes. Unfortunately, with so little information on the internal politics and pressures, it’s hard to figure out what he may have been thinking.

A note should be made on the Egyptian king, So, as our Egyptian records give us no such person. Nicolas Grimal suggests two possibilities: The first is that So refers not to a person, but is “a mistaken Hebrew spelling of the city of Sais.” If this is the case, it would be something like a foreign dignitary saying that he’s “contacting Washington.” Glancing at the Egyptian pharaohs, we find that the king would have been Tefnakht. However, Grimal continues, Israel would not have been in much contact with Tefnakht. Rather, they would be in contact with Tanis (“The location of Tanis in the eastern Delta was naturally convenient for relations with Syria-Palestine.”). This region was under the control of Osorkon IV, in which case King So could be an over-correction. (A History of Ancient Egypt, p.342)

My New Bible Commentary, on the other hand, proposes either Shabaka or Shabataka as the likely king. Both of these suggestions seem too late to be likely candidates, however. Another possibility offered up by the NBC is that So could be a mistaken reference, not to a king, but to Sibu, “a ‘Tartan’ or general of Egypt whom [Sargon] defeated at Raphia in 720” (p.361).

Assyria’s vengeance is somewhat swift: Hoshea is imprisoned and Samaria under siege. It’s not explained what Hoshea was doing outside of Samaria in the first place (since the narrative makes clear that he was taken prisoner before the attack on the city began), though I’ve seen suggestions that, perhaps with his plans regarding Egypt falling through, he might have gone to Shalmaneser’s court to beg forgiveness.

2 Kings 17The siege against Samaria lasts for three years. While not mentioned in our text, we know from Assyria’s records that, during this time, Shalmaneser died and was replaced by Sargon II.

When Samaria fell, the Assyrians took the Israelites captive and brought them back to Assyria, repopulating the country with people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim.

Sargon’s own records seem to confirm this. According to the New Bible Commentary, Sargon “records for his first year that he beseiged and took Samaria, carried away 27,290 inhabitants and other plunder, and settled people from other lands there” (p.361).

Brant Clements, over at Both Saint and Cynic, writes that deporting “an entire population was impracticable. The Assyrians probably carried the rich, the powerful, and the elite into exile leaving the poor and powerless behind.” I’m sure he’s right, but Sargon’s number of 27,290 is absurdly high for that to be the case (though likely inflated for propagandic purposes). The goal of this kind of displacement would have been to remove those with the resources and social power to organize a rebellion, severing them from their power bases, from the plebeian armies they might raise, and even from other potential co-conspirators. This was done by scattering them in strange lands.

A tale of national destruction could never be complete without some victim-blame-y moralizing, so we get some editorializing about how this disaster only happened because the Israelites had so sinned, even though God had brought them out of Egypt. The complaints are lengthy, and we’ve seen them so many times that I could probably just type them up by rote. I won’t, though, because I suspect that would be as tiresome for you as  it would be for me.

I will note, however, a quick intrusion from a secondary editor who reminds us that Judah totally sucked as well (2 Kings 17:19-20).

The New Samarians

With an all new multicultural immigrant population, Israel rebrands itself as Samaria, and its people as Samaritans.

These Samaritans had a rough beginning in their new home as they suffered through a plague of lion attacks. The king of Assyria is told, as we are, that this is because they do not know or worship the local god.

The theology that comes through in this story shows us a very small god, a god who belongs to a plot of land as much as it belongs to him. God is not a universal god, but the god of this patch of soil. And when that patch’s inhabitants change, they must first acknowledge the local god.

This god is a territorial god.

The Assyrian king seems to have no trouble groking this notion of divinity, and he finds one of the Israelite priests among his captives to send back. The priest is installed in Bethel with instructions to teach the new people of Samaria about their new god, in much the same way that a settler might need to learn the agricultural peculiarities of the region.

The Samaritans, too, seemed to accept that living in Israel means worshipping the god of Israel, and they quickly take up the worship of YHWH. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they are eager to give up their own gods. The Babylonians continued worshipping Succoth-benoth, the Cuthites worshipping Nergal, the Hamathites worshipping Ashima, and the Avvites worshipping Nibhaz and Tartak. The Sepharvites continued to burn their children in the fires of Adrammelech and Anammelech. They simply added YHWH to the pantheons they had brought with them.

Much to our author’s dismay, they quickly took ownership of YHWH, appointing their own priests and setting up their own shrines. Worse yet, they failed to follow God’s statutes and ordinances, even though – our editor reminds us – they ought to have known full well what happened to the last people who failed to follow them!

1 Kings 14: Punish the good

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The chapter begins with a story about Jeroboam’s domestic life, of course used as yet another rant about the evils of idolatry. According to my New Bible Commentary, this passage is absent from the Septuagint, “but fragments are found in the extra passage in LXX 12:24a-n” (p.338). There’s a further explanation given by the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, hosted by BibleHub.

When Jeroboam’s son, Abijah, falls ill, Jeroboam sends his unnamed wife in disguise to consult with the prophet Ahijah – the same prophet who announced Jeroboam’s subsequent rise to power in 1 Kings 11:29-39. He may have selected Ahijah in the hopes that, given their history together, Ahijah would have made a favourable pronouncement (though where this sits with God’s well versus human magic is unclear).

But that wouldn’t explain why he sent his wife in disguise. Claude Mariottini offers one possible explanation:

A possible reason Jeroboam sent his wife was because he was afraid of what the prophet would say about his religious apostasy. Thus, he sent his wife disguised as a poor woman with a humble gift in order to gain a more favorable judgment from the prophet.

Of course, as is so common in our text, rationales are not forthcoming. And even when they are, they tend to confuse rather than clarify.

The unnamed wife brings along an offering – payment for the interview. Before she arrives, however, God tips Ahijah off and, despite the fact that he is old and blind, he recognises her based on the sound of her footsteps alone.

Jeroboam sets up two golden calves, from the Bible Historiale, 1372

Jeroboam sets up two golden calves, from the Bible Historiale, 1372

He tells her how disappointed God is that Jeroboam didn’t prove himself to be as wonderful as David. God accuses Jeroboam, via his wife, of making other gods, molten images, and Asherim – the first we’ve heard of it – and, in retribution, God will bring evil down on Israel. Jeroboam will lose his dynasty, his people who die in cities will be eaten by dogs and his people who die in the country will be eaten by birds.

Ahijah sends the woman home, telling her that her son will die as soon as she returns and that he will be the only one to receive a proper burial – because “in him there is found something pleasing to the Lord” (1 Kgs 14:13). After that, Israel will be uprooted and scattered.

It’s difficult to see why, after being told that her return would spell her son’s death, Jeroboam’s wife went home. I’m sure that, as far as the narrative templates go, she would have been compelled to return, or perhaps her return was meant only to be an indication of the time frame rather than the parameter requirement. Still, it’s troubling to think that she would have done anything other than stay away.

As it is, though, the wife returns and Abijah dies.

In closing, we’re told to consult the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel if we want more information on Jeroboam’s reign (a frustrating impossibility, of course). In total, he reigned for twenty-two years, and was succeeded by his son, Nadab.

Across the border

The ending of the chapter belongs to Rehoboam. We are told that he was forty-one when he became king, and that he reigned for a total of 17 years. Just on point of interest, the LXX tells us in its addition to 1 Kings 12 that Rehoboam was crowned at 16 and that he only reigned for 12 years. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges points out that his actions do seem more like the foolishness of a younger man, perhaps because they haven’t met quite so many foolish middle aged and older people as I’ve had the insincere pleasure of encountering. That said, it would make sense given the emphasis on the “young men” he chooses to listen to in 1 Kings 12:8.

We find out here that Rehoboam’s mother’s name was Naamah – an Ammonite – and that the situation in Judah was absolutely atrocious. Not only was there worship in high places, there were also pillars and Asherim all over the place. In fact, there were even “male cult prostitutes in the land” (1 Kgs 14:24).

In the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign, Jerusalem was attacked by the Egyptians, led by Shishak, almost certainly the Kushite Pharaoh Sheshonk I. The Egyptians looted the Temple and the palace, taking, among other things, Solomon’s golden shields – presumably the same he commissioned in 1 Kings 10:16-17.

Rehoboam replaced the shields, but only with bronze – perhaps indicating that the Egyptians’ looting hurt worse than explicitly indicated. Rehoboam also chose to keep the shields in his guardhouse rather than in his palace. Whenever he went to the Temple, he had his guardsmen wear the shields, then return them back to the guardhouse. The inclusion of the detail is not explained, but may possibly be to indicate that Judah was hit so hard that the decorative shields had to be put to double use.

Despite Rehoboam’s retreat in 1 Kings 12:21-24, we’re told that Rehoboam and Jeroboam were at constant war. Given the situation, it seems likely to have been a cold war, perhaps with occasional sparks of violence, rather than a full blown prolonged campaign.

The rest of the details of Rehoboam’s reign are to be found in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah. When he died, he was succeeded by his son, Abijam. Sadly, it seems that the hard times left the two kingdoms not only with a dearth of gold, but also of first names.