1 Chronicles 26-27: More Officials

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I mentioned in my last post that, while 1 Chron. 26 deals with more Temple-related positions, I was going to lump it in with the civic positions of 1 Chron. 27 for the sake of I-wanted-to-go-to-bed.

It’s a good thing, too, because there are parts of 1 Chron. 26 that gave me some trouble. I suspect that there’s been some textual garbling, or perhaps I’m just overtired (I write – though it won’t be posted for a month – as my son begins kindergarten, and adjusting to the new routine is taking its toll on everyone!).

In any case, on with post!

The Gatekeepers

We begin with the gatekeepers, whose gates will not be built for quite a while. Even if we accept that David did all of the planning work for the Temple, assembled all the materials, and then assigned the gatekeepers just before his death, 1 Kgs 9:10 tells us that the Temple still won’t be built until 20 years into Solomon’s reign. Given that we’ve already been told that David hasn’t bothered to count anyone under the age 20, the very youngest of the men he selects will be around 40 years old by the time any gates are around for them to keep. There’s a pretty good chance that many of these men will die before they ever see the job they’ve been assigned.

The chiefs of the army, by James Tissot

The chiefs of the army, by James Tissot

The only way to get around this is if we assume that David lived on for nearly two decades after he ceded his crown to Solomon. In which case, these assignments may have been given on his deathbed, perhaps as the Temple neared completion. Or perhaps the Chronicler is merely attributing to David what his sources (or the sources of his sources) had attributed to Solomon because he had a personal/theological/political reason to connect David directly to the origins of these positions. I’ll let Occam decide.

The leadership of the gatekeepers is held by a handful of families:

From among the Korahites, we get Meshelemiah son of Kore, who is descended from Asaph. He is joined by his sons: Zechariah (who upgraded from guarding the tent of meeting in 1 Chron. 9:21), Jediael, Zebadiah, Jathniel, Elam, Jehohanan, and Eliehoenai. Altogether, there are 18 members of his group.

In Obededom’s family, we get his sons: Shemaiah, Jehozabad, Joah, Sachar, Nethanel, Ammiel, Issachar, and Peullethai. Shemaiah’s sons, who were men of “great ability” (1 Chron. 26:6) were: Othni, Rephael, Obed, Elzabad, Elihi, and Semachiah. Altogether, there were 62 men in this from descended from Obededom (though he is described as being in a group of 68 in 1 Chron. 16:37-38 – albeit as ministers of the ark).

From Merari, we  have Hosah and his sons: Shimri (who becomes the leader of his household by his father’s decree, even though he wasn’t the firstborn), Hilkiah, Tebaliah, and Zechariah. Altogether, the sons and brethren of Hosah produce 13 members for the group.

There are a few familiar names here, such as Asaph and Obededom – both of whom are musicians. It seems that maybe the duties of gatekeeper and of musician were related in some way.

And speaking of Obededom, that name is definitely familiar. If this is the same person, we saw David entrusting the ark into his care for three months (1 Chron. 13:13-14), he – along with Jeiel – is listed as both a gatekeeper and a singer in 1 Chron. 15:18-21, then again as a musician (1 Chron. 16:5), and as a both musician and gatekeeper (1 Chron. 16:37-38). Clearly, the man was involved.

As with the other Temple staff, the gatekeepers are divided into groups. This time, however, each group is responsible for a different gate, rather than a different time of year:

  • The east gate group is led by Shelemiah, with 6 people working each day;
  • The north gate group is led by Shelemiah’s son, Zechariah (described as a “shrewd counsellor” in 1 Chron. 26:14), with 4 people working each day;
  • The south gate group is led by Obededom, with 4 people working each day;
  • The storehouse group is led by the sons of Obededom (all of them? do they rotate?), with 2 and 2 (presumably there were two doors) people working each day;
  • The west gate group is led by Shuppim and Hosah, with 4 people at the road each day, and 2 at the “parbar” (the meaning of which is apparently unknown).

This all presents us with two problems. The first is the math. If we look at each place where it mentions the number of gatekeepers, none of our numbers add up:

  • 93 is the total of members mentioned in each group above (1 Chron. 26:1-11);
  • 24 is the total of the people said to work each day at each gate;
  • 212 is the number of gatekeepers in 1 Chron. 9:22;
  • 4,000 is the number of Levites that David assigns as gatekeepers in 1 Chron. 23:5.

The closest I can rationalize is that the 24 is the number working each day, but each group actually has a four day rotation. This gives us a total of 96 members, which would be our 93 figure plus Meshelemiah, Obededom, and Hosah. We can further assume that these are leaders, specifically, and that they have around 4,000 men at their command. That still leaves out the 212 figure, but I’m afraid I’m at a loss for that one.

The second problem we have is that the gates haven’t been built yet. So how do we know that one of the gates is named Shallecheth (1 Chron. 26:16)? How can David (via the Chronicler) describe one of the gates as the one with the road? Just how detailed are David’s plans?

If we assume that the Chronicler is assigning to David the job of assigning these roles for some personal/political/theological purpose, where do the names actually come from? Are these the first gatekeepers assigned once the Temple was built? It’s all very confusing.

The Treasurers

The second half of 1 Chron. 26 is given to the treasurers. This portion is a little garbled, but the best I can figure it is this: Ahijah, a Levite, oversaw all the treasuries. Under him, we have the Temple treasuries (in the charge of Jehieli, Zetham, and Joel) and the treasuries of dedicated gifts (in the charge of Shelomoth).

While Jehieli is here described as the father of Zetham and Joel (1 Chron. 26:22), the three of them are brothers (sons of Ladan the Gershonite) in 1 Chron. 23:8.

There’s also something in there about someone named Shebuel, another Gershonite, who was in charge of the Amramites, Izharites, Hebronites, and Uzzielites, who all looked over the treasuries.

Shelomoth, who is in charge of the treasuries of dedicated gifts, is the son of Zichri, son of Joram, son of Jeshaiah, son of Rehabiah, son of Eliezer. These dedicated gifts would be the things that David and the other prominent leaders of Israel had dedicated, plus any spoils of battle, plus the things that Samuel, Saul, Abner son of Ner, and Joab son of Zeruiah had dedicated. (Though Samuel, Saul, Abner, and likely Joab all died long before the Temple was built, it’s quite possible that they would have dedicated stuff to the ark/tabernacle, and that these were transferred over to the Temple holdings once there was a Temple to transfer to.)

Other Officials

Chenaniah and his sons (of the Izharites) are appointed throughout Israel as officers and judges.

There are also a number of men who are appointed for vaguer duties, simply for “all the work of the Lord and for the service of the king” (1 Chron. 26:30), whatever that means. In the CisJordan, this falls to 1700 Hebronites, led by Hashabiah. In the TransJordan, there are 2700 men under the direction of Jerijah (the chief of the Hebronites).

Commanders

This category is a little fuzzier. It seems that these men are in charge of the army (though I see some commenters claiming that they were in charge of David’s bodyguard only, which makes the number terribly absurd). They are divided into 12 divisions, each serving for one month out of the year. This is the same system we saw for the priests in 1 Chron. 24:7-19, albeit serving for twice the length of time. A rotation system like this would allow the individuals to fulfil their civic duties, while still leaving them the time to look after their personal households.

The divisions are led by:

  1. Jashobeam son of Zabdiel (he is descended from Perez) – There is a Jashobeam, albeit the son of Hachmoni, who served as the chief of David’s Three (1 Chron. 11:11);
  2. Dodai the Ahohite – There is no Dodai among David’s mighty men, but there is an Eleazar, who is the son of Dodo the Ahohite in 1 Chron. 11:12;
  3. Benaiah son of Jehoiada (the priest) – He was one of David’s Thirty, and in charge of David’s bodyguard (1 Chron. 11:22-25). While he features a fair bit in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, this is the first time it’s mentioned that his father was a priest. Referring to the story in 1 Kings 2 where Joab tries to hide from Solomon by clinging to the horns of the altar, James Bradford Pate wonders if “Solomon assign[ed] this task [to kill Joab] specifically to Benaiah because Benaiah was the son of priest and thus had a right to enter the sanctuary?”;
  4. Asahel, Joab’s brother, and his son Zebadiah after him – This fudges up our timeline a bit, since the text heavily implies that these divisions are set up in David’s old age, after he ceded his crown to Solomon (1 Chron. 23:1-2), but Asahel died in 2 Sam. 3, when David still ruled from Hebron (he wouldn’t become king of Israel until 2 Sam. 5). So when was Asahel able to run the fourth month?’
  5. Shamhuth the Izrahite (there is no match for Shamhuth, unless he is Shammoth of Harod, described as one of the “warriors of the armies” in 1 Chron. 11:26-47);
  6. Ira son of Ikkesh the Tekoite (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  7. Helez the Pelonite, of the sons of Ephraim (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  8. Sibbecai the Hushathite, of the Zerahites (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  9. Abiezer of Anathoth, a Benjaminite (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  10. Maharai of Netophah, of the Zerahites (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  11. Benaiah of Pirathon, of the sons of Ephraim (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  12. Heldai the Netophathite, of Othniel (the closest match is Heled son of Baanah of Netophah, who is one of the “warriors of the armies”).

The Tribal Chiefs

We turn now to what appears to be the results of David’s ill-fated census from 1 Chron. 21, the leaders of each tribe:

  1. Reuben: Eliezer son of Zichri;
  2. Simeon: Shephatiah son of Maacah;
  3. Levi: Hashabiah son of Kemuel;
  4. Aaron: Zadok;
  5. Judah: Elihu, described as one of David’s brothers (possibly Eliab from 1 Sam. 16:6 and 1 Chron. 2:13);
  6. Issachar: Omri son of Michael;
  7. Zebulun: Ishmaiah son of Obadiah;
  8. Nephtali: Jeremoth son of Azriel;
  9. Ephraim: Hoshea son of Azaziah;
  10. CisJordan half of Manasseh: Joel son of Pedaiah;
  11. TransJordan half of Manasseh: Iddo son of Zechariah;
  12. Benjamin: Jaasiel son of Abner;
  13. Dan: Azarel son of Jeroham.

There are a few interesting things going on here. The first, of course, is that both Gad and Asher are omitted. The second is that Aaron is listed as a separate tribe. I won’t even try to unpack that, but Paul Davidson does discuss the evolution of the tribes and how they are presented on his blog, Is that in the Bible?

We are reminded that David hadn’t bothered to count up the number of people under the age 20. We are also told that Joab had started counting, but didn’t finish (a reference to 1 Chron. 21:5-6, in which Joab chose not to count Levi and Benjamin in defiance of David). Even so, the counting still earned God’s wrath, and so it was never entered in the chronicles of King David. Except, of course, that numbers are given in both 1 Chron. 21:5-6 and 2 Sam. 24:9 (albeit wildly different numbers).

David’s Stewards

To finish up, we get the “miscellaneous other” category of civil positions:

  • Charge of the king’s treasuries: Azmaveth son of Adiel;
  • Charge of the national treasuries: Jonathan son of Uzzian;
  • Command over the field workers: Ezri son of Chelub;
  • Charge of the vineyards: Shimei the Rathmathite;
  • Charge of the wine cellars and the produce from the vineyards: Zabdi the Shiphmite;
  • Charge of the sycamore and olive trees in the Shephelah: Baalhanan the Gederite;
  • Charge of the stores of oil: Joash;
  • Charge of the herds that pasture in Sharon: Shitrai the Sharonite;
  • Charge of the herds in the valleys: Shaphat son of Adlei;
  • Charge of the camels: Obil the Ishmaelite;
  • Charge of the female donkeys: Jehdeiah the Meronothite (the male donkeys are, it seems, allowed to just run wild!);
  • Charge of the flocks: Jaziz the Higrite.

David’s sons are tutored by Jonathan, David’s uncle (who is described as a counsellor, a man of understanding, and a scribe), and Jehiel son of Hachmoni.

At first, the king’s counsellor is Ahithophel. He was then succeeded by Jehoiada son of Benaiah, and Abiathar. Elsewhere, the warrior Benaiah is described as the son of Jehoiada. It’s possible that this is the same Benaiah, and that he gave his son the same name as his father.

Joab, of course, commanded David’s army.

Finally, there’s Hushai the Archite, who is described as the “king’s friend” (1 Chron. 27:33), which has to be the saddest job title. Curious, I poked around to see what this is all about. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Hushai the King’s Friend. He appeared in 2 Sam. 15:32-37, described in the same terms. There, David sends him back into Jerusalem to spy on Absalom after he’s been forced into hiding, which he does in 2 Sam. 16:15-19. In 2 Sam. 17, Hushai is able to use his position at Absalom’s side to convince him not to hunt David down right away (giving Hushai time to warn David to flee).

As for the phrase itself, it’s clearly a title. In the roster of Solomon’s cabinet 1 Kgs 4:1-6, we find Zabud son of Nathan serving as Solomon’s king’s friend. But where did the title come from, and what did the position entail?

I’m finding several throwaway references to the title being Egyptian in origin, imported. But other sources claim that the Egyptian title refers to what is essentially a courtier class, a way of designating a group of people as those closest to the king, rather than a position that would, presumably, come with its own set of responsibilities. Obviously, I lack the expertise in all relevant fields to say which side has the right in this.

But I did find a hint that the title might possibly be Canaanite in origin. In Genesis 26:26, King Abimelech of Gerar comes to negotiate with Isaac. He is accompanied by two men: His advisor Ahuzath, and his army commander Phicol. Some translations, such as the KJV, give Ahuzath as Abimelech’s friend, rather than his advisor.

Of course, none of the commentaries I could lay my hands on gave any explanation of the different translation choices. Because why would they do something so helpful? In desperation, I thought to check a translation of the Septuagint, just to see what it says. Sure enough, Abimelech shows up to the meeting with Phichol, and with “Ochozath his friend”.

So my conclusion is that “King’s Friend” was definitely an official position, with its own responsibilities (possibly similar to that of advisor or confidant), and I’m tentatively assuming that it’s a Canaanite custom rather than an Egyptian one.

1 Chronicles 3: The House of David

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The importance of this chapter should be obvious. At the time of the Babylonian exile, Judah had seen only two dynasties: Saul’s, which lasted for a mere two kings, one of whom was so politically weak that he’s barely considered in the public imagination, and the dynasty of David, which takes a good deal of the credit for shaping the culture and identity of the people who were then taken into exile.

For over four hundred years, David’s dynasty had been churning out propaganda in support of itself. That the kingdom of Judah could exist again without a ‘son of David’ on the throne must have been unthinkable.

This chapter, like the closing verses of 2 Kings (2 Kgs: 25:27-30), offers the hope that restoration is possible – that a true kingdom of Judah, complete with its Davidic king, can exist once again.

The Sons of David

The first section deals with David’s children. This seems to be largely lifted from 2 Sam. 3:2-5 and 2 Sam. 5:13-16. The kids are divided into two groups: those born in Hebron, while David still mostly ruled only over Judah, and those born after his conquest of Jerusalem, when he ostensibly had control of all the Israelite tribes.

The sons born in Hebron, while he ruled there for seven and a half years:

  1. Amnon, born to Ahinoam the Jezreelite
  2. Daniel, born to Abigail the Carmelite
  3. Absalom, born to Maacah, daughter of King Talmai of Geshur
  4. Adonijah, born to Haggith
  5. Shephatiah, born to Abital
  6. Ithream, born to Eglah

The Daniel mentioned here does not appear in the Samuel account. Rather, Abigail’s son is named Chileab in 2 Sam. 3:3. It’s possible that in this, and the other instances we will see, that the discrepancy is due to individuals being known by multiple names, including pet names. In this case, my New Bible Commentary indicates that ‘Chileab’ means “all the father,” so it may be a term of endearment.

James Pate points out an oddity: of all the mothers listed in this section, only Eglah is referred to as David’s “wife” (1 Chron. 3:3). The same thing occurs in 2 Sam. 3:5. Here, of course, it’s likely that the Chronicler just copied the reference from Samuel, but that doesn’t explain why she is the only one named “wife” originally.

To figure this out, Pate looks to her name: “Eglah” is the Hebrew word for “heifer.” In Judges 14:18, Samson refers to his bride as his “heifer,” suggesting that it might be a term of endearment (perhaps used sarcastically by Samson). In other words, Eglah might not have been the woman’s name at all (and Pate finds from Rashi that Eglah was understood to be Michal), but the pet name of a beloved. Hence, a woman who might be honoured in the record by having her wifely status emphasized.

The sons born in Jerusalem, while he ruled there for 33 years:

  1. Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon, born to Bathshua, daughter of Ammiel
  2. Ibhar
  3. Elishama (mentioned twice)
  4. Eliphelet (mentioned twice)
  5. Nogah
  6. Nepheg
  7. Japhia
  8. Eliada

These were the sons “besides the sons of the concubines” (1 Chron. 3:9). In addition, Tamar (who features in 2 Sam. 13) is the one daughter mentioned.

Statue of King David, outside the Tomb of King David, Jerusalem

Statue of King David, outside the Tomb of King David, Jerusalem

The first discrepancy that jumped out was Bathsheba’s name, here listed as Bathshua. According to Wikipedia, the name ‘Bathsheba’ is constructed from ‘bat’ (daughter) and ‘sheba’ (oath). Replacing ‘sheba’ with ‘shua’ (wealth) may mean as little as a reflection of her change in status, or an emphasizing of a different trait that her loved ones might have wanted for her.

In that same line, we have some other minor discrepancies: Shimea appears as Shammua in 2 Sam. 5:14, and Ammiel is Eliam in 2 Sam. 11:3.

The greater difficulty is with the way the names are presented. The implication (which I reflected in the above list) is that Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon were all Bathsheba’s sons. However, the text elsewhere lists sons according to their birth order, and Solomon is explicitly David and Bathsheba’s second son in 2 Sam. 12:24 (where he is the “comfort baby” following the death of their first, unnamed, son).

It seems likely, then, that Shimea, Shobab, and Nathan are not Bathsheba’s sons. Rather, that the Chronicler (or perhaps a later editor) added Bathsheba as Solomon’s mother in his spot in the list of sons whose mothers are otherwise unnamed.

This brings up a secondary point regarding which sons are being identified with their mothers. The mothers in Hebron are all named, yet only Bathsheba is named after coming to Jerusalem. It makes me think of the way the kings of Judah all have their mothers identified in Kings. Perhaps, the purposes of these two sections are different. For whatever reason, which son was born to which wife was important to the Hebron stage of David’s political career. But after coming to Jerusalem, the focus starts to shift off of David and onto a naming of the queen mothers. In this context, Bathsheba is the only mother worth mentioning in this list. It’s worth noting that, when the same lists appears in 2 Sam. 5:13-16 (which the Chronicler was likely copying), Bathsheba is not mentioned.

The next nine names give us some problems as well. The most obvious being that Elishama and Eliphelet both appear twice on the list.

The first name after Ibhar is Elishua in 2 Sam. 5:15, but is the first instance of an Elishama in 1 Chron. 3:6. To me, this suggest a simple error, perhaps due to a tired scribe working too late at night.

The first instance of Eliphelet, in 1 Chron. 3:6, is just as easy to explain, since the name appears later on in the 2 Sam. 5:13-16 passage. A tired scribe may have just begun on the wrong line and carried on, oblivious.

The presence of Nogah in 1 Chron. 3:7 is more difficult to explain. It could be that a corruption dropped the name from Samuel after the Chronicler had already copied from it, or perhaps the Chronicler knew of a tradition in which David had a son named Nogah, so he fit him into his own history.

Even more troubling is the conclusion in 1 Chron. 3:8, which explicitly states that there were nine sons. This count only works if we separate Shimea, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon from the rest of the list, and then keep all of the Chronicler’s variants. This counting up is absent from 2 Samuel 5:13-16.

The Reigning Sons

This list corresponds to the account in 1-2 Kings. I charted these figures during my reading of Kings.

  1. Rehoboam
  2. Abijah
  3. Asa
  4. Jehoshaphat
  5. Joram
  6. Ahaziah
  7. Joash
  8. Amaziah
  9. Azariah
  10. Jotham
  11. Ahaz
  12. Hezekiah
  13. Manasseh
  14. Amon
  15. Josiah

Up to this point, the records match pretty well with 1-2 Kings. There are a few variations. Abijah appears as Abijam in 1 Kgs 14:31 and 1 Kgs 15, for example, and Azariah is occasionally named Uzziah (such as in 2 Kgs 15:13).

The most obvious difference between this record and the chronology of the kings of Judah is the omission of Athaliah, who was of course a usurper and a break in the Davidic dynastic line.

The sons of Josiah:

  1. Johanan
  2. Jehoiakim
  3. Zedekiah
  4. Shallum

According to my New Bible Commentary mentions that the Johanan listed here is “not otherwise known” (p.372).

We know from 2 Kgs 23:30 that Josiah was succeeded by a son named Jehoahaz who was swiftly deposed by Pharaoh Neco, and who died in Egypt. Neco then installed Jehoahaz’s brother, Jehoiakim, as king.

It’s stranger that Jehoahaz is not on this list of Josiah’s sons. One possibility is that he is one of the other named sons on the list, and that either the name in 2 Kings 23 or the name here is a throne name. Since the sons are usually listed in birth order, and since we learn in 2 Kgs 23 that Jehoahaz was younger than Jehoiakim, we can assume that he is not the same person as Johanan (unless a dating error has snuck in somewhere). Branching out, we can deduce from Jeremiah 22:11 that he is the same person as the Shallum listed here.

The sons of Jehoiakim:

  1. Jeconiah
  2. Zedekiah

This Zedekiah is not the Zedekiah who had a turn under the crown (that one was named above as a son of Josiah).

The Jeconiah here is apparently the same as the Jehoiachin from from 2 Kgs 24:6, who was deposed by Nebuchadnezzar and taken captive to Babylon. Though his uncle, Zedekiah, was the final king of Judah, 2 Kings ends with Jehoiachin, as the bearer of the Davidic line in exile.

The Remnant

The final section is new for us, charting the deposed dynasty in Babylon, presumably in the hopes that this would enable the Hebrews to install a proper king once they return to Jerusalem. While he is known as Jehoiachin in 2 Kings, he is known as Jeconiah here.

Jeconiah had seven sons: Jeconiah: Shealtiel, Malchiram, Pedaiah, Shenazzar, Jekamiah, Hoshama, and Nadabiah.

In the next generation, Pedaiah had two sons: Zerubbabel and Shimei.

The, the sons of Zerubbabel are: Meshullam and Hananiah (plus a daughter, Shelumith). Listed separately, perhaps because they were born to different wife, we get Hashubah, Ohel, Berechiah, Hasadiah, and Jushabhesed.

Through Hananiah, we get: Pelatiah, Jeshaiah, Rephaiah, Arnan, Obadiah, and Shecaniah. Though the wording here is very odd, allowing for the possibility that this is a lineage (Pelatiah was the father of Jeshaiah, who was the father of Rephaiah, etc). Given the amount of time between the reign of Jeconiah and the return from exile, this seems unlikely.

Shecaniah had one son, Shemaiah.

Through Shemaiah, we get Hattush, Igal, Bariah, Neariah, and Shaphat. Though 1 Chron. 3:22 tells us that these are six names, my advanced mathematical skills allow me to understand that there are, in fact, only five names listed.

Through Neariah, we get Elioenai, Hiskiah, and Azrikam.

Through Elioenai, we get Hodaviah, Eliashib, Pelaiah, Akkub, Johanan, Delaiah, and Anani.

Frustratingly, given the importance of this lineage (both to us and to the people of the exile), the writing is very odd (even in translation) and has likely suffered corruption (or, perhaps, the Chronicler tried to fudge over his lack of knowledge by confusing the language).

Because of this problem, the list is practically useless in trying to date Chronicles. James Pate mentions one possible clue in the form of Anani:

He appears to be the last descendant of David who is mentioned in the genealogy.  According to Roddy Braun in his Word Bible Commentary about I Chronicles, there was an Aramaic letter dated to 407 B.C.E. that mentions an Anani, and Braun believes it is plausible that this is the same Anani as the one mentioned in I Chronicles 3:24.  That may give us an indication as to the date of I Chronicles.

The remainder of his post discusses Anani as a messianic figure, and how that might work if he is a historical figure.

With the important lineage of David established, the Chronicler will spend the next five chapters looking at each tribe in more detail, then finish up with a discussion of the families in Jerusalem after the exile. Only after that will the narrative begin again.

 

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.