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JOSIAH (Heb. יׁאושִׁיּהוּ ,יׁאשִׁיָּהוּ), son of Amon, king of Judah (640–609 B.C.E.). When his father was assassinated, Josiah, then only eight years old, was proclaimed king. His reign was marked by a great national revival, and the author of the Book of Kings in evaluating Josiah says: "Before him there was no king like him … nor did any like him arise after him" (II Kings 23:25; cf. II Kings 18:5 in connection with Hezekiah, the forerunner of Josiah). Josiah not only acted as the king of a completely independent Judah, but his kingdom extended northward into the erstwhile Assyrian provinces of Samaria (II Kings 23:19). Archaeological discoveries in the 1960s brought to light new facts about Josiah's expansion. Following archaeological findings in *Yavneh-Yam (cf. Naveh, in bibl.), it became quite clear that Josiah established feudal estates on the shore of Philistia. Unwalled settlements of the time of Josiah were discovered in the south and east of Gaza (Gophna, in bibl.). In the eastern part of Judah, excavations uncovered the town of En-Gedi (cf. Josh. 15:62), which had been founded at the time of Josiah as a balsam plantation of the king (Mazar and Dunayewski, in bibl.). During Josiah's reign, Jerusalem developed greatly, and it is at this time that a new wall was built on the western slopes of the city, and new quarters (Mishneh and Maktesh) were constructed which served mainly as industrial and commercial centers. Remains of buildings and walls discovered in the Jewish quarter of Old Jerusalem prove that the city expanded even more to the west. The extent of Judah's expansion in this period may be deduced from the list of Ezra 2 (= Neh. 7), where Beth-El and Jericho (previously Ephraimite cities), on the one hand, and the cities of the coastal plain Lydda and Ono, on the other, are considered part of Judah. The borders of Judah as presented in this list undoubtedly go back to the times of Josiah and remained the same until the destruction of Jerusalem. According to A. Alt (in bibl.), the lists of the cities of Judah, Simeon, Dan, and Benjamin in Joshua 15, 18, and 19 also reflect the Josianic administrative reorganization of Judah. Though one has to take into account previous organizations by *Jehoshaphat and *Hezekiah which might be reflected in these lists, there is no doubt that the final formulation of these lists was done in the Josianic period; this may be corroborated by the archaeological evidence cited above. These lists actually cover the area of Josiah's rule: Ekron, Ashdod, and Gaza in the coastal zone (Josh. 15:45–47), Beth-El and Geba al-Tell, 22 mi. (35 km.) to the north of Jerusalem (according to Mazar) in the north, En-Gedi and the other towns of Joshua 15:61–62 in the east, and the Simeonite settlements in the south. The stamped jar handles with the inscription למלך and the inscribed weights characteristic of this period may serve as a good indication of the scope of Josiah's dominion. These have been found not only in the area of the Kingdom of Judah but also in Acre, Shechem, Ashdod, Gezer, etc. This territorial expansion was accompanied by a religious upsurge, which found expression mainly in: (1) the cultic reform, including both the purification of worship (in Judah as well as in the northern areas) and the centralization of the legitimate worship in Jerusalem; (2) the publication and authorization of the "Book of the Torah" (see *Deuteronomy) discovered in the 18th year of the reign of Josiah, i.e., 622 B.C.E., which ultimately turned the book into the main vehicle of the Jewish religion (see below). These religious-spiritual enterprises, though reflecting inner developments of Israelite religion, were conditioned by contemporary political events and especially by the gradual decline of the Assyrian Empire. Assyria, which had acquiesced in Psammetichus I's disregard of its claim to suzerainty over Egypt about 655 B.C.E., was compelled by its strenuous wars in Asia Minor, and then by the enormous effort of pacifying the rebellious Babylonians and the independent peoples to the south and east of them who supported them, to relax its hold on Palestine as well.

The Reform and Its Historical Antecedents

Josiah's reform activities are given in two parallel accounts: II Kings 22–23 and II Chronicles 34–35. According to the account of Kings, the reform was motivated by the discovery of "Book of the Torah" in 622 B.C.E.; before that no reformative action had been reported. Chronicles, in contrast, tells about three stages of the reform:

(1) in the eighth year of his reign (632 B.C.E.) he started "to seek the God of David" (II Chron. 34:3);

(2) in the 12th year (628 B.C.E.) he began to extirpate objectionable cults in Judah and Jerusalem (34:3b–5), as well as in other parts of the land of Israel (34:6–7);

(3) finally, in the 18th year (622 B.C.E.), when the "Book of the Torah" was discovered, he concluded the Covenant before the Lord (34:29–33) and celebrated the Passover (35:1–18).

Each account has its problems. Scholars have observed that the story of the temple repairs in II Kings 23 is modeled on the repairs ordered by *Joash, an earlier king of Judah described in II Kings 12. In addition, the account in Kings telescopes all of Josiah's activity into one year. If that account is accurate, then pious King Josiah had been tolerating a temple "overloaded with idolatrous objects" (Japhet, 1019) for 17 years of his reign, as had the high priest Hilkiah. It strains credibility to believe that such a drastic change in Judahite religion (which included the purge of ancient native Israelite practices as well as the newer astral cults that had become popular in the eighth century), as described in II Kings, would have been inspired by the chance finding of the book. The chronology in Chronicles is more plausible, but as noted by Japhet, the Chronicler depends on the Deuteronomistic source in Kings and gives no indication that he had access to any other. For the Chronicler there was need to purge the temple because he had already attributed that to the repentance of wicked King Manasseh (II Chron. 33). The fact that this picture absolves both Josiah and Hilkiah from complicity in a polytheistic temple cult is perhaps too convenient. The contradictory accounts in II Kings and Chronicles are each motivated by the agenda of their writers. The goal of the Deuteronomists was to highlight the importance of the book. The goal of the Chronicler was to make the account in Kings plausible and to show that Josiah had always been a pious religious reformer. According to Chronicles, it was only after the completion of the reform that the book was found (II Chron. 34:8), so that its role is limited to bringing the people into a covenant to purge the land of the idolatrous practices in the former northern kingdom (II Chron. 34:33) and the celebration of the Passover.

There are good reasons for antedating Josiah's reform to the discovery of the book: (1) The reforms of the other Judahite kings, e.g., Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoash, and Hezekiah, were put into effect without relying upon a written book. (2) It would be inconceivable to suppose that Josiah concluded the covenant in the House of God while all the idols still stood there. The establishing or renewing of the relationship between God and the people was always preceded by the removal of the foreign gods (Gen. 35:2–4; Josh. 24:23ff.; Judg. 10:16; I Sam. 7:3–4). (3) In his account of the king's message to Huldah the prophetess (II Kings 22:13), the narrator has Josiah confess not his own sins but the sins of his ancestors, which clearly indicates that at this time (622 B.C.E.) the Judahite cult of Yahweh no longer tolerated other gods. It is the sins of Manasseh hanging over the people (cf. II Kings 21:11; 24:3; Jer. 15:4) with which he is concerned.

(4) The book was discovered in the midst of an action taken in connection with the repairs of the Temple which apparently followed the removal of the cultic objects installed by Manasseh (II Kings 23:4ff.). II Chronicles, in fact, informs us that the repairs were connected with the restoration of the Temple, or rather with its "undergirding," which had been demolished by the previous kings of Judah (II Chron. 34:11).

The Stages of the Reform

It is not known whether the purgative activities in Judah were contemporaneous with those in the northern territories (Beth-El, Samaria, and the Galilee). The presentation of the events in II Kings 23:4–20 leaves the impression that the reform had been performed step by step. The first move of Josiah was the abolition of objectionable cults from Jerusalem and the cities of Judah (23:4–14), then came the destruction of the altar of Bethel, and afterwards the destruction of the high places of the Samarian province (23:19–20). According to II Chronicles 34:6, the reform extended as far as the cities of Naphtali in Galilee. The gradual political deterioration of the Assyrian Empire adds support to the supposition of a gradual takeover of the northern territories by Josiah. A fortress unearthed at Megiddo may be Josianic.

Centralization of Cult

No exact date can be given for the centralization of the cult. Centralization of worship is the great innovation of the Book of Deuteronomy, and therefore its implementation by Josiah might be the result of the "discovery" of the book. But the way Josiah implements the centralization is not in full accord with the prescriptions of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 18:6–8 gives the provincial levite equal rights with the priests of the central shrine: "to serve at the altar and to share the dues," whereas, according to II Kings 23:9, the provincial priests are to share the dues with the Jerusalemite priests but are not permitted to officiate along with them (though one must admit that the levite is not necessarily to be identified with the "priest of the high place"). The contracting of the covenant and the celebration of Passover are performed, according to Kings and Chronicles, in the 18th year, so that in this case there is an established date.

The Significance of the Reform

Josiah's death probably brought an end to his reforming efforts, and in any event, the state of Judah fell in 586 B.C.E. The reform found its full implementation beginning in the Persian period, which saw the reconstruction of the temple in 520. That temple stood as the only Jewish sacrificial shrine in the Land of Israel for almost 600 years until its destruction in 70 C.E. by the Romans. Ultimately, of even greater significance for the history of Judaism was the relocation of divine revelation. Thanks to Josiah's circle, Jews began to seek God's word in the book of Torah. The pledge of the people to observe the Law "as written in the book" brought about a metamorphosis in Israelite religion. To observe the law meant that one had to study it. As a result, the Second Temple period saw the rise of scribes and scholars alongside of the temple cult as well as the gradual eclipse of prophecy. By the time of the destruction of the Second Temple other sacred books had joined the Torah to make up Holy Scripture (kitvei ha-kodesh; Mishnah Yad. 3:5), whose study and exposition led to the crystallization of rabbinic Judaism, which survived for almost 2,000 years.

The Death of Josiah

Assyria, weakened by her struggle with Babylon, found the Egyptians as allies. In 616 B.C.E. the Egyptians went up to the north to help the Assyrians, but to no avail. After the fall of Nineveh in 612, the Assyrian army consolidated its positions in the western part of the empire, Harran and Carchemish. This time they were assisted by the newly enthroned Egyptian king, Neco II ( 610–595; son of Psammetichus), who in the summer of 609 marched with a large force to help the Assyrians retake Harran from the Babylonians. Josiah went to Megiddo to meet the Pharaoh, who killed him there. According to II Chronicles 35:20–24, Josiah ignored God's word and engaged Necho in battle. But the account is suspect because: (a) it is modeled on the account of Ahab's death (I Kings 22:30, 34–37); (b) it is characteristic of the Chronicler's theology to find some sin to account for the downfall of an otherwise righteous king. II Kings 23:29–30 says only that Necho put Josiah to death as soon as he saw him and gives no account of a battle nor any motive for Necho's action. Josiah's death, especially in light of subsequent events, was considered a heavy loss for the nation, as may be learned from II Chronicles 35:24–25: "All Judah and Jerusalem held mourning rites for Josiah … and the singers have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day and have made these a rule in Israel…"


Alt, Kl Schr, 2 (1953), 276–88; F.M. Cross and D.N. Freedman, in: JNES, 12 (1953), 56–58; D.J. Wiseman, Chronicles of Chaldean Kings (1956), 13ff.; Kaufmann Y. Toledot, 1 (1960), 34–39, 81–112; Bright, Hist, 288–302; J. Naveh, in: IEJ, 10 (1960), 129–39; M. Weinfeld, in: Oz le-David (1964), 396–420; B. Mazar and M. Dunayewski, in: IEJ, 14 (1964), 121–30; R. Gophna, in: Atiqot 6 (1970), 25–30 (Heb.). IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (19475), 28 1–3; 6 (19463), 376–8. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Nelson, in: W. Hallo et al. (eds.), Scripture in Context II (1983), 177–89; M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings (AB; 1988), 277–302; M. Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 111 (1991), 65–84; S. Japhet, I & II Chronicles (1993), 1015–59; W. Dever, in: M. Cogan et al. (eds.), Scripture and Other Artifacts Essays… P. King (1994), 143–68, incl. bibl.; R. Althann, in: ABD, 3:1015–18; M. Cogan, in: C. Cohen et al. (eds.), Sefer Moshe … Weinfeld Jubilee (2004), 3–8.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.