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The Untold Story of the Kingdom of Judah

(E7) The Untold Story of King Josiah

Prof. Oded Lipschits

From the biblical historiographer’s point of view, Josiah was the greatest of the kings who reigned in Judah. The reform carried out in his time in the spirit of Deuteronomy, during which the cult in Judah was purified and concentrated in Jerusalem, is the measure by which, looking back, all the other kings in Judah were judged. The days of his reign can be dated to the years 640-609 BCE. However, despite Josiah’s importance and centrality to the biblical historiographer and historiography, nothing is known about him except for one event that took place over a short period of time during the 18th year of his reign. This event can be dated to the year 622 BCE, and from the analysis of the extensive history of the Ancient Near East, it can be assumed that in this period, the Assyrian withdrawal from all strongholds beyond the Euphrates was completed, and there was a political vacuum for several years prior to the Egyptians’ entry into the region as a “successor kingdom”. This was the period of time in which Josiah could carry out a cultic reform, which also had great national and ideological implications.
Despite his greatness and importance, nothing is said about Josiah except for the cultic reform which took place in the 18th year of his reign. In my opinion, this point in time was determined to be the end of the historical composition written in the days of the First Temple, and the completion of the story of Josiah was also written by historiographers who completed the description from the days of Josiah until the exile in Babylon, and therefore neither added nor detailed anything about the 13 years of Josiah’s reign until he was killed in Megiddo by Pharaoh Necho of Egypt. An even more interesting question surrounds the untold story of the first 18 years of Josiah’s reign. Why did the author, who wrote the description during the days of Josiah and who knew many details about the king and what was happening in Jerusalem and Judah during this time period, and so did their target audience, not describe even a single detail, or tell of even a single event from the king’s life until the cultic reform? In this chapter I try to show that this was a deliberate omission, since at this time Josiah was an Assyrian vassal, and the biblical historiographer could not have described him as such. Since both the historiographer and their target audience knew the reality, ignoring this period conveys the message to the readership and emphasizes what was being told against what remained in the dark.

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