Josiah or Yoshiyahu was a Hebrew Biblical king who reigned over Judah in the seventh century BCE. According to the Hebrew Bible, he initiated several major religious reforms. Most Biblical scholars believe that he set up or accumulated important Hebrew scriptures during the "Deuteronomic reform" which likely took place during his reign. When he was eight years old, following the assassination of his father, Josiah ascended the throne of Judah and ruled for the ensuing 31 years from 641/640 to 610/609 BCE. There is no other historical text that mentions Josiah besides the Hebrew Bible. The contemporary Egyptian and Babylonian sources are silent about him. No clear archaeological evidence, like inscriptions bearing his name, has been discovered to date. Regardless of this, most scholars hold the view that his existence is a historical fact. Furthermore, they also believe that the lack of evidence is because of only a limited number of documents of any kind having survived from this very early period. The Hebrew Bible mentions two versions of his death, both of which were results of his war against the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II. After him, his son, Jehoahaz, became the king.
- The Hebrew Bible states that Josiah’s parents were King Amon and Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah of Bozkath. His grandfather was Manasseh, one of the kings who was accused of quitting the worship of Yahweh and embracing idolatrous worship.
- Like Josiah, his great-grandfather King Hezekiah was also a renowned reformer. Josiah was supposedly born in 648 BCE in Jerusalem.
- The Hebrew Bible states that Josiah instructed the High Priest Hilkiah to utilize the tax money that had been accumulated throughout the years to refurbish the Temple in Jerusalem. While he was renovating the treasure room, Hilkiah discovered a scroll called “the book of the law” or as “the book of the law of Yahweh by the hand of Moses”.
- The term "the book of the Torah" in 2 Kings 22:8 is similar to the term that describes the sacred writings that Joshua had been given by Moses in Joshua 1:8 and 8:34. However, the book is not recognised as the Torah in the text.
- Several scholars hold the view that the text was probably a version of the Book of Deuteronomy or a text that was assimilated into Deuteronomy.
- It also needs to be mentioned that the tale of the renovation of the temple was inspired by those instructed by a previous Judean king, Joash in 2 Kings 12. Hilkiah informed Josiah about the scroll.
- Josiah spoke to the prophetess Huldah who convinced him not to worry about the evil prophesied in the document for disregarding its instructions, as it would not occur during his reign for Josiah’s “heart was tender and thou didst humble thyself before the Lord".
- Following an assembly of the elders of Judah and Jerusalem and all the people, Josiah outlawed the worship of all deities except Yahweh. The instruments and emblems of the worship of Baal and "the host of heaven" were taken out of the Temple of Jerusalem.
- Local sanctuaries, or High Places, were demolished everywhere between Beer-sheba in the south and Beth-el and the cities of Samaria in the north. On Josiah’s orders, pagan priests were put to death and even the bones of the dead priests of Bethel were removed from their graves to be cremated on their altars. Josiah also brought back the Passover celebrations.
- 1 Kings 13:1–3 mentions an unnamed “man of God” (some scholars identify him as Iddo) who had foretold to King Jeroboam of the northern Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) about three hundred years before, that Josiah, belonging to the house of David, would demolish the altar at Bethel.
- The “man of God” had also prophesied that this future ruler would leave the grave of an unnamed prophet he discovered in Bethel untouched. This prophet had predicted that the religious sites that Jeroboam had built would be demolished one day.
- As the prophecies had been proven to be true, Josiah instructed his people not to vandalise the double grave of the "man of God" and the Bethel prophet.
- In 2 Chronicles, Josiah is described to be the destroyer of altars and images of pagan deities in cities of the tribes of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, and even Naphtali. He brought back the Ark of the Covenant to the temple.
- The names of two of Josiah’s wives have been mentioned in the Hebrew Bible: Zebidah, the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah, and Hamutal, the daughter of Jeremiah of Libnah. With the former, Josiah had two sons: Johanan and Eliakim (born c. 634 BCE). He had two more sons with the latter: Mattanyahu (618 BCE) and Shallum (633/632 BCE).
- The Hebrew Bible gives two different accounts of Josiah’s death. According to the Second Book of Kings (23:29), Josiah was defeated and killed by the Egyptian Pharaoh Necho II in a battle at Megiddo.
- The Second Book of Chronicles (35:20–27), on the other hand, gives a more detailed account, revealing that Josiah suffered fatal wounds from Egyptian archers and was taken back to Jerusalem where he passed away. The latter account is regarded as inaccurate by a few scholars as it is similar to the description of the death of another king, Ahab.
- The date of Josiah’s death can be deduced quite correctly. According to the Babylonian Chronicle, the battle at Harran between the Assyrians and their Egyptian allies and the Babylonians took place sometime between July and September of 609 BCE.
- According to the Hebrew Bible, Necho II defeated Josiah before leading his forces to aid the Assyrians against the Babylonians. This demonstrates that Josiah died between July and August of 609 BCE while the Egyptians were marching towards Harran.
- The combined forces of Assyria and Egypt were unsuccessful in defeating the Babylonians. Necho II subsequently decided to go back to Egypt. During the journey, he visited Judah, where he discovered that Shallum had been chosen as his father’s successor and was reigning as Jehoahaz. Necho II deposed him and put his older brother Eliakim or Jehoiakim on the throne.
- Necho II made Jehoahaz his prisoner and took him to Egypt. The line of David virtually came to end with the death of Josiah, as none of his successors ruled for a long period.
- Judah was ultimately conquered and its people enslaved and exiled by King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. The Judeans did not return to their native land until the fall of Babylon to the Persian king Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE.
- The only textual evidence supporting Josiah’s reign over Judah is the Hebrew Bible. He is mentioned in the passages 2 Kings 22–23 and 2 Chronicles 34–35. No archaeological proof of Josiah as a person has yet been found.
- However, a signet ring has been discovered in the City of David in Jerusalem with the name of Nathan-Melech inscribed on it. According to 2 Kings 23:11, Nathan-Melech was one of Josiah’s officials. The inscriptions on the ring describe Nathan-Melech as “Servant of the King”.
- According to the Hebrew Bible, Josiah was a righteous king. He is described as a ruler who “walked in all the way of David his father, and turned not aside to the right hand or to the left" (2 Kings 22:2; 2 Chronicles 34:2). His name also appears in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew's gospel.
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