Caught out

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

In my previous post I wrote,

I intend to follow up my last three posts with another that, not really to be contrary, notes evidence that there probably were “religious reforms” in Judah around the time of Josiah. I hope readers will see how they “fit with” but do not overturn the view that the biblical story of the discovery of the law was a late invention. That will be my next post.

Since I’ve returned to that question and had another look at what I thought I had earlier read about reforms around the end of the seventh century bce I have been flummoxed. What I thought I had read while preparing another piece of writing turned out, on closer and slower reading, to be less substantial than I had first thought. Anyway, I’ll try to set out the strongest arguments some scholars insist there were reforms about that time and the reasons against.

Further, there is much more reading I want to do before I take up that topic so I doubt it will be the next post I write.

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

6 thoughts on “Caught out”

  1. In case you haven’t read this, I found the following article quite informative:

    Fried, Lisbeth S., “The High Places (Bāmôt) and the Reforms of Hezekiah and Josiah: An Archaeological Investigation,” JAOS 122 (2002): 437-65.

    1. Indeed, and thanks, it’s a basic text for this period and I have a draft with portions of that study outlined. I was initially reading (too quickly) through Christoph Uehlinger’s chapter for a “well-grounded minimum”. On further thought I am beginning to think his “well-grounded” is not quite so secure as he proposes. There’s a lot to like about many points he makes, but I baulk at a few sentences in his chapter and am holding back till I catch up with more info. Levin’s textual study of the different layers of the 2 Kings 23 narrative is head-spinning — should we really assume a new redactor every time ‘and it came to pass’ appears as the intro to a new item — doubly difficult to digest given I am relying on AI translations of the German? I did not know what depths I was going to find myself immersed in when I took on this question.

  2. What I originally had in mind was the likelihood that Assyrian cult objects (associated esp with solar/astral deities) were removed after the Assyrian influence was removed and replaced by Egypt’s hegemony. But even that kind of “reform” may be more hypothetical than real — I simply don’t know for sure yet what the Assyrian political processes were re their cult in places they conquered. Some sources suggest “not much”, but then one balances that against the distinctive astral/solar cultic references in 2 Kings 23.

    I had also at first been intrigued by the decline in references to Yahweh’s asherah in Judahite seals toward end of seventh century, but I need to learn more about how representative they may have been, and besides, I need to ask if fewer references to asherah mean much in the context of this discussion given all the other archaeological items that appear to remain constant. And in that context, it must remain problematic what relevance a few changes in iconography (twigs and geometric shapes along with absence of asherah references) in late seventh century has to do with anything on the “Deuteronomist” horizon. Nothing at all, I would venture — so what were those changes, if they were real, all about?

  3. I see I am not alone. My thoughts and questions are on board with what looks like a sober (meaning minimal to no apologetics) mainstream. This is a summary from Lester Grabbe’s Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?:

    Josiah’s religious reforms – the aspect of his reign, and of the seventh century, of most interest to many modern scholars – are difficult to establish in any direct way. (There are some cogent arguments from textual analysis that a modest list of cult measures lies at the heart of 2 Kings 22-23 [Uehlinger 2005], but my concern here is not primarily with inner-biblical analysis.) But the disappearance of Yhwh’s consort and astral symbols from the iconography suggest a significant religious change. This does not by itself establish Josiah’s reforms but combines with other considerations to make the general biblical account (not necessarily the details) plausible.

    Grabbe, Lester L. Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It? London ; New York: T & T Clark, 2007. p. 212

    I’m not interested in trying to suggest that the biblical narrative is plausible. Plausibility of a secondary narrative has little to do with establishing historicity from the primary sources, after all. The most I think that might be on offing is some kind of cultic changes around the end of the seventh century bce (forget the name Josiah for a moment). — maybe those changes were related to the removal of Assyrian domination, but then one is still left with the niggling hints of the fading from view of Yahweh’s asherah around that time.

  4. Biblical commentators tend to see Assyrian references in the condemnation of astral deities, but as I commented in Plato’s Timaeus and the Biblical Creation Accounts (Routledge, 2022) p. 72, “Astronomy accordingly does not figure in Mosaic legal rhetoric, except in Deut 4:19, where the children of Israel were cautioned against observing the heavens, lest they be seduced into worshipping the celestial bodies as gods. Although this had been traditionally interpreted as polemics against Assyrian astral gods (von Rad 1961: 53-54; Westermann 1984: 127; Milgrom 2004), this appears to be based on a pre-Hellenistic dating of Deuteronomy. Deut 4:19 is more plausibly interpreted as reflecting opposition to Plato’s description of the celestial bodies as visible gods (Timaeus 40a-c, 41a; Laws 7.821b; 10.886a,d; Cratylus 397c-d).”

    I haven’t extended my argument to Kings, Jeremiah, etc., and in some cases there do appear to be archaic references to specific Ancient Near Eastern astral deities, but I don’t think one can assume an Assyrian or Levantine cultural context in all cases.

    1. Though what makes me curious is what looks at this point like horses and chariots dedicated to the sun(god). Are the specific references to chariots and horses to be destroyed better understood as allusions to Assyrian cult?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading