2010-09-06

Josiah’s reforms: Where is the archaeological evidence?

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by Neil Godfrey

I’ve seen many positive responses to The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, but my own feeling after reading the book was disappointment at the lack of archaeological evidence they cited for their main theme: the Great Reformation of Josiah and his reign as “the climax of Israel’s monarchic history.” These authors dub this period “A Sudden Coming of Age” for the Kingdom of Judah that produced “The Birth of a New National Religion.”

It was during King Josiah’s reign that Finkelstein and Silberman argue that the “defining and motivating text” of the biblical books was composed. The stories of David and others were supposedly modeled on their authors’ propaganda vision of Josiah himself.

This literary “renaissance” coincided with “a new political and territorial agenda: the unification of all Israel.”

After the fall of the northern Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians, the southern kingdom of Judah was “transformed”. “Traditional tales of wandering patriarchs and of a great national liberation from Egypt” were viewed from a new perspective and came to serve “the cause of religious innovation — the emergence of monotheistic ideas — within the newly crystallized Judahite state.”

But when one looks for the primary evidence they draw on in support of this hypothesis, it strikes me as being so tenuous as to be virtually nonexistent. I see no reason to accept the biblical story as historical, and several reasons to interpret it as fiction. Continue reading “Josiah’s reforms: Where is the archaeological evidence?”


2010-09-01

Good King Josiah: Why did he have to die like that? (Like Moses? Like Jesus?)

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

by Neil Godfrey

English: King Josiah by Julius Schnoor von Car...
English: King Josiah by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The King Josiah story near the end of 2 Kings has always struck me as quite odd. It presents a good king just prior to Judah’s exile into Babylonia who does all the right things such as keeping the Passover and ridding the land of idols. But then he goes and gets himself killed in battle and his kingdom is taken off into captivity anyway. So what was the point of all his goodness?

I agree with Philip R. Davies’ reasons for reading the reforms of Josiah and the discovery of the Book of Deuteronomy in the Temple as ‘just so’ tale invented to strengthen the claims of a newly introduced Book of Deuteronomy as an authoritative document. (See ‘event 2’ discussed here. See also my reasons for not being persuaded by Finkelstein’s and Silberman’s account of a Josiah-led renaissance.) But this seems only to add to the difficulties of explaining why an author would allow God to let him die prematurely in battle.

Today I’ve begun catching up with James Richard Linville’s Israel in the Book of Kings: The Past as a Project of Social Identity, and one of the first sections to attract my attention was his discussion of the significance of the King Josiah story.

Linville sets both Josiah’s reforms and death in an intelligible literary and theological context. Continue reading “Good King Josiah: Why did he have to die like that? (Like Moses? Like Jesus?)”