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JOSIAH (jō-zī'a, Heb. yō’shîyāhû, Jehovah supports him). Son of Amon and Jedidah and the grandson of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah (2Kgs.22.1). Josiah’s reign on the Davidic throne for thirty-one years was the last surge of political independence and religious revival before the disintegration of the southern kingdom that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 b.c.

When palace officials murdered King Amon in 642 b.c. (2Kgs.21.23) the eight-year-old Josiah was crowned king of Judah. While the boy-king grew to manhood, the imposing international influence of Assyria declined rapidly. Insurrections and rebellions in the East and the death of Ashurbanipal (c. 633) provided an opportunity for a rising tide of nationalism in Judah. By 612 the coalition of Media under Cyaxares and Babylon under Nabopolassar converged on Nineveh to destroy Assyria’s famous capital. Within three years the Babylonians had routed the last of the great Assyrian army. These decades gave Josiah the political advantage not only to assert Judah’s independence but also to extend its influence into the northern tribes—perhaps even kindling fond hopes of claiming the boundaries as established by David and Solomon.

Josiah’s religious leadership ranks him with Jehoshaphat and Hezekiah as an outstanding righteous ruler. Gross idolatry—Baal altars, Asherah poles, star and planetary worship, child sacrifice to Molech in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, astrology, occultism, altars for worshiping the host of heaven in the temple court, and the shedding of innocent blood—all these permeated the land of Judah during the reign of Manasseh (686-642 b.c.), whose personal penitence and reform (2Chr.33.13) in all likelihood did not penetrate the kingdom of Judah sufficiently to reconstruct the religious pattern. Whatever reform had been accomplished by Manasseh after his release from captivity was countered by a reversion to idolatry under Amon. Josiah gradually reacted to these godless influences that permeated his kingdom (2Chr.34.1-2Chr.34.33). In the eighth year of his reign (c. 632) he began to seek after God and four years later initiated reforms. Images, altars, and all manner of idolatrous practices were destroyed not only in Jerusalem and Judah but in the cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, Simeon, and as far north as Naphtali. At the same time offerings and contributions were collected throughout the nation for the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem, which had been neglected for such a long period.

In the course of renovating the temple (622 b.c.) the Book of the Law was recovered. The reformation movement was now stimulated anew by the reading of this “Book of the Law...given through Moses” (2Chr.34.15). Not only had the reading and observance of the law been neglected in preceding decades, but it is possible that Manasseh even destroyed existing copies that were in circulation throughout the land of Judah. Huldah the prophetess warned the people of impending judgment awaiting them for their neglect of the law (2Chr.34.23-2Chr.34.28). Stirred by these developments Josiah led his nation in the observance of the Passover in a manner unprecedented in Judah’s history.

With the king himself leading the reformation movement, changes in personnel occurred. Priests serving by royal appointment of former kings and dedicated to idol worship were removed from office. Josiah, however, made temple revenues available for their support (2Kgs.23.8-2Kgs.23.9). The religious climate established by Josiah must have provided favorable conditions for Jeremiah during the first eighteen years of his ministry (627-609 b.c.), even though no references are made to the association of these great leaders in the historical records (2Kgs.22.1-2Kgs.22.20-2Kgs.23.1-2Kgs.23.37 and 2Chr.34.1-2Chr.34.33-2Chr.35.1-2Chr.35.27).

In 609 b.c. Josiah’s leadership was abruptly ended. In an effort to interfere with Pharaoh Neco’s plans to aid the Assyrians, Josiah was fatally wounded at Megiddo (2Chr.35.20-2Chr.35.24). National and religious hopes vanished with the funeral of this thirty-nine-year-old king so that all Judah had reason to join Jeremiah in lamenting for Josiah (2Chr.35.25).

Bibliography: D. W. B. Robinson, Josiah’s Reform and the Book of the Law, 1951; C. F. Pfeiffer, Old Testament History, 1973, pp. 371-74; J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, 1980, pp. 59-67.——SJS

JOSIAH jō sī’ ə (יֹאשִׁיָּ֣הוּ; LXX ̓Ιωσίας, G2739, may the Lord support or heal). Name of a king of Judah, son of Amon and Jedidah (below), and the name of a contemporary of the prophet Zechariah (Zech 6:10).


Early years.

After Manasseh’s reign of terror, Amon (at twenty-two) showed similar tendencies. His assassins may have wanted a dynastic change or rebellion against Assyria (so Malamat); but the country party rejected them (2 Kings 21:24), installing Josiah at the age of eight (there is slight textual support for “eighteen,” but Amon’s youth precludes this). There must have been a regency, controlled by supporters of the dynasty who welcomed relief from its misgovernment. As Myers suggests, Zephaniah may well have had some influence. Josiah’s active pursuit of a godly policy is dated from 631 b.c. (2 Chron 34:3); Montgomery, ICC, finds his “conversion” (sic) on coming of age “artificial,” but without reason.

Contemporary events and foreign policy.

Early in Josiah’s reign, the Assyrian grip on Pal. was already relaxing, and Psamtik I was gradually reestablishing Egyp. authority on the coast of Philistia. Nabopolassar’s enthronement in Babylon (Nov. 626 b.c.) heralded the extinction of the Assyrian empire; by 616, the situation was serious enough for Egypt to align herself with Assyria. Nineveh fell in 612; Assyrian forces kept the field in upper Mesopotamia, with Egyp. support, until their final defeat at Carchemish.

Josiah, starting as Assyria’s vassal at least in name, found increasing scope for acting independently. The covenant (622 b.c.), amounting to formal defiance of the Assyrian deity, brought no political repercussions; and it is possible, though perhaps irrelevant, that his assumption of authority in the provinces of Samaria (2 Kings 23:19f.) and Megiddo could have been represented as in the Assyrian interest. Josiah may have hoped to restore the kingdom of David; it should be noted, however, that the description of the land (23:8) is still “from Geba to Beersheba”; whereas, so far, none of the stamped jar handles associated with this reign has been found N of Tell-en-Nasbeh. It is going beyond the evidence to ascribe Josiah’s Passover feast to an expansionist policy (Segal, 216ff.).

Westward expansion may be attested by traces of settlement at Mesad Hassabyahu (Naveh et al., IEJ, pp. 10, 14; for the theory that the boundary lists in Joshua relate to Josiah’s kingdom, see Bibliography). Josiah married Hamutal of Libnah, perhaps for diplomatic reasons (2 Kings 23:31; cf. 8:22), and Zebidah of Rumah (23:36; Aharoni accepts this but Ginsberg emends to Dumah).

Josiah’s reformation

The Biblical account.

In 2 Kings 22:3-7, it is related that Josiah gave orders for major repairs to the Temple in 622/1 b.c., during which the high priest found “a book of the law” (v. 8). The king was greatly shocked by what he read; when the prophetess Huldah confirmed its message of doom, he held a national assembly to renew the covenant that it contained. This was followed by a purge of idolatry, extended to Bethel and the Samaritan cities (23:4-20), and the Passover celebration in 622/1 b.c. (23:21-23). The narrative includes an appreciation of Josiah’s work (23:25), and records his death (23:28-30).

The Chronicler (2 Chron 34; 35) traces Josiah’s devotion from boyhood, through his first reforms in 628/7 b.c. Having mentioned his activity in Israel, he describes how the book was found and the covenant made after “he had purged the land and the house” (34:8). The effect in Israel is again noted (v. 33). The Passover is described, and characterized as surpassing all previous celebrations under the monarchy (2 Chron 35:18). In Kings, Josiah’s recall to the covenant is the most important event of the reign; Huldah’s prophecy holds the key—the curse must be fulfilled, but Josiah’s faith was accepted. To this, all else is incidental. The Chronicler is concerned mainly with the record of Israel’s last God-fearing king, and with the witness to God’s ordinances even in the shadow of disaster. The presentation in Kings is not incompatible with the earlier reforms recorded in Chronicles, which are implied in 2 Kings 22:2 and indeed by the Temple repair fund.

The Covenant and the Passover.

The Covenant was in the terms of the book, which Josiah read at the ceremony. Many scholars (esp. those who reject the Chronicler’s account) have concluded that the reforms followed more or less specifically the directions of the book. This may be debated (see next section); moreover, the book was found during the restoration of the Temple, which would hardly have been undertaken without religious reform. Recognizing this, some scholars see Josiah as following Hezekiah’s lead toward making the Temple the one and only sanctuary of the Lord, where the Passover would be kept. On this view, the book supported but did not inspire Josiah’s moves (see Keil on 2 Chron 35:19); and the Passover was not new in principle but in the number of participants and the ordering of the service; both 2 Kings 23:22 and 2 Chronicles 35:18 can be understood thus. Some authorities, however (e.g., Gray, Alt) see this Passover as instituting a “pilgrimage” in place of a family festival.

It is not clear whether the Passover was unique, or a pattern for the rest of the reign. Widengren connects Passover and Covenant with the New Year (similarly Mowinckel, Psalmstudien II, pp. 204-206), as an annual ceremony. This means a fall Passover and a celebration at the beginning of Josiah’s eighteenth year, both very improbable; so much had already happened in that (regnal) year. The restoration of the Temple may well have started in October (2 Kings 22:3 LXX, though Keil, ad loc. 2 Chron 35:19, reckons it “a worthless gloss”).

The reform and the book.

As with the Passover, the reformation does not seem to have originated with the book, though the covenant terms clearly denounced pagan worship to the point of allowing only one national place of sacrifice. It was the severity of the penalties in the covenant that alarmed Josiah. These penalties, the directions for the Passover, and the prohibition of idolatry, are all that we know directly of the book. On the reasonable assumption that it formed part of the Pentateuch, it was most prob. Deuteronomy; of the principal alternatives, the Exodus covenant does not specify penalties, whereas the “Holiness Code” barely mentions the Passover (Lev 23:5).

The explicit command in Deuteronomy 12 to “centralize” worship has received so much attention that many scholars have inferred a direct connection and correspondence between the book and the reforms. H. H. Rowley (Growth of the O.T., p. 30) claims that only as regards country priests “did the reform not implement the provisions of Deuteronomy.” This is an exaggeration (Gray, p. 651, n.). Most of Deuteronomy relates to other things; A. Alt (Kleine Schriften II, 252ff.) finds wide variations from the reform.

Death of Josiah.

In the summer of 609 b.c., Josiah opposed the Egyp. army as it approached the Megiddo pass en route to support the Assyrian attempt to recapture Haran. Despite assurance by Necho that he had no aggressive designs on Judah, Josiah persisted, and was defeated and mortally wounded. The account in 2 Kings 23:29 is brief, and various reconstructions have been proposed. Welch (ZAW [1925], 255ff.) and H. W. Robinson (History p. 424) think that Necho summoned Josiah; but the details given in 2 Chronicles 35:20ff. tell against this. RSV v. 21 conceals a change of preposition; ’el bet milhamti prob. means “to my (forward) base” (Malamat, Alfrink). Necho had no time to exploit his victory until the fall (see Jehoahaz).

It is difficult to understand Josiah’s rash initiative. He may just have been opposing Egypt and Assyria on principle, or deliberately working with the Babylonians (Freedman, BA, XIX, 52 n. 10; but this is highly inferential). Nevertheless, these events fulfilled the promised of 2 Kings 22:20.


Keil, Chronicles, n. d.; T. Alfrink, Biblica, XV (1934); E. Junge, Wiederaufbau des Heerwesens, BWANT, 4/23 (1937); W. F. Albright, JBL, LVII (1938); D. Diringer, BA, XII (1949), 74-86; H. Ginsberg, Alex. Marx Jub. Vol. (Eng. sec., 1950); A. Malamat, JNES, IX (1950), 218ff.; J. Montgomery, Kings (ICC) (1951); F. Cross and D. Freedman, JNES, XII (1953), 56-58; A. Alt, Kleine Schriften, II (1953), 250ff., 276-288; M. Noth, Joshua (Eng., 1953); G. von Rad, Deuteronomy (Eng., 1953), 60ff.; F. Cross and G. Wright, JBL, LXXV (1956), 203-219; D. Freedman, BA XIX (1956), 50-60; D. Wiseman, Chronology of the Chaldaean Kings (1956); E. Thiele, BASOR, XLIII (1956), 25ff.; W. F. Albright, ibid., 28-33; van Maag, Vet Test, VI (1956), 10-18; G. Widengren, JSS, II (1957), 1-19; J. B. Pritchard, Hebrew Inscriptions from Gibeon (1959), 18ff.; G. Fohrer, ZATW, LXXI (1959), 13f.; W. Hallo, BA, XXIII (1960), 60f.; J. Naveh, IEJ, X (1960), 129-139; XII (1962), 97-99; F. Coss, BASOR, CLXV (1962), 42; Y. Yadin, Art of Warfare (1963), 311f.; J. Segal, The Hebrew Passover (1963), 216ff.; H. H. Rowley, Men of God (1963), 159-167; J. Amusin, M. Heltzer, J. Naveh, IEJ, XIV (1964), 148-159; S. Talmon, BASOR, CLXXVI (1964), 36ff.; J. Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (1964), ss. 309-315; J. Myers, Chronicles, (1965); E. Thiele, Mysterious Numbers2 (1965), 161ff.; R. Frankena, OT Studien XIV (1965), 152; Y. Aharoni, Land of the Bible (1966), 349-351; H. Cazelles, RB, LXIV (1967), 24-44.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(yo’shiyahu, "Yahweh supports him"; Ioseias; the King James Version Josias (which see)):


1. Annalistic

2. Prophetic

3. Memorial


1. Situation at the Beginning

2. Finding of the Law

3. The Great Reform

4. Disaster at Megiddo

The name given 6 years before the death of his grandfather Manasseh resumes the Judaic custom, suspended in the case of that king and Amon, of compounding royal names with that of Yahweh; perhaps a hint of the time, when, according to the Chronicler, Manasseh realized Yahweh’s claim on his realm (2Ch 33:12,13). One of the most eminent of the kings of Judah; came to the throne at 8 years of age and reigned circa 637-608 BC.

I. Sources for His Life and Times.

1. Annalistic:

The earliest history is dispassionate in tone, betraying its prophetic feeling, however, in its acknowledgment of Yahweh’s wrath, still menacing in spite of Josiah’s unique piety (2Ki 23:26,27). For "the rest of his acts" (to which the rather bald account of his death is relegated as a kind of appendix), it refers to "the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah." In the later history (2Ch 34; 35), written from the developed ecclesiastical point of view, he is considerably idealized: the festal and ceremonial aspects of his reform are more fully detailed, and the story of his campaign and death is more sympathetically told in the sense of it as a great national calamity.

2. Prophetic:

For the spiritual atmosphere of his time and the prophetic consciousness of a day of wrath impending, the prophet Zephaniah is illuminating, especially for the first half of the reign. Jeremiah, born at about the same time as Josiah, began prophesying in the 13th year of the reign (Jer 1:2). His intimate connection with state affairs, however, belongs to succeeding reigns; but some prophecies of his, notably those revealing his attitude toward the temple misuse (7:1-15) and toward the Deuteronomic reform (11:1-13), throw much light on the prevailing conditions. Nahum, writing near the end of the reign, and from an outlying village, is less concerned with home affairs than with the approaching end of Nineveh (fell 606 BC).

3. Memorial:

In Jesus Sirach’s Praise of Famous Men there is a passage (Sirach 49:1-4), wholly eulogistic of Josiah, on the score that "in the days of wicked men he made godliness to prevail"; and along with David and Hezekiah he is one of the three who alone did not "commit trespass." Jeremiah’s lamentation for. Josiah, mentioned in 2Ch 35:25, is not preserved to us; instead there is only an allusion (Jer 22:10), naming his successor Shallum (Jehoahaz) as a fitter subject. The lamentations which became "an ordinance in Israel" (2Ch 35:25) are not to be referred to the Scripture book of that name; which has no hint of Josiah, unless La 4:20 be so construed.

II. Traits of His Reign.

1. Situation at the Beginning:

Until his 18th year 2 Kings gives no events of Josiah’s reign; 2 Chronicles, however, relates that in his 8th year (at 16 years of age) he "began to seek after the God of David his father," and that in the 12th year he began the purgation of Judah and Jerusalem. The Chronicler may be mistaken in putting the completion of this work before the finding of the law (2Ch 34:8), but of his disposition and of his beginning without documentary warrant on a work which Hezekiah had attempted before him, there is no reason to doubt. And indeed various influences were working together to make his procedure natural. The staunch loyalty to the Davidic house, as emphasized by the popular movement which seated him (see under AMON), would in itself be an influence to turn his mind to the God of David his father. Manasseh’s all-embracing idolatry had indeed reduced his aristocracy to a people "settled on their lees, that say in their heart, Yahweh will not do good, neither will he do evil" (Ze 1:12); but these represented merely the inertia, not the intelligence, of the people. Over against them is to be reckoned the spiritually-minded "remnant" with which since Isaiah the prophets had been working; a remnant now seasoned by persecution, and already committed to the virtue of meekness (Ze 2:3) and the willing acceptance of affliction as their appointed lot, as against the arrogance of the "proudly exulting ones" (Ze 3:11-13). To such courage and hope the redeeming element of Israel had grown in the midst of a blatant infidelity and worldliness. Nor were they so unconnected with the established order as formerly. The ministers of the temple-service, if not subjected to persecution, had been ranked on a level with devotees of other cults, and so had a common cause which would work to unite the sympathies of priests and prophets in one loyalty to Yahweh. All this is adduced as indicating how the better elements of the nation were ripening for a forward step in enlightened religious progress.

2. Finding of the Law:

The providential moment arrived when in the 18th year of his reign Josiah sent Shaphan the scribe to the temple to arrange with Hilkiah the high priest for the prescribed temple repairs. On giving his account of the funds for that purpose, Hilkiah also delivered to Shaphan a book which he had found in the "house of Yahweh," that is, in the temple proper; which book, when Shaphan read therefrom to the king, caused the latter to rend his robe in dismay and consternation. It was a book in which were commands of Yahweh that had long been unknown or disregarded, and along with these, fearful curses to follow the infraction of them. Such a discovery could not be treated lightly, as one might spurn a prophet or priest; nay, it immediately called the authority of the prophet into requisition. The king sent a deputation to Huldah the prophetess for her verdict on the book; and she, whether aware of its contents or not, assured him that the curses were valid, and that for impieties against which the prophets continually warned, all the woes written in the book were impending. One of the most voluminous discussions of Biblical scholarship has centered round the question what this book was, what its origin, and how it came there in the temple. The Chronicler says roundly it was "the book of the law of Yahweh by the hand of Moses." That it was from the nation’s great first prophet and lawgiver was the implicit belief of the king and all his contemporaries. There can be little doubt, judging from the nature of the reforms it elicited and the fact that the curses it contained are still extant, that this "book of the law" was virtually identical with our Book of Deuteronomy. But is this the work of Moses, or the product of a later literary activity? In answer, it is fair to say that it is so true to the soundest interpretation of the spirit and power of Moses that there need be no hesitation in calling it genuinely Mosaic, whatever adaptations and supplementations its laws received after his time. Its highly developed style, however, and its imperfect conformity to the nomadic conditions of Moses’ time, make so remote an origin of its present form very doubtful. It comes to us written with the matured skill of Israel’s literary prime, in a time too when, as we know (see under HEZEKIAH), men of letters were keenly interested in rescuing and putting to present use the literary treasures of their past. As to how it came to be left in the temple at a time so much before its discovery that none questioned its being what it purported to be, each scholar must answer for himself. Some have conjectured that it may have been a product of Solomon’s time, and deposited, according to immemorial custom in temple-building, in the foundation of Solomon’s temple, where it was found when certain ruins made repairs necessary. To the present writer it seems likelier that it was one of the literary products of Hezekiah’s time, compiled from scattered statutes, precedents, and customs long in the keeping--or neglect--of priests and judges, put into the attractive form of oratory, and left for its providential moment.


3. The Great Reform:

4. Disaster at Megiddo:

Ardent and pious as he was, there seems to have been a lack of balance in Josiah’s character. His extreme dismay and dread of the curse pronounced on the realm’s neglect of the law seems to have been followed, after his great reform had seemed to set things right, by an excess of confidence in Yahweh’s restored favor which went beyond sound wisdom, and amounted to presumption. The power of Assyria was weakening, and Pharaoh-necoh of Egypt, ambitious to secure control of Mesopotamia, started on the campaign in which he was eventually to suffer defeat at Carchemish. Josiah, whose reforming zeal had already achieved success in Northern Israel, apparently cherished inordinate dreams of invincibility in Yahweh’s name, and went forth with a little army to withstand the Egyptian monarch on his march through the northern provinces. At the first onset he was killed, and his expedition came to nothing. In his untimely death the fervid hopes of the pious received a set-back which was long lamented as one of the cardinal disasters of Israel. It was a sore calamity, but also a stern education. Israel must learn not only the enthusiasm but also the prudence and wisdom of its new-found faith.

(2) A contemporary of Zechariah (Zec 6:10), at whose house in Jerusalem the prophet met some returned Jews from Babylon.