The online journal of Luke Dockery

The Reign And Death Of King Josiah


During the last few centuries, the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles have come under intense scrutiny as their historical reliability, theological perspectives, and relationship with one another have all been thoroughly examined.

In the midst of this examination and relevant to each of its parts has been the reign and death of King Josiah of Judah. Josiah’s story is told in 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35, where both accounts describe a reforming king who is killed seemingly at the peak of his reign and in the prime of life.

Countless later authors have recounted or interpreted his story from both Jewish[1] and Christian[2] perspectives, but despite the vast amount of material written about Josiah, little is agreed upon beyond the fact that he died as a result of an encounter with Pharoah Neco II[3] in 609 BC.[4]

Although the different interpretations regarding Josiah vary greatly, underlying many of them is the common assumption that the accounts of Kings and Chronicles are contradictory and that only one,[5] or neither,[6] are historically reliable. Following this assumption, many scholars focus only on the account they consider to be more reliable and construct their evaluation of Josiah solely on that basis.

This paper contends that such claims of contradiction are exaggerated and that the biblical account, when considered along with extra-biblical information regarding the geopolitical background of Josiah’s time, provides an intelligible evaluation of Josiah’s reign and explains why he died an early death.

The Biblical Accounts of Josiah’s Reign and Death

It would be outside of the scope of this paper to examine every supposed contradiction between the two Josiah narratives in 2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35. Instead, an examination of the two major sources for claims of contradiction—the accounts of Josiah’s reforms and his death—will suffice to illustrate the overall level of consistency between the two accounts. Before examining these accounts, however, a few issues must first be addressed.

First, many scholars who are quick to point to contradictions between the Kings and Chronicles accounts do so because they have made prior assumptions concerning the low historical value of the biblical texts. For scholars operating from this perspective, any perceived discrepancies between the accounts in Kings and Chronicles are immediately used to argue the inaccuracy of one, or both, sources. Although this is a common approach in modern critical scholarship, Iain Provan devastatingly critiques it, pointing to the impossibility of proving the majority of historical claims and our fundamental inability to learn information about the past without accepting testimony from historical sources.[7] Instead, Provan argues that the testimony of the biblical sources should be considered reliable unless or until it proves itself to be otherwise.[8]

Secondly, but related to the first point, is the persistent view held by some scholars that Chronicles is nothing but a reworking of Kings where inconvenient details are altered and new material is invented to convey a certain theological point. Stanley Frost represents this attitude in his well-known article, holding that the Chronicler accounts for Josiah’s death by creating an “unconvincing account of a battle”[9] that “no one in ancient or modern times is going to take…very seriously.”[10] Such a negative bias toward Chronicles is unfortunate and is certainly not shared by all scholars, but it does affect how many scholars interpret the Josiah narratives.[11]

Finally, although there are definitely some differences between the Josiah narratives in Kings and Chronicles, it is worth pointing out how remarkably similar the two accounts are in many respects. Both Kings and Chronicles describe Josiah as a good and righteous king[12] who “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2).[13] At a young age, Josiah is depicted as a reforming king who begins an effort to repair the Temple. During the repair work, the Book of the Law is found and read to Josiah who, upon hearing the words, humbles himself and tears his clothes. The Book is then read to the people and Josiah sets about to bring the city of Jerusalem, the territory of Judah and at least part of the territory of Israel in line with the commands of the book, ridding the land of idolatry and improper worship practices and re-instituting the Passover Feast. Furthermore, Josiah is told by God through Huldah the prophetess that although Judah will be destroyed for its many years of unfaithfulness prior to Josiah’s reign, because of Josiah’s personal faithfulness he will not see the destruction himself but will instead die in peace. Josiah is then killed in an incident involving Pharaoh Neco at Megiddo,[14] and is laid to rest in Jerusalem.[15]

Having discussed these preliminary issues, our attention now turns to the biblical accounts of Josiah’s reforms, which is the first area where many scholars are quick to see contradictions.

Admittedly, the accounts of Kings and Chronicles differ in some ways. In Kings, all of Josiah’s reforming work begins in the eighteenth year of his reign when he orders that the Temple be repaired (2 Kings 22:3ff.). During the work on the Temple, the Book of the Law is found and read to Josiah, who tears his clothes when he hears its contents because he realizes how unfaithful Judah has been and sends to Huldah the prophetess to hear a word from the LORD. In 2 Kings 23, Josiah establishes a covenant with the people to follow the LORD, and then begins a massive religious reform throughout Judah and parts of Israel, destroying anything related to idolatry or unapproved worship practices. A brief account of the Passover instituted by Josiah is then given (2 Kings 23:21-23).

In Chronicles, Josiah’s reforms are portrayed as taking place in a series of stages, and significantly, the reforms begin before the Book of the Law is discovered. First, in the eighth year of his reign, Chronicles says that Josiah “began to seek the God of his father David” and then in his twelfth year, “he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, the carved images and the molten images” (2 Chron. 34:3). In Josiah’s eighteenth year, Chronicles describes many of the same events as Kings: the work on the Temple, the discovery of the Book of the Law and Josiah’s reaction to it, the consultation of Huldah, the covenant with the people, and the celebration of the Passover (although Josiah’s Passover is given much more attention in Chronicles).

However, just because the two narratives differ in some details does not mean that they contradict each other and that one of them must be incorrect. Instead, David Washburn points out that the differences between the two indicate the different purposes for which they were written.[16] Examining in detail the use of chiastic structure in both Kings and Chronicles, Washburn determines that the arrangement of both books is “thematic and was never intended to be chronological”[17] and that in both narratives, the discovery of the Book of the Law leads to the story’s climax and reveals the main theme of each account.[18] In Kings, finding the Book of the Law brings about Josiah’s repentance, the renewal of the covenant, and ultimately the cleansing of the land and the nation’s rejection of idols, which is Josiah’s major achievement. In Chronicles the discovery of Book of the Law leads to the detailed account of Josiah’s Passover. For the Chronicler, “an entire nation keeping the Passover was Josiah’s greatest accomplishment, the deed that demonstrated the real depth of his piety toward the Lord.”[19] Washburn’s perspective is helpful to show that there can be different purposes and emphases in the narratives without contradiction.

A second supposed area of disagreement between the narratives in Kings and Chronicles is with regard to the description of the death of Josiah.

The account in Kings is incredibly brief, declaring, “In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him” (2 Kings 22:29). Josiah is then placed in a chariot and brought back to Jerusalem for burial.[20]

The Chronicles account is somewhat longer, and instead of the ambiguous incident of Kings, describes a battle where “Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates and Josiah went out to meet him” (2 Chron. 35:20). Neco tries to prevent a battle with Josiah, sending messengers to him saying that Judah is not his enemy, that God has commanded him to hurry, and that if Josiah interferes he will be opposing God.[21] Despite Neco’s warning, Josiah disguises himself,[22] does not listen to the words from God and comes to Megiddo to engage Pharaoh in battle. After being shot and badly wounded by an archer (2 Chron. 35:23), Josiah is placed in a chariot and brought to Jerusalem where he dies and is buried. All Judah and Jerusalem mourns for Josiah, and Jeremiah chanted a lament for him (2 Chron. 35:24-25).

The two accounts of Josiah’s death are certainly different, but once again, whether or not one sees contradictions between them depends a great deal on the preconceptions one brings to the text. For those scholars who consider Chronicles to be of dubious historical value, it is only natural to write off the Chronicler’s battle account as a misunderstanding of the shorter account in Kings[23] or a later, poorly-constructed theological explanation for Josiah’s sudden death.[24]

However, if one has good reason to view the Chronicler’s portrayal of a battle as accurate,[25] the two narratives fit together quite well: after ignoring a warning from Neco telling him not to oppose God, Josiah goes up to meet him with the aim of engaging him in battle. During the conflict, Josiah is fatally wounded by Neco’s archers[26] and is removed from the battlefield and transported in a chariot to Jerusalem where he dies and is buried. All of Judah and Jerusalem mourns the loss of their righteous king.[27]

The Geopolitical Background of Josiah’s Reign

The events of Josiah’s reign occurred during a time of turmoil in which Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon were all vying for political and military supremacy in the Ancient Near East.[28] At the time when Josiah came to power in 640 BC,[29] Assyria was the dominant power in the area and had been for some time, and Assyrian rule likely limited the sovereignty of Judah to some extent.[30] However, the situation changed dramatically when the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal died around 630 BC, “plunging the Assyrian empire into an extended period of civil war and general strife”[31] which led to a power vacuum in Palestine[32] and signaled the beginning of a shift in the balance of power in the Ancient Near East from Assyria to Babylon.[33]

It was around this time that Josiah apparently took advantage of Assyria’s lack of control in the region[34] and began implementing his massive religious reforms throughout Judah and northward into the Assyrian province of Samaria.[35] Josiah’s reforms certainly would have had political implications as well as religious ones,[36] and numerous scholars have emphasized that Josiah seemed be “bent on reviving Judah to independent status and restoring Davidic control over the north Israelite territory”[37] and that Palestine was gradually being brought under his control.[38]

While Josiah took advantage of Assyria’s decline to enact his reforms and expand his territory, Babylon was taking Assyria’s place as the preeminent international power. Nabopolassar, the Babylonian king, invaded Assyria in 617 BC, conquered the capital city of Ninevah in 612 BC, and in 610 BC overran Haran, the Assyrian’s reserve fortress.[39] All of this happened despite Assyria’s alliance with Egypt, which dated to around 616 BC.[40]

Meanwhile, a new king, Neco II, ascended the throne of Egypt in 610 BC, and immediately rushed north to lend support to an Assyrian attempt to retake the city of Haran.[41] It is at this point that the biblical account records Josiah’s effort to intercept Neco at Megiddo.

Considering the larger geopolitical picture, the Chronicler’s description of a battle makes sense: Neco is trying to hurry (2 Chron. 35:21) in order to come to the aid of his Assyrian allies in their battle against the common Babylonian enemy. Josiah, the righteous king who has restored Judah to religious faithfulness and political significance, sees an opportunity to further solidify Judah’s position in the region by either delaying Egypt from coming to Assyria’s aid,[42] or by taking advantage of the right time[43] and place[44] to defeat Egypt and effectively claim the entire area of Palestine.[45]

Whatever Josiah’s specific intentions, they made him determined to go into battle despite Neco’s warning from God, and as a result, Josiah loses his life as described above.[46] In the short term, it seems likely that Neco was delayed to the extent that he was unable to help the Assyrians, who failed in their attempt to regain control of Haran.[47] However, this was of little comfort to Judah: their king was dead, they were now firmly under the control of Egypt, and Babylon, the very nation they had in some sense aligned themselves with, would soon reduce Jerusalem to ruins.

Conclusion: A Good King who Made a Bad Decision

Much has been written about the struggle to ascertain the meaning of Josiah’s reign and death. Some argue that the Josiah accounts seek to offer a less rigid interpretation of the reward-and-punishment retribution theology that was prevalent in Deuteronomic thought,[48] while others have suggested that the biblical witness is “silent” and at a loss to explain Josiah’s sudden death.[49]

However, all of the various attempts to give meaning to Josiah’s death are somewhat unwarranted,[50] because as this paper has demonstrated, for those who are willing to give them a fair hearing, the biblical narratives in Kings and Chronicles already present an intelligible account of Josiah’s reign and a clear reason for why he died.

The biblical account portrays Josiah as a good and righteous king who brings about extensive religious reforms and leads his people into a renewed covenant with God, expanding the territory of Judah in the process. However, despite all of the good that Josiah accomplishes, the prophetess Huldah makes it clear that there is nothing he can do to save his country—Judah will be punished after Josiah’s reign comes to an end. From this perspective, Judah’s only hope for continued existence was not political or military success, but having the righteous Josiah as their king.

Unfortunately, for a brief moment, Josiah seemingly forgot that his task was faithfulness to God rather than striving to achieve political dominance, and so he rushed to fight a battle that never should have happened, disregarding a warning from God in the process. The ironic result of Josiah’s actions was that a battle which was intended to solidify Judah’s position in Palestine did just the opposite, as it brought about the death of their king, whose personal faithfulness was the only thing delaying God’s judgment. With Josiah out of the way, it was time for Judah’s destruction to proceed. The people of Judah mourned their king, and rightly so: his demise ensured their own destruction.

[1]Steve Delamarter, “The Death of Josiah in Scripture and Tradition: Wrestling with the Problem of Evil?,” Vetus Testamentum 54, no. 1 (January 2004): 29-60. Delamarter traces the Josiah story through more than a dozen early Jewish texts including the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Septuagint, Vulgate, and early rabbinic writings in addition to the biblical texts.

[2]Lowell K. Handy, “The Good, Bad, Insignificant, Indispensable King Josiah: A Brief Historical Survey of Josiah Studies in the Church,” in Restoring the First-century Church in the Twenty-first Century: Essays on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, ed. Warren Lewis and Hans Rollman (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2005), 41-56. Handy gives a survey of the various perspectives on Josiah throughout the history of the Church, noting especially Josiah’s centrality in the writings of the Reformation period and since the nineteenth century.

[3]All biblical references in this paper are taken from the English Standard Version, which renders the Egyptian king’s name as “Neco”. Other sources spell his name in various ways, most often as “Necho” or “Neko”.

[4]Peter Cooper, “What Was Josiah Thinking?,” Bible Review 16, no. 3 (June 2000): 28.

[5]For example, Richard Nelson, “Realpolitik in Judah (687-609 B.C.E.),” in Scripture in Context II: More Essays on the Comparative Method, ed. William W. Hallo, James C. Moyer, and Leo G. Perdue (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1983), 188-89, discounts Chronicles, suggesting that Josiah was “double-crossed” and killed by Neco and that the account of a battle was a later invention by the Chronicler. Meanwhile, Abraham Malamat, “Josiah’s Bid for Armageddon: The Background of the Judean-Egyptian Encounter in 609 B.C.,” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society 5 (1973): 275, strongly affirms the historicity of the battle account in Chronicles.

[6]Nadav Na’aman, “The Kingdom of Judah Under Josiah,” in Ancient Israel and Its Neighbors: Interaction and Counteraction, Collected Essays Volume 1 (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2005), 382-85, considers both accounts to be a manufactured version of reality with Josiah portrayed as being considerably more important than he actually was.

[7]Iain Provan, V. Philips Long, and Tremper Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003), 43-56. Provan, the primary author of the chapters in question, describes the central nature of testimony to our knowledge of the past and the inconsistency of scholars who unhesitatingly accept testimony from others on a daily basis in a variety of ways and then critically reject it in the case of the biblical texts.

[8]It is from this perspective suggested by Provan that this paper operates.

[9]Stanley Brice Frost, “The Death of Josiah: A Conspiracy of Silence,” Journal of Biblical Literature 87, no. 4 (December 1968): 376.

[10]Frost, 381.

[11]Provan, Long, and Longman, 237-38, argue that while Chronicles has its own purpose and perspective, it is nevertheless a work of historiography. Antony F. Campbell, Joshua to Chronicles: An Introduction (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 116, states: “For too long, it was regarded as a late and overly pious rehash of Samuel-Kings, historically unreliable and prone to reshaping reality in terms of its own interests. Relatively recently, biblical scholarship has resumed the task of taking Chronicles seriously.” Finally, Kenneth A. Ristau, “Reading and Rereading Josiah: The Chroniclers Representation of Josiah for the Postexilic Community,” in Community Identity in Judean Historiography: Biblical and Comparative Perspectives, ed. Gary N. Knoppers and Kenneth A. Ristau (Winona Lake: IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009), 221, argues that the dismissive nature with which many scholars treat the Josiah narrative in Chronicles is a “mistake”.

[12]Christine Mitchell, “The Ironic Death of Josiah in 2 Chronicles,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 68, no. 3 (July 2006): 421-35, disagrees with the unqualified description of Josiah as a good king, arguing instead that Chronicles portrays him as sinning by going too far in innovations regarding the Passover and that similarities between his death in battle and that of Ahab suggest his foolishness and arrogance. Although other commentators have also noted the similarities with the Ahab narrative, Mitchell alone suggests that Chronicles portrays Josiah as a “backsliding king” (p. 434); her interpretation seems unlikely in light of the many positive statements made about Josiah in the Chronicles account in 2 Chron. 34:2-3,26-28,33; 35:25-26.

[13]cf. 2 Chron. 34:2.

[14]Scholars have taken several different approaches to explain the fact that Huldah’s prophecy regarding Josiah dying in peace seems to conflict with what happens at Megiddo. L. J. Hoppe, “The Death of Josiah and the Meaning of Deuteronomy,” Liber Annuus 48 (January 1998): 41-43, holds that the prophecy was fundamentally unfulfilled. Ehud Ben Zvi, “Observations on Josiah’s Account in Chronicles and Implications for Reconstructing the Worldview of the Chronicler,” in Essays on Ancient Isael in its Near Eastern Context: A Tribute to Nadav Na’aman, ed. Yairah Amit et al. (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 97, argues that Josiah dying in peace was a conditional part of the prophecy that he forfeited by going up against Neco and ignoring the word of the LORD. John Gray, “I & II Kings,” in The Old Testament Library (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), 713, suggests that the term “peace” might refer to the well-being of the kingdom rather than the individual king. In this interpretation, the focus of the prophecy would be on Josiah dying before the fall of Judah.

[15]Handy, 41.

[16]David L. Washburn, “Perspective and Purpose: Understanding the Josiah Story,” Trinity Journal 12, no. 1 (March 1991): 61, “It would be unfair to say that the two stories contradict each other; rather, they both arrange material by topic, with little regard for chronological sequence. An examination of how each book’s material is arranged can show what events each author considered most important to the overall story….” Jesse C. Long, “1 & 2 Kings,” in The College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 2002), 502, “These differences reinforce…that the two accounts of the same underlying historical events have been framed to address specific concerns.” Peter Ackroyd, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah: Introduction and Commentary (London: SCM Press, 1973), 200-01, points out the theological rather than chronological emphasis of both Kings and Chronicles.

[17]Washburn, 75.

[18]Ibid., 75.

[19]Ibid., 76. Washburn concludes: “…[C]onstruction of a precise time line is impossible. This does not mean, however, that the accounts are contradictory. Each author was more interested in building up to his own particular high point than he was in giving us a chronology of Josiah’s reign.”

[20]Long, 519, argues that the participle mēth in the original text literally says “brought him dying from Megiddo” which indicates that, although wounded at Megiddo, Josiah ultimately dies in Jerusalem. This agrees with Chronicles where it is stated in 2 Chron. 35:24 that Josiah died in Jerusalem. Gray, 748, agrees that mēth should be translated as “dying” rather than “dead”.

[21]Sara Japhet, “I & II Chronicles: A Commentary,” in The Old Testament Library (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 1056-57, argues that in Neco’s warning to Josiah in 2 Chron. 35:21 he is claiming that his god (not YHWH) has commanded him to hurry and that when he refers to “god who is with me”, he is possibly referring to an idol of his god which is in his possession at the time. For a good king such as Josiah, this prevents a problem: how can he submit to the command of a god other than YHWH? Refusing to do this, Josiah persists in going to battle, but when he does so, he sins by not listening to YHWH (2 Chron. 35:22). Japhet’s interpretation, though interesting, is not shared by other scholars, perhaps because she is inconsistent in her translation: why should 2 Chron. 35:21 refer to an Egyptian god when the same word in the very next verse clearly refers to YHWH?

[22]Multiple scholars have noticed the similarities between the account of Josiah’s death in Chronicles and that of Ahab in 1 Kings 22 where he also disguises himself prior to battle: Mitchell, 422-25; Ristau, 234-37, expands the comparison, saying that the Chronicles account of Josiah’s death alludes to Ahab, Ahaziah, and Saul. Despite these similarities, Edgar Wayne Phillips, “The Death of Josiah,” (master’s thesis, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1970), 51, says, “Though the circumstances were similar and the accounts appear schematized, there is little reason to suspect the validity of the basic elements involved.” Certainly the similarities between the death of Josiah and Ahab are no coincidence, and it is likely that by framing Josiah’s death in such a way that it clearly alludes to Ahab’s, the Chronicler is trying to underscore the negative aspects of it. Japhet, 1043, “Josiah, like Ahab, received the Lord’s warning to refrain from going to battle and, like him, ignored the warning.” However, Malamat, 278, disagrees with the translation “disguises himself” and argues that the verb should instead be rendered, “girded himself”.

[23]Zipora Talshir, “The Three Deaths of Josiah and the Strata of Biblical Historiography (2 Kings xxiii 29-30; 2 Chronicles xxxv 20-5; 1 Esdras i 23-31),” Vetus Testamentum 46, no. 2 (April 1996): 213-20, argues that the Kings account depicts Josiah as a vassal under the authority of Egypt who was summarily executed by Neco and that the Chronicler misunderstood this political situation Kings describes and “created a fictitious war” (p. 219). Na’aman, 382, agrees, describing the Chronicles account as “no more than a far-ranging, speculative interpretation” of the Kings account.

[24]Frost, 369-81, speaks of a “conspiracy of silence” surrounding the death of Josiah, suggesting that the Kings narrative is at a loss to explain why a king as righteous as Josiah would meet such an end. For Frost, the Chronicler assumes a battle and, through Josiah’s disregarding of Neco’s warning, conjures up a sin for which the good king can be fairly punished. Frost sees the Chronicles account as an unconvincing theological solution. Nelson, 188, agrees with Frost, saying that the purpose of the Chronicles narrative “was to provide a reason for Josiah’s early and violent death”.

[25]And we do—in addition to the earlier discussion of the historical value of Chronicles in general, as we shall see, the specific historical value of the Chronicler’s description of a battle is supported by the geopolitical background of Josiah’s reign.

[26]There is no reason that 2 Kings 23:29, “…Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo,” has to be interpreted to mean that Neco personally killed Josiah in some sort of hand-to-hand combat. This would be similar to an author saying that George Washington won a battle—no one would assume that the author was claiming that Washington won the battle on his own, but rather that he was in charge and was responsible for the result. Similarly, 2 Kings 23:29 simply indicates that Neco was in command of the situation that resulted in Josiah’s death.

[27]Certainly the biblical account leaves us with certain unanswered questions—how is the seeming lack of fulfillment of all parts of Huldah’s prophecy to be explained? Why was it through the mouth of Neco, a foreign king, that Josiah was warned not to go into battle? Why was Josiah determined to enter into battle in the first place? However, the presence of unanswered questions is a basic part of historical study, and these by no means invalidate the biblical account.

[28]Uriah Yong-Hwan Kim, “The Realpolitik of Liminality in Josiah’s Kingdom and Asian America,” in Ways of Being, Ways of Reading: Asian American Biblical Interpretation, ed. Mary F. Foskett and Jeffrey Kah-Jin Kuan (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2006), 96.

[29]The dates mentioned here come from Rodney R. Hutton, Fortress Introduction to the Prophets (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 63-69 and Malamat, 267-75, but the timeline of events is generally agreed upon.

[30]Leo Duprée Sandgren, Vines Intertwined: A History of Jews and Christians from the Babylonian Exile to the Advent of Islam (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 15, states, “The kingdom Josiah inherited had been a vassal kingdom to Assyria since the days of his great-grandfather Hezekiah.” Most scholars agree with Judah’s vassal status.

[31]Provan, Long, and Longman, 276.

[32]Phillips, 27. The idea of a power vacuum in Palestine following the death of Ashurbanipal is supported by the majority of scholars. However, Na’aman 367-68, argues that no such vacuum existed, and that Assyria’s declining influence in the region was replaced by the rise of Egypt.

[33]Provan, Long, and Longman, 276.

[34]Philippe Guillaume, Waiting for Josiah: The Judges (London: T & T Clark Internation, 2004), 107.

[35]2 Kings 23:1-20; 2 Chron. 34:3-7

[36]The distinction between political and religious policy is a modern concept and is foreign to Josiah’s day. The idea that Josiah could enter Assyrian territory in Samaria and destroy worship sites without there being any political implications is inconceivable. In the words of Phillips, 37, When Josiah “imposed his reform on a specific area it was, in effect, the conquest of that area.”

[37]Carl D. Evans, “Judah’s Foreign Policy from Hezekiah to Josiah,” in Scripture in Context: Essays on the Comparative Method, ed. Carl D. Evans, William W. Hallo, and John B. White (Pittsburgh: The Pickwick Press, 1980), 171; Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman, “Josiah’s Revolt Against Assyria,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 12, no. 1 (January 1953): 56, “Josiah laungched a full-scale politico-religious program for the re-establishment of the Davidic kingdom. Phillips, 31-39.

[38]Phillips, 39. Although most scholars support the idea of some level of a “Golden Age” during Josiah’s reign, Na’aman, 384-89, disagrees that Judah increased significantly in territory of power under Josiah. Even Na’aman admits some level of territorial expansion though.

[39]Sandgren, 18-19.

[40]Phillips, 39-41, “Egypt associated itself with Assyria for its own ends; to strengthen its empire and possibly inherit Assyrian possessions.”

[41]Sandgren, 19.

[42]Would Judah have any particular reason to want Babylon to defeat Assyria? Gwilym H. Jones, “1 and 2 Kings: Based on the Revised Standard Version,” in New Century Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1984), 629, “Josiah was not unaware of the consequence for Judah in the event of Egyptian success against Babylon. In taking action against Neco in 609 BC, he was throwing his dice for Babylon against Egypt and Assyria, and may have hoped for control over Palestine after their defeat by Babylon.” Furthermore, Phillips, 46-47, suggests the possibility of some sense of an alliance between Judah and Babylon, pointing to the affinity between the two nations that seems to be present during the time of Hezekiah, when Merodach-Baladan sends envoys to Jerusalem in 2 Kings 20:12ff. Additionally, antagonism between Judah and Assyria can also be traced to Hezekiah’s time with regards to his conflict with Sennacherib, as described by Sandgren, 14-15.

[43]Phillips, 47, suggests that Egypt perhaps showed signs of weakness because of the very recent ascendancy of a new king.

[44]Malamat, 277, argues that Megiddo was the best place for an ambush that Josiah had access to, specifically “at the strategic pass leading out of Wadi Ara, before the Egyptian army could deploy on the plain or find protection within Megiddo.”

[45]Phillips, 47, “Cautiously Josiah had usurped control of Assyrian possessions in Palestine; but now, perhaps, was the appropriate time to take bolder action and claim all of David’s former holdings. Egypt was the only obstacle that prevented the reality of claiming all of Syria-Palestine….”

[46]Most scholars hold to the Chronicler’s account of a battle, even though it was likely little more than a skirmish due to Josiah’s fatal wound at the beginning, Malamat, 275. Kim, 96, points out that a minority voice discounts the battle narrative, arguing instead that Josiah’s death is better explained at a “court-martial based on sovereign-vassal relations.”

[47]Jacob M. Myers, I and II Esdras, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974), 28-29.

[48]Ristau, 242-43.

[49]Frost, 369-82.

[50]In a sense, the story of Josiah does critique a rigid understanding of retribution theology, although not in the way that many scholars have claimed. In both Kings and Chronicles, Josiah continues his religious reforms and devotion to God even after learning of Judah’s doomed fate. The implication is clear: the truly righteous (like Josiah) will do God’s will regardless of the threat of punishment or promise of reward.


  1. Anonymous

    Great work. One of the commentator said that God was speaking through Necho but Josiah ignored the warning: Necho sent messengers to him, saying, “What quarrel is there, king of Judah, between you and me? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.” It was militarily suicidal to attack a big Egyptian army when they were really enroute to fight the Babylonian or Persian army (I forgot); the Egyptian wasn’t even picking a fight with Judan.

  2. Luke


    Thanks for the comment and the kind words.

    As best as we can tell, Egypt was rushing to the aid of its ally Assyria in opposition to Babylonian forces.

    As you point out, it was “militarily suicidal” for Josiah and Judah to stand in the way of Egypt. It seems that Josiah would have only done so if:

    (1) He was convinced it was God’s will (which seems unlikely to me, based on Necho’s warning from God);

    (2) He expected to be unsuccessful but was throwing his lot in with Babylon in hopes of later benefits (what Jones suggests in his commentary, see footnote 42);

    (3) He temporarily forgot that his main task was faithfulness to God, and instead seemed to get wrapped up in nationalistic fervor and entered into an unwise (and, ultimately, suicidal) military situation. This is the reasoning that my paper takes.

    Thanks again for the comment!

  3. ecarson

    This is big time academic stuff man. Wow! I really enjoyed be challenged here.

  4. Luke


    Thanks Bro! I guess grad school brings out the academic in me. Glad you enjoyed reading…if you click on the “papers” link at the bottom of the post, you can read some other stuff I’ve worked on fairly recently.

  5. Eli

    Thanks for the post! I was researching Josiah to teach VBS and found this article. Fascinating!!!

    • Luke


      Glad you that you were able to find the article and that you found it to be helpful! Best wishes for your VBS!

  6. marshall silva

    I have to agree with the first commentator, that God was speaking thru the Egyptian king Necho. It will always be you bias to assume when we speak of ‘God’ it has to be from the pov being only this God of Israel. When in fact most of what is called highest wisdom & theology of Judaism & Christianity is almost undeniably taken from the ancient Persian Zoroastrians & the Hellene philosophers.

    Judah was a substate of the Persian empire for 200yrs following Cyrus taking of Babylon, then for another 200yrs a substate along with Egypt, Syria, Turkey of the Greeks. The Greeks had delved deeply into & exploring of unconditional, charitable, selfless love 500yrs before this country rabbi Jesus was born. (the Catholic Church today still uses their word & concept to this day AGAPE)

    Ancient Persians:

    The angels, archangels as well as the Holy Spirit were taken from the ancient Persian Zoroastrians, these were not Judaic or Christian ideas originally. Also the idea of the Messiah, God’s Holy Messenger & Prophets (from the mountain top!!) are also taken plus concepts of the Resurrection & Eternal Life, Day of Judgement also sprang from the ancient Indo/Persians.

    Source: Jewish Encyclopedia, where it is freely admitted, not a bad source right? And Moses was not a Hebrew, he was an Egyptian!

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