King of Judah from 639 to 608 B.C.; son and successor of Amon and grandson of Manasseh. His mother was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah of Boscath (II Kings xxii. 1 et seq.). His father, Amon, fell a victim to a conspiracy and was murdered by his own servants. According to II Kings xxi. 24, the "people of the land"—that is to say, the citizens of Jerusalem and Judah as distinct, probably, from the court party to which the conspirators belonged—slew the murderers of King Amon and made his son Josiah king. Josiah, then eight years old, reigned thirty-one years.Reform of Worship.
Of the first eighteen years of his reign the Book of Kings tells nothing. In 626 B.C. Jeremiah began his notable work. The influence of this great prophet, and possibly of Nahum and Zephaniah, made itself felt, and Josiah inaugurated in his eighteenth year that great reformation which marks an epoch in the religious history of Israel. He first undertook the repair of the Temple, with the cooperation of his high priest Hilkiah. During the progress of this work "the book of the law" was found in the house of the Lord. The king was greatly alarmed lest the calamities threatened in the book for non-observance of its commands should come upon him and his people. He sent to consult the prophetess Huldah, who assured him that the evil foretold would indeed come, but not in his day; "because," she said, "thine heart was tender and thou didst humble thyself before the Lord." An assembly of the elders of Judah and Jerusalem and of all the people was called, and the ancient covenant with Yhwh was renewed.
The king then set himself to the task of cleansing the land from idolatry. First, the Temple in Jerusalem was purged by the removal of the instruments and emblems of the worship of Baal and "the host of heaven," introduced by Manasseh. Then the corrupt local sanctuaries, or High Places, were destroyed, from Beer-sheba in the south to Beth-el and the cities of Samaria in the north. The priests of the high places he brought to Jerusalem, providing for their sustenance out of the priestly revenues (II Kings xxiii. 8-9). The slaughter of some of these priests and the desecration of their altars with their bones gives a glimpse of the darker side of this crusade of reform (ib. 19-20). Finally, a great Passover celebration occurred in Jerusalem, such as had not been known since the days of the Judges.
The evidence is very strong that "the book of the law" referred to was Deuteronomy, and the measures taken by Josiah are quite in harmony with this view. In one respect, however, it seems to have been impossible or impracticable to carry out the Deuteronomic law. The priests of the high places were not put on an equality with those of the Temple, probably because of the opposition of the Temple hierarchy (comp. II Kings xxiii. 9 and Deut. xviii. 6-8; see also Ezek. xliv. 10-16). The most important of the results which followed this reformation were the centralization of religious worship at the Temple in Jerusalem and the acceptance of a sacred book of spiritual and ethical teaching as canonical and authoritative.Foreign Relations.
Of the remainder of Josiah's reign very little is known. It would appear that he exercised some authority over at least a portion of the former kingdom of Israel, which had been an Assyrianprovince (II Kings xxiii. 15-20). When in 608 B.C. Nineveh was attacked by the Medes and Babylonians, the young and ambitious ruler of Egypt, Necho II., marched northward toward the Euphrates to take possession of Syria. Whether through chivalrous loyalty to his Assyrian suzerain or through fear of Egyptian domination, Josiah gave battle to Necho at Megiddo, in the valley of Esdraelon, but was defeated and slain. Zech. xii. 11 is probably a reference to the great mourning in Jerusalem which followed this disaster (comp. II Chron. xxxv. 24, 25; see Hadad). The story of Josiah's reign in II Chronicles xxxiv.-xxxv. is substantially in accord with that in II Kings xxii.-xxiii. It makes, however, Josiah's work of reform begin in his twelfth instead of in his eighteenth year, and attributes his defeat and death to wilful disregard of the divine warning received through Necho himself, who claimed to have the command of God to go with haste upon this expedition, and who assured Josiah that he had no quarrel with him.
The character of Josiah is highly praised by the editor of Kings and by Jeremiah (II Kings xxii. 2, xxiii. 25; Jer. xxii. 15-17). The one extols his zeal for the purifying of religion, and the other his impartial administration of justice.
Bibliography:E. G. H. J. F. M.
- Histories of Israel by Stade, Guthe, Kittel, Smith, Piepenbring, Ewald, McCurdy;
- Kuenen, De Godsdienst van Israel;
- commentaries to Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Kings.