1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Josiah

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JOSIAH (Heb. yō’ shiyyāhū, perhaps “Yah[weh] supports”), in the Bible, the grandson of Manasseh, and king of Judah. He came to the throne at the age of eight, after the murder of his predecessor Amon. The circumstances of his minority are not recorded, nor is anything related of the Scythian inroads which occurred in the latter half of the 7th century B.C., although some passages in the books of Jeremiah and Zephaniah are supposed to refer to the events. The storm which shook the external states was favourable to the peace of Judah; the Assyrian power was practically broken, and that of the Chaldeans had scarcely developed into an aggressive form. Samaria thus lay within the grasp of Josiah, who may have entertained hopes of forming an independent power of his own. Otherwise, it is not clear why we find him opposing himself to the Egyptian king Necho, since the assumption that he fought as an Assyrian vassal scarcely agrees with the profound reforming policy ascribed to him. At all events, at the battle of Megiddo[1] he lost both his kingdom and his life (608 B.C.), and for a few years Judah was in the hands of Egypt (2 Kings xxiii. 29 seq.). The chronicler gives a rather different account of the battle, and his allusion to the dirge uttered by Jeremiah over his death (2 Chron. xxxv. 20–25; 1 Esd. i. 32) represents the tradition which makes this prophet the author of the book of Lamentations.

The reign of Josiah is important for the biblical account of the great religious reforms which began in his eighteenth year, when he manifested interest in the repair of the Temple at Jerusalem. In the course of this work the high priest Hilkiah discovered a “law-book” which gave rise to the liveliest concern. The reasons for believing that this roll was substantially identical with the book of Deuteronomy were already appreciated by Jerome, Chrysostom, Theodoret and others,[2] and a careful examination shows that the character of the reformation which followed agrees in all its essential features with the prescriptions and exhortations of that book. (See Deuteronomy.) But the detailed records in 2 Kings xxii. seq. are evidently written under the influence of the reforms themselves, and are not contemporary (see Kings, Book of). They are further expanded, to agree with still later ideals, in 2 Chron. xxxiv. seq. The original roll was short enough to be read at least twice in a day (xxii. 8, 10), and hence only some portions of Deuteronomy (or of an allied production) may be intended. Although the character of the reforms throws remarkable light upon the condition of religion in Judah in the time of Josiah, it is to be observed that the writings of the contemporary prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel) make it very questionable whether the narratives are thoroughly trustworthy for the history of the king’s measures. (See further Jews, § 16.)  (S. A. C.) 


  1. Or “Magdolos” (Herod, ii. 159), i.e. some “Migdal” (tower) of Judaea, not the Migdol of Exod. xiv. 2; Jer. xliv. 1.
  2. See Zeit. f. Alttest. Wissenschaft (1902), pp. 170 seq., 312 seq.; Journ Bib. Lit. (1903), p. 50.