The Reign Of Josiah,
The Great Reforming King (640-649)
Two greatly contrasting characters
Two years after the death of Manasseh, the zealous servant of the king and gods of Assyria, his grandson Josiah, came to the throne. They were two greatly contrasting characters.
Assyria Shows Signs Of Weakness (End Of Manasseh's Reign)
By about the middle of the seventh century Assyria had succeeded in annexing almost the whole of the ancient east -from the mouths of the Euphrates and the Tigris to the upper valley of the Nile, as far as Thebes, the southern capital of Egypt. The tiny territory of Yahudah stood thus at the centre of a huge military network, organized on a war footing in which everything was controlled, counted and verified. The Assyrian power seemed built on foundations of granite.
In actual fact it was a colossus with feet of clay. The empire was too vast. Of course, it dominated all its vassal states by fear, and its armies were continually on the march from one end to the other of the Fertile Crescent to suppress rebellions in baths of blood. But a system of government like this could not hold together for long. It was bound, in a relatively short time, to fall to pieces.
At the time when Manasseh was coming to the final years of his reign Ashurbanipal, the ruler of Assyria, had pushed the frontiers of his empire further than any of his predecessors. But in less than a century, as we shall see, there occurred the rapid and complete collapse of his empire.
A few chronological details will enable us to follow the course of this drama.
652: A general revolt in Babylon, Elam, Syria and also probably, in Yahudah.19
665. The Assyrian forces occupying the Nile corridor were thrown out of Egypt by Pharaoh Psammetichus I (663-609) who declared his independence. At the same moment a European invasion occurred. The Medes came from southern Russia through the Caucasus and began to threaten the valley of the Tigris to the south of the Caspian Sea. The future looked sombre for Assyria.
There were other alarms: the nomads of the Syrian wilderness took advantage of the weakness of Assyria to carry out raids on Edom, Moab and TransYarden (Jordan)ia.
Not without difficulty Ashurbanipal finally succeeded in overcoming these rebels; but he did not feel himself strong enough to try to reconquer Egypt, which was able to preserve its somewhat aggressive independence. It seems that in these circumstances, in return, no doubt, for a renewed oath of allegiance, Ashurbanipal decided to restore Manasseh to freedom and to his throne in Yerusalem; Yahudah had then to act as a buffer state facing the Egyptian frontier.
All this activity is clear evidence of the irrepressible aspirations of the countries of the east as they tried to recover their freedom. These events took place between 665 and 648, and it was precisely in 648, it is worth emphasizing, that Josiah was born.
19 It is at this point, in my view, that the (temporary and very short) 'captivity' of Manasseh in Babylon should be placed It is very probable that this poor king hitherto obliged to obey his overlord Ashurbanipal, thought it opportune to join the general plot against Assyria. Then YAHWEH sent the generals of the king of Assyria against them, who captured Manasseh with hooks (rings through the nose or lips), put him in chains (fetters which nevertheless allowed him to walk) and led him away to Babylon (2 Divre Hayamim 33:11). A short time ago this story was regarded as a picturesque invention of the chronicler's. Today, when we are better acquainted with the events of the ancient east, as a result of the discovery of Assyrian documents, the incident in which Manasseh figures fits perfectly with the historical context of the period. Indeed the precise statement 'to Babylon', which seemed to be a clear blunder (Nineveh seemed the more likely place), is fully confirmed by the fact that at this period (653) Ashurbanipal had just put down a rebellion in the neighbourhood of Babylon; he had then seized this great city and was staying there temporarily. Probably Manasseh succeeded in clearing himself. He was sent back to Yerusalem and his crown was then returned to him. The Scripture tells us that in the last years of his reign Manasseh repented of his apostasy and removed from the Tabernacle the altars and idols of the foreign gods which had previously been introduced there. It was a very tardy gesture with scarcely any influence over the widespread idolatry among the people. Moreover, Amon, Manasseh's son and the father of Josiah, on his own account continued the campaign in favour of the foreign gods.
The Four Principal Divisions Of The Reign Of Josiah (640-609)
Manasseh died in 642. His son Amon reigned scarcely two years. 640: Josiah, the heir to the throne was proclaimed king. He was a child of eight. For a better understanding of this important reign it will be here divided into four principal periods:
The regency (640-632).
The awakening of the young king's Yahwist conscience (632-630) which coincides (significantly) with a series of severe Assyrian defeats.
Josiah's great spiritual reform (630-621) under the guidance of YermeYah.
Finally, in 621, the 'discovery of the Book of the Law'. Precisely at this moment the death of Ashurbanipal occurred and the rapid decline of Assyria began; and from 621 to 609 work on the Kohenly Code was begun; its definitive composition was to take place in the following two centuries B.C.