Lecture 8 – (5.2) Hezekiah’s and (6.1) Josiah’s Jerusalem

(5.2) Hezekiah’s Jerusalem [Hezekiah (715-689BCE)]

Now having set the stage for the Assyrian clash with Jerusalem, we started to get into more into the details of what went down in this clash and also reflected back on what this meant for the promise. Before this however, we also spent a moment covering the birth of government and writing during this period as a means for understanding how this contributed to the birth of literature. Dr. Cargill also built up the idea of a messiah and how it may relate to this period, specifically to the deliverance of Jerusalem from Assyria. Essentially, his point here was to say that Hezekiah was, in the historical context, the most likely benefactor to the saving of Jerusalem from assyria, and thus could be considered the messiah that helped to continue the line of David in Jerusalem. We then see the different interpretations of what happened in the clash between Hezekiah and Sennacherib (of Assyria). However, in the end, how exactly the skirmish went down was unimportant, what mattered was the Jerusalem survived and lived on after Assyria attempted to take over. So how was the Assyrian failure to conquer Jerusalem interpreted? This Assyrian failure to destroy Jerusalem was the single greatest catalyst for the snowballing legend of an inviolable Jerusalem. Coupling this event itself with the birth of writing, and it becomes increasingly clear why this made Jerusalem huge! Not only was it a hugely significant event, but the catalyzing factors were poised and ready in this era to make it known to much of the ancient world!

The first main idea was the birth of government and writing under Hezekiah. I think it definitely made sense that as Jerusalem expanded, it needed a central area for administration, especially if as believed, Hezekiah was preparing his city for war/survival-under-anticipated-siege-attempt. The growth of writing was central to this growth of administration. It provided a more universally known administrative tool (consistent language/documentation) and it was easier to learn. Eventually literature begin to emerge. This was important becayse many religions are based in literature, in writing. In addition, laws and rules began to become written down. Why this phenomenon was important was because the concept of written rules finally made king himself subject to law. For this to happen, however, needed people (1) trained in writing, and (2) authoratative and willing to actually encorce punishment if laws are broken. Most important in the context of our discussion, however, was how this writing gave birth to religion. The history of relgion rooted in the start of use of text. All major faiths of today, if you think about it, are based in a text. They each follow “the book” of their own. Writing also grew in the form of propoganda, as people began to use bits of literature (proverbs) promoting the state (e.g. on modern day money).

We then discussed how the concept of a “messiah” (Isaiah 7,9,11). A Messiah is literally somone who “has oil smeared on their head”. This smearing on the head designates them as an authority. In ancient Jerusalem, two lines were annointed: (1) the  high priest line and (2) the royal line (kings). Main idea here was that Messiah does not necessarily mean Jesus or some apocalytic savior, but rather can refer to an anointed descendant of one of these line ((1) or (2)). I found this interesting and enlightening as I had always assumed messiah to mean the idea of a man/woman descending from heaven to save the people, a “mythical” and “divine-type” savior if you will. I think this was cool to ground it more in the real.

We then covered in more detail the Prophecy of Deliverance from Assyria in Isaiah 7-11, and it becomes increasingly clear that this passage is describing a messiah that will save Jerusalem from Assyria. It then becomes clear, that although there are other interpretation of a messiah from above who comes down to continue the Davidic line, the person they might actually be referring to is Hezekiah himself! In the historical context it makes sense! Its important to remember all of this talk of a messiah and someone coming down to restore things is all about the Promise given in 2 Samuel 7. Thus, people find different ways to reconcile with the idea of Jerusalem and the line being threatened, and in this case Hezekiah lifts them out of trouble! It all makes sense, if you remember the promise it basically says: There is going to be a king who is descendent of david and his presence will be evidence of God, and there will be peace when he comes. In the historical context, this points to Hezekiah. This is the big story behind Jerusalem’s inviolability. After this it seems Jerusalem is untouchable and this idea is spread through mythical stories, now which could be captured in literature. It was only 700 years later when people start looking up to sky for messiah (After Babylonian takeover in 586 BCE). Only then, during a post-excilic era, did this idea of a long-term prophecy for a future messiah to save the Davidic line develop. What do YOU do when faced with a broken promise from God? These types of reinterpretations of the promise to David (2 Sam 7) are what make up a large portion of the later bible.

(6.1) Josiah’s Jerusalem

Now we moved past Hezekiah (715-689BCE), into the reign of Josiah (640-609 BCE). Between these two reigns was the reign of Hezekiah’s son (from Hephzi-bah [wife]), Manasseh, who become king at an age of 12 years and reigned for many years (55?) [697-642 BCE] (2 Kings 21:1, 2 Chronicles 33:1). He was the first king who did not have a direct experience of  a Kingdom of Israel (to the noth), which had been destroyed by Assyrians in 721 BCE and most of the population exiled. Most notably, he re-established pagan worship and reversed religious reforms made by his father, Hezekiah. Therefor, the Bible depicts him as bad (2 Kings 21:2-16; 2 Chronicles 33:2-19).  Josiah, on the other hand, came in and attempted to restore much of what Manasseh had destroyed in terms of religion (therefore depicted as a “good king” in the bible). He imposed religion in a deuteronomistic fashion, in the idea of strict rules to follow to obey God. This ideal built on the notion that if bad things happen you must be doing something wrong, and if life is going well, you must be doing things right. (We see later than Joab challenges this, that sometimes bad things happen to good people). The main theme here is we see a biblical bias once again, where kings not praised in so much as they helped people, but only in narrow sense of how they effected religion.

Reflecting back on urbanization and growth, we see in Josiah’s time how some people didn’t like political and religious power together (especially if you’re not religious). There was much political unrest and relgious unrest came with it, new religious movement came out under Josiah as he worked to rebuild the Jerusalem under One God that had been lost with Manasseh. We also get here the idea that if don’t have king that is charismatic leader (as Josiah too yong), can lead to/precipitate to a “rule under text.” Which is what happened here. Thus, what we see under Josiah are two main things (1) Reinitiation of Religious reform like his father’s (back to one God) and (2) “Deuteronomic” reform under the new set of rules, contained in what is now referred to as the Torah.

(1) Hezekiah knocked down shrines, pillars, sacred posts, bronze serpents…everything that potentially represented a false idol. It has been suggested it wasn’t about a false idol or not. Some believe even if people outside of Jerusalem temple worshipping the same God, Hezekiah may have just wanted to known down any ways that decentralized worship outside of Jerusalem (killed alternative shrines). We see the same thing with Josiah, pretty much. The same chain of destruciton of alternative shrines occured. However, the key difference is that while Hezekiah did acknowledge their could be alternative shrines to a Hebrew God, Josiah believed shrines were all pagan outside of Jerusalem. He believed it was only in the Jerusalem temple that God could truly be worshipped.

(2) Next, there was the idea that in order to “rule under text”, a text needed to be discovered. Conveniently, or however you’d liek to think of it, a book was discovered that became the “Book of the law/covenant/Torah”. Under this book, Jerusalem fell under “Deuteronomic” Reform (2 Kings 22-23). One passage in 2 Kings 22 describes how the scroll was “found” (interpret as you will, many believe it was made to make up for kings lacking charisma). In this book it outlined how to read/obey the book, including worship ONLY IN JERUSALEM AND ONLY FOR YAHYEH. There is no other location or God that can be worshipped according to the Torah.

Finally, the evidence for literacy was covered, including the variety of number inscriptions (ostraca, graffiti, seals/seal impressions, economic texts) and also the literally evidence for textualization of religion (2 Kings 23). One tantalizing piece of evidence is the Lachish Letter 3 (587 BCE), also known as the “Letter of a ‘Literate’ Soldier”. In this letter, we see a soldier writing and complaining about having a scribe sent to him to help him write, when he can already “write” (because he’s not that great a writer) himself. He is offended by it. Here we see the idea of stigma already developing around the inability to read and write. Why would the man need a scribe if he already could write? Basically, people were beginnignto learn to read and write. There was a transition from the cult of Yahweh to one based on letter of the law. It became all about text and tradition. Following the law became paramount. Remember also how this development of writing also took over and assumed authority that king had previously. Law, in a way, replaced the line of kings. The new authority was the written word.

This was a great lecture and I really felt like I learned a lot concerning the idea of interpreting the Promise to David as well as the idea of a messiah in the historical context of Hezekiah saving Jerusalem.  The idea of a Torah appearing as a means of imposing authority under a “weak” king was also a new and interesting idea to me. I also found the general birth of writing and its effects on religion’s growth as well as the growth of Jerusalem’s sacred image enlightening.


~ by Andru on February 2, 2011.

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