There are 26 thoughts on “Vindicating Josiah”.

  1. Pingback: Defending Deuteronomy | Of making many books there is no end...

  2. Neal, you may be correct that I have misunderstood Bill’s meaning. However, in defending his position you only dealt with one of the two approaches I took in questioning the lack of syncretism during the Captivity. Further, do you have any thoughts about my final point of an ongoing apostasy according to 2 Kgs. 21:13-15, rather than an (un?)successful attempt at reform by Josiah, then a worse apostasy by the Hasmoneans? There is further evidence of the ongoing declension in the apparent fact that the Passover had been neglected, and had to be rejuvenated after the discovery of the “law” by Josiah. Even Yom Kippur seems to have been neglected for long periods of time.

    • Hi Dan,

      I’m not especially interested in defending Bill’s position, because I’m not entirely sure I fall on his side on this. I just felt that he wasn’t contradicting himself and so decided to comment.

      As for 2 Kings 21:13-15, I see no reason why an attempted reform cannot also be a part of a continuous apostasy. I mean, that is how we Mormons see the protestant reformation, right?

  3. This article (and the ensuing discussion) causes me to ponder on the goodness of God’s grace. “After all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:26) the Lord won’t cast us off for every facet of the gospel that we just don’t get *quite* right. Even if Barker is correct, I suspect the Jews of Josiah’s day can breath a sigh of relief so long as they did the best they could.

  4. After finding this article I did an internet search on “Hasmoneans” to try and get some more perspective. The following article was of interest to me as giving the perspective of people who identify strongly with the ancient Israelites we are discussing:

    “Simon was not only the king, but, after his brother Jonathan’s death, the High Priest as well. This dual role signified a major historical change, and not a positive one.”

    The article points to the Hasmoneans as ushering in an era of self-destructive infighting among the Jews that caused more damage than their outside enemies. They portray John Hyrcanus as a hero who was corrupted by the Sadducees, who wrongly supplanted the Sanhedrin as the rulers of the people.

    They don’t say much about prophets, but have lots of positive things to say about the Sanhedrin: “Basically, the Sanhedrin was democratic, because Torah is democratic… Torah comes from the humble classes. Torah is egalitarian. It is open for anyone who wants it bad enough. Some of the greatest scholars in Jewish history were converts and people living well below the poverty level.” This strongly reminds me of the “sola scriptura” philosophy of my Protestant friends. They don’t seem to believe in continuing revelation from God, only in reasoning over scriptures previously received.

  5. Bill,

    I am interested in a clarification of a couple of several points in your article which seem directly contradictory, and/or over stated to me, and upon which your thesis seems to hinge. In the fourth paragraph you write “The ultimate failure [my emphasis] of Josiah’s reform effort culminated in God unleashing the king of Babylon to punish the Israelites, destroying both Jerusalem and its temple (2 Kings 23:36–25:26).” Later in your discussion of “syncretism” you argue that “Without Josiah’s reforms, the Jews would probably not have survived the Babylonian captivity or Hellenistic and Roman occupations.” If his reforms were an “ultimate failure” leading to the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of the temple, how is it possible to argue that those reforms preserved Judaism through the Captivity? Moreover, regarding syncretism or assimilation, the O.T., as you know, is full of injunctions against adopting Canaanite idolatry and apostate temple practices, yet the Jews did both. What is to assure us that similar processes were not underway in Babylon, where the pressures to conform were likely greater than when they were among the Canaanites? Finally, it seems to me the statement in 2 Kgs. 21: 13-15, made at the time of the reign of King Manasseh, to the effect that “Because they have done that which was evil in my sight, and have provoked me to anger, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even unto this day” (Vs. 15), suggests that the Israelites were always in a state of apostasy or semi-apostasy, often involving syncretism. To me, the Hasmonean apostasy, was a continuation of an ongoing process and problem.

    • I’m not Bill, and I don’t speak for him, but I think you have misunderstood him in your above comment.

      You seem to be taking the above quote about “ultimate failure” to mean something like “extreme failure,” but I think Bill means to say that they were an “eventual failure.” So, they may have succeeded for a time, but the ultimately failed.

      Also, I see no contradiction in the suggestion that the reforms could have failed in the end, but nonetheless still had enough impact to successfully inculcate the Israelites in captivity with a sense of uniqueness and need to maintain purity of their religion during their time in exile – especially if some of the overzealous deuteronomists were among the the captives.

      • Neal, I’m a bit new to blogging and posted a reply to this, but you will find it below–unless the moderator fixes it. While I am here let me make an additional point regarding your position. I find it difficult to think that Josiah’s reforms which failed to the extent that as Bill says, the Lord allowed, if not sponsored, the Babylonian conquest, destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, and the captivity in Babylon, yet the Israelite captives were fortified by Josiah’s reforms enough to resist assimilation in Babylon. If so, it was the first time in Israelite history, according to 2 Kings 21:13-15. Judaism certainly morphed significantly during the Captivity. Emphasis on the synagogue, study, and the High Priest in lieu of prophets and revelation seem to be one of the significant changes that was underway, among others.

      • I also think that the Jews were feeling chastized and wondering what they did to deserve God’s wrath. So some of them may have redoubled their efforts in keeping with their old traditions. While I’m sure that others integrated fully with Babylon.

        • Good point. Undoubtedly there were the righteous, sincere,and committed among them. It is interesting to me that the writers of the Book of Enoch characterize the returnees generally as apostates–which is one of Barker’s main points. A point in Bill’s favor I think, is that Ezra and Nehemiah appear to try to insulate the Jews from assimilation when they return, and I doubt that impulse was new or unique to them. As Joseph Smith might have said, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

  6. I want to quote Nathan Shumate from his comment on the introduction to this and the upcoming article.

    “Could it not be just as easily a case of neither pre- nor post-reform Judaism being free from apostasy — that Josiah’s reforms, while rooting out syncretism, also abolished or curtailed the older, authentic temple worship? This could be analogous to the Mormon view of the Reformation, in which the Protestants reacted to erroneous Catholic doctrine and practice but ended up just as mistaken in new ways.”

    To me it does seem that this very well could be the exact answer both articles are seeking to find.

    • Thank you for providing this quotation. I also like what Mr. Shumate said.

      It seems like Catholic and Orthodox traditions have temple-like worship which is less common in protestant traditions.

  7. It seems to me that Barker is right that these Deuteronomists were intent on consolidating a religion that diminishes the idea of a messiah. A messiah figure gives the king (who portrays himself as a messiah) too much power. I think they looked back with nostalgia to the Judges period. Israel went wrong when it coveted a king. And so, anyone preaching about a messiah (Lehi?) would be supressed because someone could claim to be the messiah and come and rule israel as the “son of David.” Also, any idea of an atoning high priest would be suppressed. So when Jesus came on the scene preaching a messianic message, and who is called “son of David” we can assume two things would happen:
    The ruling Jews would hate him;
    And the “rabble” would love him because the tradition of the messiah to-come would have survived as folk-lore and in fringe communities who descend from people who were driven into the wilderness (like Lehi was).

  8. When was the first authentic revelation received that sacrifice could only be at one place? Did not Moses and Joshua realise that when Israel entered her lands of inheritance, they could not all worship (including with sacrifice) only at Shiloh? Was David, ‘the prophet’ who received this revelation which Hezekiah and Josiah sought faithfully to ‘restore’? Certainly Isaiah seems to have endorsed Hezekiah’s work as King, but who endorsed Josiah? Is it possible that a political agenda (he who controls Israel’s worship controls Israel politically as David’s example demonstrated) trumped the pure religion and that the prophets of Josiah’s age (including Jeremiah) objected?

  9. I am not an anti. However, Deuteronomy 4:19 is cited in the above article for the authority that “Yhwh allows the other nations to worship their own gods.” My simple reading of Deut. 4:19 does not agree. However, AofF 11 clearly covers this point. Keep up the otherwise good work.

  10. Now I have a couple of questions. First, I’ve always thought of the rise of rabbinical Judaism as a development born of the lack of prophets, and therefore, during the inter-testamental period, but in this article, I visualize controversies between priests hundreds of years earlier, which could be called rabbinical disagreements that needed reform. Second, what about the temple in Elephantine, Egypt, which, I believe, was around 400 B.C?

    • It is true that scholars frequently note the demise of prophecy and the consequent rise of rabbinical tendencies in the Intertestamental period. The rabbis themselves emphasize their origins with the work of the Great Assembly (Knesset haGedola) in the time of Ezra & Nehemia, when the Hebrew Canon was taking final form. This movement comes to be known as Pharasaic Judaism in the time of Jesus, and both Jesus and Paul were themselves Pharasaic rabbis of Beit Hillel in the general sense that their teachings were indistinguishable from those codified in the Talmud somewhat later.

      As to the Jewish temple at Elephantine Island in Egypt (in violation of Deut 12:13–14), it probably arose with the beginning of the Jewish military colony there during the reign of King Manasseh of Judah in the mid-7th century B.C. (as suggested by Bezalel Porten), and apparently ended sometime in the 4th century B.C. with the final destruction of that temple by the Egyptians.

  11. And, the Brethren and curriculum planners when they comment upon the reform agree with your ultimate thesis.

    I am disturbed by the argument that true religion is that defined as the general consensus of adherents. Barker says Josiah steered Israel away from true religion, and thus the OT is largely untrustworthy, at least to define true religion. You say that Josiah steered Israel back to the Lord’s course which, of course, is the right description of a hierarchy acting for God.

    • You needn’t be distrurbed, Bob. The argument vox populi vox Dei is a fallacy, and I am unaware of anyone claiming that the widespread syncretic tendencies in ancient Israel (evidenced in archeology and textual analysis) tell us that syncretism represented “true religion.” Nor is it true that Barker has claimed that “the OT is largely untrustworthy, at least to define true religion.” What she has been saying is that the heavily redacted post-Exilic Deuteronomistic History (which is only a part of the OT) is largely untrustworthy in conveying to us an authentic version of pre-Exilic Israelite religion. Moreover, the late David Noel Freedman and others have found it remarkable that the canonical prophets are virtually absent from the D-work (Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk). Why?

      • “I am unaware of anyone claiming that the widespread syncretic tendencies in ancient Israel (evidenced in archeology and textual analysis) tell us that syncretism represented “true religion.””

        That is William Dever’s essential thesis, that folk religion (The scynretism of it all) is more “true” than the true religion the post-exilic writers were putting into the text. (Dever, Did God Have etc. p. 236 [Kindle], as well as many other references. He has been more strident in his academic works than this popular work.) Dever has many followers in LDS circles.

        “Moreover, the late David Noel Freedman and others have found it remarkable that the canonical prophets are virtually absent from the D-work (Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk). Why?”

        I find it also interesting that the canonical sayings of the Evangelists are completely absent from the writings of St. Paul. Now, one popular explanation for that is one which mirrors the comment you just made, or at least a reasonable interpretation therefrom. That is, the Gospels were all made up after St. Paul.

        If I were a secularist, I would find Dever, Barker and Erhman most compelling. But I am not, and I don’t.

        The LDS curiculum teaches that Josiah was led by God to do what he did. He is vindicated, not necessarily by Bro. Hamblin, but by the Brethren.

        I also think that Elder Oaks has said several times that our understanding of God is to be derived from our existing canon. I interpret this to say that one cannot derive knowledge of LDS canon from Margaret Barker or Bart Erhman, or at least much of great value.

        • And yet the Book of Mormon’s account of Lehi seems to fit perfectly with what Barker is saying. How strange that Lehi was ejected from Jerusalem during Josiah’s purge due to his messianic heavenly vision. And of course, the Book of Mormon is canon.

          I prefer to take the following view: We don’t know everything about this situation, so we cannot assume that there is a major contradiction in doctrine if Barker proves to be mostly right. We can assume that Josiah’s purge was well intended and meant to get rid of apostate religion, but that the Deutoronomists took advantage of it and purged too much, leading Israel astray. I don’t assume that Elder Oaks has had specific revelation on this point, but he knows that the bible is the word of God “as far as it is translated correctly.” He also knows that important things were removed from the bible as shown to Nephi.

          • I appreciate this article and the thoughtful comments it has engendered. I have always loved the Deuteronomistic books of the Old Testament and had noted their stylistic similarity from the time I was a teenager decades ago and their difference with the first four Mosaic books and 1 and 2 Chronicles, for example.

            When I was first exposed to the E, J, P, D strings of the Old Testament, I struggled a bit with E and J (were they really repeats of the same stories set in north with El and south with Jehovah?), but P and D seemed so obvious to being unable to deny their existence in the text. Then I read an account which suggested that D was written by Jeremiah and then extensively edited by him after Josiah was killed, with 2 opposing views embedded in them caused by Jeremiah rethinking things after Josiah died. Barker’s work went head-to-head against this assertion, with her showing evidence that Jeremiah might not have approved of Josiah’s reform and in fact maybe was condemning it. Because of Nephi’s stand on Jeremiah, I want to support Jeremiah in any debate he had with his opponents.

            From the time I was first exposed to Barker’s work, I was intrigued and fascinated by her detective work trying to come up with the pre-exilic temple cult religion. What was most intriguing, as she laid out her version of the temple cult vs the reformers, it sounded so much like the debate between Jacob and Sharem (could he have been an early encounter with a Mulekite?) and then later debates between Alma and in turn Nehor and Korihor, suggesting that the same debate may have extended for centuries between the fused Nephites-Mulekites. The parallels are striking. And for them to work, a time frame shortly before Lehi left Jerusalem is required for that to work.

            On the other hand, there is a lot in the Deuteronomistic history that we do rely on as a Church. They teach moral values and obeying the commandments. Church leaders have drawn heavily from these accounts and Josiah’s reform is always treated in positive light.

            I have a strong desire to make both viewpoints work, even when that seems problematic. I appreciate Hamblin’s well reasonsed argument that Barker might be unravelling a debate post-exile.

            I had been inclined to see this more like different Christian denominations–in alignment for 90%, but arguing bitterly over the last 10%. I had wondered if this debate that Barker sets between the first temple cult and the reformers could be seen in that light–not two forces working in opposite directions, but rather a difference of 20 to 30 degrees in direction.

          • Yet the Book of Mormon quotes Deuteronomy (as does Jesus, for that matter), and Lehi was expelled during Zedekiah’s reign (not Josiah’s purge), a reign that hardly wins the approval of the Deuteronomistic History. Lehi’s account squares with the existing account just as much, if not more so. And while the Book of Mormon’s account of the loss of plain and precious things talks about things being excluded, it does not describe large scale insertion of false material – which is what Barker’s assessment of the DH would mean.

            And the question does have a lot to true with ‘true’ religion – noone questions, for example, that worship of Asherah happened (the OT as it stands is full of it) – the question is whether it was a ‘legitimate’ part of the religion. From an LDS perspective, how would worship of Asherah ever be acceptable?

          • I was under the impression that Lehi Jesusalem left willingly at the command of the Lord to preserve himself and his family from being taken into captivity by the Babylonians. If you have found anything in the Book of Mormon that says this is not the case I would love the reference as it is not something I had previously gleaned from the text.

          • Couple of quick comments.

            I think that Barker is saying, not that a lot of false material was put into the bible (although some was), but that the Deuteronomists left important things out (like the Day of Atonement) and emphasized some things over others (Moses v. a Messiah).

            I do think that Lehi was essentially driven out of Jerusalem because the jews sought his life because he preached about the things he saw in a vision. Although Lehi lived in the time of Zedekiah, the Deuteronomists haven’t disappeared. Indeed, I think that they hadn’t really disappeared in JEsus’ time either. The whole tradition of suppressing the teaching of a messiah is obvious in both Jesus’ time and Lehi’s.

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