Vindicating Josiah

  • Article Formats:
  • MP3 audio
  • PDF
  • MOBI
  • ePub
  • Kindle store
  • NOOK store
  • Order Print Copy

For an introduction, see Benjamin L. McGuire, “Josiah’s Reform: An Introduction.”
For a counterpoint, see Kevin Christensen, “Prophets and Kings in Lehi’s Jerusalem and Margaret Barker’s Temple Theology”

Abstract: Margaret Barker has written a number of fascinating books on ancient Israelite and Christian temple theology. One of her main arguments is that the temple reforms of Josiah corrupted the pristine original Israelite temple theology. Josiah’s reforms were therefore, in some sense, an apostasy. According to Barker, early Christianity is based on the pristine, original pre-Josiah form of temple theology. This paper argues that Josiah’s reforms were a necessary correction to contemporary corruption of the Israelite temple rituals and theologies, and that the type of temple apostasy Barker describes is more likely associated with the Hasmoneans.


The discovery of the “Book of the Law” (generally thought to be Deuteronomy) in the Jerusalem temple during the reign of Josiah, and Josiah’s subsequent reforms of Israelite religion and cult to bring them into conformity with the precepts of that book, have long been recognized as decisive moments in biblical history. ((Marvin A. Sweeney, King Josiah of Judah: The Lost Messiah of Israel (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 3–32, discusses a range of scholarly theories regarding Josiah and the Book of the Law.)) The origins of the Book of the Law and its meaning and implications have been debated by scholars for centuries. But no one denies the dominant sect of Israelite religion at the time of Jesus was strongly Deuteronomistic. ((Deuteronomy is cited or alluded to dozens if not hundreds of times in the New Testament. See scripture index in Gregory K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007). There are twenty-nine manuscripts of Deuteronomy in the Dead Sea Scrolls, indicating its importance among first century Jews: Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam, eds., Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 1:198–202.)) Deuteronomy’s [Page 166]influence on subsequent Judaism and Christianity cannot be underestimated.

In modern biblical studies the term “Deuteronomist/s” refers to a group of authors, redactors and/or editors of part of the Bible. ((John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), 535–37.)) The Deuteronomistic books of the Bible are generally said to be Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1–2 Samuel, and 1–2 Kings. ((Anthony F. Campbell and Mark A. O’Brien, Unfolding the Deuteronomistic History (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000). )) When read in sequence and isolation, these books provide a complete history of Israel from Moses and the Sinai covenant to the Babylonian captivity, presented with a shared theological perspective. These books as a collection are generally called the Deuteronomistic History.

One of the key beliefs of the Deuteronomists is that there should be only one temple at Jerusalem. Since its construction by Solomon, sacrifice and worship were not permitted elsewhere. Likewise, only Yhwh (JeHoVaH) can be worshipped by Israelites, though Yhwh allows the other nations to worship their own gods (Deuteronomy 4:19). Thus the Jerusalem temple alone, and Yhwh alone are the two founding principles of the Deuteronomists (Deuteronomy 12). However, biblical texts, artistic evidence, and archaeological evidence agree that throughout much of Israelite history many if not most Israelites followed neither of these two central Deuteronomistic mandates. ((Patrick D. Miller, The Religion of Ancient Israel (Louisville, KY : Westminster John Knox Press, 2000); Beth A. Nakhai, Archaeology and the Religions of Canaan and Israel (Boston, MA : American Schools of Oriental Research, 2001); Ziony Zevit, Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches (New York: Continuum, 2003); Carol L. Meyers, Households and Holiness: The Religious Culture Of Israelite Women (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005); Richard S. Hess, Israelite Religions: An Archaeological and Biblical Survey (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007); Victor H. Matthews, Studying the Ancient Israelites: A Guide to Sources and Methods (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2007); William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008); Francesca Stavrakpoulou and John Baron, Religious Diversity in Ancient Israel and Judah (New York: T&T Clark, 2010).)) Some scholars believe the Deuteronomistic ideology [Page 167]was in fact an innovation of the late seventh century BC, rather than representing an earlier ongoing sectarian movement within Israel whose ideas eventually crystalized into the Deuteronomistic books.

The centrality of the temple of Jerusalem in Deuteronomistic theology means that the Deuteronomistic history has much to say on the subject. According to the Deuteronomists, the corruption of the Jerusalem temple cult and the worship of other gods—which are essentially one and the same problem—were the primary reasons for God’s anger with Israel. Hezekiah (715–686 BC) and Josiah (640–609 BC) were the two greatest kings of Judah because they attempted to reform and purify the temple. Whereas the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed by the Assyrians in 721 BC because of their apostasy, ((2 Kings 16-18, especially 2 Kings 18:12; The problem is most dramatically represented by the great struggle between Elijah against Ahab, Jezebel, and the priests of Baal, 1 Kings 17-19.)) Hezekiah’s reforms saved Jerusalem and its temple from a similar fate at the hands of the Assyrians in 701 BC (2 Kings 18-20). The subsequent apostasy of Hezekiah’s son Manasseh (686–642 BC) ((2 Kings 21-22, especially 2 Kings 21:1-9.)) required a second temple reform movement initiated by Josiah (2 Kings 22-23). The ultimate failure 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). For the Deuteronomist, the failure of Judah to worship only Yhwh and to worship him only in the temple of Jerusalem were the direct causes of the destruction of [Page 168]the kingdom of Judah, the city of Jerusalem, and the temple of Yhwh by the Babylonians in 586 BC. ((On the history of this period, see the relevant chapters in: J. Maxwell Miller and John H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 2006); L. Grabbe, Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and how Do We Know it? (London: T&T Clark, 2007). ))

Enter Margaret Barker, the prolific biblical scholar who has spent her career attempting to elucidate the importance of the temple for ancient biblical religion and early Christianity. ((See See the appendix to this paper for a chronological list of her major books; her work will be cited by short title from this bibliography. For more details, and exploration of the implications for Mormons, see Kevin Christensen, “Paradigms Regained: A Survey of Margaret Barker’s Scholarship and its Significance for Mormon Studies,” FARMS Occasional Papers 2 (2001), online at:; and Kevin Christensen, “The Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament,” FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 59–90, online at: The following are her major arguments regarding the Deuteronomistic writers and the temple.

  1. The original pre-Exilic temple cult and theology of Israel focused on visions, angelic manifestations, heavenly ascent, prophecy, revelation of divine wisdom, esoteric teachings and rituals, and theophany. ((On the pre-exilic temple cult: Older Testament; Lost Prophet; Gate of Heaven; Great Angel; Temple Theology; Temple Mysticism; Mother of the Lord. See appendix for full bibliographic data on Barker’s books. )) It also included the veneration of a divine feminine figure associated with the biblical “Lady” Wisdom. ((On Lady Wisdom as a Mother goddess: Older Testament, 81–103; Great Angel, 48–69; Great High Priest, 229–261; Temple Theology, 75–93; all summarized and expanded in her new 2012 book Mother of the Lord.))
  2. In the late seventh century, priests and courtiers of king Josiah, under the influence of the Deuteronomists, systematically downplayed, obscured, and suppressed many [Page 169]of these elements of the original ancient Israelite temple cult. ((On Josiah’s reforms as suppression of pre-exilic temple cult: Older Testament; Great Angel; Mother of the Lord, 5–75, and various passages throughout her work.))
  3. These ancient temple beliefs and practices, however, survived among other minority Israelite religious groups and movements. This earlier temple theology is reflected in the noncanonical Israelite books such as those found in the pseudepigrapha and the Dead Sea Scrolls. ((On the survival of pre-exilic temple mysteries: Older Testament; Lost Prophet; Gate of Heaven; Great Angel; Hidden Tradition; Temple Mysticism; Mother of the Lord.))
  4. At least some of the ideas of Jesus and the earliest New Testament Christians were related to these temple-oriented movements. ((On New Testament Christianity as a restoration of the pre-exilic temple mysteries: Great Angel, 162–232; On Earth as it is in Heaven; Revelation; Temple Theology; Hidden Tradition, 77–130; Temple Mysticism.))
  5. Earliest Christianity included all these suppressed or hidden temple beliefs, rituals, and practices, such as Jesus as the cosmic king and high priest (Hebrews), and the possibility of visionary ascent to heaven for a theophany of God in His celestial temple (Revelation). ((On the continuity between early post-New Testament Christianity and the pre-exilic temple cult: Great High Priest; Temple Theology; Hidden Tradition; Temple Themes; Temple Mysticism.))

For Margaret Barker, then, the reforms of Josiah were in fact a type of apostasy, which placed the Deuteronomists in positions of power in the state and temple, allowing them to suppress the authentic pre-exilic temple theology, mysteries, and ritual, which were eventually restored by Christianity—which may imply that much of the Old Testament as we have it was written and edited by apostates.

Although I accept much of her broader thesis, I disagree with Barker on several key issues, which I do not think are [Page 170]fundamental to the validity of her broader perspective. First, I do not believe there was ever a single pre-exilic temple theology. ((See the books cited in note 5 for discussions of the sects and beliefs in ancient Israelite religion. )) One of the fundamental principles of interpreting ancient Israelite religion and early Judaism is that when you have two rabbis, you will always have three or more opinions. This is, of course, simply part of human nature. Sectarian tendencies in Israelite religion were undoubtedly just as strong in pre-exilic times (before 586 BC) as they were in early Judaism of the second temple period (c. 500 BC–AD 70), rabbinic Judaism (after AD 70), and early Christianity. Thus, in my opinion, in pre-exilic times there were already many different interpretations of temple theology and mysticism in ancient Israel. I believe Barker occasionally attempts to conflate this broad range of Israelite temple ideologies reductionistically into a single unified theology.

Second, whereas Barker tends to depict Israelite temple theology as relatively static, I believe it changed significantly through time. Thus, when Barker speaks of third century BC Enochian temple theology as reflecting pre-exilic ideas, I believe it likely she is at least partially conflating ideas from different early Jewish movements, times, places, and sects. The result is that she sometimes fails to contextualize her sources properly and historically and fully consider the importance of historical change through time. This means she often retrojects temple ideas from later centuries onto pre-exilic temple theology. In my opinion it is very unlikely that the survival of the temple of ideologies of the seventh century BC remained unchanged and static through the first century AD. I believe it is very important to contextualize temple texts that Barker [Page 171]studies in their proper time and sect, though this can, of course, sometimes be somewhat obscure. ((In this regard Hugh Nibley is sometimes similarly weak in properly contextualizing his ancient sources.))

Third, whereas Barker claims that Josiah’s reforms represented an apostasy from the pre-Deuteronomistic temple theology, I believe the situation is much more complex. We need to realize that the Deuteronomists represent Josiah’s reforms as a restoration of the original pristine Mosaic temple theology. What we really have are two (or more) competing visions of what authentic ancient Israelite temple theology originally was and hence ought to be. Barker takes the Deuteronomist position and turns it on its head. For Barker, the Deuteronomist reforms were an apostate innovation which attempted to suppress the original authentic pre-exilic temple worship. I believe instead that sectarian complexity in temple theology, ritual, and mysticism was already the norm in pre-exilic Israel.

Finally, I believe that Josiah’s reforms were necessary and inspired. The first thing to note is that no biblical prophet ever opposed or criticized Josiah’s reforms. No biblical prophet ever endorsed the worship of the goddess Asherah. ((Generally mistranslated as “groves” in the KJV. On Asherah, see: Dever, Did God Have a Wife?; Judith M. Hadley, The Cult of Asherah in Ancient Israel and Judah: Evidence for a Hebrew Goddess (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Saul M. Olyan, Asherah and the Cult of Yahweh in Israel (Atlanta, GA: Scholars, 1988); Bob Becking, et al., Only One God?: Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah (London: Continuum, 2002); Steve A. Wiggins, A Reassessment of Asherah: With Further Considerations of the Goddess (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2007). )) No biblical prophet ever endorsed the worship of any god other than Yhwh. No biblical prophet ever endorsed the worship of idols. Now, one could in theory argue this is because the Deuteronomists decided which books to include in the Bible and consciously suppressed alternative viewpoints from non-Deuteronomistic prophets. But the fact remains that in the surviving texts, all the prophets agree with at least these three basics of Josiah’s reforms: [Page 172](1) Israel should worship only Yhwh; Israel must not worship foreign gods; (2) Israel must not worship idols (or worship Yhwh as an idol), or follow other Canaanite cultic practices; and, to the extent they discuss it, (3) Israel must worship only in the Jerusalem temple. Even Ezekiel, whom Barker sees as one of the most important prophets of authentic temple theology and mysticism, agrees with these principles ((On the worship of gods besides Yhwh, see Ezekiel 8. On rejection of idols, see Ezekiel 6, 14:3–7, 20:7–39, 44:19–12, and many other passages. In a future article I will examine the details of the positive relationship between Jeremiah and Deuteronomy.)) and insists that failure to follow these three principles was the cause for the departure of the Glory/kābôd of Yhwh from the temple (Ezekiel 10), leaving it ripe for destruction by the Babylonians.

Why did Josiah believe these reforms were necessary? The fundamental problem was syncretism. The ancient Israelites were given numerous laws whose primary purpose was to distinguish them from non-Israelites. Circumcision, the types of clothing one could not wear (Deuteronomy 22:11–12), permitted hair styles (Leviticus 21:5), forbidden foods, marriage only to Israelites, and various cultic restrictions were all designed at least in part to prevent the Israelites from losing their distinct religious and ethnic identity. The reason the Jews survived the Babylonian captivity with their religion and identity relatively intact was precisely because of their refusal to syncretize with the culture and religion of their captors. The reason the Jews are one of the very few ancient Near Eastern peoples whose religion survives to the present is the restrictions on their syncretizing with foreign cultures and religions. ((The most important source of ongoing syncretism from the third century BC on was Hellenism. See Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, 696–99, 723–26 for summary and bibliography.)) Without Josiah’s reforms, the Jews would probably not have survived the Babylonian captivity or Hellenistic and Roman occupations. They would have ended like the ten tribes [Page 173]of Israel, losing their identity in the captivity. There would have been no Judaism in the first century AD and hence no Jesus and no Christianity. Josiah’s strict antisyncretizing reforms of Israelite religious belief, practice, and cult insured the survival of the Jews. Centralization of Jewish worship in the Jerusalem temple was necessary because the provincial cultic sites were the major centers of cultic syncretism.

This does not, however, necessarily mean that nothing was lost. The exoteric, public temple cult of Israel is repeatedly criticized by the prophets for its sterile ritualism. ((For example, Jeremiah 7:4; Hosea 6:6; Ecclesiastes 5:1.)) There were clearly sectarian movements within Israel which rejected part or even all of the temple esoterica and secret teachings, as Barker describes throughout her books. It is important to remember that Barker is able to envision the lost temple theology of pre-exilic Israel precisely because it was never actually completely lost. It survived among esoteric groups of temple priests, such as Ezekiel and Joshua the High Priest (Zechariah 3:1–10, Zechariah 6:11) as well as among sectarian Jewish movements, most notably at Qumran as reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls ((Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (New York: Penguin Press, 1998); see Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2:921–933 for numerous references and bibliography.)) and in esoteric temple texts found in part in the Pseudepigrapha. ((James H. Charlesworth, ed., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 vols. (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983–85).))

I believe a more fundamental apostasy of Jerusalem temple theology, ritual, and mysteries occurred in the mid-second century BC when the Hasmoneans usurped both Davidic kingship and the Zadokite high priesthood, ((For background on the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) see Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, 705–709. On the Hasmonean usurpation of the High Priesthood, see the relevant sections in Maria Brutti, The Development of the High Priesthood during the Pre-Hasmonean Period (Leiden: Brill, 2006); Alice Hunt, Missing Priests: The Zadokites in Tradition and History (London, T&T Clark, 2006); D. Rooke, Zadok’s Heirs: The Role and Development of the High Priesthood in Ancient Israel (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); James C. VanderKam, From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004). )) while consciously [Page 174]suppressing prophecy. This usurpation resulted in a schism when Onias IV, considered by many to be the true successor to the Zadokite high priest, fled for his life to Egypt, where he built an alternate temple at Leontopolis which functioned from around 160 BC–AD 73. ((For details and bibliography, see G. Bohak, “Heliopolis,” Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, 721–23.)) The Qumran community likewise fled into the wilderness and went underground at about that time, creating their own esoteric interpretation of the temple mysteries. Thus, by the late second century BC, there were at least three separate rival temple theologies: Leontopolis (largely unrecoverable), Jerusalem, and Qumran, each rejecting the others and claiming exclusive authority. There were undoubtedly many other movements as well.

The Hasmoneans were not averse to killing those who rejected their priestly authority. Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BC) slew thousands of Jews who threw their citrons at him during the feast of Sukkot as Alexander tried to act as High Priest, ((Josephus, Antiquities, 13.372–76.)) reflecting the fact that most of the people rejected Hasmonean claims to the High Priesthood. Jannaeus’s crucifixion of 800 opponents of his rule also reflects the nature of Hasmonean tyranny and their compulsion to punish those who questioned their royal or priestly authority. ((Josephus, Antiquities, 12.256, 13.380. )) After the fall of the Hasmoneans, selection of the High Priest eventually fell into the hands of Roman overlords, leading to the corruption of the office and the temple ((On the corruption of the first century AD High Priests and their collaboration with the Romans, see R. Horsley, “High Priests and the Politics of Roman Palestine: A Contextual Analysis of the Evidence in Josephus,” Journal for the Study of Judaism, 17 (1986): 23–55; see also the books in note 24.)) as frequently decried in the New Testament.

[Page 175]The Hasmonean suppression of prophecy is described in 1 Maccabees 14:41, when the people and priests declared that “Simon should be king and high priest in perpetuity until a true prophet should arise.” This Hasmonean hope for a future “true” prophet reflected an assumption that there were no contemporary authentic prophetic voices. In fact, the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls claimed prophetic authority and strongly rejected Simon’s priestly claims. ((Simon, or the entire line of Hasmonean high priests, are often thought to be the “Wicked Priest” of the Dead Sea Scrolls; Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2:876–878, 2:973–976.)) But as opponents of the Hasmoneans, they were not considered “true” prophets, and because no prophet spoke in support of the Hasmonean usurpation, the official Hasmonean view was that there were no “true” prophets. ((The Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus (134–104 BC) claimed prophetic authority, Josephus, Wars, 1.68–69; Josephus, Antiquities, 13.282–283.))

Thus, while I agree with Barker that there was a corruption and apostasy of ancient Israelite temple theology, mysticism, and cult in ancient Israel, I believe it occurred in the second century BC, not the seventh. Much of Barker’s theories about the temple and early Christianity are still valid if the temple apostasy occurred in the second century rather than the seventh. I believe Josiah’s reform of the temple cult was both necessary and inspired and was not in itself the cause of a temple apostasy described by Barker.

[Page 176]

Appendix: Margaret Barker Bibliography of Major Books (Chronological Order)

The Older Testament. The Survival of Themes from the Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and early Christianity (London: SPCK 1987, reprinted Sheffield: Phoenix Press 2005).

The Lost Prophet. The Book of Enoch and its Influence on Christianity (London, SPCK 1988, reprinted Sheffield: Phoenix Press 2005)

The Gate of Heaven. the History and Symbolism of the Temple in Jerusalem (London SPCK, 1991, reprinted Sheffield: Phoenix Press, 2008)

The Great Angel. A Study of Israel’s Second God (London: SPCK, 1992)

On Earth as it is in Heaven. Temple Symbolism in the New Testament (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1995)

The Risen Lord; the Jesus of History as the Christ of Faith (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996).

The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000)

The Great High Priest. The Temple Roots of Christian Liturgy (London and New York: T&T Clark/Continuum, 2003)

Temple Theology: An Introduction (London: SPCK 2004)

An Extraordinary Gathering of Angels (London: MQP 2004)

The Hidden Tradition of the Kingdom (London: SPCK, 2007)

Temple Themes in Christian Worship (London: T&T Clark 2008)

Christmas: The Original Story (London: SPCK, 2008)

Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (London: T&T Clark, 2009)

Temple Mysticism: an Introduction (London: SPCK, 2011)

The Mother of the Lord: The Lady in the Temple (London: Bloomsbury, 2012)

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.

Leave a Reply to Zera Pulsipher Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged.