King Josiah of Judah: The Lost Messiah of Israel
by Marvin A. Sweeney
Oxford University Press, New York, 2001. 368 pp. $60.00 (cloth). 0-19-513324-2.
DESPITE ITS TITLE, THIS BOOK is not a biography. Indeed, Sweeney is rightly cautious concerning Josiah's supposed accomplishments. Instead of a biography, Sweeney offers a close reading of a wide selection of biblical texts, searching for evidence that testifies to the goals and ideology of Josiah's (failed) reform.
Sweeney looks first at Joshua-Kings, isolating Josianic material and evaluating its ideological intent. So, for example, Sweeney claims that editors shaped the book of Judges to argue that "the northern tribes are incapable of governing themselves" (p. 121). Deuteronomy, as an introduction to the history, insists upon a unified cult at Jerusalem and the strong central authority of the king (pp. 159-63).
Sweeney then looks for Josianic elements in prophetic literature written or substantially rewritten in Josiah's era. As with Joshua-Kings and Deuteronomy, Sweeney analyzes the literary structure of the works involved, disclosing the structure of the final form of the text and the presence of Josianic material. …