King Josiah of Judah; the Lost Messiah of Israel, by Marvin A. Sweeney

Article excerpt

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. 350 pp. $60.00.

Especially the continental Old Testament scholarship suffers nowadays from extreme positions in dating texts of the Hebrew Bible and reconstructing a history of Israelite and Judean religion. More and more it becomes fashionable to date the propria of Judean religion like covenant and monolatry into the Persian or even Hellenistic period. In this turmoil Marvin A. Sweeney's monography deserves a special attention because since de Wette's "Dissertatio critico-exegetica" the Josianic period has been seen as pivotal for the history of Judean literature and religion. In 1992 Anti Laato published an important study ("Josiah and David Redivivus: The Historical Exilic and Postexilic Times," Stockholm) in which he asked for the meaning of the historical king Josiah for messianic expectations in the exilic and postexilic period. Sweeney concentrates his monography on the late pre-exilic and exilic period. He proceeds from the assumption that an early draft of the Deuteronomistic History (DtrH) was already written down during the reign of king Hezekiah, which was supplemented during the reign of Josiah and finished in postexilic times. The DtrH of the Hezekiah period glorified David as just ruler and intended to prepare the return of the Davidic dynasty to the north, whereas the Josianic DtrH criticized David's and Solomon's reign in favor of king Josiah, who intended to overcome the canaanization of Israel and the division of the country. Its author tried to convince the inhabitants of the former kingdom of Israel to acknowledge the temple in Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty as the only legitimate ones and to join the kingdom of Judah. According to this aim Deuteronomy was shaped as a program that used legal material of the north but pleaded for a cultic, political, and economical concentration of power in the south in the hands of the Davidic king, the Jerusalemite priesthood and the 'am ha 'are of Judah who supported Josiah's enthronement. Deuteronomy tried in this way to create an alliance between the people of Judah and former Israel, the priests of Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty, and to depotentiate the levitical priesthood in the countryside out of Jerusalem. …