[b-hebrew] King Josiah's Exciting Discovery

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Tue Dec 11 10:29:01 EST 2012

King Josiah’s Exciting Discovery 
King Josiah’s Biblical discovery in the Temple at Jerusalem is exciting, 
but for a somewhat  different reason than ordinarily thought.  To see what was 
truly exciting here, focus on who can read what  when: 
“And Hilkiah the high priest said to  Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found 
the book of the law in the house of the  LORD.’  And Hilkiah gave the book 
to  Shaphan, and he read it.  …Then  Shaphan the secretary told the king, ‘
Hilkiah the priest has given me a  book’.  And Shaphan read it before  the 
king.”  II Kings 22: 8,  10  
“And the king went up to the house of the  LORD, and with him all the men 
of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem,  and the priests and the 
prophets, all the people, both small and great;  and he read in their hearing all 
the  words of the book of the covenant which had been found in the house of 
the  LORD.”  II Kings 23:  2 
Note that upon the discovery of what  traditionally is sometimes viewed as 
being the long-lost Book of Deuteronomy,  neither the priest Hilkiah, nor 
King Josiah, could read what had been  discovered.  Only the scribe Shaphan  
could read the original.  Yet not  too long thereafter, King Josiah reads the 
text to the assembled multitude of  Jerusalem and Judah. 
This may be a key to figuring out the great  antiquity of certain parts of 
the Torah.  Only the scribe Shaphan could read the original.  That’s the 
single most important part of  the story.  If, as seems likely,  there is at 
least a grain of historical truth to this story, then it appears  that Jewish 
wisemen in the 7th century BCE thought, probably  accurately, that at least 
parts of the Torah had originally been written using a  writing system that 
would be very easy to decipher for a person like King  Josiah’s scribe, who 
occasionally corresponded with Assyria or Babylonia, but  that would be 
impossible to decipher by literate people such as the high priest  of Jerusalem 
and King Josiah, who were very well-versed in alphabetical Hebrew  writing 
but who did not personally read the originals of correspondence sent  from 
Assyria or Babylonia.  The  authors of II Kings and Chronicles highly praise 
King Josiah and his high priest  of Jerusalem, and those two individuals are 
portrayed as being highly literate,  yet those two individuals are 
nevertheless portrayed here as not being able to  read a single word of the original 
of the sacred writing that was found in the  Temple, which could only be 
read by King Josiah’s scribe (who on occasion  corresponded with Assyria and 
Babylonia as a key part of his official  duties).  It’s the writing system,  
you see, that’s the key here.  The  language and vocabulary of the ancient 
sacred text that King Josiah claimed to  have found in the Temple would have 
been familiar to King Josiah  and his high priest.  But by sharp  contrast, 
the writing system that was used in this ancient sacred text was  utterly 
indecipherable by King Josiah and his high priest, even though it was  
eminently readable upon first sight by King Josiah’s  scribe. 
That aspect of the story opens the door to  discovering how incredibly old 
certain parts of the Torah may be.  II Kings is in effect telling us how  
certain of the oldest parts of the Torah (not necessarily Deuteronomy) had  
originally been written down, if we just pay close attention to what II Kings  
tells us as to who could read what when. 
Jim  Stinehart 
Evanston, Illinois
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