[b-hebrew] King Josiah's Exciting Discovery

Yigal Levin Yigal.Levin at biu.ac.il
Tue Dec 11 11:11:27 EST 2012

Jim, I just re-read the passage. Nowhere does it say that Hilkiah and Josiah could not read the book that had been found. On the contrary, Hilkiah tells Shaphan that he had found a "book of the Law". How could he have known what the book was if he could not read it? Shaphan the reports back to the king, first about the repairs (which he had been put in charge of), and then mentions the book and reads from it before the king. Not because the king could not read, but because reading to the king was the scribe's job. So the story really does not say what you claim it does.


In general, I find the idea of a book, Deuteronomy or otherwise, being "lost" in the Temple since the days of Moses highly unlikely. Since the Temple itself was only built centuries after Moses, where would it have been in the meanwhile?


Yigal Levin




From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of JimStinehart at aol.com
Sent: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 5:29 PM
To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: [b-hebrew] King Josiah's Exciting Discovery


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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