L. A. Monroe, Josiah's Reform and the Dynamics of Defilement: Israelite Rites of Violence and the Making of a Biblical Text

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

Monroe, Lauren A., Josiah's Reform and the Dynamics of Defilement: Israelite Rites of Violence and the Making of a Biblical Text (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). Pp. xi + 203. Hardcover. US$74.99. ISBN 978-0-199-77416-6.

One of the most common working assumptions in biblical scholarship is that the cultic reform of King Josiah should be qualified as a “Deuteronomic Reform.” In (overly) simplistic terms, this amounts to the view that because 2 Kgs 22–23 details the discovery of a law book and an account of cult centralization akin to the legislation in Deut 12, the law book in question should be identified with Deuteronomy, which in turn motivated Josiah to carry out his reforms. Moreover, the entire account in 2 Kgs 22–23 is traditionally attributed to Deuteronomistic authors, who valorize Josiah for adhering to the Deuteronomic law. Theories abound regarding a date for the activity of this compositional circle and the works they produced, as well as for whether the book of Deuteronomy itself should be viewed as a product of Josiah's court or conceived independently of it.

Lauren Monroe's monograph fits squarely into the center of this debate. Monroe affirms that 2 Kgs 22–23 was indeed written by scribes who sought to present Josiah as an adherent to the terms of Deuteronomy. Where Monroe parts ways with previous outings is with her crucial observation that the current form of 2 Kgs 22–23 has transformed an earlier version of the account, one that had far fewer points of contact with the legal traditions in Deuteronomy, and one that was conceived for a very different purpose vis-à-vis its presentation of Josiah.

Monroe's discussion spans five chapters, the first of which addresses the problems of axiomatic readings of the biblical materials in question. She notes that “the tendency has been to privilege the text's deuteronomistic imprimatur, allowing it to dictate, and inadvertently to limit, the types of questions that can be asked of the text and the intellectual frameworks available for answering them” (p. 5). She continues to raise the type of questions that the text quite reasonably demands, but have, as she observes, not been addressed due to limiting scholarly suppositions. The actual account of Josiah's reform measures, for example, are expressed in terms that show little commonality with the language of Deuteronomy and evidence a greater interest in highlighting ritualized, expiatory behavior. Monroe observes that the language of the episode wavers between apotropaic ritual and the erem; the interplay between erem imagery and ritualized conduct is suggestive of two compositional hands at work. While erem language is often related to the conquest of the land by Israel in Deuteronomistic texts, apotropaic language expresses priestly efforts to purge impurities from within the midst of the community (p. 10). Bearing this conceptual and literary polarity in mind, Monroe proposes that 2 Kgs 22–23 (the latter chapter in particular), like other Deuteronomistic texts, has transformed an older source document—one that was originally influenced by the language and concepts of the pre-exilic Holiness School of the Jerusalem priesthood.

Chapter 2 looks more closely at the language of violent purgation in 2 Kgs 23 in relation to priestly texts depicting expiatory rites in Leviticus and Numbers. As Monroe states, “that apotropaic ritual language is used in Leviticus and Numbers but not in core Deuteronomy indicates that while such rites were at home in ancient Israel they were not a concern for the Deuteronomic authors” (p. 29), and this opens the discussion to consider non-Deuteronomic influences upon the account. The uses of the term ṭm’, the possibility of šeʾarim repointed to read śeʾirīm, the bāmôt, and the prohibition of mlk offerings are considered alongside their presence in texts often identified with priestly interests (P, H, Ezekiel, etc.). While the utilization of these terms in these sources and 2 Kgs 23 are not identical and do not demonstrate authorship within a limited scribal circle, they do “reflect a diffuse and highly influential holiness-school of thought whose origins date back to the late preexilic period” (p. 43). The pre-Deuteronomistic account of Josiah's reform, which Monroe terms the “holiness account” of the king's activity, points to the social and theological preferences of the author as distinct from the later Deuteronomistic revision. The author of the account writes in the idiom of the Holiness School, but espouses an ideology that benefits the royal court rather than the priesthood.

Chapter 3 delves into the nature of this ideology through an examination of the erem imagery applied to Josiah in 2 Kgs 23. After defining the term erem as “to dedicate to destruction” (p. 45), Monroe considers the role of the erem within a larger ancient Near Eastern context. War-erem, she notes, factored significantly into state formation, delineating the region as a land which could be cleared of occupants for the purpose of another people assuming occupancy therein and, by extension, for the people's patron deity to claim hegemony. The concept of erem is remembered and applied in Israelite narrative tradition along similar lines, especially within the Joshua traditions. This is particularly important for the understanding of the Deuteronomistic depiction of Josiah; while scholars have often noted parallels between Joshua and Josiah, Monroe's analysis highlights the fact that the actions of the latter are presented as a renewal of the erem-acts of the former. Second Kings 23 does not overtly deploy the erem terminology, but this, Monroe states, can be explained by the fact that 2 Kgs 23 does not depict military conflict per se. Rather, it infuses erem motifs into the earlier holiness account for the purpose of re-affirming the basis of national social identity. In her words: “the setting for Josiah's reform during a period where resurgent Judean independence was a possibility but hardly a guarantee makes the use of erem imagery in the reform account particularly fitting,” for Josiah's reform is reframed as a rededication of Israel's social and geographical boundaries to YHWH (p. 58). By presenting Josiah's reform as a type of erem, the violent rites of purgation are set within “the larger framework of Israel's landed history” (p. 76).

Chapter 4 represents the most detailed and crucial part of the monograph, offering not only a verse-by-verse assignment of 2 Kgs 23 to Holiness and Deuteronomistic strata (pp. 78–81), but also an English translation of the reconstructed original Holiness account (pp. 81–82). The remainder of the chapter provides careful justification for assignment of these verse on redactional and linguistic grounds, in turn providing a clear understanding of how, and why, the Deuteronomistic author revised the account. Four basic categories of transformation surface in light of the Deuteronomist's recasting of his source: the assault on royal astral cult in the original document is turned into an indictment of virtually all of Israel's kings save Josiah; ritual defilement of the bāmôt is reworked into a fulfillment of Deuteronomy's own calls for erem against Canaanite cultic fixtures, yielding bookends to Israel's history in the land (Joshua to Josiah); Josiah's destruction of Bethel is connected to the sustained Deuteronomistic critique of Jeroboam; and finally, Josiah's activity at Bethel is projected onto the northern territory surrounding it, positioning the king as the only figure after Joshua to implement divine law in all Israelite territory (pp. 87–88).

The chapter closes with two summative discussions: a reconsideration of the relationship between Exod 32:30, Deut 9:21 and 2 Kgs 23:6, and a brief discussion of the theme of centralization in 2 Kgs 23 and in Deuteronomy. Both of these summary discussions draw from the foregoing analyses regarding what can be deemed Deuteronomistic in 2 Kgs 23 and what pre-dates this redactional category. Monroe argues cogently that 2 Kgs 23:6 does not depend on Deut 9:21. Rather, Deut 9:21 depends upon an early, pre-Deuteronomistic version of 2 Kgs 23:6 as well as the pre-Deuteronomistic Exod 32:20, merging these two independent traditions which each attest to a common stock of mythological motifs. Likewise, Monroe builds upon the earlier discussion in the chapter in addressing the centralization motifs in 2 Kgs 23 as originally unrelated to those in Deuteronomy with regard to cult centralization. Second Kings 23 does not relate to the “name” theology (so deeply connected to the Davidic house as well) as the basis for cult centralization in Deut 12:5 but, rather, strictly to the eradication of Canaanite cult installations in Deut 12:3. In Monroe's words: “that 2 Kings 23 has parallels in the erem language of Deut 12:3 and not in the centralization language of Deut 12:5 is deeply significant, as it links Josiah less to the time-bound traditions of the Davidic monarchy than to an eternal bond between YHWH, Israel, and the land that he promised, which could be sustained in an era without kings” (p. 112).

Chapter 5 provides a concise conclusion to the monograph, drawing together the implications of the discussion, not the least of which is the question of a pre-exilic Deuteronomistic History produced in Josiah's court meant to culminate with Josiah's own reign. Based on the discussion in the previous chapters, the likelihood of such an historiographic project is unlikely since, as Monroe argues, the Deuteronomistic account of Josiah's reign is a result of a post-monarchic context. On the other hand, and in conversation with previous studies (especially those of Iain Provan and Erik Eynikel[1]), an historiographic work ending with the reign of Hezekiah is proposed as a product of Josiah's era (or a time slightly pre-dating his reign) and onto which the Deuteronomistic account spanning 2 Kgs 22–23 was later grafted. Monroe then offers some discussion on the degree to which Deuteronomistic and Holiness schools of scribal thought were perhaps not as segregated as scholars often assume. The production of a royal historiography predating Josiah's reign, the production of the Holiness account in 2 Kgs 23, and the production of Deuteronomy attest to a flurry of scribal activity in the late pre-exilic period, and these currents of thought became a curriculum from which exilic-period writers could draw in equal measure. Finally, Monroe addresses the implications these observations carry for the origins and purpose of Deuteronomy and the historicity of Josiah's reform. Whatever the actual scope of the reform undertaken by the king, it was not motivated by any of the laws in Deuteronomy and was substantially amplified in the Deuteronomistic redaction of 2 Kgs 23 for rhetorical purposes. As Monroe states, “unlocking the bolt that has fastened Deuteronomy to the Josianic reforms reveals a more diverse, dynamic and fertile center of social and literary production” (p. 136).

Monroe's study constitutes a major challenge to contemporary assumptions regarding the late pre-exilic period, the purpose and function of biblical law, the social location of scribes, and the growth of the Deuteronomistic History. The partitioning of 2 Kgs 23 into discreet strata is persuasive both in the broad strokes and the detailed analyses, and its implications are far-reaching. It provides support for the view that the Holiness School was active in the late pre-exilic period, though it also demonstrates that this “school” was no monolithic entity but could give rise to splinter compositions. The Holiness stratum in 2 Kgs 23 constitutes one example of this phenomenon, and one could profitably apply this model to the book of Ezekiel to account for the distinct expression of the Holiness traditions found therein.

Monroe's study carries particular significance for research into the Deuteronomistic tradition. The model she proposes—that the Deuteronomistic redaction of 2 Kgs 23 is a post-monarchic act—stands as a solid explanation for its ideological aims, especially if one such aim was to note the inadequacies of monarchic rule. Certainly, the current form of the narrative knows that Josiah's acts only forestall the inevitable, which matches well with Monroe's proposed setting for the redaction of the Holiness account into a more expansive Deuteronomistic History. Yet the attitude toward monarchic inadequacy need not have originated only after the fall of the Judahite monarchy. One could suggest alternatives, especially in light of scholarly models that see a firmly entrenched critique of kingship already at work throughout much of the monarchic period and cultivated by prophetic and Levite circles. In this case, the recasting of the Holiness account of Josiah's reform into a version of the current Deuteronomistic account need not be viewed strictly as post-monarchic but, rather, only as post-Josianic. The redaction of the account into a penultimate Deuteronomistic form may well have originated with scribes of a Levite-prophetic bent working in the wake of the king's death in 609 b.c.e., a view that several recent studies have advocated on various grounds.[2] If there existed a counter-monarchic viewpoint already in the last decades of the pre-exilic period, then Monroe's keen insights regarding the transformation of earlier sources and the engagement of different scribal-intellectual traditions need not be constricted only to a time when monarchs no longer ruled.

Intimately related to this is the question of Deuteronomy as a late pre-exilic work. Monroe's position that Josiah's reform was not motivated by the Deuteronomic law remains sound, but the reform's independence from Deuteronomy does not necessarily mean that Deuteronomy was independent of the reform. Indeed, there is much to suggest that Deuteronomy was geared to respond to Josiah's reform, accounting for the after-effects of the king's policies among a rural population whose religious traditions had just been assaulted by the royal machinery. Monroe is correct that Deuteronomy's legislation seems to be concerned with issues other than those arising from Josiah's reform, but Deuteronomy does contain passages that appear to provide qualified allowances for circumstances arising from the king's policies which could not be undone. At the same time, and as is widely recognized, Deuteronomy (at least theoretically) empowers the common Israelite by virtue of direct accountability to the law, and emphasizes the role of sacral offices (Levites, priests, prophets), not royal ones. Given Deuteronomy's interest in prophets and Levites and the limits it places on royal power, it seems very possible to identify the production of Deuteronomy with the same circle that would later redact 2 Kgs 23 into a post-Josianic edition of Deuteronomistic History, working with a grudging acceptance of monarchic reality but constructing a work that subordinated it to a larger socio-religious agenda.

Finally, even if Josiah's reforms were not inspired by Deuteronomy and even if the latter was composed in response to the king's reform policies, one must wonder why the Deuteronomistic redactors of 2 Kgs 23 decided to make Josiah into such a champion of their value system. Is it conceivable that Deuteronomy was eventually accepted by Josiah's administration in the latter years of the king's reign as a means of potentially mending rifts between the rural and royal sectors? Evidence within the book of Jeremiah seems to suggest a move toward socio-religious atomism in the late seventh century b.c.e., which must have been exacerbated by Josiah's assault on the rural cult. If Deuteronomy provided a potential path to reconciliation, it may be that Josiah's administration accepted its viability and aligned itself in a limited way with its social vision. Jeremiah 22:15–16 is suggestive of Josiah's acceptance of legal standards approved of by the prophet—if the oracle stems from the Levite prophet Jeremiah himself, then there exists some tradition from the late pre-exilic period that saw Josiah exhibiting behavior deemed acceptable by groups that had traditionally been critical of the monarchic office.

These avenues of inquiry reflect further possibilities for research that Monroe does not address in her book, but these do not detract in the slightest from the merit of its contents; if anything, they attest to the impact of the work on related branches of study and the degree to which it will contribute to ongoing discussion. Monroe's proposal is advanced with clarity and sophistication, inviting new questions to be asked of this all-important collection of narrative and legal material. In so doing, it offers a major step forward in resolving the problems that have long plagued previous explanatory models while simultaneously affirming the dimensions of these models that remain useful and compelling. The monograph points to the complexity—and richness—of the social and intellectual worlds surfacing in the twilight of Israel's monarchy which set the literary agenda for the formation of much of the Hebrew Bible. As such, it is a volume that will demand much attention and will serve as a valuable resource for further research.

Mark Leuchter, Temple University

[1] Iain Provan, Hezekiah and the Book of Kings (BZAW, 172; Berlin: De Gruyter, 1988); Erik Eynikel, The Reform of King Josiah and the Composition of the Deuteronomistic History (OTS, 33; Leiden: Brill, 1996). reference

[2] Jeffrey Geoghegan, The Time, Place and Purpose of the Deuteronomistic History: The Evidence of “Until This Day” (BJS, 346; Providence: Brown University Press, 2006); Mark Leuchter, Samuel and the Shaping of Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, in press). reference