What Was Josiah Thinking?

By Peter T. Cooper

Sidebar to: Why Megiddo?

Josiah, king of Judah, died from injuries sustained at Megiddo as a result of an encounter with the Egyptian pharaoh Necho II. On this point, all of our sources agree. There is also general agreement among scholars that this encounter occurred in 609 B.C.

Beyond these basic details, however, there is plenty of room for speculation. For example, we read in 2 Chronicles 35 that Josiah was gravely wounded at Megiddo while leading a military strike against Necho, who ruled in Egypt from 610 to 595 B.C. Two other sources—the first-century A.D. Jewish historian Josephus and the apocryphal First Book of Esdras—also refer to the fatal consequences of a battle initiated by the king of Judah. But the account of Josiah’s death found in the Second Book of Kings makes no mention of a battle: “In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him; and Pharaoh Neco slew him at Megiddo, when he saw him” (2 Kings 23:29). This version of the story has led some scholars to question whether Josiah ever led his troops into battle against the forces of Necho II. Perhaps, these scholars suggest, Josiah approached his Egyptian counterpart on peaceful terms, whereupon (for reasons not disclosed in the text) he was seized and subsequently killed, either by Necho himself or by individuals acting on the pharaoh’s orders.

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