Monday, March 8, 2010

Let us now praise famous men: Josiah

As Ben Sirach intones: Let us now praise famous men.

1 The remembrance of Josias is like the composition of the perfume that is made by the art of the apothecary: it is sweet as honey in all mouths and as musick at a banquet of wine.

2 He behaved himself uprightly in the conversion of the people, and took away the abominations of iniquity.

3 He directed his heart unto the Lord [compare Alma 37:36], and in the time of the ungodly he established the worship of God (Sirach 49:1-3).

I praise the zeal of Josiah for a jealous God:

And he brought out the grove [Hebrew Asherah, the whore of Babylon, the mother of abominations] from the house of the LORD, without Jerusalem, unto the brook Kidron, and burned it at the brook Kidron, and stamped it small to powder, and cast the powder thereof upon the graves of the children of the people (II Kings 23:6).

This verse, like those describing the Messianic cleansing of the temple of Herod, stands proud.

Why praise Josiah? In the likeness of Moses: "I took your sin, the calf which ye had made, and burnt it with fire, and stamped it, and ground it very small, even until it was as small as dust: and I cast the dust thereof into the brook that descended out of the mount" [mount as Temple] (Deuteronomy 9:21). Here is the prototype for all of Israel's idolatry; the pattern for its removal.

Why praise Josiah? As type and shadow of Messiah he cleansed the holy temple.

Why praise Josiah? Like Melchizedek, priest and king, "none were greater"; for "like unto him was there no king before him . . . neither after him arose there any like him" (2 Kings 23:25).

Why praise Josiah? The announcement of his birth foreshadows that great Annunciation yet to be: "Josiah by name" was one of six men who have been given a name by God before their birth, the others being Isaac, Moses, Solomon, [Ishmael], and the Messiah" (Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 1:122.) God named Josiah by the mouth of a man of God raised up for that very purpose and sent on a run with the news of the name and a sign of overthrow and restoration, even as it was with John the Forerunner (1 Kings 13). Names were also foretold for John the Baptist, John the Revelator, Joseph Smith, Sr., and the Prophet Joseph Smith, which makes 10 in all. The name Josiah, by the way, "apparently appears in an abbreviated form as the name Ya'osh in the Lachish Letters" (M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings, 281 n.22), and thus sustains the Book of Mormon attestation of the very same name, Josh (See also Hugh Nibley, "The Lachish Letters," The Prophetic Book of Mormon).

Why praise Josiah? Hark the Herald Angels Sing: Hinneh-ven nolad leve't-david Yoshiyyahu shemo: "Behold a son is born to the House of David: Josiah is his name!" (1 Kings 13). And the very name testifies of Jehovah (-iah) as "a token of a changed inner Judaean relation to Yhwh"; a practice in naming that parallels "the first reformation by Moses" even as it heralds, by prophetic annunciation, "the act of general reformation [to be] inaugurated by King Josiah (Yoshiyahu)" (Nibley, "The Lachish Letters," The Prophetic Book of Mormon, 388, quoting Harry Torczyner, Lachish I). Indeed the name Mosiah suggests "both the early reform of Moses and its later imitation by Mosiah" (389). Such names reflect both forerunner and the seal (Elias and Elijah). Josiah, by name and deed, thus links the generations of faithful Israel.

Why praise Josiah? Even in his tragic death, Josiah attests and teaches the universality of God as Father of all humankind; for God even speaks to Pharaoh ("the words of Necho from the mouth of God," 2 Chr.35:22). Here, again, Josiah foreshadows Messiah as Restorer of the Covenant with Israel, and thence with all mankind.

Why praise Josiah? He was a model for the righteous kings of The Book of Mormon. Like Benjamin at Mosiah's coronation, Joash at his own accession (2 Kings 11:14), and Solomon at the dedication of the temple (2 Chronicles 6:13), Josiah stood on a tower-pillar or -platform at the holy temple and brought his assembled people under covenant (John Welch, Terrence L. Szink, et al., "Upon the Tower of Benjamin," 97-9, and "Benjamin's Tower and Old Testament Pillars," 100-02, in Pressing Forward with the Book of Mormon, Provo, 1999). As Hugh Nibley points out, righteous King Mosiah combines the names Moses and Josiah, lawgiver and restorer of the law, in one blessed name. And, like Josiah, the Risen Christ standing in the midst of the people at the Temple of Bountiful, establishes his gospel covenant.

Why praise Josiah? As a reflection of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the latter-day restoration, he discovered a lost book of scripture, and, acting alone, through its dissemination resurrected a priesthood and a gospel dispensation from apostasy and restored the holy temple.

Why praise Josiah? He typifies all of us as we walk our individual roads of repentance, as we "discover the scriptures for ourselves--and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again. In this regard, the story of King Josiah in the Old Testament is a most profitable one to 'liken … unto [our]selves' (1 Nephi 19:24). To me, it is one of the finest stories in all of the scriptures." (Spencer W. Kimball in First Presidency Message: "How Rare a Possession--the Scriptures!," Ensign, September 1976).

Why praise Josiah? Because such a beloved modern prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, in humble striving after righteousness, likens the example of Josiah unto himself.

And like unto him was there no king before him, that turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses [he, like the Christ, fulfills all the law by fulfilling the greatest commandment]; neither after him arose there any like him [as was said of Melchizedek, the priestly type of Christ] (2 Kings 23:25).

Notes: Some Latter-day Saints are fervid followers of Margaret Barker's engaging works, in which King Josiah is disparaged. But let it be remembered that Ms. Barker, like J.R.R. Tolkien of mythopoeic renown, typifies the dream-charged West Midlands. Like Tolkien, Margaret Barker quixotically attempts to write something more than scholarship--she reaches for Scripture. I might applaud such endeavor, lovely in purpose, while never taking it seriously as either scholarship or theology--or even heresy. Neither should any other reflective person. Hugh Nibley, as Sister Ann Madsen wisely noted in her recent Nibley memorial address, always stayed within his game plan, never got into left field.

II Kings 23:3: And the king stood by [Hebrew al = stood on] a pillar [that is, the center place], and made a covenant before the LORD. The Targum calls this a "platform"; Josephus, Antiq. X.63 has epi tou bematos, Mordechai Cogan and Hayim Tadmor, II Kings, The Anchor Bible, 285 n.3.

Trampling the Asherah: Another moment in Israelite history that stands proud was the overthrow of Ahab and Jezebel. After teaching students about the Jubilee rites of Deuteronomy 15, Professor James Sanders was wont to say: "Pushing Jezebel out the window was a Jubilee event." For the Asherah cult of Manesseh as part of "the 'nonorthodox' popular religion" of Ancient Israel, see the cogent--and withering--remarks of Mordechai Cogan and Hayim Tadmor, Anchor Bible: II Kings, 268 n.7.

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