Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 17 (2017) - Review

Young, R. A., Hezekiah in History and Tradition (VTSup, 155; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2012). Pp. xvii + 367. Hardcover. €128.00/US$175.00. ISBN 978-90-04-21608-2.

This volume is a revised version of Robb A. Young's 2011 doctoral dissertation for the faculty of the Graduate School at Yale University. Written under the supervision of R. Wilson and John J. Collins, the intention of the work is to provide “a detailed reworking of what may be asserted concerning the historical Hezekiah” (p. 3). Accordingly, Young works extensively with the presentation of Hezekiah in 2 Kgs 18–20, Isa 36–39 and 2 Chr 29–32. Thus, Young's intention is not to enter into debates concerning a literary analysis of the work that is sensitive to its narrative techniques for depicting Hezekiah and communicating the significance of this depiction to the reader. To achieve his goal, Young divides the task into two parts. He first utilizes data outside of the biblical text to reconstruct the historical Hezekiah. He subsequently augments this picture by dealing with the biblical accounts of Hezekiah in 2 Kings, Isaiah, and 2 Chronicles. Young, however, does not deal with the accounts of Hezekiah in their entirety. Rather, he focuses on those issues which “either remain contentious in biblical scholarship, or else have been resolved into a general consensus which needs to be called into question” (p. 6). Young's investigation is divided into three parts with the first part investigating the history of King Hezekiah using extra-biblical material, and the last two parts dealing with Hezekiah in the biblical texts.

Part one, “Hezekiah via Extra-Biblical Material,” deals with three difficult issues for Hezekiah, namely “Regnal Years and Lineage” (ch. 1), “The Kingdom of Judah” (ch. 2), and “Sennacherib's Third Campaign” (ch. 3). In chapter 1, in order to prove the historicity of Hezekiah in 2 Kgs 18:9–10, Young utilizes two independently datable events: “the fall of Samaria and the fall of Jerusalem” (p. 12). He asserts that the date of the fall of Samaria is 720 b.c.e. and the date of the fall of Jerusalem is 587 b.c.e. Young also contends that Hezekiah is the son of Ahaz because Ahaz has another mature son named Maaseiah by the time of the Syro-Ephraimite war (2 Chr 28:5–8). For this reason, Young suggests that Ahaz and Jotham were siblings, and Ahaz was likely co-regent with his predecessor Jotham for some twelve years.

In chapter 2, “The Kingdom of Judah,” Young focuses on the archaeological data relating to the size and extent of Jerusalem and the breadth of Judah during the reign of Hezekiah. Dealing with the archaeological evidence, Young asserts that the city of Jerusalem was transformed from a small settlement into a major urban center during the late eighth century b.c.e. This growth of the capital city of Judah was caused by the fall of Samaria, which led to the distribution of its population throughout both kingdoms. Young analyzes storage jars containing the seal impression lmlk (למלך, “belonging to the king”) to determine the extent of Judah during the reign of Hezekiah. He concludes that the function of these storage jars was not military preparation. Rather they functioned as “a state-sponsored economic program which spanned several years, a systematic plan of taxation to coincide with the increase in settlement and agricultural buildup throughout the region” (p. 59).

In the last chapter of the first part, Young studies the topic of Sennacherib's campaign to Judah, which is one of the most controversial issues among Old Testament scholarship. Young convincingly asserts that there was only one expedition by Sennacherib against Judah, based on both archaeological data and Assyrian records (p. 67). Young contends that according to the chronology of Hezekiah's reign, there is insufficient time for a return expedition during Hezekiah's lifetime. At the same time Young claims that “the diplomatic mission of Merodach-baladan offers no support for multiple invasions, as the Chaldean was in hiding in Elam from approximately 700 b.c.e. until his death” (p. 86). For these reasons Young maintains that only one of Sennacherib's campaigns against Judah occurred during the reign of Hezekiah.

After dealing with extra-biblical material about King Hezekiah, Young's study proceeds to deal with the evidence in the biblical books. In part two, Young deals with Hezekiah in the book of Kings and First Isaiah. Young focuses on three topics: Hezekiah's religious reform (ch. 4), “The Relationship between 2 Kgs 18:13–20:19 and Isa 36–39” (ch. 5), and “The Messianic Oracles in First Isaiah” (ch. 6). First of all, Young deals with the question of the historicity of Hezekiah's religious reform which occurs in the book of Kings (2 Kgs 18:4, 22). Young investigates three places in order to understand the use of sanctuaries during the eighth century b.c.e., namely Tel Arad, Tel Beer-sheba, and Lachish. Then, he asserts that evidence for the use of altars and sanctuaries at these three sites can be linked to Hezekiah's religious reforms. Young also claims that the report of Hezekiah religious reforms in 2 Kgs 18:4, 22 is “a volitional act of centralization” (p. 107). Young contends that Hezekiah's reform functions “as an aftereffect of the influx of northern refugees caused by the fall of the kingdom of Israel in 720 b.c.e.” (p. 121).

In chapter 5, Young deals with the relationship between 2 Kgs 18:13–20:19 and Isa 36–39. Young's goal for this chapter is to ascertain the original literary context and to trace the process by which these texts were edited into their current forms. Young suggests that the annalistic source A of 2 Kgs 18:13–16 and the stories of Hezekiah's illness and the visitors from Babylon originated in the book of Kings, and then were borrowed by Isaiah. Young, however, asserts that the prophetic B1 and B2 sources have been preserved and disseminated by circles close to Isaiah (p. 150).

Chapter 6 deals with the messianic oracles in First Isaiah (Isa 7:10–17; 8:23–9:6; 11:1–9) in order to show that the prophet Isaiah proclaimed these messianic oracles with Hezekiah in view. Young contends that the oracle of Isa 8:16–9:6 was proclaimed in the eighth century b.c.e. because of the temporal qualities of הָרִאשׁוֹן and הָאַחֲרוֹן in Isa 8:23, which is pre-exilic. At the same time the oracle of Isa 11:1–9 was also prophesied by Isaiah. Young identifies the infant Immanuel mentioned in Isa 7:14 as a royal son rather than as a son of the prophet Isaiah.

In the third part of his book, Young deals with the historicity of Hezekiah's reign reported in 2 Chr 29–32. Part three consists of three chapters: “The Historical Reliability of Hezekiah's Religious Reform in 2 Chr 29–30” (ch. 7), “The Historical Reliability of 2 Chr 31–32” (ch. 8), “Hezekiah as a Second David/Solomon” (ch. 9). In chapter 7, Young specifically deals with the rededication of the temple in 2 Chr 29 and the Passover in 2 Chr 30. Young does not deny that the Hezekiah narrative in 2 Chr 29–32 bears the distinct character of the Chronicler. However, the account of Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles shows cogent evidence of reliance on earlier source material. For instances, in terms of the cleansing of the temple, Young contends that this account follows “the ancient Mesopotamian practice of fronting epoch-making achievements by revered monarchs” (p. 231). With regard to the historicity of Hezekiah's Passover in 2 Chr 30, Young strongly rejects seeing Hezekiah's Passover as a retrojection of its better-documented counterpart set in the time of Josiah. After examining the Hezekiah narrative in 2 Chr 30, Young reveals that there is “no literary dependence on the corresponding Josiah accounts, nor [does it adhere] to Deuteronomic law” (p. 232). However, Young does not mean that the account of Hezekiah's Passover in 2 Chr 30 is a mere literary invention of the Chronicler. Rather the Chronicler amalgamates competing traditions in his own time in order to emphasize Hezekiah's nonfulfillment of Deuteronomic legislation.

Young examines the accounts of Hezekiah's reign in 2 Chr 31–32 in chapter eight in order to identify potential historical sources behind the narrative. Young asserts that the source of 2 Chr 31 is pre-exilic, because the account of Hezekiah in 2 Chr 31 is closely related to the Pentateuchal law and points to a historical context in the eighth century b.c.e. At the same time the account of Sennacherib's campaign against Judah in 2 Chr 32 clearly shows that the Chronicler utilizes eighth-century b.c.e. historical sources. Young proves his ideas by using archaeological evidence and by comparison with the eighth-century Isaianic oracle in Isa 22:8–11.

In chapter 9, Young investigates the development of the Hezekiah tradition in terms of the portrayal of Hezekiah as a second David and Solomon. Young maintains that the portrayal of Hezekiah as David is already established in Kings, and the correspondence to Solomon has been traced to redactional layers of the Deuteronomistic History. Young's study reveals that many key themes within the Deuteronomistic History—victory in war, spoliation, tribute, royal building programs, territorial expansion, and most consequentially the rest motif—occur from Joshua to Samuel. However, in Chronicles these themes extend into the accounts of Hezekiah, who is apotheosized by the Chronicler. Thus, Young asserts that pre-exilic sources are preserved in the book of Chronicles as a historiographical work. He concludes that “the Hezekiah of tradition was firmly rooted in the Hezekiah of history” (p. 283).

In the last part of this book, Young summarizes his work and gives future direction for the study of the account of Hezekiah, such as the writing of the Hebrew Bible as a national history, historical reconstruction of the priesthood, the J document of the Pentateuch, chronology of the divided kingdom, the extent of messianic thought in the pre-exilic period, and the rise of universalism in Israelite religious thought. These suggestions provide helpful insights for biblical scholarship, and allow room for further discussion and research for biblical scholars.

Young's Hezekiah in History and Tradition makes a valuable contribution to understanding Hezekiah in history. Young has successfully accomplished his objective of investigating Hezekiah, and has done this with erudition and conviction. His book has a clear structure, and is easy for readers to follow. One significant issue, however, is that Young arguably underestimates the long process of transmission of 2 Kgs 18–20 and Isa 36–39 within scribal circles. Young mentions that there is a “cross-pollination between the texts” (p. 149), and continues that “due to the long process of transmission of each book, the underlying Urtext can only be hypothetically reconstructed” (pp. 149–50). Young also recognizes that “…the Greek texts behind Kings serve as the oldest sources for the story” (p. 136), but he does not address all the implications of this observation in his book. In terms of the study of the Hezekiah story in the book of Kings, it is necessary to find the proto-Masoretic text form of the story, for the later Masoretic text has been corrupted in transmission with the presence of a very similar text in Isaiah.[1] The Greek tradition is arguably a better witness to the proto-Masoretic text, but it presents its own challenges, which cannot be ignored when one seeks to reconstruct an earlier text than MT. Here, further engagement with the works of Barthélémy, Tov and others would have been appreciated.[2]

There are also a few small problems. First, Young's book contains dittographies such as “cannot not fulfill” (p. 159) and “would have been been” (p. 264). Young utilizes the Hebrew text with vowels throughout his book, but he uses the consonantal text in Isa 9:5 (p. 159). In terms of consistency, it would have been better to use the vocalized Hebrew text. Elsewhere, Young writes that “the Deuteronomistic History expresses ‘to establish’ via the root כּוֹן” and cites 1 Kgs 2:12, 46 (p. 198). However, the root for “to establish” is not כּוֹן, but כּוּן. Other than these problems, this book is important for those who are interested in the historicity of Hezekiah.

Jeaman Choi, McMaster Divinity College

[1] August H. Konkel, “The Sources of the Story of Hezekiah in the Book of Isaiah,” VT 43 (1993), 462–82 (465). reference

[2] Dominique Barthélémy, Les devanciers d'Aquila (Leiden: Brill, 1963), 4–15. reference