King Josiah’s Great Passover   Leave a comment

Above:  Solomon’s Temple

Image in the Public Domain





2 Kings 23:21-27

2 Chronicles 35:1-19

1 Esdras 1:1-22


He struck down the firstborn of their land,

the firstfruits of all their strength.

–Psalm 105:36, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)


First, let us get the Books of Esdras straight, so that we may know what I mean by 1 Esdras 1:1-22.  The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha contains a useful chart explaining the names of all the Books of Esdras.  Depending on how one counts, there are as many as five Books of Esdras.  The Douay Old Testament lists Ezra as 1 Esdras and Nehemiah as 2 Esdras.  The Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version, The New English Bible, and The Revised English Bible call the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical (depending on one’s theological orientation) paraphrase of 2 Chronicles 35-35, Ezra, and part of Nehemiah  (with the tale of three young bodyguards in the court of King Darius I) as 1 Esdras and the apocalypse as 2 Esdras.  The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) lists 1 Esdras as 1 Ezra, Ezra as 2 Ezra, and Nehemiah as Nehemiah.  The apocalypse (2 Esdras) is, according to various sources, alternatively 3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, and, compositely, 2, 4, and 5 Esdras.  For my purposes, Ezra is Ezra, Nehemiah is Nehemiah, 1 Esdras is the paraphrase, and 2 Esdras is the apocalypse.  This is the naming system according to most English translations.

1 Esdras, originally in Greek, dates to no later than 100 B.C.E.  It opens with King Josiah’s great Passover and concludes with Ezra reading the Law to the people.  The focus of 1 Esdras is the Temple in Jerusalem–rather, both of the Temples.  And, just as chronology is not the organizational principle in Ezra and Nehemiah, neither is it the organizational principle in 1 Esdras.

The great Passover of Josiah was part of the monarch’s religious reform policy.  That policy pleased God yet did not prevent the coming judgment, 2 Kings reminds us.

Some minor discrepancies exist between texts.

  1. 1 Esdras 1:10 (originally Greek) reads, in part, “…having the unleavened bread.”  This is a bad translation of 2 Chronicles 35:10 (originally Hebrew), which reads, in part, “by the king’s command.”
  2. 2 Chronicles says that there were 5,000 small cattle and 500 large cattle for the Levites.  1 Esdras says there were 5,000 sheep and 700 calves for the Levites.  If I were a literalist, I would care.
  3. Chronology remains an issue.  As I wrote in the first post in this series, 2 Kings 22 establishes the beginning of Josiah’s religious reforms in the eighteenth year of his life.  In 2 Kings 23, therefore, the great Passover occurred that year.  However, 1 Esdras follows the chronology from 2 Chronicles  34 and 35, placing these events in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign instead.
  4. Differences in names may count as discrepancies yet not contradictions.  A careful student of the Bible should be able to think of more than one example of a character with names.  For the record, Conaniah (2 Chronicles 35:9) is reasonably close to Jeconiah (1 Esdras 1:9).  Jeiel and Jozabad (2 Chronicles 35:9) could easily be Ochiel and Joram (1 Esdras 1:9).  And Heman and Jeduthun (2 Chronicles 35:15) could be alternative names for Zechariah and Eddinus (1 Esdras 1:15).

Josiah was trying–really trying.  Kings had staged grandiose Passovers at the Temple prior to this Passover.  For example, Hezekiah, Josiah’s great-grandfather, had staged a grand Passover in 2 Chronicles 30.  Yet this was the first Passover on such a grand scale since the time of Samuel, prior to the monarchy.

However, a portent hung over the glorious occasion.  Josiah was mortal.  His successors were terrible.  The Kingdom of Judah fell.  Exile began.  Yet hope remained, even then.





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