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  • The "Discovered Book" and the Legitimation of Josiah's Reform
  • Nadav Na'aman

The story of the book (or scroll) discovered in the course of the temple restoration at Jerusalem holds a central place in the description of Josiah's reform (2 Kings 22-23). In a dissertation written in 1805, W. M. L. de Wette identified the "Book of the Law" as the Book of Deuteronomy and pointed out the close correspondence between the Deuteronomic laws and the cultic reform carried out by Josiah. He therefore argued that the "discovered" scroll had been composed not long before its "discovery." 1 Following his suggestion, an enormous amount of literature was dedicated to the analysis of the episode and its historical significance. The seventh-century date established by de Wette for the "Book of the Law" (Deuteronomy) was accepted by the majority of scholars, who considered the "discovery" a manipulation to push forward the execution of the reform. 2 The scope of the "discovered" scroll is hotly disputed today, but the term "Book of the Law" must have referred [End Page 47] to a pre-Deuteronomic early work, the so-called Urdeuteronomium. 3 Recently, however, Katherine Stott has argued that the "Book of the Law" never actually existed outside the pages of the book of Kings, and that its mention is a literary stratagem to bolster the credibility of the story within its literary context. 4

Was the "discovered" scroll a virtual work, with no such document in fact existing? Stott presents three Hellenistic and Roman episodes that relate how authors who tried to give credibility to their innovative historical works invoked ostensibly "discovered" old works on whose evidence their innovations rested. 5 Yet how does Stott know that the three "discovered" books were virtual artifacts? After all, an author who claims to have discovered an unknown ancient source that contradicts the currently known evidence might expect the request to present it for examination by experts, and would naturally prepare a copy of the "discovered" text. The majority of scrolls, tablets, and books "discovered" in antiquity were real artifacts that were presented to the audience. 6 Stott's suggestion that the three "discovered" sources are in fact artifacts that never existed is no more than guesswork. Further, the legitimation of a historical book is quite different from that of a historical event. The story of Josiah's reform relates how the "book" was discovered, presented to the king, and later read in public. The story mentions the "book" eleven times, under different names (2 Kgs 22:8, 10, 11, 13, 16; 23:2, 3, 21, 24). The narrator's emphasis on the reality of the scroll as the force that moved forward the sequence of events and its decisive role in the legitimation of the cult reform is in marked contrast to the suggestion that the book was a virtual artifact. History is replete with episodes that can serve as analogies to almost any possible theory; the presentation of analogy in itself does not prove anything. Stott brings no evidence that proves the relevance of the three Hellenistic and Roman episodes she presents for analyzing the account of Josiah's reform. Hence, we may dismiss her claim, taking [End Page 48] as a point of departure for this discussion the commonly held assumption that the "discovered" scroll was a real artifact presented to the king and literati of Judah. 7

In what follows I will examine in detail three important points pertaining to the finding of the scroll and the function of the "discovery" in the story of Josiah's reform: first, the distribution of "discovery" stories in the ancient Near East and its bearing on the biblical story; second, the verification of discovered artifacts by way of a divine oracle; and, third, the legitimation the scroll bestowed on the cult reform.

I. The "Discovery" of Scrolls and Tablets in the Ancient Near East

The manipulation of texts for political and propagandistic purposes as well as the "discovery" of texts in order to legitimize a present claim were well known in the ancient Near East long before Josiah's reform. Let me illustrate it through a few examples from the history...


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