Biblical history,  books

Book Review: Josiah and the Theocrats

Share Button

If the Bible was written by humans, would it not be susceptible to the same corruption that drives so much of human existence? Different groups of Christians will argue others have twisted it for political purposes, but what if the texts themselves arose from political purposes, and what if those purposes were neither noble nor loving?

That’s one of the questions that seems to underly the plot of Josiah and the Theocrats. The book is set in 623 – 622 BCE, at the time of King Josiah of Judah. The book is written with a focus on Shaphan, the king’s secretary, charged with bringing a long-lost religious text forward to the king. When I spoke to the author, who goes by the pen-name K Ley de Fenix she said that Josiah is her stand in for Trump. He’s trying to “Make Judah Great Again” with a focus on promoting xenophobia and greed rather than being concerned about the real problems they faced.

It is an interesting interpretation of the story of Josiah. The Bible says that when repairs were done on Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem a scroll was found which was given to the king and then read before the people. It is commonly argued that the scroll was likely a section of what we now know of Deuteronomy, and that it provided a set of reforms. The Deuteronomic reforms focused on promoting worship of Yahweh alone. They portray Judah as a vassal of Yahweh granted the land as a blessing conditional upon following Yahweh’s laws. They concentrated power in Jerusalem, removing the high-places where people worshipped outside of Jerusalem and altering some of the rituals. The Deuteronomic historians, writing from relatively the same time (give or take a hundred years) reinterpreted Judah and Israel’s histories to portray the Canaanites as a corrupting influence.

K Ley de Fenix portrays the scroll as being a legitimately old scroll misused by the king and his theocrats. She takes her inspiration from a doctoral thesis available here and linked to at the end of her book.

I have, for a long time now, assumed that the scroll was not an ancient one found by Josiah’s contemporaries but rather one written by them. I’ve noted the long list of names involved in the promotion of the scroll and assumed this was elites who lent their power and support to the new code. I pictured priest, king, and prophetess united in their plans to move forward with the reforms. I had not considered the possibility of their being argument between them. The tension, I tend to think, is not between the king and the Jerusalem priesthood but the Jerusalem priesthood and the rural priesthood.

Well, no. There’s a bit of potential argument, in my eyes, described in 2 Kings 22:3 – 7 describes a transfer of money:

   3Now in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, the king sent Shaphan, the son of Azaliah the son of Meshullam the scribe, to the house of the LORD saying, 4“Go up to Hilkiah the high priest that he may count the money brought in to the house of the LORD which the doorkeepers have gathered from the people. 5“Let them deliver it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the LORD, and let them give it to the workmen who are in the house of the LORD to repair the damages of the house, 6to the carpenters and the builders and the masons and for buying timber and hewn stone to repair the house. 7“Only no accounting shall be made with them for the money delivered into their hands, for they deal faithfully.”

I took this as a sign of dispute between the king and the priests. To me, this reads as the king taking power from the priest and moving it into the hands of other workers. K Ley de Fenix portrays this as a sign of the king’s corruption. He’s not concerned with the spending of money or accountability.

Key Le Fenix also portrays the ‘am har’aretz’ as the nobility or elite. In her story they are, she says, the “1%ers.” Yet she fails to explore the economic possibilities within the Deuteronomic reform or the emphasis on solidarity with the poor evident in some portions of Deuteronomy.

Though I differ in my interpretation of details, I find K Ley de Fenix’s book has a very interesting premise. She criticizes the push for monotheism, and the destruction of the other cultures and belief systems that came with that. She explores the difficulty of a religious text that comes through human hands. Her main character is a somewhat unsympathetic character who ends up confessing and regretting his own faults, bringing to light questions of forgiveness. The casual discussion of slavery – even term-limited slavery or what could be considered indentured servitude – points out the awkwardness of taking a text from a brutal era as sacred scriptures.

K Ley de Fenix was inspired to write her story because of current events in the United States. When I spoke to her, she said: “I’m just so afraid that we’re just attacking everything except the actual problems. Whether it is Republican or Democrat, whoever becomes president next, we have a very long honey-do list in terms of things that needs to be done in terms of infrastructure that would really help the entire nation whether you’re a citizen or not but if we’re not focused on that and we’re just saying these people are wrong and these people are wrong, we’re not going to get there. My biggest concern is our country is going to fall because we just self-destruct.”

She’s hoping that she can put some of the profits of the book towards helping fund renovations to houses to improve accessibility. Working in the long-term care field she’s seen people who have had to move into long-term care because their homes wouldn’t fit a wheelchair. However, her book has only been available for a month or so and sales are slow to start. She’s hoping word of mouth advertising will start kicking in soon. I wish her the best of luck and look forward to seeing what she writes best.

Since many reviews are done as the result of authors seeking out bloggers and giving them free copies of the books, I’d like to note that I found this book on Amazon, purchased it on my own and then sought out the author for an interview and not the other way around.

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.