Kings II - the found sefer

Kings 2, chapters 22-3

The discovery of a sefer in the Temple and the resulting reform eliminating the widespread avoda zara [idol worship] in Israel has prompted some to think that during the period of avoda zara there must have been a complete loss of the original tradition. The newly found sefer must be introducing a new ideology/religion. Some think that this is the origin of sefer Devarim [Deuteronomy]. And then they conclude that since at least in this case the old tradition was completely lost, we have no reason to think that our tradition, which goes back certainly no farther than this incident, represents a tradition from Moses.  Indeed, they say, if the tradition was forgotten on this occasion, it may have been forgotten on other occasions as well.

We should note that the suggestion that the found sefer is the book of Devarim is directly contradicted by earlier references. Namely:

Kings II 14: 1- 6

     Amatz-yah of Yehuda, son of Yoash, became king in the second year of King Yoash.  He did what was pleasing to G-d, but not like his ancestor David....  After consolidating his hold on the kingdom, he put the servants who had assassinated his father, the king, to death.   However, he did not put their children to death, as written in the Book of Moshe's Torah, where G-d commanded: "Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, and children shall not be put to death for their fathers.  Rather, every man shall be put to death for his own sins."

[Deuteronomy  24:16

     Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, and children shall not be put to death for their fathers.  Rather, every man shall be put to death for his own sins.]

So chapter 14 makes a clear reference to Devarim.

In addition:

Kings II Chapter 17:10.

     And they set up for themselves pillars and Asherim in every high hill, and under every green tree; 12. For they served idols, about which the Lord had said to them, you shall not do this thing.13. Then the Lord warned Israel, and Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the Torah which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets….16. And they left all the commandments of the Lord their God, and made them molten images, two calves, and made an Ashera, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served Baal.

Kings II Chapter 18:1.

     And it came to pass in the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, that Hezekiah the son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign.  2. Twenty five years old was he when he began to reign; and he reigned twenty nine years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi, the daughter of Zechariah.  3. And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, according to all that David his father did.  4. He removed the high places, and broke the images, and cut down the Ashera, and broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for in those days the people of Israel burned incense to it; and he called it Nehushtan.

[Deuteronomy 16:21.

     You shall not plant you an Ashera of any tree near the altar of the Lord your God, which you shall make.]

So the destruction of the ashera took place before chap 22, even though the only prohibition of ashera is in the book of Devarim.

[These references are due to Rabbi Yehuda Albin.]

Below there is a summary of certain details of the text of chapters 22-3 showing that the idea of discontinuity in the tradition has no more substance that the emperor's new clothes.

Chap 22

3ff - the sofer is sent to check on the money; he is given the sefer and reads it; he reports to the king on the money and then reads the sefer to the king.

4 - the king calls the house "beis Hashem"

So even the king, who participates in idol worship, refers to the Temple as the house of Hashem, using G-d's proper name from the tradition.]

8 - the finder of the sefer is "kohen gadol" [a title from the tradition] and he calls the sefer "sefer haTorah" ["The book of [the] Torah" - Malbim points out the the "ha" means "THE sefer Torah" which means the known, unique one, so the title and the concept were certainly not forgotten. He suggests that this refers to the Torah written by Moses. That would explain why it made such an impact. [See below.] But even if one does not accept that is was the sefer written by Moses, it still means that the concept of a special sefer Torah was well known.]

10 - Shafan says he received a sefer

11 - when the king heard the words of sefer haTorah....[The king too identified it as the special sefer Torah, even though it was not identified that way to the king.]

13 - "this found sefer"

[Presumably they could tell the age of a sefer by the condition of the parchment so they could see that it was really an old sefer. Is it possible that it was a forgery on specially prepared old parchment, or that they had a way of counterfeiting old parchment? Yes, it is possible. But possibilities play no role in a serious investigation. We would need positive evidence of forgery before we could consider mere possibilities of possessing or counterfeiting old parchment.]

14 - Chulda hanevia is a true prophet of Hashem and is a resident of Yerushalayim and known to the king's advisors [So the population of the capitol was not only adherents of avoda zara.]

chap 23

1ff - the king gathers all people of Yehuda and all the inhabitants of Yerushalayim and reads the "book of the covenant" to them.

3 - they make a covenant to perform all the commandments in the sefer. [if the tradition were really forgotten - if this sefer is a forgery with new content - then this would be an unknown old book with unknown ideas - why should they agree to follow it? And see next comment.]

4ff - they destroy all elements of avoda zara.

[Note: there is no local catastrophe to motivate this wholesale religious revollution - no attack by enemies, famine, pestilence, etc. -  why do they take it so seriously?]

9 - the only kohanim [priests] allowed to serve the alter are those who ate matzos among their brethren. [So there was a group of kohanim publicly identified as loyal to the old tradition.]

21 - the king commands to make Pesach as is written in "this sefer habris" [book of [the] covenant] [So it could not be sefer Devarim – the detailed instructions for Pesach are in Exodus and Leviticus. The only new element in Devarim is restriction to the place shosen by hashem. But since the verse here says that the Pesach was kept in the time of the Judges, and that pre-dates the choice of Jerusalem, it cannot be that enw element that thetext here is referring to. And see next comment.]

22ff - no Pesach like this was made since the shoftim [Judges]. [Malbim: No explanation is given of what made this Pesach so unique, unless verse 24, which means that this Pesach was accompanied by the uprooting of avoda zara, unlike the Pesachim of previous years, in which case this is an allusion to the link between Pesach and the elimination of avoda zara which is reasonably explicit in the story of the exodus in Exodus - which means again that the found sefer cannot be Devarim.]


If the idea of discontinuity is utterly inconsistent with the text, what is the correct understanding?

(1) The practice of avoda zara did not mean abandoning the old tradition, it meant adding to it. This is called syncretism. The Temple is still Hashem's house, but other gods are worshipped there as well. Indeed, one form of false prophecy is when a prophet says that Hashem wants us to worship other gods in addition of Himself! And we have at least one explicit reference to syncretism in 1 Kings 18:21 where Elija tells the people: "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Hashem is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him."

(2) In addition, the population was mixed: some accepted the new syncretism and some did not.  So there never was a complete discontinuity with the original tradition.

(3) It remains to explain why the king was part of the idol worship of the times. He was eight years old when he became king. His father was a leader in the idol worship. Even though he knew of Hashem and the original tradition [as did the vast majority of the population, if not all of them], he regarded the syncretism as natural, and perhaps even not in contradiction to that tradition. Hearing the contents of the sefer, and knowing that it is the unique, genuine sefer Torah [perhaps even going back to Moses], made its absolute prohibitions against idol worship, and the curses resulting from idol worship, impossible to ignore.