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The Finding Of The Tabernacle Of The Book Of The Torah

(2 Melechim 22:3-10; 2 Divre Hayamim 34:11-18)

With picturesque details the Scripture tells the story of this discovery which took place in the eighteenth year of the reign of Josiah (621). He was then just twenty-five.

Masons and carpenters under the direction of the Levites were then at work repairing the Tabernacle. Now, as the high kohen Hilkiah was collecting the silver brought by the faithful for the restoration of the tabernacle he found the writer gives no further detail- an old document which he had scarcely any difficulty in identifying directly he unrolled it. 'I have found the Book of the Law.' he told Shaphan, the secretary. Shaphan hurried to the king and read the work to him. As the reading progressed the king became increasingly worried; with terror in his heart he heard the curses threatening those who transgressed these commandments. 'Great indeed must be the anger of YAHWEH,' he explained to his entourage 'blazing out against us because our ancestors did not obey what this book says by practicing everything written in it.' And as a token of his shame and sorrow he tore his garments.

Before taking an official decision Josiah had to be certain of the authenticity of the document. He asked the advice of Huldah, a 'prophetess' who lived in the new city. Huldah declared that the manuscript contained the words of YAHWEH, and she added, 'The anger of YAHWEH is blazing out against this people.'

Yahudah was consecrated to YAHWEH

Terrified, and with reason, Josiah summoned the elders, and the men of Yahudah and Yerusalem; in their company, and escorted by kohens and Levites, he went up to the Tabernacle. There, before the assembled company he read out aloud everything that was said in the book of the covenant found in the Tabernacle of YAHWEH. Standing beside one of the two pillars at the entrance, he solemnly promised on his own behalf and on that of his subjects to keep the commandments, the decrees and Laws which had just been revealed to them; and he promised YAHWEH to enforce the terms of the covenant as written in that book. Thus Yahudah was consecrated to YAHWEH anew in an imposing ceremony like that held by Mosheh on Sinai and also by Yahshua Ben Nun at the entrance of the Chosen People into the Promised Land.

Even before the discover of the Law Josiah (as we have seen, following the account in Divre Hayamim), had carried out a thoroughgoing reform relying on oral traditions and following the counsels of the prophets or asking the advice of Yahwists reputed for their piety or wisdom. In future, with this document so providentially discovered the king and Lawgiver was in a position to take his stand on a definite text, on a written Law.

This code, in the hands of a king who was already determined to reform the civil and spiritual institutions of his country, was to be the cause of a powerful and original movement of legislation; and also, it was to be hoped, of a moral revolution which was greatly needed in Yahudah.

Critical Examination Of This Discovery Of The Book Of The Law

Was this Book of the Law really 'discovered' in the Tabernacle as reported by the Scriptural writer?

For the representative of the school of higher criticism of the end of the last century the explanation was very simple: the code was a fraudulent fabrication from beginning to end by the kohens of Yerusalem. Then, with or without the king's consent, they pretended to discover it so that it could be used as the justification for further reforms.

There is another and more acceptable explanation. It is now known that in those ancient days documents of exceptional importance were often placed in tabernacles in hiding-places known to a few kohens only. Years passed, and the memory of these secret hiding-places was often lost. Many centuries later, when no one even remembered their existence, the documents were discovered. This sort of thing could be matched in the Middle Ages both in Europe and in Islam. Thus in Yerusalem, when one of the pillars of the EI Aqsa mosque was being repaired (it stands on the Tabernacle esplanade) a twelfth-century Latin letter was discovered in 1926; it was written by Gerard de Ridefort, the Seneschal of the Templars.

Perhaps it is not necessary, therefore, to explain the discovery of the Book of the Law as a pious fraud, as the higher critics ingenuously suggest, despite the lack of information about certain spiritual customs of the ancient east. There seems no real reason why we should not accept the Scriptural account of the event.

The Origin Of Devarim (Deuteronomy)

The origin of the Book which was one day to be called Devarim can be accounted for in this way.

First Stage 

We have seen how in 721 Levites of the kingdom of Samaria, fleeing from Assyrian suppression, took refuge in Yerusalem. They brought with them local codes in which were preserved in writing the Laws and customs of the northern kingdom.

Second Stage.

In about 700 in Yerusalem 'the men of Hezekiah' gathered these various codes together into a single body of Law. It was a fairly thin scroll and formed the nucleus of what at a later date was to be called the Second Law. The text in question must certainly have been recopied, but the number of copies can only have been restricted. Spiritual custom required that one of these copies should be deposited in the Tabernacle so that it could be referred to on occasion.

Third Stage.

In the time of Manasseh, when orthodox Yahwists suffered a long and harsh persecution, it is probable that this original copy could no longer continue to occupy a place of honour in the tabernacle; it was therefore relegated to some quite ordinary place unless a group of kohens, faithful to the Law of Mosheh, took the precaution of hiding it.

Fourth Stage.

In 621 during the work for the restoration of the Tabernacle and its dependencies a document dating back about a hundred years was discovered; the high kohen Hilkiah found no difficulty in recognizing the Book of the Torah or Book of the Covenant.

 The fact that Hilkiah recognized the 'Law of YAHWEH' at first sight shows that it had survived, at least in part, in oral form during the reign of Manasseh; the prodigious memories of easterners is well known and their faculty of preserving lengthy narratives in this way for several generations The new factor here was this: there was now a complete and not a fragmentary document in existence, and one that left no room for argument.

In previous references the chronicler called it the book of the Law given through Mosheh (2 Divre Hayamim 34:14),  Several modern authors take the view that the scroll found by Hilkiah referred to the Mosaic Covenant (the Law given on Sinai) whose spirit was obscured by the Covenant of David, in force in Yerusalem for some centuries past. Following the example of several Fathers of the Church (Saints Jerome, Athanasius, John Chyrsostom among others) a group of modern Scriptural scholars believe that the document discovered in 621 was merely a copy of the code of Hezekiah which had fortunately escaped the systematic destruction carried out under Manasseh. The text was relatively short for there were two successive readings of it, one by Hilkiah, the second, aloud, by Shaphan in the king's presence (2 Divre Hayamim 33:15, 18; 2 Melechim 22:8, 10).

Fifth Stage (621-609) Directly after the discovery of the Book of the Law messengers were sent by Josiah to all the regions of Yahudah and also to the shrines of the former kingdom of Samaria. With full authority they informed the followers of YAHWEH of the new Laws to be observed in future. It is very probable that to help them in their work these travelling preachers made several copies of the book in this version and that this, in accordance with the custom of the times was soon embellished with glosses (marginal explanations) of local Laws discovered in some places.

Last Stage

This primitive form of Devarim, originating in the time of Hezekiah, forgotten in the reign of Manasseh, enlarged under Josiah, did not assume its definitive form until the period of the exile: it then became, together with the Kohenly Code, the keystone of Judaism at a time when the prophetic influence was progressively declining.

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