Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Josiah and Pharoah Neco

(ESV) 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him.

Notice the difference between our text here and some of the older translations of this passage:

KJV 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh Nechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.

Darby Bible 1884/1890 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh-Nechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates; and king Josiah went against him; but Nechoh slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.

Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharao Nechao king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josias went to meet him: and was slain at Mageddo, when he had seen him.

Geneva Bible 1599. 2 Kings 23:29 In his dayes Pharaoh Nechoh King of Egypt went vp against the King of Asshur to the riuer Perath. And King Iosiah went against him, whome when Pharaoh sawe, he slewe him at Megiddo. [sic]

Jewish Publication Society 1917 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh-necoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates; and king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.

ASV 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh-necoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and Pharaoh-necoh slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.
Here is the Hebrew phrase "בְּיָמָיו עָלָה פַרְעֹה נְכֹה מֶלֶךְ-מִצְרַיִם, עַל-מֶלֶךְ אַשּׁוּר". Translated roughly it reads "In his [Josiah's] days, Pharoah Neco King of Egypt went up to the King of Assyria." The issue is how to translate the preposition 'עַל'"to". In the context of a battle it can often mean 'against'. So it might read 'Pharoah went up [עָלָה] against the King of Assyria.' This would be to attack or fight against. It is a possible translation. Or it could mean that they are going up to fight in at the aid of the Assyrian king.

For a long time it was assumed that the best traslation was "against". The events of this battle take place around the fall of the Assyrian Empire as she was being rooted out by the ascending Babylonian dynasty founded by Nabopolassar. The Assyrian city of Ashur fell in 614 BC and Niveveh in 612 BC. This caused the last Assyrian king to flea to the west and set up his government at the city of Harran. The Assyrians were crushed in Harran in 609 BC.

It is at this point that Pharoah Neco sends his troops in 609 BC to aid the Assyrians and King Josiah sets up his armies in Meggido to thwart the Pharoah. Thus, Pharoah goes to aid the Assyrian king and not fight against him. Josiah's actions cost him his life but did delay the Egyptian who did not reach the Assyrians until the city had fallen. This lead to a four year stand off in Charchemish.

Our translation was not aided until the discovery of the Babylonian Chronicles which records the events of the fall of the Assyrians and the aid that Pharoah Neco gave to the Assyrians. It is clear that the translation 'against' is a mistranslation. The KJV and older translations are wrong. It should properly be translated "to" indicating the aid Pharoah Neco sought to give. This is of course the way that all contemporary translations render the passage.

Sources:
Peoples of the Old Testament World. (Baker Books, 1994) p.61

K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, (Eerdmans, 2003). p.43.

The Expositor's Bible Commentary Vol 4. p. 289.

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