The Easter of Josiah
“Josiah celebrating Easter”, illumination from a Bible destinated to Georges d’Egmond, abbot of Saint-Amand, ms. 0006 (002), f. 272r, 16th century, Bibliothèque Municipale, Valenciennes.
This illumination depicts a royal banquet as part of the Passover celebrations during the rule of King Josiah of Judah. What may now seem a given coming from an ancient Jewish king was, however, a sensation at the time: the feast of Passover of 658 BC, in fact, was the first to be celebrated in over 60 years – and, moreover, the first Passover to have Jerusalem as the true center of the celebrations. What brought Josiah to this change?
Josiah was only 8 when Amon, his father, was assassinated. As a child who had suddenly become king, Josiah was probably aided by High Priests of the Temple of Jerusalem; the Bible states that, at the age of 16, the young king began actively searching for God in a way that closely reminded that of King David. Just a few years later, Josiah stated a strict purification of Judah from blasphemy and idolatrous worship – thus re-establishing the original cult of YHWH that his very grandfather, King Manasseh, had turned away from. As part of his reforms, the King ordered for the Temple to be renovated: it was at this time that a High Priest rediscovered an ancient scroll described as “the book of the law of YHWH by the hand of Moses”. To celebrate this occasion and repent from the actions of his predecessors, Josiah thus decided to re-establish the feast of Passover: the king himself offered 3000 lambs to the Temple so that pilgrims could also celebrate Passover in Jerusalem. The feast lasted a total of 7 days, during which Josiah celebrated Passover with priests, Levites, citizens of Jerusalem, and pilgrims of Judah and Israel alike.