Discuss the reign of Manasseh, both the historical and historiographic issues. Is there a wider significance of this reign for the course of Israelite history and the conception and development of Israelite historiography? Your extra-biblical sources should include (at least) archaeology and Assyrian writings.
Manasseh succeeded his father Hezekiah only a few years after Sennacherib’s devastating invasion in 701 BCE. Manasseh is given 18 verses (2 Kgs 20:1-18) in the DH, yet the negative assessment of his reign was so severe that the DH credits Manasseh’s sins as the ultimate downfall of the southern kingdom (2 Kgs 21:10-16; 23:26; 24:3). Despite the depiction of Manasseh’s wickedness, the DH still faithfully, yet embarrassingly, assigns him the longest reign out of any of the kings of Judah, flying in the face of the standard Deuteronomistic theory of retribution. Not even Josiah, Manasseh’s grandson, who is extolled in glowing terms only paralleled by David, can stem the tide of calamity that Yahweh has determined for Judah because of offences during Manasseh’s rule. Viewed in light of Cross’s double redaction theory of the DH, the post-Josiah redactor of the DH blamed Manasseh for Josiah’s failure to follow through with what had seemed to be a reason to hope for better days in Judah. Within the double redaction model, Halpern argues that Hulda’s prophecy and the account of Josiah’s death were a part of 2 Kings before the exilic redactor blamed Manasseh for Josiah’s death. Halpern argued that the pre-exilic edition already interpreted Hulda’s prophecy that Josiah would die by an ally he was at peace with. The texts that blame Manasseh are assigned to an exilic redactor. Halpern emphasizes that the juxtapositioning of the notice about Manasseh (2 Kgs 24:3) and then the subsequent terse description of Josiah’s death highlight the blame.
The assessment of Manasseh is much different for the Chronicler. Manasseh, although initially a wicked king, repents in exile. According to the Chronicler, he returns to Judah and makes amends for his wrongs. Chronicles even says that Manasseh carried reforms (though not completely to its liking) and some building projects. Since Manasseh is exonerated somewhat, Josiah is not depicted as straight an arrow as the DH seemed to imply, since his death is not pinned on Manasseh but is apparently Josiah’s own blunder for disobeying the Lord’s word through Necho, as well as hiding in disguise in battle just as Ahab did when he met his demise. Chronicles depicts a kingdom where each monarch inexorably contributed to the ultimate fate of Judah.
Yet for all of the bad press that Manasseh receives in the DH, from another perspective, Manasseh may be viewed as shrewd monarch who deftly led the kingdom despite the problems carried over from Hezekiah’s rebellion from Sennacherib. The archaeological record is helpful for understanding the devastation that Sennacherib dealt to Judah through his invasion. Finkelstein estimates that in the 8th century that all the inhabited sites in Judah amounted to 470 hectares (ha) while 7th century was 255 ha. This translates to possibly dropping from a kingdom of 120,000 to only 65,000 with over a fifth of that number living in Jerusalem. Most of the drop in size and population came from the lost of the Shephelah. Not only was it the hardest hit area by Sennacherib but some of the territory may have been turned over the Philistines city-states. Finkelstein conjectures that the massive olive oil production at Tell Miqne may have been supplied by tribute from Israel. Although the kingdom was greatly reduced, Manasseh was able to successfully expand into the Negev, tapping its agricultural potential as well as better access to trade routes coming from Arabia. The need for more agricultural land would have been sorely felt with the loss of the Shephelah. Sites in the Judean desert also appear for the first time during the 7th century.
Manasseh is mentioned twice in Assyrian inscriptions, but mostly in context of a loyal vassal. Miller and Hayes conjecture that despite Assyria’s prior treatment of Judah as a satellite state, after Hezekiah’s revolt it seems that Judah became a vassal, implying tighter imperial control. Although it is a debated issue how much influence Assyria would have had on the cult; as a vassal, Manasseh would have sworn to have revered the god Aššur as his own god (see §34-35 of Esarhaddon’s Succesion Treaty (EST)). In fact, the treaty itself may have been required to be kept in the inter sactum of the temple since EST was found at Tell Tayinat within its temple’s inner sanctum. If this was the case in Judah, this would have created no small stir among some groups in Judah (and consequently, makes it more interesting that Josiah found a text within the temple that was laid out just like an Assyrian vassal treaty!). Manasseh is listed first among a list of twenty-two vassal kings who were compelled to provide labor in building Esarhaddon’s palace in Nineveh. Additionally Manasseh is also said to provide soldiers for Ashurbanipal’s campaign to Egypt. The Assyrian sources seem to assume that Manasseh acted as a loyal vassal, and Finkelstein notes that Manasseh’s expansion toward the south could have only been carried out with Assyrian approval. Also, in a list of tribute that included Judah and other neighbors (Ammon, Moab, Edom), Judah has the least amount of tribute. This may be indicate of some amount of royal favor.
Thus, Manasseh’s loyal vassalage to the Assyrians, along with his position toward the cult in Jerusalem, and in Judah at large, probably contributed to raising the ire of the Deuteronomistic historian even before the exile, but it was the exilic redaction of Kings that felt that Manasseh’s atrocities were bad enough that it accounted for Josiah’s inability to stem the tide and result in Judah’s eventual fall. The Chronicler, writing much later in history used Manasseh’s exile and change of heart to explain his unusually long reign, even if it meant putting the blame for Josiah’s death upon himself.
Finkelstein, Israel. “The Archaeology of the Days of Manasseh.” In Scripture and Other Artifacts: Essays on the Bible and Archaeology in Honor of Philip J. King, edited by Michael D. Coogan, Lawrence E. Stager, and Carol A. Newsom, 169–187. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994. https://www.academia.edu/1947761/The_Archaeology_the_Days_of_Manasseh. Halpern, Baruch. “Why Manasseh Is Blamed for the Babylonian Exile: The Evolution of a Biblical Tradition.” Vetus Testamentum 48, no. 4 (October 1, 1998): 473–514. Harrison, Timothy P., and James F. Osborne. “Building Xvi and the Neo-Assyrian Sacred Precinct at Tell Tayinat.” Journal of Cuneiform Studies 64 (March 2012): 125–143. Tiemeyer, L.-S. “Manasseh.” Edited by Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson. Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2005.