The Legends of the Jews— Volume 4: From Joshua to Esther

Author: Louis Ginzberg


When the prophet Jonah, doing the behest of his master Elisha, anointed Jehu king over Israel, (1) he poured the oil out of a pitcher, not out of a horn, to indicate that the dynasty of Jehu would not occupy the throne long. (2) At first Jehu, though a somewhat foolish (3) king, was at least pious, but he abandoned his God-fearing ways from the moment he saw the document bearing the signature of the prophet Ahijah of Shilo, which bound the signers to pay implicit obedience to Jeroboam. The king took this as evidence that the prophet had approved the worship of the golden calves. So it came to pass that Jehu, the destroyer of Baal worship, did nothing to oppose the idolatrous service established by Jeroboam at Beth-el. (4) The successors of Jehu were not better; on the contrary, they were worse, and therefore in the fifth generation (5) an end was put to the dynasty of Jehu by the hand of the assassin.

The kings of Judah differed in no essential particular from their colleagues in the north. Ahaziah, whom Jehu killed, was a shameless sinner; he had the Name of God expurged from every passage in which it occurred in the Holy Scriptures, and the names of idols inserted in its place. (6)

Upon the death of Ahaziah followed the reign of terror under the queen Athaliah, when God exacted payment from the house of David for his trespass in connection with the extermination of the priest at Nob. As Abiathar had been the only male descendant of Abimelech to survive the persecution of Saul, so the sole representative of the house of David to remain after the sword of Athaliah had raged (7) was Joash, the child kept in hiding, in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, by the high priest Jehoiada and his wife Jehosheba. (8) Later Jehoiada vindicated the right of Joash upon the throne, and installed him as king of Judah. The very crown worn by the rulers of the house of David testified to the legitimacy of the young prince, for it possessed the peculiarity of fitting none but the rightful successors to David. (9)

At the instigation of Jehoiada, King Joash undertook the restoration of the Temple. The work was completed so expeditiously that one living at the time the Temple was erected by Solomon was permitted to see the new structure shortly before his death. (10) This good fortune befell Jehoiada (11) himself, the son of Benaiah, commander-in-chief of the army under Solomon. So long as Joash continued under the tutelage of Jehoiada, he was a pious king. When Jehoiada departed this life, the courtiers came to Joash and flattered him: "If thou wert not a god, thou hadst not been able to abide for six years in the Holy of Holies, a spot which even the high priest is permitted to enter but once a year." The king lent ear to their blandishments, and permitted the people to pay him Divine homage. (12) But when the folly of the king went to the extreme of prompting him to set up an idol in the Temple, Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, placed himself at the entrance, and barring the way said: "Thou shalt not do it so long as I live." (13) High priest, prophet, and judge though Zechariah was, and son-in-law of Joash to boot, the king still did not shrink from having him killed for his presumptuous words, not was he deterred by the fact that it happened on a Day of Atonement which fell on the Sabbath. (14) The innocent blood crimsoning the hall of the priests did not remain unavenged. For two hundred and fifty-two years it did not leave off seething and pulsating, until, finally, Nebuzaradan, captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s guard, ordered a great carnage among the Judeans, to avenge the death of Zechariah. (15)

Joash himself, the murderer of Zechariah, met with an evil end. He fell into the hands of the Syrians, and they abused him in their barbarous, immoral way. Before he could recover from the suffering inflicted upon him, his servants slew him. (16)

Amaziah, the son and successor of Joash, in many respects resembled his father. At the beginning of his reign he was God-fearing, but when, through the aid of God, he had gained a brilliant victory over the Edomites, he knew no better way of manifesting his gratitude than to establish in Jerusalem the cult of the idol worshipped by his conquered enemies. To compass his chastisement, God inspired Amaziah with the idea of provoking a war with Joash, the ruler of the northern kingdom. Amaziah demanded that Joash should either recognize the suzerainty of the southern realm voluntarily, or let the fate of battle decide the question. (17) At first Joash sought to turn Amaziah aside from his purpose by a parable reminding him of the fate of Shechem, which the sons of Jacob had visited upon him for having done violence to their sister Dinah. (18) Amaziah refused to be warned. He persisted in his challenge, and a war ensued. The fortune of battle decided against Amaziah. He suffered defeat, and later he was tortured to death by his own subjects. (19)


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Chicago: Louis Ginzberg, "Joash," The Legends of the Jews— Volume 4: From Joshua to Esther, trans. Rodwell, J. M. in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 4: From Joshua to Esther Original Sources, accessed July 25, 2024,

MLA: Ginzberg, Louis. "Joash." The Legends of the Jews— Volume 4: From Joshua to Esther, translted by Rodwell, J. M., in The Legends of the Jews—Volume 4: From Joshua to Esther, Original Sources. 25 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Ginzberg, L, 'Joash' in The Legends of the Jews— Volume 4: From Joshua to Esther, trans. . cited in , The Legends of the Jews—Volume 4: From Joshua to Esther. Original Sources, retrieved 25 July 2024, from