Where Did Josiah Die?
Thirty-one years after inheriting the kingdom of Judah from his father, Josiah traveled to the Valley of Megiddo and fought against Pharaoh Necho, King of Egypt. The Bible gives few details about this battle, but what it does tell us has caused some to question the Bible’s accuracy. Skeptics allege that a contradiction exists between 2 Kings 23 and 2 Chronicles 35. The writer of 2 Kings recorded that “Pharaoh Necho killed him [Josiah—JE] at Megiddo when he confronted him.” Then, later, “his servants moved his body in a chariot from Megiddo, brought him to Jerusalem, and buried him in his own tomb” (23:29-30). When the writer of Chronicles wrote of these events, he recorded that after King Josiah was struck with arrows, he said to his servants, “Take me away, for I am severely wounded.” After that “his servants therefore took him out of that chariot and put him in the second chariot that he had, and they brought him to Jerusalem.” Then the text says, “So he died, and was buried in one of the tombs of his fathers” (2 Chronicles 35:23-24). Because the writer of 2 Kings recorded that Pharaoh Necho killed Josiah at Megiddo and the chronicler used the phrase, “so he died” after writing that Josiah’s body was returned to Jerusalem, skeptics charge that the recorded history of one or both of the writers is wrong.
If 2 Kings 23 were the only account we had of Josiah’s death, then one might very well assume that he took his last breath at Megiddo. But, since 2 Chronicles 35 indicates that he was alert enough after he was shot to command his servants to take him away, we know that he did not die immediately. However, he still may have died in Megiddo after he uttered this command. Or, he could have died on the way to Jerusalem. The accounts can be reconciled even if he had died in Jerusalem. Just because 2 Kings 23:29 says that Pharaoh Necho killed Josiah at Megiddo does not have to mean that he actually died there. It easily could mean that he was mortally wounded at Megiddo and then died sometime later. If someone today is shot in a back alley late at night, he may be rushed to the hospital in hopes that his life might be saved. However, if he dies, whether it is on the way to the hospital or in the hospital, those who rehearse the details of the shooting likely will not say that he died in the hospital but that he was killed in the back alley.
Furthermore, just because the writer of 2 Chronicles wrote the phrase, “so he died,” after he mentioned that Josiah was brought to Jerusalem, does not mean that he did not die beforehand. As E.M. Zerr observed in his Bible Commentary: “The statement and he died...is just a common form of expression in the Bible, where the several facts of a circumstance may be named with very little regard for their chronological order” (1954, pp. 278-279, emp. in orig.). The acknowledgment of the chronicler that Josiah died is just that—an acknowledgment. It says nothing about when he died.
The facts of the story are as follows: (1) Josiah was wounded fatally at Megiddo; (2) his body was rushed away to Jerusalem after he commanded his servants to take him away; and (3) he died sometime after he gave that command. The text is not clear as to the exact location of death. He could have passed away in Megiddo, or on his way to Jerusalem, or even in Jerusalem for that matter. However, the latter is not likely to have occurred since Jerusalem was over fifty miles from Megiddo (probably no less than a two-hour chariot ride). Neither account clearly defines the location of death, only that the location of the fatal injury occurred in Meggido. We must remember that “where two different, but not conflicting accounts of an event are given, one more specific than the other, the one that is clearer should be used to explain the other” (Zerr, pp. 278-279).
Those who claim that these two passages are contradictory are grasping for straws that do not exist. The only difference in the texts is that one is more descriptive than the other.
Zerr, E.M. (1954), Bible Commentary (Bowling Green, KY: Guardian of Truth Publications).