Biblical Studies Manasseh, King of Judah
by
Robert L. Foster
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0174

Introduction

The portrayal of Manasseh in the biblical tradition presents differing views of his reign. 2 Kings 21:1–18 portrays him as an evil king who led the people into idolatrous activities and whose offenses included passing his sons “through the fire” and innocent bloodshed. According to 2 Kings, the crimes of Manasseh proved so heinous that they sealed the exilic fate of Judah. 2 Chronicles moderates this perspective, telling of Manasseh taken captive to Babylon, repenting, and then returning to Judah to work for the benefit of Judah, and especially of Jerusalem. A parallel tradition of repentance occurs in the Prayer of Manasseh, though here we also find two apparently distinct traditions. The texts at Qumran yielded one form of the prayer, while Christian text collections contain a different form in Greek or Syriac, with scholars disputing whether the latter prayer is of Jewish or Christian origin. Whatever its origin, the prayer found in the Greek and Syriac has had a continual influence in the Christian tradition, with inclusion in the Orthodox Bible, Luther’s Apocrypha, and modern-day Episcopal liturgy. Meanwhile, archaeologists and historians have sought to peel back the layers of ideology and theology, in the tradition of Kings especially, and affirm the successful renewal of Judah under the reign of the historical King Manasseh. During his fifty-five years on the throne, people resettled towns destroyed by the Assyrians during Sennacherib’s imperial rule and a new industrial trade emerged, strengthening Jerusalem and the crown.

General Overviews

Entries in Bible dictionaries provide brief but helpful overviews and perspectives on key issues, with useful bibliographies of key works. The most thorough discussions and evaluative comment come in Evans 1992 and Tiemeyer 2005, with Tiemeyer of more interest to those pursuing theological aims. Kim 2008 serves as a short but up-to-date reference.

  • Evans, Carl D. “Manasseh, King of Judah.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. (Vol. 4). Edited by David Noel Freedman, 496–499. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

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    A fairly thorough assessment of the sources and scholarship on Manasseh to the time of the publication of this article.

  • Kim, Uriah Y. “Manasseh, Manassites, 7.” In New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary. 5 vols. (Vol. 3). Edited by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, 785–786. Nashville: Abingdon, 2008.

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    Focuses briefly on the negative assessments of Manasseh in DtrH and Chronicles, offering alternative explanations as to why Manasseh adopted his religious practices.

  • Tiemeyer, Lena-Sofia. “Manasseh.” In Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books. Edited by Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson, 674–677. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2005.

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    A review of the various sources related to Manasseh and an assessment of theological problems evidenced in the sources.

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