By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Old Testament Kings

  • Manasseh was one of the kings of Judea (the southern kingdom).
  • Manasseh comes from the Hebrew word, nashshani. Its meaning is one “who makes to forget.” “God hath made me forget.”
  • He reigned from 698 BCE (or 688 BCE) until 643 BCE. This was the longest reign of any Judean king.
  • Based on the length of his kingship, it is noteworthy how little is written about him.
  • His story is told in 2 Kings 21:1-17 and 2 Chronicles 33:1-20.
  • Surprisingly, the accounts of Manasseh’s story differ considerably between 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles.
  • According to 2 Kings, he was twelve years old when he came to the throne.
  • His mother’s name was Hephzibah, but nothing more is known about her.
  • When Hezekiah was sick and about to die, he broke down and prayed to God. The Lord answered his prayer by adding fifteen more years to his life.
  • Three years after Hezekiah prayed, Manasseh was born.
  • He was the only son of Hezekiah. Needless to say, he was the chosen successor.
  • Hezekiah was known as one of the good kings because he had tried to reform the land by reinstituting the worship of Yahweh.
  • These reforms were not necessarily embraced by all the people, but the Biblical authors gave Hezekiah high praise.
  • This is in sharp contrast to their introduction of Manasseh. Both accounts begin by saying that Manasseh “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.”
  • The account in 2 Kings is pretty much devoted to a listing of his offenses.
  • He attempted to restore polytheistic worship in the land of Israel.
  • He rebuilt all the high places that Hezekiah had had removed.
  • He established altars for the worship of the Baals.
  • He made Asherahs and worshiped a whole host of heaven.
  • He placed altars to the host of heaven in the temple of Yahweh.
  • He also put a carved image of idols in the temple – the very place where God told David to keep his name forever.
  • Manasseh even made his sons to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom.
  • He used soothsayers, sorcerers, mediums, and wizards.
  • According to 2 Kings, he did more evil than the nations whom Yahweh had destroyed for Israel’s benefit.
  • Obviously, the authors of 2 Kings can’t find anything good to say about Manasseh.
  • It is thought, however, that Manasseh might simply have been following the wishes of the people.
  • Times were tough. The Assyrians had imposed a heavy tax on them years earlier during the reforms of Hezekiah. The people obviously had lost faith in Yahweh and might have thought that by doing what would appease the Assyrians, they might get some relief.
  • At the ripe old age of twelve, Manasseh was no match for those who believed the way to prosperity was to capitulate to the Assyrians.
  • Under his supervision, a deliberate attempt was made to banish the worship of Yahweh.
  • Needless to say, the prophetic voices of Isaiah, and possibly Micah, cried out in protest.
  • But the louder they cried, the more the people responded with hatred.
  • Eventually, Manasseh systematically went after the prophets and all those who were faithful to Yahweh. Most of the reformers were put to death.
  • Rabbinic legend has it that Manasseh is responsible for killing Isaiah around this time (by cutting him in half in the trunk of a tree).
  • 2 Kings 21:16 states that so much innocent blood was shed that the streets of Jerusalem were filled from one end to another.
  • Some scholars have called Manasseh the “Nero of Palestine.”
  • Of course, these deeds did not go unnoticed by Yahweh.
  • Because Manasseh did more evil than the Amorites and caused Judah to sin with idols, God promised to “cast off the remnant of my heritage.”
  • This was the last straw that had its origins in the initial exodus from Egypt. These people had done nothing but provoke the Lord ever since.
  • Therefore, they would have the same fate as Samaria and Ahab (the northern kingdom and king) that had already been destroyed by the Assyrians.
  • In 2 Kings 21:1-18, the author attributes the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem to the idolatry of Manasseh.
  • Jeremiah 15:4 seems to confirm this viewpoint by having Yahweh claim: “I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what King Manasseh, son of Hezekiah of Judah, did in Jerusalem.”
  • This seems like an open and shut case.
  • Manasseh was the worst of all the evil kings.
  • 2 Chronicles 33:1-10 also seems to confirm that version of the story.
  • It ends, however, with Yahweh warning the king and the people, but neither would listen.
  • Then 2 Chronicles 33:11-20 continues by saying that Yahweh raised up the captains of the troops of the king of Assyria to come after Manasseh. They took him to Babylon, purportedly to stand before the Assyrian king, Esarhaddon.
  • Scholars believe Esarhaddon took up residence in Babylon for about 13 years. He was the only Assyrian king to do so. Apparently, he felt his presence was required in order to deter any additional attempts by the Babylonians to rebel against the Assyrians.
  • This all might have happened around 681 BCE.
  • Typically, conquered kings were treated very badly.
  • It has been said of Manasseh that he was led into the city by a chain that had been passed through a hook or a ring that would have been placed through his nose or lips or jaw.
  • The whole idea was to humiliate the king.
  • In the case of Manasseh, his treatment was so severe that it caused him to repent.
  • While in Babylon, Manasseh came to his senses and repented before Yahweh.
  • He entreated Yahweh’s favor, humbling himself before the God of his ancestors.
  • The words of his prayer were written in the Annals of the Kings of Israel and Judah as well as in the words of his seers. (Neither of these documents has ever been found.)
  • The “Prayer of Manasseh” is a later attempt by Jewish writers to memorialize what he might have prayed.
  • Yahweh heard his cries and restored him back to the throne in Judah.
  • Then Manasseh knew, as never before, that Yahweh really was God.
  • Upon his return, a chastened and repentant Manasseh cleaned up the cult.
  • He embarked on an expensive building project and reinforced Judah’s military.
  • He built the outer wall near the Fish Gate in Jerusalem.
  • He put commanders in all the fortified cities of Judah.
  • He removed all the foreign gods and took out the idol from the temple.
  • He tore down all the high places that he had built.
  • He restored the altar of Yahweh and reinstituted sacrifices in accordance with the Law of Moses.
  • Last, but not least, he commanded all the people to only worship the God of Israel.
  • He maintained his newfound convictions until the day he died.
  • According to the apocryphal books, Manasseh was the ideal penitent – a prime example of one who receives God’s grace and mercy. If God could accept the prayers and transformation of the evil Manasseh, no one else could possibly be outside God’s purview.
  • Despite Manasseh’s best intentions, however, the people pretty much ignored what he had to say. They did not repent, which explains why his grandson, King Josiah, had to remove all the high places that Manasseh had built and had to institute more reforms.
  • This, at least, is the Chronicler’s version of history.
  • These two accounts cannot be reconciled.
  • Most scholars prefer the account in 2 Kings, which pretty much relegates the account in 2 Chronicles to being a theological treatise.
  • But more recently, scholars are rethinking this position.
  • Since 2 Kings is part of the Deuteronomistic history, it stands to reason that those authors were determined to explain why Israel was sent into exile.
  • All the leaders in 2 Kings have flawed characteristics.
  • The authors of 2 Chronicles, however, were more focused on “immediate retribution.” Sins were punished immediately.
  • In their rendition, Manasseh was punished by going to Babylon in chains. While there, he repented. This explains why he had such a long reign. Though exact dates are uncertain, he had to be given the opportunity to repent. In his case, it simply took a long time.
  • Neither book is interested in presenting an accurate historical account. Both have their own ideological and theological perspectives.
  • It may not be possible to ever know which account is more historically true.
  • Yet, some points should be stressed. The first is that Manasseh repented. The people, however, did not. The Chronicler does not blame Manasseh for the fall of Jerusalem and the resulting exile; he lays the blame squarely on the obstinacy of the people. One might say that Manasseh was still responsible in the sense that he was the king, but the fact remains that he repented. The people did not.
  • There are two Ancient Near Eastern texts that confirm the identity of Manasseh. · In Ancient Near Eastern documents, Manasseh’s name is included along with 22 other kings who are given credit for transporting building materials to Nineveh during the reign of Esarheddon.
  • A second document claims he gave gifts to Assurbanipal and helped him conquer Egypt.
  • Another apocryphal book, the Martyrdom of Isaiah, tells the story of how Hezekiah handed over the words of righteousness to his son in the presence of the prophet, Isaiah. It goes on to describe the martyrdom of Isaiah, because Manasseh, “did not remember these things, nor place them in his heart.” Instead he became the servant of Satan.
  • When he died, Manasseh was not buried in the City of David, but in “the garden of Uzza,” the "garden of his own house."
  • Some scholars think “Uzza” was the name of an astral god (no doubt, named before Manasseh’s conversion); others think it might just be the person for whom the garden was named.
  • Manasseh was succeeded by his son, Amon, who “continued to do evil in the eyes of the Lord.”
  • Manasseh was the grandfather of Josiah, who also instituted more reforms.


deSilva, David. Introducing the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2002.

Harrington, Daniel. Invitation to the Apocrypha. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B Eerdmans. 1999.

Meeks, Wayne, ed. The Harper Collins Study Bible. San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins Publishers. 1993.

Metzer, Bruce, Ed. The Oxford Annotated Apocrypha. New York: Oxford University Press. 1965.

Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson, eds. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press. 2002.

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