All of these assumptions, while logical, ended up being tragically mistaken. Manasseh is now remembered as one of the worst kings in the Biblical record. Normally when the writer of Kings (whom many presume to be Jeremiah the Prophet) spoke of a wicked King, he speaks of their cruelty in as short of terms as possible, states they did “wicked in the sight of the Lord” and moves on. With Manasseh, he spends considerable time detailing what he did. This I believe would imply that even amongst bad kings (of which there were several) Manasseh outdid them by far:
- Restore the High Places throughout Judah, eliminating the centrality of worship in Jerusalem according to the law.
- Installed pagan altars within the temple, even in place of the altar where sacrifice to Yahweh was offered
- Built a grove in his palace for the worship of idols
- Offered his son as a human sacrifice to idols
- Promoted heavy use of the occult (wizards, soothsayers, divniation, etc)
- Built a giant idol in the court of the temple and commanded worship of it
- Murdered those who supported his fathers reforms
- Is traditionally held as the one who ordered the execution of the Prophet Isaiah, who died by being sawn in half
In the biblical accounts, Kings were condemned as “wicked” for far less. Because of these things, the Kingdom of Judah is sent on a course for which it will never recover. For because of his actions, the Kingdom of Judah would be destroyed. The first part of this involves the punishment of Manasseh directly. Assyria invades Judah (again), and this time they capture the King. We know from historical accounts that the Assyrians were particularly brutal towards Kings that they captured, and it can be implied that Manasseh was tortured grievously.
Josiah’s reign is far different than his father or his grandfathers. At the young age of 16 (according to the biblical accounts) Josiah begins to worship God, and begins his program of reform. Most likely this was also the time he could assert the throne without (much) interference from regents. A decade later, he discovers the book of Deuteronomy and is stunned. Let us ponder that a bit.
Inspired by the law, Josiah undertakes a massive reform. Paganism is banned, the high places are destroyed, the prostitution cults are expelled from the Kingdom, and many festivals were celebrated for the first time in centuries during his reign, despite them being in the law as obligations to celebrate. He listened to the counsels of wise priests, and was greatly assisted by his strongest defender, the prophet Jeremiah.