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From 2 Chronicles 35 (NIV):

20 After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, Necho king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah marched out to meet him in battle. 21 But Necho sent messengers to him, saying, “What quarrel is there, king of Judah, between you and me? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.”

22 Josiah, however, would not turn away from him, but disguised himself to engage him in battle. He would not listen to what Necho had said at God’s command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo.

Why did Josiah do this? Why did he challenge Necho in the first place, and why wouldn't he be dissuaded?

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When this passage came up in my research last year, I found the explanation by Malamat (1950, 'The Last Wars of the Kingdom of Judah', in Journal of Near Eastern Studies 9, 218–227) the most compelling (p. 219):

The first discovery that was a turning point in understanding the chain of events in the last years of King Josiah's reign was the Babylonian Chronicle (describing the years 616–609), published by Gadd in 1923,7 which explains why Josiah attempted a stand at Megiddo against the powerful Egyptian army. The Battle of Megiddo is no longer a reckless adventurous step taken by Josiah, as was usually described by historians, but rather a bold decision based on far-reaching political and military considerations. As is known, the Babylonian Chronicle proves that Assyria and Egypt, which until now had been archenemies, concluded a military mutual aid pact against Babylon and Media, which were overrunning Assyrian cities. In 610, a year before the Battle of Megiddo, the Babylonian army, with the help of the Umman-Manda, conquered the city Ḥaran and established control of the whole region as far west as the Euphrates. This constituted a threat to Syria. Egypt therefore sent aid to her Assyrian ally, the remnants of whose army were quartered in Syria. It is clear that Josiah's attempt to detain the Egyptian army at Megiddo came to prevent that Egyptian military assistance.8 Josiah's action allies Judah with Babylon; perhaps it even signifies a phase of a broad strategic plan, a military alliance between Babylon and Judah.9

7. Gadd, The Fall of Nineveh (1923).
8. Cf. II Chron. 35:21. The concept בית מלחמתי in this passage has not been satisfactorily explained. According to one opinion, it refers to the permanent encampment of Pharaoh in Syria or to his front line (cf. J. Lewy, "Forschungen zur alten Geschichte Vorderasiens," MVAG [1924], p. 21). Another opinion has it that it refers to Riblah, Pharaoh's headquarters in Syria (cf. B. Alfrink, "Die Schlacht bei Megiddo und der Tod Josias," Biblica, 1934, who translates: "Kriegsstadt, Garnisonsstadt, Festungsstadt").
9. The biblical story pertaining to Chezkiah's reign about Merodach Bal'adan testifles to a much earlier contact between representatives of Judah and Babylon (II Kings 20:12 ff.).

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  • Would this be in keeping with Hezekiah showing off his royal treasure a few generations earlier? (I can't remember exactly how many generations earlier that occurred). – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Mar 5 '18 at 21:06
  • @EJoshuaS are you referring to 2 Chr. 32:27–29? It's probably me, but could you be a little bit more specific how it relates to the battle at Megiddo? – user2672 Mar 5 '18 at 21:14
  • Now that you mention it, I looked it up and the text I was thinking of is actually from 2 Kings 20:12-15 (and the parallel account in Isaiah 39) rather than 2 Chronicles. I do realize that those are different books, so it's probably not great exegesis to bring those texts into this discussion, but is it possible that there was a relation of some kind? – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Mar 5 '18 at 21:21
  • @EJoshuaS no problem putting them together; the Chronicler definitely had knowledge of Samuel-Kings, judging from all the parallels. If I'm understanding you correctly you suggest that 2 Kgs 20:12–15 shows the same Babylonian-Judaic pact as the one that Malamat suggests. Yes, that's possible. On the other hand, Judah was a small party compared to Babylon/Egypt/Assyria, so its alliance was not considered very important and could change between the bigger countries (which might have happened between these two stories). But this is not really my expertise any more, perhaps somebody else can help. – user2672 Mar 5 '18 at 21:29
  • That would certainly be an interesting dynamic if Josiah was trying to have another go at establishing an alliance with the Babylonians a couple of generations later though (since it obviously didn't work out so well for Hezekiah). – EJoshuaS - Reinstate Monica Mar 5 '18 at 21:33
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I don't think that it was meant to be an alliance with Egypt. If we read throughout the books of Jeremiah, Isaiah and both books of Kings. The prophets kept opposing such a move and Josiah tended to listen to them. If we look closer we see that the Egyptians had sided with the Assyrians, who up until now, posed a threat to the people of Judah. Despite the rivalries, Israel was a buffer for Judah in case of an Assyrian attack. Israel had fallen to the Assyrians approximately 200 years earlier. Now, the buffer no longer existed so Assyria posed a threat to Judah. Assyria being besieged by Babylon allied itself with its once archnemesis, Egypt. Egypt was on its way to help its new ally from Babylonian attacks. Josiah, aware that a free Assyria would once again pose a threat against Judah was not about to let Assyria get the assistance it needed. Josiah saw that his worst threat was being annihilated and was not about to sit with his arms crossed and allow anybody to help his enemy.

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    This is extremely relevant information and thank you for it. However, since you do not cite a primary source it is not really up to the standards of the site. Can you please cite your sources? Thanks! – Ruminator Apr 10 '18 at 16:58

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