2 Chronicles 17:7 In the third year of his [Jehoshaphat] reign he sent his officials ... 9 They taught throughout Judah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people.

More than two centuries later in 2 Kings 22:8:

Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, "I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the LORD." He gave it to Shaphan, who read it.

What exactly was this book?

2 Kings 22:11 When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his robes.

Was King Josiah surprised by the contents of the book?


6 Answers 6


The “Book of the Law” is a common phrase that refers to the book of Deuteronomy as an expansion of the Moral Law, or Covenant Law based around the 10 Commandments. “Book of the Law” is referenced in Deut 28:61, 29:21, 30:10, 31:26, Josh 1:8, 8:31, 34, 24:26, 2 Kings 22:8, 11, 2 Chron 17:9, 25:4, 34:14, 15, Neh 8:1-3, 8, 18, 9:3 (and 17:18). The Book of Deuteronomy (up to Ch 30) was placed beside the Ark of the Covenant (Deut 31:26). [Contrast the 10 Commandments which were placed inside the Ark, Ex 40:20.]

The Book of Deuteronomy means, “second law” because of the re-statement of the ten commandments in Deut 5:6-21 (and Deut 27:15-28). It often refers to the Israelite Covenant (Deut 4:13, 23, 31, 5:2, 3, 7:2, 9, 12, 8:18, 9:9, 11, 15, 10:8, 17:2, 29:1, 9, 14, 21, 31:9, 16, 20, 26, 33:9). The centrality and importance of the book of Deuteronomy can be gauged by the requirement for each king of Israel to personally write out a copy of the book and keep it with him (Deut 17:18).

The book consists of the last 4 orations of Moses to the Israelites on the border of the Promised Land.

First Oration: Deut 1:6 – 4:43. Historical background

Second Oration: Deut 4:44 – 26:19. The Law of the Ten Commandments expanded

Third Oration: Deut 27:1 – 28:68. Blessings and Curses of the law

Fourth Oration: Deut 29:1 – 30:20. Renewal of the Covenant

Some authors suggest that the third and fourth orations listed above were part of the same speech. A more complete analysis of Deuteronomy is listed below:

  • Preamble Deut 1:1-5
  • Historical prologue Deut 1:6 – 4:49
  • General stipulations Deut 5 – 11
  • Specific stipulations Deut 12 – 26
  • Blessings and Curses Deut 27 – 28
  • Witnesses Deut 30:15-20
  • Deposition of Text Deut 31:9, 24-26
  • Public reading Deut 31:10-13
  • Lawsuits against vassals Deut 32

The specific stipulations listed above can be broken down more precisely into sections dealing with each of the commandments.

1 & 2: Deut 12:1 – 31 – Worship

3: Deut 13:1 – 14:27 – name of God

4: Deut 14:28 – 16:17 – Sabbath

5: Deut 16:18 – 18:22 – Authority

6: Deut 19:1 – 22:8 – Homicide/murder

7: Deut 22:9 – 23:19 – Adultery

8: Deut 23:20 – 24:7 – Theft

9: Deut 24:8 – 25:4 – False Charges

10: Deut 25:5 – 16 – Coveting

It is instructive that within the text of the Bible, the Ten Commandments are referred to as a law (Ex 34:28, Deut 4:13, 10:4), and also as a covenant (Ex 24:7, 2 Kings 23:2, 21, 2 Chron 34:30). However, the book of Deuteronomy itself is called “The Book of the Law” Deut 28:61, 29:21, 30:10, 31:26, Josh 1:8, 8:31, 34, 24:26, 2 Kings 22:8, 11, 2 Chron 17:9, 25:4, 34:14, 15, Neh 8:1-3, 8, 18, 9:3.

It is obvious that the Book of the Law had become lost during Josiah's time because he was only vaguely aware (if at all) of its existence, much less of what it said and stipulated. This was the final part of the catalyst that motivated Josiah to implement such sweeping reforms throughout Judah.


Deuteronomy refers to itself as the Book of the Law, 31:26

Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you.

Josiah's grandfather Manasseh did evil in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 21:2). He built altars in the temple of the Lord (verse 4). It was probably at this time that this Book of Deuteronomy by the ark got lost somewhere in the temple. Some decades later, it was found by a repairman who gave it to Hilkiah. And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king (verse 10).

Deuteronomy 28:

15 However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come on you and overtake you:
20 The Lord will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. a 21The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess. 22The Lord will strike you with wasting disease, with fever and inflammation, with scorching heat and drought, with blight and mildew, which will plague you until you perish. 23The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. 24The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder; it will come down from the skies until you are destroyed.

King Josiah was alarmed by the curses of the book. In fact Deuteronomy 31:26 was being fulfilled in his hearing.

There is additional evidence that the found book is the Deuteronomy. Later in 2 Kings 23:21, Josiah refers to the found book as Book of the Covenant.

The king gave this order to all the people: "Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant."

So they celebrated the Passover according to Deuteronomy 16:1-8:

Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover of the LORD your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you out of Egypt by night.
8 For six days eat unleavened bread and on the seventh day hold an assembly to the Lord your God and do no work.


Sorry to disagree, but I don't think it was only Deuteronomy for one very simple reason.

The Entire Pentateuch fitted on one papyrus scroll, and there's no reason to believe that it didn't include the entire Pentateuch (Genesis - Deuteronomy) commonly referred to as the Law, or the Torah. Exodus in particular was very strong against Idolatry. Some books (Samuel, Kings, & Chronicles) did not fit on one scroll. So a division was made into 2 shorter scrolls.

  • 1
    Please provide some evidence and references for your answer.
    – Dottard
    Jun 16, 2020 at 20:11
  • Yeah - it's a bit odd to claim that you could fit Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy onto one scroll, but not 1+2 Samuel or Kings. Citation needed.
    – Steve can help
    Nov 23, 2021 at 6:08

While it is probable the Book of the Law Hilkiah found would have included all of the Pentateuch, (as it is also referred to as the "Book of the Covenant" which clearly begins in Genesis and Leviticus being the law) it would likely have written on and included several scrolls. It is from one of those scrolls which Shaphan was reading. (2 Chronicles 34:18)

The scripture that brought Josiah under such conviction that he tore his clothes (v.21) would likely have included Deuteronomy, in particular, that part which we have labeled Chapters 26-30. The blessings and cursings pronounced upon Israel in this section no doubt further inspired Josiah's urgent spiritual reformations throughout the land, which postponed the coming exile and divine judgment of Judah as per the Word of the LORD (Yahweh) given by Huldah the prophetess. (v.22-28; 2 Kings 22:14-20)

So Hilkiah it seems possibly found and brought to Josiah all of the books of Moses, but Shaphan was likely reading from one of the scrolls possibly Deuteronomy, and in particular chapters 26-30 re the blessings and cursings agreed upon at Ebal and Gerazim. At this point in the reading, Josiah realized YHVH's judgment was imminent.

Just my opinion but it is more important to note here the transformative power that comes from the reading of God's Word than to debate speculative details such as whether these writings were on one scroll or more.


The Jews accepted our 39 OT books but counted them as 22. The Pentateuch was one book (Genesis - Deuteronomy). Josephus' Against Apion-1 par. 8 mentions that they accepted only 22 books. Josephus was a Jew, priest, & pharisee, so his pedigree was good. AFAIK they had the Pentateuch on one scroll, and the small prophets.


It is obvious that the writer of this article is not Jewish. When we speak of the Book of the Law we mean the entire Five Books of Moses. Deuteronomy is not the Hebrew name of this book. It is Devarim, meaning 'words'. The original Torah consisted of one scroll as written by Moses. The division into books and Parashot is from a much later date to facilitate finding certain verses. In every synagogue the Torah scroll is one scroll and unless you are fluent in unvowelised Hebrew it would be difficult to figure out where e.g. Genesis ends and Exodus begins. Devarim was used by Moses to clarify commandments that were ambiguous or apparently incomplete. The only way to fully understand what G-d wants from us Jews is to read Devarim in addition to the same commandments in all the books. There was no point in asking a king to just read Devarim as he would not know everything about the commandments. G-d several times refers to His Book as the Torah in the earlier books. Once you claim that the words "The Book of the Law" refers only to Devarim you then find support in all the other quotes in the various books that use the same name. Of course that is not evidence at all, because you base it on the incorrect assumption that these words refer to the book of Devarim only. It does not say anywhere in Devarim that it calls itself the Book of the Law. I could go on but I think you will get the picture.

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