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MANASSEH (Heb. מְנַשֶּׁה; perhaps "one who causes [an earlier deceased, child] to be forgotten"), king of Judah (698–643 b.c.e.), son of *Hezekiah. Manasseh ascended the throne at the age of 12 and reigned for 55 years (ii Kings 21:1). In those years Assyrian power reached its pinnacle; Manasseh's reign coincided with more than half of Sennacherib's (705–681 b.c.e.), all of Esarhaddon's (680–669), and most of Ashurbanipal's (668–627). During most of Manasseh's reign, Judah was a submissive dependent of Assyria. Manasseh is mentioned, together with 22 kings of Syria, Palestine, and Cyprus, in one of Esarhaddon's inscriptions relating that he imposed forced labor upon them, making them convey timber and stones for the construction of his palace in Nineveh (Pritchard, Texts, 291). Most of these kings, including Manasseh, are also mentioned in one of Ashurbanipal's inscriptions which recounts that their armies accompanied him to Egypt in his campaign against *Tirhakah (687; Pritchard, Texts, 294). Several scholars hold that part of Manasseh's army remained in Egypt as a garrison, and that they were the first inhabitants of the Jewish settlement in *Elephantine. Further evidence of Judah's subordination to Assyria is found in a fragment of an inscription from the period between Sargon and Esarhaddon, which lists the tribute of Judah after that of Ammon and Moab, the amount of the former being smaller than that of the latter. This probably relates to the period after *Sennacherib's campaign in Judah, when the country was impoverished.

The Book of Kings does not mention any political events during Manasseh's reign, but in Chronicles it is stated that, because he did what was displeasing to the Lord, the Lord caused the Assyrian officers to oppose him and put him in chains, transporting him to Babylon, where he submitted to God's will and was returned to Jerusalem and his throne (ii Chron. 33:10–13). To the degree that there is any historical validity to the story, the imprisonment was probably brought about by an attempted revolt against Assyria, and not by foreign religious practices, which would be a sign of submission to Assyria. The tradition that he was transported to Babylon appears strange, unless the Assyrian king happened to be there in response to a Babylonian revolt. It is likely that Manasseh was involved in the revolts which broke out against Assyria at the time of Shamashshumukîn's revolt in Babylon against his brother Ashurbanipal (668–631). Further evidence of Manasseh's efforts to overthrow Assyrian domination may be seen in the fortification of Jerusalem and his appointing of officers over all the walled cities in Judah (ii Chron. 33:14), although these events may refer to a later period. The account of Manasseh's return from imprisonment to the throne is given credence by the policy of Ashurbanipal, who, having exiled rebellious Egyptian princes to Assyria, came to favor Neco (671–663), the father of Psammetichus i, and returned him to Egypt as vassal ruler.

Manasseh abolished the religious reforms of his father Hezekiah and introduced alien rites into the Temple (ii Kings 21:3). It has been argued that this course was forced upon him by the Assyrian overlords. Ashurbanipal imposed religious duties upon several Chaldean states in southern Mesopotamia after crushing their attempted revolt. (However, his actions in defeated territories need not be conclusive evidence concerning his policies in lands ruled by his vassals. (For a nuanced discussion, see Cogan 1993). It is significant, though, that none of the negative cultic activities attributed to Manasseh is Assyrian. Instead it appears that whereas Hezekiah had been an adherent of the "Yahweh-alone" party (Smith), Manasseh supported the majority position that ignoring other gods with a long history of worship in Israel was perilous. Indeed, the severe territorial losses suffered by Hezekiah could have been attributed to his excessive zeal for monolatry, just as the fall of Judah in 586 was attributed to Josiah's reforms by the exiled Judahites in Jeremiah 44 (Cogan). The abolition of Hezekiah's reforms was therefore part of the internal struggle in Judah between those who had supported a policy of acceptance of the ancient native cults and perhaps some newer Syro-Palestinian ones dating from the time of Ahaz, and the devout circles around the prophets. It was a ruthless struggle, and Manasseh is described as having shed "very much innocent blood …" (ii Kings 21:16). According to ii Chronicles 33:12ff., Manasseh fully repented upon his return from Babylon, but this does not agree with ii Kings 21:16, which relates that he died without repenting. It appears unlikely that the destruction of Jerusalem would have been so emphatically attributed to the sins of Manasseh had he completely repented as described in Chronicles.

[Jacob Liver /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

In the Aggadah

Manasseh's mother was the daughter of the prophet Isaiah, and married King Hezekiah after his miraculous recovery (Ber. 10a). Manasseh and his brother Rab-Shakeh soon showed their total dissimilarity from their parents. Once, when Hezekiah was carrying his two sons on his shoulders to the schoolhouse, he overheard their conversation. One said, "Our father's bald head might do well for frying fish." The other rejoined, "It would be good for offering sacrifices to idols." Enraged by these words, Hezekiah threw his sons to the ground. Rab-Shakeh was killed by the fall, but Manasseh escaped unhurt (Dik. Sof., Ber. 10a). His name is derived from נשה (nashah; "he forgot"), in that he forgot his God and indulged in idolatry, murder, and other abominable acts (Sanh. 102b). After his father's death, Manasseh began to worship idols. He destroyed the altar and set up an idol with four faces, copied from the four figures on the divine throne of Ezekiel, so that from whatever direction a man entered the Temple he saw a face of the idol (Sanh. 103b). Manasseh also made another idolatrous image so heavy that it required 1,000 men to carry it. New bearers were employed daily because the king had each group executed at the end of the day's work (ibid.). He expunged the name of God from the Scriptures (ibid.) and delivered public lectures whose sole purpose was to ridicule the Torah (Sanh. 99b). He also committed incest by violating his sister (Sanh. 103b).

Manasseh sat in judgment on his own grandfather, Isaiah, and condemned him to death. The indictment against him was that his prophecies contradicted the teachings of Moses. Isaiah refused to defend himself, knowing that his efforts would be of no avail and preferring that his grandson act out of ignorance rather than from wickedness. He fled for safety and when he pronounced the Ineffable Name a cedar tree swallowed him up. Manasseh ordered that the tree be sawn in two, causing the prophet's death (Yev. 49b). Manasseh was carried off to Babylon in the 22nd year of his reign (sor 24) and there placed in a heated oven. In his torture, he prayed in vain to the idols he had formerly worshiped, and at last besought the God of his fathers. The angels pleaded with the Almighty not to accept his penance. The plea was not accepted, God saying, "If I do not accept him I will be closing the door of repentance in the face of all repentant sinners." Immediately a wind arose and carried Manasseh back to Jerusalem (tj, Sanh. 10:2, 28c).

Manasseh is included among those who have no share in the world to come. Despite his restoration to Jerusalem, the rabbis felt that he had forfeited eternal life because of his previous sins. R. Judah, however, held that he was also restored to his portion in paradise (Sanh. 10:2). Manasseh possessed a profound knowledge of the Torah and could interpret Leviticus in 55 different ways (Sanh. 103b). He justified his actions by pointing to the corrupt behavior of his times. R. Ashi once announced a lecture about him, saying, "Tomorrow, I shall speak about our colleague, Manasseh." That night, the king appeared to Ashi in a dream and asked him a ritual question which Ashi could not answer. Manasseh then revealed the solution to him. Amazed by the king's scholarship, R. Ashi asked why one so erudite had worshiped idols. Manasseh answered, "Had you lived at my time, you would have caught hold of the hem of my garment and sped after me" (Sanh. 102b).


Bright, Hist, 271–99; Nielsen, in: Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies, 1 (1967), 103–6; em, 5 (1968), 41–45 (incl. bibl.); Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (19474), 277–81; 6 (1946), 370–6. add. bibliograpy: M. Smith, Palestinian Parties and Politics that Shaped the Old Testament (1971); M. Cogan, Imperialism and Religion (1974); M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, ii Kings (ab; 1988), 264–73; idem, in: jbl 112 (1993), 403–14; H. Spieckermann, Juda unter Assur in der Sargonidenzeit (1982); C. Evans, in: abd iv, 496–99; S. Japhet, i … ii Chronicles (1993), 999–1014.

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