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Uzziah

UZZIAH

UZZIAH (Heb. עֻזִּיָּה), also called Azariah (Heb. עֲזַרְיָהוּ, עֲזַרְיָה), king of Judah; succeeded his father *Amaziah (ii Kings 14:21–22; ii Chron. 26). The name Uzziah derives from the stem עזז, whose meaning in Hebrew is similar to that of עזר, "to assist." He reigned over Judah for 52 years (c. 785–734 b.c.e.). When his father Amaziah was murdered by conspirators in Lachish, "all the people of Judah" (ii Kings 14:21; ii Chron. 26:1) chose Uzziah, who was then only 16 years old (ii Kings 14:21–22), for their king. There is very little information on the reign of Uzziah in ii Kings 15. Apart from phrases which occur in connection with every other king, there is only one additional fact – the "leprosy" (probably psoriasis, rather than true leprosy, Hansen's disease) which struck Uzziah, and his residence in "a house set apart," while his son *Jotham was appointed "over the household judging the people of the land." On the other hand, there is much information on the reign of Uzziah in ii Chronicles, and the subject of his "leprosy" is enlarged upon. According to ii Chronicles 26:16–21, Uzziah was struck with "leprosy" after he had entered the Temple of God and tried to burn incense on the altar without heeding the words of the priests who declared that the offering of incense on the altar of God was a prerogative of the priests.

Josephus (Ant., 9:223ff.) mentions a more detailed tradition concerning this "leprosy." According to this tradition, on an important festival day, the king put on the priestly garment and in spite of the priests' opposition, he attempted to bring the offering on the golden altar. While he was preparing to do so, the earth trembled, the Temple was split, and a ray of sun shone on the face of the king who was immediately struck with "leprosy." Uzziah's "leprosy," his attempt to offer incense on the altar, and the earthquake which occurred in Jerusalem during his reign (also recorded from additional sources) may be accepted as historical facts. An Aramaic burial inscription of the Second Temple period found on the Mount of Olives reads in Albright's translation: "Hither were brought the bones of Uzziah, king of Judah – do not open." This inscription proves that the bones of Uzziah were removed from their first grave. According to halakhic tradition, it was forbidden to move the graves of the House of David. It has thus been concluded that Uzziah was not buried in the graves of the House of David but "in the field of burial which belonged to the kings; for they said he is a leper" (ii Chron. 26:23). Various biblical passages also testify that the kings of lsrael and Judah carried out various ritual acts (i Sam. 13:9–10; ii Sam. 6:14; 8:18; i Kings 3:15; Ps. 110:4) similar to those of the priests. The attempt of the priests to prevent Uzziah from offering the incense points to the struggle between the monarchy and the priesthood for supremacy over the ritual of the Temple. It is quite probable that emboldened by his successes in his external and internal policies and his reliance on the merits of his ancestors, the king sought to demonstrate his authority in the Temple by offering the incense (ii Chron. 26:16). Reports of the earthquake mentioned by Josephus (ibid.) are also to be found in Amos (1:1) and Zechariah (14:4–5). Thus, some believe that the data in the biblical tradition and in Josephus concerning the "leprosy" of Uzziah are historical, but that the connection between them is tendentious and folkloristic and not really historical. The story related in Chronicles and Josephus is based on a popular tradition around the rare phenomenon of the king's "leprosy."

The reign of Uzziah is described in historical sources, especially in Chronicles, as one of the golden eras of the kingdom of Judah. Uzziah appears as a firm and active king in both his interior and exterior policies. He pursued the policy of his father Amaziah for supremacy over the southern part of the land up to Elath, situated on the Red Sea coast. He returned Elath to Judah (ii Kings 14:22) and built a line of fortifications and towers in the Arabah and the Negev in order to safeguard the transit routes from Jerusalem to Elath. The archaeological excavations of Tell al-Khalayfa (near Akaba) brought to light the renewed settlement of the locality (third stratum) in the days of Uzziah and his son Jotham, although opinions among archaeologists differ as to whether Tell al-Khalayfa is to be identified with Ezion-Geber and whether the findings are the installations of metallurgic works. At the same time, the fortresses and towers built by Uzziah in the Arabah and Negev served to protect the herds of cattle, the shepherds, the pasture lands, and the water sources from nomadic tribes, such as the Meunites and the Arabians (ii Chron. 26:7). He also took measures for the economic development of the arid regions in the mountains, the lowlands, and the desert. In the west he fought against the towns of Philistia (Gath, Jabneh, and Ashdod) and expanded his territory at the Philistines' expense (26:6). Uzziah's objective was to break through to the west and secure a section of the "Via Maris." He also expanded eastward to the eastern bank of the Jordan and subjugated the Ammonites (26:8, but in lxx – Meunim). His successes in his foreign policies were preceded by an intensive strengthening of the economic and military power of the country. He fortified Jerusalem (26:9), reorganized the army (26:11–12), increased the number of soldiers, and prepared a great amount of weapons (26:13). The biblical author sums up the activities of Uzziah with the words: "his name spread abroad even to the entrance of Egypt; for he waxed exceedingly strong" (26:8). He may also have recovered from lsrael territory north of Jerusalem which had been lost by Amaziah.

Because of a faulty join of cuneiform tablets it was thought that "Azriyau māt Iaudaya" was mentioned in the annals of Tiglath-Pileser iii (1:103–133). This led to some scholars identifying him with Uzziah, king of Judah. At present the Azriyau of the cuneiform text remains without a country. Na'aman has assigned the relevant tablets to Sennacherib. It is quite possible that Uzziah's status was equal to that of *Jeroboam son of Joash, about whom it is distinctly said that he subjugated Damascus and Hamath (ii Kings 14:28). The expansion of Assyria marked the beginning of the decline of the kingdom of Judah, which reached its lowest ebb during the reign of Uzziah's grandson *Ahaz, when the armies of Damascus and Samaria invaded Judah and besieged Jerusalem, impelling Ahaz to become an Assyrian vassal. Even so, Judah was not directly harmed by Assyria during Uzziah's reign. The number of years during which Jotham reigned together with his father is one of the most difficult problems in biblical chronology. According to some opinions, the 52 years mentioned as being those of Uzziah's reign include the years during which he reigned together with his father, all the years of Jotham's reign, and even some of the years of the reign of Ahaz, son of Jotham.

bibliography:

Albright, in: basor, 44 (1931), 8–10; Morgenstern, in: huca, 12–13 (1938), 1–20; 15 (1940), 267–77; Tadmor, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 8 (1961), 232–71; Glueck, in: ba, 28 (1965), 70–87; Thiele, in: vt, 16 (1966), 103–7; Ginsberg, in: Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Papers, 1 (1967), 92b–93. add. bibliography: M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, ii Kings (ab; 1988); N. Na'aman, in: basor, 214 (1974), 25–38; idem, in: Die Welt des Orients 9 (1978), 229–39; H. Tadmor, The Inscriptions of Tiglath-Pileser iii King of Assyria (1996), 274–76.

[Bustanay Oded]

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