Hezekiah (or Ezekias) (Hebrew: Ḥizqiyyāhu, Khizkiyahu; or Yəḥizqiyyāhu, Y'khizkiyahu; "the has strengthened"; compare Ezekiel) was the 13th king of independent Judah and the son of King Ahaz and Abijah (2 Chronicles 29:1), who was a daughter of a man (who was not the prophet) named Zechariah. (Abijah was also known as Abi (2 Kings 18:1-2).) He took the throne at the age of twenty-five (2 Chronicles 29:1) and reigned twenty-nine years (2 Kings 18:2). He is also one of the kings mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.
William F. Albright dates his reign to 715-687 BCE, while E. R. Thiele estimates the dates 716-687 BCE. Under either of these chronologies, Hezekiah ruled the southern kingdom of Judah during the conquest and forced resettlement of the northern kingdom of Israel by Sargon's Assyrians. Judah absorbed many refugees from the northern kingdom during Hezekiah's reign, about a hundred years before the destruction of Solomon's Temple by Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonians.
The account of this king in the Hebrew Bible is contained in 2 Kings 18-20, Isaiah 36-39, and 2 Chronicles 29-32. These sources portray him as a great and good king, following the example of his great-grandfather Uzziah. He introduced religious reform and reinstated religious traditions. He set himself to abolish idolatry from his kingdom, and among other things which he did for this end, he destroyed the "brazen serpent," which had been relocated at Jerusalem, and had become an object of idolatrous worship. A great reformation was wrought in the kingdom of Judah in his day (2 Kings 18:4; 2 Chronicles 29:3-36). The author of 2 Kings ends his account of Hezekiah with praise (18:5).
Between the death of Sargon, and the succession of his son Sennacherib, Hezekiah sought to throw off his dependence to the Assyrian kings. He refused to pay the tribute enforced on his father, and "rebelled against the king of Assyria, and served him not," but entered into a league with Egypt (Isaiah 30; 31; 36:6-9). This led to the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13-16) in the 4th year of Sennacherib (701 BCE). Hezekiah anticipated the Assyrian invasion, and made at least one major preparation: in an impressive engineering feat, a tunnel 533 meters long was dug in order to provide Jerusalem underground access to the waters of the Spring of Gihon, which lay outside the city. (The work is described in the Siloam Inscription, which has been dated to his reign on the basis of its script). At the same time, a wall was built around the Pool of Siloam, into which the waters from the spring flowed (Isaiah 22:11). An impressive vestige of this structure is the broad wall in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
During the invasion, Sennacherib took Lachish. "King Tirhakah" of Kush, who was probably the heir apparent to the 25th Dynasty of Egypt Taharqa, also moved into Judah, to protect its capital Jerusalem.
"When Hezekiah saw that Sennacherib had come, intent on making war against Jerusalem, he consulted with his officers and warriors about stopping the flow of the springs outside the city ... for otherwise, they thought, the King of Assyria would come and find water in abundance" (2 Chronicles 32:2-4). The narrative in the Bible states (Isaiah 33:1; 2 Kings 18:17; 2 Chronicles 32:9; Isaiah 36) that Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem. Sennacherib records on his monumental inscription, "The Prism of Sennacherib", how in his campaign against Hezekiah ("Ha-za-qi-(i)a-ú") he took 46 cities in this campaign (column 3, line 19 of Taylor prism), and besieged Jerusalem ("Ur-sa-li-im-mu") with earthworks. Eventually Hezekiah saw Sennacherib's determination, and offered to pay him three hundred talents of silver and thirty of gold in tribute, despoiling the doors of the Temple to produce the promised amount (18:14-16).
The Assyrians claimed that Sennacherib raised his siege of Jerusalem after Hezekiah acknowledged Sennacherib as his overlord and paid him tribute. According to one Biblical account, this invasion ended in the destruction of Sennacherib's army, when Hezekiah prayed to God and "that night the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians 185,000 men." (19:35) Herodotus (Histories 2:141) recorded a story that the Assyrians had been visited by a plague of mice while they were in Egypt. A common secular understanding is that the Assyrians were growing tired and sick from the extended siege and did not wish a confrontation with Kush and Egypt at this time; and accepted Hezekiah's offer of tribute as a face-saving measure.
The author of the Books of Kings (19:37) says "It came about as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son became king in his place." Sennacherib's assassination by his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer actually happened seventeen years later. Esarhaddon then became the next Assyrian king.
The Bible says that the Angel of the Lord wiped out 185,000 of Sennacherib's troops, and Herodotus acknowledges many deaths (though he claims it was a plague). Not willing to believe in supernatural intervention, many modern historians will tend to go with the story from the Assyrian perspective. However Sennacherib, like Shalmaneser III before him (who claimed victory over the battle of Qarqar in 853, but seems to have had no real hold over the nations), was probably just trying to save face.
The narrative of Hezekiah's sickness and miraculous recovery is found in 2 Kings 20:1, 2 Chronicles 32:24, Isaiah 38:1. Various ambassadors came to congratulate him on his recovery, among them Merodach-baladan, the king of Babylon (2 Chronicles 32:23; 2 Kings 20:12). Hezekiah is also remembered for giving too much information to Baladan, king of Babylon, for which he was confronted by Isaiah the prophet (2 Kings 20:12-19). The Talmudic account states that Isaiah went to tell Hezekiah that he was going to die because he deliberately did not have children. This was on account of the fact that Hezekiah had seen prophetically that his child would be an idolator and therefore he preferred not to have children. Isaiah told him he was required to fulfil the biblical commandment of "be fruitful and multiply" and not outguess God about what the future would bring. Isaiah then suggested perhaps if his own daughter married Hezekiah in the merit of righteous parents their children would also be righteous. Hezekiah agreed and Isaiah's daughter bore him Manasseh who was an idolator and later murdered his grandfather Isaiah. He repented in his later years after being taken to Babylon in captivity. According to Jewish tradition, The victory over the Assyrians and Hezekiah's return to health happened at the same time, the first night of Passover.
These are incredibly important reforms, as they removed the polytheism of the past and in essence restored the notion of the one God, thereby laying the foundation for the Jewish and Christian religions we know today.
Richard Elliot Friedman is of the belief that the P Source of the Bible was composed during the time of Hezekiah. P for instance “emphasizes centralization of religion: one centre, one altar, one Tabernacle, one place of sacrifice. Who was the king who began such centralization? King Hezekiah. Both the books of Kings and Chronicles attest that there was no effective centralization before him.
P is the work of Aaronid priesthood. They are the priests in authority at the central altar – not Moses, not Korah, nor any other Levites. Only those descended from Aaron can be priests.” Friedman then goes on to say “P always speaks of two distinct groups, the priests and the Levites. Who was the king who formalized the divisions between priests and Levites? King Hezekiah. Chronicles reports explicitly:
“And Hezekiah established the divisions of the priests and the Levites, according to their divisions, every man according to his task, for the priest and the Levites.”
But there is evidence from archaeology that Hezekiah did not centralize the religion. He allowed, and indeed built temples at Lachish and Arad, and allowed a high place to continue in operation at Beersheva. The statement of 2 Kings 18:4 that Hezekiah ”removed the high places (bamot), and broke down the pillars (massebot) and cut down the sacred poles (asherah), as William G. Dever claims is "simply Deuteronomistic propaganda". Far from being a Canaanite goddess, the Kuntillet Arjud and Khirbet el-Qom both speak of Yahweh and his Asherah. According to these writers, the P source equally sought to establish the legitimacy of its approach by crediting in Chronicles their later reforms to Hezekiah, to out-trump their Shilohite enemies. This is shown by the fact that ostraca of the Arad temple at the time of Hezekiah not only that its maintenance was an official state cult, but that it was not under the control of the Aaronids at all. The ostraca mention the provisioning of the temple for the “sons of Korah” the descendent of Moses with “qodesh kohanim” holy objects of the priests. Aaronids were not exclusively the priests for Hezekiah as Chronicles claims – that came later with the victory of the Aaronites in the second temple period. Hezekiah like Josiah was following the Shilohite kohanim.
Even Friedman acknowledges that the “Aaronid priesthood that produced P had opponents, Levites who saw Moses and not Aaron as their model. What was the most blatant reminder of Moses power that was visible in Judah? The bronze serpent 'Nehushtan'. According to tradition, stated explicitly in E, Moses had made it. It had the power to save people from snakebite. Who was the king who smashed the Nehushtan? Hezekiah.”
However, there is indirect Biblical evidence that he did not. Ezra, the Aaronid priest, for instance, reports much later that even as late as the Exile there were images of serpents painted all over the walls of the inner chamber of the temple. Dever and others argue that in order to establish the sanctity of their view, the P Source writers had to show it was anchored in the actions of Hezekiah.
In chapter 18 of 2 Kings it is stated that during the 14th year of his reign, Sennacherib had returned to pillage Samaria, setting up his base of operations at Lachish and threatening Jerusalem, forcing Hezekiah to pay tribute. As the description in chapter 20 of Hezekiah's illness immediately follows Sennacherib's departure, this would date his illness to his 14th year, which is confirmed by Isaiah's statement that he will live fifteen more years (29-15=14). His fourteenth year being 701 BCE, the first must have been 715 BCE. But he was for a few years co-regent until the age of 25.
Another set of calculations show it is probable that Hezekiah did not ascend the throne before 722 BCE. By Albright's calculations, Jehu's initial year is 842 BCE; and between it and Samaria's destruction the Books of Kings give the total number of the years the kings of Israel ruled as 143 7/12, while for the kings of Judah the number is 165. This discrepancy, amounting in the case of Judah to 45 years (165-120), has been accounted for in various ways; but every one of those theories must allow that Hezekiah's first six years as well as Ahaz's last two fell before 722 BCE. Nor is it clearly known how old Hezekiah was when called to the throne, although 2 Kings 18:2 states he was twenty-five years of age. His father (2 Kings 16:2) died at the age of thirty-six; it is not likely that Ahaz at the age of eleven should have had a son. Hezekiah's own son Manasseh ascended the throne twenty-nine years later, at the age of twelve. This places his birth in the seventeenth year of his father's reign, or gives Hezekiah's age as forty-two, if he was twenty-five at his ascension. It is more probable that Ahaz was twenty-one or twenty-five when Hezekiah was born (and suggesting an error in the text), and that the latter was thirty-two at the birth of his son and successor, Manasseh.
Still another date is possible by astronomical calculations. 2 Kings 20:8-11 speaks obscurely about "the shadow" moving "ten degrees" during the above mentioned illness of Hezekiah (as does Isaiah 38:7f). Professor Aurel Ponori-Thewrewk, retired director of the planetarium of Budapest, Hungary, may have been the first scholar to offer an astronomical explanation for this passage; observing that new Bible translations use "the sundial of Ahaz," while other Bibles "the stairway of Ahaz," he states that the original Hebrew text says ma(c)alóth, the plural of ma(c)alah. Therefore, his conclusion is that it had a double meaning: while it refers to the steps over which the shadow has already passed, it may have meant the instrument (?) of Ahaz which had obviously contained more than ten units, and on which Hezekiah could observe the movement of the sun's shadow. But whatever was the original meaning of the Hebrew word, Ponori-Thewrewk says, the shadow had made an abnormal movement on it. He imagines a pole or gnomon that casts a shadow on a plane that is perpendicular to it. The shadow can move ahead for a while, then it can move backward on that plane.
John D. Davis, Davis dictionary of the Bible (Baker Book House, 1975: 184) confirms the possibility that 2 Kings 20:11 and Isaiah 38:8 may be explained by a solar eclipse, and the stairway of Ahaz may have been a sundial with a projecting gnomon to cast a shadow. The foretold backward position of the sun's shadow, could have been caused by an eclipse of the sun, probably on May 6, 724 BCE. This eclipse took place between 6:09 and 8:24 a.m., its maximum was 64.3% at 7:15 a.m. This would then date Hezekiah's first year as king to 738 BCE, and his last to 709 BCE. It is possible that Isaiah (38: 7-8) had been informed beforehand by an astronomer, perhaps by one of Merodach-baladan's envoys, about the expected date of a solar eclipse on May 6, so Isaiah comforted the king on May 3.
An alternative interpretation of Hezekiah's reign spans 727 BCE-698 BCE with Manasseh co-reigning for some years as a teenager. This attempts to harmonize the reference to Hezekiah reigning during the conquest of Samaria (2 Kings 18:9-10), and assumes the reference to Sennacherib's attack in 701 was either a second campaign or that the reference to it being in Hezekiah's 14th year is a corruption.