Who is Ashyahu, the king mentioned on the “Three Shekels” ostracon? There is no monarch with that name in the Bible, either as ruler of the southern kingdom of Judah or as ruler of the northern kingdom of Israel. Some scholars have suggested that the name Ashyahu is a form of the name Yoash or Yehoash—the three forms combine two elements, ash, meaning “has given,” and yah, a shortened form of the Israelite God Yahweh (scholars call the name of the deity in a person’s name the theophoric element). All three names mean “God has given.” Ashyahu, these scholars suggest, simply switches the two elements found in Yoash and Yehoash—a common phenomenon in ancient Israelite names.

We know of two Biblical kings named Yoash or Yehoash (usually spelled Johash and Jehoash in English Bibles). Yehoash—the same king who is supposedly mentioned in the controversial inscription discussed in this issue—ruled Judah about 835–801 B.C.E., and Yoash ruled Israel about 802–787 B.C.E. If the Ashyahu of the ostracon is one of these two kings, then the ostracon dates to the late ninth or early eighth century B.C.E. But I believe Ashyahu actually refers to a later—and more important—Biblical king: Josiah.

That Ashyahu may be Josiah was raised as a third possibility in the original BAR article on the “Three Shekels” ostracon. Josiah ruled Judah from 640 to 609 B.C.E. and instituted an important religious reform, centralizing all worship of Yahweh at the Temple in Jerusalem. Josiah’s name in Hebrew—Yo’shiyahu—contains the same two elements as Ashyahu (yo’sh is the imperfect, or past, form of ash).

The only difference between the two names is that Ashyahu drops the first syllable of Yo’shiyahu. Ashyahu is simply a slightly shortened form of Yo’shiyahu—what we would consider a nickname.

We see this slight shortening with other Hebrew names, including Biblical ones. The most pertinent example is Hezekiah, Josiah’s great-grandfather, who ruled from 727 to 697 B.C.E. and who survived a siege by the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib. His Hebrew name, Yehizqiyahu (or its variant, Yehizqiyah, which has the condensed form of the deity’s name at the end), appears more than 40 times in the Bible. But a shortened form, Hizqiyahu (or Hizkqiyah) appears 60 times! Yehizqiyahu has the same relationship to Hizqiyahu as Yo’shiyahu has to Ashyahu: The longer form has an initial syllable that is missing in the shorter form. (Note that I am not speaking of the variation in the theophoric element between -yahu and -yah at the end of the name, but of what happens at the beginning of the name.)

Another example is Yeberekyahu (Isaiah 8:2), the father of the prophet Zacharia, who is also called Berekyah or Berekyahu (Zechariah 1:1, 7). Again, the first syllable is dropped in the shorter forms.

The name Ashyahu on the “Three Shekels” ostracon is a perfectly good short form of Yo’shiyahu—King Josiah of Judah. We should also note that Josiah’s reign, in the late seventh century B.C.E., matches the date assigned to the ostracon on paleographic grounds by the three scholars who first published it and by Ada Yardeni, one of Israel’s leading specialists in ancient scripts.