Hezekiah had finally yielded to the admonitions of Isaiah, and had taken a wife unto himself, (93) the daughter of the prophet. But he entered upon marriage with a heavy heart. His prophetic spirit foretold to him that the impiousness of the sons he would beget would make their death to be preferable to their life. These fears were confirmed all too soon. His two sons, Rabshakeh and Manasseh, showed their complete unlikeness to their parents in early childhood. Once, when Hezekiah was carrying his two little ones on his shoulders to the Bet ha-Midrash, he overheard their conversation. The one said: "Our father's bald head might do for frying fish." The other rejoined: "It would do well for offering sacrifices to idols." Enraged by these words, Hezekiah let his sons slip from his shoulders. Rabshakeh was killed by the fall, but Manasseh escaped unhurt. (94) Better had it been if Manasseh had shared his brother's untimely fate. He was spared for naught but murder, idolatry, and other abominable atrocities. (95)
After Hezekiah had departed this life, Manasseh ceased to serve the God of his father. He did whatever his evil imagination prompted. The altar was destroyed, and in the inner space of the Temple he set up an idol (96) with four faces, copied from the four figures on the throne of God. It was so placed that from whatever direction one entered the Temple, a face of the idol confronted him. (97)
As Manasseh was sacrilegious toward God, he was malevolent toward his fellows. He had fashioned an image so large that it required a thousand men to carry it. Daily a new force was employed on this task, because Manasseh had each set of porters killed off at the end of the day's work. All his acts were calculated to cast contempt upon Judaism and its tenets. It did not satisfy his evil desire to obliterate the name of God from the Holy Scriptures;
God is long-suffering, but in the end Manasseh received the deserved punishment for his sins and crimes. In the twenty-second year of his rulership, the Assyrians came and carried him off to Babylon in fetters, him together with the old Danite idol, Micah's image. (106) In Babylonia, the king was put into an oven which was heated from below. Finding himself in this extremity, Manasseh began to call upon god after god to help him out of his straits. As this proved inefficacious, he resorted to other means. "I remember," he said, "my father taught me the verse: 'When thou art in tribulation, if in the latter days thou shalt return to the Lord thy God, and hearken unto His voice, He will not fail thee.' Now I cry to God. If He inclines His ear unto me, well and good; if not, then all kinds of god are alike." The angels stopped up the windows of heaven, that the prayer of Manasseh might not ascend to God, and they said: "Lord of the world! Art Thou willing to give gracious hearing to one who has paid worship to idols, and set up an idol in the Temple?" "If I did not accept the penance of this man," replied God, "I should be closing the door in the face of all repentant sinners." God made a small opening under the Throne of His Glory, and received the prayer of Manasseh through it. Suddenly a wind arose, and carried Manasseh back to Jerusalem. (107) His return to God not only helped him in his distress, but also brought him pardon for all his sins, so that not even his share in the future world was withdrawn from him. (108)
The people of this time were attracted to idolatry with so irresistible a force that the vast learning of Manasseh, who knew fifty-two different interpretations of the Book of Leviticus, (109) did not give him enough moral strength to withstand its influence. Rab Ashi, the famous compiler of the Talmud, once announced a lecture on Manasseh with the words: "To-morrow I shall speak about our colleague Manasseh." At night the king appeared to Ashi in a dreams, and put a ritual question to him, which the Rabbi could not answer. Manasseh told him the solution, and Ashi, in amazement at the king's scholarship, asked why one so erudite had served idols. Manasseh's reply was: "Hadst thou lived at my time, thou wouldst have caught hold of the hem of my garment and run after me." (110)
Amon, the son of Manasseh, surpassed his father in wickedness. He was in the habit of saying: "My father was a sinner from early childhood, and in his old age he did penance. I shall do the same. First I shall satisfy the desires of my heart, and afterward I shall return to God." (111) Indeed, he was guilty of more grievous sins than his predecessor; he burned the Torah; under him the place of the altar was covered with spiderwebs; and, as though of purpose to set at naught the Jewish religion, he committed the worst sort of incest, a degree more heinous than his father's crime of a similar nature. (112) Thus he executed the first half of his maxim literally. For repentance, however, he was given no time; death cut him off in the fulness of his sinful ways.