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Campaign against the kingdom of Judah
(3048 AM - 712 BCE)
The fall of Lachish
The throne of Solomon
The siege of Jerusalem
(3049 AM - 711 BCE)
The last years of King Hezekiah
Jonah and the repentance of Sennacherib
(3064 AM - 696 BCE)
Manasseh, the worst king of Judah
Destruction of Babylon
(~3071 AM - 689 BCE)
Assassination of Sennacherib
(3079 AM - 681 BCE)
Esarhaddon, king of Assyria
Hebrew years 3000 to 3120 (760-640 BCE)
~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~
It is in the 14th year of the reign of Hezekiah that Sennacherib campaigned again in the region, this time against the kingdom of Judah from which he took all the cities.
As for Hezekiah [Ha-za-ki-a-u] the Judean [Ia-u-da-ai], who did not submit to my yoke, 46 of his strong walled cities as well as small cities in their neighborhood, which were without number, [I destroyed?] by levelling with battering rams and by bringing up siege engines, and by attacking and storming on foot, by mines, tunnels and breaches. --- The Annals of Sennacherib, transcription by Danial David Luckenbill, University of Chicago, published 1924
The Annals of Sennacherib in the Taylor Prism
The Assyrian text is corroborated by the Biblical account. And Hezekiah sent him a tribute to spare Jerusalem:
Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them. And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying: 'I have offended; return from me that which you put on me will I bear.' And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house. At that time did Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the door-posts which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria. --- II Kings 18:13-16
The tribute sent by Hezekiah to spare his city is also mentioned in the Annals of Sennacherib:
As for Hezekiah, the terrifying splendor of my majesty overcame him, [...] In addition to the 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, [also] gems, antimony, jewels, large sand-stones, couches of ivory [probably the royal throne, see below], elephant hide, ivory, ebony, boxwood, all kinds of valuable treasures, as well as his daughters, his harem, his male and female musicians, he had [them] sent after me to Nineveh, my royal city. --- The Annals of Sennacherib, op. cit.
It is amazing to note the exact amount of talents of gold in both texts: 30 ! As of the talents of silver, we may suppose that there was a typo mistake or transcription mistake confusing 800 (the Annals) with 300 (the Bible). Unless the 800 talents of silver included the value of all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house, valuables that the Bible mentions in addition to the talents (coins).
Sennacherib had invaded the land and chose the Judean city of Lachish as his abode at the time. Many reliefs have been found in the archaeological digs and are preserved in the British Museum. They show the assault on this city, the deportation or execution of prisoners, and the booty.
The assault on Lachish, with war machines taken up along the ramp leading to the city
Execution of the ruler of the city, in front of his wailing wife and children
Another scene of this important collection depicts Sennacherib sitting on a throne. This was not any usual throne: it was the throne of King Solomon ! The description of this throne in the Bible is as follows:
Moreover the king made a big throne of ivory, and overlaid it with the finest gold. There were six steps to the throne, and the top of the throne was round behind; and there were arms on either side by the place of the seat, and two lions standing beside the arms. And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other upon the six steps; there was not the like made in any kingdom. --- I Kings 10:18-20
The similarities between the above Biblical description and the actual relief of Sennacherib are:
- there six steps, three for the feet and three for the sitting body
- there are twelve figures, [1a] on each side along the six steps
- the throne was made of ivory [1b]
Sennacherib in Lachish, item found in Nineveh
The kingdom of Judah with its 2 remaining tribes of Judah and Benjamin, although a tribal state at the time, was not conquered yet. But Sennacherib was not satisfied with a mere tribute, so he resumed the war and sent his army to besiege the capital of Judah. His army chief Rab-Shakeh spoke in Hebrew, and tried to turn the population of Jerusalem against their king Hezekiah:
Then Rab-Shakeh stood, and cried with a loud voice in the Jews' language, and spoke, saying: 'Hear you the word of the great king, the king of Assyria. Thus says the king: Let not Hezekiah beguile you; for he will not be able to deliver you out of his hand; neither let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying: The Lord will surely deliver us, and this city shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. Hearken not to Hezekiah; for thus says the king of Assyria: Make your peace with me, and come out to me; and eat ye every one of his vine, and every one of his fig-tree, and drink you every one the waters of his own cistern; until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of corn and wine, a land of bread and vineyards, a land of olive-trees and of honey, that you may live, and not die; and hearken not unto Hezekiah, when he persuades you, saying: The Lord will deliver us. Has any of the gods of the nations ever delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, of Hena, and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who are they among all the gods of the countries that have delivered their country out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?' But the people held their peace, and answered him not a word; for the king's commandment was, saying: 'Answer him not.' --- II Kings 18:28-36
Archaeological evidence exists of King Hezekiah having been contemporary to Sennacherib, as shown in one clay cylinder now at the British Museum that clearly states "Hezekiah of Judah, Jerusalem his royal city".
In Jerusalem, King Hezekiah was desperate and he genuinely prayed to God (II Kings 19:15). The Prophet Isaiah announced to Hezekiah that his prayer had been received and pronounced God’s commandment not to listen to the king of Assyria, that He will put a spirit in him to the effect that he will return to his land and be murdered there. This took place in a Sabbatical year before a Jubilee year because if the following mention from Isaiah:
And this shall be the sign unto you: you shall eat this year that which grows of itself, and in the second year that which springs of the same; and in the third year sow you, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof.--- II Kings 19:29; also in Isaiah 37:30
Indeed, the Hebrew year 3049 was Sabbatical and moreover it was the last Sabbatical out of the cycle of seven Sabbatical cycles, thus the 49th year of a Jubilee cycle. The following year, Hebrew year 3050, was the 50th year (Jubilee Year) of that cycle. It was the 11th Jubilee cycle since the start of the First Jubilee in Hebrew year 3050. The instructions of the Prophet, about what to eat from the land over two consecutive years are in compliance with the instructions for the succession of a final Sabbatical (49th) and a Jubilee year (50th).
As God had made it known to Hezekiah through the words of Isaiah, one morning the besieged people of Jerusalem saw that the entire Assyrian camp was abandoned. Their king Sennacherib had hastened back to his capital Nineveh, the capital he had rebuilt in Assyria.
The Assyrian army that besieged Jerusalem was struck by the arm of God, probably by an epidemic that killed them (II Kings 19:35):
Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: ‘He shall not come unto this city, nor shoot an arrow there, neither shall he come before it with shield, nor cast a mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and he shall not come unto this city,’ says the Lord.’ For I will defend this city to save it, for My own sake, and for My servant David's sake.’ And the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses. --- Isaiah 37:33-36 The disaster that fell upon Sennacherib’s army is also recorded by historians such as Herodotus, who wrote his work rather shortly after this time, some 150 years later. He could only gather some of the facts, mixed with legends. The text however shows that the disaster did occur and was recorded in the memory of men of his time:
On their arrival at Pelusium, so immense a number of mice infested by night the enemy's camp, that their quivers and bows, together with what secured their shields to their arms, were gnawed in pieces. In the morning the Arabians, finding themselves without arms, fled in confusion, and lost great numbers of their men. --- Herodotus, The Histories, book II – Euterpe, section 141
According to Herodotus, this event occurred in the city of Pelusium at the entrance of Egypt but there is no record of the Assyrian having campaigned there at this time. The kingdom of Judah is more likely to be the place that he called the entrance of Egypt and Pelusium is likely to have been Jerusalem, the only city of the region with a reknown palace in these times. When Herodotus wrote his work, Jerusalem and its palace no longer existed, so this may have caused his confusion about the place, attributing the event as a failed attempt to conquer Egypt. He noted that Sennacherib’s army was composed of Arabians, probably foreign mercenaries who knew the region and served in his army.
Upon his return to Nineveh, Sennacherib took a revenge against the Israelites who dwelt in the city for his failure in Judah. Tobit, a practising Jew from the tribe of Naphtali, who had been among the deportees to Assyria at the time of Sargon II, gave the following account. This text is part of the Apocrypha, which is a collection of documents that was added to the first translation of the Bible (see later about the Septuagint in this site) but were not considered part of the canonical Hebrew Bible. Although these documents do not have a religious value for Jews, they nonetheless contain some interesting historical details:
And in the time of Enemessar [Sargon II], I gave many alms to my brethren, and gave my bread to the hungry, and my clothes to the naked: and if I saw any of my nation dead, or cast about the walls of Nineveh, I buried him. And if the king Sennacherib had slain any, when he was come and fled from Judea, I buried them privily; for, in his wrath, he killed many; but the bodies were not found when they were sought for of the king. And when one of the Ninevites went and complained of me to the king that I buried them, and hid myself; understanding that I was sought for to be put to death, I withdrew myself for fear. --- Apocrypha, Tobit 1:16-19
After the siege of Jerusalem, Hezekiah fell sick and was about to die:
In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him: 'Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order; for you shall die, and not live.' --- Isaiah 38:1
Why say you shall die and not live? It seems redundant. The interpretation of the Prophet’s word was that Hezekiah will die in this world and will not live in the next world (meaning the world of the justs, after the venue of the Messiah). This seems to have been a harsh curse on the good king Hezekiah ! The reason why this virtuous king fell ill is explained in the Talmud:
He [Isaiah] replied: Because you did not try to have children – He [Hezekiah] said: The reason was because I saw by the Holy Spirit that the children issuing from me would not be virtuous – He said to him: What have you to do with the secrets of the All-Merciful? You should have done what you were commanded, and let the Holy One, blessed be He, do that which pleases Him. – He said to him: Then give me now your daughter; perhaps through your merit and mine combined virtuous children will issue from me. – He replied: The doom has already been decreed. --- Talmud, Berachot, 10a
Because of Hezekiah's new decision to endeavour to have a child, God granted him another 15 years to live in this world (II Kings 20:6). But Hezekiah made a terrible mistake. The king of Babylon, called Berodach-Baladan in the Bible otherwise known as Marduk-Apla-Idina II, sent an emissary to Hezekiah, as he wanted to bring up a coalition against Assyria and free Babylon from the yoke of the Assyrians. But this visit raised his greed:
At that time Berodach-Baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent a letter and a present unto Hezekiah; for he had heard that Hezekiah had been sick. And Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and showed them all his treasure-house, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious oil, and the house of his armour, and all that was found in his treasures; there was nothing in his house, nor in all his dominion, that Hezekiah showed them not. Then came Isaiah the prophet unto King Hezekiah, and said unto him: 'What said these men? And from whence came they unto you?' And Hezekiah said: 'They are come from a far country, even from Babylon.' And he said: 'What have they seen in your house?' And Hezekiah answered: 'All that is in my house have they seen; there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shown them.' And Isaiah said unto Hezekiah: 'Hear the word of the Lord. Behold, the days come, that all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And of your sons that shall issue from you, whom you shall beget, shall they take away; and they shall be officers in the palace of the king of Babylon.' --- II Kings 20:12-18
Marduk-Apla-Idina II (Berlin Museum)
The king of Judah had been sinful to boast the religious treasures in front of foreigners who would wait the first opportunity to take them away from him. This attitude was blamed as one of the three mistakes that Hezekiah did:
Our Rabbis taught: Six things King Hezekiah did; in three they [the Sages] agreed with him, and in three they did not agree with him — He dragged his father's bones [corpse] on a rope bier, and they agreed with him; he crushed the brazen serpent, and they agreed with him; [and] he hid the book of remedies, and they agreed with him. And in three they did not agree with him: He cut [the gold off] the doors of the Temple and sent them to the King of Assyria, and they did not agree with him; and he closed up the waters of Upper Gihon, and they did not agree with him; and he intercalated [the month of] Nisan in Nisan, and they did not agree with him. --- Talmud, Pesachim, 56a
The reason why the Sages did not agree with Hezekiah on the two first issues was that it meant he mistrusted God to act and protect His holy city. As of the third issue, it was because Hezekiah had decreed that one month of Nisan would be a second month of Adar so that Nisan, and thus Passover, would be displaced for another month (II Chronicles 30:1-3). This act was considered as an interference in God’s orders about the time for the festival.
It was during the reign of Sennacherib, after he returned from the siege of Jerusalem, that the second prophetic mission of Jonah took place. Indeed the Prophet had been ordered a first time, during the reign of Jeroboam II king of Israel, to prophetize against Nineveh [click here to read it], but Jonah fled from his mission. God protected the kingdom of Israel in that time nonetheless and waited another time to renew the mission to Jonah to announce to the inhabitants of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, that their great city will be destroyed. But the reaction of the city was not what he expected:
And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he proclaimed, and said: 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.' And the people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. And the tidings reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying: 'Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing; let them not feed, nor drink water; but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and beast, and let them cry mightily unto God; yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger that we perish not?' And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, which He said He would do unto them; and He did it not. --- Jonah 3:4-9
So God spared the great city for the time being. The king who repented was Sennacherib himself because he had experienced first hand the power of the god of the Jews during the siege of Jerusalem. Unlike any other Assyrian king, he would not have underevaluated the divine decree pronounced by one of His prophets. So he repented, and ordered his capital to repent with him. Moreover, it seems that there is historical evidence that Sennacherib even changed god, and adopted religious practice that was foreign to the Assyrian religion. I assume that God gave another 15 years to Sennacherib to live, as He had granted this duration to Hezekiah too.
Jonah preaching to the Ninivites
(Gustave Doré, 1868)
According to Tradition, Jonah the Prophet died and was buried in Nineveh, which is modern-day Mosul (northern Iraq), during the reign of Sennacherib's son, Esarhaddon. Because of his two missions, the lifetime of Jonah was about 120 years, as he prophesized in Jeroboam's reign (831-790 BCE) and again in Sennacherib's time (696 BCE). I therefore assume that Jonah was born in about 815 BCE and died about 695 BCE, soon after his second mission to Nineveh. His first mission was given to him when he was 20 years old, so about 795 BCE during the reign of Jeroboam II.
When Hezekiah died after 29 years of reign, he was succeeded by his 12-year old son Manasseh. The young king had no opportunity to be raised under the good influence of a father, and he inevitably fell into sinful behaviour when he grew up. He restored the worship of Baal as Ahab king of Israel did in his time. He went even further by setting a pagan service in the Temple of Solomon, where he sacrificed his own son (II Kings 21:4-5). God was greatly offended, as no other king of Judah had done before:
Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I bring such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever hears of it, both his ears shall tingle. And I will stretch over Jerusalem the line of Samaria, and the plummet of the house of Ahab; and I will wipe Jerusalem as a man wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. And I will cast off the remnant of My inheritance, and deliver them into the hand of their enemies; and they shall become a prey and a spoil to all their enemies; because they have done that which is evil in My sight, and have provoked Me, since the day their fathers came forth out of Egypt, even unto this day.’ --- II Kings 21:12-15
Manasseh however reigned for 55 years (II Kings 21:1). Archaelogical evidence has been found about his reign, due to the taxes he levied on his people. Several fscal bullae in clay were found in digs within the City of David, in Jerusalem, and they contains names of people and cities which paid their taxes. A related article mentions that "At least 19 cities are identified in the paleo-Hebrew inscriptions on the fiscal bullae, representing nine of the 12 districts of Judah listed in Joshua 15:20–63." This finding obviously confirms the truth of the Bible.
Manasseh's son Amon succeeded him when he was 22 years old and he followed his father’s path.
Sennacherib had to deal with a lot of rebellion from Babylon during his reign, and led several campaigns over time. However in a campaign around 690 BCE, he did something that no other ruler had done before him: he destroyed the city. This act was considered as a sacrilege because Babylon had reached a sacred status: it was considered as the oldest city in these times, created by the gods themselves. The rulers would see good omen if they conquered it, but would refrain from damaging it, by fear of upsetting the great gods of the ancient city. But Sennacherib destroyed it all. Why? Because he had adopted another cult, and was no longer respectful of the pagan rites he used to follow. This act would cause his death a few years later.
Following Jonas' prophecy in 696 BCE, Sennacherib had repented, so God delayed his decree against him and the city of Nineveh, and granted him another 15 years to live until he was assassinated in 681 BCE, as He had granted the same number of years to Hezekiah. Sennacherib ultimately fell by the hand of two of his own sons:
And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sarezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead. --- II Kings 19:36-37
The reason for the assassination was religious. As the Biblical text states it, he was murdered in the temple as he was worshipping his god. The place and time had been carefully chosen on purpose, in order to restore faith into the old cult of Assyria by proving that Sennacherib's god had not been able to protect him even during the worship. His sons fled because their purpose was not to seize power, but only to prove wrong their father’s new cult towards Nisroch his god.
It is also possible that the new cult had stemmed from his desire to present himself as godly, like Pharaoh, because the name NiSRoCH uses similar letters as the name SeNaCHeRib, but read in the inverse direction. This would explain the Biblical text saying his god. Maybe Sennacheib felt that, since God had not destroyed Nineveh after forty days as decreed by Jonah, it meant that Sennacherib had His attention, and this engaged him in feeling that he was close to his [new] god.
This assassination on religious motives was confirmed by Esarhaddon, the youngest son of Sennacherib:
Thereafter my brothers went mad and whatever was wicked against gods and men they did, and plotted evil; they drew the sword in the midst of Nineveh godlessly. --- The Prism of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, found at Nineveh 1917-8, by R. Campbell, Thomson, London, , Pl.2, lines 41-43
Further in the same document, Esarhaddon mentioned that the scoundrels (his brothers) fled to an unknown land (op. cit., line 84). He aso mentions Manasseh, as Menasi king of Judah (op. cit., pl. 11, line 55).
Esarhaddon, the youngest son and successor to Sennacherib, undertook the task to rebuild Babylon and to restore all the faiths that were previously established in the Assyrian Empire. In the old kingdom of Samaria, the new dwellers, who came partly from Babylon and were then known as the Samaritans, also requested from him to be allowed to practice the cult of the Israelites. With the help of an exiled Levite, they learned the fear of God, but they served Him, but under their own pagan customs including the sacrificing of their children:
Then the king of Assyria commanded, saying: 'Carry there one of the priests whom you brought from thence; and let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the manner of the God of the land.' So one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Beth-el, and taught them how they should fear the Lord. Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt. And the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, and the men of Cuth made Nergal, and the men of Hamath made Ashima, and the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burnt their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. So they feared the Lord, and made unto them from among themselves priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the houses of the high places. They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away. --- II Kings 17:27-33
In Nineveh, Esarhaddon employed a nephew of Tobit in his administration:
And there passed not five and fifty days before two of his sons killed him [Sennacherib], and they fled into the mountains of Ararath; and Sarchedonus [Esarhaddon] his son reigned in his stead; who appointed over his father's accounts, and over all his affairs, Achiacharus my brother Anael's son. And Achiacharus intreating for me, I returned to Nineveh. Now Achiacharus was cupbearer, and keeper of the signet, and steward, and overseer of the accounts: and Sarchedonus appointed him next unto him: and he was my brother's son. --- Apocrypha, Tobit 1:21-22
Stele of Esarhaddon (Pergamon Museum, Berlin)
[1a] The 12 characters are described in translations of the Bible as "lions"; this is because the word in Hebrew in verse 20 is אֲרָיִים ; however the plural of the word 'lion' should have been אֲרָיוֹת , as mentioned just before in verse 19; this is to signify a difference: the two lions described in verse 19 were indeed lions (they don't show in the relief of Sennacherib maybe because they had been removed from the throne since the time of King Solomon), whereas the lions of verse 20 refer to something else (on the relief of Sennacherib, they resemble to some people sustaining the throne with their arms up), maybe the 12 tribes of Israel as considered as lions
Detail from the throne of Sennacherib
[1b] The throne of Sennacherib was said to be decorated with ivory, which was not a material used in Assyria in his time, and the same is known to have been used for Solomon's throne (according to the Bible)
 He was probably an army commander hired from the one of the Israelite tribes previously exiled by Sargon; the existence of this Rab-shaqe is confirmed by an archaeological item called the Assyrian eponym list; it is a clay tablet, from which only a fragment remains and is among the British Museum collections, that gives the names of officials in the time of Shalmaneser; one of the name is indicated as rab-saqê
Extract from the Assyrian Eponym List
 Because his father King Ahaz was wicked
 The one that Moses had made, as explained in Numbers 21:8-9, and that the Israelites called Nehushtan; they later used to worship it as an idol, as explained in II Kings 18:4
 This (lost) sacred book used to bring speedy recovery to the ill, and thus it failed to promote contrition and humility, an attitude that the sages denounced
 This is related in II Chronicles 32:3-4
 The number 40 is recurring in the Bible as a divine punishment
 To read about these finds in the Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), click here
 Jonah's tomb has been vandalised on 9 July 2014 (11 Tammuz 5774) by Muslim jihadists aiming to restore a Muslim Caliphate (to read related article, click here) and completely destroyed on 24 July 2014 (27 Tammuz 5774)
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