Three Assyrian Inscriptions About Hebrew Kings

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Even a cursory reading of the book of Kings and Chronicles reveals that the Hebrew Kings had many interactions with the kings of the surrounding nations.  During the seventh and eighth centuries B.C. the Assyrian empire was the most powerful nation on earth, controlling most of the Middle East, from the Persian Gulf to Egypt.1 It’s hardly surprising then to read about these powerful Assyrian kings in the pages of Scripture:

  • Tilgath-pileser III/Pul (744-727 BC) – 2 Kings 15:19; 2 Kings 16:7; 1 Chron. 5:26;
  • Shalmaneser V (726-722 BC) – 2 Kings 17:3; 2 Kings 18:9
  • Sargon II (721-705 BC) – Isaiah 20:1
  • Sennacherib (704-681 BC) – 2 Kings 18-19; 2 Chron. 32; Isaiah 36-37
  • Esarhaddon (680-669 BC) – 2 Kings 19:37, Isaia 37:38; Ezra 4:2
  • Ashurbanipal (668-627 BC) – Ezra 4:10

What is interesting is that we also read about Hebrew kings in the Assyrian records.  Several of these inscriptions confirm specific events described in the Bible, although they are described from the Assyrian perspective.  Here are three Assyrian inscriptions about Hebrew kings.

The Tribute of Jehu on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

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Jehu King of Israel is seen kneeling before King Shalmaneser III of Assyria offering him tribute. This relief is part of Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III in the British Museum. Photo Credit: Steven G. Johnson / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Jehu was an army commander when we was anointed by a prophet as the next King of Israel (2 Kings 9:3).  From these humble beginnings he was raised to the most powerful position in the land.  His reign did not go well, however.  Scripture records:

“But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin.  In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel.” (2 Kings 10:31-32 ESV)

The Bible goes on to describe some of that territory was taken by Hazael, King of Syria.  Apparently, Jehu’s disobedience led to his humiliation before the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III as well.  This is portrayed on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, which depicts Jehu bowing before the Assyrian king.  The accompanying inscription reads, “The tribute of Jehu son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.”

It should be noted that Jehu was not the son of Omri, but rather a successor to the Omride throne.  At that time the Assyrian Kings referred to most of the kings of Israel as the “son of Omri.”

While we have no record of this specific event in the Bible it is certainly in keeping with the general description of God whittling down Jehu’s kingdom in punishment for his disobedience.

The Tribute of Ahaz in the Summary Statements of Tiglath-Pileser III

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The Summary Statements of Tiglath-Pilesar III confirm that Ahaz, King of Judah gave him tribute as the Bible describes. Photo Credit: The British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

When Ahaz, King of Judah was under siege by Rezen, King of Syria and Pekah, King of Israel he turned to the King of Assyria for help.  The Bible records:

So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, “I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the LORD and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria listened to him. (2Kings 16:7-9a ESV)

In 1873, Austen Henry Layard discovered the palace of Tiglath-Pileser III in which were unearthed numerous inscriptions summarizing the king’s accomplishments.  In  Summary Inscription Seven, Tiglath-Pileser III describes the tribute that Jehoahaz gave him. (In Assyrian Inscription Ahaz is referred to as Jehoahaz, his longer name with a theophoric prefix – the Bible simply refers to him by his shortened name).  Dating to 729 B.C. it reads, “In all the countries which… [I received] the tribute of… Jehoahaz (ie. Ahaz) of Judah…(consisting of) gold, silver, tin, iron, antimony, linen garments with multicolored trimmings….”3

Tiglath-Pileser III’s Summary Statement Seven confirms the tribute the Bible describes King Ahaz (Jehoahaz) bringing to him, although the biblical inventory lists only the most precious items of gold and silver.

The Siege of Jerusalem under Hezekiah in the Annals of Sennacherib

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The Taylor Prism records the Sennacherib’s conquests in Judah. It is currently housed in the British Museum. Photo Credit: dcastor / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

In 2 Kings 18:13 we read, “In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them.” (ESV) This was in response to Hezekiah’s rebellion against the Assyrian king, refusing to serve him as a vassal (2 Kings 18:7).  Sennacharib’s army laid siege to the city of Lachish (2 Kings 18:14) and Jerusalem (2 Kings 18:17) as part of this campaign.  While he eventually took the city of Lachish, Sennacharib was unable to take Jerusalem because the Lord delivered his people (2 Kings 19:35-36).

Archaeological confirmation of Sennacherib’s campaign into Judah can be seen both in the Lachish reliefs from his palace at Ninevah, as well as in his official records.

The Taylor Prism was discovered at the site of ancient Ninevah by Colonel Taylor in 1830.  It is a hexagonal prism that records the annals of Sennacharib in Akkadian cuneiform.  Two other prisms have been discovered with the same text – the Jerusalem Prism and the Oriental Institute Prism – but the Taylor Prism is the best preserved.  In it Sennacherib boasts:

As for Hezekiah the Judahite who had not submitted to my yoke, I surrounded 46 of his strong walled towns, and innumerable small places around them, and conquered them by means of earth ramps and siege engines, attack by infantrymen, mining, breaching, and scaling. 200,150 people of all ranks, men and women, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, cattle and sheep without number I brought out and counted as spoil. He himself I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage. I put watch-posts around him, and made it impossible for anyone to go out of his city.4

Sennacherib goes on in the Taylor prism to boast, “Now the fear of my lordly splendor overwhelmed that Hezekiah”5 and to confirm that the Judahite King did indeed pay him tribute (2 Kings 18:14).  It is interesting to note that Sennacherib does not boast of conquering Jerusalem, but merely shutting Hezekiah up in his royal city “like a bird in a cage.”

Summary

These three inscriptions are just a few of the many references in Assyrian records that confirm Hebrew kings and events.  They demonstrate the reliability of the Bible as a historical text.  As my friend and archaeologist Gary Byers says, “The Bible and archaeology tell the same story.”6

BONUS: I highlighted the importance of Assyrian Inscriptions and in particular, the Limmu Lists and the the Kurkh Monolith of Shalmaneser III as part of my article on the Top Ten Discoveries in Biblical Archaeology Relating to the Old Testament.

NOTE:  This is part of my series on ancient inscriptions that relate to biblical people, places and events.  Here are the other articles in the series:

 

ENDNOTES:

1 The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Assyria.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Dec. 14, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/place/Assyria (Accessed February 16, 2019).

2 Wikipedia contributors, “Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Black_Obelisk_of_Shalmaneser_III&oldid=875859953 (accessed February 16, 2019).

3 “Biblical Archaeology 14: Tiglath-Pileser III Inscriptions.” Theosophical Ruminations,  Aug. 11, 2011. https://theosophical.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/biblical-archaeology-13-tiglath-pileser-iii-inscriptions/ (Accessed February 16, 2019)

4 Alan Millard, “Sennacherib’s Attack on Hezekiah.” Tyndale Bulletin 36 (1985) 61-77.  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265529610_SENNACHERIB’S_ATTACK_ON_HEZEKIAH (Accessed February 18, 2019).

5 Ibid, 62.

6 Gary Byers in a personal email to the author.  July 26, 2016

 

 

3 comments

  1. The article contradicts itself. Sharing a name or event between sources coming from different perspectives is hardly “telling the same story.” Reading sources critically does not consistently privilege one source over another. There is a reason the Ahab inscription was omitted from this article. There is a reason why Ahab’s success in helping stop an Assyrian advance in 853 BC not mentioned in the Bible. The effort to make the Bible a history book does a grave injustice to Scripture.

    • Hi Nicolae, thanks for taking the time to read and interact with my blog. Allow me to respond to your criticisms briefly:
      I feel Gary’s statement that “the Bible and archaeology tell the same story” is a metaphorical way of saying that the Bible is a historically reliable document. Perhaps you’ve interpreted this too literally.
      Even when different sources give different perspectives, they often confirm the basic details of the same event. This is true with numerous finds; the Taylor Prism and the Moabite stone come readily to mind.
      It sounds like you’ve presumed upon my motivations for omitting the Ahab inscription (I’m guessing you are referring to the Kurkh Monolith of Shalmaneser III). In fact, I’ve already dealt with this inscription elsewhere and referenced it at the end of my blog. I wasn’t avoiding it or hiding anything. It also sounds like your presuming upon the motivations of the biblical authors for leaving out Ahab’s participation in the Battle of Qarqar. Your assertions of unmentioned motivations for leaving out certain things come across as presumptuous inuendo and I don’t believe they really have a place in constructive dialogue.
      It sounds like we’ll have to agree to disagree on the nature of the Bible. I don’t believe the Bible is primarily a history book, but I do believe that it is a historical document. The fact that it includes so many chronological and historical markers throughout its different genres of text would lead me to this conclusion (1 Kings 6:1 and Luke 3:1-2 are merely two of the verses that are included in the hundreds of historical synchronisms in the Bible). In my opinion, it is those who deny the historical reliability of the Bible who do a grave injustice to Scripture. Like I said though, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this point.

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