One of the greatest Assyrian kings is the subject of our next bioarchaeography: Tiglath-Pileser III.
In the spring of 745 BC, Pulu, the governor of Calah, seized the Assyrian throne during a rebellion against the weak king, Ashur-nirari V. He assumed the name, Tiglath-Pileser, and quickly reorganized the kingdom by centralizing his power and creating a standing army.1 As with many ancient kings, his thoughts turned to expanding his empire; Tiglath-Pileser III led various campaigns, subjugating lands both near and far, including the area of Syria and Palestine. He ruled from ca. 745-727 BC, eventually merging the kingdoms of Assyria and Babylonia.2
Tiglath-Pileser III had significant interactions with the kings of Judah and Israel which are recorded in Scripture, as well as in Assyrian inscriptions. He seems to have been actively involved with the politics of Palestine and Syria.
In biblical descriptions the Assyrian king is called both Pul (2 Kings 15:19) and Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 15:29). The same is true in extra-biblical inscriptions, as Tiglath-Pileser is referred to as “Puwal, the great king of Assyria,” on the Incirli Trilingual Inscription3 and as Pulu in Babylonian inscriptions.4
Tiglath-Pileser III and Menahem, King of Israel
In 743 BC, Tiglath-Pileser III marched toward the Mediterranean and received tribute from many of the kings of the area.5 One of those kings was Menahem, King of Israel. In 2 Kings 15:19 we read, “Then Pul king of Assyria invaded the land, and Menahem gave him a thousand talents of silver to gain his support and strengthen his own hold on the kingdom.” In Assyrian inscriptions, Tiglath-Pilesar III boasts, “As for Menahem I overwhelmed him like a snowstorm and he . . . fled like a bird, alone, and bowed to my feet”6 “Menahem of Samaria” is also listed as one of the 17 kings of the west from whom he received tribute. What was that tribute? He claims to have received from these kings, “gold, silver, tin, iron, elephant-hides, ivory, linen garments with multicolored trimmings, blue-dyed wool, purple-dyed, wool, ebony-wood, boxwood-wood, whatever was precious enough for a royal treasure.”7
Tiglath-Pileser III and Ahaz, King of Judah
Years later, Pekah, an Israelite official, assassinated Menahem’s son, Pekahiah, and succeeded him as king (2 Kings 15:25). He teamed up with Rezen, King of Syria, and laid siege to Jerusalem. Ahaz, the King of Judah, turned to Tiglath-Pilesar III for help:
“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)
A clay tablet called the “Annals of Tiglath-Pilesar III” was discovered in his palace in 1873 when Austen Henry Layard excavated at Calah (Nimrud). Technically, the tablet is not an annal in the sense of being a year-by-year description of his reign, but rather a summary statement of Tiglath-Pileser’s military and building accomplishments.8 It lists a group of kings in Syria and Palestine who paid him tribute of “gold, silver, tin, multi-colored garments, linen garments, red-purple wool, [all kinds of] costly articles, produce of the sea (and) dry land, the commodities of their lands, royal treasures, horses (and) mules broken to the yo[ke]…”9 Among the kings listed is “Jeohahaz the Judahite.” This inscription confirms the tribute the Bible describes King Ahaz bringing to Tiglath-Pileser III, although the biblical inventory lists only what Ahaz gave, or only the most precious items of gold and silver.
Tiglath Pileser III and Hoshea, King of Israel
In 2Kings 15:30 Scripture records that “Hoshea son of Elah conspired against Pekah son of Remaliah. He attacked and assassinated him, and then succeeded him as king in the twentieth year of Jotham son of Uzziah.” If the Annals of Tiglath-Pilesar III are to be believed, he was behind the assassination. He says, “They overthrew their king Pekah and I placed Hoshea as king over them. I received from them 10 talents of gold, 1,000(?) talents of silver as their tribute and brought them to Assyria.”10
Eventually, all of Syria was conquered by the Assyrians and Tiglath-Pileser III deported people from the northern half of Israel.11 2 Kings 15:29 records, “In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria.” In an Assyrian inscription, Tiglath-Pileser III likely refers to this event: “Israel (lit . : “Omri-Land”)…all its inhabitants (and) their possessions I led to Assyria.”12
The Bible describes the interactions between Tiglath-Pileser III and various Hebrew kings. Assyrian inscriptions describe these same interactions, albeit from the Assyrian perspective. At many points, the details in Scripture are affirmed by details in the Assyrian texts.
When Tiglath-Pileser III died in ca. 727 BC, he left a kingdom that he had expanded through his military conquests and reforms, such that the neo-Assyrian empire would continue to be the world’s greatest kingdom for more than 100 years to come.
Title Photo of Tiglath-Pileser III: The British Museum / CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
1 Donald John Wiseman, “Tiglath-Pileser III,” Encyclopædia Britannica, April 25, 2017. https://www.britannica.com/place/Babylon-ancient-city-Mesopotamia-Asia (Accessed Oct. 29 2019)
3 Kaufman, Stephen A., “The Phoenician Inscription of the Incirli Trilingual: A Tentative Reconstruction and Translation,” MAARAV 14.2(2007): 7-26. Summarized online: https://balshanut.wordpress.com/2009/01/26/kaufman-stephen-a-the-phoenician-inscription-of-the-incirli-trilingual-a-tentative-reconstruction-and-translation-maarav-1422007-7-26/ (Accessed Oct. 30, 2019).
4 Ewin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 125.
5 Ibid, 125.
6 ANET 284.
7 ANET 283.
8 Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 131.
9 Ibid, 131.
10 ANET 284.
11 Alfred Hoerth and John McRay, Bible Archaeology: An Exploration of the History and Culture of Early Civilizations, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 52.
12 ANET 284.