BIBLE AND SPADE - BY STEPHEN L CAIGER D B - first published at the University Press, Oxford 1936. This Edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Contents | The Assyrian Advance | Tiglath-pileser - PUL | The Fall of Samaria

THIS chapter covers the Assyrian campaigns against Damascus and Samaria,
ending with the destruction of the latter in 722 BC.
It is the tumultuous period of the fall of the Houses of Omri and Ben-hadad,
of Jezebel trampled beneath Jehu's horse,
of Elijah's ruthless suppression of the cult of Baal,
of Amos
[The Book of Amos, probably the earliest prophetical book to be written down, is believed to date from about 750 BC.]

and Hosea hurling spoken and written thunderbolts against the godless luxury of Israel;
and it is a period where the vivid Biblical narrative is exceptionally well supplemented, on its political side, by the inscriptions. 

The Assyrian records now assume the proportions of a voluminous literature,
filling two large volumes in Luckenbill's Ancient Records of Assyria,
many of which fall within the years covered by this chapter.
From these we shall select quotations bearing upon Biblical history,
omitting only those which merely repeat in almost identical terms the information given in collateral inscriptions.
[Many of the inscriptions are repeated and copied in the same stereotyped form,
or with the insertion of only a word or two of additional information.
We would remind the reader again that the dates appended are those of the events that the text describes,
and not of the inscription itself.
Dots (...) mean
omitted by the present writer:
asterisks (***) mean
illegible in the original inscription.] 

In the middle of the ninth century, then,
the political situation (so far as our present purpose is concerned) was this:
after the Battle of Karkar (853 BC),
in which, as we have seen, [See above, p.133.]
the Ahab-Ben-hadad confederacy had been worsted,
Shalmanezer III returned to press home his victory in the years 849 and 848 BC.
The cuneiform record reads as follows:

848 BC:
In my eleventh year of reign, I crossed the Euphrates for the ninth time. ...
Against the cities of the land of Hamath I descended ...
(= Ben-hadad) of Damascus
and twelve kings of the land of the Hittites who stood by each other,
I defeated them.


If the twelve kings included, as in the Monolith Inscription, the king of Israel among them,
then the reference here must be to Ahab's son Jehoram. 

Shalmanezer's success evidently stopped short of the complete subjugation of Syria,
for Ben-hadad was slain a few years later (842 BC),
not by the Assyrian, but by his servant Hazael,
who thus became king in Damascus.
This is recorded both in the Bible (II
and in Shalmanezer's Statue Inscription from Assur, where we read:

842 BC:
Hadad-ezer died.
Hazael, the son of a nobody,
seized the throne.


About the same time Jehu,
having shot his royal master Jehoram,
made himself king of Israel (II Kgs.ix.24),
and proceeded to exterminate the whole of the House of Omri as far as he could (II Kgs.x).
Of the Assyrian ignorance concerning Jehu's lack of hereditary title to the throne,
we have a quaint proof in the inscriptions,
where he is uniformly described as 'Jehu son of Omri' (cf. L.i.590, 672).

It is at this point that we introduce the highly important inscription
on the Black Obelisk of Shalmanezer III.
This celebrated monument,
now in the British Museum,
was discovered by Layard at Calah in 1845,
and deciphered by Rawlinson five years later,
[It was Hincks, however, an Irish clergyman, who first recognized the name Jehu under the syllables Ya-u-a, in 1851.]

being the first Assyrian inscription of any length to yield its secret to the new study of Assyriology.
[Assyriology includes, of course, the study of Babylonian antiquities.]
A beautifully executed pictorial representation in relief of the successes of Shalmanezer,
it gives a full record of the first thirty years of his reign in chronological order,
adding brief captions to the portraits. 

The Black Obelisk is the more important, because it fills a distinct gap in the Biblical narrative,
showing how the Hazael-Jehu confederacy was at once attacked by the Assyrians with disastrous results to Syria and Israel.
[Hazael - Haza-ilu; Syria - Imerishu; Jehu - Yaua.]

The pertinent lines of the inscription run:

841 BC:
In my 18th year of reign I crossed the Euphrates for the 16th time.
Hazael of Damascus came forth to battle.
1,121 of his chariots,
470 of his cavalry,
together with his camp
I captured from him.


A caption of the greatest interest to Biblical students, explaining one of the portraits, runs:

841 BC:
The tribute of Jehu son of Omri.
Silver, gold, a golden bowl,
a golden beaker, golden goblets,
pitchers of gold, lead,
sceptres for the hand of the king,
javelins I received from him.


This sculptured relief of the prostrate Jehu is the only picture
[It may be readily identified on the obelisk by the dark smudge underneath it,
caused by the index finger of three generations of museum guides.]
of a Hebrew monarch so far discovered. 

A longer record of this campaign, discovered at Calah, adds the following details:

841 BC:
Hazael of Syria trusted in the mass of his troops,
mustered his armies in great numbers,
made Mount Saniru a peak of the Lebanons his stronghold ...
I defeated him ...
To save his life he went up into the mountains.
I followed after him.
In Damascus his royal city I shut him up.
His orchards I cut down.
I advanced as far as Mount Hauran.
Countless cities I destroyed. ...
At that time I received the tribute
of the men of Tyre, Sidon,
and of Jehu son of Omri.


The Black Obelisk also mentions a further campaign against Hazael (who evidently did save his life) three years later:

838 BC:
In my 21st year of reign
I crossed the Euphrates for the 21st time.
I advanced against the cities of Hazael of Damascus.
Four of his cities I captured.
The gifts of the Tyrians,
Sidonians, and Gebalites
I received.


Rebellions at home, however, prevented Shalmanezer from completing the subjection of Damascus.
We hear no more of Assyrian intervention for nearly forty years,
during which Hazael took advantage of the opportunity for harrying Israel again (II Kgs.x.32),
and Ben-hadad III reduced Jehoahaz to a shameful subserviency (II Kgs.i.7). 

Shalmanezer's successor Shamshi-Addu VI left Syria alone,
but his grandson Adad-Nirari III (805-782 BC.)
[Adad-Nirari - in older books called Ramman-Nirari.]

records an invasion of the west in the first year of his reign:

805 BC:
I conquered the lands of the Hittite, Amurru entirely,
Tyre, Sidon, the Land of Omri,

(= Israel, now under King Jehoahaz)
Edom, Palastu, (= Philistia)
up to the Great Sea of the Setting Sun. ...
Against Syria I marched,
[Mariu is apparently Ben-hadad III.]
King of Syria in Damascus his royal city
I shut up.
The terrifying splendour of Assur my Lord overwhelmed him,
and he laid hold of my feet,
and became my vassal. ...


This inscription explains how it was that Jehoash of Israel was able to defeat the harassed Syrians,
as prophesied by Elisha (II Kgs.i.14-25).
It has even been suggested that Adad-Nirari was the saviour who brought Israel from under the hand of the Syrians, mentioned in II Kings xiii.5. 

That the Assyrian victories over Damascus were followed up in the ensuing years is shown by the Eponym or Limmu Lists.
The relevant entries are as follows:

773 BC

(Shalmanezer IV)

Against Damascus.

772 BC

(Shalmanezer IV)

Against Hatarika (Hadrach).

765 BC

(Ashurdan III)

Against Hatarika.


(Ashurdan III)

A Plague.

763 BC

(Ashurdan III) 

In the month of Simanu an Eclipse of the Sun.


(L. ii. 1198.)


These bald entries are of special interest for us,
since they help to explain Israel's rapid rise to prosperity under Jeroboam II,
and may well throw light on allusions in the prophet Amos,
such as the Assyrian attack on Damascus (Amos vi.14, &c.),
the pestilence (Amos iv.10),
and the eclipse which was almost certainly in the prophet's mind when he wrote

I will cause the sun to go down at noon,
and I will darken the earth in the clear day

(Amos i.9).

It occurred on 15th June, 763 BC.


A lull of some thirty years seems to have followed Ashurdan's invasion of the west (in 765 BC),
but the accession of Tiglath-Pileser III (Pul) marked a notable revival of Assyrian ambition.
Henceforth the policy of Nineveh aims relentlessly at the utter destruction of her troublesome neighbours in the west,
and we hear for the first time of those wholesale deportations,
which became so characteristic of the Assyrian and Babylonian conquerors. 

When Tiglath-Pileser marched westward in 738 BC,
the political situation was as follows:
Israel under Menahem,
the prosperous days of Jeroboam II now far behind,
was once more fraternizing with Rezin king of Syria,
and hoping to induce Judah to join in a north-Palestinian alliance against the menace from the east.
To nip this troublesome growth in the bud Tiglath-Pileser attacked in force:

738 BC:
In the course of my campaign,
I received the tribute of the kings of the Sea Coast...
Azariah, the land of Ya-u-di, ...
I destroyed, I devastated, I burnt with fire
[the cities]
which had gone over to Azariah, and had strengthened him ...
like pots I smashed them,
tribute I laid upon them ...
together with the cities up to Mount Saue, a peak of the Lebanons,
Mount Baal-Zephon, ...
19 districts of Hamath,
together with the cities of their environs,
which lie on the shore of the Sea of the Setting Sun,
which had gone over to Azariah in revolt and contempt of Assyria,
I brought within the borders of Assyria.
My officials I set over them as governors.
30,300 people I carried off from their cities
and placed them in the province of the city of K.??

The inscription, somewhat mutilated, goes on to speak of kings of Syria and the district
who secured immunity by the prompt payment of tribute,
among whom are mentioned 'Rezin of Syria and Menahem of Samaria'
[Tiglath-Pileser (Pul)?Tukulti-apil-esharra (Pulu); Rezin?Rassunnu.] (L.i.772). 

The occasion referred to in the foregoing records is evidently that described in II Kings xv.19,
where we are told that

there came against the land Pul the king of Assyria;
and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver. ...
So the king of Assyria turned back.

There is now no doubt about the identity of Pul with Tiglath-Pileser (in spite of I Chron.v.26),
for many inscriptions have been found where the names are used alternatively:
Pulu being the real name of an usurper who adopted the more famous title of one of the first great Assyrian kings. 

The identification of 'Azariah of Yaudi' on the inscription is not, however, so certain.
Some, like Luckenbill and Hall, would read it as 'Azariah king of Judah'.
But there is nothing save the name to connect the two:
Azariah of Judah (if our chronology is correct) died in the first year of Pul (745 BC),
[See Appendix III, 'Chronological Table of the Assyrian Period'.]

and in any case we have no reason to believe he would have been involved in an alliance with so distant a country as Hamath,
still less that he would have been the pivot of such an alliance as the inscription suggests.
Robinson is therefore probably correct in attributing this Azariah to a far northern state of Jaudi,
which had nothing to do with Judah. 

We now reach the days so vividly portrayed in the Scriptures
when those two tails of smoking firebrands
Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Israel
tried to compel Ahaz of Judah to combine with them against Assyria,
and Isaiah bade him fear them not (Is.vii.4).
Ahaz did indeed resist the Syro-Ephraimite overtures,
but foolishly bribed Tiglath-Pileser to do just what he had intended to do in any case (II Kgs.xvi.7);
and swiftly the Assyrian struck. 

Of the gratuitous submission of Ahaz to Nineveh we have no record in the inscriptions
save the bare mention of Jeho-Ahaz [Jeho-Ahaz - Yau-hazi (L.i.801)] king of Judah amongst her tributaries.
But the form of the name is interesting:
why did the Biblical writers omit the Jeho?(Jehovah) from his name?
'Possibly his reputation for unprecedented wickedness led the Jewish scribes to eliminate the divine element from his name', is Robinson's suggestion.

As to the defeat of Rezin and the final destruction of Damascus,
we are fortunate in possessing a full and vigorous description by Tiglath-Pileser himself.

734 BC:
That one [viz. Rezon of Damascus] fled alone to save his life ***
and like a mouse he entered the gate of his city.
His nobles I captured alive with my own hands,
and hanged them on stakes
and let his land gaze on them.
45 soldiers of my camp
I selected, and like a bird in a cage
I shut him up.
His gardens and
plantations without number
I cut down, not one escaped
Hadaru the house of the father of Rezon of Syria where he was born,
I besieged, I captured ...
captives I carried off.
16 districts of Syria I destroyed
like mounds left by a flood.


Such is the contemporary Assyrian account of how

the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it,
and carried the people of it captive to Kir,
and slew Resin
(II Kgs.xvi.9).

Northern Israel, as was to be expected, also suffered (II Kgs.xv.29),
though we have little evidence of this in the inscriptions beyond a fragment referring to Naphtali:

734 BC:
*** on the border of the Land of Omri [viz. Israel] ...
the wide land of Naphtali in its entirety,
I brought within the border of Assyria.
My official
(tartan) I set over them as governor.
Hanno of Gaza fled before my weapons.


About this time we are told that

Hoshea the son of Elah made a conspiracy against Pekah the son of Remaliah (King of Israel),
and smote him, and slew him,
and reigned in his stead
(II Kgs.xv.30).

Of this, too, we have the evidence of the inscriptions:

733 BC:
The Land of Omri ***
all its people together with their goods
I carried off to Assyria.
Pekah, their king they deposed,
and I placed Hoshea1 over them as king.
10 talents of gold, 10 talents of silver,
as their tribute I received from them,
and to Assyria I carried them.

[Pekah - Pakaha; Hoshea - Ausia.]

Thus ended the apparently successful campaign that destroyed Damascus,
and reduced the rest of north Syria to submission.
But there is no record that Tiglath-Pileser ever went west again.


When Shalmanezer V succeeded Tiglath-Pileser in 727 BC,
the whole empire (as was usual on a change of sovereigns) quivered with insurrection.
Hoshea of Israel himself shared in the general disaffection,
and began to intrigue with So king of Egypt,
even going so far as to refuse his annual tribute to Nineveh (II Kgs.xvii.4). 

This So king of Egypt is almost certainly to be identified with the Sibe of the inscriptions of the next reign,
that is to say with Sabaco or Shabaka, founder of the XXVth Egyptian Dynasty
[Saba-ka: the -ka is simply the Ethiopia article.
(So Brugsch. Peet, however, questions this, and refuses the identification.
See E. T. Peet, Egypt and the Old Testament, p.171.)].
At the time of which we are now speaking, namely, about 724 BC,
he was not yet, as a matter of fact, king of Egypt:
we shall see that the inscriptions of 720 BC still speak of him as tartan of Egypt.
But the anticipatory use of the royal title by the Biblical writer is easily understandable,
especially as he was the natural heir of the reigning Pharaoh, Piankhi I. 

As usual, however, the expected reinforcement from Egypt failed to materialize,
and Shalmanezer, advancing rapidly upon the rebellious king of Israel,
captured him almost at once (II Kgs.xvii.4). 

But of Shalmanezer's campaign in the west we have practically no inscriptional evidence at all. 

Whoever began the three years' siege of Samaria,
it is certain from the inscriptions that not Shalmanezer V
but his successor Sargon II [Sargon?Sharraku.] effected its final capture,
and is therefore the king of Assyria intended in II Kings xvii.6. 

The discovery of this important sovereign is one of the major results of Biblical archaeology.
'Strange as it may seem,
until the discovery of the Assyrian inscriptions, and their decipherment,
nothing was known of Sargon outside of the Old Testament,
where his name was regarded as an alternative for Shalmanezer in the only passage where it occurs?
Isaiah xx.1' (Pinches).
He became king of Assyria at the end of 732 BCor the beginning of 721. 

Sargon records his first (Syrian) campaign in many of his very numerous inscriptions,
but the capture of Samaria is evidently counted as only a minor triumph,
and none of the further inscriptions add anything to his own 'authorized version' on the walls of the royal palace at Dur-Sarraku (Khorsabad),
which runs as follows:

722 BC:
In my first year of reign ***
the people of Samaria ***
to the number of 27,290 ...
I carried away.
50 chariots for my royal equipment I selected.
The city I rebuilt.
I made it greater than it was before.
People of the lands I had conquered I settled therein.
My official
(Tartan) I placed over them as governor.

Thus briefly and unimaginatively the Assyrian records his subjugation of one of the most notable cities in history.
To him the kingdom of Israel was but one of a hundred petty outlying states,
and its royal capital but one of a thousand unimportant towns
to be squeezed of all possible spoil
and then crushed under foot.
There is nothing whatever in all the inscriptions of the ancient East to show that any of Israel's conquerors appreciated in the smallest degree her unique religious, literary, or cultural contribution to the world.
Their judgements, for any evidence we possess to the contrary, were utterly and almost inconceivably materialistic and barbarous.
To them Samaria and Jerusalem itself were never more than troublesome fortresses which stood in the way of the spoliation of the surrounding villages and farms. 

But to the Jews themselves,
the Fall of Samaria was the work not of Sargon,
whose name they disdained even to record,
but of the Providence of Jehovah;
a dreadful warning of the inevitable effect of apostasy and evil deeds.

And it was so,
because the children of Israel had sinned against the lord
their God.
(II Kgs.xvii.7) 

No more reference is made in the Assyrian inscriptions to Samaria, except as a province of the empire.
An allusion to the planting of Mesopotamian colonists in the ravaged country may be discerned in a statement of Sargon that he transported some of the inhabitants of Babylon itself to the 'Land of the Hittites'.
[There are many references to the transportation to Palestine of peoples from other districts conquered by the Assyrians.]
Yet it is strange to find that, even after its subjection,
Samaria was still able to cause trouble within a year or two, as we shall see. [See below, p.150.] 

Having secured his communications by the elimination of Samaria,
Sargon had no difficulty in reducing piecemeal the coalition of north and south,
which had, perhaps, arranged to join forces in Israel.
A rapid march southwards brought him face to face
with the dilatory So king of Egypt
and his ally, Hanno of Gaza,
whom he utterly defeated at the Battle of Raphia (720 BC),
as he thus records on his Display Inscription from Khorsabad,
now in the India House.

720 BC:
Hanno king of Gaza with Sibe tartan of Egypt,
who had come out against me at Raphia to offer battle,
I defeated.
Sibe became frightened at the clangour of my weapons and fled,
to be seen no more.
Hanno king of Gaza I seized with my own hand.
The tribute of Pharaoh king of Egypt,
Samsi queen of Arabia, &c.,
I received.


Sargon then turned northward,
and came upon the other section of the allied army
under the king of Hamath at Karkar, his royal city,
where the confederates of Ahab had been so signally defeated by Assyria over a century before.
[By Shalmanezer III in 853 BC. See above, p.133.]

In his inscriptions recording the Assyrian victory of the second Battle of Karkar (720 BC),
Sargon mentions one 'Jeho-bidi of Hamath, [Jeho-bidi?Yau-bidi.]
a camp-follower, with no claim to the throne,
an evil Hittite',
who had stirred up revolt in the cities of northern Syria.
Amongst these rebels are named, somewhat strangely,
Damascus and Samaria (L.ii.55). 

Since both these cities had been suppressed, we must assume that either

  1. the Assyrian governors of the dismantled sites had failed to quell native disaffection?
    in which case the Assyrian policy of wholesale deportations is explained; or else

  2. that Jeho-bidi's confederates included refugees from Damascus and Samaria, as Robinson suggests.
    Could the upstart Jeho-bidi himself have been a Samaritan?  

Sargon thus striking north and south consolidated his victories in Syria,
colonized the depopulated areas with aliens,
and added a new province to the Assyrian empire.
Only one small portion of Palestine now remained unsubdued:
the sole obstacle between Assyria and the much-desired conquest of Egypt
was the tiny yet formidable highland state of Judah.
But by one of history's strangest ironies,
it was not Jerusalem that crumbled first, but Nineveh.