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.


Esarhaddon. HOME | Contents | The Last Days | Ashurbanipal | Decline & Fall of Nineveh | The Fall of Jerusalem

THE story of the last hundred years of the Hebrew Monarchy and the ultimate fall of Jerusalem (687-586 bc) is told very fully in the Old Testament, especially in the biography of Jeremiah.
Of archaeological evidence, however, there is little, save in general illumination of the political background. 

To Esarhaddon [Esarhaddon - Ashur-aha-iddina.],
the monarch who succeeded Sennacherib in 680 BC,
there are two Biblical references besides that already noticed.
First, we are told that he colonized Samaria (Ezra iv.2);
and the inscriptions make frequent allusion to his practice in this respect, e.g.

679 BC:
I gathered together the kings of Hittite-Land (Syria) and the Seacoast, all of them.
And in another place I had a city built. ...
The people, spoil of my bow, of mountain and Sea of the Setting Sun, therein I settled.

Those of the sea I bade to make the mountain their home:
those of the mountain, the sea.


His object was clearly to break down the national spirit of his victims by creating a racial mixture in unfamiliar surroundings. 

The second reference to Esarhaddon (probably) is in II Chron.xxi.11, (R.V. Marg.),
where it is said that

the king of Assyria ... took Manasseh with hooks,
and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.

[For the 'hooks' compare Tirhakah's picture on the Senjirii Stele, see next page.]
There is no confirmation of this late tradition, as far as Babylon is concerned,
but the inscriptions do speak of a compulsory visit to Nineveh:

c. 678 BC:
At that time the older palace of Nineveh ...
had come to seem too small to me ...
and the people of the lands
my arms had despoiled
I made to carry the basket and the hod....
And I summoned the kings of Syria
and those across the sea?
Baalu king of Tyre,
Manasseh king of Judah ...
Silli-Bel king of Gaza,
Mitinti king of Ashkelon,
Ikausu king of Ekron, &c.,
&c. ... 22 kings in all.
I gave them their orders.
(L. ii. 690.) 

As to Babylon, once regarded as a 'slip' (for Nineveh) on the part of the author of Chronicles,
the inscriptions prove that Esarhaddon did in fact aim at restoring the capital of Hammurabi to its ancient prestige,
and personally helped in rebuilding it:

c. 679 BC:
I laid its foundation stone.
I raised the hod to my own head, and carried it ...
I moulded a brick . . .
Babylon I built anew ...
I made magnificent.
(L.ii.645, 646.) 

It is hardly likely that he would have allowed Manasseh to return to Jerusalem without first seeing Babylon!

Isaiah's lament over Tyre and Sidon (Is.xi) comes into our minds as we read the inscriptions of Esarhaddon:

671 BC:
Conqueror of Sidon,
which lies in the midst of the Sea,
destroyer of all its habitations,
its walls:
yea, its very site I tore up
and cast into the midst of the Sea.

On the Senjirli Stele, Baalu king of Tyre is depicted lifting manacled hands in supplication to Assyria,
with (next to him) Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, portrayed as a negro through whose lips passes a hook tied by a rope to the hands of Esarhaddon. 

The fall of No-Amon,
that is Thebes the City of Amen,
is adduced by Nahum as a terrible warning to Nineveh (Nah.iii.8),
and is frequently mentioned by other contemporary prophets.
It is clear from the inscriptions
that Esarhaddon was the cruel lord and fierce king (Is.xix.4)
who achieved the highest ambition of all Assyrians?
the conquest of Egypt.
His long struggle with the Pharaoh Tirhakah is fully described in the records.
In 671 BC Esarhaddon

'smote him five times with the point of his javelin with wounds from which there was no recovery',
captured Memphis his royal city
'in half a day',
'tore up the root of Ethiopia out of Egypt'

One would imagine, after this, that we had done with Tirhakah.
But no:
ten years later we find him once more back in Egypt,
stirring up revolt against the Assyrian conqueror?
this time Ashurbanipal, whose inscriptions inform us that in 661 BC
Tirhakah 'marched forth to seize Egypt'.
It was an unwelcome resurrection of one who had been wounded 'beyond recovery',
and Ashurbanipal complains rather bitterly that

the evil treatment which my father had given him
had not penetrated his mind,
so he came and entered Memphis

This time the Assyrian took no half-measures.

661 BC:
A swift courier came to Nineveh and reported to me. ...
With furious haste my armies marched....
They defeated him.
As for Tirhakah, fear and terror fell upon him,
so that he went insane.
From Memphis he departed ...
and to save his life,
went aboard a ship.
He fled alone.
Fear and terror of my sovereignty overwhelmed him,
and the night of death overtook him.

This is the last we hear of Tirhakah.
It is forty years since his intervention saved Jerusalem (II Kg.xix.9),
and he must now be an elderly man;
but at last the treatment meted out to him by Ashurbanipal has 'penetrated his mind',
and he passes from the scene.


There are no explicit references to Biblical history in the extant records of Ashurbanipal (668-626 BC)
[Ashurbanipal - Ashur-bani-apli (Sardanapalus, Osnappar.).],
save the bare mention of the name of 'Manasseh king of Judah' among his tributaries.
Nor is Ashurbanipal named in the Bible, except for the brief note in Ezra iv.10,
where 'the great and noble Osnappar' is said to have colonized Samaria. 

Yet we cannot refrain from pausing to commemorate one to whom archaeologists owe such a debt of gratitude,
and who (as Pinches observes)

'is worthy of a statue in every land where the languages of Assyria and Babylonia are studied'.

Not only did the art of historical inscription reach its zenith through the encouragement of Ashurbanipal,
but by a happy accident it was the discovery of his magnificent library at Nineveh
which provided the master key to Mesopotamian literature. 

Ashurbanipal is the only Assyrian king of whose very human personality we have more than the merest glimpse,
and the record which he himself gives of his boyhood's studies is one which must appeal to the imagination and sympathy of every student:

c. 675 BC:
I have studied (lit. struggled with) the heavens with the learned masters ...
I have solved the laborious problems of division and multiplication,
which were not clear.
I have read the artistic script of Sumer and the obscure Akkadian,
which is hard to master.
At times I have taken pleasure in the reading of the inscriptions coming from before the flood;
at times I have been angered because I was stupid and addled by the beautiful script.
This is what was done all my days.


But life was not all study -
like modern youth he 'made the wheels go round':

After this, I mounted my steed,
I rode joyfully,
I went up to the hunting lodge. ...
Holding the reins like a driver,
I made the wheels go round ...
I wished to be the great lord. ...
At the same time I was learning royal decorum,
walking in the kingly ways.
My father saw for himself the bravery that the great gods decreed as my portion ...
he conceived a great love for me among my many brothers.

Finally, we must pay him this tribute:
it has been remarked that in all Assyrian art, so harsh and cruel compared with Babylonian,
the only official relief of a peaceful, happy scene is that of Ashurbanipal feasting with his queen.
[J.V. Hunkin, From the Fall of Nineveh to Titus (Schweich Lecture,1929).]



With the conquest of Egypt, Assyria attained her zenith.
But it was not for long.
The closing years of Ashurbanipal witnessed a steady decline of the over-ambitious and unwieldy empire of Nineveh:
Egypt under Psammeticus I (664-609 BC) recovered her independence in 652 BC.
In 640 BC he even invaded the Assyrian territory of Philistia,
and Syria once more flared into rebellion.
From the distant north came the first rumblings of the Scythian thunderstorm,
that terrible invasion from the frozen steppes of Russia
which struck such terror into the heart of Jeremiah and all other men of vision in the ancient East -

Behold a people cometh from the north country ...
they are cruel, and have no mercy;
their voice roareth like the sea,
and they ride upon horses

From Jordan to Euphrates the Assyrian empire trembled in suspense.

Of this tragic twilight of the gods of Nineveh we possess a brief elegy inscribed upon the back of a tablet of Ashurbanipal, which is strangely reminiscent of the plaint of Job.
[This inscription should be compared with the 'Lament of Tabi-utul-Enlil' mentioned below (p.179).]

c. 628 BC:
I who have offered sacrifice to the spirits of the kings who preceded me,
and have so done good to god and man,
to the dead and the living?
why is it that disease, heartache, dis?tress, and destruction are clinging to me?
Enmity in the land, strife in the house do not depart from my side.
Disturbances, evil words, are continually arrayed against me.
Distress of soul, distress of body has bowed my form.
I spend my days sighing and lamenting. ...
Death is making an end of me, is weighing me down.
In anguish and grief I sit, lamenting day and night.
I sigh,
'O god, to the one who fears not, give these afflictions.
Let me see thy light.
How long, O god, wilt thou do this to me?
As one not fearing god and goddess I am treated.

Truly a pathetic memento mori of 'the great and noble Osnappar' whose younger days had seen the peak of his kingdom's prosperity. 

Perhaps it was the menace of the Scythian invasion which gave Josiah the incentive,
and, since Assyrian control grew slack,
the opportunity, for his far-reaching reforms (621 BC).
It will be remembered that the immediate occasion was the discovery of the Book of the Law (Deuteronomy) during repairs to the Temple (II Kg.x.3ff). 

The story reads exactly like so many stories in the inscriptions,
which describe how, during the restoration of ancient temples,
little chambers which had been built into the wall were opened,
and Foundation Records discovered -
such, in fact, as were found by Woolley at Ur in our own day.
Naville therefore suggests that the Book of the Law may have been similarly walled up by Solomon.
But the very early date thus ascribed to Deuteronomy certainly cannot be accepted without drastic revision of the accepted critical position.
[Something of the kind, however, has been attempted, on purely critical grounds, by Prof. Welch. See note 2, p.185.] 

Nineveh's final death-struggle began within ten years of the passing of Ashurbanipal,
the recently discovered Babylonian Chronicle fixing the date as 612 BC,
not 607 BC, as hitherto supposed.
Here we learn how in 616 BC. Nabopolassar 'King of Akkad' defeated the Assyrians at Kablini,
and a combined force of Assyrians and Egyptians at Arrapha.

The inscription then goes on to describe the capture of the 'Bloody City' itself:

612 BC:
In the fourteenth year,
the King of Akkad
(Nabopolassar of Babylon)
mobilized his army ***
the King of the Umman-manda (Cyaxares the Mede)
over against the King of Akkad was encamped.
*** and joined forces with each other.
The King of Akkad
and Umakishtar
(Cyaxares) ***
he caused to cross over,
and they went along the bank of the Tigris,
*** in Nineveh ***
... Three times they battled ***
a mighty assault he made upon the city.
In the month of Abu,
*** day (the city was taken) ***
A great slaughter was made of the people and nobles.
On that day Sin-shar-ishkun king of Assyria fled from the city
Great quantities of spoil from the city, beyond counting, they carried off.
The city they turned into a mound and ruin heap
The army of Assyria deserted the king, and ***

Such is the prosaic record of the inscription,
with which one compares the Hebrew prophet's well-known word-picture of the same epoch-making event -

Woe to the bloody city! ...
The noise of the whip,
- the rattling of wheels;
- prancing horses,
- jumping chariots;
- horseman mounting,
- flashing sword,
- the glittering spear;
- a multitude of slain,
- a great heap of carcases:
- there is none end of the corpses...
Nineveh is laid waste

(Nahum 3). 

So Nineveh, in the words of the inscription, is 'turned into a mound and ruin heap'.
'With a supreme, if unconscious irony,
her own end is described in the very phrase with which her kings had so often vaunted their former conquests' (Gadd).
[See an excellent article with map, 'Splendours of Nineveh (Spence) in W.O.P.769.] 

From the archaeological point of view the collapse of Assyria was undoubtedly a great disaster, for here the steady stream of inscriptions which make the 'Assyrian period' quite the best documented in ancient history suddenly dries up.
Compared with this the historical inscriptions of Babylonia and Persia are but a feeble trickle, so that the latter days of the Hebrew monarchy, the Exile, and the post-Restoration era receive singularly little illumination from the independent records. 

Despite the fall of its capital, however, the Assyrian power was not yet quite at its end.
Ashur-uballit, driven ever westwards by the united forces of Babylonia, Media, and the Scythians,
stood at bay for several years in Carchemish, once the capital of the Neo-Hittite empire. 

At this point we again make contact with Biblical history.
Apparently it was not against the king of Assyria, but in support of him, that Pharaoh-Necoh' of Egypt marched his army up the Palestinian coast road towards Carchemish in 608 BC (II Kg.xi.29).
Egypt, however, proved dilatory as usual.
Necho lingered for some time first at Megiddo, where he slew Josiah king of Judah;
and then at Riblah over the deposition of Jehoahaz (II Kg.xi.31ff). 

He arrived in consequence at Carchemish far too late to save the Assyrian remnant from the onslaught of the Babylonian general Nebuchadrezzar, [Necoh or Necho - Niku-ah on the inscriptions, showing that Necoh is more correct, though less usual. Nebuchadrezzar - Nabu-kudur-usur.] and was himself utterly routed (605 BC), only the sudden recall of his adversary to receive the crown of Babylon saving the Pharaoh from complete annihilation.
With this Battle of Carchemish two ancient empires fell simultaneously to piece's.
Of Assyria we hear no more:
and Egypt never again becomes a first-class power. 

The magnificent city of Carchemish henceforth lay buried in the desert dust until excavations in our own day restored its beautiful and interesting monuments to light.
[Article by C. L. Woolley in W.O.P. 727.]



The Biblical account of the events leading to the fall of Jerusalem is well known.
After the Babylonian victory at Carchemish,
Jehoiakim of Judah had no choice but submission to Nebuchadrezzar;
yet a few years later he was ill advised enough to change his mind.
Before the inevitable punitive expedition, however, could be fitted out,
Jehoiakim had been succeeded by his son Jehoiachin,
so that it was the latter monarch who bore the brunt of the first Babylonian assault on Jerusalem in 597 BC,
when he and many of his subjects were transported to the east (II Kg.xxiv.1-16).

Zedekiah then became king of Judah, the last of the House of David.
It seems strange that at this late hour,
and after so many exposures,
any Jewish sovereign should listen to Egypt,
yet so it was.
Pharaoh-Necoh had been succeeded in 593 BCby Psammetichus II,
and he in turn by Hophra
[Hophra - Apries, in the Greek historians.]

in 588 BC.
At the latter's instigation Zedekiah revolted, with the result that in 586 BC.
Nebuchadrezzar razed Jerusalem to the ground (II Kg.xxiv.17-xxv.10).

Such is the bare outline of the Biblical narrative.
Unfortunately it stands alone,
as up to the present the only inscription we have which deals with these events is a general account of Nebuchadrezzar's successes, which runs as follows:

c. 586 BC:
Under Marduk's mighty protection
I marched through far-off lands and distant mountain ranges
from the Northern Sea to the Southern Sea,
along far-stretching roads and paths which were blocked,
where my steps were hindered and I was unable to stand:
a toilsome journey, a thirsty way.
The rebellious I subjugated, enemies I took captive:
the land I ruled justly, the people I cared for,
the bad and ill-disposed I kept away from the people.
Silver, gold, and pre?cious stones, copper, palm-wood and cedar-wood,
everything that was costly, in magnificent abundance,
the product of the mountains, the yield of the sea,
did I bring as a weighty gift and a rich tribute
into my city of Babylon to the god's presence.

All of which, it must be confessed, adds very little to our information respecting Nebuchadrezzar, unless it be a glimpse into the amazing Philistinism of a man who could find nothing more desirable in Egypt and Jerusalem than 'silver, and gold, and everything that was costly'.

Thus the events connected with the fall of Jerusalem receive little or no additional light from the inscriptions.

Excavations in the city itself have proved equally disappointing.
As we have already observed,
Nebuchadrezzar's destruction of the city was 'nothing if not thoroughgoing,
and most of the "ancient" remains of modern Jerusalem date from a period no earlier than Herod the Great (AD 30)'.

One relevant discovery may be worth a brief mention.
Between the outer and the inner walls of the sixth-century city has been revealed the existence of a continuous space about thirty feet in width, which had evidently been left vacant.
Of this Duncan observes:

'I cannot resist connecting this space between the walls with the statement in II Kings xxv.4.
There we read that "The city was broken up (by the siege of Nebuchadrezzar)",


all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate,
between the two walls, which was by the king's garden

This means that they escaped down the passage between the walls of the city,
and out by the fountain gate beside the Pool of Siloam, which opened on to the King's Garden.
From that gate they took the nearest route to Jericho.'

An unexpected flood of light has been cast upon the closing years of the Hebrew monarchy by the recent excavations at Lachish (Tell Duweir),
apparently among the most important ever made in Palestine.
Since, however, the results have not yet been thoroughly sifted,
nor the interpretation of them authoritatively accepted,
we describe them in the Appendix.
[See Appendix II, 'The Lachish Discoveries'.]