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 | Sennacherib's Invasion | Revolt against Sargon | The Siloam Inscription | The Taylor Prism

THE period covered in this chapter is roughly the reign of Hezekiah king of Judah,
including especially the famous attack on Jerusalem by Sennacherib in 701 BC
of which we have a parallel account of unexampled vigour and detail
both in the Scriptures and in the contemporary records. 

That the fall of the Northern Kingdom made a deep impression on Jerusalem is shown by the reforms of Hezekiah and the increased influence of the prophetical schools in diplomatic affairs.
For a time Isaiah completely controlled the policy of his king, seeing clearly that the real issue was between Assyria and Egypt, and that Judah's only hope of avoiding the upper and the nether millstone lay in consistent neutrality.
There were others, however, who still hankered after an alliance with perfidious Egypt, and jumped at every seeming opportunity of revolt.


The revolt of Ashdod was typical of such futile uprisings.
After ten years of punctual payment, Azuri king of Ashdod withheld his tribute from Sargon,
and attempted to involve Hezekiah of Judah in the rebellion against Assyria.
We are not told of this in the Bible,
but it is clear enough from the inscriptions:

711 BC:
Azuri king of Ashdod plotted in his heart to withhold his tribute,
and sent messages of hostility to the kings round about him.

To the kings of Philistia, Judah, Edom, Moab,
who dwelt by the sea,
payers of tribute to Assyria,
he sent numberless inflammatory messages ...
to set them at enmity with me.
To Pharaoh king of Egypt,
a prince who could not save them,
they sent presents ...
to gain him as an ally.


Fragments of a cylinder describing Sargon II's campaigns.

The ensuing Assyrian punitive expedition is mentioned by Isaiah very briefly:

the year that tartan came to Ashdod,
when Sargon the king of Assyria fought against Ashdod and took it

[And we may perhaps see a reference to it in Micah i.10-ii.16,
a description of the invasion of Judah.]

It is described in greater detail in the great Khorsabad Inscription
(among others)
and also in the celebrated Cylinder of Sargon
discovered in Ashurbanipal's library at Nineveh.

The latter runs as follows:

711 BC:
Because of the evil Azuri had done,
I put an end to his rule over the people of his land,
and set up Ahimitu his full brother as king over them.
The Hittites, plotters of iniquity,
detested his rule and elevated to the kingship over them an Ionian,

[An Ionian - latna, lamani = a Greek, of whose name Sargon was unaware.]
who had no claim to the throne,
and who had no more respect for authority than they themselves.
In the anger of my heart,
with my war chariot and my horsemen
who never depart from my side in any dangerous region,
against Ashdod his royal city I advanced in haste.
Ashdod, Gath, and Asdudimmu I besieged, I captured.
The gods dwelling therein, himself,
together with the people of his land, ...
I counted as spoil.
Their cities I built anew
and settled therein the people of the lands my hands had conquered.
My tartan I set over them as governor.
I counted them with the people of Assyria,
and they drew my yoke.


Thus ignominiously ended the ill-considered revolt of Philistia.
Since Judah remained unpunished,
we may conclude that Hezekiah was wise enough to resist the 'inflammatory messages' sent him by Azuri:
and we may be sure that the lesson of Ashdod upheld the warnings of Isaiah against the 'prince who could not save them',

Egypt helpeth in vain, and to no purpose:
therefore have I called her Rahab that sitteth still


About this time the inscriptions begin to speak of one Merodach-baladan,
a Chaldaean prince who had made himself master of Babylon for twelve years (721-710 BC).
It was perhaps during these years that he sent to Hezekiah the embassy mentioned in II Kings xx.12, Is.xxxix.1.

The suppression of this rebellion is described somewhat ferociously,
in Sargon's Display Inscription:

710 BC:
Merodach-baladan, son of lakin, king of Chaldea,
seed of a murderer,
prop of a wicked devil,
who did not fear the name of the lord of lords,
put his trust in the Bitter Sea with its tossing waves,
violated the oath of the great gods, and withheld tribute. ...
Twelve years he ruled and governed Babylon,
the city of the lord of the gods, against the will of the gods ...
I made ready my battle chariot,
set my camp in order,
and gave the word to advance against the Chaldaean,
the treacherous enemy.
And when Merodach-baladan heard of the approach of my expedition,
he was seized with anxiety for his safety,
and fled from Babylon to the city of Ikbi-bel,
like a bat by night.


Sargon, however, did not long survive this triumph.
He died in 705 BC, as recorded in the Limmu List:

705 BC:
... a soldier entered the camp of the king of Assyria, [Sargon]
and killed him in the month Abib.
And Sennacherib sat on the throne.

(Pinches, op.cit., p.372.) [Sennacherib - Sin-ahe-erba.]

The death of the sovereign gave the signal, as usual, for widespread revolt.
Possibly it was at the instigation of the still fractious Merodach-baladan
that not only the East,
but also Egypt under her new monarch So (Sabaco), Ammon, Moab, Phoenicia,
and even Hezekiah of Judah were implicated in the disaffection.
Possibly this, rather than the earlier date, is the occasion to which we should assign the embassy of Merodach-baladan mentioned above.
The roads to Jerusalem were alive, at any rate, with envoys whose reception by the king, in spite of Isaiah's protests, was far too kind.

For a time Hezekiah resisted their overtures,
but when the people of Ekron deposed Padi their king,
and were permitted to imprison him in the dungeons of Jerusalem,
the die was cast:
Hezekiah was in rebellion against Sennacherib beyond forgiveness.

Henceforth Jerusalem leaps into prominence on the Assyrian records as a centre of disloyalty,
a fortress that may no longer be ignored.


Siloam Inscription.Realizing the increased importance and peril of Jerusalem,
Hezekiah hastened to strengthen its defences,
and especially to ensure its water-supply in case of siege.
Hitherto the city had been dependent on the fountain of the 'Virgin's Spring' outside the walls,
and upon rock-cisterns for rain water.
But now Hezekiah

made the pool, and the conduit, and brought water into the city (II Kgs.xx.20). 

It is generally believed that this watercourse has been discovered in modern times,
still very much as the engineers of Hezekiah left it nearly three thousand years ago,
in a tunnel which winds for 1,700 feet from the Virgin's Pool to the Pool of Siloam -
which at this time lay within the walls.
The story of the discovery of the famous Siloam Inscription on the walls of this tunnel is as follows:

In the year 1880 some pupils of a German architect, C. Schick, were wading in a conduit under the walls of Jerusalem, when one of the party slipped and fell in the water.
As he scrambled out,
he noticed some peculiar marks cut in the rock just above the water level,
dimly seen in the light of his candle.
The faint marks were undoubtedly lettering,
but they had evidently been submerged at various times,
and largely filled in with a deposit of lime.
Professor Sayce visited the spot some months later,
and sat for hours in mud and water deciphering the inscription (for such it turned out to be) by candlelight.
Later on, Dr. Guthe of the German Palestine Association removed the lime deposit by means of acids,
and so recovered the writing in full.

There are six lines of scrawling inscription,
written in very much the same Phoenician characters as the Moabite Stone of a century and a half earlier,
in the Hebrew language, as follows:

c. 702 BC:
Behold the excavation.
Now this is the story of the excavation.
While the excavators were lifting up the pick,
each towards his neighbour,
and while there were yet three cubits to excavate,
then was heard the voice of one man calling to his neighbour,
for there was an excess of the rock on the right hand and on the left.
And after that, on the day of excavating,
the excavators had struck pick upon pick,
one against the other,
and the waters flowed from the spring to the pool for a distance of 1,200 cubits,
and 100 cubits was the height of the rock over the heads of the excavators.

[For the Siloam inscription see Duncan, op.cit., vol.ii.
Pilcher (one ought perhaps to mention) dates the inscription much later than 700 BC -
in the time of Herod, in fact -
on orthographical grounds. P.B.A.S.1897,p.165.]

Such is the simple story of the triumph of Hezekiah's engineers:
and such is the first and only pre-exilic Israelite inscription of any length discovered by the archaeologist.
[See, however, App. II, 'The Lachish Discoveries'.]

It is strange to reflect that, while the whole of the ancient East was littered with grandiloquent records of royal triumphs, this humble boast of a few navvies digging a conduit should be the only one left by the children of Israel.


Cylinder of SENNACHERIB - The Taylor Prism.

Hezekiah was allowed, it would seem, two or three years to consolidate his position,
but in 701 BC. came the inevitable 'Wolf on the Fold'.
The Biblical account of this exciting episode [In II Kgs.xviii.13-xix; Is.xxxvi, xxxvii.],
one of the most familiar in the Old Testament,
is supplemented by almost identical inscriptions on the Bulls of Nineveh at Kuyunyik,
and on the much discussed Taylor Prism, or hexagonal 'cylinder'
now in the British Museum

It is impossible here to enter into the problem of squaring the narratives in detail:
all we can do is to outline briefly what (to the present writer) seems the most likely sequence of events.

The inscription on the Taylor Prism thus relates how Sennacherib in 701 BC invaded Palestine,
defeated the rebels at the Battle of Eitekeh,
and restored Padi to his throne at Ekron:

The officials, nobles, and people of Ekron,
who had thrown Padi their king,
bound by treaty to Assyria, into fetters of iron
and had given him over to Hezekiah

[Hezekiah - Hazakiau; the Jew - Yaudaa.]

the Jew -
he kept him in confinement like an enemy -
their heart became afraid and called upon the Egyptian kings,
the bowmen, chariots and horses of the king of Meluhha,
a countless host, and these came to their aid.

In the neighbourhood of the city of Eitekeh,
their ranks being drawn up before me,
they offered battle.
With the aid of Assur my lord I defeated them.
The Egyptian charioteers and princes,
together with the charioteers of the Ethiopian king,
my hands took alive in the midst of the battle.
Eitekeh and Timnah I besieged,
I captured and took away their spoil.
I drew near to Ekron
and slew the governors and nobles who had rebelled,
and hung their bodies on stakes around the city. ...
Padi their king I brought out of Jerusalem.'
I set him on the royal throne over them,
and imposed upon him my kingly tribute.


[Luckenbill's identification of Meluhha with Ethiopia has been questioned,
but receives support from such inscriptions as
'the border of Egypt which is on the frontier of Meluhha' (L.ii.79), &c.
Eitekeh - Altaku; Ekron - Amkarruna; Jerusalem - Ursalimmu.]

This campaign is not mentioned but is perhaps implied in the Biblical narrative.

The reference to the kings (in the plural) of Egypt reminds us that at this time Sabaco had been succeeded by his much less capable son Shabataka, and the affairs of the country were once more in confusion.
Shabataka was accepted in the Delta,
but in Upper Egypt Amenartas, sister of the dead Sabaco, was still paramount with the Nubian Piankhi II her co-regent.
Already prominent at the Theban court must have been Piankhi's son (by another wife) Tirhakah, now field-marshal, but finally Pharaoh of Egypt.
Thus much may be read between the letters of that royal plural in the Taylor Prism.

The inscription continues with an account of the invasion of Judah:

701 BC:
As for Hezekiah the Jew,
who did not submit to my yoke,
46 of his strong walled cities,
as well as the small cities in their neighbourhood
which were without number -
by escalade and by bringing up siege-engines,
by attacking and storming on foot,
by mines, tunnels, and breaches,
I besieged and took:
200,150 people great and small,
male and female,
horses, mules, asses, camels,
cattle and sheep without number,
I brought away from them and counted as spoil.


Of this attack upon the cities of Judah, we clearly have an account in the Bible, where we are told that in the fourteenth (an error for twenty-fourth?) year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them (II Kgs.xviii.13), and in Isaiah x.28 the route of the Assyrian advance is given -
Aiath, Migron, Michmash, &c.

Sennacherib's progress was checked for a while by the formidable battlements of Lachish.
A series of sculptures (now in the British Museum) describes the assault and capture of this city by the Assyrian.
On one of the slabs the king receives its submission, the text reading:

701 BC:
King of Hosts,
King of Assyria,
sat upon his throne of state,
and the spoil of the city of Lachish
passed before him.

Lachish Ostracon.Recent excavation at Tell Duweir (the site of Lachish)
[By the Wellcome Expedition of 1933-5.
Lachish is undoubtedly to be located at Tell Duweir,
and not (as previously supposed) at Tell el Hesy.
See Appendix II, 'The Lachish Discoveries.']

shows evidence of the breach made by Sennacherib.
It shows, too, that Nebuchadrezzar's subsequent attack (in 587 BC) had followed a different method -
he had literally burnt his way through the limestone walls by heaping huge bonfires against them.

So far the course of events is plain enough.
But here our difficulties begin.
The Biblical version quite clearly implies, as indeed does the inscription up to this point, that the advance with all its engines of destruction stopped short, while still beyond striking distance, of the capital.

This very day shall he halt at Nob:
he shaketh his hand at the mount of the daughter of Zion

And the account in Kings declares that Sennacherib, while still engaged on the siege of Lachish, received overtures and tribute from Hezekiah, which secured the immunity of Jerusalem (II Kgs.xviii.14).

The Taylor Cylinder, however, seems at first sight to describe an actual siege of the city.

[The last phrase is the usual mode of expressing a close blockade involving starvation of the inhabitants.]

Taking the records as they stand, this can only refer to the occasion when Sennacherib,
still engaged in the siege of Lachish,
sent his

and Rabshakeh with a great army unto Jerusalem. ...
And when they were come up,
they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool
(II Kgs.xviii.17).

This was not a siege,
and the inscription itself, carefully read,
distinguishes between the elaborate mechanical assault on the northern towns
and the less organized thrust at Jerusalem.
The First Person on the inscription, also, must not be pressed:
in this case Sennacherib acted through his deputies.
['In Assyria the King was the State;
and all public acts, whether performed by the King in person
or through one of his generals or officials,
were recorded as the achievements or pious deeds of the King alone.' (Luckenbill, Preface.)]

The inscription, without claiming the capture of Jerusalem, continues:

701 BC:
The cities of his, which I had despoiled,
I cut off from his land,
and to Mitinti king of Ashdod,
Padi king of Ekron,
and Silli-bel king of Gaza I gave them.
And thus I diminished his land.
I added to the former tribute,
and laid upon them their yearly payment,
a tax in the form of gifts for my majesty.
As for Hezekiah,
the terrifying splendour of my majesty over?came him,
and the Arabs and his picked troops,
which he had brought in to strengthen Jerusalem, his royal city, deserted him.
In addition to 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver,
there were gems, antimony, jewels, large sandu-stones,
couches of ivory, elephants' hides, tusks, maple,
boxwood, all kinds of valuable treasures,
as well as his daughters,
his harem,
his male and female musicians,
which he had them bring after me to Nineveh, my royal city.
To pay tribute and to accept servitude,
he dispatched his messengers.

[Nineveh - Ninua.]

700 BC:
In my fourth campaign, &c., &c.

[Sennacherib's inscription now deals with campaigns in the East.]

There is no difficulty in reconciling this with the statements in the Biblical narrative.
Sennacherib has naturally omitted all mention of his subsequent demand for the surrender of the city
and the defiant reply which Isaiah encouraged the king of Judah to return (II Kgs.xviii.19-xix.7).
He has also omitted the more insistent repetition of this demand which he made from Libnah,
and which received an even firmer refusal (II Kgs.xix.8-34).
Still more significantly
the Assyrian has omitted to mention the disaster that suddenly overtook his forces,
and his enforced retreat to Nineveh (II Kgs.xix.35-36).

But the tangible fact of the submission
and the '30 talents of gold' tribute given in the first instance by Hezekiah,
as recorded in the inscription, is admitted also in the Jewish annals,
where we are told that the king even stripped the gold from the Temple doors to pay it (II Kgs.xviii.14)
[The '800 talents of silver' of the inscription, however, becomes only 300 in the Bible.].

Nor is there much difficulty in the Biblical mention of Tirhakah as 'king'of Ethiopia at this time (II Kgs.xix.9).
It is true that in 701 BCthe Ethiopian king of Egypt was Shabataka, and that Tirhakah did not succeed to the throne till 689 BC.
But there are innumerable instances of such anticipatory use of titles,
and Tirhakah apparently served as field-marshal to the Pharaoh.
Yet there are some who, pressing his royal title, conjecture that the Biblical narrative has combined together two assaults of Sennacherib upon Jerusalem:
(1) the first in 701 BC (II Kgs.xviii.17ff), and
(2) the second (II Kgs.xix.9ff) about twenty years later,
when Sennacherib towards the end of his reign and during the reign of Tirhakah is conjectured to have menaced Jerusalem on his way home from a successful campaign in Egypt.

After 701 BC, however, there is no record in the inscriptions of any further raid on Judah.
For the next hundred years no king of Judah ever seriously wavered in his allegiance to Assyria.
From the archaeological point of view, this is regrettable,
since it means that henceforward the Assyrian records have no occasion to mention the Jews at all,
and that the important epoch of Manasseh-Amon-Josiah is practically a blank as far as archaeology is concerned.

There are one or two inscriptions, however, which have an interest for us.
The death of Sennacherib (680 BC) recorded as a fulfilment of Isaiah's prophecy -

and it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god,
that Adram-melech and Sharezer smote him with the sword:
and they escaped into the land of Ararat.
And Esar-haddmi his son reigned in his stead

(II Kg.xix.37) -

is thus noted in an inscription of Esar-haddon ('Prism S'), recently discovered:

680 BC:
In the month Nisan ...
I made my joyful entrance into the royal palace,
the awesome place wherein abides the fate of kings.
A firm determination fell upon my brothers.
They forsook the gods
and returned to their deeds of violence,
plotting evil. ...
They revolted.
To gain the kingship they slew Sennacherib, their father....
The gods looked with disfavour upon the deed of the villains,
which was committed in defiance of the will of the gods, and did not aid them.
But they brought their forces to utter confusion and made them submit themselves to me.
I rent my garments, and raised a cry.
I roared like a lion, my passion was aroused. ...
I did not delay one day nor two.
I did not even wait for my armies.
I did not look back ...
I made my way to Nineveh painfully but quickly....
The people of Assyria ... kissed my feet.
As for those villains who instigated revolt ...
they fled to parts unknown.


 The Rassam Cylinder of Ashurbanipal adds a touch of local colour to the story of this famous assassination:

c. 660 BC:
The rest of the people who revolted against me,
these by the colossi between which they had cut down Sennacherib my grandfather,
I cut down as an offering to his shade.
Their dismembered bodies I fed to the dogs.