Assyrian King Sargon II, Otherwise Known As Sennacherib

 

by

 Damien F. Mackey

 

 

Introduction

 

The ancient Assyrians in their war records often remind me of the relentless Daleks of that sixties cult TV series, ‘Doctor Who’, that irresistible army of aggressive robots who went around chanting “We will exterminate. We will exterminate”. For, throughout the Assyrian war records, recurs the monotonous mantra. “I destroyed, I devastated. I burned with fire”. No hint of mercy or pity here; but, as with the Daleks, repetitive and total conquest. Assyria, often likened to the Nazis, was a thoroughgoing military nation, highly disciplined. Her characteristics were destructive invasion, deportation and taxation. The prophet Nahum mocked the Assyrian war cry with his: “… Devastation, desolation, and destruction!” (2:10)

This is not to say, however, that the Assyrians were mindless Daleks. Apart from being awesome warriors, the Assyrian kings could be great builders and patrons of the arts. Some of them showed a lively interest in literature, music, mathematics and antiquity, even in archaeology. They also kept well-ordered bureaucratic records (the year-by-year Limmu or eponym lists – officials in office). Eric Aitchison, who has been highly critical of the over-reliance by historians on the Limmu lists, explains in “The Limmu Lists and Thiele’s Blunder” (Undated):

 

Pick up any good book on Assyrian History and you will be told that the Assyrians recorded the annual progress of their history by the simple expedient of naming each year after an official. Relying on this format, astute Assyriologists have reconstructed an unbroken chain reaching from 648 back as far as 893 with additional partial records of limited value punctuating the period to 1103. For the time span 703 through to 860, the name of each Limmu is enhanced by a brief note recalling the highlight of his year in office. ….

 

And how do the Limmu lists stand up for the time of Sennacherib? Eric again:

 

Before we wax so bold as to challenge this perceived snug arrangement, we must also take on board the received opinion that the history of Assyria becomes more accurate as we come forward in time. Specifically the near-end kings from Assurbanipal (626/668), through Esarhaddon (669/680) to Sennacherib (681/704) are considered rock solid.

 

Apart from the Limmu lists, much of our information for the succession of neo-Assyrian kings, who ruled for periods over Babylon, is provided by the Babylonian Chronicle, another foundation document for Assyro-Babylonian history, and by Ptolemy’s Canon. But these are late compilations. Of the former, we have only a copy of an original made in the 22nd year of Darius I of Persia (conventionally dated to c. 500 BC); centuries after the neo-Assyrian times upon which we are focusing in this article. And Ptolemy came centuries later still. As with the reconstruction of Egyptian chronology, so with the Assyro-Babylonian, has too much reliance been placed on late sources of information.

The monotonous repetition from Assyrian king to Assyrian king may be assuaged in part by revisionist folding, turning two kings into one. If feasibility permits. Anyway, ‘fold’ is precisely what we are going to attempt to do here with Sargon II and Sennacherib.

I had previously suspected, and had written it into articles, that there must have been an overlap of at least 7 years in the reigns of Sargon II and Sennacherib. This is already a fairly radical departure from the conventional opinion which considers co-regencies to be rare – virtually non existent – amongst neo-Assyrian kings. And convention gives absolutely no hint whatsoever of any co-regency for Sargon II and Sennacherib in particular, who are dated, respectively, to 721-705 BC and 704-681 BC. What had struck me, however, was that Sargon’s 12th and 15th year campaigns were worded very similarly to Sennacherib’s first two campaigns.

 

Sargon: “In my twelfth year of reign, Marduk-apal-iddina [Merodach-baladan] and Shuturnahundu, the Elamite … I … smote with the sword, and conquered …” And: Sargon: “Talta, king of the Ellipi … reached the appointed limit of life … Ispabara [his son] … fled into … the fortress of Marubishti, … that fortress they overwhelmed as with a net. … people … I brought up.” Sennacherib: “In my first campaign I accomplished the defeat of Merodach-baladan … together with the army of Elam, his ally ….”.And: Sennacherib: “… I turned and took the road to the land of the Ellipi. … Ispabara, their king, … fled …. The cities of Marubishti and Akkuddu, … I destroyed …. Peoples of the lands my hands had conquered I settled therein”.

 

Added to this was the possibility that ‘they’ had built ‘their’ respective ‘Palace Without Rival’ close in time, because the accounts of each were worded almost identically. Eric Aitchison alerted me to the incredible similarity in language between these two accounts:

 

Sargon: “Palaces of ivory, maple, boxwood, musukkani-wood (mulberry?), cedar, cypress, juniper, pine and pistachio, the “Palace without Rival”, for my royal abode …. with great beams of cedar I roofed them. Door-leaves of cypress and maple I bound with … shining bronze and set them up in their gates. A portico, patterned after a Hittite (Syrian) palace, which in the tongue of Amurru they call a bit-hilanni, I built before their gates. Eight lions, in pairs, weighing 4610 talents, of shining bronze, fashioned according to the workmanship of Ninagal, and of dazzling brightness; four cedar columns, exceedingly high, each 1 GAR in thickness … I placed on top of the lion-colossi, I set them up as posts to support their doors. Mountain-sheep (as) mighty protecting deities, I cunningly constructed out of great blocks of mountain stone, and, setting them toward the four winds … I adorned their entrances. Great slabs of limestone, – the (enemy) towns which my hands had captured I sculptured thereon and I had them set up around their (interior) walls; I made them objects of astonishment”. Sennacherib: “Thereon I had them build a palace of ivory, maple, boxwood, mulberry (musukannu), cedar, cypress … pistachio, the “Palace without a Rival”, for my royal abode. Beams of ceda …. Great door-leaves of cypress, whose odour … I bound with shining copper and set them up in their doors. A portico, patterned after a Hittite (Syrian) palace, which they call in the Amorite tongue a bit-hilani, I constructed inside them (the doors) …. Eight lions, open at the knee, advancing, constructed out of 11,400 talents of shining bronze, of the workmanship of the god Nin-a-gal, and full of splendour … two great cedar pillars, (which) I placed upon the lions (colossi), I set up as posts to support their doors. Four mountain sheep, as protecting deities … of great blocks of mountain stone … I fashioned cunningly, and setting them towards the four winds (directions), I adorned their entrances. Great slabs of limestone, the enemy tribes, whom my hands had conquered, dragged through them (the doors), and I set them up around the walls, – I made them objects of astonishment”.

 

{For a drawn floor plan of the `Palace without Rival’ see BAR, Vol. X, Mar/Apr 1984, p. 54}.

 

Eric himself had concluded in his same article that these must have been joint projects by Sargon and his co-regent son.

 

But, as I continued to muse on these things, the thought struck me eventually that it was not just a case of co-regency, but that this was the same person talking. That Sargon could be, say, the title of a king whose personal name was Sennacherib (Sin-ahhê-eriba, ‘the god Sin has compensated (the death of) the brothers’. Sharru-kîn, ‘true king’) and that, as regards the two ‘Palace[s] Without a Rival’, it was the same king, with the same architect(s), doing all of this building.

To test this new theory of only one king, I tried interweaving all eight of Sennacherib’s war campaigns with the regnal year accounts of Sargon. The results were far more positive than I could have hoped for. I found that there emerged a perfect chronological tapestry.

I shall retrace this interweaving pattern in Part Two – the crucial section of this article – after firstly giving a little bit more background on Sargon and pointing to strengths and weaknesses in the conventional scheme.

 

 

Part One

 

Sargon was for many centuries a complete mystery as Charles Boutflower explained (The Book of Isaiah I-XXXIX, London, Soc. for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1930, p. 110) with reference to Isaiah’s verse 20:1: “The year that the Turtan came to Ashdod, when Sargon king of Assyria sent him”:

 

… Our last chapter introduced us to Sargon, the founder of the last and greatest dynasty of Assyria’s warrior kings. Of the dynasty which he founded Sargon was the ablest monarch: indeed he is regarded by some as the greatest of all Assyrian kings, though others would be inclined to give the preference to Tiglathpileser. For long ages the only mention of this great king was found in the opening verse of Isa. 20, which heads this chapter. Accordingly, the older Biblical commentators were much puzzled as to who Sargon could be. Was he Sennacherib? or Shalmaneser? or a successor of Shalmaneser and immediate predecessor of Sennacherib?

 

The early archaeological efforts of the mid-C19th solved the problem, so Boutflower thought:

 

The mystery was at length solved when the first Assyrian palace, brought to light by the excavations of Botta at Khorsabad in 1842, proved to be the palace of Sargon, erected by him in his new city of Dur-Sargon: and it was presently seen that the last guess was the right one.

 

Or was it? And did this perhaps just prove that Sargon was a real person and that the Isaian record was reliable here?

Historians are not fools, however, and there are some very strong indicators that one should adhere to the textbook view, as summed up by Boutflower, that Sargon was “a successor of Shalmaneser and immediate predecessor of Sennacherib”. The most telling evidence of all that I find is the testimony of Sennacherib’s son, Esarhaddon, who introduces himself in the following fashion on several occasions: “I am Esarhaddon, king of the universe, king of Assyria … son of Sennacherib, king of Assyria; (grand)son of Sargon, king of the universe, king of Assyria.”

Has that statement already killed, stone dead, my theory that Sennacherib is Sargon? Certainly, in light of Esarhaddon’s titulary, I am going to have to fight very hard now to defend the new view. So seemingly rock-solid has appeared to be the succession of Sargon and Sennacherib that I have been very slow to come around even to questioning it. It is only that accumulative data has lately prompted me to do this. I am greatly encouraged though by the findings that will be presented in Part Two, especially centered upon the siege of Ashdod, all of which prompts me to return again to Boutflower’s “who Sargon could be”. And to ponder: “Was he Sennacherib?” And to answer it with a confident, Yes.

Let us take a look firstly at the supposed strengths of the conventional view that Sennacherib was the son and successor of Sargon, with critical comments to follow:

 

Conventional Theory’s Strengths

 

(i) Primary

 

I can find only two examples of a primary nature for the conventional view.

By far the strongest support for convention in my opinion is Esarhaddon’s above-quoted statement from what is called Prism S – and it appears in the same form in several other documents as well – that he was ‘son of Sennacherib and (grand)son of Sargon’.

Prism A in the British Museum is somewhat similar, though much more heavily bracketted (D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, Vol. II NY, Greenwood Press, 1966, # 526.):

 

“[Esarhaddon, the great king, the mighty king, king of the universe, king of Assyria, viceroy of Babylon, king] of [Sumer] and Akkad, [son of Sennacherib, the great king, the mighty king], king of Assyria, [(grand)son of Sargon, the great king, the mighty king], king of Assyria ….”

 

The first document, Prism S, would be enough to stop me dead in my tracks, were it not for other evidences in support of my proposed merger.

The other, quasi-primary evidence is in regard to Sennacherib’s accession. One reads in history books of supposed documentary evidence telling that Sargon was killed and that Sennacherib sat on the throne. Carl Olaf Jonsson gives it, bracketed again, as follows (“The Foundations of the Assyro-Babylonian Chronology”, Chronology and Catastrophism Review, Vol. IX, UK, 1987, p. 21):

 

For the eponym Nashur(a)-bel (705 BC) one of the Eponym Chronicles (Cb6) adds the note that the king (= Sargon) was killed, and that Sennacherib, on Ab 12, took his seat on the throne.

 

What one notices in all of the above cases of what I have deemed to be primary evidence is that bracketting is always involved. Prism S, the most formidable testimony, has the word “(grand)son” in brackets. In Prism A, the entire titulary has been square bracketed, which would indicate that Assyriologists have added what they presume to have been in the original text, now missing. And, regarding Sennacherib’s accession, Jonsson qualifies the un-named predecessor king with the bracketted “(= Sargon)”.

It was customary for the Assyrian kings to record their titulary back through father and grandfather. There are two notable exceptions in neo-Assyrian history: interestingly, Sargon II and Sennacherib, who record neither father nor grandfather. John Russell’s explanation for this omission is as follows (Sennacherib’s Palace Without Rival at Nineveh, Uni. of Chicago Press, 1991, p. 243):

 

In nearly every other Assyrian royal titulary, the name of the king was followed by a brief genealogy of the form `son of PN1, who was son of PN2,’ stressing the legitimacy of the king. As H. Tadmor has observed, such a statement never appears in the titulary of Sennacherib. This omission is surprising since Sennacherib was unquestionably [sic] the legitimate heir of Sargon II.

Tadmor suggests that Sennacherib omitted his father’s name either because of disapproval of Sargon’s policies or because of the shameful manner of Sargon’s death …. This may be, but it is important to note that Sargon also omitted the genealogy from his own titulary, presumably because, contrary to this name (Šarru-kên: “the king is legitimate”), he was evidently not truly the legitimate ruler. Perhaps Sennacherib wished to avoid drawing attention to a flawed genealogy: the only way Sennacherib could credibly have used the standard genealogical formulation would have been with a statement such as “Sennacherib, son of Sargon, who was not the son of Shalmaneser”, or “who was son of a nobody”, and this is clearly worse than nothing at all.

 

That there was some unusual situation here cannot be doubted. And the bracketing that we find in Esarhaddon’s titulary may be a further reflection of it. By contrast, Esarhaddon’s son, Ashurbanipal, required no such bracketing when he declared: “I am Assurbanipal … offspring of the loins of Esarhaddon …; grandson of Sennacherib …” (Luckenbill, op. cit., #’s 765, 766, 767, p. 291).

My own explanation of this unorthodox situation takes its lead from Russell’s phrase above, “… disapproval of [predecessor’s] policies.” And I suggest it can be accounted for only if Sennacherib be merged with Sargon II, who, at the very beginning of his reign had to undo the unpopular policies of his hated predecessor, Shalmaneser. Thus A. Olmstead (History of Assyria, NY, Chas. Scribner’s Sons, 1923, pp. 206-7):

 

A slight laid upon the city of Ashur by Shalmaneser proved his undoing. Ashur became angry at the sacrilegious wretch who feared not the lord of all, overthrew his rule in the wrath of his heart, called Sargon to the kingship, lifted up his head, gave him scepter, throne, and crown. To establish his royalty, Sargon granted freedom from tribute to the sacred cities of Ashur and Harran, and every citizen found his privileges increased as never before. They were freed from the levy of the whole land for military purposes, from the summons of the levy master; like the other temple cities of Assyria, they were freed of all dues. The charter containing the grant of privileges was written on a great silver tablet which was set up before the image of Ashur.

 

Clearly Sargon did not want to include in his titulary a king (albeit his father, as I think) who had made himself so unpopular with the masses. And the same comment applies to Sennacherib if he and Sargon II are one – and does not the Book of Tobit (1:15) tell us after all that Sennacherib’s father was named “Shalmaneser”? It is therefore possible that Sennacherib’s faithful son, Esarhaddon, had also wanted to avoid mention of the unpopular Shalmaneser, whilst retaining the traditional form of titulary, and so came up with a deliberately tautologous genealogy, carrying this meaning: ‘Esarhaddon, Son of Sennacherib. Esarhaddon, Son of Sargon’.

 

(ii) Secondary

 

On a secondary level, there are certain factors seemingly in favour of the standard view that Sargon and Sennacherib were two separate kings. Thus:

 

There is, for instance, the obvious name difference.

 

There is a seeming difference in personality. Sargon is universally regarded as being a great king of kings. Sennacherib is sometimes depicted as weak, cowardly and treacherous; though not all historians are so quick to condemn him outright (E.g. Boutflower, op. cit., ch. xxiv: Sennacherib. See also G. Roux’s qualification, Ancient Iraq, p. 323).

 

There is a certain difference in location. Sargon is said to have concentrated his activities at home initially at Calah (Nimrud), and, most especially, later, in building his new city of Dur-Sharrukin at Khorsabad. Sennacherib, on the other hand, focussed passionately upon Nineveh.

 

There is a difference in recording. Sargon records his activities by regnal years; Sennacherib, by campaign number. Sargon’s list of officials is detailed. Sennacherib’s is not.

 

I – Regarding names, I have already suggested the personal name and title dichotomy.

 

II – One cannot say too much about the personality factor because, as Russell has concluded, after an exhaustive study of Sennacherib, “not much is known about Sennacherib the man …” (op. cit., p. 241.)

 

III – The other differences noted above could well be two sides of the one coin. For example, one might ask the question, in regard to Russell’s statement: “… Nineveh, where there is little evidence of Sargon’s activites”: Why would such a mighty king so neglect Assyria’s chief city? Conversely, why did Sennacherib totally avoid the brand new Dur-Sharrukin?

 

IV – Again, why did Sennacherib not record his regnal years? John Bright muses without much confidence on a possible later discovery “of Sennacherib’s official annals for approximately the last decade of his reign (if such ever existed)” (A History of Israel, London, SCM Press Ltd., 1972, p. 296.) But what I am proposing is that such “official annals” are available, at the Khorsabad site. No need for repetition at Nineveh. And we shall also discover in Part Two that, where Sargon goes into detail about a certain campaign or project, Sennacherib tends to be brief, and vice versa.

 

Conventional Theory’s Weaknesses

 

The conventional arrangement does already have its inherent weaknesses or cracks which certain intrepid revisionists are now in the process of prising open. Peter James, for instance, has done this in a far-reaching fashion (Centuries of Darkness, London, Jonathan Cape, 1991. Most notably in ch.11, “Riddles of Mesopotamian Archaeology”.) And Eric Aitchison has written the aforementioned critique of the over-reliance by Assyriologists on the sacrosanct Limmu lists.

But getting down specifically to the era in question, c. 700 BC, there are some very disconcerting types of problems with the conventional structure. Consider these categories:

 

Worrying Duplications.

 

– The ubiquitous king of Babylon, Merodach-baladan, was already giving trouble to Assyria in the days of Tiglath-pileser III (c. 744-727 BC). He then becomes a complete thorn in Sargon’s side for the latter’s first 12 years of reign (c. 721-710). He then resurfaces at the time of Sennacherib, who defeats him in his first campaign and then, finally, in his fourth campaign (c. 704-700). Kings can reign over long periods of time, but this Merodach-baladan seems greatly to have overstayed his welcome.

 

And

 

– Whilst it is not difficult to believe, for instance, that Sargon might have sent his ‘son’ on certain campaigns and then claimed the credit himself, it may be less easy to believe that Sargon destroyed the Chaldean king Merodach-baladan’s city of Dur-Yakin, and then that Sennacherib did the same only a few years later. Thus Eric Aitchison: “The city of Dur Iakin is destroyed twice according to the detailed records of Sargon and Sennacherib. Sargon records its destruction in his year 13 whilst Sennacherib records it in his campaign one”.

 

Eponym Irregularity.

 

This factor, in the case of Sargon II/Sennacherib, was pointed out by Professor Newton, as quoted by conventionalist defender, Carl Olaf Jonsson (op. cit., pp. 20-21):

 

… the king Sargon II is believed from other evidence to have reigned only 17 years, but the number of limmu listed for his reign is 32, according to Mr Couture (private communication); I have not verified this number independently. Thus we must allow the possibility that there are gaps in the list.

 

Jonsson then proceeds to take Professor Newton to task for this conclusion:

 

Such a conclusion rests upon the erroneous assumption that the Eponym Canon indicates that kings regularly held the eponymy in their first regnal year. But an examination of the Eponym Chronicle as well as other contemporary documents clearly demonstrates that this is not intended by the Canon. It is certainly true that in the earlier periods the kings held the eponymy in their first or second regnal years, but in later times they deviated from this practice. For example, Shalmaneser V (726-21 BC) held the eponymy in his fourth regnal year.

 

…. Shalmaneser’s successor, Sargon II, held the eponymy in his third regnal year.

 

…. But the greatest departure from the earlier ‘rule’ is listed for Sennacherib, Sargon’s successor [sic], who held the eponymy in his eighteenth year! ….”

 

Sennacherib’s eponymy in his eighteenth year is certainly a huge departure from Assyrian tradition. Perhaps easier to believe that, in the context of this paper, this was Sennacherib’s second eponymy; his first being in (Sargon’s) Year 3.

 

Clear Statements Contravened.

 

There is the problem that Sennacherib, with reference to his third campaign in the west, mentions that he had already been receiving tribute from king Hezekiah of Judah prior to that. Yet Sennacherib’s two previous campaigns (first and second) were nowhere near Judah in the west; but were waged in the east (Sennacherib’s First Campaign was directed against Merodach-baladan in Babylonia; whilst his Second Campaign was against the Kassites also in the east). So one wonders when had the king of Assyria managed initially to enforce his supremacy over Hezekiah?

Similarly, Sennacherib claims to have employed Manneans as slave labourers, even though he is thought never to have campaigned against this people. Russell queries this peculiarity (op. cit., p. 227.)

 

Sennacherib says, ‘The people of Chaldea, the Aramaeans, the Manneans … who had not submitted to the yoke, I removed from hither, and made them carry the basket and mold bricks.’ Where did Sennacherib find these workers? His first and only campaign at this point had been directed against the south. There he encountered Chaldeans and Aramaeans …. he does not, however, mention Manneans … among the enemy …. he apparently never campaigned in Mannea at all. … the best way [sic] to account for the captives from Mannea … this early in Sennacherib’s reign is to assume that they were left over from the reign of Sargon II, who did campaign in these areas.

 

Destroys Integrity of Israel’s Writings

 

2 Kings

 

The chronology of 2 Kings absolutely forbids adequate space for the reign of Sargon as an entity separate from Sennacherib. I know that it is no longer popular to regard the Hebrew Scriptures as any sort of reasonable historical guide. In fact, according to the University of Bremen’s Professor Gunnar Heinsohn, much of Israel’s past is currently being written out of history (“The Restoration of Ancient History”,

(www.specialtyinterests.net/heinsohn.html):

 

Mainstream scholars are in the process of deleting Ancient Israel from the history books. The entire period from Abraham the Patriarch in the -21st century (fundamentalist date) to the flowering of the Divided Kingdom in the -9th century (fundamentalist date) is found missing in the archaeological record. ….

 

In a similar vein a Jewish speaker lecturing at the University of Sydney on the subject of Chronicles I and II, denied real historical relevance to these books whose composition (as with I and II Kings) scholars date to around the C6th BC. Despite this current mood in academic thinking, though, let us not forget that: “… for long ages the only mention of this great king [Sargon] was found in the opening verse of Isa. xx.”

Moreoever, there is some heavily interlocking chronology in 2 Kings for the incident of the Fall of Samaria. This, I suggest, should not be lightly dismissed. Sargon II claims that this event occurred (i.e. he caused it) in his first year (Luckenbill, #4.): “[At the beginning of my rule, in my first year of reign … Samerinai (the people of Samaria) … 27,290 people, who lived therein, I carried away …]”.

2 Kings 18:10 fills us in with even more detail, telling us that “in the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of king Hoshea of Israel, Samaria was taken”.

This last is considered to be the same incident as that to which Sargon II refers in connection with his “first year”, in which case we have a four-way cross-reference: namely

 

(a)   fall of Samaria;

(b)   first year of Sargon;

(c)    sixth year of Hezekiah;

(d)   ninth year of Hoshea.

 

We can even confidently add to this list the first year of Merodach-baladan in Babylonia, according to Sargon’s testimony (ibid., # 31): “In my twelfth year of reign, (Merodach-baladan) …. For 12 years, against the will (heart) of the gods, he held sway over Babylon …”.

From the above it is apparent that Sargon II was in the west in his very first year of reign. In his second year he ventured even southwards of Gaza, to defeat an Egyptian army at Raphia. It is at this early stage of his kingship that the Assyrian king would have been able to collect his first tribute from the kingdom of Judah; more specifically, from Hezekiah himself, already in his sixth year. This is a further evidence in support of my reconstruction, validating Sennacherib’s boast that he had already, by his third campaign, been receiving tribute from Jerusalem.

The conventional system, on the other hand, now runs into the following alarming mathematical problem when faced with the scriptural data:

 

A mere eight years later than this crucial sixth year of king Hezekiah, in that same king’s fourteenth year – which mathematically should be only about the ninth year of Sargon – Sennacherib is found to be the king of Assyria. Thus we read only 3 verses later, in verse 13:

 

“In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them”.

 

Sargon, it appears, has disappeared from the Assyrian scene at a point about mid-way through his presumed 17-year reign! That is a real problem for the textbook writers who, meanwhile, entirely ignore the four-way correlation (a-d above) – which their fixed chronological scheme cannot possibly accommodate. They instead make Hezekiah a late contemporary of Sargon’s, dating the Judaean king to c. 716-687 BC. This means that Hezekiah would have begun to reign about a decade later than where 2 Kings locates him (18:1ff; 20:21); way too late for him to have been king of Judah during the Fall of Samaria as the Bible says he was. Aitchison tells how the Assyrian computation mesmerised even biblicist, Edwin Thiele:

 

Clearly there is a great deal of scholarly acceptance to the resulting Near Eastern chronological structure and Edwin Thiele could but bow the knee to Convention. This is a particularly interesting concession for … at page 2 of his introduction, he offers the revelation that, left to its own devices, the Biblical chronology would argue for the deportation of Samaria by the Assyrian juggernaut of the day in 711. Throughout his Chapters 6, 8 and 9, Thiele counters this “free fall” offering by the force fit of Hebrew chronology into the Assyrian mould.

 

[Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, p. 17: “To my surprise and dismay the fourteenth year of Hezekiah on this pattern turned out to be 702 instead of 701, as should have been the case by a comparison with Assyrian chronology. The last year of Hoshea and the fall of Samaria was 711”]

 

Isaiah

 

The Isaian verse (20:1): “The year that the Turtan came to Ashdod, when Sargon king of Assyria sent him”, might at first seem to upset my Sargon II/Sennacherib merger, considering that the same Book of Isaiah later refers to Sennacherib by name (36:1). But wait, aren’t these the exact same words that we just read above in 2 Kings? This verse has presumably been lifted straight out of the narrative of 2 Kings and slotted into Isaiah, which reads in part like an appendix to the historical books.

Now it is interesting that nowhere in Kings and Chronicles, nor in any other of the books traditionally called ‘historical’, do we encounter the name Sargon. Yet we would expect mention of him if his armies really had made an incursion as close to Jerusalem as Ashdod.

In respect of this, in Part Two, I shall show that there is a vital connection between Sargon’s Turtan’s coming to Ashdod, and Sennacherib’s coming to Judah.

Sargon! Sennacherib! It is not unknown for a particular king to be given different names in the one book of Scripture. In fact we have actually two different names for a neo-Assyrian king in the space of 10 verses in 2 Kings.

 

In 15:19 we read: “King Pul of Assyria came against the land …”.

And in 15:29 that king is called “King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria”.

 

No historian doubts that the same king is meant in both cases.

 

Pseudepigrapha

 

The books of Judith and Tobit also, in my opinion, play havoc with the conventional chronology for the era of Sargon II/Sennacherib.

 

(i) Judith

 

The composition of Judith is currently dated to c. 150 BC, because the incident is thought to have happened in the Maccabean period. It cannot properly be accommodated there, though. The only incident to which the climax of the Judith drama could possibly be referring, if historical, is the defeat of Sennacherib’s army of 185,000. Yet the Assyrian king, “Nebuchadnezzar”, to whom we are first introduced in Judith 1, seems to square perfectly with Sargon II inasmuch as he defeats a Chaldean king in his Year 12.

So: Was the Book of Judith’s Assyrian king, Sargon or Sennacherib?

The question becomes irrelevant if it is all one and the same king.

 

(ii) Tobit

 

The incidents described in the Book of Tobit – whose composition is currently late dated to about 200 BC – are written down as having occurred during the successive reigns of C8th-7th kings “Shalmaneser”, “Sennacherib” and “Esarhaddon”. There is no mention at all in Tobit of a Sargon, not even as father of Sennacherib. Instead, we read: “But when Shalmaneser died, and his son Sennacherib reigned in his place …” (Tobit 1:15). Moreover this Shalmaneser, given as father of Sennacherib, is also referred to as the one who had taken Tobit’s tribe of Naphtali into captivity (Tobit 1:1-2); a deed considered by historians to have been accomplished by Tiglath-pileser III, significantly before the reign of Sargon II.

 

Another discrepancy. Conventional wisdom has Sennacherib reigning on a further 20 years (approximately) after the débâcle in Judaea. But that is by no means the impression that one gains from Tobit 1, which seems to point to Sennacherib’s assassination at the hands of his two sons as having occurred not very long after his army’s defeat by the Jews:

 

15 On the death of Shalmaneser his son Sennacherib succeeded; the roads into Media were barred, and I could no longer go there.

16 In the days of Shalmaneser I had often given alms to the people of my race;

17 I gave my bread to the hungry and clothes to those who lacked them; and I buried, when I saw them, the bodies of my country-folk thrown over the walls of Nineveh.

18 I also buried those who were killed by Sennacherib. When Sennacherib was beating a disorderly retreat from Judaea after the King of heaven had punished his blasphemies, he killed a great number of Israelites in his rage. So I stole their bodies to bury them; Sennacherib looked for them and could not find them.

19 A Ninevite went and told the king it was I who had buried them secretly. When I knew that the king had been told about me and saw myself being hunted by men who would put me to death, I was afraid and fled.

20 All my goods were seized; they were all confiscated by the treasury; nothing was left me but my wife Anna and my son Tobias.

21 Less than forty days after this, the king was murdered by his two sons, who then fled to the mountains of Ararat. His son Esarhaddon succeeded.

 

A Concluding Note to Part I

 

New foundations are needed, for indeed “we wax so bold as to challenge this perceived snug arrangement” (Eric’s words) of conventional Assyro-Babylonian history. To establish the era of Hezekiah on firm foundations one ought to take more seriously than Thiele and company that four-fold synchronism cross-checking

 

(i)                 HEZEKIAH and

(ii)               his northern contemporary, HOSHEA, with

(iii)             the FALL OF SAMARIA at the hands of

(iv)             SARGON.

 

We have seen, and shall see even more clearly in PART TWO, that identifying Sargon II with Sennacherib solves a host of chronological and interpretative problems.

 

 

Part Two:

The Merger

 

Psycho-historians may be right in their belief that the human mind can vastly transform its environment – that even, in a broad sense, it can cause duplications in history over periods of time. However, I do not think that the precise duplications that are the subject of this article – the detailed events common to the Annals of Sargon and Sennacherib – can be put down simply to mind games. I am hopeful that even psycho-historians might consider the match-up below between Sargon II and Sennacherib to be too interlocking to be a product of the duplication of two distinct eras.

I intend to show that the eight campaigns of Sennacherib can be matched, in perfect chronological order, with year events during the reign of Sargon II. My conclusion will be that we are dealing here with one and the same king, one and the same reign, and the same campaigns. In this way I hope to expand the reign of he who I consider to be the one Assyrian king who reigned as a younger contemporary of king Hezekiah during the latter’s most climactic years.

The accounts of Sargon II’s regnal years will be taken mainly from his Annals as recorded on the walls of his palace at Khorsabad. The eight campaigns of Sennacherib will be taken from the famous Taylor Prism (I shall be drawing from Luckenbill, op. cit., #’s 4-47 for Sargon II and #’s 234-252 for Sennacherib).

Sargon II lists his Annals according to his regnal years, from Year 1 as far as his Year 15. Sennacherib does not connect his campaigns to his regnal years. Some think that Sennacherib’s eight listed campaigns were the ones personally conducted by the king; for Sennacherib is can be thought to have been somewhat cowardly, with “most of his wars fought by his generals” (thus Roux, op. cit., p. 323). Whether or not this last is a true assessment of the man, I do think that the view about his personal involvement in his listed campaigns is a correct interpretation.

 

Sennacherib’s First Campaign Corresponds to Sargon’s Year 1

Historians seem unsure whether it was Shalmaneser V or Sargon II who actually captured Samaria in 722 BC (conventional). See Boutflower’s useful explanation given below.

 

Sargon Year 1Sargon, as we have already seen, tells us plainly that he captured Samaria at the beginning of his rule in the first year of his reign. He appears to have been co-regent with Shalmaneser at this point. Also in this year Sargon went against Merodach-baladan, now ruler of Babylon, whose reign began at the same time as Sargon’s.He also tells that, during this year: “On the Tu’munu tribe I imposed Assur’s yoke”. Sennacherib’s First CampaignThere is some good correspondence here. Sennacherib also encountered Merodach-baladan at the beginning of his campaigning. He tells it in much more detail than does Sargon: “In my first campaign I accomplished the defeat of Merodach-baladan, king of Babylonia, together with the army of Elam, his ally, in the plain of Kish ….”. After describing his subsequent entry into Babylon, Sennacherib also mentions – as does Sargon – that he brought the Tu’munu tribe to heel: “On my return (march), the Tu’muna … not submissive … I conquered.

 

It was no doubt with the spoils and slaves gained from these victories that Sennacherib was able to commence building his “Palace Without Rival” at Nineveh. This project, we can now appreciate in the context of this article, was the prototype, since the foundations for the new city at Khorsabad were not laid until about a decade later.

Sargon II’s armies were in the west again in his Year 2 (which does not appear to correspond to any of Sennacherib’s campaigns), when he defeated Hanno of Gaza and routed an Egyptian force at Raphia. No doubt, Hezekiah was already paying tribute to Assyria.

 

Sennacherib’s Second Campaign Corresponds to Sargon’s Year 8

Sargon was obviously immensely proud of this campaign which is one of the most detailed accounts in ancient records.

It is noticeable, generally speaking, that wherever Sargon records at great length, Sennacherib’s corresponding account is brief. And vice versa. It is certainly true here.

 

Sargon Year 8It was Sennacherib’s second campaign that I had originally thought corresponded so closely to Sargon’s 15th year campaign. Now I can revise this because Sargon, in his 15th year, says that he had previously, “in the course of my former campaign”, subdued Taltâ of Ellipi. Sennacherib’s second campaign can be seen as the record of this “former campaign” which is lacking in Sargon’s Annals. It probably occurred in Sargon’s Year 8. “In my eighth year of reign I went against the lands of the … Medes …. I carried off their spoil”. Sennacherib’s First CampaignHistorians wonder why Sennacherib had so little contact with the Medes who posed such a problem for other Assyrian kings.Sennacherib’s brief mention of the Medes at the end of his second campaign is considered by historians to be insignificant – mere gift receiving.But perhaps we should listen to Sennacherib more closely, for he claims that he “received the heavy tribute of the distant Medes.”

 

Whilst Sennacherib’s statement, taken on its own, might appear to be bravado on his part, it becomes worthy of serious attention in the context of this revision.

 

Deioces the Mede

 

We need to pause here for a moment on the subject of the Medes, because a study of their famous king Deioces, in relation to the neo-Assyrian kings who were contemporaries of Hezekiah, would tend to support my argument that this period stands in need of a time reduction. Sargon, in his Annals for c. 715 BC, refers to Deioces (, Daiukku) as ruler of Mannai (the Minni of the Bible). As we saw above the Mannaeans were allies of the Medes. Most scholars consider this king to be the same as the Deioces of the Greek sources, the founder of the Median empire. Daiukku followed Aza and Ullusuv as ruler of Mannai. But he had a very short reign as Sargon II deposed him from the throne after only a year in power and exiled him to the west (Luckerman, M., “Problems of Early Anatolian History (Part 1)”, Vol. 1, pt. 1 Catastrophism and Ancient History, August 1978, p. 17). On the other hand, Herodotus makes Deioces an approximate contemporary of Gyges, who made a treaty with Ashurbanipal, thought to be Sargon II’s great-grandson. Herodotus wrote that Alyattes, the son of Sadyattes, the son of Ardys, the son of Gyges, made war with Cyaxares, the son of Phraortes, the son of Deioces (The Histories, Penguin Classics, 1972, Book One, cf. pp. 46-47 and 81).

Luckerman, not surprisingly, has some problem with the chronology of this (op. cit., p. 18): “If this be the case, then Deioces would be a contemporary of the early part of Ardys’ reign or the late part of Gyges’ reign. However, if we recall that in 660 BC Gyges made a treaty with Ashurbanipal, it would seem strange to find Deioces, who was transported by Sargon in 715 BC to Hamath, to be still found at the time of Ashurbanipal”.

A span of 55 years (715-660 BC) for Deioces, though humanly possible, is rather unlikely. Thus Luckerman, in order to maintain the traditional identification between Deioces and Daiukku, feels it necessary to stretch the matter a bit:

 

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Daiukku, if he is correctly identified with Deioces, was only a child ruler when first overthrown by Sargon of Assyria. Later, while the successors of Sargon expended Assyria’s power in debilitating warfare, Daiukku/Deioces was able to take advantage of the situation to found a Median dynasty.

 

And such a stretching is indeed necessary if one maintains the conventional succession of Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal. According to the model being proposed here on the other hand, with Sargon II identified as Sennacherib, then the conventional 55 years for Deioces is reduced by almost 20 years. In that case Luckerman’s “child ruler” theory for Deioces need no longer be proposed.

 

Sennacherib’s Third Campaign Corresponds to Sargon’s Year 9 (to Year 11)

 

Sargon’s Year 9 (-Year 11)

This year, according to what was determined in Part One, should coincide mathematically with the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah. Thus it should tell us of an Assyrian incursion into southern Palestine. It does not – at least not at first glance! Sargon II’s armies, in Year 9 of the Annals, are still fighting the Medes and the Persian rebels in the east. But a deeper probing into Sargon’s records – which we are going to have to do now in some detail with the assistance of Boutflower – will confirm an Assyrian invasion of the west. We shall find that his Year 9 was in fact the very year that Sargon sent his Turtan to Ashdod, as recorded in Isaiah 20:1. Sargon was intending soon to follow up the conquest by his Turtan.

Both Sargon and the Bible telescope what was actually a lengthy campaign, waged in various stages. The Assyrian king, as we shall see, by no means followed his Turtan immediately to the west.

Now, when Sargon refers to Ashdod, we need to be clear as to which location he had in mind, for he also refers in the same account to an ‘Ashdod-by the Sea’. Thus we read:

 

“Ashdod, Gimtu [Gath?], Ashdudimmu [Ashdod-by-the-Sea], I besieged and captured”. (Pritchard, `Assyrian and Babylonian Historical Texts’, p. 197).

 

It is the ‘Ashdod by the Sea’ that I am going to propose – contrary to the usual view – is the well-known Ashdod of the Philistine plain; whilst the “Ashdod” mentioned first by Sargon I am going to identify as the mighty stronghold of Lachish (S.W. of Jerusalem). These three cities of Lachish, Gath and Ashdod, taken together, form a cuneiform shaped wedge of formidable forts in the Shephelah. Assyria had to take them as they were a dangerous base for an aggressive Egypt.

The fortress of Lachish was the focal point of Sennacherib’s initial thrust. To no city in the plain would the description of Ashdod, that is, a very strong place – {Ashdod, from the root shádad, “to be strong”, signifies “a stronghold”} – apply more aptly than Lachish. “What a surprise, then”, writes Russell, regarding the surrender of Lachish, the high point of Sennacherib’s western campaign, “to turn to the annalistic account of that same campaign – inscribed on the bulls at the throne-room entrance – and discover that Lachish is not mentioned at all” (op. cit., pp. 253-4. Emphasis added)

But, I answer, had not Sargon II already covered it adequately in his Ashdod account?

Now, let us listen to Boutflower in his reconstruction of this somewhat complex campaign. Referring to the fragment Sm. 2022 of Sargon’s Annals, which he calls “one particularly precious morsel”, Boutflower draws this crucial substance from it (op. cit., pp. 110ff):

 

The longer face [of this fragment], with which we are concerned, is about 1½ inches in height, and has a dividing line drawn across it near the bottom. Immediately below this line, and somewhat to the left, there can be seen with the help of a magnifying-glass a group of nine cuneiform indentations arranged in three parallel horizontal rows. Even the uninitiated will easily understand that we have here a representation of the number “9”. It is this figure, then, which gives to the fragment its special interest, for it tells us, as I am about to show, “the year that the Tartan came unto Ashdod.

 

After further probing analysis, Boutflower concludes that the fragment in question “is one year later than the reckoning adopted in the Annals”.

 

In other words, the Annals make Sargon’s reign to commence in the year 722 BC, styled the rish sharutti or “beginning of the reign”, 721 being regarded as the first year of the reign; whereas our cylinder, which after Winckler we will call Cylinder B, regards 721 as the “beginning of the reign”, and 720 as the first year of the reign. From this conclusion we obtain the following remarkable result.

The capture of Samaria is assigned by the Annals to the “beginning of the reign” of Sargon, i.e. to the last three months of the year 722, and it is recorded as the first event of the reign. But according to this new reckoning of time on Cylinder B that event would not be included in the reign of Sargon at all, but would be looked upon as falling in the reign of his predecessor Shalmaneser V.

 

Boutflower now moves on to the focal point of Assyria’s concerns: the city of Ashdod. Here we shall need to follow his crucial argument at some considerable length (pp. 113, 114):

:

 

The second difficulty in Sm. 2022 is connected with the mention of Ashdod in the part below the dividing line. According to the reckoning of time adopted on this fragment something must have happened at Ashdod at the beginning of Sargon’s ninth year, i.e. at the beginning of the tenth year, the year 712 BC, according to the better-known reckoning of the Annals. Now, when we turn to the Annals and examine the record of this tenth year, we find no mention whatever of Ashdod. Not till we come to the second and closing portion of the record for the eleventh year do we meet with the account of the famous campaign against that city.

 

What, then, is the solution to this second difficulty Boutflower asks?

 

Simply this: that the mention of Ashdod on the fragment Sm. 2022 does not refer to the siege of that town, which, as just stated, forms the second and closing event in the record of the following year, but in all probability does refer to the first of those political events which led up to the siege, viz. the coming of the Tartan to Ashdod. To make this plain, I will now give the different accounts of the Ashdod imbroglio found in the inscriptions of Sargon, beginning with the one in the Annals (lines 215-228) already referred to, which runs thus:

 

“Azuri king of Ashdod, not to bring tribute his heart was set, and to the kings in his neighbourhood proposals of rebellion against Assyria he sent. Because of the evil he did, over the men of his land I changed his lordship. Akhimiti his own brother, to sovereignty over them I appointed. The Khatte [Hittites], plotting rebellion, hated his lordship; and Yatna, who had no title to the throne, who, like themselves, the reverence due to my lordship did not acknowledge, they set up over them. In the wrath of my heart, riding in my war-chariot, with my cavalry, who do not retreat from the place whither I turn my hands, to Ashdod, his royal city, I marched in haste. Ashdod, Gimtu [Gath?], Ashdudimmu [Ashdod-by-the-Sea], I besieged and captured. The gods dwelling therein, himself together with the people of his land, gold, silver, the treasures of his palace, I counted for spoil. Those towns I built anew. People of the countries conquered by my hands I settled therein. My officers as governors over them I set, and with the people of Assyria I numbered them, and they bore my yoke.

 

Typical Assyrian war records!

Boutflower now shows that the Assyrian extracts connect Year 9 and Year 11:

 

The above extract forms, as already stated, the second and closing portion of the record given in the Annals under Sargon’s 11th year, 711 BC., the earlier portion of the record for that year being occupied with the account of the expedition against Mutallu of Gurgum. …. In the Grand Inscription of Khorsabad we meet with a very similar account, containing a few fresh particulars. The usurper Yatna, i.e. “the Cypriot”, is there styled Yamani, “the Ionian”, thus showing that he was a Greek. We are also told that he fled away to Melukhkha on the border of Egypt, but was thrown into chains by the Ethiopian king and despatched to Assyria. ….

 

In order to effect the deposition of the rebellious Azuri, and set his brother Akhimiti on the throne, Sargon sent forth an armed force to Ashdod:

 

It is in all probability the despatch of such a force, and the successful achievement of the end in view, which were recorded in the fragment Sm. 2022 below the dividing line. As Isa 20:1 informs us – and the statement, as we shall presently see, can be verified from contemporary sources – this first expedition was led by the Tartan. Possibly this may be the reason why it was not thought worthy to be recorded in the Annals under Sargon’s tenth year, 712 BC. But when we come to the eleventh year, 711 BC, and the annalist very properly and suitably records the whole series of events leading up to the siege, two things at once strike us:

 

  1. first, that all these events could not possibly have happened in the single year 711 BC; and
  2. secondly, as stated above, that a force must have previously been despatched at the beginning of the troubles to accomplish the deposition of Azuri and the placing of Akhimiti on the throne.

 

On the retirement of this force sedition must again have broken out in Ashdod, for it appears that the anti-Assyrian party were able, after a longer or shorter interval, once more to get the upper hand, to expel Akhimiti, and to set up in his stead a Greek adventurer, YatnaYamani. The town was then strongly fortified, and surrounded by a moat. This could easily be done, owing to the abundance of water from the hills of Judah, which finds its way to the sea under the plains of Philistia, a little below the surface of the ground. These are the “underground waters” of which Sargon speaks.

 

It is at about this stage, Year 11, that Sargon was stirred to action:

 

Meanwhile, the news of what was going on at Ashdod appears to have reached the Great King at the beginning of his eleventh year, according to the reckoning of the annalist …. So enraged was Sargon that, without waiting to collect a large force, he started off at once with a picked body of cavalry, crossed those rivers in flood, and marched with all speed to the disaffected province.

Such at least is his own account; but I shall presently adduce reasons which lead one to think that he did not reach Ashdod as speedily as we might expect from the description of his march, but stopped on his way to put down a revolt in the country of Gurgum. In thus hastening to the West Sargon tells us that he was urged on by intelligence that the whole of Southern Syria, including Judah, Edom, and Moab, as well as Philistia, was ripe for revolt, relying on ample promises of support from Pharaoh king of Egypt.

 

A ringleader in all this sedition was king Hezekiah of Judah, so we find as we switch momentarily to Sennacherib’s corresponding Third Campaign account to learn how Assyria dealt with the Egyptian factor:

 

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, the Jew (Iaudai), – he kept him in confinement like an enemy, – they (lit., their heart) became afraid and called upon the Egyptian kings, the bowmen, chariots and horse of the king of Meluh-ha (Ethiopia), a countless host, and these came to their aid. In the neighbourhood of the city of Altakû (Eltekeh), their ranks being drawn up before me, they offered battle. (Trusting) in the aid of Assur, my lord, I fought with them and brought about their defeat. The Egyptian charioteers and princes, together with the charioteers of the Ethiopian king, my hands took alive in the midst of the battle. ….

 

Boutflower now explains why he believes that the first expedition against Ashdod was led, not by Sargon in person, but by his Turtan. Sargon in that his tenth year, he says, refers to himself as being “in the land”; the phrase used in the chrononogical lists to denote that the king stayed at home in such and such a year, and did not lead his troops in person. Sargon was at the time quite occupied with the building of his new city of Dur Sharrukin:

 

The kings of Assyria, in the language they use in their inscriptions, seem to have been guided by the motto, “quod facit per alium facit per se”, and indications are not wanting that such was the case in the present instance, seeing that the record for the Annals for this tenth year of Sargon is unique. The earlier portion, as in the previous years, is devoted to the king’s warlike doings; but in line 196 an entirely fresh subject is introduced with the words, “At that time the treasures of the mountains of Khatte [i.e. Syria]” …. The king is telling us how he amassed treasures of various kinds from the conquered countries, and he ends the recital with the words, “countless treasure, which my fathers had not received, within Dur-Sargon my town I heaped up.” He is thus seen to be busy over his darling scheme, the decoration of the new palace at Dur-Sargon, which is here mentioned for the first time. It was with this object in view that Sargon remained “in the land” , i.e. at home, during the year 712, entrusting the first expedition to Ashdod to his Tartan, as stated in Isaiah 20:1.

 

Sennacherib Storms Lachish and the Other Forts of Judah

 

There may be no annalistic account specifically of the siege of Lachish, but there is abundant pictographic detail of it in Sennacherib’s Palace Without Rival at Nineveh. Sennacherib used the area as his base whilst in Judaea. Lachish was a much-prized target. “Recent excavations at Lachish”, Russell tells us, “show that Sennacherib concentrated immense resources and expended tremendous energy in its capture.” (op. cit., p. 256). But the formidable Assyrian army took more than Lachish, which – according to the prophet Micah – was only “the beginning of sin to daughter Zion” (Micah 1:13), referring specifically to Judah’s reliance on Egypt. For “… disaster has come down from the Lord to the gate of Jerusalem” (Micah 1:12). Sennacherib is more circumstantial (James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament, Princeton, 1969, p. 288.):

 

I laid waste the large district of Judah and made the overbearing and proud Hezekiah, its king, bow in submission. As for Hezekiah of Judah, 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 levelling with battering-rams and advancing the siege engines, by attacking and storming on foot, by mines, tunnels, and breaches, I besieged and captured. 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.

 

 

Isaiah’s Pantomime

 

Our merging of Sargon II’s and Sennacherib’s activities in Palestine enables for an explanation of a strange pantomime performed by Isaiah himself, imitating what will happen to the Egypto-Ethiopian allies upon whom Judah was then so dependent (Isaiah 20:1-5):

 

In the year that the Turtan, who was sent by king Sargon of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and took it – at that time the Lord had spoken to Isaiah son of Amoz, saying, ‘Go, and loose the sacklcloth from your loins, and take your sandals off your feet’, and he had done so … Then the Lord said, ‘Just as my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Ethiopia, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians as captives and the Ethiopians as exiles … naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt. And they shall be dismayed and confounded because of Ethiopia their hope and of Egypt their boast.

 

This time-span of “three years”, Jewish reckoning, is to be dated from the coming of the Turtan to Ashdod (as Isaiah makes clear) until Sennacherib’s defeat of the Egypto-Ethiopian forces at Eltekeh in his Third Campaign (Sargon’s Year 9-11). Thus were perfectly fulfilled the words of Isaiah. The Egyptians and Ethiopians on whom the Palestinians were depending for support were taken off into captivity, barefoot and naked. As we look at the Assyrian representation on the Gates of Balâwat of captives being led away after this fashion, the Isaianic oracle seems to live before our eyes.

Boutflower’s linking now of Sargon’s Ashdod campaign with his invasion of Syria would square with Sennacherib’s account of his Syro-Hittite assault before coming to Judaea:

 

…. it is not a little remarkable that in [Sargon’s] Annals, which are strictly chronological, this [Ashdod] campaign is recorded, not as the first, but as the second and closing event of the year, being preceded by the campaign against Gurgum. How is this apparent discrepancy to be reconciled? A glance at the map will show us the way out of the difficulty. The country of Gurgum lies a little to the north-west of Carchemish, and therefore only slightly off the track of an army advancing to the West. It would, then, be a likely move, so one thinks, for the Assyrian king to set matters right in Gurgum, and put down the rebellion which had broken out there, before advancing south to Ashdod. ….

 

Further in confirmation of this, he writes:

 

Now there are not wanting other indications that this was the course actually pursued by the Assyrian king. On the Grand Inscription of Khorsabad, lines 85,86, the march to Gurgum is described thus: “In the rage of my heart, riding in my war-chariot, with my cavalry, who do not retreat from the place whither I turn my hands. To Marqasa” – the capital of Gurgum, represented by the modern Marash – “I marched in haste.” Here it will be observed that the language used, except in one single instance, is word for word identical with that in which the king describes his hasty march to Ashdod in line 220 of the Annals given above.

 

Boutflower finds the whole account here highly dramatic and personal, leaving “no doubt upon the mind that both expeditions were undertaken by the king in person”. His reconstruction of events, in light of Isaiah, enables for an estimation of the duration of the the siege of Ashdod (Lachish):

 

We are now in a position to discuss the three years which were to elapse between the giving of the sign and its fulfilment …. The sign was enacted and the prophecy uttered probably at the time of the Tartan’s visit or shortly after, i.e, about midsummer 712 BC. Ashdod fell, as I imagine, some eighteen months later, in the winter of the following year. How can this interval be spoken of as three years? The answer lies, first, in the Jewish mode of reckoning time, according to which parts of years are spoken of as whole years; and secondly, in the arrangement of the Jewish civil and economic year. …. This economic or agrarian year commences on the first day of the month Tisri (September-October), which is still called in the Jewish calendar Rosh Hashanah “the Beginning of the Year”. On the supposition, then, that this civil year is the one referred to in this prophecy, it is plain that the interval which separated the giving of the sign and the prophecy which accompanied it from its fulfilment in the fall of Ashdod would, according to the Jewish mode of reckoning, be justly described as three years, seeing that it embraces one civil year – viz. from Tisri 712 BC to Tisri 711 BC – and parts of two others; for my contention, as stated above, is that the Tartan came to Ashdod before Tisri 712 and that Sargon captured the city after Tisri 711.

 

Sennacherib Exacts Tribute from Jerusalem

 

Naturally the Assyrian army also placed Jerusalem under siege as it went about diminishing Hezekiah’s kingdom (See also William Shea, ‘Jerusalem Under Siege’ in BAR, Vol. 25, Nov/Dec 1999, p. 36-44):

 

[Hezekiah], like a caged bird, I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city. Earthworks I threw up against him, – the one coming out of his city gate I turned back to his misery. 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-bêl, king of Gaza, I gave them. And (thus) I diminished his land. I added to the former tribute, and laid upon him (v., them) as their yearly payment, a tax (in the form of) gifts for my majesty.

 

As for Hezekiah, the terrifying splendor of my majesty overcame him, and the Urbi (Arabs) and his mercenary (?) 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, house chairs of ivory, elephant’s hide, ivory (lit., elephant’s “teeth”), maple (?), boxwood, all kinds of valuable (heavy) 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.

 

The Bible tells a similar sad tale and concurs that Hezekiah paid 30 talents of gold, after Sennacherib had taken all of his strong cities (2 Kings 18:14-16):

 

King Hezekiah of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, ‘I have done wrong; withdraw from me: whatever you impose on me I will bear’. The king of Assyria demanded of king Hezekiah of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the House of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house … [he] stripped the gold from the doors of the Temple of the Lord, and from the doorposts that king Hezekiah of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria.

 

That ends our account of Assyria’s crucial western campaign. We now return again to the east, where our Assyrian king has to tackle for the second time the wily king Merodach-baladan. Sargon II goes into great detail over this his Year 12 campaign, culminating with his own triumphal entry into Babylon. Sennacherib predictably gives a much shorter account of the campaign. He, too, refers to Elam as an ally of the Chaldean, and he also implies that he took control of Babylon, adding the detail that there he set his son upon the royal throne.

 

Sargon’s Year 12 Corresponds to Sennacherib’s Fourth Campaign

 

Year 12In my twelfth year of reign, (Merodach-baladan), … violated the oath and curse (invoked in the name of) the great gods, and withheld his tribute. …. Humbanigash, the Elamite, came to his aid. ….The might of Assur … and Marduk, which I had made to prevail against those cities …. Babylon, the city of the lords, I entered amidst rejoicing …. Fourth CampaignIn my fourth campaign …. Merodach-baladan, whose defeat I had brought about in the course of my first campaign, and whose forces I had shattered … his cities I destroyed, I devastated, I made like ruin heaps. Upon his ally, the king of Elam, I poured out terror.On my return I placed on [Babylon’s] royal throne, Assur-nâdin-shum, my oldest son, …. I made subject to him the wide land of Sumer and Akkad.

 

This is precisely where the Book of Judith opens, though in it Sargon II/Sennacherib is named “Nebuchadnezzar” (his name as ruler of Babylon), Merodach-baladan is given as “Arphaxad”, his people curiously as “Medes”, and his city of Babylon as “Ecbatana”. Thus Judith 1:1: “It was the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh. In those days Arphaxad ruled over the Medes in Ecbatana …”Etc.

 

Fifth Campaign

 

According to Russell (op. cit., pp. 165, 258): “The fifth campaign … which militarily was … relatively insignificant, may … be completely absent from [Sennacherib’s] reliefs … [it] is not

depicted in the throne-room suite, nor for that matter in any of the surviving palace reliefs…”.

It most likely corresponds with Sargon’s Year 13, about which Tadmor has noted (op. cit., p. 96): “The account of palû [Year] 13 in the Annals is not fully preserved. Due to its fragmentary state one cannot decide whether a part of the material assigned to this palû belongs in fact to 708 [Tadmor’s date for the following year]”.

 

Year 13Another detailed account. It focusses on Sargon’s destruction of the Chaldean strongholds previously ruled by Merodach-baladan, especially the capital, Dur-Iakin, and his defeat of the Elamites.[420] Here are the relevant portions:Dûr-Iakini, his stronghold, I burned with fire; its high defences I destroyed, I devastated; … I made it like a mound left by the flood.The people of Sippar, Nippur, Babylon, Borsippa, who were imprisoned therein through no fault of theirs, – I broke their bonds and caused them to behold the light (of day). ….I waged bitter warfare against the people of Elam . … people from Bît-Iakin [which my hands had conquered], I settled [ in Calah] …. Sixth CampaignThis has exactly the same elements as Sargon’s account, most notably the deportation to Assyria of the “people of (from) Bît-Iakin”. Even the same descriptive (violent) language is used for the destruction of the cities of Chaldea.The cities which were in those provinces I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire. To mounds and ruins I turned (them). On my return march Shuzubu, the Babylonian, who during an uprising in the land had turned to himself the rule of Sumer and Akkad …. I accomplished his defeat in a battle …. The king of Elam …. His forces I scattered and I shattered his host. … the people of Bît-Iakin … not a rebel (lit., sinner) escaped. I had them … on the way to Assyria.

 

Sargon’s Year 15 (?) Corresponds to Sennacherib’s Seventh Campaign

Luckenbill gives this, the last annalistic listing that we have for Sargon – though we know he reigned on longer – with a question mark: Year 15(?). So apparently the date is not absolutely established. It is not a long account. The text is broken, but the gist of it seems to be information about the demise of the king of Elam, ally of Ellipi. The Elamite, Shuturnahundu, Sennacherib calls Kudur-Nahundu. Whilst we may have here different phases of the same campaign, in each case the Elamite flees to mountain regions for safety. Sennacherib only refers to his death.

 

Year 15…. Shuturnahundu, the Elamite. [He lent his aid and came] to [the king of Ellipi’s] rescue. …. Seven of my officials, governors, I sent …. 4,500 Elamite bowmen, fled to save their lives and went up into the city of Marubishti. …. Him, together with his fighters they brought in bonds and fetters before me …. Over all [of Elam] … people of Ellipi, to the farthest border, I caused to dwell in habitations of peace, my royal yoke [I placed upon them], and they were subject to me. Seventh CampaignThe Elamite, Kudur-nahundu, heard of the overthrow of his cities, terror overwhelmed him, the (people of) the rest of his cities he brought into the strongholds. He himself left Madaktu, his royal city, and took his way to the city of Haidala, which is in the distant mountains. …. Kudur-Nahundu, the king of Elam, did not live three months longer … but died suddenly, before his appointed time. After him, Umman-menanu … his younger (?) brother, sat on his throne.

 

Sargon II’s regnal year accounts peter out at this stage. But a double-dated eponym text tells us that his sixteenth year as king of Assyria corresponded with his fourth year as king of Babylon.

 

For information covering the remainder of Sargon’s reign, we can now turn to Sennacherib’s records, supplemented by the Book of Judith.

Sennacherib goes on to record yet an Eighth Campaign against the new Elamite king, Umman-menanu. But this record is far more famous – rather, notorious – for its account of Sennacherib’s brutal destruction of Babylon – perhaps largely because its citizens had previously rejected the rule there of his eldest son.

 

Sargon’s Year 17 (in Judith) Corresponds to Sennacherib’s Eighth Campaign

 

Year 17In the seventeenth year [the Assyrian king] … came to Ecbatana [i.e. Babylon], captured its towers, plundered its markets, and turned its glory into disgrace.(Still Year 17)Then he returned to Nineveh, he and all his combined forces, a vast body of troops; and there he and his forces rested and feasted for one hundred and twenty days. Eighth CampaignI advanced swiftly against Babylon …. Like the on-coming of a storm I broke loose …. I completely invested that city, with mines and engines …. The plunder ….Sargon’s Dedication Feast… with the princes of (all) countries, the governors of my land … nobles, officials … of Assyria, I took up my abode in that palace and instituted a feast of music.

 

The king of Assyria by now had much about which to be self-congratulatory. The persistent Babylonian menace had finally been crushed. Tribute was flowing in from the whole world. Nineveh was the grand city that he had always wanted it to be. And now he could take up residence in the palace of his jewel city of Dur-Sharrukin.

 

The Book of Judith enables us to go a big step further.

 

Year 18

(Judith 2:1): In the eighteenth year, on the twenty-second day of the first month, there was talk in the Palace of [the] king of Assyrians about carrying out his revenge on the whole region, just as he had said. ….

 

Conclusion When we combine all of this together in a simple chart, we can ask:What are the chances of this happening by mere coincidence, in such perfect chronological sequence? 

Merodach-baladan (Sargon) Merodach-baladan (Sennacherib)

 

Ellipi, Medes and Tumunu (Sargon). Ellipi, Medes and Tumunu (Sennacherib).

 

Egypt-backed Judah/Philistia (Sargon). Egypt-backed Judah/Philistia (Sennacherib)

 

Merodach-baladan and Elam (Sargon). Merodach-baladan and Elam (Sennacherib).

 

(Not fully preserved) (Sargon). (Not fully preserved) (Sennacherib).

 

Babylon, Elam and Bit-Iakin (Sargon).Elam (Sargon). Babylon, Elam and Bit-Iakin (Sennacherib).Elam (Sennacherib).

 

 

 

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