Damien F. Mackey
This historical revision builds upon my recent two-part article on Ahikar (or Achior):
‘See, my son, what Nadin did to Ahikar who had reared him. Was he not, while still alive, brought down into the earth? For God repaid him to his face for this shameful treatment. Ahikar came out into the light, but Nadin went into the eternal darkness, because he tried to kill Ahikar. Because he gave alms, Ahikar escaped the fatal trap that Nadin had set for him, but Nadin fell into it himself, and was destroyed’. (Tobit 14:10)
To what significant incident in the life of Ahikar, if real, was the aged Tobit referring here? The last time that Ahikar and Nadin (var. Nadan/Nadab) had been mentioned together in the Book of Tobit it was on the very happy occasion of the wedding of young Tobias (11:17-18): “It was a day of great joy for all the Jews of Nineveh. Tobit’s nephews Ahikar and Nadin came by to share Tobit’s happiness with him”.
Confusingly, in the Greek Septuagint version of the Book of Tobit as we now have it, the name Nadin has been replaced (no doubt quite anachronistically) with ‘Aman, the name given in Greek to Haman, the arch-enemy of the Jews in the Book of Esther. One can understand how the confusion may have arisen, given that Haman would also later, just like Nadin, have the tables dramatically turned on him, so that it could be said just as truly of Haman, that: [Mordecai] escaped the fatal trap that Haman had set for him, but Haman fell into it himself, and was destroyed’.
But this incident could have had nothing to do with the historically-much-earlier Tobit one. The incident to which Tobit was referring, in relation to Ahikar, could only have been, as will be argued here, the main incident at the culmination of the Book of Judith drama, the classic bouleversement (like in the Book of Esther) whereby the Commander-in-Chief of the Assyrian army, “Holofernes”, falls into the very trap that he had set for Achior (var. Ahikar) at Bethulia, Judith’s town. Logically, then, Nadin himself must have been that very same Commander-in-Chief: hence, Nadin is the historically elusive “Holofernes”.
The Douay and Greek versions of the Book of Judith are unanimous in saying that the Great King of Nineveh made war against the Chaldean foe in his Year 12. They diverge in assigning the destruction of the latter’s city to, respectively, Year 12 and Year 17. This may be explained to some degree by the fact that Sargon II/Sennacherib twice conquered Babylon. The destruction of Babylon in Year 17, though, accords well with a sequence that takes us as far as Sennacherib’s Seventh Campaign. For, in his Eighth Campaign, against the Elamite king, Umman-menanu, the Assyrian king ravaged the southern capital.
|Eighth Campaign I 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 ….||Year 17 (Judith 1:13,14) In the seventeenth year [the Assyrian king] … came to Ecbatana [i.e. Babylon], captured its towers, plundered its markets, and turned its glory into disgrace|
Then, still in Year 17 according to Judith, “… he returned to Nineveh, he and all his combined forces … and there he and his forces rested and feasted for one hundred and twenty days” (v.16).
Sennacherib by now had much about which to be self-congratulatory.
His Eighth Campaign, though, is about as far as the Great King’s war records take us. And we could be left feeling very empty. Where is the account of that most notorious of all wars of his, the one against the west all the way to Egypt/Ethiopia – as recorded by Herodotus in The Histories, and in the Scriptures and the pseudepigrapha (Judith, Tobit and 2 Maccabees) – when Sennacherib’s army of almost 200,000 was humiliated?
So catastrophic a defeat for Assyria cannot by any means be accommodated during Sennacherib’s Third Campaign, against the west, which was, as we have read in the previous articles, a stunning success for Assyria. Historians (see e.g. J. Bright’s A History of Israel, 296f., Excursus I: “The Problem of Sennacherib’s Campaigns in Palestine”) have agonized over this:
Was there a further western campaign after king Hezekiah of Judah
had initially been brought into submission?
And, I must add, what about the showdown between the Simeonite heroine Judith and the Commander-in Chief for Assyria, called “Holofernes” in the Book of Judith, who completely lost his head over this Jewish beauty?
By contrast to this seeming silence, the impressive Greek version of Judith, in particular, records a massive military campaign – ultimately disastrous – first envisaged by the Assyrian Great King in his Year 18, and to be led by a commander of enormous prestige (Judith 2:1, 4):
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.
When he had completed his plan, Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, called Holofernes, the chief general of his army, second only to himself ….
The Commander-in-Chief duly raised an army of 120,000 picked troops by divisions, together with 12,000 archers on horseback, plus immense numbers of animals for baggage and food, ample rations and a huge amount of gold and silver from the royal palace (vv.14-18). This number is not incredible. An earlier Assyrian king Shalmaneser III deployed the same sized army against the Syrians at Qarqar. (See e.g. G. Roux’s Ancient Iraq, p. 348). Sheer revenge is given as being the Great King’s motivation for this campaign (probably series of campaigns), especially against the west, because the nations from Cilicia as far as the borders of Ethiopia had refused to support him upon his request during his Year 12 war against the Chaldeo-Aramaean coalition (1:7-12).We read (v. 11):“… they were not afraid of him, but regarded him as only one man. So they sent back his messengers empty-handed and in disgrace”.
A desire to conquer wealthy Egypt was probably also a major motivational factor for Sennacherib.
The Commander-in-Chief went forth with his huge army, and by the time that he had brought the west into quaking submission, and had come “toward Esdraelon, near Dothan, facing the great ridge of Judaea” (3:9), his fighting forces had swollen to “one hundred seventy thousand infantry and twelve thousand cavalry, not counting the baggage and the foot soldiers handling it, a very great multitude” (7:2). This overall total (182,000 plus) equates most suitably to the 185,000 men of Sennacherib’s famously defeated army. It was down upon such an immense host, encamped before Dothan, that there gazed in awe the northern Israelites, including Judith, a 16th generation Simeonitess, and her townspeople of Bethulia (modern Mithilia/Mesilieh).
The Israelites gasped: “They will now strip clean the whole land; neither the high mountains nor the valleys nor the hills will bear their weight” (7:4).
Nonetheless, urged on by their high priest in Jerusalem, Joakim (var. Eliakim), they had resolved to resist (Judith 4) and live with the consequences.
Who was Assyria’s Ill-Fated ‘Commander-in-Chief’?
In early articles, such as “The Assyrian Turtan”, I had put forward the view that “Holofernes” was Sennacherib’s general, or turtanu. Then I had, in my thesis – as explained in the Ahikar articles – elevated him above Turtan, to Crown Prince, as the very son of Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, multi-identifying (as is my wont) the latter with, for example, Sennacherib’s eldest son, Ashur-nadin-shumi and with the Nadin (Nadab/Nadan) of the Book of Tobit. Though I have clung to this view for a long time, I had more recently, in the Ahikar series, dropped the notion that Esarhaddon could possibly have been “Holofernes”, whilst retaining my identification of the latter, still, with (i) the crown Prince, Ashur-nadin-shumi, and with (ii) Nadin, the nephew of Ahikar.
Actually, there had always been a problem with any identifying of “Holofernes” with the biblical “Turtan” of Isaiah 20:1: “In the year that the Turtan, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it”, since that particular Turtan would presumably have been – by the time of the Judith incident, about a decade after the Ashdod campaign – well familiar with the various nations of the west. Hence he would unlikely have needed to have asked the locals, as did “Holofernes” (Judith 5:3): ‘Tell me, you Canaanites, what people is this that lives in the hill country?’ Sennacherib, according to Roux (op. cit., p. 345. See also L. Oppenheim, “Letters from Mesopotamia”, ABL 870, p. 159), was known to have employed both “a turtânu ‘of the right’ and a turtânu ‘of the left'”.
Which one, if either, was the mighty “Holofernes”, I had then asked?
The answer is, neither. “Holofernes” was apparently higher ranking than Assyrian Turtan. The Book of Judith is quite specific: “Holofernes” was “second only to [the king] himself …”. He commanded an army of epic proportions, cleaning up the west, and preparing the way for the king himself (just as was the pattern in regard to Sennacherib’s Third Campaign, when he, as Sargon II, had been preceded by his Turtan).
But the Commander-in-Chief for Assyria was eventually stopped dead in his tracks by some mountain folk in Samaria, before he could penetrate as far as Jerusalem.
History apparently knows of no such Commander-in-Chief for Assyria. At a later time, presumably in 352 BC (conventional dating) during the reign of Artaxerxes III ‘Ochus’, it is said, a Cappadocian prince named “Holofernes” fought against the Egyptians. (Thus Diodorus Siculus xvii, 6, 1, as referred to in Encyclopedia Judaïca). Aspects of the story regarding the Commander-in-Chiefin the Book of Judith do seem to have certain likenesses, too, to Xerxes’ commander, Mardonius (Emmet Sweeney has drawn some wonderful comparisons between Sennacherib and Xerxes in ch. 5 of his book, The Ramessides, Medes and Persians: http://books.google.com.au/books?id=Cs4rgC8Gnq8C&pg=PA130&lpg=PA130&dq=emmet)- even the search for Mardonius’s dead body on the battlefield, Herodotus, op. cit., Bk 9, pp. 602, 610, is reminiscent of Sennacherib’s enquiries about his dead son, see below). There are also, in Greek mythology, some apparent stunning likenesses between the beautiful Helen and Judith (Cf. e.g., Judith 10:6-9 and Helen at the gates of Troy, praised by Priam and the elders for her beauty).
Judith herself, in her definition of the precise relationship between the Great King of Assyria and his Commander-in-Chief, makes it perfectly clear that, whilst the latter now had full charge of military affairs, it was nonetheless the ageing king who still cracked the whip. Thus she said to “Holofernes” (11:7):
‘By the life of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the whole earth, and by the power of him who has sent you to direct every living being! Not only do human beings serve him because of you, but also the animals of the field and the cattle and the birds of the air will live, because of your power, under Nebuchadnezzar and all his house’.
Judith will immediately play on the young Commander’s own military reputation during her first encounter with him (11:8): ‘… it is reported throughout the whole world that you alone are the best in the whole kingdom, the most informed and the most astounding in military strategy’.
We could estimate that Ashur-nadin-shumi was, like his younger brother, Esarhaddon, ever loyal to his father, Sennacherib, and was thus especially vengeful against insolent kings – presumably those who had, according to the Judith narrative, originally sent back the Assyrian messengers “empty-handed and in disgrace”. Good examples of kings who stubbornly resisted Assyria during this phase of neo-Assyrian history were Abdi-Milkuti, King of Sidon, whom Esarhaddon would capture and behead, Baal of Tyre and his colleague, Tirhakah of Ethiopia. The ‘lucky’ ones who survived would probably have ropes (as “reins”) passed through their lips as these were being held by their conqueror. But the Crown Prince Ashur-nadin-shumi’s, and his father’s, enemies – at least those who would survive their vengeful regime – would have the last laugh. In a short space of time, Assyria would lose to violence its Commander-in-Chief, a massive part of the once-powerful Assyrian army, and – not terribly long afterwards – the Great King himself, assassinated by two other of his sons.
The Climax of the Book of Judith
We can now set the record straight once and for all. The all-conquering Assyrian army of 185,000 was not ‘nibbled to death’, or ‘infected’, by mice (Herodotus), nor was it space-blasted (Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky’s Worlds in Collision). Its rout and defeat were set in train by the pious woman Judith, as she herself testified (16:5-6):
‘But the Lord Almighty has foiled them by the hand of a woman. For their mighty one [Commander-in-Chief] did not fall by the hands of the young men, nor did the sons of Titans strike them down, nor did tall giants set upon him; but Judith daughter of Merari with the beauty of her countenance undid him’.
In my thesis (slightly modified below), I wrote about the demise of “Holofernes” as recorded in various sources (Volume 2, pp. 75-80: http://ses.library.usyd.edu.au/handle/2123/5973):
The Downfall of “Holofernes”
The demise of Holofernes, in his various guises, is referred to I believe in a number of
sources, some of which I shall give here.
1. In [Judith] (as Holofernes)
With Bagoas and the slaves having withdrawn as the party wore on, Judith had her perfect chance. After a prayer for strength (13:4-5), she moved into action (vv. 6-10):
She went up to the bedpost near Holofernes’ head, and took down his sword that hung there. She came close to his bed, took hold of the hair of his head, and said, ‘Give me strength today, O Lord God of Israel!’ Then she struck his neck twice with all her might, and cut off his head.
Next she rolled the body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts.
Soon afterward she went out and gave Holofernes’ head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag.
Then she and her maid went out together as the Assyrians were accustomed to seeing them do, for prayer. But then: “They passed through the camp, circled around the valley, and went up the mountain to Bethulia, and came to its gates” (v. 10). When the Bethulians heard Judith’s voice, proclaiming her God’s victory, they rushed to open the gate. They subsequently lit a fire to give light and gathered around Judith, who, still praising God, pulled the head of Holofernes out of the bag, whilst swearing before them that ‘he committed no sin with me to defile and shame me’ (vv. 12-16). Dinah, Simeon’s virginal ‘sister’, had at last been ‘revenged’, and even not all that far from Shechem.
After the people had sung Judith’s praises (v. 17), Uzziah said to her (vv. 18-20):
‘O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all other women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has guided you to cut off the head of the leader of our enemies. Your praise will never depart from the hearts of those who remember the power of God. May God grant this to be a perpetual honour to you, and may he reward you with blessings, because you risked your own life when our nation was brought low, and you averted our ruin, walking in the straight path before our God’.
2. In the Assyrian Records (as “the king”)
My reconstruction of neo-Assyrian history has enabled thus far for an identification of “Holofernes” of the Book of Judith with Ashur-nadin-shumi, as second only to the Assyrian king (as indeed he once was) during a most climactic period of history, who died violently at the hands of Judith during an invasion of Israel.
“All well and good as far as it goes”, I previously wrote. “But to be fully satisfying we need some evidence of the [Commander-in-Chief’s] shameful demise”. The following is what I then came up with:
This [evidence] is to be found, I believe, most surprisingly in the Assyrian records themselves, in the Eponym Chronicle … giving the lie to any naïve view that the Assyrians did not record defeats. Tadmor gives the crucial text as if belonging to Sargon’s Year 17 (705 BC), presuming this to have been the year that Sargon actually died …:
“The king [against Tabal ….] against Ešpai the Kulummaean. [……] The king was killed. The camp of the king of Assyria [was taken ……]. On the 12th of Abu, Sennacherib, son [of Sargon, took his seat on the throne]”.
There is no information from any other source on the last war of Sargon [sic], nor any plausible identification of the Kulummaeans.
We now know that a succession of Sargon to Sennacherib, as proposed in the above quote, is impossible. The un-named “king” referred to in this quote should in fact be identified as [Esarhaddon, as I had then thought] that is the “Holofernes” of the Book of Judith who “was killed [with the result that] … The camp of the king of Assyria [was taken ……]”. Cf. Judith 13:8, and 15:6-7: “… the people of Bethulia fell upon the Assyrian camp and plundered it, acquiring great riches. And the Israelites, when they returned from the slaughter, took possession of what remained”.
The ageing Sennacherib by no means at this point – as is suggested by the above quote – “took his seat on the throne” (though perhaps he may personally now have taken over the duties of his dead son).
Rather, he had to undertake a far less pleasant task.
Tadmor tells what this task was, though wrongly supposing that it was Sargon’s demise that was the matter that Sennacherib had to investigate …:
The death of a king on a battlefield, killed in action, is as yet unparalleled in the history of Mesopotamia. Sennacherib had to investigate closely into the hidden reasons of his father’s [sic] death in order to find out what were the sins (hîtâti) of Sargon [sic].
What was an added shame for Assyria – pointing to the sins of the slain [King of Assyria] – was that this [Assyrian king] (this Viceroy) was not buried in “his house”. According to Tadmor …: “This may mean that either his corpse was cremated at the battlefield or that it was not recovered from the enemy”. The Book of Judith is definitive on this. The Viceroy’s head was actually carried away from his lifeless corpse by the triumphant Judith and her maid back to Bethulia, where – upon Judith’s instructions – it was hung upon the parapet of the city wall (cf. Judith 13:9-10, 15, and 14:11); the purpose being to strike fear into the hearts of the Assyrian soldiers and cause them to flee.
3. In Isaiah 14 (as the “Day Star”)
Not only is [Esarhaddon, as I had previously thought] referred to in Isaiah’s taunt song, as conqueror of Egypt’s Delta region (Isaiah 37:25), he is also, I believe, the subject of Isaiah’s “literary masterpiece” … the Oracle about the fall of the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14). In regard to this poem’s historical basis, Boutflower is helpful when favourably recalling Sir Edward Strachey’s “belief that the king of Babylon, against whom the “parable” of Isa. xiv was hurled, was a king of Assyria” … a king of Assyria, that is, who ruled over Babylon.
Whilst Boutflower was convinced that this was Tiglath-pileser III, it is my opinion – based on the reference in the poem to the violent death of this king on campaign, apparently in Israel, “in My land” … that he must have been [Esarhaddon]. Others have not been able to unravel so skillfully as did Strachey the intertwining of Babylon and Assyria in this Oracle. Thus Moriarty …. “Some think this oracle … of ch. 14, was originally applied to Assyria and only later referred to Babylon”.
Strachey’s view is, I believe, the correct one.
The subject of the poem was ‘a king of Babylon and a king of Assyria’: namely [Esarhaddon]. And Isaiah has enshrined [Esarhaddon’s] fall in poetry. Consider, for instance, [Esarhaddon’s] likening of himself to “the sun”,1340 with Isaiah’s addressing this king as: “O Day Star, son of Dawn!” (14:12). And Isaiah’s mocking, ‘‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble?” (v. 16), with e.g. [Esarhaddon’s] reference to king Shupria, whose “heart was “seized” [and] his lips trembled …”. …. [Esarhaddon] was truly a king who, as Isaiah had said in his Oracle, had “laid the nations low” (v. 12), and who “shook kingdoms, made the world like a desert and overthrew its cities, and would not let his prisoners go home” (vv. 16-17).
Finally, compare the king of Isaiah 14’s self-deifying boast: ‘I will ascend to heaven; I
will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the heights of Zaphon; I will ascend to the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High’ (vv. 13-14), with Esarhaddon’s own god-like statement: “I am powerful, I am all powerful, I am a hero, I am gigantic, I am colossal, I am honored, I am magnified, I am without an equal among all kings …”. ….Considerable ego-mania on display here. This might indicate that these verses of Isaiah are no mere poetic exaggeration, but poetically pertain to the boasts of a real king. And they could also answer criticisms of [Book of Judith] 3:8, that the Assyrian kings were not inclined to self-deification.
One might imagine the Bethulians, staring at the lifeless head of Holofernes as it was lifted from Judith’s food bag – or when it was later hanging on the parapet of the city’s
wall (14:1, 11), “those who see you will stare at you” (Isaiah 14:16) – and asking themselves, in Isaian terms: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms … who … who …?’.
We gather from Isaiah’s poem that all of the king’s glory came to an end in a moment,
like the fall of a star from heaven. Moreover, the end was to come on the field of battle
(vv. 12-20). A few verses later, Isaiah will nominate this ill-fated invader as an “Assyrian”, who will die on the mountains of Israel (vv. 24, 25):
The Lord of hosts has sworn:
… I will break the Assyrian in my land.
and on my mountains trample
him under foot.
Thus the Assyrian, who was king of Babylon, would die a wretched death on the mountains of Israel, and would not be royally buried in his homeland – as are other kings – but would be trampled contemptuously under foot.
Such was the fate of “Holofernes’.
Sennacherib’s Fury and Death
According to Tobit – who identified as a metaphysical cause for the defeat and flight of the Assyrian army, not the Commander-in-Chief’s sins but Sennacherib’s own sin, of blasphemy – Sennacherib in his fury took revenge upon the Israelite people in Assyria, including eventually Tobit himself (1:18-20). Tobit finally had to flee for his life, but “not forty days passed before two of Sennacherib’s sons killed him”.
Encyclopaedia Judaïca’s article, “Judith”, shows that this drama to end all dramas has consistently, down through the centuries, been represented in art, literature and music. The Greeks, especially, absorbed the story of Judith and Holofernes into their own folklore. In the Lindian Chronicle it is narrated that when Darius, King of Persia, tried to conquer the Island of Hellas, the people gathered in the stronghold of Lindus to withstand the attack. The citizens of the besieged city asked their leaders to surrender because of the hardships and sufferings brought by the water shortage (cf. Judith 7:20-28). The Goddess Athena [read Judith] advised one of the leaders [read Uzziah] to continue to resist the attack; meanwhile she interceded with her father Jupiter [read the God of Israel] on their behalf (cf. Judith 8:9-9:14). Thereupon, the citizens asked for a truce of five days, after which, if no help arrived, they would surrender (cf. Judith 7:30-31). On the second day of the truce a heavy shower fell on the city so the people could have sufficient water. Datis [read Holofernes], the admiral of the Persian fleet [read Commander-in-chief of the Assyrian army], having witnessed the particular intervention of the Goddess to protect the city, lifted the siege.
Having an “Achior” in the Vulgate version of the Book of Tobit, and in the Book of Judith, assigned to die, by “Nadin” (Tobit), by “Holofernes” (Judith), but later saved, with the opponent dying instead, strengthens my historical location of the Book of Judith in the neo-Assyrian era – it has nothing to do with the Maccabean period – and tells me that the mysterious “Nadin” (Ashur-nadin-shumi) was the same person as the equally mysterious “Holofernes”.