Damien F. Mackey
“The cupbearer-in-chief (i.e. Rabshakeh) took up a position
near the conduit of the upper pool on the road to the Fuller’s Field”.
The following is taken from my postgraduate thesis (Volume 2, Ch. 1, pp. 5-8):
A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah
and its Background
Great would have been the alarm amongst the Judaeans when, eventually – and there may have been a reasonable lapse of time – a strong force made its appearance on the neighbouring hills, for a visible and unmistakable proof was then given that the Assyrian ‘Great King’ meant to have the fortress of Jerusalem. (2 Kings 18:17): “The king of Assyria sent the Turtan, the Rabsaris and the Rabshakeh with a great army from Lachish to king Hezekiah at Jerusalem”. (I have already, in Chapter 7, p. 186, proposed an identification of Sennacherib’s Rabshakeh with the famous Ahikar, or Achior).
My more recent articles on this biblical character are:
Ahikar Part One: As a Young Officer for Assyria
Ahikar Part Two: As a Convert to Yahwism
“Nadin went into everlasting darkness”
There are several reasons though for thinking that the army, even at this stage, did not come ll the way to Jerusalem, but stood some distance off – Sennacherib’s plan being to terrify the Jews into submission rather than having to undergo the inevitable long siege.
I refer to this combination of data:
- the description of the place of meeting between the Assyrian delegation and the Judaean officials (Eliakim now having taken leadership over Sobna, who had succumbed to the Assyrian pressure), combined with
- the geographical description of the Assyrian advance in Isaiah 10 (see next page), plus the fact that
III. the Judaean officials “went out” to meet the Assyrians.
Let me try to explain these points:
According to Isaiah 36:2: “The cupbearer-in-chief (i.e. Rabshakeh) took up a position near the conduit of the upper pool on the road to the Fuller’s Field”. Commentators usually presume that the Rabshakeh’s position was right outside the walls of Jerusalem, and that he had addressed Eliakim and his fellow Judaean officials within earshot of those on the ramparts of the capital city. After all, Sennacherib had sent his army to the king in Jerusalem (Isaiah 36:2).
The geographical experts, as well, generally seem to accept this view; although none of them has, to my knowledge, succeeded in pinpointing this rather precisely named spot in a way that inspires complete confidence.
There are reasons I think to suspect that the Upper Pool was not right at Jerusalem at all,
but was some distance off from the city.
The very fact that the Judaean delegation “went out” (Isaiah 36:3), to the Assyrians, to meet the Rabshakeh, might indicate that Hezekiah’s embassy went some distance from Jerusalem, to a strategic position guarding the capital city. That the Rabshakeh marched from Lachish towards Jerusalem, but did not come all the way, might also be implied by a clever passage in Isaiah (10:27-32) that describes the onrushing Assyrian cavalry force, moving with incredible speed to within close range of Jerusalem – and that I am going to suggest just might describe the Rabshakeh’s march:
He advances from the district of Rimmon, he reaches Aiath,
he passes through Migron, he leaves his baggage train at Michmash.
They file through the defile, they bivouac at Geba.
Ramah quakes, Gibeah of Saul takes flight.
Bath-gallim, cry aloud! Laisah, hear her!
Anathoth, answer her!
Madmenah is running away, the inhabitants of Gebim are fleeing.
This very day he will halt at Nob. He will shake his fist against the mount of the
daughter of Zion, against the hill of Jerusalem.
Now Boutflower thought that this fearsome charge might pertain to Sargon II’s army, as it was certainly a characteristic tactic of his. What would seem most likely, at least, was that this passage pertains to an Assyrian action (and not e.g. to a Syro-Ephraimitic one), given that these verses are located in Isaiah after a speech about the Assyrians (10:5-27). Though, in my context, it needs to be explained how a Rabshakeh, departing from Lachish to the south-west of Jerusalem, would all of a sudden be approaching the capital city from the north. An important consideration of strategy may come in here. It is an interesting fact that, though Sennacherib’s army was commanded by three officials, it is only the Rabshakeh of whom we hear as being present before the Judaean officials, and it is only the Rabshakeh who then returns to tell Sennacherib of the outcome (Isaiah 37:8). The clue to the precise Assyrian strategy and progress may well lie in the reversion in Isaiah 10 from the plural (v. 29), “they file through” and, “they bivouac” [i.e. the masculine plural form of the verb], to the singular (v. 32), “he will shake his fist”.
The Rabshakeh, after having left Lachish where Sennacherib had established himself, may have firstly had to connect with the main body of the Assyrian army – which was steadily dismantling the forts of Judah – before coming in person to parley with Hezekiah’s officials at ‘Nob’ – so far not unequivocally identified, but apparently in sight of Jerusalem. If so, then this location must coincide with the “conduit of the upper pool … Fuller’s Field”. Certainly the verse, “he will shake his fist against the mount of the daughter of Zion”, is an appropriate description of the Rabshakeh’s contemptuous words against Jerusalem and its king (e.g. Isaiah 36).
So where was this precise location?
Boutflower who, keeping open his geographical options, was not sure if the Upper Pool were “north, west or south of the Sacred City”, imagined that it must have been at least “very close to the walls”. He refers here to Josephus’ testimony that north of the city, in the same quarter as the “camp of the Assyrians”, there “stood a monument called ‘the Monument of the Fuller’.” According to Burrows, it was probably to the south of the city, near the Gihon Spring.
I think however that one can be somewhat more specific than any of this, and can perhaps tie up, all together, (a) the Upper Pool location, (b) the Fuller’s Field, and (c) the ‘Nob’ of Isaiah.
A Clue from 2 Samuel
‘Nob’ is usually thought to be either Mt. Scopus, or the Mount of Olives. I am going to suggest the latter, following Macduff, who went even further to equate ‘Nob’ with the New Testament’s Bethphage:
Bethphage is literally “the house of unripe or early figs”. Dr. Barclay identifies it with the ruins of a village on the southern crest of “the Mount of Offence”, above the village of Siloam. He describes it as “a tongue-shaped promontory or spur of Olivet, distant rather more than a mile from the city, situated between two deep valleys, on which there are tanks, foundations, and other indubitable evidences of the former existence of a village”. … – City of the Great King, 67.
…. the direction, indeed the spot, is visible from the Hosanna road; and I have no hesitation in expressing accordance with the above reliable authorities. …. In his account of the travels of the Roman lady Paula [Jerome] mentions that she had visited [Bethphage]. They describe it as a Village of the Priests, possibly from “Bethphage” signifying in Syriac “The House of the Jaw;” and the jaw in the sacrifices being the portion of the priests.
‘Nob’ of the Old Testament was most certainly, likewise, a ‘village of the priests’ (cf. 1 Samuel 22:11, 19).
The Fuller’s Spring
During Absalom’s revolt, more than two centuries before Hezekiah, king David had been forced to abandon Jerusalem, which he fled via the Mount of Olives. Beyond the summit of Olivet was a place called Bahurim (cf. 2 Samuel 15:30; 16:1, 5).
[For thesis map locating Bahurim, see Map 1 on p. 8].
Now Jonathan and Ahi-maaz, acting as spies for David, “were stationed at the Fuller’s Spring”, which was apparently on the road close to Bahurim (cf. 17:17, 18).
Thus we seem to have our location: a spring or pool (conduit); with the name ‘Fuller’, apparently on a main road. All about a mile or so from Jerusalem.
That would appear to be our perfect location for the Rabshakeh’s address.