Book of Tobit and the Neo-Assyrian Kings



Damien F. Mackey


Biblical scholars, such as Edwin Thiele, can be so committed to the supposedly unassailable accuracy of neo-Assyrian chronology that they are prepared to sacrifice multiple biblical synchronisms in order to ‘rectify’ the biblical chronology.

 Here, instead, far from my passive acceptance of the received neo-Assyrian chronology, I shall be questioning the very number and succession of the neo-Assyrian kings.



The extent of the neo-Assyrian succession that will occupy my attention in this article will be limited to that embraced by the Book of Tobit, i.e., from “Shalmaneser” to “Esarhaddon”. Whilst the standard textbook arrangement of neo-Assyrian monarchs runs something like this (my reason for including Tiglath-pileser III will become clear from Table 2):

Table 1

Tiglath-Pileser III 745–727 BC son of Ashur-nirari (V)
Shalmaneser V 727–722 BC son of Tiglath-Pileser (III)
Sargon II 722–705 BC
Sennacherib 705–681 BC
Esarhaddon 681–669 BC

my revision would truncate this by reducing these conventionally five kings to a mere three, as according to the succession given in the Book of Tobit, whose accuracy I accept. Hence:

Table 2

Shalmaneser V 727–722 BC son of Tiglath-Pileser (III)
Sennacherib 705–681 BC
Esarhaddon 681–669 BC

The relevant parts of Tobit, all occurring in chapter 1, are verses 10, 12-13, 15, 21 (GNT):

Later, I was taken captive and deported to Assyria, and that is how I came to live in Nineveh.

…. Since I took seriously the commands of the Most High God, he made Emperor Shalmaneser respect me, and I was placed in charge of purchasing all the emperor’s supplies.

…. When Shalmaneser died, his son Sennacherib succeeded him as emperor.

…. two of Sennacherib’s sons assassinated him and then escaped to the mountains of Ararat. Another son, Esarhaddon, became emperor and put Ahikar, my brother Anael’s son, in charge of all the financial affairs of the empire. ….

The royal succession is here clearly given. “Shalmaneser”, who deported Tobit’s tribe of Naphtali (see Tobit 1:1), was succeeded at death by “his son Sennacherib”, who was, in turn, upon his assassination, succeeded by his “son, Esarhaddon”.

No room here for a Sargon II.

And Tobit’s “Shalmaneser” appears to have replaced Tiglath-pileser III as the Assyrian king who is said in 2 Kings 15:29 to have deported to Assyria the tribe of Naphtali: “… Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maakah, Janoah, Kedesh and Hazor. He took Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria”.

Is the Book of Tobit therefore contradicting the Second Book of Kings?

Objections to Tobit


It is common for scholars to point to what they consider to be the historical inaccuracies of those books generally described as “Apocryphal”.

To give some examples ( “Professor William Green of Princeton wrote: “The books of Tobit and Judith abound in geographical, chronological, and historical mistakes” (1899, 195). A critical study of the Apocrypha’s contents clearly reveals that it could not be the product of the Spirit of God”.

And ( “The books of Tobit and Judith contain some serious historical inaccuracies …”.

And – but more sympathetically (

The book of Tobit has occasionally been identified as being in the literary form of religious novel (much like Esther or Judith). Although it has sometimes been considered to be partially fictional (in the same way that Jesus’ proverbs are), Tobit was taken to be historical by Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Athanasius, Cyprian, Ephrem, Ambrose, Augustine, and Aquinas. Despite its solid historical pedigree, however, Tobit is often attacked for its historical errors (much like other biblical books are attacked by skeptics today). Further, Tobit’s manuscript history is messy. These alleged historical errors seem to have been caused by (and can be explained by) Tobit’s multiple manuscript versions and scribal inconsistency.

[End of quotes]

The common historical objections to the accuracy of Tobit are those already referred to, pertaining to both Tiglath-pileser III and Sargon II. Thus, for example, we read at (

  1. Objection: It was Theglathphalasar [Tiglath-pileser] III who led Nephthali (IV Kings, xv, 29) into captivity (734 B.C.). But Tobit wrongly says that it was (i, 2), Salmanasar [Shalmaneser]. ….
  2. Objection: Tobit wrongly states that Sennacherib was the son of Salmanasar (i, 19) whereas he was in verified history the son of Sargon.

These cease to be problems, however, if – as I have argued in a thesis and in various articles – Tiglath-pileser III was the same as Tobit’s “Shalmaneser” [= history’s Shalmaneser V], and Sargon II was the same as Tobit’s “Sennacherib” [= history’s Sennacherib].

Might not the Book of Tobit have the last laugh on its critics?

Revised Neo-Assyrian Succession

Whether or not my truncation of five neo-Assyrian kings to become three is valid, there are certainly some strong points in favour of such a reduction.

Tiglath-pileser III/Shalmaneser


That Shalmaneser (so-called V) may be in need of a more powerful historical alter ego seems to me to be apparent from the fact that certain considerable deeds have been attributed to so virtually unknown and insignificant a king. According, for instance, to 2 Kings 17:3-5:

Shalmaneser the king of Assyria came up against him, and Hoshea [king of Israel] became his vassal and paid tribute to him.  But the king of Assyria found treachery in Hoshea, for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and he did not offer tribute to the king of Assyria as he had year after year; so the king of Assyria arrested him, and confined him in a house of imprisonment. So the king of Assyria went up in all the land, then he went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years.

Despite this, Shalmaneser qua Shalmaneser has left hardly a trace. According to one source, “there is no known relief depiction of Shalmaneser V” ( Be that as it may, there is so little evidence for him, anyway, that I was led to the conclusion, in my university thesis:

A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah

and its Background



that Shalmaneser must have been the same ruler as Tiglath-pileser III (Volume One, p. 147):

Unfortunately, very little is known of the reign of this ‘Shalmaneser’ [V] to supplement

[the Book of Tobit]. According to Roux, for instance: … “The short reign of … Shalmaneser V (726-722 B.C.) is obscure”. And Boutflower has written similarly: …. “The reign of Shalmaneser V (727-722) is a blank in the Assyrian records”. It seems rather strange, though, that a king who was powerful enough to have enforced a three year siege of Israel’s capital of Samaria (probably the Sha-ma-ra-in of the Babylonian Chronicle), resulting in the successful sack of that city, and to have invaded all Phoenicia and even to have besieged the mighty Tyre for five years … and to have earned a hateful reputation amongst the Sargonids, should end up “a blank” and “obscure” in the Assyrian records.

The name Tiglath-pileser was a throne name, as Sargon appears to have been – that is, a

name given to (or taken by) the king on his accession to the throne. In Assyrian cuneiform, his name is Tukulti-apil-ešarra, meaning: “My confidence is the son of Esharra”. This being a throne name would make it likely that the king also had a personal name – just as I have argued … that Sargon II had the personal name of Sennacherib.

The personal name of Tiglath-pileser III I believe to have been Shalmaneser.


And on p. 148 I continued:

Boutflower had surmised, on the basis of a flimsy record, that Tiglath-pileser III had died in battle and had been succeeded by Shalmaneser: …. “That Tiglathpileser died in battle is rendered probable by the entry in the Assyrian Chronicle for the year 727 B.C. ….: “Against the city of …. Shalmaneser seated himself on the throne”.” Tiglath-pileser is not even mentioned.

[End of quotes]

But the following may constitute the real crunch.

On pp. 371-372 of my university thesis I discussed the following fascinating piece of research by S. Irvine, who, however, may not – due to his being bound to a conventional outlook – fully appreciated just what he had uncovered (Isaiah, Ahaz, and the Syro-Ephraimitic Crisis, Society of Biblical Literature, Dissertation Series No. 123, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1990):

According to my revised neo-Assyrian chronology (as argued in detail in Chapter 6), Tiglath-pileser III himself was heavily involved in the last days of the kingdom of Israel. And indeed Irvine has discussed the surrender of Hoshea to Assyria, interestingly, and quite significantly, to Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria, in connection with what he refers to as “ND4301 and ND4305 … adjoining fragments of a summary inscription found during the 1955 excavations at Nimrud and subsequently published by D. J. Wiseman”….. Here is Irvine’s relevant section of this: ….

Line 11 reports that Hoshea … submitted personally to Tiglathpileser. Where and when this occurred is not altogether clear, for the Akkadian text is critically uncertain at this point. Wiseman reads, ka-ra-ba-ni a-di mah_-ri-ia, and translates, “pleading to my presence”. This rendering leaves open the date and place of Hoshea’s submission. More recently, R. Borger and H. Tadmor restored the name of the southern Babylonian town, Sarrabanu, at the beginning of the line …. On linguistic grounds this reading is preferable to “pleading” (karabani). It appears then that Hoshea paid formal homage to Tiglathpileser in Sarrabanu, where the Assyrian king was campaigning during his fourteenth year, Nisan 731 – Nisan 730. The event thus occurred well after the conclusion of the Assyrian campaigns “against Damascus” (Nisan 733 – Nisan 731).

This may have vital, new chronological ramifications. If this were indeed the “fourteenth year” of the reign of Tiglath-pileser III, who reigned for seventeen years …. and if he were Shalmaneser V as I am maintaining, then this incident would have been the prelude to the following Assyrian action as recorded in 2 Kings 17:5: “Then the king of Assyria invaded all the land and came to Samaria; for three years he besieged it”. These “three years” would then approximate to Tiglath-pileser III’s 14th-17th years. “In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria captured Samaria; he carried the Israelites away to Assyria” (v. 6). That event, as we know, occurred in c. 722 BC. And it may just be that this apocalyptical moment for Israel is recorded in the fragments of Tiglath-pileser III now under discussion. I continue with Irvine’s account: ….

The Assyrian treatment of Israel at large, presumably once described in 1. 10, is also uncertain. According to Wiseman’s translation, the text refers cryptically to “a district” and “their surrounding areas” …. Alternatively, Borger and Tadmor restore the Akkadian along the lines of III R 10,2:15-18: “[House of Omri] in [its] en[tirety …together with their pos]sessions [I led away] to [Assyria]” …. This reading is conjectural but possible. If it is correct, the text reports the wholesale deportation of Israel. The truth of this sweeping claim is a separate question ….

Further on, Irvine will propose that this “statement exaggerates the Assyrian action against Israel”, though he does not deny the fact of an Assyrian action. Thus: …. “Not

all the people could have been exiled, for some people obviously must have remained for the new king Hoshea to rule”. But if this were, as I am maintaining, the time of Hoshea’s imprisonment by Assyria, with the subsequent siege and then capture of Samaria, his capital city, then there may have been no king Hoshea any more in the land of Israel to rule the people.

[End of quote]

Sargon II/Sennacherib


Without going over old ground here I shall simply refer readers to a recent article:

Assyrian King Sargon II, Otherwise Known As Sennacherib

according to which Sargon II, Sennacherib, the same person, represent ‘two sides of the one coin’. This conclusion arose, not from any direct intention to defend the Assyrian succession in Tobit 1 (from Shalmaneser straight on to Sennacherib), but from the significant overlap beyond mere co-regency that I found there.

And I notice that this connection has been taken up by A. Lyle (Ancient History: A Revised Chronology: An Updated Revision …, Volume 1) (, when he writes: “Sennacherib is conventionally listed as a separate king. There are some who believe that he is the same king as Sargon, including this revised chronology”.

I believe that this serves to solve a host of problems, many of which I discussed in my thesis. For example, there is the constant problem for conventionalists of whether to attribute something to Sargon II or to Sennacherib, an irrelevancy in my scheme of things. Wm. Shea seems to struggle with this (SARGON’S AZEKAH INSCRIPTION: THE EARLIEST EXTRABIBLICAL REFERENCE TO THE SABBATH? Biblical Research Institute Silver Spring, MD (

The Azekah Text

The “Azekah Text,” so called because of the Judahite site attacked in its record, is an Assyrian text of considerable historical significance because of its mention of a military campaign to Philistia and Judah. …. In this tablet the king reports his campaign to his god. An unusual feature of this text is the name of the god upon whom the Assyrian king calls: Anshar, the old Babylonian god who was syncretized with the Assyrian god Assur. This name was rarely used by Assyrian kings, and then only at special times and in specific types of texts, by Sargon and Sennacherib. The text is badly broken. In fact, until 1974 its two fragments were attributed to two different kings, Tiglath-pileser III and Sargon. In that year, Navad Na’aman joined the two pieces, showing that they once belonged to the same tablet. When Na’aman made the join between the two fragments, he attributed the combined text to Sennacherib, largely on the basis of linguistic comparison. Because the vocabulary of the text was similar to the language used in Sennacherib’s inscriptions, Na’aman argued that Sennacherib was the author. However, since Sennacherib immediately followed Sargon on the throne, it would be natural to expect that the mode of expression would be similar. In all likelihood some of Sargon’s scribes continued to work under Sennacherib, using the same language.

[End of quote]

Likewise, G. Gertoux has appreciated the need to recognise a substantial overlap – though not a complete one, as in the cased of my reconstructions – between Sargon II and Sennacherib. This is apparent from what he has written in his Abstract to Dating Sennacherib’s Campaign to Judah (

The traditional date of 701 BCE for Sennacherib’s campaign to Judah, with the siege of Lachish and Jerusalem and the Battle of Eltekeh, is accepted by historians for many years without notable controversy. However, the inscription of Sargon II, found at Tang-i Var in 1968, requires to date this famous campaign during his 10th campaign, in 712 BCE, implying a coregency with Sennacherib from 714BCE. A thorough analysis of the annals and the reliefs of Sargon and Sennacherib shows that there was only one campaign in Judah and not two. The Assyrian assault involved the presence of at least six kings (or similar): 1) taking of Ashdod by the Assyrian king Sargon II in his 10th campaign, 2) taking of Lachish by Sennacherib during his 3rd  campaign, 3) siege of Jerusalem dated 14th year of Judean King Hezekiah; 4) battle of Eltekeh led by  Nubian co-regent Taharqa; 5) under the leadership of King Shabataka during his 1st year of reign; 6) probable disappearance of the Egyptian king Osorkon IV in his 33rd year of reign. This conclusion agrees exactly with the biblical account that states all these events occurred during the 14th year of Judean King Hezekiah dated 712 BCE (2Kings 18:13-17, 19:9; 2Chronicles 32:9; Isaiah 20:1, 36:1, 37:9).

[End of quote]

Less perspicacious in this matter, however, was Edwin Thiele, who, in his much lauded text book, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings (Academie Books, Grand Rapids, 1983), had been prepared to sacrifice biblical chronology on the altar of a presumed highly accurate conventional neo-Assyrian chronology. I wrote about this, for instance, on p. 22 of my thesis:

Firstly, regarding the Hezekian chronology in its relationship to the fall of Samaria, one

of the reasons for Thiele’s having arrived at, and settled upon, 716/715 BC as the date for the commencement of reign of the Judaean king was due to the following undeniable

problem that arises from a biblical chronology that takes as its point of reference the conventional neo-Assyrian chronology. I set out the ‘problem’ here in standard terms. If Samaria fell in the 6th year of Hezekiah, as the Old Testament tells it, then Hezekiah’s reign must have begun about 728/727 B.C. If so, his 14th year, the year in which Sennacherib threatened Jerusalem, must have been about 714 B.C. But this last is, according to the conventional scheme, about ten years before Sennacherib became king and about thirteen years before his campaign against Jerusalem which is currently dated to 701 B.C. On the other hand, if Hezekiah’s reign began fourteen years before Sennacherib’s campaign, that is in 715 B.C, it began about twelve to thirteen years too late for Hezekiah to have been king for six years before the fall of Samaria. In short, the problem as seen by chronologists is whether the starting point of Hezekiah’s reign should be dated in relationship to the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C, or to the campaign of Sennacherib in 701 B.C.

[End of quote]

Another knotty problem that dissolves completely, though, if Sargon II be Sennacherib.

Thiele’s influential work has in fact had a disastrous effect, serving to destroy a three-way biblical synchronism for the sake of upholding a hopelessly flawed conventional Assyriology.

Still on p. 22, I wrote:


The Fall of Samaria


This famous event has traditionally been dated to c. 722/21 BC … and, according to the

statement in 2 Kings, it occurred “in the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of King Hoshea of Israel” (18:10). While all this seems straightforward enough, more recent versions of biblical chronology, basing themselves on the research of the highly-regarded Professor Thiele … have made impossible the retention of such a promising syncretism between king Hoshea and king Hezekiah by dating the beginning of the latter’s reign to 716/715 BC, about six years after the fall of Samaria.

[End of quote]

That vital three-way synchronism, the Fall of Samaria; 6th year Hezekiah; 9th year Hoshea; coupled with the known neo-Assyrian connections attached to it, is a solid biblico-historical rock of foundation that needs to be staunchly preserved and defended, and not overturned on the basis of a flimsy and unconvincing Mesopotamian ‘history’.




In my thesis, I, flushed with my apparent success in reducing Sargon II, Sennacherib, to just the one king, became ‘too cute’ afterwards in the case of Esarhaddon by trying to make his entire reign fit within that of his father Sennacherib.

I would have been far better off having paid closer heed to the Book of Tobit, as I had done in the cases of Esarhaddon’s predecessors.

Esarhaddon does not need any tampering, or fusing with any other neo-Assyrian king.

I now fully accept the triple succession of neo-Assyrian kings as laid out in Tobit 1, namely:


(= Tiglath-pileser III), the father of


(= Sargon II), the father of




July 16, 2015

Our Lady of Mount Carmel


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