Historical Illiteracy Defined

haaretzignorance

To the ignorant:
1. Sennacherib died long before 657 BC.
2. Drought had little to nothing to do with the fall of the Assyrian Empire. The Empire was doomed by Nabopolassar’s Chaldean revolts in Akkad and an usurper in Nineveh. Nadav Na’aman describes this thoroughly.

3. Crowding was always a feature of Assyrian life; Assyria was a very urbanized country since at least the 9th century BC, and probably long before.

Stay classy, Haaretz.

Might Hezekiah Have Reigned 716/15-687/6 BC?

I usually date Hezekiah 727/726-698/697 BC. However, there are four modestly reasonable (though all disputable) reasons to date Hezekiah to 716/15-687/6 BC. One is 2 Kings 18:13. The other is the fact not one of Sennacherib’s post-797 BC inscriptions mentions Hezekiah’s death. Another is the existence of an Ahaz bulla, if it is assumed even modestly widespread literacy among even the elite could not have begun in Judah before 720 BC. The last is mentioned by GM Grena, who, assuming all lmlk impressions date to the reign of Hezekiah, points out there are about as many pre-Revolt lmlk handles as there are post-Revolt handles. However, while a purely non-Biblical view could quite easily accommodate a late reign for Hezekiah, I find it extraordinarily difficult to not date Hezekiah’s reign to 727/726-698/697 BC considering the Biblical data.

Concentric Circles on Sennacherib’s Clothing

Being inspired by George Grena’s out-of-context picture of concentric circles of Sennacherib’s clothes on his “Theories” page, I decided to take a few of my own images of these circles using the BBC’s version of the Lachish relief (the most detailed version I have found on the web so far!).

Cropped:

Adjusted for best view:

Best Grayscale image of the above picture:

The above images indicate that concentric circles (which are found incised into late 8th and early 7th C BC Judahite jar handles, in almost all cases after the jar’s firing, and in probably all cases in the early-mid 7th century BC) were used a royal motif. Since they fit in modestly well with the Judahite government’s long-standing (at least 20-year old) tradition of using solar imagery on jar handles and roughly half of concentric circle marks are found on lmlk-impressed handles, though lmlk handles make up only a tenth of Iron IIB handles, it seems likely that these concentric circle marks were the Manassite Judahite government’s way to continue the old lmlk system without making new jars.  Other theories should be discounted; the distribution of these handles do not correspond at all to the list of Levitical cities (except for Gibeon) for the limited chronological distribution of these marks argues against any broad non-governmental purpose (e.g. marking old wine or the inaccuracy of a fired jar). The concentric circle marks are likely not cancellation marks of any sort, as they are found on non-stamped lmlk-type handles. Rather, the abundance of these marks at Ramat Rahel/Beth-Haccerem, the Assyrian governor’s residence for Judah (64 out of 317) shows that they were likely used as tax jars.

A Fortified Storehouse During the Hezekian Revolt?

Ramat Rahel Vb was an isolated early 7th century BC storehouse near Jerusalem fortified with a casemate wall and filled with lmlk and concentric circle jars. Its being filled with lmlk jars would make it useless during the Hezekian revolt, and, indeed, counterproductive, since it was not connected to any settlement, if full, and would simply be used as a supply station for Sennacherib’s hosts. Thus, any store-jars found at Ramat Rahel must date to after 701 BC. Since there is no point in independently moving hundreds of store-jars from a capital city to a fortified storehouse just outside the capital (or even building such a storehouse in the first place), it only makes sense Ramat Rahel Vb was built by Hezekiah under duress of Sennacherib to house the new Assyrian governor of Judah. Old lmlk jars in Jerusalem were re-used and transported to Ramat Rahel to feed the local governor and his troops. Thus, the similarity of the lmlk type profiles of Jerusalem and Ramat Rahel. The conclusions expressed above were already expressed by Oded Lipschits and his students a few years before.

Why Did Hezekiah Not Feel a Threat to the South From Sennacherib

Hezekiah concentrated his defense outside Jerusalem on two sides: the passes to Jerusalem, especially those near the border of Samaria (Gibeon+Mizpah), and the three (four?) fortified cities in the Shephelah (Beth-Shemesh, Lachish, and Azekah, and possibly Socoh). He did not concentrate his defense on the Beersheba Valley. Why? Because Sennacherib had a purpose for taking over Gibeon, Mizpah, and the Shephelah. He did not, however have any clear purpose for taking over the Beersheba Valley. Why? Because the Shephelah made Judah far too politically influential in Philistia for Assyria to allow, and, more importantly, it could be administered by Ashdod and Gaza. Mizpah and Gibeon could be used to stop trade coming to Judah from the Assyrian provinces in the North or be used as springboards to take over the southern part of the province of Samaria. Both could also be administered as unfortified cities within Samaria. The Beersheba Valley, meanwhile, was a vital trade artery, offered very little threat of political influence in Edom or Gaza, and could not be competently administered by any polity except Judah. Exiling the population of the Beersheba Valley would, as Hezekiah likely reasoned, be the last part of Judah Sennacherib would want to attack.

Of course, the Assyrians did end up destroying the Beersheba Valley, probably as a make-work project for Judah, to keep it from growing too strong again any time soon.

The Date of the Azekah Inscription

Firstly, it is known that Sargon II’s artists made numerous reliefs in his palace at Room V at Dur-Sharrukin. Several of these reliefs are extremely helpful in the precise dating of the rise and falls of certain cities in Philistia. The first slabs show the Raphia and Samaria campaigns of 720 BC, on the lower and upper registers respectively. On the lower register, after Raphia, defended by Nubians, comes Gibbethon, also defended by Nubians. Whether this is Philistine Gibbethon or a place near Raphia is uncertain. After Gibbethon, a large city (some 70-150 acres), with an acropolis, is seen in Slab 6. No city north of Gibbethon is this large, and the only candidates are Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. Gath’s walls do not, as in the relief, extend to the valley, the only candidates are, therefore, Ashdod and Gaza. By the appearance of the relief, it appears to be Ashdod, but, by the fact Ashdod is not mentioned in the Sargonite annals of 720 BC, around which campaign much of the room seems to revolve around (although they may date to the 711/12 campaign, but Ekron is not mentioned in the accounts of this campaign), but Gaza is, it appears to be the latter. On Slab 11, Ekron, pictured as a small city, and definitely the small, fortified acropolis of Stratum II, is pictured below Sargon’s 720 BC Hamath campaign.

In short, most of the reliefs in Room V relate to the 720 BC campaign of Sargon II.

Secondly, it is known that, in 712/11 BC (14th/15th year of Hezekiah), Sargon’s Tartan captured Ashdod. According to Sargon himself, after Yamani fled, he captured on this campaign Ashdod, Gath, and Ashdod-Yam (Tel Mor, on the N. bank of the Nahal Lachish, some 1400 meters from its mouth). These cities are mentioned entirely in the context of the Ashdodite campaign, and show that Ashdod ruled Gath (stratum F8) before 711/12 BC. Neither Biblical nor Assyrian source mentions any other kingdom in the area of Judah this campaign was fought against.

Thirdly, it is known that, in 701 BC, Sennacherib fought with the Nubians at Eltekeh (Tell esh-Shalaf?= 31°53’35″N, 34°46’6″E) and took over the kingdom of Ekron, re-instating Padi (taken hostage by Hezekiah) as king, and captured forty-five of the fortified cities of Judah, most notably, Lachish Stratum III.

The “Azekah Inscription” is a damaged Assyrian tablet, mentioning a curious form of the god Ashur as “Ashan”, and the conquest of two cities, firstly, Azekah, and “a royal city of the Philistines, which Hezekiah had captured and strengthened for himself”.

There are several reasons why the Azekah Inscription far more likely came from the reign of Sennacherib than that of Sargon II. Firstly, the 720 BC campaign of Sargon nowhere mentions any city of Judah, although it was very varied in its purpose (Hamath, Samaria, Raphia, Gaza, Ekron), it seems that Hezekiah, if anything, supported this campaign (2 Kings 18:8?). Also, since Ekron, portrayed in Sargon’s reliefs as a small city, could not have been an inspiration for the Azekah text, and there is not the least bit of archaeological or inscriptional evidence for Gath being a re-fortified Judahite city in 720 BC, it is extremely implausible the 720 campaign inspired the Azekah text. The 712/11 campaign campaign is definitely not the campaign that inspired the Azekah text, for obvious reasons (Gath an Ashdodite city, Tartan, not Sargon campaigned, no mention of Ekron, in any case). The result of all this negative evidence is that the Azekah Inscription must reflect the 701 BC campaign of Sennacherib.