History, Archaeology and the Book of Kings in the Bible

One of the readings a year or so ago was 2 Kings 18. 13 to the end of the chapter. This chapter documents the attacks on Judah and the threat of assault on Jerusalem itself by the Assyrian emperor, Sennacherib, as he moved against King Hezekiah. A number of archaeological remains and artifacts have been found dating from Hezekiah’s reign, and Sennarcherib himself also recorded his campaigns against Israel.

Archaeology

The tunnel dug by King Hezekiah to supply Jerusalem with water through the hill of Ophel has been found. At the centre of the tunnel is an inscription stating that it was simultaneously dug from the east and west until the two tunnels met in the middle. The style of script dates it Hezekiah’s reign.

Several bullae – lead seals – have also been found for Hezekiah. One is inscribed ‘Belonging to Hezekiah (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah’.

A section of wall was excavated in east Jerusalem after the 1967 war. This was also dated to the late 8th century BC – the date of Hezekiah’s reign. Underneath the wall were houses which had been destroyed by Hezekiah in order for the wall to be built. This corroborates the statement in Isaiah that Hezekiah tore down houses to strengthen the wall.

Sennacherib’s assault on the city of Lachish is recorded on a bas relief at Nineveh, now in the British Museum. The siege ramp built by the Assyrians has also been found, and is the only one that has yet been discovered.

500 jars have been found throughout Israel at this time bearing the stamp ‘lmlk’ – for the king, including a number in Lachish. These were part of a nationwide food supply system set up by Hezekiah to maintain the town during the Assyrian siege. One of these jars is even stamped with the name ‘Hezekiah’.

Archaeologists have also discovered that a number of other towns were destroyed at the same time by the Assyrians. These are Timnah, Ramat Rahel and possibly Gezer. The Israeli archaeologist Y. Aharoni also believed that Beer-Sheba and Tell Bit were also destroyed. A letter written on a potsherd at Arad written to a fortress commander called Malkiyahu also talks about conflict with Edom.

Sennacherib gives his own account of his campaign against Hezekiah, where he ‘shut him up in Jerusalem like a caged bird’ along with his other campaigns in a hexagonal prism.

According to one estimate of the value of the tribute levied by the Assyrians, it would have been worth £730,000 in 1986. Another estimate places its value at £2,350,000.

Assyrian Terms for Officials

The chapter also includes a number of Assyrian terms used to describe the officials Sennacherib sent with his army to Jerusalem.

Tartan – Akkadian for ‘second-in-command’, referring to commander-in-chief of the army.

Rabsaris – a high military official.

Rabshakeh – possibly a high civil official.

The Biblical account of this episode of the history of ancient Israel is therefore supported by archaeology and the independent historical testimony of the Assyrians themselves.

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