Posts Tagged ‘Sennacherib’

The Ancient Near East as the Birthplace of Democracy

May 15, 2017

This is a bit of a rejoinder to Boris ‘Mugwump’ Johnson. Johnson, as a public schoolboy steeped in the Classics, believes that everything great and good began with ancient Greece and Rome. But a few years ago I put up a blog post about a book, The Origins of the Democracy in the Ancient Near East, which argued that the roots of democracy went further back, and further east, than ancient Greece. It began instead in the popular assemblies, which governed ancient mesopotamian civilisations such as the city state of Mari.

I found this passage about the democratic nature of ancient near eastern civilisation in the entry ‘Law (Mesopotamian)’ in Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Biblical World: A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology (London: Pickering and Inglis Ltd 1966), 356-359. This states

The pattern of society in early Mesopotamia has been described as “primitive democracy”. There was an assembly (Sumerian ukkin, Akkadian puhrum) of the elders and young men with whom they chieftain or leader (antecedant of the later king) must consult. All major decisions were put to a vote. In addition, the cheiftain was obliged to give to his tutelary deity an annual account of his conduct of authority during the previous year. No doubt here also, as in the case of Egypt, there was drastic modification in practice especially in later years when, for example, such strong men as Sargon of Akkad, Hammurabi of Babylon or Sennacherib of Assyria ruled. But the principle remained in daily life as a unique characteristic of Mesopotamian civilization and spread into Syria and Anatolia as well. 356.

I don’t doubt that in the half century since the book was published, this view of ancient near eastern society as democratic has been revised. I think the book that came out about it a few years ago said that these states weren’t democratic. However, popular assemblies did exist.

Mesopotamia was the old name for the area that is now Iraq, and I wonder how much of its ancient history and precious archaeology has survived the western invasion by Bush and Blair, sectarian conflict and the destructive fury of ISIS. Nicholas Wood in his book, The Case Against Blair, describes how the Americans trashed Babylon when they chose to make it into one of the bases. And the barbarians of ISIS released a vide of them levelling Nineveh and destroying priceless antiquities in one of Iraq’s museums.

And their fury against anything they judge to be un-Islamic isn’t confined to the ancient past. They’ve also desecrated and destroyed Christian churches and the country’s Muslim shrines and mosques. And this is besides the horrific carnage and destruction which the war and its aftermatch have unleashed on the region and its people.

Iraq was one of the major centres of world civilisation, and the destruction of its ancient monuments and artefacts is a massive loss. And all because Bush, Blair and the Saudis wanted to steal the country’s oil and other state-owned industries for American big business.

History, Archaeology and the Book of Kings in the Bible

May 2, 2013

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.