In a departure from my usual style, in this and a few succeeding weeks, I
shall be posting adapted articles, I wrote for a course on the Bible’s prehistory.
The biblical perspective of the events I describe below is in 2 Kings 18, I am
focusing on discussion of the historical facts, not the Bible’s theology.
In the 8th century BC, Assyria was one of the major middle eastern powers of the time (the other being Egypt) with a considerable empire under its rule.
In or around 721 BC, Shalmaneser sent his Assyrian armies to march on the Israeli territory of Samaria which, after a siege lasting three years, fell to the invading Assyrians.
After this conquest a considerable portion of the area’s population from the territory, thought to number around 200,00 are relocated or ‘deported’ to be resettled in Assyrian territory, around Halah and Gozan, and also in Harbor which would later be in the Persian empire. This, effectively, left the southern kingdom of Judah to ‘fend for itself’ in in it’s relations with Assyria, to which it had already become a vassal state, having previously had a kind of buffer zone of Samaria.
When Hezekiah became sole ruler of Judah in 715 BC, after his joint rulership ended with the death of his brother, Ahaz, Hesekiah began to make preparations by which he would seek to free his people from the Assyrian yoke. He sought to form alliances with Ashkelon and Egypt which he though would protect Judah as he could then, or so he probably assumed, call on them for military aid in times of need. Later, thinking Judah’s security had been secured by the alliances he had made, Hezekiah rebelled against Assyria and refused to send the demanded levies to Sennacherib who by that time was Assyria’s ruler, after Sargon and Shalmaneser.
Sennachrib’s response, unsurprisingly, fearing losing face and losing income, is to send his armies south from Assyria to extract the demanded tribute. In doing so he not only laid siege to the area of Lachish, south west of Jerusalem, in addition either he or his army commander was a sufficiently good strategist to realise Assyria needed to take and hold the coastal highway by Joppa, effectively cutting off Hezekiah from any assistance that might otherwise have been forthcoming from his supposed ally, Egypt.
Sennachrib laid siege to many of Judah’s fortified cities and in due course captured them and once the Judean territory was reasonably secure in Assyrian hands, Sennacherib sent messengers to Hezekiah. In a negotiated treaty, Hezekiah had agreed to a tribute, or fine, of 300 talents of silver and 30 of gold, which to gather enough to pay, Hezekiah apparently had to take from the temple, even stripping its doors of their gold. After receiving this ‘tribute’, Sennacherib reneged and laid siege to Jerusalem anyway, although evidence seems to show that it never fell to Assyria.
The Assyrian account of this action is recorded on, amongst other places, on Sennachrib’s Prism, a hexagonal shaped stone on which the Assyrian ruler had detailed the events of the campaign. Sennacherib also kept a record on the wall of his palace at Ninevah with a 70 feet long relief depicting the capture of Lachish, with the inscription “Sennacherib King of the world, King of Assyria seated on his throne as the booty of Lachish passes before him.”
Even as warring factions do today, there is evidence that both sides claimed victory, of a sort. The Assyrians for taking the territory and extracting payment and the Judeans because Jerusalem did not fall to Sennacherib.