2 Kings

The Mesha (Moabite) Stone

2 KINGS 3 Mesha, king of Moab,1,2 west of the Dead Sea, revolted against Israel (2Ki 3:4-5), but Israel's king Jehoram set out to reassert Israelite authority (vv. 6-9). He succeeded in defeating the Moabite army and destroying some cities but was unable to capture Moab's capital, Kir Hareseth (vv. 21-27; modern name is Kerak). It appears that Mesha retained his independence.

A unique discovery made in Dhiban, Jor-dan, in 1868 describes Mesha's revolt from the Moabite perspective. This document, called both the Mesha Inscription and the Moabite Stone, uses language very similar to what we see in the Old Testament.Yahweh,3 the God of Israel, shows up in the inscription, as does Chemosh, the national god of Moab. Mesha describes how Omri of Israel, oppressed Moab and attributes Moab's suffering to the displeasure of Chemosh. He claims to have been inspired by Chemosh to rise up and deliver Moab, indicating also that he slaughtered the entire town of Nebo, which he proceeded to put under the"ban."

The Old Testament assertion that Mesha raised sheep (v. 4) is corroborated by a statement by Mesha to the effect that he brought flocks to the house of Baal Meon. The stele notes that the tribe of Gad was living in Ataroth, as mentioned in Numbers 32:34. In addition to Ataroth, 12 other Moabite towns are mentioned in the inscription.These same towns are described in the Bible as being located in Moab. Several of them are mentioned by the prophets Isaiah (Isa 15), Jeremiah (Jer 48) and Ezekiel (Eze 25) as part of their predictions of the downfall of this ancient kingdom. Some scholars believe that the stele also has a reference to the house of David, but this interpretation has not won universal acceptance.

Syri / Aram

2 KINGS 5 Israel and Aram (Syria) were ethnically related. Abraham was of Aramean stock, having come from the area of Haran in southern Turkey (Ge 24:4). Jacob was called an Aramean (Dt 26:5), as was his uncle Laban (Ge 25:20) and grandfather Bethuel (Ge 25:20; 28:5). The Arameans were a tribal Semitic people located in Mesopotamia and Syria.Their lifestyle was that of semi-nomadic pastoralists (shepherds and herders of livestock) living in small villages. When the Hittite Empire collapsed at the end of the second millennium B.c.,2 the Aramean tribes in Syria developed into powerful city-state monarchies that flourished in the eleventh—eighth centuries B.C.

In Syria the Arameans built large, well-fortified cities, including grand palaces. Each city had its own pantheon (official listing of gods) and patron deity. The most prominent was Hadad, the weather-fertility god. Naaman talked about accompanying the Aramean king into the "temple of Rimmon" in Damascus (2Ki 5:18). This was probably the temple of Hadad-Rimmon (Zec 12:11), meaning "Hadad the thunderer." Other deities worshiped by the Arameans included Sin, the moon god; El, the"creator" god; Shamash, the sun god; and Reshep, the god of plague.The Lord had long before called Abraham out of the paganism of the Aramean culture to establish a godly nation (Ge 12:1; Jos 24:2-3; cf. Ge 31:19,30;35:2-4).

The Israelites came into contact with the Aramean kingdoms in Lebanon and Syria, immediately to their north. They engaged primarily in turf battles, particularly with the city-state of Damascus, called Aram in the Bible, but occasionally also entered with them into trade agreements (1 Ki 20:34) and alliances. The most lasting legacy of the Arameans was their language, Aramaic. It was the major spoken language of upper Mesopotamia and Syria during the early part of the first millennium B.C., as well as the diplomatic language of this time. From about the third century B.C. to the end of the Jewish state, Aramaic was the common language of the Jews.

Dothan, Ben-Hadad and a Chronological Problem

2 KINGS 6 The chronology of 2 Kings 6 is difficult to reconstruct. There were at least three Aramean (Syrian) kings at Damascus named Ben-Hadad. A plausible sequence is as follows:

  • Ben-Hadad I (son of Tabrimmon; r. in late tenth to early ninth century B,c; 1Ki 15:18)

  • Ben-Hadad ll (father's name never given; r. mid-ninth century B.C.)

  • Hazael (r. late ninth century B.C., c. 842 — 800)1

  • Ben-Hadad Ill (the son of Hazael; r. early eighth century B.C.)

In addition, it is difficult to determine the historical circumstances behind 2 Kings 6-8. Basic facts are as follows:

    • According to 6:8-23,a king of Damascus tried unsuccessfully to capture Elisha at Dothan. After this episode Israel was for a time spared the depravations brought about by bands of Arameans, but neither the king of Damascus nor the king of Israel is named.

    • However, 6:24 — 7:20 describes an invasion led by len-Hadad king of Aram" that nearly brought Samaria to its knees (6:25). The text identifies the leader of the Arameans as Ben-Hadad; otherwise, we know only that this event occurred during Elisha's ministry.

    • Second Kings 8:7-15 describes the death or Ben-Hadad" (probably Ben-Hadad II) and the rise of Hazael. This suggests that Ben-Hadad II was the king of chapters 6-7.

The archaeology of Dothan, where Elisha resided, may have bearing on Ben-Hadad's invasion. Dothan is mentioned in the Bible only in Genesis 37:17 and 2 Kings 6:13. It was strategically located on a highway in the southern Dothan Valley in central Israel, with the Jezreel Valley to the north and Samaria to the south.

Evidence of occupation levels from the Chalcolithic and all three Bronze Ages, was found at Dothan, but most of the finds are from the Iron Age II, the period of the Elisha stories. Remains of private homes, storage bins, ovens and pottery vessels were unearthed,along with a large public building.

Excavations were conducted at Dothan in the 1950s. Unfortunately, the reports are unclear, and this lack of definition has made it difficult to piece together the site's history. There is evidence of a late ninth-century B.C. destruction of Dothan, possibly related to Ben-Hadad's invasion in verse 24.We might speculate that the Ben-Hadad of this verse demolished Dothan during the course of this invasion to secure supply lines for his troops around Samaria. If this Ben-Hadad was indeed Ben-Hadad II, he may also have been the anonymous Aramean king who tried to capture Elisha at Dothan (vv. 8-23).

This premise would require that both episodes took place early in Elisha's ministry. Based upon 1 Kings 19:16 and 2 Kings 3, Elisha was anointed around 855 B.C. (near the end of Ahab's reign) and began his ministry around 851 B.C. (the beginning of Joram's). Second Kings 6:31 suggests that Elisha was already a prophet of renown during the invasion of verse 24, since Israel's king was angry that Elisha had not done more to thwart the incursion. It may be that the events of verses 8-23 helped to establish Elisha's reputation. If all of this was so, these events must have occurred around 850 B.C., with verses 24 and following taking place around 845 B.C. We might speculate that the ninth-century destruction of Dothan took place around 845 if that destruction is related to this story.

Another possibility is that the Ben-Hadad of verse 24 was Ben-Hadad III and that this story was related out of sequence for thematic purposes. Evidence suggests that Dothan was rebuilt and reoccupied in the eighth century B.C. but destroyed again by the Assyrians, either in the invasion of Tiglath-Pileser III in 7326 or in the final obliteration of the northern kingdom around 721 B.C. Among the pottery finds at eighth-century Dothan were carinated bowls of Assyrian origin, attesting to an Assyrian presence or influence at that time. Dothan was then abandoned,although a small settlement was established there during the Hellenistic period.

The History of the Southern Kingdom.

2 KINGS 7 The southern kingdom of Judah came into being when the northern ten tribes broke away from the united monarchy in approximately 930 8.C. (1Ki 12:1-24). The remaining kingdom, consisting of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, retained Jerusalem, the capital of the united monarchy, as its capital.

Twenty kings ruled the southern kingdom throughout its 345-year span. All were from the line of David, With one exception — Atha-bah, daughter of Ahab, king of the northern kingdom (2ki 8:18). She married into the 100 Judean family and became queen for six years, from 841-835 B.C (ch. 11). Of those twenty kings, seven are attested in records outside the Bible.' In addition, seals or seal in have been discovered for fif-teen Judean officials and priests named in the Bible.

In the fifth year of Rehoboam, the first king of the southern kingdom after the division of the land, Egypt's Pharaoh Shishak campaigned against Judah, plundering the temple and the royal palace (2Ch 12:1-9). Inscribed on a wall of the temple of Amon in Thebes, Egypt, is a list of places Shishak conquered. Rehoboam was compelled to buy off Shishak with a large payment of tribute.

While the ninth century B.c. saw skirmishes with the small kingdoms bordering Judah, the eighth century was largely one of peace—the most prosperous era of Judean history. It is estimated that the population of the southern kingdom was 120,000-150,000 at this time, with the majority of people living in Jerusalem and its environs. All of this changed, however, with the coming of the Assyrians during the last quarter of the century.

In 701 B.C. Sennacherib ravaged Judah (2Ki 18:13),4 and for the next half century Judah was dominated by Assyria. When this world power grew weak, Josiah (641-609 B.c.) was able to focus again on internal matters and to lead a religious revival (2Ch 34:3-35:19).5 From 609-605 B.C. the southern kingdom was subject to Egypt (2Ki 23:31-35). With the defeat of Pharaoh Neco at Carchemish by Nebuchadnezzar in 605 B.c.,6 Jerusalem fell under Babylonian domination. Nebuchadnezzar crushed one rebellion at Jerusalem in 597 B.C. (24:10-16)7 and 11 years later destroyed the city, bringing the southern kingdom to an end (25:1-21).

Hazael, the Nemesis of Israel

2 KINGS 8 Hazael's usurpation of the throne of Damascus ("Map 6") is described in 2 Kings 8:7-15, but the Biblical writers were not the only ones who recognized that he had no rightful claim to the throne. In 1903 German excavators unearthed the Basalt Statue of Shalmaneser III, which contains a short inscription boasting of this Assyrian king's victories over the kings of Damascus (Syria). After briefly describing how he had defeated a coalition led by one"Adad-idri" of Damascus (probably Ben-Hadad II),' Shalmaneser III recounted how"Hazael the son of a nobody" (i.e., a usurper) had taken the throne. Shalmaneser then claimed to have defeated Hazael in battle, to have pursued him back to Damascus and to have laid waste his orchards.

Hazael himself seems to have sought to shake off the label of usurper. In some texts known as the "booty inscriptions,"

Hazael claimed that the god Hadad had given him military victories and the booty that went with them. If the Tel Dan inscription is from Hazael, as seems probable, he did the same there. Hazael was perhaps suggesting that the god Hadad had endorsed his seizure of the throne. More significantly, in the Tel Dan inscription he referred to Ben-Hadad, whom he had murdered, as "my father." This was a bold claim to legitimacy indeed!

Hazael reigned from approximately 842 to 800 B.C. Almost immediately after seizing power he went to war against Joram of Israel, whom he defeated at Ramoth Gilead. This action, in which Joram was wounded, led to Jehu's coup in Israel and to the fall of the house of Omri (2Ki 9). From 841 to 836 Hazael was involved in wars against Shalmaneser Ill, as described in the Basalt Statue. Once the pressure from Assyria in the east had abated, Hazael was free to turn his attention south against Israel (10:32 —33), Judah and Philistia (12:17-18). Hazael apparently died near the end of the reign of Jehoahaz of Israel (c. 805-802 B.C.), but he remained Israel's nemesis to the end (13:22). Indeed, Hazael nearly succeeded in eliminating Israel entirely as a military power (13:7).

The Tel Dan Stele

2 KINGS 8 In 1993 and 1994 fragments of an Aramaic monumental inscription were discovered in Tel Dan, Israel. Although only a fraction of the original inscription was recovered, the preserved portion alludes to eight Biblical kings. Based. on the names recorded in the document, it can be dated to around 841 B.C. Even though his name is missing, it appears that Hazael,1 king of Aram from approximately 842-800 B.C., commissioned the stela (or stele) to commemorate his defeat of Joram and Ahaziah at Ramoth Gilead (2Ki 8:28-29; see"Map 6" at the back of this Bible). Hazael is mentioned in the records of Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria from approximately 858 — 824 B.c.,and his name is inscribed on objects taken as booty by the Assyrians.

The initial lines of the inscription mention"my father," possibly a reference to Ben-Hadad II, Hazael's predecessor. The names of Joram and Ahab can be restored in the phrase "[killed Jo]ram son of [Ahab] king of Israel,"where the brackets indicate lacunae in the original text.Joram was king of Israel from approximately 852 to 841 B.C., while Ahab ruled from approximately 874 to 853 B.C. This is followed by the statement and [I] killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram king of the House of David," Ahaziah/Ahaziahu ruled Judah in 841 B.C. The name jehoram, who reigned from 848 to 841 B.C., can be supplied where the text is missing

The most remarkable aspect of the Tel Dan Stele is the phrase"House of David," providing extrabiblical evidence for the existence of David., This is important because some recent scholars have denied the existence of the united kingdom under David and Solomon, treating David as a character more of legend than of reality. This inscription demonstrates that ancient kings recognized the Davidic dynasty over Jerusalem and by implication validates the historicity of David himself. Some scholars have tried to avoid this implication by arguing for an alternative translation for "House of David," claiming that the words refer to some place or to a god rather than to King David. Few are persuaded by these protests, and the inscription is widely recognized to be an extrabiblical witness to the dynasty of David.

Jehu / The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

2 KINGS 10 In 841 B.C.Jehu became king of the northern kingdom by means of a bloody coup (2Ki 9-10). He moved to rid Israel of Baal worship (10:18-28), but this did not end idolatry, for Jehu continued to worship the golden calves at Bethel and Dan, (V.29).

No sooner had Jehu established his rule than he found himself forced to pay homage to Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria (an event not mentioned in the Bible but recorded in several inscriptions by Shalmaneser). The most interesting record is the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, discovered by Englishman Sir Henry Layard in Calah, Iraq, in 1846. This obelisk provides both a written and a pictorial record of the kings who paid tribute to Assyria.

It depicts Jehu, on his hands and knees with his nose and chin toward the ground, before Shalmaneser. Behind Jehu (on the other three sides of the obelisk) are 13 Israelite emissaries bearing tribute. The inscription reads,"I received the tribute of Jehu of the House of Omri (i.e., Israel): silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden goblet, golden cups, golden buckets, tin, a staff of the king's hand, (and) javelins (?)." All 14 of the Israelites pictured are bearded, with long hair and pointed caps. Each wears a belted tunic with fringe at the bottom. In addition, each of the 13 porters wears a mantle or cloak over the tunic, which extends over the shoulders and is fringed or tasseled down the front on both sides., Jehu is not wearing the outer garment, possibly as a sign of-humiliation before Shalmaneser.The Obelisk of Shalmaneser provides the only known surviving likeness of a king of Israel or Judah.

Ben-Hadad III of Aram and Jehoash of Israel

2 KINGS 13 During the second half of the ninth century B.C., the northern kingdom suffered a great deal in wars with Hazael,' king of Aram (2Ki 8:28-29; 13:3,22). During the reign of Jehoash (c. 798-782 B.c.), however, the tide turned. Elisha predicted that Jehoash would be victorious over the Arameans three times (v.17). In about 800 B.C. Hazael was suc-ceeded by his son Ben-Hadad. (Being the third king with that name in the Old Testament, he is usually referred to as Ben-Hadad III. Elisha's prophecy came true as Jehoash defeated Ben-Hadad III three times and recovered all of the cities Hazael had captured from Israel (vv.24-25).This most likely occurred after Ben-Hadad's subjugation by the Assyrians, when the Aramean kingdom was considerably weakened.

The Tell al-Rimah Stele, an inscription that comes from Adadnirari III (king of Assyria from 810 to 783 B.c.), mentions Jehoash and apparently Ben-Hadad Iii. Discovered in 1967 at the site of Tell al-Rimah in modern Iraq, some 40 miles (64.5 km) west of Nineveh, it is a record of Adadnirari's campaign to the west in about 796 B.C. According to the stele Adadnirari received tribute payments from "Mari of Damascus,""Joash the Samarian" and unnamed rulers of Tyre and Sidon. Mari of Damascus is probably Ben-Hadad III; the inscription states that he sent vast amounts of silver, copper, iron and cloth-ing to Adadnirari. Joash the Samarian is Jehoash of Israel (see vv. 9-14,25)) The amount of tribute paid by Jehoash and the rulers of Tyre and Sidon is not mentioned, but in another stele,the"Sabaa Stele," Adadnirari gives another account of a triumph over "Mari of Damascus," whom he confined to Damascus and from whom he exacted an enormous amount of gold and silver.

The Samaria Ostraca

2 KINGS 14 A collection of inscriptions written with ink on pottery fragments or os-traca (singular ostracon)1.was discovered during excavations at Samaria in 1910.They record shipments of wine and oil received in Samaria from locations in its vicinity, apparently during the ninth, tenth and fifteenth years of Jeroboam II (c. 786-746 B.c.), although the dating of the ostraca is disputed. The texts include some or all of the following elements: date (year of a king), place, clan name, sender, recipient and commodity (wine or oil).

The ostraca provide samples of Israelite script, showing us how Hebrew was written at this time. They also illustrate the record-keeping of the time and provide valuable geographic information on towns in the area. The most interesting aspect of the ostraca is the clan names. Samaria is located in the tribal area of Manasseh. Ten clans of Manasseh settled in Canaan and received tracts of land (Jos 17:1-13). Those clans were Abiezer, Asriel, Helek, Shechem and Shemida, sons of Gilead (Jos 17:1-2); and Hoglah, Mahlah, Milcah, Noah and Tirzah, the daughters of Zelophehad, son of Hepher (Jos 17:3-4).3 All of the clans named after Gilead's sons are represented in the ostraca, along with two of the five clans named after Zelophehad's daughters (those of Hoglah and Noah).The clan names preserved on the Samaria Ostraca provide an extrabiblical link between the clans of Manasseh and the territory in which the Bible claims they settled.

Menahem and Pekah of Israel, Jotham of Judah and Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria

2 KINGS 15 Fifteen kings are named in 2 Kings 15, covering a span of about 35 years, from approximately 767 to 732 B.C. Nine are kings of Israel (Jeroboam I, Jeroboam II, Zechariah, Shallum, Jehu, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah and Hoshea), four of Judah (Amaziah,Azariah/Uzziah,Jotham and Ahaz), one of Assyria (Pul/Tiglath-Pileser 111) and one of Aram/Syria (Rezin). Ten of the fifteen are named in contemporary sources outside the Bible. A few examples are as follows:

    • Menahem, king of Israel (c. 747-737 B.c.), paid tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria, from approximately 745 to 727 B.C. (vv. 19-20). Scholars believe this tribute was paid at the time of the first campaign of Tiglath-Pileser III into the region in approximately 740 B.C. Menahem is mentioned twice in Tiglath-Pileser's records. Both the Iran Stele, purchased from an antiquities dealer in western Iran, and Tiglath-Pileser's annals, excavated in his palace in Calah, Iraq, state that "Menahem of Samaria" paid tribute to the king in his eighth year, approximately 738 B.C.

    • Pekah, king of Israel (c. 735-732 B.c.), joined forces with Rezin, king of Aram, in a revolt against Tiglath-Pileser 111.2 The two attempted to force Judah to join them (v.37; 16:5; 2Ch 28:5--8; Isa 7:1-9). This provoked the wrath of the Assyrian king, who defeated Damascus,3 the capital of Aram, and devastated Israel in 732 B.C. (2Ki 15:29; 16:7-9; 1Ch 5:26). The records of Tiglath-Pileser III twice refer to this campaign and to the demise of Pekah. An ancient seal depicts a figure facing left, with the name Pekah written behind him.This was most likely Pekah's seal when he was an officer under Pekahiah prior to his becoming king (2Ki 15:25).

    • The names of Jotham and Ahaz, kings of Judah (c.759-743 B.c.),appear on a clay seal impression or bulla.This bulla,from the reign of Jotham's son Ahaz, once sealed an official papyrus document.The full name of a man in ancient Israel was rendered as "X, son of Y"; thus the impression reads, "Belonging to Ahaz, (son of) Jotham, king of Judah."

    • Tiglath-Pileser III, king of Assyria (c. 745 — 727 B.c.),4 is named nine times in the Bible. Many records from his reign, including sculptured reliefs depicting the king himself, were found in his palace at Calah, Iraq.

Ahaz, King of Judah, and Rezin, King of Aram

2 KINGS 16 Ahaz ruled Judah for 16 years, from approximately 743 to 727 B.C. He is remembered most for his war against Israel (under Pekah) and Aram (under Rezin).1 Ahaz sought the aid of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III when Pekah and Rezin sought to force him to join a coalition against Assyria (2Ki 16:5). A number of inscriptions from the ancient world refer to kings of this time:

    • Among the records of Tiglath-Pileser III is an entry claiming that he received tribute from "Jehoahaz of Judah" in 734 B.C. Jehoahaz, Ahaz's full name, means "Yahweh has possessed."

    • Ahaz's name also appears on a seal and three bullae from Israel, all acquired from antiquities dealers:

The seal of an official during the reign of Ahaz carries the inscription "Belonging to Ushna, servant of Ahaz."

Two of the seal impressions, made from the same seal, read,"Belonging to Hezekiah (son of) Ahaz, king of Judah."

Ahaz's personal seal, on the other hand, was used to impress the third bulla with the legend"Belonging to Ahaz (son of) Yehotam (Jotham), king of Judah."

    • Rezin, king of Aram, is named nine times in the Old Testament and six times in the surviving records of Tiglath-Pileser Ill. He paid tribute to the Assyrian king in 738 B.C. Some-time after that Rezin formed the anti-Assyrian coalition. Ahaz's appeal to Tiglath-Pileser III for help (vv. 7-8) was heeded. According to Assyrian records Tiglath-Pileser III responded by laying siege to Damascus, capital of Aram, in 733 B.C. In 732 B.C. Damascus was crushed, its citizens taken into captivity and Rezin killed, as recorded in verse 16:9, thus bringing the kingdom of Aram to an end.

Hoshea, King of Israel, and Shalmaneser King of Assyria

2 KINGS 17 Hoshea was the nineteenth and last king of the northern kingdom, ruling for nine years, from approximately 731 to 722 B.C.' In his annals the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III claims to have killed Pekah, king of Israel, and installed Hoshea in his place (2Ki 15:30).2 The Bible and Assyrian records agree that Hoshea initially paid tribute to his Assyrian overlords (17:3-4). The annals of Tiglath-Pileser III state that he received from Israel ten talents of gold, as well as silver and other booty. Under the next Assyrian king, Shalmaneser V, Hoshea stopped paying tribute and sought help from Egypt.This proved to be his undoing,as Shalmaneser V imprisoned Hoshea and invaded Israel (vv. 4-5). After a three-year siege, Israel's capital, Samaria, fell and its inhabitants were taken into captivity, bringing an end to the nation (v. 6; 18:9-11).

Shalmaneser V, son of Tiglath-Pileser III, ruled Assyria for five years, from approximately 727 to 722 B.C. Few records survive from his reign. The most important are two entries from the Babylonian Chronicles, a series of cuneiform tablets recording important events from 745 B.C. to the second century B.c. For the year 727 B.C. the Chronicle states that on the twenty-seventh of the month Tebet (December—January) Shalman-eser ascended the throne in Assyria and destroyed Samaria. The next entry, for 722 B.C., records that Shalmaneser died five years later, again in the month Tebet.

The Lachish Reliefs

2 KINGS 18 In 1850 12 stone slabs were discovered in Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh.The reliefs on these slabs originally formed a single, continuous work, measuring 8 feet (2.4 m) tall by 80 feet (24.4 m) long, which wrapped around the room.They vividly depict Sennacherib's victory over the fortified Judahite town of Lachish ("Map 4") in 701 B.C. (2Ki 18:13-15).

The "story" begins on the far left, with the Assyrian vanguard carrying spears and shielding screens to protect the archers and sling-throwers behind them.The viewer gets the impression of a large body of troops moving in a dense wave over the terrain. Next we see the storming of the citadel, with siege engines climbing ramps to the city gate. The defending Judahites hurl down stones and firebrands, while the Assyrians dowse their battering rams with water.2 Captives are led out of the first captured tower with three Judahites impaled on stakes. Two more rows of captives (men, women and children) are led out of the defeated city. They are brought before Sennacherib to acknowledge him as their new sovereign before being deported to Assyria.

When these reliefs were originally displayed in the palace room, foreign emissaries and dignitaries awaiting an audience with the king would have been impressed not only by the magnitude of the artwork itself but also by the magnificent strength of the Assyrian war machine. Having viewed the fate of Lachish, visitors from other vassal states would presumably have been reluctant themselves to rebel. For more on Sennacherib,see"The Death of Sennacherib" on page 562,"The Sennacherib Prism" on page 659 and "Sennacherib's Campaign Against Merodach-Baladan" on page 1124. For information on Lachish during Nebuchadnezzar's attack.

The Death of Sennacherib

2 KINGS 19 In 2 Kings 19:5-7 the prophet Isaiah foretold that the Lord would deliver Jerusalem from the hand of the Assyrian king Sennacherib (r.704 —681 B.c.), who was besieging the Judahite capital. Isaiah stated that Sennacherib would return to his own land after having heard a particular report and that there the Lord would "have him cut down with the sword" (v. 7). This prophecy was fulfilled in verses 35-37. After God had struck the Assyrian camp with a plague, Sennacherib withdrew to Assyria., The "report" Sennacherib heard was that Tirhakah of Egypt was marching out against him. With 185,000 of his soldiers felled by the plague, Sennacherib's forces were so significantly depleted that he was compelled to pull back rather than face this powerful Egyptian enemy. The Biblical record informs us that, once back in Assyria, Sennacherib was killed by his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer while he was worshiping in the temple of Nisroch (v.37).These two men escaped to Ararat, and another son, Esarhaddon, became king.

Although the identity of Sharezer is unknown from extrabiblical material, we do know of a son of Sennacherib named Arda-Mulishi. A Neo-Babylonian letter describes an event just prior to Sennacherib's assassination. In this account several Babylonian men hear of a conspiracy to kill Sennacherib, and one of them seeks an audience with the king to warn him. Rather than taking him to the king, however, two Assyrian officials blindfold the man and lead him before the king's son, Arda-Mulishi (also called "Arda-Ninlil"; Ninlil and Mulishi are two names for the same deity).Thinking that he is standing before Sennacherib, the man shouts that Sennacherib's son, Arda-Mulishi, is plotting to kill him. Arda-Mulishi orders that he, along with other Babylonians who know of the plot, be put to death.

Assyriologists have reconstructed the events surrounding Sennacherib's murder. His oldest son had been taken captive to Elam in 694 B.C., and Arda-Mulishi, probably the next oldest, expected to succeed his father. Sennacherib, however, chose Esarhaddon over his older brothers to be the crown prince. While Esarhaddon was away from the capital, Arda-Mulishi murdered his father, probably hoping to take the throne by force. Esarhaddon returned to Nineveh' to contest Arda claim. Many of Arda-Mulishi's soldiers and allies sided with Esarhaddon, and Arda-Mulishi fled.

The Biblical Adrammelech was most likely Arda-Mulishi. That Sennacherib's murder occurred 20 years after the siege of Jerusalem should not trouble us. Scripture does not state that Sennacherib would die immediately upon his return to Assyria. In fact, verse 37 begins with the words "one day," suggesting that time had passed between the previous verses and what was about to be reported.The author was simply telescoping the events in order to demonstrate that the word of the Lord in verse 7 had indeed been fulfilled.

Hezekiah's Tunnel

2 KINGS 20 One of King Hezekiah's major accomplishments was the construction of the tunnel, or conduit, that still bears his name (2Ki 20:20). He was able to ensure a steady supply of water into Jerusalem through this tunnel when the city was under siege by the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib in approximately 701 B.C., thus saving the city from almost certain destruction.' Water was redirected into Jerusalem from the Gihon spring through this underground tunnel, cut through solid rock for 1,750 feet (533 m). The tunnel followed a winding route, starting most likely at the point of a natural fissure. The pool at the end of the tunnel was located strategically in-side the city wall.

Edward Robinson was the first to explore the tunnel in modern times (1837). Much later, in 1880, children discovered the famous Siloam Inscription carved in the wall of the tunnel about 20 feet (6 m) from the Siloam end. The inscription commemorates the dramatic moment when the two original teams of tunnelers, digging with picks from opposite ends of the tunnel, met each other. One of the most important ancient Hebrew inscriptions ever discovered, it now resides in the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Hezekiah's Tunnel, which today still brings water into Jerusalem, was a remarkable achievement in ancient engineering that also, with its inscription, provides an important link to Biblical history.

The Seal of Manasseh

2 KINGS 21 Manasseh became king when he was 12 years old and ruled for 55 years (2Ki 21:1; c. 697 642 B.c.), during which time Judah was subject to Assyria., His reign, the longest of any king of Judah or Israel, was marred by idolatry, child sacrifice and witchcraft. The Chronicler revealed that God punished Manasseh by allowing the Assyrians to imprison him in Babylon.' When he repented, Manasseh was released and permitted to return to Jerusalem, after which he initiated a building program and religious reforms (see 2Ch 33:11-17).

Manasseh's name has been found in three contemporary documents: a seal and two Assyrian inscriptions.The seal, purchased from an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem in 1974, reads,"Belonging to Manasseh Son of the King." Manasseh was probably coregent with his father Hezekiah for about ten years, and this was most likely the seal he used during that time.

Because of his unusually long tenure as king, Manasseh was on the throne during the reigns of two of the strongest kings of Assyria,3 Esarhaddon (680-669 B.c.) and Ashurbanipal (668-627 B.C.). No record has been found of Manasseh's imprisonment, but both kings mention him in their records. Manasseh was among 22- - kings who, "under terrible difficulties," were obliged to transport building materials to Nineveh for Esarhaddon's palace. His name also appears in a list of kings con-scripted by Ashurbanipal in 667 help repress an Egyptian revolt.

The Huldah Delegation and Nathan-Melech, the Official

2 KINGS 22 The discovery of the Book of the Law caused great consternation on the part of King Josiah,1 who sent a delegation of five officials to Huldah the prophetess to "inquire of the LORD" (2K1 22:13): Hilkiah, Ahikam, Acbor, Shaphan and Asaiah. The names of four of the delegation members have been found on four seals and three bullae discovered in Israel:

    • Hilkiah was the high priest who discovered the scroll of the law (v. 8). His name appears on a seal and a bulla of his son Azariah, who was also a priest and the grandfather of Ezra (1Ch 6:13-14; 9:11; Ezr 7:1). Hilkiah's name also appears on a seal of another son named Hanan.

    • Another bulla reads "Ahikam son of Shaphan," as in 2 Kings 22:12. No doubt Ahikam was a scribe like his father, who read the scroll of the law to Josiah (v. 10). It was Ahikam who later saved Jeremiah from death at the hands of the priests, prophets and people following the prophet's temple sermon (Jer 26:24). The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar appointed Ahikam's son Gedaliah governor of Judah after the fall of Jerusalem (2Ki 25:22). Fingerprints visible on the edge of the bulla are almost certainly those of Ahikam himself.

    • Shaphan's name also appears on a bulla of a son named Gemariah.3 A seal of Sha phan's father bears the inscription "Azaliah son of Meshullam" (22:3). Another official in Josiah's court was Nathan-Melech (23:11). A bulla with the inscription "Belonging to Nathan-Melech, Servant of the King," is probably that of Nathan-Melech.

The Tragic Reign of King Josiah

2 KINGS 23 Josiah's reign (640-609 B.c.) began during difficult times. His father, Manasseh, had been an Assyrian vassal for the majority of his reign, all the while undoing Hezekiah's reforms and introducing new forms of idolatry to Jerusalem.1 At age sixteen (632 B.c.) Josiah began to seek the Lord and to rid Judah of Canaanite and Assyrian cultic practices. Assyrian power declined rapidly, as did the health of its king, Ashurbanipal. During the same period the Neo-Babylonian Empire arose under Nabopolassar, who united with the Medes against Assyria. Egypt, seeking to maintain a balance of power in Mesopotamia, allied with Assyria.

Against this political backdrop Josiah began a religious reformation in Judah. During repairs to the temple the Book of the Law was found. The prophetess Huldah predicted judgment on Judah, but not during Josiah's reign. Josiah humbled himself before the Lord and increased his efforts at reformation by destroying pagan altars throughout his kingdom and centralizing sacrificial worship in Jerusalem.3 His efforts extended to the former northern kingdom; perhaps he was attempting to reunite all Israel within boundaries once held by King David. A covenant renewal ceremony and a Passover unlike any since the days of the judges were observed.

Josiah's faithfulness seemed to be rewarded as Assyrian cities fell in quick succession: Asshur to the Medes (614 B.c.), Nineveh to the Babylonians (612 B.c.) and Harran to the Babylonians and Medes (610 B.c.). Egypt's Pharaoh Neco, however, ad-vanced to assist the Assyrians at Carchemish (609 B.c.).4 Josiah opposed him at Megiddo but was mortally wounded. The failure of Josiah was, according to 2 Kings 23:26-27, not the result of shortcomings on his own part but due to the apostasy of the people and of his predecessor, Manasseh.


2 KINGS 24 Nebuchadnezzar II, one of the greatest and longest-reigning monarchs of Mesopotamia, ruled Babylon from 605 to 562 B.C.' He is mentioned some 90 times in the Old Testament, more than any other foreign king. The Bible records his campaigns against Jerusalem in 604, 597 and 586 B.C., culminating in the captivity of Judah.

The first four chapters of Daniel detail events in Babylon during Nebuchadnezzar's reign. Outside the Bible we have many con-temporary records from Babylon, as well as later writings extolling Nebuchadnezzar's accomplishments: hundreds of contracts, several inscriptions, detail from classical historians and the Babylonian Chronicle, which documents Nebuchadnezzar's accomplishments from his first through his eleventh year. However, there are still large gaps in our knowledge about his reign.

Nebuchadnezzar distinguished himself while still crown prince by defeating the Egyptians at Carchemish (southern Turkey) in 605 B.C. (ler 46:2). He boasted that he had conquered all of Syria-Palestine at approximately the same time, significantly reducing the Egyptian sphere of influence. After returning briefly to Babylon to claim the throne upon receiving news of his father's death, Nebuchadnezzar resumed the consolidation of his control over Syria-Palestine. Jehoiakim of Judah served as his vassal for the next three years (2Ki 24:1),and Ashkelon ("Map 6"), which would not submit to the Babylonian king, was attacked and left in ruins (cf. Jer 47:5-7). Over the next few years Nebuchadnezzar also invaded Arabia, forcing its people to pay him yearly tribute.

In 601 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar once again routed the Egyptian forces. Pharaoh Neco II, however, imposed such heavy casualties on the Babylonian army that Jehoiakim took the opportunity to revolt against the weakened empire.; Babylon and her allies retaliated against rebellious Judah during the following year (2Ki 24:1-2). Jerusalem was conquered; the temple was looted; Jehoiakim's son and successor, Jehoiachin, was deported to Babylon, along with over 3,000 other captives; and Zedekiah was appointed king (vv. 10-17). These events are mentioned in Nebuchadnezzar's own records.

When Zedekiah himself rebelled in 589 B.c.the Babylonian army devastated the land of Judah. Jerusalem was ransacked and the temple destroyed in 586 B.C. (25:1-17).4 An-other massive deportation was carried out at this time, with yet another in 582 (Jer 52:29— 30).We lack records for years 11-43 of Nebuchadnezzar's reign, but later historians describe a siege of Tyre that lasted for 13 years, as well as another campaign against Egypt., Apart from his military campaigns, during the course of which he consolidated control of virtually the entire ancient Near East, Nebuchadnezzar set about to transform Babylon into the greatest city in the world. Desiring to leave a lasting legacy, he erected his structures with kiln-fired bricks, as opposed to the sun-dried bricks normally used. The "blazing furnace" of Daniel 3 was undoubtedly one of the many brick kilns in Babylon that were needed for Nebuchadnezzar's aggressive building program. Many of the bricks were stamped with the king's name and titles. He constructed fortification walls, gates, palaces, temples, roads, bridges and a ziggurat (temple-tower) and is said to have designed the famous "hanging gardens" for his wife, Amytis, daughter of the Median king Astyages, to remind her of her mountainous homeland. The story of the hanging gardens is now widely regarded as a legend, however.

Through his military might and building enterprises, Nebuchadnezzar established Babylon as the most powerful empire of its day. Nebuchadnezzar died in 562 B.C. and was succeeded by his son Awil-Marduk (Evil-Merodach in the Hebrew), who released Jehoiachin from prison and provided him with a regular allowance (2Ki 25:27-30).

The Seals of Jaazaniah, Ishmael and Elishama

2 KINGS 25 Following the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar appointed Gedaliah governor of Judah (2Ki 25:22). Gedaliah established an administrative center at Mizpah ("Map 7"), identified as Tell en-Nasbeh, approximately 7.5 miles (12 km) north of Jerusalem. A number of army commanders rallied around him, including Jaazaniah (v. 23). The army commanders warned Gedaliah of a plot to take his life, but he dismissed their cautions (Jer 40:13-14). Gedaliah was subsequently assassinated, along with "the men of Judah and the Babylonians who were with him at Mizpah" (2Ki 25:25).

A high-quality, onyx seal with the inscription "Belonging to Jaazaniah, servant of the king," was discovered in a sixth-century B.C. tomb at Tell en-Nasbeh. It appears that Jaazaniah was among those killed defending Gedaliah at Mizpah and that he was buried there, along with his seal.

The man responsible for his assassination was Ishmael, of the royal family of David and "one of the king's officers" (Jer 41:1). Ishmael was evidently trying to reestablish the Davidic line of kingship. A bulla (clay seal impression) purchased from an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem bears the inscription"Belonging to Ishmael the king's son." The style of the script is from the late seventh or early sixth century B.C., and the bulla had been baked in a fire, possibly the one set by the Babylonians. It is likely that the bulla is that of Ishmael the assassin. Another bulla, purchased in Jaffa and-bearing the inscription "Belonging to Elishama the king's son," may have been made by Ishmael's grandfather (2Ki 25:25).