Tag Archives: Assyrian Empire

Sargon II, Ashdod, and Isaiah 20:1

Ashdod was located along an international highway known as the Way of the Sea, the Way of Philistia, or the Via Maris. This was the important route connecting Egypt and Assyria. We have already discussed, in the past few posts, that the Assyrian king Sargon II captured Ashdod in 712/11 B.C. The prophet Isaiah makes reference to this event in Isaiah 20:1.

 The LORD revealed the following message during the year in which King Sargon of Assyria sent his commanding general to Ashdod, and he fought against it and captured it. (Isa 20:1 NET)

Sometime discoveries are made, but get little attention. A discovery at Tel Ashdod in 1963 falls into this category. Tel Ashdod was excavated from 1962 to 1972 under the direction of Moshe Dothan. David Noel Freedman wrote an article in Biblical Archaeologist (26:4, 1963)) about “The Second Season at Ancient Ashdod.” He describes the fragments of a stele of Sargon II.

Fragments of another stele, commemorating the victories of Sargon, were found at Ashdod during the current season, thus offering direct confirmation and vivid illustration of the biblical and Assyrian accounts. In all, three pieces of the stele were discovered. Enough can be made of their contents to show that the inscription duplicated in content if not precisely in wording other victory steles of the Assyrian king. By comparing the Ashdod stele with the others it will be possible to reconstruct the missing parts, one of which described the actual conquest of Ashdod. The inscription was carved in cuneiform signs characteristic of Sargon and his period, on all four sides of a slab of basalt which had been imported from a region north of Megiddo. It may have served as a pedestal for an obelisk, or a statue of the emperor. It must have been erected between the year of victory at Ashdod and the death of the king in 705 B.C., perhaps in 707 when a similar stele was set up in Cyprus. With the accession of Sennacherib in 704, most of the vessel countries revolted; Hezekiah of Judah and Sidqa of Ashkelon were the ringleaders in the west. They were able to liberate Ashdod from Assyrian control, and doubtless the event was observed by the destruction of Sargon’s victory stele, symbol of foreign oppression. These fragments of a monumental Assyrian inscription are the first ever found in Palestine.

The photos below were published in an article by Hayam Tadmor (“Philistia Under Assyrian Rule.” Biblical Archaeologist (29:3, 1966). Several years ago I used a digital camera to copy the photo. Sorry it is not better, but at least you can see the pieces. A photo of the piece in the middle below is also published in a BAR article (Jan-Feb, 2007) by H. Shanks on the “Assyrian Palace Discovered in Ashdod,” but the quality is about the same.
Fragment of the Sargon II inscription found at Ashdod.

Fragment of the Sargon II inscription found at Ashdod.

For several years the fragments were displayed in a case across from the replica of the Siege of Lachish in the Israel Museum. For the past years the fragments have not been on display. I made inquiry at the Museum earlier this year without any success. I wonder if the pieces have been moved to the Corine Maman Museum of Philistine Culture in Ashdod. Can anyone help with this?

This discovery is one of those that complement the biblical record. Sargon II (721–705 B.C.) is mentioned only once in the Bible — Isaiah 20:1. Isaiah says that the commanding general of Sargon II fought against Ashdod and captured it.

The photo below shows Sargon II (right) facing a person who is generally considered to be an Assyrian high dignitary. (See the discussion in Fant & Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible, 133-140.

Sargon II and an attendant. Displayed in Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sargon II and an official. Displayed in Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jack Finegan says of the reference to Sargon II in Isaiah 20:1,

… for a long time this was the only place in extant literature where his name was known.

The palace of Sargon II was discovered by Paul Emile Botta at Khorsabad in 1843. This relief comes from that palace, and is displayed in the Louvre. Other reliefs and artifacts from the palace are exhibited in the British Museum and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Written copies of Isaiah existed in what we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls nearly 2000 years before the discovery of Sargon’s palace and archive. Perhaps we should be slow to think of Isaiah and other biblical writers as being unhistorical. To say this in a positive way, this illustrates the historical trustworthiness of the Bible. That the only reference to Sargon is specifically linked to Ashdod is even more impressive.

The Philistine city of Ashdod in the Bible

Ashdod is mentioned in the Bible as one of five cities of the Philistine Pentapolis (1 Samuel 6:17). The city is mentioned earlier among the Canaanite cities in the Ebla tablets. Here is a brief survey of the events recorded in the Bible.

  • Some of the Anakim were left in Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod after Israel entered the land (Joshua 11:22).
  • Ashdod was among some cities that remained under Philistine control even though it had been assigned to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 13:2-3; 15:46-47).
  • When Israel lost the Ark of the Covenant at Ebenezer, the Philistines brought it to Ashdod and placed it in the temple of Dagon (1 Samuel 5:1-8).
Representation of the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness at Timna. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Representation of the Ark of the Covenant in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness at Timna.

  • Uzziah, king of Judah (767-740/39 B.C.), made war against Ashdod. He broke down the wall of Ashdod and built cities in the area (2 Chronicles 26:6).
  • King Sargon II of Assyria captured Ashdod in 712/711 B.C. (Isaiah 20:1).
  • After the return from Babylon, Nehemiah faced problems because some of the Judeans had married women of Ashdod. Their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and could not speak the language of Judah (Nehemiah 13:23-24).
  • The prophets Jeremiah, Amos, Zephaniah, and Zechariah spoke against Ashdod (Jeremiah 25:20; Amos 1:8; 3:9; Zephaniah 2:4; Zechariah 9:6).
  • Ashdod was known as Azotus in New Testament times (Acts 8:40).

In the next post we hope to discuss Isaiah 20:1 and the archaeological discovery that complements this text.

Massive Iron Age fortifications found at Ashdod-Yam

The American Friends of Tel Aviv University announced Monday the discovery of a massive fortification from the Iron Age.

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Researchers from Tel Aviv University have unearthed the remains of massive ancient fortifications built around an Iron-Age Assyrian harbor in present-day Israel.

At the heart of the well-preserved fortifications is a mud-brick wall up to more than 12 feet wide and 15 feet high. The wall is covered in layers of mud and sand that stretch for hundreds of feet on either side. When they were built in the eighth century B.C.E., the fortifications formed a daunting crescent-shaped defense for an inland area covering more than 17 acres.

The finding comes at the end of the first excavation season at the Ashdod-Yam archaeological dig in the contemporary Israeli coastal city of Ashdod, just south of Tel Aviv. Dr. Alexander Fantalkin of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures is leading the project on behalf of the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology.

“The fortifications appear to protect an artificial harbor,” says Fantalkin. “If so, this would be a discovery of international significance, the first known harbor of this kind in our corner of the Levant.”

Building up and putting down. When the fortifications were built, the Assyrians ruled the southeastern part of the Mediterranean basin, including parts of Africa and the Middle East. Assyrian inscriptions reveal that at the end of the century, Yamani, the rebel king of Ashdod, led a rebellion against Sargon II, the king of the Assyrian Empire. The Kingdom of Judah, under King Hezekiah, rejected Yamani’s call to join the insurrection.

The Assyrians responded harshly to the rebellion, eventually destroying Philistine Ashdod. As a result, power shifted to the nearby area of Ashdod-Yam, where the TAU excavations are taking place. The fortifications seem to be related to these events, but it is not yet clear exactly how. They could have been built before or after the Ashdod rebellion was put down, either at the initiative of the locals or at the orders of the Assyrians.

“An amazing amount of time and energy was invested in building the wall and glacis [embankments],” says Fantalkin.

3D castles in the sand. More recent ruins — from the Hellenistic period, between the fourth and second centuries B.C.E. — were also found on top of the sand of the Iron Age fortifications. The buildings and walls were apparently built after the fortifications were abandoned and then probably destroyed by an earthquake in the second half of the second century B.C.E. Among the unusually well-preserved ruins were artifacts, including coins and weights.

The researchers employed a powerful new digital technique, photogrammetry, to create a 3D reconstruction of all the features of the excavation. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln provided the equipment. Dr. Philip Sapirstein, a postdoctoral fellow at TAU, served as a digital surveyor on the project.

The only archaeological work done previously at Ashdod-Yam was a series of exploratory digs led by late Israeli archaeologist Dr. Jacob Kaplan on behalf of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Museum of Antiquities between 1965 and 1968. Kaplan believed the Ashdod rebels built the fortifications in anticipation of an Assyrian attack, but Fantalkin says the construction appears too impressive to have been done under such circumstances.

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Broken columns lie scattered among the wild flowers on the sand dunes covering Ashdod-Yam. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Broken columns lie scattered among the wild flowers on the sand dunes covering Ashdod-Yam. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Ashdod-Yam Excavations website is here.

HT: Joseph Lauer

The Assyrians at the Source of the Tigris River

The Tigris River (called Dicle in Turkish) begins in the mountains of ancient Ararat and flows to the Persian Gulf. The Tigris is mentioned twice in the Bible. It is said to be the third of the rivers flowing out of the garden of Eden. It flows on the east side of Assyria (Genesis 2:14). The river is also mentioned in Daniel 10:4. The prophet stood beside “the great river, the Tigris.” Ancient Nineveh, near Mosul in northern Iraq, was built on the Tigris.

The Tigris River south of Diyabakir, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Tigris River south of Diyabakir, Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Ziyaret Tepe is identified with the Assyrian city of Tushhan. The city dates back to the Early Bronze Age (about 3000 B.C.), but there is a concentration of interest in the Late Assyrian period, c. 882–611 B.C. This corresponds to the biblical period of the Divided Kingdom.

Dr. Tim Matney, director of the Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Expedition in southeastern Turkey, writes today about a visit to the source of the Tigris.

About 90km north of Diyarbakir there is a place in the Taurus Mountains where the Dibni Su, one of the two main sources of the Tigris River, comes flowing out of a large cave. The Dibni Su actually originates much deeper in the mountains, but the ancient Assyrians thought this to be the source of the Tigris and it is a dramatic landscape that had great significance to them. The modern name of the place is Birkleyn Gorge.

Take a look at three nice photos posted by Matney at the Ziyaret Tepe website here.

Matney says there are four small rock inscriptions made by Assyrian kings Tiglath-pileser I (1114–1076 B.C.) and Shalmaneser III (858–824 B.C.). Six Bible references may be found for Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29; 16:7,10; 1 Chronicles 5:6,26; 2 Chronicles 28:20), and two for Shalmaneser (2 Kings 17:3; 18:9). [See Comments below. The biblical kings are Tiglath-pileser III (745–727 B.C.), and Shalmaneser V (726–722 BC). Perhaps I will say more about these kings in a future post. My oldest son and I have the same name, and sometimes folks get us mixed up unless they know us.]

Ziyaret Tepe is scheduled to be flooded by the Tigris River as part of the project by the Turkish government to provide power and irrigation for the southeastern region of Turkey.

I have not visited Ziyaret Tepe, but have visited the general area (Diyabakir, Batman, et al. The photo below was made at Hasankef, an old town also scheduled to be flooded by the Tigris.

The Tigris River at Hasankef in southeastern Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Tigris River at Hasankef in southeastern Turkey. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

In addition to the Ziyaret Tepe blog, there is an interesting report on the site, with maps, at Past Horizons.

HT: Jack Sasson

Nabopolassar, father of Nebuchadnezzar, destroyed Nineveh

Babylonian king Nabopolassar ruled over the rising empire from about 626 to 605 B.C. The Babylonian Chronicle for the years 615-609 B.C. tells of the fall of Nineveh in 612 B.C. The wounded Assyrian Empire would collapse seven years later at the battle of Carchemish. The British Museum item number is BM 21901.

Babylonian Chronicles for years 615-609 B.C. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Babylonian Chronicles for years 615-609 B.C. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins

The name of Nabopolassar is not recorded in the Bible, but the events of this period of time are highly significant.

The Chronicle of Nabopolassar describes the activity of the king for the years 608-605 B.C. The struggle of the Babylonians with the Egyptians (Pharaoh Necho) for control of the western portion of the Assyrian Empire is also described. This included the kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem. The crown-prince Nebuchadnezzar, the most celebrated Babylonian king mentioned in the Bible, became the leader of the Neo-Babylonian Empire at the battle of Carchemish (605 B.C.). The British Museum item number is BM 22047.

Chronicles of Nabopolassar. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Chronicle of Nabopolassar. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The prophet Nahum describes the fall of Nineveh in vivid language.

Woe to the city guilty of bloodshed! She is full of lies; she is filled with plunder; she has hoarded her spoil!
2 The chariot drivers will crack their whips; the chariot wheels will shake the ground; the chariot horses will gallop; the war chariots will bolt forward!
3 The charioteers will charge ahead; their swords will flash and their spears will glimmer! There will be many people slain; there will be piles of the dead, and countless casualties– so many that people will stumble over the corpses.
4 “Because you have acted like a wanton prostitute– a seductive mistress who practices sorcery, who enslaves nations by her harlotry, and entices peoples by her sorcery–
5 I am against you,” declares the LORD who commands armies. “I will strip off your clothes! I will show your nakedness to the nations and your shame to the kingdoms;
6 I will pelt you with filth; I will treat you with contempt; I will make you a public spectacle.
7 Everyone who sees you will turn away from you in disgust; they will say, ‘Nineveh has been devastated! Who will lament for her?’ There will be no one to comfort you!”  (Nahum 3:1-7 NET)

Evidence suggests Qarqur (Qarqar) continued when other civilizations saw a period of collapse

Archaeologists from the University of Arkansas “have found evidence for the continuity of civilization across a time period when civilizations throughout the Middle East and elsewhere were collapsing. Their work occurred at Tell Qarqur, an important archeological site in the Orontes River Valley in northwestern Syria.” (I typically use the Anglicized spelling Qarqar.)

“This new evidence shows the survival of a city through this tumultuous period about 4,000 to 4,200 years ago,” said Jesse Casana, associate professor of anthropology. “Our discovery offers a rare glimpse of what cultures were during this transitional time and challenges ideas about the reasons for the collapse in the first place.”

The end of the third millennium B.C. — roughly 2200 to 2000 B.C. — is often described as a dark age because this period experienced the collapse of many major states, including the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, Old Kingdom Egypt and the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley. Major cities and small towns across the Middle East that had been occupied for centuries were suddenly abandoned, leaving a gap in the archaeological and historical record.

Read the full news release here. Several photos from the album may be seen at Live Science here.

Matt McGowan, science and research communications officer at the University of Arkansas, has kindly granted permission for us to use this photo. It shows Tell Qarqur from the east. Qarqur is located in the Orontes River Valley in northwestern Syria.

Qarqur from the east. Photo by Prof. Casana, courtesy University of Arkansas.
Qarqur from the east. Photo by Prof. Casana, courtesy University of Arkansas.

You will see an archaeological trench cut in the side of the tell. This allows the excavators to go down to bedrock and get a slice of every civilization that occupied the site.

Notice a portion of a second mound on the right of the image. I had the opportunity to visit the area in 2002 during early May. At that time the fields were wet and the tells were green.

Tell Qarqar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins, May, 2002.

Tell Qarqar. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins, May, 2002.

The Assyrian Empire ruled the ancient near east from the battle of Qarqar (853 B.C.) till the battle of Carchemish (605 B.C.) when they were defeated by the Babylonians. Nineveh had fallen seven years earlier. This was the time of the Divided Kingdom period in Israelite history, and Assyria had contact with a numerous biblical kings. Ahab, for example, fought against the Assyrians at Qarqar. Qarqar is north of Hammath (Hama). Both are on the Orontes River.

For a photo of the other side of the tell now being excavated, click here.

Finds from the excavation are said to be displayed in a museum at Hama. In light of the recent unrest in Syria, I suspect there won’t be many visitors there for a while.

HT: Joseph Lauer

The Nimrud ivories

Ray Moseley writes an article for Al-Arabiya about the Nimrud Ivories in the British Museum. The exquisite ivories date to the time of the Assyrian empire.

The British Museum in London has recently saved for the nation a horde of the so-called Nimrud ivories—1,000 intact pieces, 5,000 fragments—after a public fund-raising campaign that netted £1.17 million. That was about a third of the value of the ivories, and another third of the collection was donated by the British Institute for the Study of Iraq. The remaining third is expected to be returned to Iraq.…

The first group of ivories, dating from the 9th and 8th centuries BC, was excavated by the archaeologist Austin Henry Layard in 1845 at Nimrud, just south of Mosul on the Tigris River. They came from the ruins of the palace of Shalmaneser III, who ruled from 859 to 824 B.C., and more came to light a few years later.

The complete article may be read here. Some readers will enjoy the connection with archaeologist Max Mallowan and his wife, crime-novelist Agatha Christie, who used a knitting needle and cold cream to clean some of the ivories.

“Oh what a beautiful spot it was,” the novelist wrote. “The Tigris just a mile away, and on the great mound of the Acropolis, big stone Assyrian heads poked out of the soil. In one place there was the enormous wing of a great genie.”

The earliest ivories belong to the reign of Ashurnasirpal, but the largest number came from Fort Shalmaneser, a palace/fort built by Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.). He is the Assyrian king who brags about defeating “Ahab the Israelite” at the battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C. (Monolith from Kurkh), and of taking tribute from the Israelite king Jehu (Black Obelisk). The writers of the Bible had no reason to include either of these facts in their writings.

Our photo shows a relief in ivory of a lioness devouring a man with negroid features (a Nubian boy) in a thicket of stylized lotus and papyrus plants. This piece belongs to the Nimrud ivories displayed in the British Museum.

Assyrian Nimrud Ivory in British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Assyrian Nimrud Ivory in British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Moseley’s says the British Museum “recently put some of it’s collection on permanent display and intends to make other available for traveling exhibitions.”

Samaria Ivory. British Museum. Photo: Ferrell Jenkins.

Samaria Ivory. British Museum. Photo: Ferrell Jenkins.

Bible writers spoke of Ahab’s ivory house at Samaria (1 Kings 22:39; Amos 3:15; 6:3-4). Both the British Museum and the Israel Museum display some of the ivories excavated at Samaria that follow the same general motif as those from Nimrud. The Israelites may have sent workers to learn from the Assyrians, Phoenicians, and Egyptians, or they may have hired foreign craftsmen to do their work, or imported the ivory pieces. The piece in the photo to the right is exhibited in the British Museum.

HT: Joseph Lauer