Bible Chronology Timeline

Chronologies of the Mysteries of God

Genesis 5:1
“This is the book of the generations of
Adam. In the day that God created man,
in the likeness of God made he him”
Copyright notice

This page and its content is copyright © 2012. All rights reserved

Any redistribution or reproduction of part or all of the contents in any form is prohibited other than the following:

You may print or download to a local hard disk extracts for your personal use only.

You may not distribute or commercially use the content on any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.

VIII. The Assyrian Empire (933—612 B.C.)

The Assyrian Empire period is only an episode in the long history of this world, but to the student of the Bible it is of great importance because of the decisive role Assyria played in the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. This importance can be seen from the fact that Assyria and its people are mentioned some 150 times in Scripture. Six illustrious Assyrian kings are mentioned by name in the Bible, and the names of 10 Hebrews kings—6 of Israel and 4 of Judah—appear in the royal Assyrian inscriptions. Furthermore, the fact that the kingdom of Israel came to its sad end at the cruel hands of the Assyrians, and that Judah almost shared Israel’s fate, should be reason enough for a careful study of Assyrian history. This enumeration of contacts between sacred and profane history at the time of the Assyrian Empire period shows clearly how important is a knowledge of the history of that nation for a correct understanding of the events that took place during the period of the Hebrew kings.

The homeland of Assyria was situated on the upper Tigris, north of the Little Zab, one of the eastern tributaries of the Tigris. Thence, Assyria extended in a north westerly direction for about 80 miles along the river Tigris. The Assyrians moved their capital from one place to another several times during their history. Assur, the most ancient capital, was not far from the Little Zab, and on the west bank of the Tigris. A short distance north was Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta, founded by the king whose name it bore, Tukulti-Ninurta. At the confluence of the Great Zab and the Tigris lay Calah, now called Nimrud, and farther to the north Nineveh, the largest and most famous of Assyrian cities. This capital, about 50 miles from Assur, was oblong in shape, with walls of an approximate total length of 8 miles and with 15 gates. A few miles to the north of Nineveh lay the capital of Sargon II, Dur Sharrukin, now called Khorsabad.

The Assyrians were Semitic Akkadians, closely related to the Babylonians as far as race, language, and civilization go. They were numerically a small nation, but distinguished themselves as ambitious merchants, daring and courageous warriors, and prudent though ruthless political leaders and statesmen.

Assyria was stony, and lay near mountains where good stone could be quarried. Hence, much stone was used for the building of monumental and public edifices such as palaces and temples. The Assyrians became masters in the handling of stone, as the many huge slabs lining their palace and temple walls show. However, this art is particularly apparent from the winged, human-headed bulls or lions that flanked the city and palace gates. Each was hewn out of one block of stone and weighed about 40 tons. The art of cutting stone was practiced not only in the handling of monumental reliefs and sculptures but also in the engraving of smaller objects such as cylinder seals. These exhibit skilled craftsmanship.

Assyrian Religion.—The religion of the Assyrians was similar to that of the racially related Babylonians; in fact, many Babylonian deities were adopted and worshiped, as, for instance, Marduk, Ishtar, Tammuz, and others. The chief god was Ashur, the ancient local god of the city that carried his name. He was depicted as a winged sun that protected and guided the king, his principal servant, but was worshiped also under the symbol of a tree representative of fertility. The influence of other nations was also apparent on Assyrian religion. In this way some peoples, such as the Amorites, gained power over the Assyrians during the first half of the second millennium. Thus the gods Dagan and Adad gained recognition. Other conquerors of Assyria, like the Indo-European Hurrians of Mitanni, left behind them their religious concepts. Hence, we find in Assyrian religion little that was purely national and much that had been borrowed from other cultures.

In Assyria the king was neither a god, like Pharaoh in Egypt, nor the representative of the god, as in Sumeria. He was Ashur’s chief priest and general, who carried out his god’s desires and military campaigns, periodically giving account of the faithful fulfillment of his duties through “letters to the god,” of which some have been preserved to the present day.

Assyrian Chronology.—The Assyrians invented a method of designating years that, in a modified form, was later followed by the Greeks and the Romans. High officials, including the king, were appointed once during life to serve for one year as limmu, an honorary office requiring the performance of no duties except that of giving his name to the year in which he was limmu. The Greek equivalent of the Assyrian limmu is the word eponym; hence the chronological lists containing the names of limmu are called Eponym Canons. These lists are of great value in reconstructing the chronology of Assyria, particularly that of the period to 900 to 650 B.C.

Assyria Before Tiglath-pileser I (to C. 1112 B.C.).—The princes of Assur had been vassals of the ruling dynasties of southern Mesopotamia when Illushuma (C. 1850 B.C.), in the time of the dynasties of Isin and Larsa, made himself independent and succeeded in extending his power over great areas that previously belonged to his overloads. His son Erishum (C. 1825 B.C.), and more so his great-grandson Sargon I (C. 1780 B.C.), seem to have played with the idea of world dominion. This can be gathered from the name Sargon bore, in imitation of the great hero and founder of the empire of Akkad, and also from his program of political expansion. Successful military campaigns strengthened the young independent nation and extended its territory. Business relations were opened with foreign countries, and trading colonies and outposts were established. The Through the achieves of colonies in Asia Minor (the so-called Capadocian tablets) much information concerning the extent of Assyrian commercial activities has become available.

However, the short period of Assyrian independence ended soon after the death of Sargon I. Commercial connections with Asia Minor were broken, and Assyria itself became a bone of contention between two emerging powers, the Elamites and the Amorites. The Amorites Shamshi-Adad I (C. 1749-1717 B.C.), who claimed that his father Ilukapkapu had been king of Assur, succeeded in making himself king of Assyria. Like his great contemporary, Hammurabi, the Amorite king of Babylon, Shamshi-Adad planned to become sole under of Mesopotamia, as his title reveal, “King of the Universe” being the most significant one. He conquered the great city of Mari on the Euphrates and made his son its king. A victory stele found in the Syrian city of Mardin reveals, furthermore, that he also extended his power over northern Syria. When he died, the strongest opponent of Hammurabi was gone. His son and later descendants were not able to continue his policies, and Assyria degenerated once more into a second-rate power. It is not certain that Hammurabi and his successors ever exercised sovereignty over Assyria.

Next came the Hurrians of Mitanni, who overran Assyria and made it part of their empire. The Assyrian kings mentioned in the king lists for this period cannot have been more than vassals. It was Eriba-Adad (C. 1390-1364 B.C.) who began his reign as Mitanni’s vassal and referred to himself as priestly prince of Assur. Upon the death of Tushratta and the collapse of Mitanni he once more became a free and independent king.

In Ashur-ubalit I (1364-1328 B.C.), Eriba-Adad’s son, we find once more an Assyrian ruler who sought to advance the power of his country. He was a contemporary of the Egyptian revolutionary king Ikhnaton; in fact, two of Ashur-ubaliṭ’s letters to that Pharaoh have been found in the Amarna collection. In the first he calls himself merely king of the land Assur, but in the second he designates himself as brother of the Pharaoh. By this he claims to be great king, having taken the place in world politics formerly held by the king of Mitanni. Ashur-ubalit was an energetic ruler and knew how to achieve his aims. He occupied Upper Mesopotamia as far as Carchemish, and forced Kassite Babylonia to recognize his supremacy over southern Mesopotamia.

It was necessary, however, for the work of Ashur-uballiṭ to be repeated several times by his successors before Assyria’s power over all Mesopotamia was recognized even to a limited degree. Hence we read in the royal annals that successive kings led repeated military campaigns against Hanigalbat, the name by which the land of Mitanni was known in later times. They fought also against the more powerful Hittites to the west. The fortunes of war were not always on Assyria’s side, and territories that had been gained by painful campaigns were often lost. However, these continual wars seem to have strengthened the martial spirit of the numerically small people of Assyria, and gained for it the respect of other great nations. As a result, the kings of the Hittites, Egypt, and Babylon were finally forced to recognized the little king of Assur as “brother,” in acknowledgment of his claim to be a great king. Thus the 13th century saw three great Assyrian kings, Adadnirari I. Shalmaneser I, and Tukulti-Ninurta I.

Adadnirari I (C. 1306-1274 B.C.), of whom long inscriptions are known, was a great conqueror. He defeated Babylonia and established a new southern frontier of Assyria that incorporated the region of Kirkuk. He fought against the Guti and Lullupi in the Zagros Mts., and overran all Hanigalbat, destroying its capital and building and Assyrian palace there.

Shalmaneser I (C. 1274-1244 B.C.) practically repeated the campaigns of his father, and also defeated eight allied kings of the land of Urarti (later Urartu), the American region around Lake Van, in later times one of the most formidable enemies of Assyria. Adadnirari founded the city of Calah and moved the capital from Assur to the new city.

The next king, Tukulti-Ninurta I (C. 1244-1207 B.C.), who again moved the capital to a new location, Kar-Tukulti-Ninurta, was extremely temperamental and fanatical. He became the first Assyrian warrior-king whose ruthless methods of warfare are also well known from the later empire period. Elaborate historical records report his campaigns against Subartu in northern Mesopotamia, the Nairi lands of Urartu, where he claims to have defeated 43 local kings, the Guti and Elamites in the eastern mountains, the Ahlamu (Aramaeans) of the desert, and the Babylonian. He captured the Babylonian king and brought the sacred Marduk statute of Babylon to Assur. However, his rule over Babylon was of only short duration, because the Babylonians, supported by the Elamites, shook off the Assyrian yoke soon after the capture of their city.

Tukulti-Ninurta’s end marks the conclusion of the first period of Assyrian conquests, which had now lasted for about a century. Assyria then declined under a series of insignificant kings. There are no indications that the Sea Peoples, which at this time subdued the Hittite empire and invaded Syria, had anything to do with this period of Assyrian weakness, mostly during the 12 century B.C.

Tiglath-pileser I and Later (1113—933 B.C.).—The Assyrian ideal of world dominion found a worthy champion in the person of Tiglath-pileser I (1113-1074 B.C.). The Assyrians apparently never lost sight of this ideal, which from the 14th century to the 7th was pursued consistently whenever circumstances were favorable. During the first years of his reign Tiglath-pileser began to re-establish the earlier empire of Tukulti-Ninurta I. He reported his accomplishments in the now-famous documents he deposited in the foundation of the Anu and Adad temple at Assur, and which were used in 1857 to prove that the young science of Assyriology had come of age. Copies of these texts were then given to four scholars who, independently and correctly, translated each of them, thus proving that the riddle of cuneiform script had been solved.

The king carried out campaigns in the northern Nairi lands, then went against the Mushki, who had recently pushed east from Asia Minor. Eventually, he reached the Black Sea, and also forced Malatia in Hanigalbat to pay tribute. After the completion of his northern campaigns he turned southward, took the Babylonian cities Dur-Kurigalzu, Sippar, Babylon, and Opis, but allowed the defeated Babylonians to retain a certain amount of independence.

When Tiglath-pileser marched into Syria to cut cedars of Lebanon for his buildings, the Syrian and Phoenician princes, among them those of Sidon and Byblos, paid tribute. However, Tyre, trusting in its island impregnability, refused. Arvad invited the king to a trip on the Mediterranean, where he hunted a sea monster. Even the Pharaoh of Egypt cautiously sent gifts to the powerful Assyrian monarch, among them a crocodile, which the king publicly exhibited in Assur. However, Tiglath-pileser found it difficult to keep back the pressure of the Aramaeans, who came against him in wave after wave.

This Assyrian king was a true empire builder, and his kingdom was at least equal in importance to those of the Hittites of Egyptians of former ages. But there was one great difference between the former empires and the new one. By those earlier empires vassals had been considered as human beings, and a certain generosity was frequently shown toward defeated enemies. The Assyrians, however, had but one aim—to subject every nation to the might of their god Ashur. Accordingly, they left their foes the choice between unconditional subjection and annihilation.

The Aramaeans, whom Tiglath-pileser’s military genius held in check, proved too strong for his successors. The Aramaeans met no resistance in Babylonia, and infiltrated more and more into the areas that the Assyrians had claimed as their own. For almost a century and a half after Tiglath-pileser’s death Assyria was pressed back to its home country on the Tigris and played the role of a secondary power, while the Aramaeans pressed their conquest of Syria and northern Mesopotamia and founded numerous city states. The Aramaean tribes of the south, better known as Chaldeans, in the meantime took over Babylonia and formed a dynasty which, though frequently interrupted by the Assyrians during the centuries that followed, nevertheless remained unbroken until the middle of the 6th century B.C.

The Resurrection of Assyria From Ashur-dan II to Shalmaneser III (933—824 B.C.).—Another strong Assyrian king rose up in the person of Ashur-dan II (933-910 B.C.). As a worthy descendant to Tiglath-pileser I, he reorganized, first of all, Assyria’s military and economic forces, and then began the reconquest of the Aramaean parts of Mesopotamia. The royal annals tell of how the Assyrian kings annually led their armies to the north and north west. The five kings following Ashur-dan II, Adadnirari II (910-889 B.C.), Tukulti-Ninurta II (889-884 B.C.), Ashurnasirpal II (884-859 B.C.), and Shalmaneser III (859-824 B.C.), each the son of his predecessor, seem to have been possessed by only one desire—the defeat of the Aramaeans and the reconquest of their territory.

Perhaps no other century of antiquity saw so much bloodshed as the 9th and nowhere else were so many lives sacrificed as in northern Mesopotamia and Syria during the reigns of the five aforementioned kings. Hardly ever have treaties been concluded and broken so frequently as in this period. The people of the subject nations, who repeatedly witnessed the murder of their loved ones and the destruction of their homes and fields, seem to have considered the frequent Assyrian expeditions to be divinely ordained plagues (see Isaiah 10:5), whereas the Assyrian kings on their part seem to have felt it a sacred duty to avenge with fire and sword the continual rebellions of their subjects.

Adadnirari II, having conquered the land of Hanigalbat, including its capital, Nisibis, broke with the custom of requiring annual tribute and made the land an Assyrian province. When Ashurnasirpal II reconquered this country following another revolt, he did it with such inhuman cruelty that a revolt in this region never again proved possible. He was successful in extending the Assyrian Empire once more to its approximately size of the time of Tiglath-pileser I. But there was one important difference—Assyria was now ruled with an iron hand, and mercy was unknown wherever Ashurnasirpal held sway. The empire was divided into provinces ruled by Assyrian governors. The provinces consisted of organized districts with cities as centers. The populations of these provinces were pressed by the Assyrian tax collectors to the point that they lived for only one purpose, to pour out tribute to satisfy the insatiable thirst of the Assyrian monarch.

Shalmaneser III, who came to the throne at an advanced age in 859 B.C., not only knew how to keep his father’s empire intact but was successful in extending it into new areas. He was the first Assyrian king to have contact with the little kingdom of Israel. Israel had developed into a respectably large kingdom during the reign of David and Solomon, when Assyria and Egypt were too weak to interfere. However, the breakup of the Hebrew kingdom into two states after Solomon’s death (931/30 B.C.) coincided with the resurrection of Assyrian power when Ashur-dan II came to the throne in 933 B.C., and Assyrian eyes again turned greedily toward the west. Yet, as long as the battle was waged only against the states in northern Mesopotamia, Israel had not much to fear from the powerful state on the Tigris; but when the danger of being overrun came nearer and nearer with every new king and each new expansion of the Assyrian Empire, the kings of Israel have felt increasing alarm. Finally they were drawn into this conflict, as Judah was also eventually.

Whether Ahab, who is mentioned as one of the allies fighting against Shalmaneser III at Qarqar in 853 B.C., took part in the anti-Assyrian alliance of his own volition or whether he was forced to do so by Damascus (Syria) is uncertain. This will be discussed in the section on the history of the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah. From now on, royal Assyrian inscriptions mention Israelite kings rather frequently. During the next 130 years there were many clashes of interest between the two powers, until the kingdom of Israel followed the example of other Syrian and Palestinian states in becoming an Assyrian province.

It would lead too far a field to follow Shalmaneser III on his numerous campaigns, of which good records in word and picture are extant; nevertheless a short outline of his military accomplishments is necessary in order to understand the political situation in Western Asia during the time of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The Assyrian king conquered, first, Til-Barsip, capital of the powerful Aramaean state of Bit-Adini on the upper Euphrates. The population was deported to Assyria, and Assyrian colonists were moved into the area. Til-Barsip was rebuilt and called “Shalmaneser’s castle.” Henceforth this city became the headquarters and point of departure for several campaigns against city states in Cilicia and Syria, whose conquest opened the silver mines of the Taurus Mts. and the forests of the Amanus Mts. to the land-hungry Assyrians.

In Syria 12 allied princes, including Ahab of Israel, met Shalmaneser at Qarqar in 853 B.C. Adadidri of Damascus (the second of three Ben-hadads mentioned in the Bible) was the leader. Although Shalmaneser claimed in high-sounding words to have won a brilliant victory, he could not hide the fact that his first encounter with the Syrian opponents had ended at best in a draw, perhaps even victory, for the allies. However, Shalmaneser did not forget his objective, and in 848 made a second attempt against practically the same coalition. Again the allies withstood him successfully, and even his third campaign was not a full success. When Hazael followed Adadidri on the throne of Damascus, the Assyrian king marched up to Hazael’s capital and destroyed its palm gardens, but was not able to conquer the city. Jehu of Israel, who had usurped the throne and was not ready for a fight, thought it wise to pay tribute. This fact is depicted on the famous Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, which was found in Calah and is now in the British Museum. The Assyrian king reached the Mediterranean at the Dog River near Beirut, farther south than any of his predecessors. There he had his picture cut in relief on rock.

Shalmaneser III also gained some territory in the north and reached the sources of the Tigris, where he offered sacrifices. He did not, however, attack the strong kingdom of Urartu, which, under Sardur I, was determined to remain independent. Shalmaneser later entered Babylonian politics, upon an occasion when two brothers contested the throne. He allowed Babylonian politics, upon an occasion when two brothers contested the throne. He allowed Babylonia to retain its independence, but exhibited Assyrian power to the people of Lower Mesopotamia by marching down to the Persian Gulf, on the way accepting tribute in gold, ivory, and elephant hides from the region to the south of Babylonia, including the important Aramaean state of Bit-Jakin. The fame and awe of Assyria had become so great that all gates were opened to the king. Very seldom was so great success gained with so little effort.

During the greater part of his reign, which lasted for more than 30 years, Shalmaneser enjoyed the faithful assistance of his commander in chief (turtan), Daian-ashur. During his last years, however, a serious revolt of the governors broke out and destroyed his lifework. From now on till his death in 824 B.C. he was scarcely able to maintain his position at Calah. The reasons for this revolt, led by one of Shalmaneser’s sons, are not clear, and lay either in the discontent with the old king’s decision concerning his successor or in his foreign or domestic policy.

Period of Imperial Dissolution (824—746 B.C.).—Although the power of the empire declined during the last years of Shalmaneser III, there was no complete breakup of authority over the conquered areas. The next king, Shamshi-Adad V (824-810 B.C.), succeeded, in three campaigns, in restoring Assyrian prestige, and in this he was supported by the Babylonian king Marduk-zakir-shum.

At this time begins a leaning toward Babylonia and its culture, which the Assyrians always unconsciously recognized as superior to their own. Shamshi-Adad took a Babylonian princess, Sammu-ramat, as wife and used the Babylonian language for royal inscriptions. Although he and his son both found it necessary to conquer Babylonia repeatedly to punish acts of enmity, these two Assyrian kings never dared to incorporate, as a province, that famous land, considered the mother of Assyrian culture.

When Shamshi-Adad V died in 810 B.C., his son Adad-nirari III (810-782 B.C.) was too young for the kingship, and therefore his wife, Sammu-ramat, reigned a number of years for her son as regent. Her superior personality and the fact that she is the only woman ever to rule over Assyria made such a deep impression on her contemporaries and on later generations that under the name of Semiramis she became the central figure of numerous legends of antiquity that live on in Iraq to the present day. Several ancient works, such as aqueducts and monumental buildings, are attributed to her.

A strange religious revolution took place in the time of Adad-nirari III, which can be compared with that of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ikhnaton. For an unknown reason Nabu (Nebo), the god of Borsippa, seems to have been proclaimed sole god, or at least the principal god, of the empire. A Nabu temple was erected in 787 B.C. at Calah, and on a Nabu statue one of the governors dedicated to the king appear the significant words, “Trust in Nabu, do not trust in any other god” The favorite place accorded Nabu in the religious life of Assyria is revealed by the fact that no other god appears so often in personal names. This monotheistic revolution had as short a life as the Aton revolution in Egypt. The worshipers of the Assyrian national deities quickly recovered from their impotence, reoccupied their privileged places, and suppressed Nabu. This is the reason that so little is known concerning the events during the time of the monotheistic revolution. Biblical chronology places Jonah’s ministry in the time of Jeroboam II, of Israel, who reigned from 793 to 753 B.C. Hence, Jonah’s mission to Nineveh may have occurred in the reign of Adad-nirari III, and may have had something to do with his decision to abandon the old gods and serve only one deity. This explanation can, however, be given only as a possibility, because source material for that period is so scanty and fragmentary that a complete reconstruction of the political and religious history of Assyria during the time under consideration is not yet possible.

Adad-nirari III’s successors conducted several military campaigns westward, but they were not able to suppress the subject nations permanently, nor to keep back the growing power of Urartu, which took over more and more areas formerly belonging to the Assyrian Empire. A revolt in Assur in 763 B.C., and the inactivity of some kings, brought Assyria to the point of collapse. If a strong ruler—Tiglath-pileser III—had not come to the throne, Assyria might have vanished from history more than a century earlier than it did.

The Formation of the New Assyrian Empire by Tiglath-pileser III (745—727 B.C.).—Tiglath-pileser III came into power as a usurper during a palace revolt at Calah in 746, but he did not actually take the throne until the second month in 745. That he chose for his ruling name that of a great former empire builder reveals his ambitions and plans. Like the great Tiglath-pileser I, he systematically and consistently pursued the plan to re-establish the Assyrian Empire.

The new king found himself face to face with three main problems of foreign policy which had to be solved in order to re-establish Assyrian power: (1) relations had to be clarified with Babylonia, which had fallen prey to the southern Aramaeans (Chaldeans); (2) Assyrian dominion over the Syro-Palestinian areas had to be re-established; (3) the power of Urartu, the great northern rival of Assyria, had to be curtailed. The way in which he solved these problems gives him the right to be called one of the greatest of Assyrian rulers.

The first task was a solution of the Babylonian question, which Tiglath-pileser carried out in two states. In the year of his accession he went to Babylonia, defeated the Aramaean tribes that occupied great parts of the country, and deported them to other parts of his empire. The weak Babylonian king Nabonassar, whose power hardly reached beyond his city walls, was, for the time being, left unmolested. Two short-lived kings were tolerated on Babylon’s throne after Nabonassar’s death in 734 B.C., since Tiglath-pileser was engaged elsewhere and did not have time for Babylonia. As soon as he had his hands free, however, he set out to restore order to the chaotic political situation in Babylon, where Aramaean sheiks were the real rulers. He turned against them, decisively defeated them, and, in an act without precedent for an Assyrian king, “took the hands” of the god Marduk in token of accepting the kingship of Babylon—under the ruling name Pulu. Recognizing that Assyria would never be able to rule Babylonia, because of its own inferiority complex with respect to the superior Babylonian culture, he conceived a novel solution that consisted of uniting the two states as equals under the rulership of one king—who was thus monarch of both Assyria and Babylonia.

Tiglath-pileser’s second task, the reconquest of Syria, was accomplished during the process of a number of military campaigns. He encountered strong opposition, especially at the cities of Arpad (now Tell Erfâd), north of Aleppo, and Samal (now Zenjirli), whose conquest was time consuming and costly. Other city states surrendered only after bloody defeats. However, after three long campaigns the majority of the Syrian states once more belonged to the Assyrian Empire. Finally Damascus and Israel were also defeated. The state of Damascus (Syria) was made into an Assyrian province, as were the northern and eastern parts of Israel and the coastal area of Palestine. Samaria, Israel’s capital, was left with the southern part of the country as a semi-independent vassal state.

Hence, we read in the Bible and in royal Assyrian annals that Menahem, of Israel, paid tribute to Tiglath-pileser (Pul; 2 Kings 15:19), and of the replacement of Pekah by Hoshea. The king of Judah, who had sought Tiglath-pileser’s help against Samaria and Damascus, and who went to Damascus to be received as Assyria’s vassal (2 Kings 16:10), is also mentioned in the Assyrian records. It is therefore not astonishing that the first Assyrian king mentioned by name in the Bible is Tiglath-pileser. He appears there under his Assyrian as well as under his Babylonian name, Pul (2 Kings 16:7, 10; 2 Chronicles 28:20; 2 Kings 15:19; and 1 Chronicles 5:26, where the Hebrew text should be translated, “And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, even the spirit of Tilgath-pileser king of Assyria”).

Tilgath-pileser’s third task was the subjugation of Urartu, which he began by conquering the states allied with its king, Sardur II. By overrunning the northern Mesopotamian and Syrian city states, much of Sardur’s strength was broken. The decisive battle, however, was fought at Kummuh, west of the Euphrates, where Sardur was badly defeated but was able to escape to his capital Tushpa (now Toprakkale) at Lake Van. Although Tiglath-pileser’s subsequent siege of Tushpa was unsuccessful, Urartu’s power was broken, and the Assyrians occupied the greater part of Urartu, making of it the province Ulluba.

After each conquest the Assyrian king transplanted the native populations to other parts of the empire. This policy resulted in a large-scale forced migration of peoples. Tiglath-pileser planned and succeeded in breaking the nationalistic spirit of the various nations, by tearing them away from their motherland and the soil they loved. This exchange of nations was intended to create an empire whose people would no longer consider themselves citizens of Urartu, Israel, Babylonia, or Damascus, but as citizens of Assyria. This singularly successful king thus initiated a policy followed by his Assyrian successors and later by the Babylonians. This policy came to have a decisive effect on the later history of the Near East.

Shalmaneser V (727—722 B.C.).—Shalmaneser V, son of Tiglath-pileser, followed the policies of his father as closely as he could. Hence, as soon as he had come to the throne, he had himself crowned also as king of Babylon, where he bore the name Ululai. Unrest in the west forced him to turn his attention to Palestine soon after his accession to the throne, in order to keep that region within the empire. Hanno of Gaza, who had escaped to Egypt in Tiglath-pileser’s time, on hearing of Shalmaneser’s accession to the throne, returned and formed a coalition with Assyria’s vassal prince, Hoshea of Israel, with a usurper in Hamath, and with the rulers of the cities of Arpad, Damascus, and Simyra. Trusting in the help of Egypt, these several princes refused the payment of tribute to Assyria, and Shalmaneser was obliged to restore his authority in the usual Assyrian way. Part of this campaign was directed against the semi-independent but politically unreliable state of Israel, which the king planned to annihilate. He besieged Samaria for three years inclusive, and probably took the city near the end of his reign.

Although Sargon II, the following king, claimed to have conquered Samaria, there is evidence that his claim is unjustified and that he attributed to himself what Shalmaneser V had accomplished near the close of his reign. As Shalmaneser’s army commander, Sargon may, however, have played an important role in the conquest of Samaria. As had by now become a custom, he deported the remnant of the kingdom of Israel to northern Mesopotamia (Habor and Gozan), to the motherland of Assyria (Halah), and to Median cities in the north eastern provinces (2 Kings 18:11). On the other hand, Babylonians from Babylon and Cuthah, and Syrians from Hamath and Sepharvaim were transplanted to repopulate the land of Israel (2 Kings 17:24).

Sargon II (722-705 B.C.).—The new king was a usurper, and probably the murderer of his predecessor. Whatever the differences between Sargon and Shalmaneser may have been in domestic matters, in the field of external policies no change was contemplated or carried out, and Sargon closely followed the pattern set by Tiglath-pileser. His problems were similar to those of Tiglath-pileser’s reign, with the difference that the former king had come to the throne at a time of national weakness and had built up an empire from practically nothing, while Sargon had only to hold what he inherited. Sargon did have one additional problem, however, that of meeting a threat of invasion from Indo-European tribes pushing southward through the Caucasus and eastward from Anatolia. King Mita of the Mushki, the Phrygian Midas of Greek writers, was his chief opponent. By inducing Carchemish to revolt, Mita forced a showdown with Sargon. This obliged the latter to take that famous city on the Euphrates (717 B.C.) and deport its population, which had until now kept Hittite culture alive and had made use of Hittite hieroglyphs in writing.

The Urartaean kingdom under Rusa I was sorely pressed by the Cimmerians and the Medes, a welcome situation to Sargon in that it made that much easier the conquest of this traditional enemy country to the north. Sargon’s Urartaean campaign, carried out in his eighth year, is described in such detail on a famous tablet now in the Louvre in Paris that we are able to follow the royal army almost daily on its march and during its battles. While the conquest of Urartu and its subsequent weakness seemed to have advantages for the time being, the elimination of a strong northern buffer state had also undeniable disadvantages. It brought Assyria face to face with new barbaric tribes that a hundred years later were primarily responsible for the death of Assyria.

About that time Babylonia received an extremely able ruler in the person of Marduk-apal-iddina, the Merodach-baladan of the Bible (Isaiah 39:1). He was an Aramaean of Bit-Jakin, against whom Sargon was powerless as the result of a grievous defeat at the hands of the Elamites, who supported Marduk-apaliddina. For 12 years Sargon was compelled to campaign in the west and north before he felt strong enough to turn once more against Babylonia. In 709 B.C., however, he succeeded in driving Marduk-apal-iddina out of Babylonia and making himself its king, as his two predecessors on the throne of Assyria had done. One year later he destroyed Dur-Jakin near the Persian Gulf, seat of the Chaldean state of Bit-Jakin, and made Marduk-apal-iddina’s home country an Assyrian province.

Sargon had little trouble in Palestine, which, with the exception of Ashdod, a coastal city of Philistia, remained quiet. In the hope of receiving Egyptian, Edomite, and Judean assistance, its ruler tried to shake off the Assyrian yoke. As Isaiah predicted, the revolt was unsuccessful and the city was taken by Sargon’s turtan, “commander in chief” (“Tartan” in Isaiah 20:1). It may be mentioned in passing that Sargon’s name was completely unknown from secular sources prior to the deciphering of cuneiform inscriptions, and that his very existence, and thus the accuracy of Isaiah, had been doubted by higher critics. However, Sargon’s name was one of the first discovered in Assyrian records. This was the earliest discoveries concerning Assyria were made in Sargon’s own capital Dur Sharrukin, now Khorsabad, where immense quantities of sculptures and inscribed royal records were brought to light.

Sargon’s last years are wrapped in mystery. But on one of his eastern campaigns his army suffered a serious defeat, and he seems to have lost his life on that occasion.

Sennacherib (705—681 B.C.).—When Sennacherib came to the throne he was already trained in the art of ruling people, having been governor of the northern province of Amid during his father’s reign. His character differed from that of Sargon II. He took a keen interest in the technical improvement of war equipment and in new building methods that made Nineveh the most glorious capital of the Assyrian period. In politics he showed a severity that knew no compromise, a weakness that made it difficult to rule successfully over a great empire and to keep together what he had inherited. The two outstanding events of his life to impress the memory of later generations—his senseless destruction of Babylon and his unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem—are, in the light of history, both considered political failures.

When Sennacherib came to the throne a revolt broke out among Syrian and Palestinian princes, who trusted in the help of Egypt. Sennacherib therefore marched to the west (701 B.C.) and was able to restore the former status in most places to which he came. When, after a long campaign, he finally camped at Lachish to make preparations for the siege of Jerusalem, he received tribute from Hezekiah of Judah, who in this way tried to appease the heartless king of Assyria. But Sennacherib would be satisfied with nothing less than the unconditional surrender of Jerusalem. The demand, however, was rejected by Hezekiah, and Sennacherib, whose presence was apparently required elsewhere, seems to have broken off the campaign. At least, he claims no more in his victory inscriptions than having shut Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage. He did not claim to have taken the city or its king. Judah was saved for the time being, and not threatened again until toward the end of Hezekiah’s reign.

Hezekiah, encouraged by Sennacherib’s failure to take Jerusalem in 701 B.C., continued to participate in anti-Assyrian coalitions, which eventually brought the Assyrian armies back to Judea. For this second campaign of Sennacherib, made after Taharka’s accession to the throne of Egypt (690 B.C.), no cuneiform sources are available. A new demand for surrender made by the Assyrian king to Hezekiah was rejected, with the encouragement and support of the prophet Isaiah. Although Isaiah had advised Hezekiah against participation in the coalition against Assyria, he was now, once the mistake had been made, on the side of the king and assured him that Sennacherib would “not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it” (Isaiah 37:33). It was not an Egyptian army that saved Jerusalem upon this occasion, but a miracle. “Then the angel of the Lord went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses” (verse 36).

Even more troublesome than the west was Babylonia. Immediately after Sennacherib’s accession to the throne Marduk-apal-iddina returned from Elam, and with the help of the Elamite king Shutrup-nachunde occupied the throne of Babylon for almost a year. However, Sennacherib marched against Babylonia in 703 B.C., defeated Marduk-apal-iddina, and installed as ruler Bel-ibni, a native Babylonian who had been educated in Assyria.

Shortly after Sennacherib’s disastrous campaign in the west, Babylonia revolted again. Thereupon Sennacherib conducted another expedition against the Babylonians, in which great parts of the country were devastated. Taking Bel-ibni prisoner, Sennacherib made his own son, Ashur-nadin-shumi, king of Babylon. However, the Elamites took Babylon in 694 B.C. and put Nergal-ushezib on the throne, but this king was captured a year later by Sennacherib. After further upheavals the Chaldean Mushezib-Marduk ascended the throne in 692 B.C., and, according to the Babylonian Chronicle, defeated the Assyrian army sent against him. However, Sennacherib now became so impatient at the continual state of unrest in Babylonia that he determined to eliminate it as a trouble spot from his empire. Hence, when he captured the city in 689 B.C., he did what none of his predecessors had dared to do—he destroyed the Babylonian metropolis thoroughly and systematically, throwing the debris of temples and palaces into the river, so forcing it to change its course. Minor gods were smashed and the major ones taken to Assyria. This deed the Babylonian neither forgave nor forgot, and for it they took a terrible revenge about 77 years later, when they destroyed Nineveh.

Sennacherib’s life was taken by his own sons, according to the Bible, the Babylonian Chronicle, and an inscription of Esarhaddon. Each of these records adds something to our fragmentary information on this heinous murder.

Esarhaddon (681—669 B.C.).—Esarhaddon, whose mother was an Aramaean, reversed his father’s anti-Babylonian policies upon coming to the throne. Apparently belonging to a party that favored Babylon, he started out to rebuild the ruined city, although the Marduk statue was not returned until Ashurbanipal’s reign. Once more the power of Marduk over Assur was demonstrated to an astonished world.

With the conquest of Egypt of Esarhaddon the outward might of the Assyrian Empire reached its greatest height and remained so until its final decline began during the reign of Ashurbanipal. Esarhaddon’s first attempt to take Egypt in 673 B.C. was unsuccessful, and ended indefeat. But Taharka, an Ethiopian king of Egypt, surrendered two years later, and when Memphis fell almost without a battle the whole country lay open before the Assyrians, and the wealth of the Nile country streamed into Assyria. Esarhaddon installed 22 local princes as rulers over the country, and gave them Assyrian governors as supervisors. Returning from Egypt, the king had a relief of himself cut in the rocks at the Dog River near Beirut, where he found one left by his great predecessor, Shalmaneser III, and also had victory steles set up in several Syrian cities. One of these was found at Zenjirli, in which the king is shown leading the kings of Tyre and Egypt by a cord as if they were wild animals. Heretofore no human being had ever possessed as great power as Esarhaddon. Neither Sargon of Agade (Akkad) nor Hammurabi had ruled over so many countries or peoples; but the signs of impending danger, already visible, troubled Esarhaddon. Barbaric nations such as the Scythians in the north west, the Cimmerians in eastern Asia Minor and Armenia, and the Medes in the east continued to gain strength. Anticipating trouble, Esarhaddon asked the sun-god whether these people would be successful or whether they could be kept back. Trying to remove one evil through another, he concluded a treaty with the Scythians against the Cimmerians and Medes and gave his daughter to the Scythian chieftain Bartatua, whom Herodotus calls Protothyas.

In 672 B.C. Ashurbanipal was proclaimed crown prince of Assyria, and became virtually coregent with his father. Two years later, Shamash-shum-ukin, the older son of Esarhaddon, received the same dignity with respect to Babylon.

Esarhaddon’s reign ended under a cloud. Egypt revolted, when Taharka of Ethiopia once more appeared on the scene, making it necessary for Esarhaddon to set out for the Nile to punish the rebels and restore order. He died in 669 B.C. on his way to Egypt.

Ashurbanipal (669—627? B.C.).—Led now by Esarhaddon’s turtan, Sha-Nabu-shu, the Egyptian campaign was brought to a successful end. Necho, one of the rebellious princes who was brought to Nineveh as captive to receive punishment won the king’s favor and was sent back to Egypt as an Assyrian vassal. His son Psamtik took the Assyrian name Nabu-shezibanni. Another attempt was made to liberate Egypt from the Assyrian yoke, by Taharka’s successor Tanutamon, but it was likewise unsuccessful. Ashurbanipal took Thebes and thoroughly destroyed that beautiful city. A few years later Psamtik was able to shake off the Assyrian yoke and to restore Egypt’s independence. To hold Egypt in subjection proved to be so costly for Assyria at a time when it needed all its reserves to meet dangers from the west, north, and east that the Nile country had to be given up.

Ashurbanipal also had trouble in Babylon, where his own brother Shamash-shum-ukin revolted. The revolt failed, however, Babylon was taken, and Shamash-shum-ukin died in the flames of his palace. Ashurbanipal then crowned himself king of Babylon. He also waged several successful wars against Elam, which had supported Shamash-shum-ukin, and against Arabia, Syria, and Palestine. He was thus able to keep his shaky empire together. He even had the rare satisfaction of seeing most of his enemies perish before he left the scene of action. Gyges of Lydia, who had supported Psamtik in his revolt, lost throne and life in his war with the Cimmerians. Another rebel, the Chaldean prince Nabu-bel-shumati, committed suicide in order not to fall into Ashurbanipal’s hands, and in Elam a number of minor kings lost their lives in the several wars with Assyria that finally crushed the proud kingdom of Elam and leveled its capital city, Susa.

The passing glory of Assyria and the wealth that poured into the royal coffers could not hide the fact that the days of that proud empire were numbered. So long as a strong man held the reins of government in his hands the coming catastrophe was postponed, but a careful observer could already see that a different situation would arise whenever a weak ruler should come to the throne.

Ashurbanipal is especially well known as the collector of many books and the founder of the great library of Nineveh, which was discovered in the ruins of Nineveh in the middle of the 19th century. From this library, now in the British Museum, was derived much of our early information concerning Assyrian and Babylonian history and religion. Later other great cuneiform collections found in the ruined sites of Mesopotamia have provided additional valuable information. As a prince, originally destined to become a priest, he received a careful scholarly and priestly training, and for this reason took an interest in collecting the literary wealth of his time. He preserved for later ages copies of many valuable texts, the originals of which have long since disappeared.

The circumstances and date of his death are unknown. The year 626 B.C. was formerly given as the year of his death, and some thought that it was 631. Others say probably about 627. But since no Eponym Canon for his last years is known, the chronology of this period is somewhat uncertain.

The End of the Assyrian Empire.—Ashur-etil-ilani, a younger son of Ashurbanipal who owed his throne to Sin-shum-lishir, one of his father’s generals, ruled for the next five years or so. The new king held southern Babylonia, but could not prevent Nabopolassar, a Chaldean army commander, from taking Babylon and making himself king. Although he thus lost Babylon permanently, Ashur-etil-ilani had a happier experience in his fight against the Medes, whose king, Phraortes, fell in battle. It is uncertain how and in what year Ashur-etil-ilani was succeeded by Sin-shar-ishkun, generally held to be his brother. (Some scholars even consider the two names as belonging to one king.)

Sin-shar-ishkun seems to have enjoyed a measure of success for a time. He campaigned against Babylonia, and even conquered Sippar. Also, the Medes under Phraortes’ son Cyaxares were beaten. It is a curious fact that now, having lost its former strength, Assyria received help from former enemies such as the Scythians and Egyptians, who feared that its fall might give birth to other powers even more dangerous than Assyria had been.

Realizing Assyria’s weakness, and following the principle that attack is the best defense, Nabopolassar of Babylon went on the offensive soon after he had become an independent king. He had some military successes, but also several setbacks, as revealed in the Babylonian Chronicle that covers his first three regnal years. Lack of extant records leaves us in the dark about his successes and defeats during the next seven years. In 616 B.C., the year for which chronicles are again available, Nabopolassar was on the offensive and conquered Assyrian and Aramaean towns on the middle Euphrates, but proved unable to withstand an Assyro-Egyptian army, which drove him back to Babylon. The following year Nabopolassar made an unsuccessful attempt to take the old city of Assur. This campaign also failed. He was not yet strong enough to defeat Assyria single handed. However, the Medes captured Tarbisu and Assur in 614 B.C. and the Median king Cyaxares concluded an alliance with Nabopolassar that was sealed by the marriage of the Babylonian crown prince Nebuchadnezzar to a Median princess. This political alliance decided the fate of Assyria, and after a siege of three months Nineveh fell to the united Medes and Babylonians, in 612 B.C. Sin-shar-ishkun died with his family in the flames of his palace. Like Calah, Nineveh was destroyed so thoroughly that later generations did not even know of its location. The empire of Assyria was divided between Cyaxares and Nabopolassar, the former taking all the northern provinces, along with Assyria’s claims to Asia Minor, and the latter receiving nominal control of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine. Actual control, however, could be won only through a show of power, and not simply by an understanding between the two victors.

With Egyptian help, an Assyrian prince by the name of Ashur-uballit essayed to re-establish the Assyrian state, with Haran as its capital, but was soon evicted by the Medes and Chaldeans. Assyria, the scourge of the nations for many centuries, ceased to exist, and its citizens experienced the same cruel treatment their rulers had meted out to many other peoples in the past. The words of Nahum, like those of other Hebrew prophets who had predicted the fall of the Assyrian Empire, were literally fulfilled:

“O king of Assyria:

thy nobles shall dwell in the dust:

thy people is scattered upon the mountains,

and no man gathereth them.

There is no healing of thy bruise;

thy wound is grievous” (Nahum 3:18, 19).

IX. Phoenicia From the Earliest Times to Nebuchadnezzar II

Phoenicia, though not mentioned under this name in the Old Testament, had many contacts with the Hebrews, and the history of this country is of some importance to the student of the Bible, who finds frequent mention of Phoenician cities such as Tyre, Sidon, Zarephath (Sarepta), Gebal (Byblos), and Arvad (Aradus).

The land of Phoenicia covered the narrow coastal strip of Syria north of the Bay of Acre and between the Lebanon mountain range and the Mediterranean, which consists of a number of small plains where the mountains recede from the sea, each of which was dominated by a maritime city. The coastal plain varies in width from 1/2 mile to 3 miles (.8 to 4.8 km.). In some places, as at the Nahr el–Kelb, the Dog river north of Beirut, the mountains drop precipitously to the sea, so that the road must be blasted out of the rocks. Anciently, the cities were built either on rocky islands off the coast—like Tyre and Arvad—or on the shore where land jutting out into the sea forms small bays in what is, for the most part, a straight coast line—as with Tripoli and Byblos. The country was well watered by a number of rivers from the Lebanon Mts., which in ancient times were heavily forested with cedars and other coniferous trees. Phoenicia was rich in grain, fruit, and wine, and as the principal exporter of cedarwood from the mountains and the products of the Syrian hinterland, it became the commercial clearing house of the ancient world.

The Greek name for the land, Phoenicia, is related to one of its principal exports, a purple-colored dye material called phoinix, “purple,” or “crimson.” However, they called themselves Kena‘ani, that is, Canaanites, and their country Canaan, which agrees with Genesis 10:15-19, where the inhabitants of several Phoenician cities are listed as descendants of Canaan.

There is not sufficient source material available for a complete history of Phoenicia, and its earliest history is completely shrouded in obscurity. One of the Phoenician cities, however—Byblos—appears in Egyptian records of the third millennium as an important city for the export of cedarwood. Excavations carried out in Byblos have shown strong Egyptian influence during the time of the Old (Egyptian) Kingdom. The later Tyrians claimed a tradition that their city had been founded about 2750 B.C., and the Sidonians claimed an even greater age for their city. The earliest mention of these important port cities of southern Phoenicia is found in the records of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt, when all of Phoenicia was dominated by the rulers of the Nile valley. However, the fact that the Phoenicians had to pay tribute to Egypt and tolerate Egyptian garrisons in their cities did not materially affect their economic strength. Their foreign trade seems to have flourished, and their agents were found in Cyprus, on the coasts of Asia Minor, and in the Aegean Sea. Toward the end of the second millennium they extended their economic sphere of influence and sent ships to Sicily, Sardinia, North Africa, and Spain. Later, permanent colonies were founded in distant lands. Of these colonies Carthage became the most famous. It grew so strong, in fact, that in course of time it dared to challenge the expansionism of Rome. Tartessus, in Spain, the westernmost point of Phoenician influence, was one of several places named “Tarshish,” or “smeltery,” to which sailed “ships of Tarshish” (Psalms 48:7; see on 1 Kings 10:22).

Until the close of the second millennium B.C. Sidon had held the most important place among the Phoenician port cities, but during the first millennium Tyre took the lead and kept it for many centuries. It seems that Phoenicia never developed a unified government controlling the whole country, but that each large city had its own ruler and that its control extended to smaller communities adjacent to it.

A number of rulers of Byblos are known from inscriptions found during the excavations of that city, but after the middle of the second millennium B.C. the political role of Byblos seems to have been at most a minor one. Hiram was the first ruler of Tyre whose name is known. He was contemporary with David and Solomon and assisted in the building of the Temple at Jerusalem. Also, his sailors participated with those of Solomon in expeditions to Ophir.

One of Hiram’s later successors was Ethbaal, father of Ahab’s infamous wife, Jezebel. He had been a priest of Astarte before becoming king of Tyre, which may explain his daughter’s zeal for the religion of her native land, even when she became queen of Israel. During Ethbaal’s reign the struggle with Assyria began in earnest, that country which from the 9th century B.C. onward sought to subjugate piecemeal all lands to the west. Hence, at the battle of Qarqar in 853, we find the king of the Phoenician city of Arvad, with 200 soldiers, in the coalition against Shalmaneser III. However, most of the other Phoenician cities agreed to pay tribute. Thus for a time they maintained comparative independence and continued their lucrative overseas trade unmolested.

An important episode in Phoenician history was the fight of Tyre against Shalmaneser V and Sargon II in the time of king Hezekiah of Judah. Tyre was besieged for five years and sorely hurt. It seems that the city was finally forced to surrender and once more made tributary. But Tyre rebelled again in Sennacherib’s time, and was unsuccessfully besieged. Yet, when Sidon followed Tyre’s example and rebelled against Esarhaddon, it was taken and destroyed (678 B.C.). Tyre remained independent a few years longer, but was finally forced back into the Assyrian fold by Ashurbanipal.

When the tottering Assyrian Empire was replaced by the Neo-Babylonian, Tyre took advantage of the political difficulties of the transitional period, declared itself independent, and refused to send tribute to Babylonia. As a result Nebuchadnezzar moved against the city. He took mainland Tyre but besieged the island city for 13 years without success. He allowed the king to remain on the throne, but appointed a Babylonian high commissioner to safeguard Babylonian interests.

X. The Syrian States

The name Syria is a geographical term designating an area that has varied in size from time to time. Present-day Syria does not include everything known as Syria in ancient times, and extends to areas that had never before been considered a part of it. In Roman times all the land from the Euphrates in the north to the Red Sea in the south was designated as Syria. At other times Palestine was thought of separately, and parts of northern and central Mesopotamia were included. Generally speaking, however, the geographical term Syria designates an area bordered on the east by the great Syrian Desert, in the west by the Mediterranean, in the north by the Taurus Mts., and in the south by Palestine, with the line between Syria and Palestine running approximately straight from the sea north of Acre to the Jordan north of the now-drained Lake Huleh.

The region thus marked out is intersected by two north-south mountain ranges. The western range is marked in the north by the Jebel Akra (5,241 ft.; 1,597 m.) and in the south by the Lebanon, which rises to more than 10,000 ft. (3,048 metres). The eastern range of mountains, called the Anti-Lebanon, ends in the south with Mt. Hermon (9,232 ft., or 2,814 metres). Between the two ranges lies a 12-mi.-wide (19.3 km.) highland valley, now called Beqa‘, “the split,” with its two rivers, the Litani, flowing south, and the Orontes, north. Both rivers eventually turn west and empty their waters into the Mediterranean. Several streams flow eastward from the Anti-Lebanon range and irrigate various oases of the Syrian Desert, of which Damascus, with its surrounding garden area, is the richest and largest.

Since the coastal region of Phoenicia was isolated by mountains from the rest of Syria, it experienced a history somewhat different from that of the hinterland, and has been treated separately in the preceding section. Thus, politically, Syria consisted essentially of city states that flourished around oases such as those of Damascus and Aleppo and others such as Kadesh, Qatna, Hamath, or Alalakh (Tell ‘Atshânah) on the banks of inland rivers. The latter all lay in close proximity along the Orontes. The typical Syrian culture of later times is also found in Upper Mesopotamia, in the area which in the second millennium was known as the kingdom of Mitanni.

As in the case of Phoenicia, little is known of the history of this area prior to the middle of the second millennium. Egyptian and Babylonian texts of the first half of that millennium B.C., however, occasionally mention the rulers of the cities of Syria, and from their names we learn that they were Amorites, as were most of the rulers of Western Asia from 2200-1500 B.C. The Hyksos, who swept down to Egypt in the 18th century, passed through Syria on their way to the Nile valley and took possession of certain important cities, for instance Qaṭna, fortifying them in typical Hyksos manner with massive earth ramparts.

In the 16th century all Syria was conquered by Thutmose III and remained under Egyptian control for almost a century. However, during the reign of Amenhotep III and Ikhnaton, some of the subject native rulers took advantage of Egypt’s weakness and made themselves independent. The strongest of these rebellious states was Amurru, of which we learn much from the Amarna Letters and the Hittite records of the period. During the time of the Nineteenth Dynasty a new rival for the possession of Syria arose, the Hittites, with the result that Syria frequently became a battlefield where the two opposing powers met. With the appearance of the Peoples of the Sea toward the end of the 13th century B.C., the Hittites vanished from history as a nation, but their remnants retained possession of some Syrian cities such as Hamath and Carchemish, and preserved Hittite culture for several centuries more.

At that time the Aramaeans, who had lived in the plains of northern Mesopotamia for many centuries, moved south and either founded or took over a number of strong city states, of which Damascus and Zobah (north of Damascus) became the most powerful. It is for this reason that, from the time of David, these two states are frequently mentioned in contemporary Biblical records. David was able to hold them in subjection, but they regained their independence either during the reign of Solomon or immediately after his death. From that time on the Syrian states were enemies of the kingdom of Israel, with the result that Israel fought numerous wars against the Syrians, especially against Damascus.

From the 9th century onward, the Syrian states shared the fate of other nations of Western Asia, upon whom the kings of Assyria cast greedy eyes. For two centuries one Assyrian campaign after another was directed against one or more of these Aramaean states of Syria, to ensure a constant flow of tribute, until Tiglath-pileser III inaugurated the policy of transplanting conquered nations to remote districts of the empire in the effort to replace national consciousness with loyalty to the Assyrian Empire. Hence, one Syrian city state after another vanished under the relentless onslaught of the Assyrian war machine. Finally in 732 B.C. as one of the last, Damascus fell and became a province of Assyria.

The fall of Damascus marked the disappearance of the characteristics Syrian culture from that area, which, in a somewhat changed form, was perpetuated for a time as a world culture. The Aramaic language spread with the dispersion of Syria’s population, and within two centuries after the fall of Damascus became a medium of communication, spoken or at least understood, from the southern border of Egypt throughout the lands of the Fertile Crescent and Persia, and even as far as the western border of India. Although the Syrians had never constituted a political unit, and had never been able to extend their control over extensive parts of the world, their language conquered the world in somewhat the same way as Greek did some centuries later.

XI. The United Kingdom of Israel (C. 1050-931 B.C.)

Previous sections of this article have covered the history of Egypt and Mesopotamia to the 7th century B.C. This section deals with the 120 years of Israel’s history under its first three kings, each of whom ruled approximately 40 years (2 Samuel 5:4; 1 Kings 11:42; Acts 13:21). Sections XII and XV will take up the history of the separate kingdoms of Judah and Israel.

Since their invasion of Canaan the Hebrews had slowly grown in strength and taken root through continual struggle with the nations living in and around Palestine. They had lived in the land for about three and a half centuries when they felt the need of a unified government. Hitherto they had been guided by Spirit-led men called judges, without assurance that competent leadership would continue after the death of each judge. From a strictly human, political point of view the popular desire for a hereditary kingship expressed in the time of Samuel (1 Samuel 8:5) was only natural. If Israel was to achieve its aim, it must remain in permanent possession of the country; and in order to do so it needed unity, continuity of leadership, and stable government. This eventuality had been foreseen by Moses, who laid down the principles according to which kings should rule (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

While under Saul the kingdom remained weak, owing to the young king’s inexperience and immaturity of character, under David, an indefatigable warrior and an able politician, it was built up into a formidable empire. It was not comparable with the empires on the Nile and the Euphrates, but was nevertheless impressive, controlling as it did most of the nations of Palestine and Syria. Built by David’s genius under the blessing of God, assisted by the weakness of the other great nations of his time, the empire of Israel remained intact for about half a century. Weaknesses became apparent even under Solomon’s generally peaceful rule, and his kingdom broke to pieces when death removed his strong hand.

Of permanent value, however, aside from the memory of a glorious past under two great kings, was the establishment of Jerusalem as a religious and political center for the nation. Its very name, “city of peace,” has exerted a magic influence on the minds of Hebrew people of all generations. Inasmuch as promises of the coming of Messiah were connected by Inspiration with the royal house of David, the idea of a God-appointed and God-guided kingship was never lost sight of.

Saul (C. 1050-1011 B.C.).—Saul, the son of the Benjamite, Kish, a man chosen by God for his deeply religious nature 1 Samuel 10:7, 10, 11; 14:37), his humility (1 Samuel 10:22), and a tendency to be generous 1 Samuel 11:13), was first secretly anointed by Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1), proclaimed king at Mizpeh (1 Samuel 10:17-24), and confirmed in office at Gilgal after his successful rescue of Jabesh-gilead from the Ammonites 1 Samuel 11). His kingdom consisted of a rather loose union of tribes, who followed him as king in times of emergency, but who otherwise decided their own affairs without interference from a central government. Early in his reign his office differed little from that of a judge. Among other things he still took care of his own cattle, even after he had been proclaimed king.

Nevertheless, the idea of a real kingship was gradually developing. Saul planned that his kingship should be hereditary. He erected a castle on the site of his capital, “Gibeah of Saul,” now Tell el–Fûl, 4 miles (6.4 km.) north of Jerusalem. His two-story citadel, measuring 170 by 114 ft. (51.8 by 34.7 metres), with outer walls 6 to 7 ft. (1.8 to 2.1 metres) thick, has been excavated by W. F. Albright. With its fortified walls and corner towers, it represents typical Hebrew construction of the time. The largest hall, probably the audience chamber where David played his lyre before the king, was 7 by 25 ft. (2.1 by 7.6 metres)

Furthermore, Saul created the first, though small, standing army maintained by Israel. It consisted of 3,000 men, situated in 3 garrison cities (1 Samuel 13:2), with his uncle, or perhaps cousin, Abner, as commander in chief (1 Samuel 14:50).

On the throne during the difficult period when the Philistines, by virtue of their superior weapons and military experience, tried to subjugate the Hebrews, the new king often found himself fighting against them, as well as against other nations. The first proof of his generalship was given in his rescue of the Transjordan city of Jabesh-gilead from the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:1-11). Successful wars were also fought against the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:4-8) and the Edomites in the south, the Moabites in the east, and the Aramaeans of the Syrian state of Zobah (1 Samuel 14:47).

The lifelong threat to Israel’s existence, however, came from Philistia (1 Samuel 14:52), which maintained garrisons in various Hebrew cities, even in some close to Saul’s capital. The Philistines had a monopoly on the manufacture and sharpening of weapons and tools, so that at one time in all Israel only Saul and Jonathan possessed iron weapons (1 Samuel 13:19-22). They terrorized the Hebrews so much that the latter were habitually forced to seek refuge in caves and inaccessible mountain retreats (verse 6).

The first great Israelite victory over the Philistines, one that resulted in their expulsion from the eastern hill country, was more a military episode than a real battle. When the Philistines had occupied the hills of Benjamin and taken Michmash, the Israelites retreated in disorder (verses 5-11). Michmash lies 7 miles (11.5 km.) north of Jerusalem at an altitude of about 2,000 ft. (610 metres), overlooking the deep gorge of the Wadi eṣ–Ṣuwenîṭ to the south, which formed the pass of Michmash. While Saul was camped with 600 men at Geba, separated from the Philistines by the Wadi eṣ–Ṣuwenîṭ, Jonathan and his armor-bearer climbed down the Rock Seneh on which Geba was built, crossed the wadi, and then climbed the steep Rock Bozez, on which the Philistines were encamped at Michmash (1 Samuel 13:15, 23; 14:4, 5). In the Philistine camp Jonathan’s surprise attack created confusion which was increased by the Hebrews who came to Jonathan’s aid, with the result that the Philistines fled in panic (1 Samuel 14:11-23).

The first major encounter between the Hebrews and the Philistines during Saul’s reign took place in the western hill country between Shochoh and Azekah, about halfway between Jerusalem and Ashkelon. David’s victory over Goliath on this occasion marked the beginning of a great series of victories over the hated Philistines. The chief results were increased liberty for the Hebrews and considerable wealth realized from the loot of the Philistines (1 Samuel 17).

Unfortunately for the nation and the royal house, Saul possessed an undisciplined character that became overbearing as a result of his successes. Because of his violation of the Levitical law and of divine orders he lost both the kingship and his own sanity. His last years—we know not how many—were spent under the shadow of insanity, which in turn led to the persistent attempt to kill David, who he knew was destined to be his successor. Having lost the friendship and guiding hand of his old counselor Samuel (1 Samuel 15:17-23, 35, he committed some of the most foolish and atrocious crimes, such as slaughtering the innocent priests of Nob (1 Samuel 22:11-21) and attempting to kill his own son Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:30-33). Known for his zeal in uprooting spiritism, he finally appealed to a witch for counsel the day before his death (1 Samuel 28:3-25).

At a battle fought in the mountains of Gilboa, at the eastern end of the plain of Esdraelon, Saul and his sons lost their lives fighting against the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:1-6. This battle was so disastrous that all the gains of Saul’s long reign were lost to the Philistines, who once more occupied the cities of Israel and drove the panic-stricken inhabitants to their former mountain retreats (verse 7).

David (1011-971 B.C.).—After Saul’s death, David was crowned king over Judah at Hebron (2 Samuel 2:3, 4). He had in times past been a captain in Saul’s army, and was at one time Saul’s son-in-law (1 Samuel 18:27), but had lived as an outcast in the forests and mountain caves of southern Judah, and in a Philistine city during the last years of Saul’s reign (1 Samuel 19 to 29). David, who had been anointed secretly by the prophet Samuel soon after Saul’s rejection as king, was exceptionally gifted as a warrior, poet, and musician (1 Samuel 17; 2 Samuel 1:17-27; 1 Samuel 16:14-23). He was also deeply religious, and although he fell into gross sin, he knew how to repent and regain divine favor (see Psalms 51). Hence, kingship was confirmed in perpetuity to him and his posterity, to culminate in the eternal kingship of the Messiah, who was a descendant of David after the flesh (Romans 1:3).

The first seven years of David’s reign were confined to Judah, while Ish-bosheth, Saul’s fourth son, ruled over the remainder of the tribes from his capital, Mahanaim, in Transjordan. Relations between the two rival kings were bitter, and exploded in strife and bloodshed (2 Samuel 2:12-32). Saul’s army commander, Abner, was the real power behind the throne of Ish-bosheth, a weakling who fell victim to assassins immediately after the withdrawal of Abner’s support (2 Samuel 3 and 4). His real name seems to have been Esh-baal, “man of Baal” (1 Chronicles 8:33; 9:39), which suggests that when he was born Saul had departed so far from God that he worshiped Baal. For the inspired writer of 2 Samuel this name was so shameful that he never used it, consistently choosing, rather, to call Esh-baal, “man of Baal,” Ish-bosheth, “man of shame.”

David had made Hebron his capital and was there crowned king over all Israel after Ish-bosheth’s death, which marked the end of Saul’s brief dynasty. After David had reigned for seven and a half years he set out to establish a new capital. He demonstrated remarkable political wisdom by selecting as a capital a city that had thus far belonged to no tribe, and hence would be acceptable to all. By conquering the Jebusite fortress of Jerusalem, on the border between Judah and Benjamin, and by establishing the political and religious center of the kingdom in a central location, yet off the main international highways running through the country, David showed commendable political foresight. Ever since that time Jerusalem has been an important city, and has played a distinctive role in the history of the world.

David’s reign is distinguished by an unbroken chain of military victories. He defeated the Philistines repeatedly (2 Samuel 5:17-25; 21:15-22; 23:13-17) and was able to free Israel completely from their influence. He limited them to the coastal area surrounding the cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron. He also subjugated the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites (2 Samuel 8:2, 14; 10:6 to 11:1; 12:26-31; 1 Chronicles 18:2, 11-13; 19:1 to 20:3), and made the Aramaeans of Damascus and Zobah tributary (2 Samuel 8:3-13; 1 Chronicles 18:5-10). Other nations sought his friendship by sending gifts—such as the king of Hamath(2 Samuel 8:9, 10)—or by signing treaties—such as the Phoenician king of Tyre (2 Samuel 5:11). In this way David was able to rule over all western and eastern Palestine, with the exception of the coastal region, and indirectly over great parts of Syria as well. Practically all the territory between the Euphrates and Egypt either was administered by David’s governors or was friendly or tributary to him.

David’s domestic policies were not always so successful as his foreign policies. For tax purposes or for an assessment of the potential man power of his kingdom, he had a census taken that Joab, his general—as well as God—resented (2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21 and 22 David, as some other strong political rulers before and after him, also occasionally fell victim to his lusts—see for example the Bathsheba episode (2 Samuel 11:2 to 12:25)—and as a polygamist shared the unfortunate results of this custom. One of his sons committed incest (2 Samuel 13), another, Absalom, became a fratricide and later revolted against his own father but died in the ensuing battle (2 Samuel 13 to 19). The rebellion of the Benjamite Sheba also caused serious trouble and bloodshed (2 Samuel 20); and shortly before David’s death Adonijah, one of his sons, made an unsuccessful attempt to gain the throne by a palace revolution (1 Kings 1). The strong personality of David, together with the unflinching support of those who were loyal to him, managed to overcome all divisive forces. The kingdom was transferred to Solomon as a strong unit.

David’s fundamental loyalty to God and his willingness to repent and accept punishment for sin gained for him the respect of the prophets Nathan and Gad, and brought divine promises and blessings of a singular nature. One of his great desires, to build a temple to the God he loved, was not realized. However, he was promised that his son, who hands were not bloodstained as his were, would build the Temple. Hence, David bought the land for it, had a design made, and collected the funds, by way of assisting Solomon in carrying out the plan (2 Samuel 7; 1 Chronicles 21:18 to 22:5).

Solomon (971-931 B.C.).—Solomon, the third ruler of the united kingdom of Israel, whose name was also Jedidiah, “beloved of Jehovah” (2 Samuel 12:24, 25, seems to have followed the Oriental custom of taking a throne name, Solomon, “peaceable.” His reign made this title not only appropriate but popular.

For reasons not stated God chose Solomon to be David’s successor and David proclaimed him king during the course of a palace revolution aimed at placing his older son Adonijah on the throne (1 Kings 1:15-49). Although Solomon at first seemed to show clemency toward Adonijah, he did not forget the incident. Usually the slightest mistake Solomon’s opponents made cost them their lives. Hence, Joab, instigator of the plot, and Adonijah were both eventually executed, while Abiathar, the high priest, was deposed (1 Kings 2).

Demonstrating unusual piety in early life, Solomon asked God for wisdom in the difficult task of ruling the new empire, the extent of whose political problems he seemed to realize. His wisdom, of which examples occur in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Canticles, exceeded that of all other famous sages of antiquity (1 Kings 3:4 to 4:34). This fame attracted intellectuals of various nations to Solomon’s court, of whose visits that of the Arabian queen of Sheba seems to have made the greatest impression on contemporaries (1 Kings 4:34; 10:1-10).

The kingdom Solomon inherited from his father extended from the Gulf of Aqabah in the south almost to the Euphrates in the north. Never before or after was Israelite territory so extensive. Since Assyria and Egypt were both very weak at this time, Solomon met no real opposition from his neighbors; and taking advantage of this situation, he ventured forth on great trading enterprises by land and sea that brought him wealth never before seen by his people. Hence, the splendor of his reign became legendary, as Matthew 6:28, 29 testifies.

Since the Phoenicians already controlled Mediterranean trade, Solomon turned southward and developed commercial enterprises with Arabia and East Africa, carrying out his maritime expeditions with the help of Tyrian sailors (1 Kings 9:26-28). The city of Ezion-geber at the head of the Gulf of Aqabah served not only as home port for these expeditions but also, apparently, as a commercial center for copper mined in the Wadi Arabah (the area between the Dead Sea and Ezion-geber). Since Solomon also controlled numerous overland trading routes, Israel became the great clearing house for Egyptian chariots and linen, Cilician horses, and the various products of Arabia. Practically nothing entered Egypt from the east, or Mesopotamia from the south west, without enriching Solomon’s coffers (1 Kings 4:21; 10:28, 29).

The king was also engaged in vast building enterprises. On Mt. Moriah, north of old Jerusalem, he built an acropolis comprising the magnificent Temple, erected in 7 years (1 Kings 6:37, 38), and his own palace, which was 13 years in building (1 Kings 7:1). He also built the millo’, or “filling,” thought by some to have been between Zion and Moriah, and repaired the wall of Jerusalem (1 Kings 9:15, 24). A chain of chariot cities was built throughout the country to guarantee its safety, and this required a large standing army and many horses and chariots—both costly items in the national budget (1 Kings 4:26; 9:15-19; 2 Chronicles 9:28). Excavations at Gezer and Megiddo have thrown light on these Biblical records.

For his manifold enterprises the king depended on forced labor (1 Kings 5:13-18; 9:19-23), and on Phoenicians for skilled workmen and mariners (1 Kings 7:13; 9:27). The magnificent building projects and the vast requirements of the army put such a strain on Israelite economy that even Solomon’s immense revenue proved insufficient to finance the program, with the result that at one time he had to cede 20 Galilean towns to Phoenicia in payment for needed timber and gold 1 Kings 9:10-14).

Following the custom of Oriental monarchs, Solomon had a large harem, and attempted to foster international good will by marrying princesses from most of the surrounding nations, including the Egyptians, and by permitting shrines dedicated to foreign deities (1 Kings 11:1-8 to be built in Jerusalem. The Egyptian princess, who brought as her dowry the city of Gezer, which her father had conquered from the Canaanites, seems to have been his favored queen inasmuch as he built her a separate palace 1 Kings 3:1; 9:16, 24).

But the outward glory of the kingdom, the sumptuous court ceremonial, the strong new fortresses throughout the country, the powerful army, and the great trading enterprises could not hide the evident fact that Solomon’s empire was ready to fall apart. There was unrest among the Israelites, because of high taxes and forced labor requirements, and among the subjugated nations, which were only waiting for a sign of weakness to break loose from Jerusalem. Although only three rebels are mentioned by name in the Bible, Hadad the Edomite, Rezon the son of Eliadah, and the Ephraimite Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:14-40), who came out openly in opposition to Solomon, events that occurred immediately upon Solomon’s death imply that there must have been considerable unrest even during his lifetime.

Bible writers, who were more concerned with the religious life of their heroes, give as the main reason for the decline of Solomon’s power and the breakup of his empire, the king’s departure from the straight path of religious duty. Although he had built the Temple of Jehovah and at its dedication offered a prayer that reflected deep spiritual experience (1 Kings 8:22-61), he nevertheless fell into unprecedented polygamy and idolatry (1 Kings 11:9-11) that led to the adoption of foolish policies and so hastened the fall of his kingdom.

No sooner had Solomon closed his eyes than the tribes of Israel broke into two factions and several of the subject nations proclaimed their independence.

Bible Chronology Timeline - Page 2d