“Now it came to pass in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and all his army came against Jerusalem and encamped against it; and they built a siege wall against it all around. So the city was besieged until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.” 2 Kings 25:1-2
According to the Bible’s description and timeline, the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah were conquered by foreign armies in the late 8th century BC (Israel) and early 6th century BC (Judah).
Really? Prove it!
That was my attitude as an atheist. Make all the claims you want, Bible believer, the burden is on you to prove it. As it turned out during my investigation into the ‘truth claims’ in the Bible, Christian apologists were able to show me evidence that pointed toward the existence of God.
I had found enough archaeological and historical evidence to warrant the continuation of my investigation into the Bible’s claims about Israel leaving Egypt and settling into Canaan. I also found extra-biblical evidence for Israel and Judah as kingdoms during the Iron Age (Iron II), but would I find any evidence for foreign invasion, exile and return?
I read an interesting article recently about a new exhibition of ancient clay tablets. The tablets were discovered in Iraq and archaeologists with expertise in ancient Babylonia and Assyria said they shed light on the time Jews spent in Babylonia more than 2500 years ago.
More than a hundred cuneiform tablets were on exhibition that included details about the lives of Jewish families that had moved from Judea to Babylon during the early part of the 6th century BC.
As interesting as that is to me now, those tablets were not available to me 44 years ago when I was investigating whether the Bible contained credible historical information. I was an atheist and thought the Bible was filled with myth and legend and lacked any evidence that would support the existence of the ‘God’ of the Bible.
So, what did I find during my search in 1971 and was it enough to keep me searching for evidence?
Israel and Judah
You may remember from our last post that the united Kingdom of Israel divided after the death of King Solomon into the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Here’s an approximate timeline:
Northern Kingdom of Israel — 930-722 BC
Southern Kingdom of Judah — 930-586 BC
First, what the Bible claims. Then, what archaeological findings support the events.
“Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” 2 Kings 17:5-6
The ‘king of Assyria’ named in 2 Kings 17 was ‘Shalmaneser,’ but he wasn’t the first king of Assyria to challenge the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
“Pul king of Assyria came against the land; and Menahem gave Pul a thousand talents of silver, that his hand might be with him to strengthen the kingdom under his control. And Menahem exacted the money from Israel, from all the very wealthy, from each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and did not stay there in the land.” 2 Kings 15:19-20
The biblical timeline has ‘Menahem’ becoming the king of Israel in the middle of the 8th century BC after assassinating King Shallum who had assassinated King Zechariah only a month earlier. King Menahem ruled for about ten years while paying tribute to King Pul of Assyria. Pul was another name for Tiglath-Pileser III who ruled Assyria from about 745–727 BC.
Even though the famous Incirli Stele paying homage to Tiglath Pileser was not discovered until 1993, archaeological discoveries concerning Tiglath-Pileser III were available for investigation in 1971.
Stone Panel from Central Palace of Tiglath-pileser III (British Museum)
Tiglath Pileser III (Columbia University)
Calah Inscriptions (Bethel University)
Assyria Takes Israel Captive
The Bible relates how the Assyrian Empire took Israel captive during the reign of multiple kings.
First, a look at what the Bible claims, then what archaeologists have found.
“And they were unfaithful to the God of their fathers, and played the harlot after the gods of the peoples of the land, whom God had destroyed before them. So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, that is, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria. He carried the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh into captivity. He took them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river of Gozan to this day.” 1 Chronicles 5:25-26
That was the beginning of Assyria taking the tribes of Israel captive. Israel had ten tribes and the first to go were the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The Assyrian army took them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river of Gozan.
Archaeologists discovered ancient Assyrian cities in what is now northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey. Some of the early archaeological work was done by Sir Austen Henry Layard and Paul Emil Botta during the mid-19th century AD.
“And the king of Assyria uncovered a conspiracy by Hoshea; for he had sent messengers to So, king of Egypt, and brought no tribute to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year. Therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison. Now the king of Assyria went throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria and besieged it for three years. In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria, and placed them in Halah and by the Habor, the River of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” 2 Kings 17:4-6
This second invasion of Samaria (Israel) began under the rule of Shalmaneser V who became Assyria’s king after the death of his father Tiglath-Pileser III. He died a few years later and was replaced by Sargon II (Sargon Stele) in 722 BC. The Assyrian army took the remaining tribes of Israel and forced them to move to what is now parts of Iraq, Turkey and Iran. They also brought people from many areas of the Assyrian Empire to settle in Samaria in place of the tribes of Israel.
“Then the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel; and they took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities.” 2 Kings 17:24
King Sargon II died in 705 BC and his son Sennacherib became king. In 701 BC Sennacherib ordered his army to attack the Kingdom of Judah.
First, how the Bible describes the event.
“And in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them. Then Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, ‘I have done wrong; turn away from me; whatever you impose on me I will pay.’ And the king of Assyria assessed Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. So Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house. At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the pillars which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.” 2 Kings 18:13-16
The Annals of Sennacherib record details of the event from the Assyrian perspective.
“As for Hezekiah the Judahite, who did not submit to my yoke: forty-six of his strong, walled cities, as well as the small towns in their area, which were without number, by levelling with battering-rams and by bringing up seige-engines, and by attacking and storming on foot, by mines, tunnels, and breeches, I besieged and took them. 200,150 people, great and small, male and female, horses, mules, asses, camels, cattle and sheep without number, I brought away from them and counted as spoil. (Hezekiah) himself, like a caged bird I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city. I threw up earthworks against him— the one coming out of the city-gate, I turned back to his misery. His cities, which I had despoiled, I cut off from his land, and to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Silli-bêl, king of Gaza, I gave (them). And thus I diminished his land. I added to the former tribute, and I laid upon him the surrender of their land and imposts—gifts for my majesty. As for Hezekiah, the terrifying splendor of my majesty overcame him, and the Arabs and his mercenary troops which he had brought in to strengthen Jerusalem, his royal city, deserted him. In addition to the thirty talents of gold and eight hundred talents of silver, gems, antimony, jewels, large carnelians, ivory-inlaid couches, ivory-inlaid chairs, elephant hides, elephant tusks, ebony, boxwood, all kinds of valuable treasures, as well as his daughters, his harem, his male and female musicians, which he had brought after me to Nineveh, my royal city. To pay tribute and to accept servitude, he dispatched his messengers.” (Luckenbill, Daniel David. The Annals of Sennacherib. Oriental Institute Publications 2. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1924.)
This archaeological evidence was strong enough to keep me searching into the historical credibility of the Old Testament. In the next part of our research, we will look at the captivity of Judah more than a century later. What archaeological evidence will we find to support what the Bible claims?
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.