The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
PERSIA & CREATION OF JUDAISM
Book 4. Sacred History or Phoney History?
Puzzles in the History of Israel and Judah
The Scriptures and a Source
Biblical scholars have felt under pressure to produce results as valid as those of other fields such as history and science. They have been and still are religious people, but want to say more than that religion is merely arbitrary belief, in their desire to uphold their irrational faith by objective and critical methods. They are so desperate to show their beliefs are rational that they become liars for God.
Niels-Pieter Lemche of the University of Copenhagen tells us that the early critics of the scriptures to use historical methods realized that the bible was not a history book telling us God’s Truth about a place and nation called “ancient Israel”. Biblical historians once accepted this and began in the early nineteenth century to develop methods of source criticism that they thought let them make a distinction between primary historical information and secondary fictionalized expansion of it.
The source of information about the history of Palestine is often only the biblical text. The traditional scholar presents a theory that is based on the text and the text confirms the theory—the hermeneutical circle! This has gone on for almost 200 years, since the early days of modern scholarship at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They say, “Although we cannot prove it, it is a fact!”
Israel still appears a stranger in the world of its own time, a stranger wearing the garments and behaving in the manner of its age, yet separate from the world it lived in.
Moses is considered essential to the revelation of monotheism to the Jews, so he must have existed. If he had not existed, the biblicists would have invented him. They do not consider that ancient writers have done just that!
When a modern author writes historical fiction, the writer does not have to be faithful to history. They write history to support the author’s goal. Indeed, readers of the modern novel are more interested in the literature than in the historical facts.
What about people of ancient times who never shared our sense of history? Would they have paid attention to the historical correctness of a narrative about the past or would they have placed more emphasis on its aesthetical and moral values? The answer is provided by classical writers. Cicero on the basis of Hellenistic philosophy regarded history not as dealing with the past but as using the past to illuminate the present and future. He called history the “teacher of life.”
There is every reason to think the bible was written for this very reason. The hermeneutical circle is simply circular reasoning, and from a scientific point of view false. The results obtained by a false procedure in science will automatically be falsified and must be discarded. Historical-critical scholarship is based on a false methodology leading to false conclusions, and so 200 years of biblical scholarship is worthless.
The earliest mention of Israel—the only external source that mentions Israel from before the so-called “Hebrew Monarchy”—is the Merneptah stele, often cited gloatingly by biblicists, but the plain truth is that the stele mentions Israel too early for the biblical data. This Israel is included among a host of vanquished foes placed in Palestine in an Egyptian inscription dating to the time of Pharaoh Merneptah, c 1200 BC. This inscription refers to Israel as a people, but not necessarily as a nation. Indeed their land has a different name.
Aside from the mention of Israel that Merneptah says he destroyed around 1200 BC, there is a gap of 300 years to the next references to Israel in about 850 BC—the Mesha stele from Moab, and an Assyrian reference in the Kurkh monolith of Shalmaneser to the battle of Karkar in 853 BC in which Ahab of Sirla’a (presumed to be Israel) participated. The recently found “Bytdwd” inscription from Tel Dan in northern Palestine, mentions an anonymous king of Israel who is supposed to have been killed by the inscription’s author. The Egyptian Shoshenq inscriptions only speak of the “tribute of the land of Syria” and of victories over “Asiatics of distant foreign countries.” A list of conquered towns is given but nothing to indicate a state.
From the eighth century BC, a few Assyrian texts refer to Israel either as “the house of Omri” or simply as Samaria, the capital of the kingdom of Israel in northern Palestine until 722 BC. This Israel is the state of Israel that existed between about 900 BC and 722 BC. Samaria was founded by Omri at about this time according to extrabiblical sources which, at last, begin to fit in with the bible. A few extra-biblical sources can be related to the Jewish scriptures such as Tiglath-pileser III’s regulations in northern Palestine a few years before the fall of Samaria. Most of these are terse references. M Gelinas summarizes:
If we were to accept only the archaeological record and the extrabiblical library evidence from the ancient near east, we would have to conclude that Omri of Samaria, who is referred to in the ninth century BCE inscriptions of Shalmaneser III, is the first known king of Israel.
In the Jewish scriptures, Israel is one of the two successor states to David and Solomon’s empire. The other is Judah. Judah does not appear in Assyrian inscriptions until Tiglath-pileser III mentions Ahaz of Judah about 734 BC. Of the texts, the most important is the report of Sennacherib’s campaign to Palestine. After the fall of Nineveh, a few Babylonian inscriptions refer to Judah or to events that can be related to the fate of Judah in the sixth century BC, the most important being the Neo-Babylonian Chronicle that includes a report of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 597 BC.
These ancient Near Eastern inscriptions show that Israel and Judah are not fictitious names—the question is whether they were what the bible says they were. They also mention a selection of kings known in the Jewish scriptures. They show the succession of these kings, and occasional synchronisms between the kings of Israel or Judah and Assyrian kings that are essentially sound. Sennacherib really attacked Judah in the days of Hezekiah, and Nebuchadrezar really conquered Jerusalem more than a century later. Nevertheless, the paucity of information, especially about Judah, is striking. E A Knauf (JSOTSup 127) declares that “archaeologically speaking, there are no indications of statehood before… the eighth century in Judah”.
The utter lack of epigraphic evidence of biblical history does not surprise any Christian despite efforts to find it for well over a century. From the empire of David and Solomon, Samaria, Judah with its famous Davidic dynasty, and including the forty kings from Saul to Zedekiah, nothing other than the dubious and ambiguous Tel Dan inscription has ever been found. The magnificent temple of Solomon in a millennium of history has offered up no votive offering, though we have them for most, even less well known, Ancient Near Eastern temples. The surprise should be all the greater to those who realise that the Phœnicians, Aramaeans, Moabites, Philistines, and Ammonites have inscriptions, admittedly sometimes not many, but with historical information.
Moreover, the Hebrew inscriptions found are only found in a trapezoidal area just west of the Dead Sea but not extending to the coast except at Yabreh Yam just south of Tel Aviv—an area of much less than 1000 square miles. The coast was Philistia, and to the north west inscriptions were in Aramaic, to the north and east Phœnician, to the south east Moabite, to the south Arabic. This tiny area is minute by any stately standards, and certainly by biblical pretensions. It is smaller than Rhode Island in the US, smaller than Luxembourg in Europe, and even smaller than Derbyshire in England.
Samarian ostraca were not written in Hebrew but in Phœnician, as were Samarian seals. Of the inscriptions at Tel Qasilah, the one which mentions Ophir is Philistine. A seal also found here was one of the forgeries that are all too common. The only Hebrew inscriptions found are dated from the eighth to the sixth centuries, but, since the Albright school have made a pig’s ear out of dating artefacts in the region, it is hard to be confident of these either. The Albright method was not to date anything significant as post-exile. Persian period strata were set in the neo-Babylonian or even the Assyrian periods. No one has yet sorted out the mess.
The absence of Hebrew epigraphy is a historical problem that should be addressed. The obvious answer is that Hebrew was simply a Phœnician dialect chosen as a sacred language when the Persians set up the Jewish temple state. It was the sacred language but not the natural language of all the people of Abarnahara, whom the Persians called Hebrews, but, of course, it had no history and could not be read by most citizens who used their own language in everyday business, and for whom monuments were inscribed also in their own language. Any actual ancient inscriptions in Palestine will have been destroyed by the Persian colonists and their successors down to the Maccabees to hide the true history of the Palestinian hill country, leaving only the mythical biblical account of it.
In fact, the hills were always poor, and there would have been few monumental inscriptions anyway, and these would have been in cities and so easy to find and destroy. Such evidence of monuments that has been found has generally been fragmentary, only the Mesha stele being intact. The early Rabbinic Scroll of the Fast (first century AD) lists a feast day on 3 Tishri to recall the time when “the memory of the documents was eliminated”. That this entry itself was so cryptic encourages belief that the act was being kept secret, because the scroll fully explains the basis of the other feasts it lists.
After the so-called exile, no source outside Judah mentions the Jews until Alexander the Great. Even after Alexander brought Yehud back into history, later references are in Greek, are rare and vague, and when the author is known, he is often Jewish anyway.
Since Judah is neither mentioned in extra-biblical records until the eighth century BC, nor is it found in the ground, it seems possible and even likely that it did not exist before then. The basis of the United Monarchy might be that there was indeed once only one monarchy, but it was Israel, not Judah. Israel was set up as the House of Omri in the ninth century with Judah just a region of it. All the kings of Judah from David until Hezekiah are recorded simply to have “slept with their fathers” and to have been “buried with their fathers in the City of David”. The Deuteronomic historian gives some details of the death and place of burial of “later” kings, but he knew nothing about how these kings died or where they were buried. It did not matter for his purpose and the formula he devised sufficed.
Of the later kings, Hezekiah must have been born when his father was 11. Josiah died at 39 after being king for 31 years, a father at fourteen and a grandfather at 32. He conspired to kill his “father” who had begotten him at 16. It all suggests anything but a continuous dynasty. It was a succession of usurpers given legitimacy by the biblical authors, when they actually existed at all.
When the Assyrians annexed Israel, the only city they spared was Jerusalem, and this city and its surrounding villages perhaps became Judah, an Assyrian puppet, briefly. The land was given an established historical basis only when the Persians set it up as the temple state of Yehud.
Solomon to Omri
Solomon died and in no time at all the great empire he ruled was split. In the Deuteronomistic History, the two kingdoms, two tiny statelets, are shown as the main centres of the empire of Solomon, all the vassals returning to their previous suzerains or finding independence! So, other countries like Damascus (Syria) had split off. It ought to be clear that the empire of Solomon being spoken of is the Assyrian Empire before Tiglath-pileser III, when subject states were not incorporated into the empire in a bureaucratic or legalistic manner, but were left as nominally independent save only for vassalage obligations, particularly the payment of tribute. The various wars and alliances in Kings are simply parodies or allegories of the real alliances between the Assyrian vassals against their suzerain and against each other that arose whenever the suzerain was seen as weak or unprepared, such as when a king died.
Great kings often give their name to lesser successors hoping to inherit through the name the same success and glory. Rameses II of Egypt rapidly gave rise to many lesser Rameseses. No later Jewish kings were impressed by the names Solomon and David. No later kings of Britian chose to be called king Arthur!
The kings of Damascus seem all to have been called Bar Hadad, except Rezin. Bar Hadad I supposedly reigned sometime in 900 to 870 BC, but no one knows for sure because only the bible tells us about him. The bible has several other Bar Hadads of Damascus, and the Melqart Stele mentions one. Y Aharoni offers the explanation that Bar Hadad is the title of the kings of Damascus—they are each the son of Hadad, their God. The kings and even the priests of Israel were “God’s Anointed”, or “Messiahs,” sons of Yehouah, their own god!
Anointing as a ritual of crowning a king is scarcely known in the ANE outside the bible. The king was the chief priest by virtue of his status as king, and so he did not need to crown or anoint himself. The king more usually anointed the god, by pouring a libation of oil over him, just as Jacob did to the phallic piller he used as a pillow (Gen 28:18), and the same ritual appears in Ugaritic texts. The Hittites appointed a substitute sacrificial king destined to die in the king’s place by anointing, though one text seems to be the anointing of a co-regent. In Egypt, officials of the Pharaoh were anointed, and so were foreign princesses who became Pharaoh’s wives. In Egypt, oil and scrapers were used for cleansing the skin, and doubtless the habit carried over into countries within the Egyptian sphere of influence. From plain cleansing, it could have taken on a significance of ritual purification in preparing an official for office. Since Palestine was for so long a province of Egypt, it seems likely that local officials were anointed as agents of the Pharaoh, and later independent rulers—especially of Judah which was geographically and politically closer to Egypt—adopted the habit.
The word “anointed” in Hebrew is from the root “msh”. Given the Egyptian cultural influence, the Egyptian word “ms”, for “born of” meaning “son of” can be seen in the Hebrew root, but if “Meses” is the Egyptian for son, as is claimed for the name Moses, then the word “Messiah” is “born of Yehouah” or the “son of Yehouah!” The Pharaoh was considered to be God on earth, and his officials were appointed as his sons. They were “sons of God”. When Egypt had to abandon its provinces, god became the local god, Yehouah, shortened in name to “yah” or “iah”, and the son of God became a son of Yehouah or “messiah”. In 1 Sam 16:6, Samuel visits Jesse and his sons to anoint David as king. David is called Yehouah’s “consecrated” or “anointed”—messiah—by Samuel even before he knew him, and so had not yet anointed him.
Yet other people, who were kings in that they acted as kings and were regarded as kings—like Absalom, who showed he was the king by taking over his father’s harem, and Adonijah—were not anointed. Moreover, Cyrus, though he was described as God’s “anointed” and therefore as “messiah” (Isa 45:1), could not possibly have been anointed! It is plain that the ritual of anointing is not what the word “messiah” signifies. Kings and priests were sons of God, and the ritual of officially recognizing this came to be an unctuous one, the process taking its name from its significance—that of recognizing someone as a son of God, a messiah. The real meaning seems to have been forgotten because the word “messiah” has the Egyptian word for son in it, not the Hebrew one, and was incorrectly assumed to have been derived from the anointing. By this stage the power resided in the person of the one doing the anointing, usually the prophet or High Priest. As used in the Jewish scriptures, it becomes a literary device to puff the importance of the prophets.
So, “messiah” means the son of God, and that is why the kings and priests of the Jews were called “messiahs.” Like the kings of Damascus, and all ancient near eastern kings, they were sons of God. This though is the later rationalization of “messiah”, because messiah began as the hypocoristic name or title, “Mazda is Yehouah”, or, if “Yehouah” is interpreted, as all biblical translators interpret it, as meaning Lord, then Messiah is “Mazda is Lord”, identically the same as Ahuramazda—“the Lord is Mazda!”
If all kings of Syria were Bar Hadad, then any of them from a later age could have been retrojected in time for the sake of mythology, and no one would be any the wiser. So, Asa of Judah allied with a Bar Hadad against Israel by offering a substantial bribe or tribute! The kings of Damascus took substantial areas of Israel from her, and starting a long period of enmity, according to the bible. King Asa had to depose his own mother. She had the title “The Lady” (“gebirah”) suggesting she was really a goddess. Asa means “Saviour”. Asa “saved” people from “The Lady” because of some cultic offence which is left unspoken.
The scriptural account has it that Asa secured the frontier between Judah and Israel, but H Donner thinks Judah remained a vassal of Israel, although this relationship is “veiled” in the scriptures. The truth, mentioned above and clear from the table, is that Judah never existed independently of Israel until Israel was racked by dissension only a few decades before it was absorbed into Assyria.
Omri and Mesha
In the north, Omri became king and started Samaria—history confirmed outside of the bible. Even though the Assyrians knew the country by his name (“Bit Khumri”), Omri is almost ignored by the biblical authors who prefer to dwell on his son, Ahab. Biblicists, pretending that empty biblical speculation is scholarship, come up with empty guesses about Omri and his aims, but the truth is that we know nothing reliable about them.
Biblicists systematically undervalue or completely ignore information that conflicts with the bible. An example is that the stele of Mesha of Moab is incompatible with the bible in its detail, even though it confirms that Moab was indeed oppressed by Israel (2 Kg 3). The biblicists all treat the stele of Mesha as written in ignorance, and seek to harmonize it with the truth—inevitably the biblical account.
In the story about the campaign of the kings of Israel and Judah against King Mesha of Moab, in 2 Kings 3, Mesha had paid a heavy tribute to Israel but revolted against his master after the death of Ahab. The king of Israel invited the king of Judah in Jerusalem to join him in a war against Moab. The allies also included the King of Edom. The campaign opened with a seven day-long march halted through lack of water. The kings turned to the prophet for help and water was made available by a miracle. The prophet predicted the fall of Moab, and sure enough the battle between the Israelites and Moabites ended in defeat for the Moabite army. Mesha retreated to his city of Kir-hareseth where, after an unsuccessful breakout attempt, Mesha sacrificed his son on the wall of his city, “and there was great indignation against Israel”.
Is this a historical report? The central part of the story has to do with the water miracle and the Moabite misinterpretation of it that brought disaster upon their head. When reconstructing the past, the modern historian must reject many sorts of information found in an ancient source. Mythical elements are customarily ignored by modern historians unless they are biblicists studying the bible when they become proof of the activity of God. Despite this, miracles in a historical report are reason to suspect mythologization.
If it never happened, does it mean that this narrative in 2 Kings 3 is devoid of historical information? Two inscriptions carrying the name of Mesha, king of Moab exist. One of them is only a short fragment, the second probably the most important royal inscription from the southern Levant ever found.
In it, Mesha describes how Omri oppressed Moab for forty years, during his own reign and the half of his son’s. Moab is a tributary of Israel, but the start of the period of subjection was “during Omri’s days”, whereas in the bible (2 Sam 8), Saul, David and Solomon had subjected Moab over a century before. The Moabite Stone therefore does not support the idea of a united monarchy, or an empire of David and Solomon. Then, Mesha attacked Israel and destroyed it forever. Most of the inscription is devoted to a description of the cities retaken—in Mesha’s words—from Israel and Mesha’s reallocation of them, all of this made possible by Chemosh, the god of Moab, just as Yehouah made things happen for the Israelites.
It is a hopeless to try to harmonize the texts. Although the biblical text might have some historical information, it agrees negligibly with Mesha’s text. There are some general similarities between Mesha’s version and the biblical one. Both 2 Kings 3 and the inscription of Mesha of Moab explain how Mesha revolted against Israel. Mesha was the king of Moab and Moab was, before Mesha’s revolt, a vassal of Israel. Israel was not able to subdue Moab again.
Mesha’s is a different story, but it is equally unlikely to be true, though it gives us some peripheral detail such as confirmation of Omri as king of the region between Tyre and Egypt (Israel). Otherwise, Mesha’s inscription is largely propaganda as the proverbial period of oppression of forty years testifies.
Mesha knows no king of Israel except Omri. He makes no mention of Omri’s successor, Ahab—who is mentioned by the Assyrians—and he makes Omri the oppressor of Moab even in his son’s time. No extra-biblical evidence can substantiate the plot of the narrative in 2 Kings 3. Ancient history writing is different from modern historical reconstruction. The text in 2 Kings 3 looks like fiction that contains only one piece of history—a name—and some general knowledge of the status of Moab in Mesha’s time. It is not enough to make the narrative historical.
Even the chronology can hardly be harmonized. The Moabite Stone says Omri dominated Moab for “forty years”. The bible says (2 Kg 1:1;3:5; 2 Chr 20:1), “After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel”. The Mesha text implies that Omri had a long reign. The 40 years mentioned symbolises a generation, and is not meant to be precise, but a generation is a long time nevertheless. Mesha puts most of this period of oppression in the reign of Omri. Mesha’s father was called Chemoshyat, and could have been a puppet appointed by Omri. Omri thus seems to have been a long lived king but the bible only gives him twelve years. The fact that the Assyrians called Israel the House of Omri even after Omri’s dynasty was over shows that Omri made an important political impact, also suggesting a substantial period in power, especially if he were a usurper and therefore began from nothing.
Mesha speaks about Israelite oppression that lasted for half the reign of Omri’s son who is not named in the Moabite text. The biblical accounts show that the two other sons of Omri besides Ahab, Jehoram and Ahaziah, are vague figures and have, by coincidence, the same names as two contemporary kings of Judah, albeit in reverse order. Ahaziah reigned only in 853 BC, and Jehoram, 852-842 BC. Omri is dated from 885-874 BC, so a forty year period must go into the time of Jehoram. If Jehoram is considered the “son” referred to, then half way through his reign would match Mesha’s statement (846 BC). Jehoram fought Moab in alliance with Jehoshaphat who dies in 848 BC, so perhaps the period was mythologized, but it remains curious that Mesha mentions no king except Omri. By omitting the two pale kings, G Garbini thinks the bible fits better what Mesha wrote.
That Omri oppressed Moab in the time of his son suggests that Omri might not be Omri the king of Israel but the eponymous king of Bit Khumri, the “house of Omri”, which in Assyrian documents of the ninth and eighth century BC is the usual name of Israel. The kingdom of Bit Khumri (taken to be Israel) was the only kingdom noted by the Assyrians between Tyre and Egypt. Israel supplied the thousands of troops for the battle of Karkar in 853 BC, prior to Mesha’s revolt, not Judah. Omri and Israel in the Mesha inscription are the same.
The Mesha inscription does not make 2 Kings 3 a reliable historical source, nor does it change its genre. The historian can accept only that both accounts agree that the Moabites were subject to the Israelites under Omri’s dynasty for several decades, then they gained their independence. 2 Kings 3 remains miraculous and fictional although it mentions a historical king of Moab and refers to a general political situation that may have some historical nucleus.
A reasonable hypothesis is that there was no Judah in the time of Omri. It was part of Omri’s kingdom, but under Ahab, the kingdom fell apart and Ahaziah and Jehoram briefly ruled the separatists of Judah. Mesha was able to get his own independence for Moab in the same circumstances of Omride weakness. When Jehu was anointed by an anonymous prophet, he said (2 Kg 9:7), “Strike down the house of Ahab, your master”, so the bible tells us that Jehu was rebelling against Ahab not Jehoram, who conventionally precedes him.
Ahab to Jereboam
In the scriptures, Omri’s son, Ahab, married the daughter of the king of the Sidonians (1 Kg 16:32) but Josephus, in Antiquities, says it was the daughter of Ithbaal of Tyre and Sidon. Either way, Soggin thinks that Jezebel was not her proper name because it means “Without Glory”, so it was an insulting nickname. It could however have meant “Baal Unifies” or be a deliberately distorted form of “Baal Sows”, in which case it is the equivalent of Jezreel (“God (El) Sows”), the name of the valley which is prominent in the story and which is considered cognate with “Israel”, but with Baal as the theophoric element. So the respectable name of the queen in fertility religions was punned into disrespect.
Jezebel is set up to be what she is recognized as being—a wicked foreign woman. She has extraordinary power and can only be a literary figure. She is the fairy tale witch, and they are demonized goddesses. If she was really such a power and influence over her husband, the bible negates it by having him call his children by the acceptable theophoric names, Ahaziah and Jehoram (Joram).
In 1 Kings 17:1ff, the two fertility gods, Baal and Yehouah are in conflict, and Yehouah and his prophet Elijah, whose name (“My God is Yehouah”) is curiously appropriate to the job, succeed. The conflict will reflect genuine rivalry between different fertility gods, both sons of El, that was part of Canaanite culture and myth. An ostrocon found in Samaria had the name “Egelyau” scratched on it. It means “The Calf is Yehouah.” The high god of the Canaanites, El, was a bull, and the name suggesting that a calf was Yehouah, means that Yehouah was a son of the bull, El. A small bronze bull has been found at a High Place, in Samaria. So, Yehouah might have been worshipped as a calf, as the bible implies but wants to reject.
The Persians, after the “Return” eventually favoured Yehouah and so the outcome was clear to the original founders of Judaism, but probably reflected the growing preference among Canaanites for Yehouah anyway.
The first biblical king of Israel was Jeroboam, called Jeroboam I because there is another Jeroboam who ruled Israel in the eighth century. Jeroboam is the only Jewish royal name that needs a number added to distinguish one from another. All other kings of Israel and Judah have names unused by other kings of the same country.
In the scriptures, Jeroboam fled to Egypt and was received by Shishak (1 Kg 11:26,40). This would have been possible for Jeroboam II as well as Jeroboam I! In the Hebrew bible, Shishak appears as Shishak or Shoshaq but he is not Pharaoh. His title is “king of Egypt”, suggesting that he was a minor king ruling at a time of division. Sheshonq III ruled in Egypt from 835 BC to 783 BC while Jeroboam II became co-regent in 794 BC and sole ruler in 781, and ruled until 754 BC. He could therefore have sheltered with a Sheshonq in Egypt before he became ruler. Why should Sheshonq I have attacked Jeroboam I, supposedly an ally? The inconsistencies suggest that different Sheshonqs and Jereboams are involved. The bible has confused people in the eighth century with people in the tenth. Biblicists will not seriously consider such possibilities.
The Aramaean Wars of Ahab and Jehoshaphat seem to be baseless. Anonymous stories have been attributed to the kings but they could have originally been set anywhere or nowhere. The reason is that Assyrian records suggest the exact opposite. In the time of Omri and his successors, the Aramaean kingdoms were in alliance against Assyria and not fighting against each other. The scriptural tales are invented for a non-historical purpose—to illustrate true and false prophecy. This was an aim of the Persians and the Deuteronomists who wanted to impress on the locals how to make the right choices. Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC), possibly the real Solomon, campaigned against the west for several seasons in his reign and mentions Omri. The annals of this king also say the Aramaean kingdoms were in alliance—Ahab, Hadadezer and Irkuleni fought againaist him at Karkar on the Orontes in 853 BC. Ahab is depicted in the bible as a major element of the allies.
The Assyrians claimed victory, but it was either not a victory or it was indicisive because further battles were fought with the alliance in 849 BC, 848 BC and 845 BC. Possibly these were punitive attacks to enforce payment of tribute, but they show the alliance in action, so the Aramaean states were unlikely to have been fighting each other, as the Jewish scriptures make out, and they affirm quite the opposite political and military situation—the alliance had a ferocious common enemy. The bible is silent about the wars against Shalmaneser, and the battle of Karkar never happened in the holy history!
J Strange noticed that Jehoram was the name of simultaneous kings of Judah and Israel, and thought they might have been the same man. Strange is unlikely to think that Israel and Judah were different names for the same place, but the best explanation of the peculiarities of the accounts of the two is that they were. A Jehoram or Joram reigned in both Israel and Judah from about 852 to 841 BC. No other Jehoram ever ruled in either country. The Israel Jehoram was preceded by an Ahaziah, supposedly his brother who ruled for a single year. The Judah Jehoram was followed by an Ahaziah, supposedly his son, who ruled only in the year 841 BC.
Not much later than Jehoram, two more kings with the same name, Jehoash or Joash, were contemporaries, though not precisely—Jehoash of Judah 835-796 BC) and Jehoash of Judah (798-782 BC). These are amazing coincidences, and look very much as though the same men are serving in two capacities, or that there was really only a single kingdom, anyway, and some kings are made to appear twice. The monarchy was never divided except for brief periods of rebellion. Judah only existed independently when Israel ceased to be.
Only the biblical texts which form part of the Deuteronomistic and Chronistic history provide material for reconstructing the period of the kingdom of Judah which extends from the end of the tenth century to the middle of the eighth century BC.
Put bluntly, the divided monarchy could all be a myth and fiction and no one would know any better. Judah appears on the scene only a few years before Israel disappears from real history suggesting that it only separated itself from Israel about the time that Israel was subsumed by Assyria. The king lists admit that both countries had the same kings, although a lot of mythical ones have been invented for Judah.
Ostraca found in Samaria are inscribed with hypocoristic names incorporating Baal, like Abibaal, Baala, Baalzamar, Baalzakar. In the bible, Ahab, an Israelitish king who is an idolator, calls his children names incorporating the god Yehouah—Ahaziah, Athaliah and Jehoram. Why should the idolatrous king have done this when his people favoured Baal? Athaliah (“Yehouah is Great”), whose brother is Israelite Jehoram, marries Judah Jehoram and introduced the worship of Baal into Judah, the bible says. She is so much opposed to Yehouah that she refused to worship in the “House of Yehouah”, and was overthrown and killed in a coup which began in the temple. She evidently retained her theophoric name in Yehouah, though.
Sela (Selah), the capital of ancient Edom (2 Kg 14:7-8), is unknown, but seemed to be a stronghold shut in by mountain cliffs. The word means “rock” and is often mistranslated simply as rock in the bible when the place is obviously meant. It must have been the same place as Petra, the capital later of the Nabataean Arabs. Petra is “rock” in Greek. The trouble is that detailed excavations of Petra show it was founded not before about 700 BC and so could not have been conquered by Amaziah (798-767 BC) and renamed by him Joktheel after he had pleasantly thrown 10,000 of the city’s people over the edge of the cliff (2 Chr 25:12). It suggests that the history of Judah before the middle of the eighth century is fictitious.
According to the Jewish scriptures, Jehu (Iaua, Yehouah) came to the throne by a coup d’etat and so was not an Omride, but the Assyrian records seem to think he was. Jehu, it seems, overthrew not Jehoram but Ahab, who had lost control, and, perhaps by killing his two sons, united the kingdom of Samaria again.
A coup seems to have occurred about the same time in Syria where Hazael, described in the Assyrian inscriptions as a “son of no-one”, implying he was a usurper, came to the throne. The outcome was the end of the alliance against Assyria. The best explanation of this is Assyrian machinations. Pro-Assyrian factions had seized power. Jehu appears on Shalmaneser’s black obilisk in his first year (841 BC, see above) in abject submission in the Moslem style of obeisance, the only king of Israel pictured by contemporaries. Even though Israel and Aram were both Assyrian vassals, the bible depicts them as warring. Usually vassalage treaties forbade local wars.
The scriptural plot is that Syria, Israel and Judah were at loggerheads from now on. It implies that Israel had a policy of favouring Assyria against Syria. 2 Kings 13:5 mentions a “saviour” who relieved Israel from the Syrians. It might have been Adad-nirari III who marched west several times and eventually forced Damascus into vassalage (797 BC). Adad-niriri lists Joash as a tribute payer. Joash might have been the Assyrian puppet or nominee in Israel. The bible depicts Joash as again fighting Syrians. He also fought Amaziah of Judah taking treasure and hostages back to Samaria (2 Kg 14:8-14).
The biblical author contrives a continuous dynasty of David in Judah, but Judah did not even exist, except perhaps as a region, at this time. Several of the kings look dubious as part of the Davidic line. Joash was hidden in the temple for six years then emerged as a king, a popular ruse of usurpers wanting to claim legitimacy, especially in the ANE at that time, seeming to give God’s approval. Mario Liverani has convincingly shown that this was a favourite mythical theme of the ancient near east—the young son who returns from obscurity to retrieve his birthright. It is the stuff of fairy tales and occurs often in the bible. This Joash of Judah, a contemporary of Joash of Israel, is an example. In fact, no one knows whether such a pretender is genuine. Joash is produced by the priest after six years, presented as the rightful heir to the throne, and on that basis, the wicked queen is killed. The priest could more easily have planned it all, picked a boy to play the heir and assured the people of its truth. If the queen was unpopular, they would have readily accepted it, true or not. And, if this was history, the cunning priest resurrected the dynasty of David after it had been expunged. If so, later kings, though of the line of David, were not genetically of the same line.
Jeroboam II (786-746 BC) of Israel gets only 2 Kings 14:23-29 to cover the 40 years of his reign, even though he restored the empire of David and Solomon—except for the allegedly independent state of Judah. That he reigned the magical 40 years, like David and Solomon, does not give us confidence that his history is likely to be true.
The bible shows him conquering Phœnicia, Damascus, Hamath and apparently Ammon and Moab. The excuse given by scholars for this military success is the same as that given for the growth of the tenth century empire—Assyria was temporarily weak! If this is at all true, it will be the source of the legends of David, Solomon and the earlier Jeroboam—by retrogression. Even so, it seems unlikely that any such a large kingdom was carved out of Assyrian vassals unless it was really a romanticized reference to the alliance of these states against the Assyrians, with Jeroboam fictiously put at their head. Since there was no such empire, when Jeroboam dies the kingdom broke up for the second time! It make’s Solomon’s empire a romanticized version of this eighth century alliance.
2 Kings 14:28, an imperfect text, suggests Jeroboam occupied Damascus. Jeroboam might really have profited from the Assyrian conquest of Damascus, and been allowed to administer Syrian land in Transjordan. If so, he was a puppet or military agent of Assyria.
Uzziah to the Assyrian Conquest
Two seals have been found of officials of the ruler, ’zyw (Uzziah), a northerner, judging from his name ending in yw. He must have been a northern leader and therefore a king of Samaria, but the only Uzziah in the bible was a long lived ruler of Judah—Uzziah, king of Judah for 50 years, 25 as a regent with his father Amaziah, and 25 in his own right (791-740 BC).
A small slab little more than a foot square in the Israel museum in Jerusalem seems to confirm the king, mentioning the bones of Uzziah, in an Aramaic inscription which said:
To this place have been transferred the bones of Uzziah king of Judah. Let no one open it.
E L Sukenik claims to have found an found it some time in 1931. Epigraphy dates the inscription to between 50 BC and 50 AD, around the time of Jesus, 800 years after Uzziah was supposed to have lived. Other than this there is no extra-biblical evidence that Uzziah, such a long-lived ruler, ever lived at all! Sukenik claims to have found the inscription among others in the Russian Church on the Mount of Olives, where they had supposedly been since the time of Archimandrite Antony (1865-1894), but there is no other evidence of this. Sukenik also speaks of “inscriptions” but only got round to publishing this one. Archimandrite Antony knew no Hebrew and sent notes of Hebrew inscriptions for translation to D Chwolson, whose own records do not mention any Uzziah inscription. The accepted collection of classic Jewish inscriptions has not valued it enough to include it, and both A Vincent as early as 1932, and G Garbini in 1985 have declared the inscription so doubtful that it must be forged. Either Sukenik was responsible or he was a dupe.
Uzziah is another way of writing Azariah, and this biblical Uzziah was also called Azariah. An Azariah seemed to be mentioned by Tiglath-pileser III as leader of a north Syrian coalition of cities (738 BC) in a textual fragment which read “…yau KUR yaudi”. Soggin writes that “the chronology of the period is controversial”, and some now date this inscription to the time of Sennacherib, saying it must refer to Hezekiah. Maybe, but there is cause to be doubtful. The reference to Yaudi here is the name of the northern Aramaean kingdom that biblicists never speak of as too confusing for their flocks. There were two Judahs! Emil Kraeling, author of an history of the Aramaeans, said Azriyau, though he had Yehouah in his name, was ruler of the northern city of Yaudi (Samal) not Judah. Azriyau of Yaudi was a usurper who sought alliances with the “Nineteen districts of Hamath” against Assyria. This rebel was beseiged in his city or in a mountain fortress by the Assyrians and seems to have been killed. Kraeling warns he was not to be confused with his contemporary, Azariah of Yehud (Judah), though plainly only the authority of the bible can explain this assertion. The author of Chronicles adds to the confusion. He has a king Uzziah opposed by a High Priest called, Azariah!
Though the biblical Uzziah reigned for a remarkably long time, he was supposedly confined for much of it in the chamber of death with leprosy, and his sons Jotham and Jehoahaz (Ahaz) acted for him in matters of state. Contemporary with this Uzziah in the eighth century was a Hiram in Tyre, a Rezin in Damascus and a state of Saba (Sheba) in Arabia ruled by Queens. Garbini surmises that whoever this long-lived king was, he has been mythologized by the biblical author as a king living 200 years earlier—Solomon. It left a long gap in the fictional history that never got filled properly but was stopped up with the notion of a leprous king barely mentionable though he ruled for half a century.
The pair of biblicist crooks W F Albright and N Glueck identified a seal found by Glueck at tell el-Keleifeh by the Gulf of Elath as inscribed “Property of Ytam” and deduced it was the property of king Jotham. Honest scholars noted that the palaeography placed it at least 100 years later than the supposed king Jotham.
Tiglath-pileser III founded the new Assyrian empire after 745 BC. Unlike previous kings who depended on booty alone, he based his new empire on a centralised government, taxing provinces. So, whereas before the conquerors came and went only to come again, like bandits, the new idea was to annex conquered places and incorporate them into the taxable provincial system. Tiglath-pileser III made conquered countries into provinces, divided into easily managed and taxed districts, as in Hamath.
H Donner, writing in Israelite and Judaean History, edited by Hayes and Miller, explains that the stages of incorporating a defeated nation like Israel into the empire were:
The neo-Assyrians were unusual in keeping a permanent professional army equipped with chariots and with a cavalry, perhaps learned from the Medes, Persians and Scythians. It also used terror to force submission, and such tactics are depicted in the Jewish scriptures as being those of the Israelites. Cities that did not submit were often sacked and destroyed—their citizens murdered or deported to distant places. Those who remained had to pay large tributes. It is also true that the Assyrians made use of spies, agents and propagandists called “prophets” to sow dissension, demoralisation and terror in advance of the Assyrian armies. Much of the shocking reputation the Assyrians had might have been spread by their own agents spreading fear (Isa 5:26-29).
First Tiglath-pileser had to suppress the powerful kingdom of Van (Urartu, Chaldia) which ruled north and west of Assyria, around Lake Van, and in northern Syria around Urfa. Sarduris was its king. The Chaldians were allied with the small Aramaean states of north Syria but the alliance was defeated at Commagene and 73,000 prisoners were taken.
In 742 BC, Arpad was seiged and fell two years later. The Assyrians thereafter had the whole of Syria at their mercy. The Assyrian king seemed bent on punishing the rebellious Aramaean states. Hamath was defeated and its rulers transported to Armenia, to administer part of the recently conquered Urartu. Nineteen districts of Hamath seem to have been annexed to Assyria. Other kings of small states rushed to offer tribute, including Menahem of Samaria who is mentioned in Assyrian tablets.
Three years later the king was again in punitive mode in Urartu. He devastated the country but the capital city, Van itself, held out. The remaining alliance broke up in mutual recrimination and antagonism. In 738 BC, Assyria had reduced Israel and Syria to vassalage. Damascus, Ammon, Israel, Moab and Philistia were all punished but king Ahaz of Judah supported Assyria.
Ahaz was at this time not the king but, the biblicists say, was the co-regent acting for his father Jotham, who remained king until 732 BC. Ahaz himself never ruled alone, except for the years 732 to 730 BC, because in 729 BC, he made Hezekiah his co-regent! No one seems to wonder at the timid nature of the Judahite kings, many of whom had to have been co-regents of their fathers for peculiarly long times, then appointed their sons co-regents almost as soon as they had the throne themselves. Amaziah (795-767 BC) appointed his mysterious son, Uzziah, co-regent in 791 BC, so the two reigned in tandem for 25 years. Uzziah (766-740 BC) became king in his own right and appointed Jotham co-regent in 750 BC. He was supposed to have been cursed with leprosy, so the latter does not seem outrageous but Amaziah’s weakness seems bizarre. The same is not true of the kings of Israel except Jeroboam II. He was co-regent with his father for 13 of his father’s 15 year reign, but beside him only two other kings were co-regents, and they look much more likely because they became co-regents only towards the end of their father’s reigns. Many scholars puzzle over it but cannot bring themselves to think, “phony!”
Pekah (740-731 BC), who was a usurper in Israel, according to the bible, rewrote history himself, claiming he was king at the same time as Menahem (753-742 BC) and Pekahiah (742-741 BC). Israel was probably factionalized into pro- and anti-Assyrian parties, and different pretenders had arisen to the throne, financed from abroad—the Assyrians or the Allies. This was the time when political dissension was sown in Israel, and Judah might have split off under the pro-Assyrian Ahaz.
The biblical story is that Rezin II of Syria and Pekah of Israel attacked Ahaz for no clear reason but failed to capture Jerusalem in the so-called Syro-Ephraimite war. Menahem of Israel and Rezin of Damascus are both mentioned in Assyrian stelae. In fact, the Allies, Israel and Syria, seem to have tried to punish and depose Ahaz as the first step of defying their Assyrian overlords. The Philistines and Edomites seem to have been part of the alliance, if the bible is to be trusted here.
The bible makes out that Ahaz now appealed to Assyria for assistance, though he seemed to have been an Assyrian puppet anyway, whence the assault on him by the allies. He is supposed to have introduced an Assyrian altar modelled on one seen in Damascus. So, Ahaz appealed to the Assyrians and they punished Syria and Israel for their incursions. Ahaz was indeed a vassal of Tiglath-pileser III who mentions him (Jehoahaz) as paying tribute and being part of the Assyrian army that conquered Syria.
The allies had to attend to the Assyrian punitive expedition, so abandoned the attack on Jerusalem, but Damascus fell after a two year seige in 732 BC, becoming an Assyrian province. Its elite were transported to Kir (2 Kg 16:9). The propaganda (Amos 9:7) was that they were being returned to their true home! While Israel had its rulers deported, it was reduced only to the extent of the Palestinian hills. At the same time Hoshea (731-723 BC) was set up as an Assyrian puppet king in Israel.
Assyrian records say that Pekah was overthrown by the people, so the usurper was usurped, and Hoshea replaced him. The tribute laid upon Hoshea by the Assyrians was enormous, ten talents of gold and a thousand talents of silver. A talent was about 30 kg (66 lbs). The best explanation is that Hoshea was made puppet king not only of Israel, but Aram (Syria, Damascus) as well, but he failed to stay loyal and invited further punishment and annexation.
In 731 BC, Tiglath-pileser III marched against Babylon and became its king. Salmaneser V succeeded Tiglath-pileser III in 727 BC and Sargon succeeded him in 722 BC.
Hoshea acted as a puppet should at first, but seems to have been tempted into rebellion by the change of ruler in Assyria. He refused tribute to the new king, Shalmaneser V, and broke the vassalage treaty by negotiating with Egypt. He allied with the weak twenty fourth dynasty Egyptian king of Sais. Shalmameser responded by invading Hoshea’s domain and put him down and captured Hoshea after several years, showing that he had the resources of more than just a petty kingdom.
Shalmaneser died just as victory was secured, and the population of Israel was deported under Sargon II. So, Sargon completed the subjugation, deporting the rulers and bringing in foreign rulers, admitting Israel to the empire as the province of Samerina (Samaria), the name applying to the whole country not just the principal town about 722 BC. The people brought in seem to have been from Syria, so to a degree the ruling elite of Syria were swapped for the ruling elite of Israel, Sargon, seeming to be saying to the deported rulers: “If you are so keen on allying with each other see whether you like ruling your allies!” Ezra (Ezra 4:2,10) says that more foreigners were transported in under Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal.
The city of Samaria was rebuilt and became the seat of the Assyrian governor, as the Assyrians themselves tell us. Samaria became a more prosperous country. It was simply no longer an independent country but had been taken into Assyria as a tax paying province.
The bible makes out that the people who moved in voluntarily adopted the religion of the land, that of Yehouah. The bible also makes out that the people who later moved out to Babylonia, or wherever, remained loyal to Yehouah. People do not change their allegiance to their gods at the drop of a hat, so why did the people moving into Samaria chose to adopt the religion of Yehouah but those who were moved out did not? The power of the “True God” would be the Christian and Jewish answer. The historical answer would have to be that people who were transported were obliged to adopt and defend the religion of the place they were moved to, according to the prescriptions of their conquerors.
A ruling elite would not immediately adopt the religion of the peasants they had to rule, unless they were obliged to. The same would have applied to any Israelite moved elsewhere, which is why the supposed ten northern tribes disappeared. They would not have had the option of retaining their own religion simply because often deported people were ethnically mixed by the conquerors further to weaken them, and make them dependent on the victors. Those coming into Samaria seem to have been a mixed bunch.
The mixed class of rulers had to defend the god they were told to defend, usually the god of the land or city they were deported into, but according to the manner the conquerors laid down. They had to “restore” the religion, and they had the right to because they had to present themselves to the peasants as a former ruling class deported long ago, and being returned by the grace of the victorious king! The Yehouah that the Persian colonists restored to Yehud was not the Yehouah that the earlier Assyrian colonists had restored in Samaria, and neither was the Yehouah of the original Canaanites. That is why the colonists could not accept help from the natives—they were not promoting the same religion.
Copyright © 1998-2015 The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (CAIS)