shalmaneser_iiiBeginning in the ninth century B.C.E., Assyrian armies relentlessly waged campaigns against the ancient kingdoms of Israel, Judea, Syria, and Phoenicia. At its height, the Assyrian empire encompassed the areas of present-day Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.

Assyrian aggression could be appeased through payments of tribute, but many vassal kingdoms attempted to assert their independence by refusing to pay tribute. However, the Assyrian army defeated those who failed to meet their increasing demands and crushed all forms of resistance.

Theof Shalmaneser III records a rebellion of kings, including Ahab, the king of Israel, against the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III (who reigned from 858-824 B.C.E.). This monument from 853 B.C.E. depicts Ahab at the head of 2,000 chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers.

The Moabite Stone from 840 B.C.E. records the rebellion of Mesha, the king of Moab (located in present day Jordan), against Israelite domination. The stone mentions the tribe of Gad, King Omri, his son Ahab, and cousin Jehoram, and, perhaps most significantly, the name of the God of Israel. The Bible recounts the tributary relationship between Mesha and Ahab and describes how Mesha rebelled after Ahab’s death (2 Kings 3-4).

According to the Bible, King Jehoram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judea were assassinated by Jehu, a Jewish army general. The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser II, king of Assyria, from 841 B.C.E., records the existence of Jehu as king of Israel and shows the tribute given to the Assyrian king by Jehu. On one part of the obelisk, Jehu, now king of Israel, is represented in a subservient posture before King Shalamaneser II.

On the other hand, however, a victory stela from the Israelite city of Dan in the Golan credits these deaths to an unidentified king and not Jehu. Whether it is true or not, the relevance of the Tel Dan Stela of 840 B.C.E., however, is in the Aramaic inscription of “Bayt Dawid,” which is the earliest inscription outside of the Bible known to refer to King David 127 years after David’s death.

Shalmaneser III’s Kurkh Monument – 853 BCE

Assyrian King’s Inscription Reveals Opponent Israel’s Military and Political Might

A coalition of kings from the southern Levant opposed the territorial expansions of the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III, at the battle of Qarqar in Syria. While Shalmaneser met strong resistance and perhaps lost the battle, he nevertheless set up an inscription called the Kurkh monument to commemorate his victory. Among the participants in the coalition, Shalmaneser lists Ahab, the king of Israel, at the head of 2,000 chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers. Since the Bible strangely does not mention this battle, the Assyrian inscription provides the only textual witness of Israel’s important involvement in these geopolitical events. The text describes the battle of Qarqar, where Shalmaneser defeated a coalition of seacoast kings, and a coalition of kings from the Levant, including “Ahab the Israelite,” who made one of the largest military contributions of 10,000 foot soldiers and 2,000 chariots.

Mesha Stele/Moabite Stone – ca. 840 BCE

Stone Inscription Commemorates Moabite Uprising against Israel

In 840 B.C.E., the king of the land of Moab, Mesha, commissioned a royal inscription to commemorate the Moabite rebellion against Israelite domination. The Bible recounts a ninth-century Moabite rebellion, which may be the same as the conflict recorded on this Stela. According to Mesha, by the time the Moabite revolted against Israel and expelled its forces from the region, the tribe of Gad had been living in Atarot on the western edge of the Moabite plateau “since time immemorial.” In the Mesha Stela, also known as the Moabite Stone, Mesha specifically mentions King Omri, his son (Ahab) or grandson (Jehoram), the tribe of Gad, and perhaps most significantly, the name of the God of Israel.

Shortly after its discovery, the Stela was smashed into fragments by Bedouins. A young French diplomat and amateur archaeologist, Charles Clermont-Ganneau tracked down and acquired the pieces and attempted to reconstruct the Stela. In the photo, the smooth areas of the Stela mark Clermont-Ganneau’s reconstructions based on a paper impression made before the Stela was smashed.

Shalmaneser III’s Black Obelisk – 841 BCE

Stone’s Panels Depict Israelites Submitting Offerings to Assyrian King

Jehu, king of Judea, is shown paying tribute to Shalmaneser III, king of Assyria, on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, dated from 841 B.C.E. On one side of the Obelisk, Jehu is portrayed in a subservient posture before King Shalmaneser. According to the traditional interpretation, the identification of Jehu on the Black Obelisk as “son of Omri” means “son of the house of Omri,” a conventional designation for any Israelite. Three other panels, one on each side of the Stela, show Israelites offering tributes that include tin, gold and silver objects, and javelins.

The Tel Dan Stela – 890 BCE

Aramaic Inscription Provides the First Extra-Biblical Evidence of the Davidic Dynasty

This unique inscription, containing the first reference to the Davidic dynasty outside of the Bible, was uncovered in the excavations at Tel Dan, an ancient city located in the northern kingdom of Israel. It appears to have been part of a victory stela erected by Hazael King of Aram (present day Syria). Also, this is the only monumental inscription from the First Temple period ever to have been found in Israel. It is reminiscent of the Moabite Stone, erected by Mesha King of Moab, which was discovered in Dibbon, east of the Jordan River.

The inscription describes the beginning of Hazael’s reign and his battles, in which he killed “seventy kings,” among them Jehoram King of Israel and Ahaziah King of Judah, whose names appear in partial form. It corresponds to the biblical account in 2 Chronicles 22, which describes the war between Hazael and the kings of Israel and Judea, Jehoram and Ahaziah respectively. However, it contradicts the version in 2 Kings 9, which asserts that the two allied kings were murdered by Jehu, an Israelite army general.

Written in Aramaic, the stela was engraved in alphabetic script on a large stone that had been smoothed for writing. The surviving fragments contain only thirteen lines of the original inscription. The individual words are separated by dots.

The stela was smashed in ancient times, and its fragments were found scattered throughout the archaeological site. Based upon their location, it appears that the stela had already been destroyed by the early eighth century B.C.E. It was probably smashed by Jehoash, Jehu’s grandson, who battled the Arameans and attacked Ben Haddad son of Hazael three times.

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