Kurkh Stele, 853 BCE


I set out from Aleppo and approached the cities of Irhuleni of Hamath. I captured the cities Adennu, Parga (and) Argana, his royal cities; I took his booty, his property, the possessions in his palaces, and set fire to his palaces. I set out from Argana and approached Qarqarr. Qarqar, his royal city, I demolished, tore down and burned. He took as his allies these twelve kings… 2,000 chariots, 10,000 soldiers of Ahab of Israel…

Date- 853 BCE

Current Location- British Museum, London, England (BM 118884)

Language and Script- Assyrian?; cuneiform

Biblical Verses- Reference to this story is absent from the Bible.

General Information-

• In 853 BCE Shalmaneser III fought a coalition of Aramean states at Qarqar along the Orontes River, of which the most detailed account is on this stele. It is written in Assyrian, the ancient Semitic language of Mesopotamia and which by that time had become the official scribal language. Since it describes Shalmaneser III’s military exploits during the first six years of his reign, culminating with the Battle of Qarqar and omits the following campaigns, it likely was erected sometime in 853–852 BCE. Of the twelve members of the coalition, the most important were Irhuleni of Hamath, Ahab of Israel, and Adad-idri of Damascus, or the Bible’s (2 Samuel 8-3) Hadadezer, as his name would have been pronounced in his native Aramaic.

• The stele describes Shalmaneser’s decisive victory over the Aramean coalition, led by Irhuleni. One would assume that for propagandistic purposes, the extent of this victory was probably exaggerated, as was common practice. From our vantage point, we know that ancient military texts contain such exaggerations since we often find conflicting accounts of the outcomes of battles (see for instance the Mesha Stele inscription versus the Biblical account). In this case, it seems clear that the claims of total victory are overstated because we know that Shalmaneser faced this coalition several more times over the next few years.

Relevance to Ancient Israel- According to the Kurkh Stele, the Aramean coalition was supported by King Ahab of Israel, who provided 2,000 chariots and 10,000 troops. From Ahab’s presence as one of the leaders of the Syrian coalition, we get a glimpse of the political power of the kingdom of Israel amongst the chiefdoms of Syro-Palestine. This accords well with the biblical picture of Ahab as an international force, in keeping with his marriage to Jezebel, a Tyrian princess, which created something like a treaty between the two chiefdoms, and his territorial expansion across the Jordan River into Moab.

Circumstances of Discovery and Acquisition- The stele was discovered in Kurkh, located in southeastern Turkey, by J.E. Taylor in 1861.

Kurkh Stele

Kurkh Stele, British Museum, https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/150815001

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