Tiglath-Pileser_III_in_ChariotAfter many years of paying heavy levies, Israel and Judea as well as Damascus (in modern Syria) openly rebelled against the Assyrians by refusing to pay. The Assyrians, under III, who ascended the throne in 744 B.C.E., responded militarily. They set siege to Damascus and killed its king, Rezin.

As for the northern kingdom of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser annexed the Golan, the Galilee, and the Jezreel Valley outright. Large portions of the Israelite population were exiled from Israel and replaced by settlers from Syria and Mesopotamia–a common practice of the Assyrians in that period. In the inscription of Tiglath-Pileser’s Annals of ca. 730 B.C.E., the Assyrian king claims to have replaced the king of Israel, Pekah, with Hoshea. The Bible gives a slightly different account in 2 Kings 15-30, claiming that Hoshea assumed the throne in a bloody coup d’etat. It is much more likely, however, that Tiglath-Pileser himself engineered the plot.

Regardless of the manner in which he took power, Hoshea, like his predecessors, was required to pay tribute to Tiglath-Pileser. Hoping to break free from the Assyrian yoke, Hoshea signed a pact with Egypt in 727 B.C.E. assuring their alliance against the Assyrians. When Hoshea refused to pay tribute to Tiglath-Pileser’s successor, Shalmaneser V, the Assyrians attacked. By 722 B.C.E., the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and captured its capital at Samaria. Judea survived longer, but only by paying a crippling tribute.

Under Sargon II, Shalmaneser V’s successor, the Assyrian empire extended from what is present-day central Iran to the Mediterranean. Following the practice of his predecessors, Sargon deported the inhabitants of the lands he conquered. Since the native Assyrian population was too small to provide an army large enough to police the ever-expanding empire, the Assyrians augmented their army with conscripts from conquered lands. The Assyrians forced many Israelites into military service as auxiliary troops. An inscription from Sargon’s Annals from ca. 722 B.C.E. indicates that many of his chariots were manned by those deported from Samaria.

Over time, most Israelite deportees assimilated into Assyrian culture. They adopted local religious practices. They gave their children foreign names comprised of the monikers of foreign gods. The younger generations spoke Akkadian, the language of Assyria, or Aramaic, a Semitic languages that is closely related to Hebrew.

Annals of Tiglath-Pileser III – ca. 730’s BCE

Relic Recounts Assyrian Pressure on Vassal States Judah and Israel

During the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III (747-722 B.C.E.), Assyria’s size and power grew immensely. According to biblical and Assyrian records, Tiglath-Pileser’s dominance extended over large parts of the Middle East, including Judea.

The Annals of Tiglath-Pileser from ca. 730 B.C.E. recount the imposition of tribute on several conquered kingdoms in the Middle East. The Bible records that, by exacting fifty shekels of silver from each wealthy man, Menahem, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, was able to raise sufficient tribute to cause the Assyrian king to withdraw his armies.

Menahem was succeeded by King Pekah in 738 B.C.E. In 733 B.C.E., an alliance of vassal states led by King Pekah of Israel and King Rezin of Damascus revolted against the yoke of Syrian rule. According to Assyrian records, Tiglath-Pileser’s armies marched back into the Kingdom of Israel, defeated Pekah’s army, and deported large proportions of the Israelite population from the Galilee. Pekah was subsequently assassinated and Hoshea was installed by the Assyrians as king of Israel. The northern kingdom of Israel retained nominal independence until 725-722 B.C.E. when Tiglath-Pileser’s successor, Shalmaneser V, besieged and destroyed Israel after King Hoshea foolishly withheld tribute from the Assyrians.

Lachish Relief – 701 BCE

Sculpted Frieze Details Assyria’s Defeat of Judea’s Second Largest City

Lachish, the second largest city in Judea after Jerusalem, became the battlefield between the Assyrians and the ancient Jews. Lachish fell under the weight of the Assyrian assault, and the siege was recorded in bloody detail on the Lachish Relief artifacts.

At the height of their power, the Assyrians dominated the Middle East, and they expanded their kingdom by means of military expeditions, which were often commanded by the king himself. In 722, the Assyrians succeeded in conquering the northern kingdom of Israel, laying siege to its capital and exiling a large proportion of its population.

Shortly after Sennacherib became king of Assyria in 705 B.C.E., Egypt, the Philistine cities of the coastal plain, and Judea allied themselves to take advantage of the temporary weakness during a political transition. Judea at that time was ruled by one of the most prominent kings of the House of David, King Hezekiah. By the time Sennacherib was ready for his third annual campaign–in 701 B.C.E. –he was able to direct his attention to the defiance of these three powers. Many details of Sennacherib’s third campaign in 701 remain uncertain, but two things are clear. First, Sennacherib utterly destroyed Lachish. Second, Sennacherib laid siege to Jerusalem and Hezekiah paid enormous tribute to Sennacherib in order to break the siege and cause Sennacherib to return to Assyria.

The destruction of Lachish in 701 B.C.E. is important not only historically, but also because it is uniquely documented. There exists no other ancient event of comparable significance that was recorded in such a variety of sources. The events surrounding the conquest of Lachish, the destruction of the city, and the deportation of its inhabitants are documented (or evidenced) in at least four independent contemporary sources- (1) in the Bible, (2) in Assyrian cuneiform prisms accounting of the same events, (3) in archaeological excavations at the site of Lachish, and (4) remarkably, in monumental pictorial reliefs uncovered at Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh.

The uniform background of Sennacherib’s Lachish reliefs shows a pattern of overlapping panels that when viewed as a whole, depict the entire battle for Lachish. Starting from the left, the first reliefs depict the advancing Assyrian infantrymen and rows of archers taking aim at the city’s defenders. The next panels show the outer walls of the city as they are stormed by the advancing Assyrian armies. As the hoard of invaders inch closer to the main gate of the city, we see several Assyrian battering rams and mobile assault towers as they penetrate the defenses of the fortified city. The next set of panels, which appear to depict later scenes of the battle, show Judean captives marching out of the city and into bondage, while their fallen brethren are stripped naked and impaled on Assyrian spears. The next panels depict the grisly torture and murder of captured Judeans, while those still alive beg for mercy. The last panels show the Assyrian king Sennacherib on his throne observing the procession of booty that had been taken from Lachish.

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