Christian Leadership Center



Biblical Archaeology Index


Class Fourteen


THE IRON AGE II B  (930-587 B.C.)


“The Assyrian Menace”



By way of introduction it will be helpful to remember that Iron Age II A is the United Monarchy, Iron Age II B is the Divided Monarchy, and Iron Age II C is Judah alone.

The Assyrian crisis is prominent during Iron Age II B, roughly 883 down to 700.  The Assyrian power continued for another 90 years (until the fall of Nineveh in 612) but it was not the problem it had been.

The dates for the kings and for the Israelite kings especially will vary from book to book, but not by much.  Even in these notes, I have not gone through and standardized them.  So I may give dates for, say, king Ahab in one place, and in another slightly different dates depending on sources used.  The problem is that sometimes accession years are counted and sometimes not, sometimes there are co-regencies, and of course there are different calendars.


I.          Asshur-nasir-pal (883-859)23

At this time in Israelite history the Aramaeans under Ben Hadad I constituted the primary threat to Israel.  But during the reign of Omri the Aramaeans were held in check by Asshur-nasir-pal who was overrunning Upper Mesopotamia, bringing the Aramaean states one by one to their knees.  The fortunes of Aram and Israel are now linked with the fortunes of the awakening Assyrian Empire whose encroachments upon the West led to the many changes of alliances and hostilities.

The annals of Asshur-nasir-pal describe the invasion of the west in this way:

“At that time I seized the entire extent of the Lebanon mountain and reached the Great Sea of the Amurru country.  I cleaned my weapons in the deep sea. . . . The tribute of the seacoast, from the inhabitants of Tyre, Sidon, Byblus, Mahallata, Maiza, Kaiza, Amurru, and (of) Arvad which is in the inlet by the sea . . . , their tribute I received and they embraced my feet” (ANET, p. 276).

From this account it seems that he left Damascus untouched.


II.        Shalmaneser III (858-824)

Two of this king’s conquests are important to us:


A.        In his first year (858)

In his first year he carried out a campaign of conquest in the west.  Crossing the Euphrates and the Orontes, he reached the Amanus mountains and the Mediterranean Sea (ANET, pp. 277,8).


B.        In his sixth year (853)

From the Monolith Inscription of Shalmaneser we learn that at this time Ahab and Ben-Hadad ceased their hostilities and became allies.  1 Kings 22:1 says there was peace between them for three years.  The reason for their alliance lay in the threat that Assyria posed to both of them.

After slashing his way across North Syria to the Mediterranean Sea, Shalmaneser pushed through the Orontes Valley meeting no substantial resistance until he drew near to the strategically important Qarqar, which guarded the approaches to the city of Hamath and all lower Aramea.  Here he collided with a powerful coalition including Ahab.  His account of the battle reads:

“I departed from Argana and approached Qarqar.  I destroyed, tore down, and burned Qarqar, his royal residence.  He brought along to help him 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalry, 20,000 foot soldiers of Adad-‘idri (Hadadezer = Ben Hadad) of Damascus . . . 2,000 chariots, 10,000 footsoldiers of Ahab, the Israelite  (A-ha-ab-bu  matSir-i-ia-a-a-)” (ANET, pp. 278,9).

Though Shalmaneser in typical Assyrian fashion boasted a smashing victory, it appears that he was temporarily check-mated.  From this inscription it is evident that Hamath, Damascus, and Israel were in the forefront as the important powers in Syria-Palestine at this time.


C.        In his tenth year (849)

He returned to fight in Syria.


D.        In his eighteenth year (841)

He besieged Damascus and destroyed the gardens around it, but did not conquer the city (ANET, p. 280).

In the course of this expedition the Assyrian army passed through Israelite territory for the first time.  There are two accounts of this invasion.  In one account he says that he marched to a mountain by the name Ba‘li-ra’si on the seacoast; there he set up a royal stele and received tribute from Tyre and Israel.  Many scholars conclude that this was the Mount Carmel headland.  This supposed received confirmation from another edition of the annals which contains additional details of the campaign referred to here:

“I went to Mount Ba‘li-ra’si  which is over against the sea and by (over/against) the land of Tyre.  I set up my royal images therein.  I received the tribute of Ba‘li-ma-AN-ezer, the Tyrian, and of Jehu the son of Omri.  On my way back I went up Mount Lebanon and I set up my royal image beside the image of Tiglathpileser, the great king, and my predecessor.”

The description leaves little doubt that he means Mount Carmel, designated here as Baal of the Headland, which was on the border of Tyre and Israel at the time.

The famous Black Obelisk, recording the military achievements of the first 31 years of Shalmaneser III’s reign and containing reliefs depicting the payment of tribute from the different regions, pictures Jehu humbly prostrating himself before the Assyrian monarch, accompanied by Israelites bearing precious metals and other gifts.  The inscription reads:

“Tribute of Iaua [Jehu] son of Humri [Omri].  From him I  received silver, gold, a golden cask, golden beakers, golden pails, pewter ware, a scepter, and puruhtu wood” (cf. ANET  p.  281).


III.       Shamshi-Adad V (824-810)

In the later period of his reign Shalmaneser had to abandon his Aramaean campaigns to attend to pressing needs at home in the North.  Likewise his son, Shamshi-Adad V, had to consolidate his own position.  He was a weak king.  So Hazael of Damascus now had free reign to resume war with Israel.


IV.       Adad-Nirari III (811-783)

The ascendancy of Damascus was abruptly ended when Adad-Nirari III assumed power in Assyria.  In 803, two years before the death of Hazael, he crushed and broke the power of Damascus.  Probably just prior to the final conclusive blow he states,

“The country of the Hittites, Amurru-country in its full extent, Tyre, Sidon, Israel (matHum-um-ri), Edom, Palestine (Pa-la-as-tu), as far as the shore of the Great Sea of the Setting Sun, I made them submit all to my feet, imposing upon them great tribute” (ANET, pp. 281f).

Undoubtedly this Adad-nirari III is "the Savior" alluded to in 2 Kings 13:5--“The LORD gave Israel a savior so that they escaped from the hands of the Aramaeans; and the people of Israel dwelt in their homes as formerly.”

Adad-Nirari III now became occupied elsewhere and his successors--Shalmaneser IV (783-773), Asshur-dan III (773-754), and Asshur-Nirari V (754-746) were ineffectual rulers.

Note, in Israel at this time Jeroboam II reigned for 41 years in Israel, and Uzziah reigned for about 52 years in Judah.  The two lands had peace and prosperity.  Jonah was called in the days of Jeroboam II to preach against Nineveh (possibly in the reign of Asshur-dan III).  And about 750 Hosea, Micah and Amos come on the scene.  Uzziah’s death came in 741, the year that Isaiah was called.

Assyria’s period of weakness was followed by a period of power with  tyrannical kings.



V.        Tiglathpileser III (745-727)


A.        His Name

His name appears as Tillegath-pilneser in 1 Chronicles 5:26, as Tukulti-apil-essara (“my help is the son of Esarra”) on the inscriptions, and a shortened form  Pul in 1 Chronicles 5:26 and 2 Kings 15:19,20).  The translation of the AV in the Chronicles passage is incorrect, for it gives the impression that two different people are intended (see Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, pp. 76,7).  Proof that Pul is Tiglathpileser may be found in E. J. Young’s The Book of Isaiah, Vol. I, p. 12.  Assyrian kings who ruled over Babylon usually had two names, one as king of Assyria and one as king of Babylonia.  For example, Shalmaneser V’s Babylonian name was Ululaia.  See also the dual names in Israel: Solomon--Jedidiah, Uzziah--Azariah, Jehoahaz--Shallum, Eliakim--Jehoiakim, Mattaniah--Zedekiah.


B.        His Imperial Policies

1. Permanent Conquest.   He was not interested in tribute-gathering expeditions, but permanent conquest.  He was not satisfied with campaigns of plunder and the extortion of tribute from the various places, but began the permanent absorption of the conquered territories by converting them into provinces.  Over these provinces he appointed Assyrian governors.

2.  Submission and Vassalage.  He had a policy of submission and vassalage versus rebellion and deportation.  To achieve his imperialistic ends he transferred most of the population’s upper strata to another region, while replacing them by similar deportees from elsewhere in the case of rebellious nations.

3.  Conquest by Force.  He had a policy of conquest by ferocity and force.  The sanction underlying this extension and maintenance of imperial power was the Assyrian army, a superbly organized body of fighting men.  The states of the west had never seen anything like the efficiency and speed of this army (cf. Isaiah 5 and 8).



C.        The Initial Campaigns against Israel and Judah (743, 738): "The young lion roars."

1.  Against Uzziah of Judah (743).  He fought against a coalition headed by Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah; he wrote,

“In the subsequent course of my campaign [I received] tribute from the kings [. . . ], Azriau from Iuda [Ia-u-da-a-a], like a [ . . . Azr]iau from Iuda in . . . countless, (reaching) sky high . . . eyes, like from heaven . . . by means of an attack with foot soldiers . . .” (ANET, p. 282).

Who is intended by this designation?  It looks like Azariah (=Uzziah) of Judah.  Some scholars contend that it was a Syrian usurper heading a kingdom in Syria.  The chief reason for this position is the location of the campaign.  What would Uzziah of Judah be doing fighting in northern Syria?  Gordon even states that the Assyrian king restored the old Yaudi dynasty under king Panamuwa II (Gordon, The World of the Old Testament [1968], pp. 160ff.).  Albright and others maintain that it is Uzziah of Judah.  He was the head of a strong state and it is somewhat difficult to assume at this time that there would be another man with the same name ruling over another kingdom with the identical name.  If the reference is to the biblical king, he would then have to be considered one of the leading figures of the time and a rallying point for opposition to Assyria.

2. Tribute from Menahem (738).  The Assyrian king put Menahem under tribute (see 2 Kings 15:19f.).  He says, “I received tribute from Kushtashpi of Commagene, Rezon of Damascus, Menahem of Samariah [Me-ni-hi-im-me alSa-mer-ri-na-a-a-] . . . ” (ANET, p. 283).

3. Invasion of 735.   Tiglathpileser made yet another invasion into Armenia in 735.  Although the texts dealing with this war do not explicitly mention Israel, E. J. Young believes that at this time Israel was also involved.  If so, Israel was probably beaten, and part of Israel was taken (Young, Isaiah, pp. 14f.).


B.        The Syro-Ephraimite Coalition against Ahaz of Judah (734): "The smoking firebrands [Pekah and Rezin] and the Trembling Heart [Ahaz]"        

In 734 B.C. Syria and Israel (Ephraim) formed a military alliance against Tiglathpileser, and pressed Ahaz, king of Judah, to join them.  When he refused, they advanced upon Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:5; Isaiah 7:1) with the intent of deposing Ahaz and putting the son of Tabeel on the throne in his stead (see all of 2 Kings 15:37--16:16 and Isaiah 7 and 8).  This prompted the sermon by Isaiah (Isa. 7) giving Ahaz assurance of deliverance if he would believe; but when he did not, the prophet announced that the future of the dynasty would be in someone else’s hands.

Who this son of Tabeal was and where he came from is unclear.  It would appear that he was the head of an aristocratic family named Tobel (in Aramaic Tabel--the biblical spelling of the name “Tabeel” means “good-for-nothing,” which is surely a mocking distortion).  This family, thought perhaps related to the Davidic dynasty, may have opposed the pro-Assyrian policy of Ahaz and favored an alliance with Pekah, the king of Samaria.  Further information has come from an Assyrian letter discovered at Calah (the modern Nimrud).  The letter which was sent by a royal official to the King of Assyria contains a reference to the “land of Tabel” on the eastern side of the Jordan, to the west of Rabbath-Ammon. The writer mentions the emissary of Ainaur, the ruler of the land of Tabel, who was bringing a despatch to the king of Assyria, informing him that the people from the territory of Gader have made a raid into Moab and killed the inhabitants of a Moabite city.  From this it may be inferred that the ruler of the land of Tabel had a position of importance in the administration of the Assyrian province of Trans-Jordan.  The son of Tabel may well have been one of the ancestors of the Tobiads (we shall see later) who ruled beyond the Jordan in the times of the second Temple (Neh. 13:7; Josephus, Antiquities XX, xii, 4).

The threat of invasion of Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Israel caused Ahaz of Judah to appeal to Tiglathpileser; this action angered Isaiah who strongly contested it (Isa. 7).  But Ahaz refused to trust God before these enemies; his actions called forth the invasions of 734 and 733.  As a result of these invasions, the land of Gilead, the hill country of Naphtali, and the coastal plain of Dor were all incorporated as provinces of the Assyrian Empire.  Only Mount Ephraim remained in Israel.  This section was spared only because Hoshea killed Pekah and submitted to Tiglathpileser.  By appealing to Tiglathpileser III for aid Ahaz became nothing more than a vassal of the conqueror (the Bible calls him the “son of Pul”).

Concerning these campaigns we have one brief passage in the Bible and a few references from the Assyrian inscriptions.  According to the Bible, Tiglathpileser “captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee” (2 Kings 15:29).  In this expedition he marched southward through the Lebanese Beqa‘ and entered the territory of Naphtali, breaking the chain of fortresses at the northern end of the Jordan Valley (Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, and Hazor).  This enabled him to conquer all of Galilee, i.e., Israelite Trans-Jordan.

One fragmentary text provides a summary of his campaigns, including the various towns conquered in north Syria and on the Phoenician coast.  It goes on to include the conquest of Gal‘aza (Gilead) and Abil(ma)akka (Abel-(beth)-maacah) on the border of “the land of Beth Omri” (Israel) and Beth-Hazael (Damascus), over which the Assyrian governors were appointed.  Then the capture of Gaza is mentioned.  Next we are told that the men of Beth Omri rebelled against their king, Pa-qa-ha (Pekah), whom Tiglathpileser replaced with A-u-si-‘a (Hoshea) (See Aharoni, Land of the Bible, p. 329).  In his annals of 734,33 he says concerning Israel,  “the land of Omri, all of whose cities I had reckoned to the territory of my land on my earlier campaigns . . . Pekah their king they overthrew . . . like a rainstorm . . . .”  The text is broken, but the inscription goes on to say, “Prisoners . . . from the district of the house of Omri . . . I took.”  Other cities are then mentioned.  The king states that Mitinti of Ashkelon saw the overthrow of Rezin and fell into insanity.

First to feel the weight of deportation were the northern terriroties, Naphtali and Galilee regions.  Isaiah 8 ends by noting the gloom and darkness that hung over those regions, probably referring both to the sin and the invasion for the sin.  But in God’s grace those areas were to be the first to see the Light (Isaiah 8 and 9:1-6), for the Lord Jesus Christ began his public ministry in the Galilee (Matt. 4:13).


VI.       Shalmaneser V (727-722)

Hoshea rebelled against the Assyrian power when Tiglathpileser died, and in 724 Shalmaneser V came up against Samaria.  In the course of a prolonged siege of the Israelite city, Shalmaneser V died and his successor Sargon II completed the conquest of Samaria (note that 2 Kings 18:9,10 is accurate, but since it does not mention this change of kings it has the “appearance” of error).  He exiled many nobles from Samaria to places in Media and North Mesopotamia (2 Kings 17:6).  As time passed the Assyrians replaced these citizens with exiles from the Babylonian vicinity, and from Hamath in Syria.

Samaria fell to Sargon in 722 B.C.  That was the end of the northern kingdom of Israel, and its kings.  The land would only be a province of ruling empires after this.



     23Recall that the Assyrian Empire, like the Egyptian Empire, goes back for millennia, all the way to Sargon of Akkad and beyond, to the middle of the third millennium B.C.  It went through declines and revivals.  Now, in the 9th century B.C., it regains power.  This king begins to make incursion in the west.