Illustration And Confirmation Of Biblical History From The Assyrian Monuments

 As the narrative proceeds on the supposition of close relations
between Israel and Syria — not otherwise mentioned in the Bible —
and involves, at least indirectly, certain points of general interest,
this seems a fitting opportunity for a brief summary of what recent
discoveries of ancient monuments has taught us, not only
confirmatory, but illustrative and explanatory of this period of
Biblical history. But in so doing we must keep some
considerations in view by way of caution. For first, our knowledge
of what may be called monumental history is as yet initial and
fragmentary. Secondly, in any seeming discrepancy or slight
divergence in details between the inscriptions on the monuments and
the records of Jewish history, it seems neither reasonable nor safe to
give absolute preference to the former. Jewish writers must have
known their own history best, while, in their slight differences from
the records on the monuments, we fail to discover any adequate
motives on the part of the Jewish historians that could account for
their falsifying facts. And, we need scarcely add, the same facts will
assume different aspects when viewed from opposite sides. Again, it
is admitted on all hands that there are manifest errors on the
Assyrian monuments, and this on points where error is difficult, to
account for. Thus, to mention one instance — on the Assyrian
monuments, Jehu is designated as “the son of Omri,” and that by the
very monarch to whom he is both represented and described as
bringing tribute. Further, we have to bear in mind that our
knowledge of Jewish history is also fragmentary. The Old Testament
does not profess to be a handbook of Jewish history. It furnishes
prophetic or sacred history, which does not recount all events as they
happened, nor yet always in their exact succession of time, but
presents them in their bearing on the kingdom of God, of which it
tells the history. Hence it records or emphasizes only that which is of
importance in connection with it. Lastly, we must remember that the
chronology of the Bible is in some parts involved in considerable
diffculties, partly for the reasons just stated, partly from the
different modes of calculating time, and partly also from errors of
transcription which would easily creep into the copying of Hebrew
numerals, which are marked by letters. Keeping in view these
cautions, the neglect of which has led to many false inferences, we
have no hesitation in saying, that hitherto all modern historical
discoveries have only tended to confirm the Scripture narrative. 

Turning to these extraneous sources for information on the
earlier history of Judah and Israel under the Kings, we have here,
first, the Egyptian monuments, especially those on the walls of the
Temple of Karnak, which record the invasion of Judah and
Jerusalem by Shishak, described in 1 Kings 14:25, 26, and 2
Chronicles 12. Pictorial representations of this campaign are
accompanied by mention of the very names of the conquered Jewish
cities. But with the death of Shishak, the power of Egypt for a
time decayed. In its stead that of Assyria reasserted itself. From that
time onwards its monuments more or less continuously cast light on
the history of Israel. Just as in the Biblical narrative, so in the
Assyrian records of that time, Syria occupies a most important
place. It will be remembered that that country had recovered its
independence in the reign of Solomon, having been wrested by
Rezon from the sovereignty of Judah (1 Kings 11:23-25). Thus far
we perceive a general parallelism in the outlines of this history. But
the Assyrian record leaves a strange impression on the mind, as we
recall the importance of Omri, as having been the second if not the
real founder of the Israelitish kingdom, the builder of its capital, and
the monarch who gave its permanent direction alike to the political
and the religious history of Israel. For the common designation for
the land of Israel is “the land of Omri,” “the land Omri,” or “the
land of the house of Omri.” We regard it as a further indication of
the political importance attached to that king when Jehu is
designated as “the son of Omri.” This could not have been from
ignorance of the actual history, since the name of Ahab occurs on the
monuments of Assyria, although (if correctly read) in a connection
which does not quite agree with our ordinary chronology.
Further illustration comes to us from the Assyrian monuments,
both of certain phases in the Biblical history of Ahab, and of the
explanatory words with which the account of Naaman’s healing is

“Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was
a great man with his master, and honorable, because by him
Jehovah had given deliverance unto Syria” (2 Kings 5:1). 

Each of these statements requires some further explanation. As
regards the history of Ahab, we note incidentally that the name
Ethbaal (1 Kings 16:31) as that of a Sidonian king, occurs also on
the Assyrian monuments, just as does Sarepta (1 Kings 17:9, 10), as
being a Phoenician town, situate between Tyre and Sidon. But of
greatest interest is it to learn from these monuments the political
motives which prompted the strange and sudden alliance proposed
by Ahab to Ben-hadad (a name amply confirmed by the monuments),
after the battle of Aphek (1 Kings 20:26-34). In passing we may
notice that in a fragmentary inscription of Asarhaddon, this Aphek,
situated east of the lake of Galilee, and a little aside from the great
road between Damascus and Samaria, is named as the border-city of
Samaria. Similarly, the mention of thirty-two kings allied with Benhadad in his campaign against Israel (1 Kings 20:1), is so far borne
out by the Assyrian monuments, that in the campaigns of Assyria
against Syria Benhadad is always described as fighting in
conjunction with a number of allied Syrian princes. From these
inscriptions we also learn that the growing power of Assyria
threatened to overwhelm — as it afterwards did — both Syria and
the smaller principalities connected with it. A politician like Ahab
must have felt the danger threatening his kingdom of Samaria from
the advancing power of Assyria. If Ben-hadad had endeavored to
strengthen himself by the subjugation of Samaria, Ahab, in the hour
of his triumph, desired, by an alliance with the now humbled Benhadad, to place Syria as a kind of bulwark between himself and the
king of Assyria. This explains the motive of Ahab, who had no real
trust in the might and deliverance of Jehovah, but looked to political
combinations for safety, in allowing to go out of his hand the man
whom Jehovah “appointed to utter destruction” (1 Kings 20:42). 

Another circumstance connected with the treaty of Aphek, not
recorded in the Bible, and only known from the Assyrian
monuments, casts light on this prophetic announcement of judgment
to Ahab: “Therefore thy life shall be for his life, and thy people for
his people.” From the monuments we learn, in illustration of the
alliance between Ben-hadad and Ahab, and of the punishment
threatened upon it, that in the battle of Karkar, or Aroer, in which the
Assyrian monarch Shalmaneser II. so completely defeated Syria, the
forces of Ahab, to the number of not fewer than 2000 chariots and
10,000 men, had fought on the side of Ben-hadad. As we read of
14,000 or, in another inscription, of 20,500 of the allies as having
been slain in this battle, we perceive the fulfillment of the Divine
threatening upon that alliance (1 Kings 20:42). At the same time we
may also learn that many things mentioned in Scripture which, with
our present means of knowledge, seem strange and inexplicable,
may become plain, and be fully confirmed, by further information
derived from independent sources. 

The battle of Karkar was not the only engagement in which the
forces of Syria met, and were defeated by, those of Assyria. It was
fought in the sixth year of the reign of Shalmaneser. Another
successful campaign is chronicled as having been undertaken in the
eleventh year of the same reign, when Shalmaneser records that for
the ninth time he crossed the Euphrates; and yet another, in the
fourteenth year of his reign, when at the head of 120,000 men he
crossed the river at its high food. Two inferences may, for our
present purpose, be made from these notices. The defeat of Ahab’s
forces, when fghting in conjunction with Ben-hadad, will account
for the cessation of the alliance entered into after the battle of
Aphek. Again, the repeated defeat of Ben-hadad by Assyria will
explain how Ahab took heart of grace, and in company with
Jehoshaphat undertook that fatal expedition against Ramoth-Gilead
(1 Kings 22), in which literally the “life” of Ahab went for that of
him whom, from short-sighted political motives, he had spared (1
Kings 20:42). Lastly, these repeated wars between Assyria and
Syria, of which the Assyrian monarch would naturally only record
the successful engagements, help us to understand the phrase by
which Naaman, captain of the host of Syria, is introduced as he
“by whom the LORD had given deliverance [perhaps “victory”]
unto Syria” (2 Kings 5:1). 

The expression just quoted seems to forbid the application of the
words to the victory of Ben-hadad over Ahab, although the Rabbis
imagine that the fatal arrow by which Ahab was smitten came from
the bow of Naaman. Accordingly we cannot (as most commentators
do) mark this antithesis: that the conqueror of Israel had to come to
Israel for healing. But the fact is in itself sufficiently remarkable,
especially when we think of it in connection with his disease, which
would have placed even an Israelite, so to speak, outside the pale of
Israel. In striking contrast to the mention of the strength and bravery
of Naaman, and of his exalted position, Scripture abruptly, without
pause or copula of conjunction, records the fact: “a leper.” We
need not pause to consider the moral of this contrast, with all of
teaching which it should convey to us. Quite another lesson comes
to us from an opposite direction. For we also learn from this history
how, when our need is greatest, help may be nearest, and that, in
proportion as we feel the hopelessness of our case, God may prepare
a way for our deliverance. It was certainly so in this instance. Once
more we mark the wonder-working Providence of God, Who,
without any abrupt or even visibly direct interference, brings about
results which, if viewed by themselves, must seem absolutely
miraculous. And this, by means which at the time may have
appeared most unpromising.

Alfred Edersheim, Bible History Old Testament, Vol. VI, Chap. XI






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