Monday, November 12, 2018

Kings of Assyria and the Book of Isaiah--Lecture Part 2

Kings of Assyria in the Historical Context of Isaiah

Lecture for Lutheran Theological Seminary-Nyamira, Kenya. Part 2.

Assyrian kings contemporary with the kings of Judah and Israel listed above include the following. The first list is of those Assyrian kings who are included on the 8th century BC king lists. Listed here also is the approximate years these kings reigned.

Ashur-Dan III (r. 773–755 BC)

"son of Shalmaneser (IV)"
     solar eclipse 763 BC— Bur-Sagale eclipse
contemporaries:
     Uzziah of Judah (r. 767–750 BC)
     Jeroboam II of Israel (r. 786–746 BC)
Book of Amos
Book of Hosea
Book of Jonah

Ashur-nirari V (r. 755–745 BC)

"son of Adad-nirari (III)"
contemporaries:
     Uzziah (r. 767–750 BC)
     possibly, Jotham of Judah (r. 750–735 BC)
     Jeroboam II of Israel (r. 786–746 BC)
     Zechariah of Israel (r. 746 BC – 745 BC)

Tiglath-Pileser III (r. 745–727 BC)

"son of Ashur-nirari (V)"
contemporaries:
In Judah:
     Uzziah (possibly, based on Assyrian inscription evidence)
     Jotham (r. 750–735 BC)
     Ahaz (r. 735–716 BC)
In Israel:
     Zechariah (r. 746 BC – 745 BC)
     Shallum (r. 745 BC)
     Menahem (r. 745 to 738 BC)
     Pekahiah (r. 738 BC – 736 BC)
     Pekah (r. 737 – 732 BC)
     Hoshea (r. 732–721 BC)
Book of Isaiah
Book of Micah

Shalmaneser V (r. 727–722 BC)

"son of Tiglath-Pileser (III)"
contemporaries:
     Ahaz (r. 735–716 BC)


The kings in the next list reigned after the composition of the Assyrian King lists. These Assyrian kings are also relevant to the historical context of Isaiah.

Sargon II (r. 722–705 BC)

contemporaries:
     Ahaz (r. 735–716 BC)
     Hezekiah (r. 729/716 – 697/687 BC)
Book of Nahum
Book of Tobit (setting)

Sennacherib (r. 705–681 BC)

contemporaries:
     Hezekiah (r. 729/716 – 697/687 BC)
     Manasseh (r. 697/687–643 BCE)

Esarhaddon (r. 681–669 BC)

contemporarie:
     Manasseh (r. 697/687–643 BCE)

Ashurbanipal (r. 669–631/ 627 BC)

contemporaries:
     Manasseh (r. 697/687–643 BCE)
     Amon (r. 643–640 BCE)
     Josiah (r. 640–609 BCE)

Ashur-Dan III (r. 773–755 BC)

Ashur-Dan III is not named in the Bible. His reign overlapped with the reign of King Uzziah of Judah and King Jeroboam II of Israel. The Neo-Assyrian empire had not yet become strong. Ashur-Dan III inherited a weak empire controlled by strong court personalities, such as a man named Shamshi-ilu, the commander of the army (Tartanu). Twice during his reign Ashur-Dan III had to deal with devastating plagues. In the political fallout after the second plague he was succeeded by his brother Ashur-nirari V.

The Assyrian Eponym List (the Limmu List) notes a solar eclipse during the reign of Ashur-Dan III. This eclipse is known as The Assyrian Eclipse or as the Bur-Sagale eclipse, after the name of the Limmu, or "official," selected at that New Year festival.

The Assyrian Eponym List states:
During the eponymy of Bur-Saggile, governor of Guzana, revolt in Libbi-ali; in Simanu eclipse of the sun.
This eclipse seems most likely to have been June 15, 763 BC. This astronomical calculation gives us a reasonable year and date to anchor other events previous and following.

The Prophet Amos and the Eclipse

The Prophet Amos was active in Israel during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel. Amos’ prophecy includes descriptions of famine and plague. A curiosity is chapter 8 verse 9:
“And it shall come to pass in that day,” says the Lord God,
“That I will make the sun go down at noon,
And I will darken the earth in broad daylight;
If this text is referring to an eclipse it would be tempting to equate this with the one mentioned in the Limmu List. The Assyrian Eclipse (Bur-Sagale eclipse) of June 15, 763 BC based on calculations as seen from Haifa would have begun at 8:10 am, reached an eclipse magnitude of 0.931 at 9:28 am and ended by 10:54 am. This does not quite fit the description of the “sun going at noon” וְהֵבֵאתִ֥י הַשֶּׁ֖מֶשׁ בַּֽצָּהֳרָ֑יִם.

Assuming that the verse is describing an eclipse there are three other candidates:
  • Two years before that an eclipse is calculated for Feb 10, 765 BC starting as seen from Haifa at 8:49 am, reaching eclipse magnitude of 0.839 at 10:07 am and ending at 11:28 am.
  • An earlier eclipse calculated for Haifa on May 5, 770 BC would have started at 11:21 am, reached an eclipse magnitude of 0.538 at 12:39 pm and ended at 1:56 pm.
  • And there is one later eclipse calculated for Dec 9, 744 BC which, from Haifa, would have started at 8:37 am, reached an eclipse magnitude of 0.622 at 10:17 am and ended at 12:08 pm.
From biblical chronology Amos was likely active c. 760–755 BC. This estimated date range would put him after the calculated eclipses of May 5, 770 BC, the Feb 10, 765 BC and the Bur-Sagale eclipse. Some estimates of Amos’ activity place him starting earlier c. 767 BC. Even if this were the case, neither the Bur-Sagale nor the Feb 10, 765 eclipses “go at noon.” Similarly the later calculated eclipse of 744 BC would be excluded.

Several commentators have asserted that Amos was referring to a total eclipse which they say occurred in Jerusalem on Feb 9, 784 BC. The mathematical models I could find calculated no total eclipses in Jerusalem during the entire century. The two biggest would have been the Bur-Sagale eclipse of June 15, 763 BC reaching .888 magnitude at 9:28 am. The other is the Feb 10, 765 BC reaching .815 magnitude at 10:06 am.

There is a good reason for highlighting all these various calculations and data at this point. It is to demonstrate the following: While information like this can be useful, chasing after naturalistic and historical explanations like this can quickly distract the reader from the points actually being made in the text of Scripture.


Ashur-nirari V (r. 755–745 BC)

Ashur-nirari V was contemporary with Kings Uzziah and Jotham of Judah, and with Kings Jeroboam II and Zechariah of Israel. This king is also not mentioned in the Bible, though it is likely that Jonah the Prophet visited Nineveh during his reign. (2 Kings 14:25) The political situation was not any better for Ashur-nirari V than for his brother. Shamshi-ilu the Tartanu of the Assyrian army was still powerful in the court. Ashur-nirari V was forced to remain at court rather than lead military campaigns. After several years he finally was able to lead two military campaigns against Narmar, a city on the south end of the Caspian Sea. A revolt broke out in his final year (745), and Tiglath-Pileser III seized the throne.


Tiglath-Pileser III (r. 745–727 BC)

cuneiform: 𒆪𒋾𒀀𒂍𒊹𒊏
TUKUL.TI.A.É.ŠÁR.RA;
Akkadian: Tukultī-apil-Ešarra,
"my trust is in the son of the Ešarra";
Hebrew: תִּגְלַת פִּלְאֶסֶר‬ Tiglat Pil’eser
Greek: Φουλ or Θαγλαθφελλασαρ
Ekegusii: Puli, na Tigilati-Pileseri

2 Kg 15:17-16
1 Chron 5:26
2 Chron 28

Originally called Pulu, he was a general and the governor of Khalu, biblical Calah or Nimrud. This is about thirty miles south of Mosul, Iraq (Ancient Nineveh). During the civil war of 745 BC he staged a coup d'état, slaughtering the royal family. He claimed for himself royal names from two previous kings, as well as describing himself as the son of Adad-nirari III in his inscriptions. In 2 Kings 15:19 and 1 Chronicles 5:26 he is also called “Pul”.

Tiglath-Pileser III was very successful as a conquering general and emperor. He made two major changes in Assyrian policy. First, he reduced the power of the court officials (like that of Shamesh-ilu), and began appointing eunuchs as governors of smaller regions. Second, he integrated subjugated peoples into his army using them as infantry to supplement the Assyrian cavalry and charioteers.

His reforms enabled him to control both government and armies to a greater degree. The effectiveness of his military choices is demonstrated by his westward advances over the Hittites into Turkey, his eastern advances into Iran and past the Caspian sea, his southern advances down the Tigris and Euphrates toward the Persian Gulf, annexing Babylon, and his southwestern advances through Syria, Damascus, and into Northern Israel. It is this last military advance that becomes the focus of several chapters in the Bible.

The reference to Tiglath Pileser III at 1 Chronicles 5:26 is made in the context of a summary concerning the fate of the eastern clans of the Half Tribe of Manasseh, the Tribe of Reuben, and the Tribe of Gad(v. 18-26). This summary is found in a wider context of the Chronicler giving short summaries of each of the Tribes of Israel. This passage does not speak of an early appearance of Tiglath-Pileser III. Rather it shows that toward the historical end of the Northern Kingdom it was Tiglath-Pileser III who carried away the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the eastern Half-Tribe of Manasseh. The text emphasizes that “the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of assyria, that is, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria” to do carry them away because of their unfaithfulness.

2 Kings 15:17-20 describes the succession of Menahem of Israel (r. 745-738 BC). His reign began in the 39th year of Azariah king of Judah. Tiglath-Pileser III exacted tribute from Manahem for protection and promise of support for Menahem. Tiglath-Pileser III stayed out of Israel for several years until the reign of Pekah ben-Remaliah (r. 737-732)

The Syro-Ephraimite War


2 K 15:27-16:20 Cover the reign of Pekah ben-Remaliah. His throne was centered in Samaria. Jotham of Judah began his reign in Pekah’s 2nd year. During Pekah’s kingship Tiglath-Pileser III returned, capturing many northern cities, relocating the citizens in Assyria. God also stirred up Pekah and Rezin king of Syria to war against Judah. Ahaz became king of Judah enlisting the help of Tiglath-Pileser III by giving the silver and gold from the Temple and the king’s treasuries. Tiglath-Pileser conquered Damascus, deporting her population. Ahaz went to Damascus in obeisance to the Assyrian monarch. In Ahaz’ 12th year Hoseha ben-Elah lead a revolt against Pekah, assassinated him, and assumed the throne.

2 Chron 28 Also covers Ahaz’s conflict with Samaria and Damascus on the north, Edom and the Philistines in the south. Ahaz requests help from Tiglath-Pileser III, at first the king of Assyria came to distress Ahaz. At this threat Ahaz yielded the treasury of the temple and palace. Tiglath-Pileser III still refused to help. The Chronicler includes the detail that Ahaz’s unfaithfulness to the Scripture was out of desperation to find some defence and victory with the help of foreign gods.

Tiglath-Pileser III’s End

In 729 BC Tiglath-Pileser III conquered Babylon, uniting it with Assyria and calling himself "King Pulu of Babylon." He died two years later. 

Notes on Bible Chronology

This text presents one of the puzzling parts of Bible chronology.
15:27 Pekah ben-Remaliah becomes king, Azariah’s 52nd year, Pekah reigns 20 years
15:32 In the second year of Pekah...Jotham ben Uzziah began to reign.
15:33 Jotham was 25 years old when he became king.
15:33 Jotham reigned 16 years in Jerusalem
16:1 Ahaz begins his reign in the 17th year of Pekah
16:5ff Pekah and Rezin war against Ahaz
16:5-20 Ahaz deals with Tiglath-Pileser III
15:30 Hoshea reigns Israel in place of Pekah in the 20th year of Jotham ben-Uzziah.
17:1 Hoshea ben-Elah becomes king of Israel in Samaria in 12th year of Ahaz

If the years are read as a sequence a few puzzles appear.
Pekah begins his reign, he reigns for 20 years
Pekah’s +1 Jotham begins to reign
Pekah + 17, Jotham reigns 16 years, Ahaz becomes King
Pekah +20 Pekah’s reign ends, would be Ahaz’ 3rd year.
Jotham + 20, Hoshea usurps Pekah and reigns in Israel
Ahaz + 12, Hoshea becomes King in Israel

The puzzle includes the following:
  1. How does the end of Pekah’s reign (Pekah +20) equal Jotham + 20?
  2. How can the end of Jotham’s reign (Jotham +16) be followed by a reference to Jotham +20?
  3. How does Pekah’s reign end at +20 while Hoshea’s begins at Ahaz +12?

The first puzzle is caused by thinking of biblical dates in the past on the basis of our modern way of reckoning time. It might be obvious that the years were not calculated from January 1 to December 31. Of course, we think, they didn’t use our same calendars. But on the one hand, it is not so easy to shake this framework from our minds when we think of moving from one year to the next while reading the Bible. On the other hand, unless we grew up in a culture that uses truly lunar months as a basis for reckoning time, we find it difficult to think of a year in anything other than terms of a solar year (even if we are not aware that our year is based on a carefully defined solar cycle).

At the time these events took place the year was not the same as our year. In some places there were two regular reckonings for years. One beginning in the Spring with Passover. The other beginning in the Autumn with Rosh HaShanah. The first month of either of these systems was defined by the evening sighting of the sliver of the new moon. That month extended until the evening sighting of the first sliver of the next new moon. This required the insertion of an extra month every few years— a “leap” month, today called an intercalary month.This was to synchronize the months with the seasons. This calendar was based on lunar observation until the 5th century BC. At that time mathematics began to be used to predict and plan months. And the laws for inserting the extra “leap” month were centered on the king and the religious authorities.

This means that one of several explanations for Pekah +20 equalling Jotham +20 rests in understanding that the ancient world did not have consistency from one kingdom to the next as to how long a particular year might be. If Israel was toward the latter end of its calendar cycle, its year would end at a different time than Judah. And if Judah had declared an intercalary month then the two kingdoms could differ by as much as almost 2 months of overlap. Pekah would be only in his 20th year, while Jotham would already be in his 20th year.

A second solution to this first problem would be considering the start of each ruler’s year from the date they ascended to the throne. Since Jotham began in Pekah’s second year, that could be just 13 months after Pekah began. Because their calendars were not likely to be synchronized, the fluctuation of lunar calendars would easily show that this is not a contradiction in the text. Instead, this kind of dating issue demonstrates that the text is actually from the time it describes because it is using dates in the way that are consistent with the varied practices of the 6th through 13th centuries BC.

The second puzzle is relatively easy to resolve. The text describing Jotham’s reign ending (2 Kings 15:33) does not say that Jotham’s reign ended with his death. His reign ended in Jerusalem. We do not need to assume he died at that time. The text supports the idea that Jotham still lived a while longer, and that the Northern Kingdom still counted years with respect to him until he died.

Counting from Jotham’s ascension to the throne suggests another consideration. There are many examples in the ancient Near-East when a King appointed his heir as a co-regent. In the Bible David did this with his son Solomon (1 Kings 1). Asa and Jehoshaphat ruled as co-regents for three years (2 Chronicles 16-17). Coregency allowed the new king to be guided by and learn from his father. It also reduced the likelihood of rebellion or turmoil when a rule died without an heir who had the confidence of the people. Counting to Jothams 20th year may imply that Jotham brought his son Ahaz in as co-regent after reigning for 16 years.

The third puzzle is also relatively easy. How is it that there are 7 years between the death of Pekah and Hoshea taking the throne? A resolution is found in recognizing that we should not assume that the removal of Pekah automatically means that Hoshea took the throne right away. Hoshea lead a rebellion against Pekah. The gap of 7 years implies that it took some time for him to gather support and unity enough for him to claim the throne over the other rebels.

Shalmaneser V (r. 727–722 BC)


Akkadian: Šulmanu-ašarid
Hebrew: שַׁלְמַנְאֶסֶר
Greek: Σαλαμανασσαρ
Latin: Salmanasar
Ekegusii: Salimaneseri

2 Kings 17-20

Son of Tiglath-Pileser III, he was originally named Ululayu. Shalmaneser V served as governor of Zimirra in Phoenicia during his father’s reign. Upon his father’s death he succeeded to the throne and took his Akkadian name. In the Bible he is called Shalmaneser ( 2 Kings 17:3 and 18:9).

Egypt tried to gain a foothold in Canaan by stirring up revolts against Assyria. 2 Kings 17-18 records Shalmaneser’s accusation against King Hoshea of Israel regarding messages to Pharaoh Osokron IV of Egypt. Hoshea began his reign in Samaria in Ahaz of Judah’s 12th year as king (2 Kings 17:1). Hosha reigned 9 years. Ahaz lived and reigned 4 years after Hoshea’s ascension to the throne. During the 4th year of King Hezekiah son of Ahaz Shalmaneser V took Samaria. After a three year siege he deported and scattered these people. The Northern Kingdom fell. This is the historical origin of the phrase “The Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.” The people Shalmaneser resettled into the area became known as “the Samaritans.” Shalmaneser’s sudden death in that year makes it likely that his successor, Sargon II, continued the deporting and repopulation of the area.

At his death Babylon became a separate kingdom ruled by Marduk-apla-iddina II. In 2 Kings 20:12 and Isaiah 39:1 Merodach-baladan is the name of the king of Babylon during the days of King Hezekiah of Judah. Hezekiah had entertained the ambassadors of the Babylonian king, showing them the wealth of his treasury and the temple. Isaiah

End of Part 2

Monday, November 05, 2018

Kings of Assyria and the Book of Isaiah--Lecture Part 1

Kings of Assyria and the Book of Isaiah

Lecture for Lutheran Theological Seminary-Nyamira, Kenya. Part 1.


The Assyrian Kings play a prominent role in the Bible.

This presentation is intended to give concrete examples of how modern historical research touches upon the text of the Bible, particularly the book of Isaiah. It is written to give students a clearer understanding for the benefits of and for the limits of both Biblical interpretation and historical research used in the interpretation of the ancient world and of the book of Isaiah in particular.

Scope of Assyrian History


The history of the Assyrian empires is commonly divided into four periods by modern historians.
  • Early Assyrian period (2450-1906 BC)
  • Old Assyrian period (1905-1931 BC)
  • Middle Assyrian period (1380-912 BC)
  • Neo-Assyrian period (912-608 BC)
Of these periods the Neo-Assyrian period is relevant to the immediate historical context of the book of Isaiah. In the 12th century to the 10th century BC the ancient world seems to have experienced a wide spread change. Historians today call this the Bronze Age Collapse. While Assyria was able to retain its national character, it was reduced in size and influence throughout the ancient Near-East.

Assyria struggled with competing interests within the royal court. In the 8th century Tiglath Pileser III seized the throne, instituting reforms which re-established Assyria as an expansive military empire. This expansion continued through the time of Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal in the 7th century BC. These two kings expanded into northern and southern Egypt. During this time Babylon grew more independent of Assyria.

During Ashurbanipal’s reign internal turmoil weakened the empire. After his death c. 631/627 BC civil wars raged throughout Assyria. In its weakened state Assyria was harried by a variety of external attacks. The Battle of Carchemish (c. 605 BC) was Assyria’s last stand. They had attempted to enlist the support of Egypt. Pharaoh Necho II was delayed by the forces of King Josiah of Judah at the battle of Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29, 2 Chronicles 35:20–27). Because of the delay Assyria did not get the military assistance it needed and fell to Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

A Note on Dates

Dates assigned to events should be taken as reasonable suggestions. The dates given are not the basis for interpretation. They are the result of interpretation.

When scholars date events in the ancient world there are a number of warnings of which the reader should be aware. This process is called Chronology. There are several approaches to chronology. These approaches rely on different sets of data as evidence, and they rely on different methods. For most historians the goal is to be able to impose dates from our current calendar system and epoch backward upon events known from texts and people who did not reckon time by Gregorian Calendar standards.

The Gregorian Calendar is a set of time measurement rules that were originally implemented by the Pope Gregory XIII in AD 1582. These rules are still not universally observed. Even so, it was not until the 20th century that most countries adopted the Gregorian Calendar for civil purposes. The Gregorian Calendar kept the BC/AD anchor for the epoch as defined by Dionysius Exiguus in A.D. 525. The calculations for this epoch were intended to place the incarnation of Christ and His birth as the founding event for the epoch.

The difficulty in figuring out the year of Christ’s incarnation (calculated from conception or from birth) has lead most historians to accept that our epoch based on Dionysius is probably incorrect by 4 to 6 years— thus we have the odd, but common, statement that Christ was probably born in 4 B.C.

There are two basic types of chronology: 1) Relative Chronology, and 2) Absolute Chronology.

Relative chronology seeks to establish the order of events without reference to absolute dates from our modern calendar. The events in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles of the period of Isaiah provide quite a bit of information as to the order of events, but not always. In some cases we have statements of which year an event took place. But the year is with reference to another event. 2 Kings refers to years of reigns in both the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. One might think this should make the ordering of events more precise. Often it does. In other cases this brings up new issues.

Absolute chronology seeks to establish, as far as possible, to put a precise date from our modern Gregorian Calendar upon events in the ancient world. One of the main tools for this is modern astronomy. In practice this means that some ancient texts mention astronomical events: eclipses of the sun, of the moon, conjunctions of planets, etc. For example: Mathematical models are made based on the orbits of the earth and the moon as they are known today. Using these models calculations are made backward in time to identify when and where solar or lunar eclipses would have taken place. Where these calculations seem a reasonable match with an event recorded in an ancient text and absolute date is assigned to the ancient event.

Both relative and absolute chronology are based on the interpretation of three kinds of information: 1) The Biblical Text, 2) Ancient Inscriptions, and 3) Modern Astronomy. 

The Biblical Text and Chronology

Any student of the Bible who has worked to understand the sequence and duration of the reigns of the kings of Judah and Israel can appreciate the complexities of the effort. The Bible does not answer many questions about dating and chronology that we might wish had been answered. Different believing scholars have offered different solutions to the puzzles of the chronology of the Hebrew Kings. Some of their solutions create more puzzles about what happened when. One particular issue in the time of Isaiah is establishing the years that King Uzziah of Judah reigned.

Ancient Inscriptions and Chronology

Dates in ancient history are tentative. Ancient inscriptions have come down to us with a wide variety of literature and information. Some of these are lists of kings and events with notes on years that events happened. Comparison between these different lists and other inscriptions which mention the same events often leads to links with other names and events, sometimes from different cultures and languages. The chronologist seeks to place these events from various lists into a reasonable order. The chronologist also tries to establish relative dates using the date information these documents contain. The process is complex, requiring the knowledge of many different styles of writing, languages, regional calendar systems, as well as the accurate identification of place names, and personal names. One example in the time of Isaiah is whether or not Uzziah interacted with Tiglath-Pileser III.

The dating and chronology from the ancient world is the result of interpretation of these inscriptions, some of which are still in contention. Added to this complexity is the revision of previous understanding by incorporating new information from newly discovered inscriptions. 

Modern Astronomy and Chronology

Modern astronomy is the primary tool used to establish absolute dates for the events of the ancient Near-East. While this might seem a straightforward empirical way to establish dates there are some important things to know about the limits of the use of astronomy for establishing ancient dates.

In order to astronomically date an event recorded in a text one must have the text interpreted correctly.

So, for example: during the reign of King Amaziah of Judah Amos 8:9 declares:

וְהָיָ֣ה׀ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא נְאֻם֙ אֲדֹנָ֣י יְהוִ֔ה
וְהֵבֵאתִ֥י הַשֶּׁ֖מֶשׁ בַּֽצָּהֳרָ֑יִם
וְהַחֲשַׁכְתִּ֥י לָאָ֖רֶץ בְּי֥וֹם אֽוֹר׃

And it shall come to pass in that day, says the Lord Yahweh;
I will make the sun enter at noon,
And I will cause darkness on the land in a day of light.

The King James Version interprets the second line:

I will cause the sun to go down at noon,

The use of the verb וְהֵבֵאתִ֥י from בּוֺא is often used in the Qal to refer to the sunset. For example, Ecclesiastes 1:5 וְזָרַ֥ח הַשֶּׁ֖מֶשׁ וּבָ֣א הַשָּׁ֑מֶשׁ “The sun rises and the sun goes.” However, Amos 8:9 is the only example of the verb בּוֺא used in the Hiphil with reference to the sun.

Does this text refer to a miraculous noon time setting of the sun, to a solar eclipse, or to some other miraculous work?

The Limmu List (Assyrian Eponym List, more below) has a line that is translated:

During the eponymy of Bur-Saggile, ... in Simanu eclipse of the sun.

The Assyrian text:

Ina li-me IBur-dSa-gal-e … ina itusimāni dšamaš attalû ištakanan

The word for “eclipse” attalû is very well established on the basis of a large number of examples from other inscriptions (CAD v2:505-509). So the only remaining issue of interpretation regards when in the year the month of Simanu took place in the city where this text was written. In regard to this the textual evidence points generally indicates the month of Simanu was usually declared somewhere between the early part of May to the early part of June. Because the local calendars were lunar, religious, and political there is some great flexibility as to when this month was declared in a particular year.

This brings us to the use of modern astronomical calculations. On the basis of current understanding of the movements of the earth and moon modern scholars make a mathematical model to calculate when solar eclipses would have taken place, and which of them would have affected the area from which the record comes. Calculations based on these models assume that there was no outside agency, natural or supernatural, which could have affected the dates, times, and locations of eclipses. One such event in the biblical record, The Sign of Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:1-11,Isaiah 38:1-8), may have serious implications with respect to this chronology. But that particular miracle is invisible to this method. The mathematical models are based on the assumption that nothing natural or supernatural influenced the timing of these eclipses.

On the basis of these assumptions 41 solar eclipses affecting the area of modern Baghdad, Iraq are calculated for the 8th century BC. Of those only 7 are calculated to have taken place at the correct time of the year. From these only 3 were of a significant magnitude of .500 or greater.
  • An eclipse is calculated to have taken place on June 24, 791 BC affecting the area about 6:25 pm reaching maximum eclipse magnitude of 0.538 after sunset in the area.
  • An eclipse is calculated to have taken place on May 5, 770 BC affecting the area at 12:35 pm reaching maximum eclipse magnitude of 0.667 at 1:55 pm and ending at 3:12 pm.
  • An eclipse is calculated to have taken place on June 15, 763 BC affecting the area at 9:25 am reaching maximum eclipse magnitude of 0.864 at 10:48 am and ending at 12:17 pm.
Once these calculations have been made a comparison of these dates with surviving inscriptional literature shows evidence of a pattern that synchronizes fairly well. The best candidate is the third eclipse, which by our Gregorian Calendar rules would likely have taken place on June 15, 763 BC. This eclipse has been called The Assyrian Eclipse, or the Bur-Sagale eclipse (from the name in the Limmu List). And this event is the single most important for establishing the current absolute chronology for this period of history.

But as with any historical work, new findings can cause revision of the current understanding of the dates, events, and locations which are now considered established history. This does not affect the veracity of the book of Isaiah or the rest of the biblical text. 

Sources for Lists of Assyrian Kings

The information we have about Assyria, its history, and its kings from outside the Bible is expansive, limited, and subject to adjustment and reinterpretation. The information is expansive because thousands of inscriptions and other documents have been discovered archaeologically. The documents come from Assyria, Egypt, and many other kingdoms. These documents also cover topics from a wide spread of time. The information is limited due to the fact that the documents that survive to us are not comprehensive in covering all periods. The texts that we have tend to cluster around a limited number of topics, periods, and regions. And while we have many texts, the information they give us about the topics they do cover is sometimes very spotty and incomplete. The documents are subject to adjustment and reinterpretation because most of the texts about the early periods actually come from relatively late periods. Also, the discovery of other texts can force a reinterpretation and adjustment of our current understanding of the text we have now.

Outside the Bible there were very few sources about Assyrian kings before the decipherment of Assyrian Cuneiform writing in the 1850s. The lists of Eusebius of Caesarea's Chronicle (c. 325 AD) and a list in the Excerpta Latina Barbari were two of the main sources for information. But the lists of the Assyrian kings would not be known widely until the 1930s and later.

There are three clay tablet version now available to us of the Assyrian King List. The oldest tablet (the SDAS King List) dates to the 8th century BC. This list ends with Shalmaneser V, the king over Sargon who conquered the Northern Kingdom during the reign of king Ahaz of Judah (2 Kings 17).

Another source is the Assyrian Eponym List, also called the Limmu List. A Limmu is an official who was selected during the spring New Year festival and after whom the new year was named. Thus these are eponyms. Ten copies survive for the period during which Isaiah was active. This is translated as list #9 in Glassner.

In addition to the king lists and the Limmu List there are also many other inscriptions and tablets which have survived and are now published. We will refer to some of these sources when we discuss each king.

Our list will consist of Assyrian kings who reigned during the time of those kings mentioned in Isaiah 1:1. These are:
  • Uzziah (r. 767–750 BC) 2 Kg 14:21-15:31, 2 Chr 26, Is 1:1; 6:1
  • Jotham (r. 750–735 BC) 2 Kg 15:7, 32-38, 2 Chr 27
  • Ahaz (r. 735–716 BC) 2 Kg 16-17, 2 Chr 28, Is 7
  • Hezekiah (r. 729/716 – 697/687 BC) 2 Kg 16:20; 18:1-20:21, 2 Chr 29-32, Is 20:1; 36-39

The kings of Israel that were contemporary include [using Albright’s dates]:

  • Jeroboam II (r. 786–746 BC) 2 Kg 14:23-15:7
  • Zechariah (r. 746 BC – 745 BC) 2 Kg 15:8-12
  • Shallum (r. 745 BC) 2 Kg 15:13-16
  • Menahem (r. 745 to 738 BC) 2 Kg 15:17-22
  • Pekahiah (r. 738 BC – 736 BC) 2 Kg 15:23-26
  • Pekah (r. 737 – 732 BC) 2 Kg 15:27-16:20
  • Hoshea (r. 732–721 BC) 2 Kg 17

Resources


I. J. Gelb "Two Assyrian King Lists," from Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Oct., 1954), pp. 209-230
https://archive.org/details/Gelb19371982SelectedWritings/page/n83
Glassner, Jean-Jacques Chroniques Mésopotamiennes (1993), translated as Mesopotamian Chronicles, (2004).
Luckenbill, Daniel David. The Annals of Sennacherib. Oriental Institute Publications 2. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1924. https://oi.uchicago.edu/sites/oi.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/shared/docs/oip2.pdf
Poebel, A. “The Assyrian King List from Khorsabad.” - Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1942, Jul, Vol. 1, No. 3: 247-306; 1942, Oct, Vol. 1, No. 4: 460-492; 1943, Jan, Vol. 2, No. 1: 56-90.
Digitized by the Center for Adventist Research, James White Library, Andrews University.
https://archive.org/details/A.PoebelTheAssyrianKingListFromKhorsabad1942/page/n1
Steinmann,  Andrew E “The Chronology of 2 Kings 15-18.” JETS 30/4 December 1987 pp. 391-397.
https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/30/30-4/30-4-pp391-397-JETS.pdf  
Thiele, Edwin R. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. 2nd edition, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.

Eclipse Table for the 8th Century BC

Resources on The Assyrian Eclipse:

Table is from the following:


Solar Eclipses visible from Baghdad, IRAQ

All times are displayed in local time using the value from the Time Zone field in Section 1 (you must add 1 hour if Daylight Saving Time is in effect)
A time followed by "(r)" means the event is already in progress at sunrise. Similarly, a time followed by "(s)" means the event is still in progress at sunset. In such cases, the times and circumstances given are for sunrise or sunset, respectively. The times of sunrise and sunset are calculated when the Sun's lower limb touches the horizon.
Latitude: 33° 21' 00" N
Longitude: 44° 25' 00" E
Altitude: 33.8m
Time Zone: 03:00 E
Negative years are equivalent to the year BC minus 1 year (See: Dating Conventions ).
Calendar Date
Eclipse Type
Partial Eclipse Begins
Sun Alt
Maximum Eclipse
Sun Alt
Sun Azi
Partial Eclipse Ends
Sun Alt
Eclipse Mag.
Eclipse Obs.
-799-Jun-04
P
06:24:41
18
07:02:56
26
080
07:43:58
34
0.191
0.097
-798-Nov-18
P
11:14:43
38
12:11:23
39
186
13:08:38
36
0.11
0.042
-797-Nov-07
P
09:16:28
30
10:43:43
40
159
12:18:23
42
0.448
0.326
-790-Jun-24
P
18:25:29
07
19:05(s)
0(s)
299
19:05(s)
0(s)
0.633(s)
0.538(s)
-787-Oct-17
P
08:31:33
28
09:19:13
36
130
10:09:45
43
0.215
0.115
-784-Aug-16
P
18:46:42
01
18:51(s)
0(s)
290
18:51(s)
0(s)
0.061(s)
0.018(s)
-783-Feb-09
P
12:42:42
39
13:52:12
35
207
14:56:23
27
0.405
0.291
-777-Apr-04
P
12:33:23
58
14:08:42
48
229
15:34:56
33
0.63
0.534
-776-Mar-23
P
15:53:50
27
16:34:48
19
254
17:13:10
11
0.133
0.056
-776-Sep-16
P
14:05:28
50
14:39:24
44
242
15:12:05
38
0.104
0.04
-774-Jan-31
P
09:41:35
25
10:51:41
33
155
12:05:49
37
0.438
0.326
-771-Nov-19
P
14:45:44
24
15:50:10
13
237
16:48:23
03
0.269
0.156
-770-Nov-08
P
13:15:11
38
14:47:28
26
229
16:09:43
12
0.514
0.396
-769-May-05
P
12:35:01
68
13:55:58
56
241
15:12:31
41
0.729
0.667
-765-Aug-17
P
05:28:46
02
06:18:27
12
078
07:12:40
23
0.324
0.207
-764-Feb-10
P
10:06:36
30
11:25:08
38
163
12:44:33
39
0.769
0.719
-762-Jun-15
P
09:25:39
56
10:48:46
72
121
12:17:48
78
0.882
0.864
-757-Sep-17
P
11:11:21
60
12:15:09
62
188
13:17:17
57
0.263
0.156
-755-Jan-31
P
09:26:11
23
10:22:39
30
148
11:22:51
36
0.286
0.178
-754-Jul-16
P
05:22:00
05
06:16:32
15
072
07:16:43
27
0.563
0.459
-750-May-05
P
05:18(r)
0(r)
05:18(r)
0(r)
074
05:51:23
06
0.501(r)
0.388(r)
-748-Sep-07
P
08:00:33
30
08:49:11
40
107
09:40:49
49
0.19
0.096
-744-Dec-20
P
13:03:19
31
13:46:40
28
207
14:27:08
24
0.066
0.02
-743-Dec-09
P
09:53:30
27
11:42:15
34
175
13:34:37
30
0.772
0.689
-740-Oct-08
P
06:01(r)
0(r)
06:01(r)
0(r)
094
06:30:59
06
0.479(r)
0.371(r)
-736-Jul-26
P
15:02:49
49
16:12:39
34
275
17:14:43
22
0.528
0.419
-732-May-15
P
12:09:40
73
13:02:42
67
227
13:55:33
58
0.135
0.058
-730-Sep-18
P
18:07:27
01
18:13(s)
0(s)
276
18:13(s)
0(s)
0.088(s)
0.03(s)
-729-Mar-14
P
12:22:10
51
13:30:30
47
208
14:35:29
39
0.448
0.337
-723-May-06
P
07:08:06
23
08:16:42
37
097
09:35:00
53
0.564
0.457
-722-Apr-25
P
09:22:17
47
10:22:27
58
130
11:26:36
66
0.194
0.098
-720-Mar-04
P
11:15:31
45
11:31:39
46
163
11:47:50
47
0.018
0.003
-717-Dec-22
P
16:01:15
10
16:21:36
06
236
16:41:29
03
0.027
0.005
-716-Dec-10
P
14:53:42
20
16:19:06
07
237
16:57(s)
0(s)
0.634
0.53
-713-Oct-10
P
14:51:52
34
15:35:13
26
246
16:16:26
18
0.213
0.115
-710-Mar-14
P
10:59:28
47
12:09:02
51
178
13:18:28
48
0.57
0.479
-708-Jul-17
P
07:36:18
31
08:32:57
43
089
09:35:31
56
0.404
0.293
-705-May-17
P
17:35:33
13
17:58:27
09
285
18:20:36
04
0.059
0.017
-704-May-05
P
17:52:29
08
18:35(s)
0(s)
287
18:35(s)
0(s)
0.482(s)
0.364(s)
-703-Oct-19
P
12:01:40
49
13:35:09
42
216
15:01:32
29
0.825
0.774
-701-Mar-05
P
10:42:45
42
12:03:54
48
175
13:24:38
45
0.776
0.73
A time followed by "(r)" means the event is already in progress at sunrise, while a time followed by "(s)" means the event is still in progress at sunset. In such cases, the times and circumstances given are for sunrise or sunset, respectively.


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