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
     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)"
     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)"
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)"
     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)

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

Sennacherib (r. 705–681 BC)

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

Esarhaddon (r. 681–669 BC)

     Manasseh (r. 697/687–643 BCE)

Ashurbanipal (r. 669–631/ 627 BC)

     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
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