chapter  1
34 Pages

Assyria and the Fall of Israel

The above is the only extant contemporary picture of a biblical character. It appears on the mid-ninth-century Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III: the Israelite king, Jehu (or his messenger), is on his knees with gifts of gold and silver for the ‘Great Dragon’, the Assyrian king (Pritchard, pp. 276, 281). This is the same wild, violent, heroic Jehu of II Kings, anointed dramatically by the prophet Elisha, assassin of the kings of Israel and Judah, of Jezebel and Ahab’s seventy sons. Through Assyrian eyes, however, Jehu was nothing more than a cringing vassal. This image of prostration held true of Israel and Judah for the better part of the next two centuries, up to the fall of Nineveh in 612. Much of the political and prophetic activity in Israel and Judah during the century prior to the conquests of Tiglath Pileser III was in reaction to such humiliation and to further menace both from Assyria and Aram. The ninth-century Israelite alliance with Phoenicia, for example, was an attempt to form a

military bloc to fend off mutual enemies. Likewise, Israel’s peace with Judah, for the first time since the kingdom had split a century earlier, was precipitated by the threat from the north-east. At this time, too, the prophet Elijah, with Jehu’s help, and his disciple Elisha did away with the Canaanite prophets and the Baal cult and established the Yahweh cult as the major religious force in Israel. The recognition that the God of Israel and Judah could not compete militarily with imperial might is implicit in Elijah’s vision on Mount Sinai of the invisible God, speaking not with the fire and thunder of battle, but with the soundless voice of truth and justice.