NINEVEH, NINEVE (nĭn'ĕ-vĕ, Heb. nînewēh). One of the most ancient cities of the world, founded by Nimrod (Gen.10.11-Gen.10.12), a great-grandson of Noah, and enduring till 612 b.c. Nineveh lay on the banks of the Tigris above its confluence with the Greater Zab, one of its chief tributaries, and nearly opposite the site of the modern Mosul in Iraq. It was for many years the capital of the great Assyrian Empire, and its fortunes ebbed and flowed with the long strife between Babylonia and Assyria. Of the two kingdoms, or empires, Babylonia was the more cultured, but Assyria the more warlike. The kingdom over which Nineveh and its kings long ruled was north of Babylon and in the hills, and these facts made more for warlikeness than the more sedentary culture of a warmer climate. Babylon was the more important from Abraham’s time to David’s; then from David’s time to that of Hezekiah and Manasseh, Nineveh and its kings were paramount; then still later, from the time of King Josiah and the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk, and Daniel, Babylon was again at the head.
Among the great rulers of Assyria may be mentioned Tiglath-Pileser I, who made conquests about 1100 b.c., and Ashurnasirpal and Shalmaneser III, who inaugurated a system of ruthless conquest and deportation of whole populations, which greatly increased the power of Assyria and the influence of Nineveh. It was this latter king (sometimes numbered as II instead of III) who defeated Hazael of Syria and boasted of receiving tribute from Jehu of Israel. The Assyrians, instead of numbering their years, named them from certain rulers; and lists of these “eponyms” have been found, but with a gap of fifty-one years around the beginning of the eighth century, due no doubt to some great calamity and/or the weakness of her kings. It was in this space of time that Jonah was sent of the Lord to warn the people of Nineveh: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned” (Jonah.3.4), but God gave Nineveh a respite for nearly two hundred years. Esarhaddon, the great king of Assyria from 680-668, united Babylonia to Assyria and conquered lands as far away as Egypt (Isa.19.4) and North Arabia. He was succeeded by his greater son Ashurbanipal (called by the Greeks “Sardanapalus”), who presided over Assyria in its brief climax of power and culture; but Nabopolassar of Babylon, who reigned from 625 to 605, freed it from Assyria and helped to bring about the destruction of Nineveh in 612 (some date this destruction 606). About 623 Cyaxares, king of the Medes, made his first attack on Nineveh, and this was probably the occasion of Nahum’s prophecy. His book is undated, but 3:8 speaks of Thebes (Heb., No Amon) in the past tense (it was destroyed in 663) and of Nineveh’s destruction as future, so it must have been written about this time.
For many centuries the very location of Nineveh was forgotten, but it has been discovered and excavated (largely by Botta and Layard from a.d. 1843-45), and among its buried ruins the great palace of Sargon, with its wonderful library of cuneiform inscriptions and its still-striking wall ornamentation, has been exhumed. Because the name Sargon was omitted in some of the ancient lists of kings, some of the scholars scoffed (around 1840) at Isa.20.1, “sent by Sargon king of Assyria,” saying in effect, “This is one of the errors of Isaiah, for we know that Sargon never did exist.” It is said that when Botta sent to Berlin some ancient bricks with the name Sargon baked into them, the “scholars” claimed that he forged the bricks! Nahum’s reference (Isa.2.4) to chariots raging in the streets and rushing to and fro in the broadways of Nineveh does not prophesy automobile traffic, as some have tried to make out, but refers to the broad streets that distinguished Nineveh.——ABF