Sennacherib

SENNACHERIB (sĕ-năk'êr-ĭb, Heb. sanhērîv, Assyr. Sin-ahe-irba, Sin [moon-god] multiplied brothers). An Assyrian king (705-681 b.c.), the son and successor of Sargon II (722-705). He restored the capital to Nineveh, on the east bank of the Tigris, opposite the present city of Mosul. It is represented today by the mounds Kuyunjik and Nebi Yunus (“prophet Jonah”); Kuyunjik was dug in part by Layard and the palace of Sennacherib was found. Sennacherib constructed palaces, temples, city walls, and a water system, including the aqueduct of Jerwan (cf. building inscriptions, D. D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia, 1927, 2:362-483; hereafter ARAB). He was an able soldier, and it is in this capacity that he is best remembered. On his succession to the throne he found it necessary to deal with revolts throughout the empire. Exasperated by the repeated intrigues of Babylon and its king, Merodach-Baladan, he finally reduced the city to ruins in 689. In the west there was also rebellion; among the rebels was Hezekiah of Judah. On his third campaign in 701, Sennacherib marched west to settle those difficulties. The accounts of his campaigns were recorded on clay prisms, among which are the Taylor Prism (British Museum) and the Oriental Institute Prism, which include the Assyrian version of the conflict with Hezekiah. Sennacherib took Sidon and moved south, receiving tribute and capturing Ashkelon, Beth Dagon, Joppa, and other Palestinian cities (ARAB, 2:239). At Eltekeh (cf. Josh.19.44; Josh.21.23) he defeated a coalition of Palestinians, plus some Egyptian forces. Hezekiah had taken Padi, king of Ekron, who was allied with Sennacherib, and made him a captive (ARAB, 2:240). Sennacherib now seized Ekron and restored Padi to his throne. He did not take Jerusalem, but he boasted that he shut up Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage.” The OT gives three records of this invasion and its results (2Kgs.18.13-2Kgs.19.17; 2Chr.32.1-2Chr.32.22; Isa.36.1-Isa.37.38).

It was in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah that Sennacherib came against Judah and took all of its fortified cities. Hezekiah offered to pay tribute and had to strip the temple of its treasures to make payment. The Assyrian sent his officers to Jerusalem to deliver an ultimatum concerning capitulation. At this time Sennacherib was besieging Lachish, which he took and then moved against Libnah. The reliefs of the palace of Sennacherib at Kuyunjik depicted the capture of Lachish. When Sennacherib heard that Tirhakah king of Egypt was coming against him, he sent a second message to Hezekiah. Hezekiah made this a matter for prayer, and the prophet Isaiah brought him God’s assurance of deliverance. Tirhakah was involved in the coalition defeated by Sennacherib; Egypt of that period was correctly evaluated by the Assyrian spokesman as “that splintered reed” (2Kgs.18.21; Isa.36.6). The Bible relates that Jerusalem was delivered by the Lord, who sent his angel to strike the Assyrian armies and force Sennacherib to retire to his homeland (2Kgs.19.35-2Kgs.19.36; 2Chr.32.21; Isa.37.36-Isa.37.37). Various naturalistic explanations of this incident have been attempted. Herodotus preserves a story of an Assyrian defeat occasioned by a plague of mice, which consumed the equipment of the armies and left them helpless before their enemies; some have associated the mice with the carrying of some disease or plague.

Back in Nineveh, Sennacherib was assassinated by two of his sons in 681 b.c. (2Kgs.19.37; Isa.37.38) in an effort to upset the succession that he had decreed for Esarhaddon, but Esarhaddon was equal to the situation and gained the throne. The Assyrian account of the Judean campaign follows: “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to forty-six of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-stamped (earth-) ramps, and battering-rams brought (thus) near (to the walls) (combined with) the attack by foot-soldiers, (using) mines, breeches (sic) as well as sapper work. I drove out (of them) 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle, beyond counting, and considered (them) booty. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were leaving his city’s gate....Hezekiah himself...did send me later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with thirty talents of gold, 800 talents of silver...his (own) daughter to deliver the tribute and to do obeisance as a slave he sent his (personal) messenger” (ANET, p. 288; cf. ARAB, 2:240).——CEDV


SENNACHERIB sə năk’ ēr ĭb (סַנְחֵרִ֣יב, Akkad. Sin-aḫḫē-eriba, “Sin has increased (or replaced) the (lost) brothers.” King of Assyria and Babylonia, 705-681 b.c.

Accession.

As his name implies Sennacherib was not the eldest son of Sargon II, but was chosen as crown prince and made military governor of the troublesome northern frontier. His boldness in difficult situations and firmness in dispensing justice was to stand him in good stead. When his father was assassinated in 705 b.c. Sennacherib acted quickly to take the throne before marching against dissidents.

Foreign policy

The northern tribes.

Since Sargon’s victories over the tribes they had been subject to pressure from the Cimmerians (Assyr. Gimirrai) moving westward from the Caucasus toward Lydia. Sennacherib led expeditions to the C. Zagros and to Tabal and Cilicia, where he captured Tarsus. His aim was to keep the trade routes open to friendly peoples outside the newly invaded areas. This action contained the borders and enabled him to devote his attention to the more restive parts of his empire.

Babylonia.

In the same year as he became king the old enemy of his father, Marduk-apla-iddina (Merodach-baladan), sheikh of the Bit-Yakin, seized the throne of Babylon with the backing of Elamite troops. Much of his time was spent in Borsippa since this was closer to his tribal lands and more easily defensible by his fellow Arameans. In 703 Sennacherib led an army against the rebel whom he defeated near Kish. After sacking Babylon he deported 208,000 prisoners and set a puppet king, trained in Nineveh, one Bēl-ibni, on the throne. Marduk-apla-iddina retreated to the security of the southern marshes until the time, three years later, when he was able to elicit further Elamite assistance and rouse the Chaldaean and Aramaean tribes in collusion with Bēl-ibni. A swift Assyrian march broke up the attempt by this coalition to assert their independence. This time Marduk-apla-iddina fled across the Persian Gulf to take refuge in S. Elam where he died. Sennacherib characteristically aimed to deal with the subversion at its source and to do this mounted a sea-borne invasion, using a fleet of ships, manned by sailors from Tyre, Sidon and Cyprus, floated down the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. From a bridgehead on the coast punitive raids were mounted against the villages which harbored the tribesmen from the marshes.

This punitive action had little lasting effect. Soon Elam retaliated by raiding across the Tigris to capture Ashur-nadin-shumi at Sippar. This was Sennacherib’s youngest son whom he had placed on the Babylonian throne under a special charter (699-694). A pro-Elamite supporter, Nergal-ushēzib, replaced him. Then in 693 Assyrian troops redrawing from the S defeated Nergal-ushēzib at Nippur, but failed to recapture Babylon itself where another Aramaean, Mushēzib-Marduk, had taken control. In the following year Sennacherib took drastic steps to reassert Assyrian authority in the S. He met and defeated the Elamites at Dēr and local Assyrian officials ousted Mushēzib-Marduk who had seized this moment to rouse the tribes. Fleeing to Elam he managed to bribe the Elamites and Arameans to waylay the Assyrians at Ḫalule where an indeterminate but bloody battle was fought. Internal dissensions soon limited further Elamite help, so that an Assyrian force was able to besiege Mushēzib-Marduk in Babylon for nine months. When the city fell it was looted, its deity Marduk being taken off to Nineveh, and the city remained quiet through the rest of the reign.

Action against Judah.

Hezekiah of Judah, perhaps incited by the Babylonian Marduk-apla-iddina (Merodach-Baladan) to join in the anti-Assyrian coalition (2 Kings 20:12, 13) seized Padi, the pro-Assyrian ruler of Ekron (2 Kings 18:8). When Sidon and Tyre refused tribute in 701 Sennacherib directed his third campaign to the W. Marching down the Phoen. coast he captured Great and little Sidon, Zarephath, Mahallib (Ahlab of Judg 1:31), Ushu and Acco. Eluli (Elulaeus) who had fled was replaced as king of Tyre by Ethbaal, but that seaport was bypassed. The kings of Sidon, Arvad, Byblos, Beth-Ammon, and Edom submitted but Ashkelon, Beth-Dagon and Joppa, who refused, were sacked. Hezekiah’s resistance in these circumstances was outstandingly daring, esp. as the Assyrians marching on Eltekeh defeated the Egyptians on whom the anti-Assyrian forces doubtless relied for help. The elders of Ekron were flayed alive for handing over their king to Hezekiah. The Assyrians thereupon beseiged Lachish, which fell after a cruel siege, and sacked forty-six towns and villages in Judah, taking away 200,150 prisoners and much spoil. Despite the close siege works hemming in Jerusalem, Hezekiah refused a demand for surrender (2 Kings 18:17; Isa 36:1-21). According to Sennacherib he later paid tribute of “40 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, precious stones,” and other rare commodities. 2 Kings 18:13-16 mentions only “300 [talents] of silver and 30 [talents] of gold,” the difference being perhaps due to the remaining amount being given in other form, to variations in the standards of weights used, or to Assyrian exaggeration.

According to Sennacherib, Hezekiah freed Padi who was given some former Judaean territory as compensation for his ordeal on behalf of Assyria. Meanwhile, “Hezekiah, the Judaean, I shut up in Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage. I put sentry-posts closely round the city, to turn back to his fate anyone who ventured out of the citygate” (Sennacherib; Taylor prism). The siege was unsuccessful due to the foresight of Hezekiah in protecting his water-supplies (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron 32:30) and his steadfast trust in God rather than in material support from allies (2 Kings 19:32-34). Sennacherib’s own account makes no reference to the outcome of the siege, a sure acknowledgment of failure, or to the defeat of the Assyrian army, described as 185,000 dead “by the angel of the Lord” (2 Kings 19:35). This latter event Herodotus (ii 141) says was due to “a multitude of field mice which by night devoured all the quivers and bows of the enemy, and all the straps by which they held their shields....Next morning they commenced their fight and great numbers fell as they had no arms with which to defend themselves.”

There has long been debate whether all these events fall into one or two campaigns by Sennacherib. Those who argue for two campaigns, see the reference to the approach of the Egyp. relief forces under Tirhakah (2 Kings 19:9; Isa 37:9) as indicative of later action since he did not come to the throne of Egypt until c. 690 b.c. This may be answered by the suggestion that he acted as commander-in-chief while “king of Ethiopia/Nubia (Cush),” for there is no confirmation that he was born c. 709 and was therefore too young to be in the field. The two-campaign theory assumes that it was in the first campaign of 701 b.c. that Hezekiah paid tribute and surrendered Padi and that he successfully withstood a later siege, c. 689-686 b.c. when Sennacherib struck against the Arabs S of Damascus, of which there is no mention in the Assyrian records. Those who hold this view require that both campaigns have been conflated into one by the Heb. historians. They, moreover, interpret 2 Kings 19:37 as implying that Sennacherib’s death took place immediately on his return from Pal. The Heb. text does not, however, state or imply the length of time between his return to Nineveh and his death in 681 b.c. The latter was some years after the Palestinian campaign on either view. There is no textual or historical evidence which precludes the now more generally accepted view of a single campaign in 701 b.c.

His death.

According to 2 Kings 19:37 (Isa 37:38) Sennacherib was assassinated by his two sons while worshiping in the shrine of his god Nisroch. The sons escaped to Ararat and Sennacherib’s son Esarhaddon reigned in his stead. The Assyrian texts make no specific reference to this event and it has been thought that there are divergencies in the accounts. The Babylonian Chronicle states that he was murdered by “his son.” Such variation in historical sources is not uncommon, since one son may well have been the ringleader or have actually done the deed. Esarhaddon himself makes no reference to his father’s death in his account of his own accession, though he does mention the hostility of his brothers whom he had to defeat before gaining the throne. The rebels he claims to have defeated in Hanigalbat, from where two of them may have fled to Urartu. These could have been named Arad-malik and (Nergal)-sharusur, names preserved by Abydenus as Adramelus and Nergilus and by the OT as Adrammelech and Sharezer, though the latter may have been the inspiration for the former writer. Thirty-two years later Ashurbanipal says that his grandfather Sennacherib had been “crushed between the figures of protecting deities,” possibly the bull-colossi guarding the narrow temple doorway. Though the Temple of Nisroch is not necessarily to be located in Assyria it could be the temple of Ninurta (or Nusku?) in Nineveh.

Domestic policy.

Sennacherib exercised a firm but tolerant rule at home. Encouraged by his W Sem. (Palestinian?) wife, Naq’ia-Zakutu, he spent much effort on rebuilding his capital Nineveh. With prisoner of war labor he built his own “palace without a rival,” with suites of rooms furnished in cedar, cypress, boxwood (walnut?) and ebony. Stone was extensively used and the reception rooms were panelled with more than 9,000 sq. ft. of basreliefs depicting his victories, including the siege of Lachish (now in British Museum). This palace has been reopened since 1965. The city walls and gates were renovated and a New Year Temple and armory built to receive the spoils of war. Water for the city was brought via canals, and aqueduct (Jerwan) and a dam (Ajeila) to water the city and its surrounding parks between the Tigris and Khosr Rivers. Sennacherib introduced cotton growing to Assyria and claims to have used other new techniques in his architectural works, including open-cast bronze modeling “like the casting of half-shekels.”

Bibliography

D. D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib (1924); L. L. Honor, Sennacherib’s Invasion of Palestine (1926); A. L. Oppenheim, ANET, 287, 288; D. J. Wiseman, “Records of Assyria and Babylonia,” in D. W. Thomas, Documents from Old Testament Times (1958), 64-73; H. H. Rowley, “Hezekiah’s Reform and Rebellion,” BJRL 44 (1962), 395-431.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Sennacherib (704-682 BC) ascended the throne of Assyria after the death of his father Sargon. Appreciating the fact that Babylon would be difficult to control, instead of endeavoring to conciliate the people he ignored them. The Babylonians, being indignant, crowned a man of humble origin, Marduk-zakir-shum by name. He ruled only a month, having been driven out by the irrepressible Merodach-baladan, who again appeared on the scene.

In order to fortify himself against Assyria the latter sent an embassy to Hezekiah, apparently for the purpose of inspiring the West to rebel against Assyria (2Ki 20:12-19).

Sennacherib in his first campaign marched into Babylonia. He found Merodach-baladan entrenched at Kish, about 9 miles from Babylon, and defeated him; after which he entered the gates of Babylon, which had been thrown open to him. He placed a Babylonian, named Bel-ibni, on the throne.

This campaign was followed by an invasion of the country of the Cassites and Iasubigalleans. In his third campaign he directed his attention to the West, where the people had become restless under the Assyrian yoke. Hezekiah had been victorious over the Philistines (2Ki 18:8). In preparation to withstand a siege, Hezekiah had built a conduit to bring water within the city walls (2Ki 20:20). Although strongly opposed by the prophet Isaiah, gifts were sent to Egypt, whence assistance was promised (Isa 30:1-4). Apparently also the Phoenicians and Philistines, who had been sore pressed by Assyria, had made provision to resist Assyria. The first move was at Ekron, where the Assyrian governor Padi was put into chains and sent to Hezekiah at Jerusalem.

Sennacherib, in 701 BC, moved against the cities in the West. He ravaged the environs of Tyre, but made no attempt to take the city, as he was without a naval force. After Elulaeus the king of Sidon fled, the city surrendered without a battle, and Ethbaal was appointed king. Numerous cities at once sent presents to the king of Assyria. Ashkelon and other cities were taken. The forces of Egypt were routed at Eltekeh, and Ekron was destroyed. He claims to have conquered 46 strongholds of Hezekiah’s territory, but he did not capture Jerusalem, for concerning the king he said, in his annals, "himself like a bird in a cage in Jerusalem, his royal city, I penned him." He states, also, how he reduced his territory, and how Hezekiah sent to him 30 talents of gold and 800 talents of silver, besides hostages.

The Biblical account of this invasion is found in 2Ki 18:13-19:37; Isa 36; 37. The Assyrian account differs considerably from it; but at the same time it corroborates it in many details. One of the striking parallels is the exact amount of gold which Hezekiah sent to the Assyrian king (see The Expository Times, XII, 225,405; XIII, 326).

In the following year Sennacherib returned to Babylonia to put down a rebellion by Bal-ibni and Merodach-baladan. The former was sent to Assyria, and the latter soon afterward died. Ashurnadin-shum, the son of Sennacherib, was then crowned king of Babylon. A campaign into Cilicia and Cappadocia followed.

In 694 BC Sennacherib attacked the Elamites, who were in league with the Babylonians. In revenge, the Elamites invaded Babylonia and carried off Ashur-nadin-shum to Elam, and made Nergalushezib king of Babylon. He was later captured and in turn carried off to Assyria. In 691 BC Sennacherib again directed his attention to the South, and at Khalute fought with the combined forces. Two years later he took Babylon, and razed it to the ground.

In 681 BC Sennacherib was murdered by his two sons (2Ki 19:37; see Sharezer). Esar-haddon their younger brother, who was at the time conducting a campaign against Ararat, was declared king in his stead.