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Altes Testament


Matty, Nazek Khalid


Sennacherib’s Campaign Against Judah and Jerusalem in 701 B. C.A Historical Reconstruction.


Berlin u. a.: De Gruyter 2016. XII, 225 S. = Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 487. Geb. EUR 89,95. ISBN 978-3-11-044788-0.


Lester L. Grabbe

This revised Oxford PhD thesis (supervisor John Day) tackles an old conundrum: if Sennacherib did not conquer Jerusalem but re-turned to Nineveh, why did Hezekiah pay tribute? But if Hezekiah submitted and paid tribute, after blatantly rebelling, why was he allowed to remain on the throne? Part One looks at Sennacherib’s third campaign (the one against Jerusalem) in the context of the Assyrian inscriptions and reliefs. This includes a survey of all Sennacherib’s campaigns with the object of looking for literary patterns in the descriptions given in the inscriptions. It also includes a study of the reliefs showing the taking of Lachish, and an investigation of the various references to the blockade of cities in Assyrian inscriptions. Part Two analyzes the biblical narratives, especially those in 2 Kings 18–19.
Nazek Khalid Matty’s study of the Assyrian reports of Sennacherib’s campaigns for literary patterns is an important innovation that is new to research on this episode, to the best of my knowl-edge. He finds that destruction of the enemy was not necessarily the aim of campaigns but elimination of opposition to Assyria. Thus, rebellious rulers were sometimes left on the throne if they submitted and paid tribute. Others had already pointed out that Jerusalem was blockaded, not besieged in the conventional sense of being surrounded by a siege mound and a besieging army, or the like. The blockade (probably by a small garrison) simply prevented the inhabitants of the city from escaping or receiving supplies or assistance. But although M.’s concept here is not new, his survey of many examples from the Assyrian records is very useful.
The study makes clear that Jerusalem did not fall to Sennacherib, yet the Assyrian king returned to Nineveh, and there – not in Judah, as would normally have been the case – he received Hezekiah’s trib-ute and evidence of submission. After considering several options, M. argues that the most plausible reason is that Sennacherib returned because the »rumour« that he heard was about a possible rebellion in the eastern part of his realm. Yet it was clear to Hezekiah that the Assyrian threat had not been removed (presumably the blockade of Jerusalem continued), which is why he decided that paying tribute and submitting was the better part of valour.
M. has done a good job of surveying the sources, articulating the problems, cataloguing various scholarly opinions, and suggesting possible solutions. There are frequent summaries, which are very helpful. His study can be commended as a place to begin for any-one interested in the question of Sennacherib’s invasion and what really happened, and I think it goes a long way toward providing an answer to the main problems.
I have one main criticism of the study. When M. lists the vari-ous options, he dismisses the view that the Egyptian army may have contributed to Sennacherib’s withdrawal, arguing, »No matter where or when the Egyptian forces met Sennacherib’s army, at the end of the campaign or at the beginning, with one army or two armies, it appears from the archaeological evidence that their pres-ence did not cause a serious threat to the Assyrians« (179); likewise, »one can safely say that even if the Egyptian-Kushite army came to confront Sennacherib, it did not cause Sennacherib to return« (182). I am sorry but this is no argument: there is no archaeological evidence one way or the other with regard to the encounter between the Egyptians and the Assyrians. The Assyrians were clearly successful – as attested by both text and archaeology – in reducing many towns and villages in Judah, but that says nothing about an Egyptian attack after this. Both the biblical and the Herodotian texts suggest independently a major setback for the Assyrian army (as I showed in my 2003 article in my edited volume, » Like a Bird in a Cage«: The Invasion of Sennacherib in 701 BCE; see also Ernst Axel Knauf’s excellent article in the same volume that suggests the As-syrian army was exhausted by the end of the campaign, which would make any military setback a major problem).
M. gives the possible explanation that Sennacherib heard about a potential revolt in the eastern part of his empire. This is very plausible but hypothetical. Why not combine it with another plausible but hypothetical situation: the Assyrian army suffered a major setback when it encountered an Egyptian force. Between the two (i. e., the rumour and the military setback), Sennacherib felt it necessary to return to Nineveh, leaving behind a small force to continue the blockade of Jerusalem. At this point, Hezekiah saw that the Assyr-ian threat remained and that submission was the best course; hence, he sent tribute to Nineveh. There is textual support for this reconstruction, even if it remains less than certain. But it becomes the best explanation, in my opinion, for what happened in 701 BCE. M.’s study has made a major contribution to resolving the ques-tions here and is to be applauded for his work.