Friday, December 19, 2014

Bonus 41 - Taylor Prism

Sennacherib’s Prism.
Used with permission of OIM.
This six-sided clay prism sometimes called the “Annals of Sennacherib” derives its name from Colonel R. Taylor who acquired it in 1830 among the ruins of Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh (Nebi Yunus). The British Museum purchased it from Taylor in 1855. The British Museum also has at least eight other fragmentary prisms with just a few lines of text.
    However,  two other copies of the complete prism are known to exist. One, called the Sennacherib Prism is housed in the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago. It was purchased for the Museum by James Henry Breasted from a Baghdad antiques dealer in 1919.
     A third prism dating to 691 BC,  known as the Jerusalem Prism, had its text only recently published in 1990.1.  It is held in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

     The text of all three prism’s is virtually identical with only minor variations although from the dates in the text  the Oriental Institute prism was created six months after the other two, in 689 BC. They are inscribed with the Assyrian King Sennacherib’s (son of Sargon II) first eight military campaigns (705–681 BC) including forty-six cities of Judah and the deportation of 200,150 citizens2.  from his third campaign (701 BC). 3.

     Israel had already been conquered, when Sennacherib turned his attention to Judah. In true propaganda style, this prism boasts of his siege of Jerusalem and King Hezekiah of Judah, which started in 701 BC, stating that:
“Hezekiah the Judahite . . . like a caged bird I shut up in Jerusalem.”  The prism also states “as for Hezekiah, the awful splendor of my lordship overwhelmed him.”4.  
     This same event is described through the eyes of Judah in 2 Kings 17–19:36 (2 Chron. 32; Isa 36–37:37). The prisms silently agree with the biblical account of the mysterious death of the Assyrian army and the siege being called off (2 Kgs 19:35–36; Is 36–37) but does not mention the failure to capture Jerusalem nor suggest why. 5.  Mitchell explains that it is:
making no claim that Jerusalem was taken, only describing tribute from Hezekiah of gold, silver, precious stones, valuable woods, furniture decorated with ivory …, iron daggers, raw iron, and musicians (cf. 2 Kgs 18:13–16). 6.
     The Assyrians claimed complete victory and withdrew from Judah. The Greek historian Herodotus claimed that a plague of field mice entered the camp and gnawed the leather components of their weapons, disarming the military force and leading to many of the soldiers being killed or fleeing (Hist. 2.141). The Bible states that it was the angel of death sending plague on the troops, causing many thousands to die (2 Kgs 19:35–37; Isa. 37:38).

     Strangely the well known siege of Lachish which occurred during this campaign and is depicted on the reliefs in Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh is not mentioned in the annals.

     Apart from its biblical importance it played an important role in deciphering cuneiform script since it was one of the first major Assyrian texts to be discovered.

Footnotes
  • 1. P. Ling-Israel, “The Sennacherib Prism in the Israel Museum—Jerusalem,” in Bar-Ilan: Studies in Assyriology Dedicated to Pinḥas Artzi, ed. J. Klein and A. Skaist (Jerusalem: Ramat-Gan: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1990), 213–47.
  • 2. Ziony Zevit, “Implicit Population Figures and Historical Sense: What Happened to 200,150 Judahites in 701 BCE?,” in Confronting the Past: Archaeological and Historical Essays on Ancient Israel in Honor of William G. Dever, ed. Seymour Gitin, J. Edward Wright, and J. P. Dessel (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2006), 357–65.
  • 3. Daniel David Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2005).
    David W. Thomas, Documents from Old Testament Times, Society for Old Testament Study (New York, NY: Harper, 1961), 302
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Ronald E. Clements, Isaiah and the Deliverance of Jerusalem: Study of the Interpretation of Prophecy in the Old Testament, New ed., JSOT Supplements 13 (Sheffield: Continuum International, 1980).
  • 6. T. C. Mitchell, The Bible in the British Museum: Interpreting the Evidence (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist, 2004) 66.

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