• By Gordon Franz

    [Disclaimer: If there are any similarities in this discussion between Ashurbanipal II and his Assyrian troops and Saddam Hussein and the Republican guards, it is purely coincidental. Having said that, it is my position Saddam Hussein is not discussed in the Book of Nahum, nor are automobiles on the LA Freeway (cf. Nahum 2:3)!]

    If I mentioned the city Nineveh, what would come to your mind? Most likely you would say Jonah. We’ve all heard the story about Jonah being swallowed by the great fish and then going to Nineveh to preach against the city. His message was short and to the point, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The city, from the king to the dogcatcher, repented. Have you ever wondered what happened to Nineveh after that? The short prophetic book of Nahum tells us “the rest of the story.”

    During the summer of 2002, I had the privilege of spending three days in the British Museum in London. Wow, what an experience! I have been studying and teaching archaeology for over twenty-five years and never had the opportunity to see the many objects on display in the museum that have Biblical connections

    The main interest of my visit was the objects in the Assyrian Rooms, especially the rooms containing the bas-reliefs of Ashurbanipal II (ruled 668-631 BC), the last great king of Assyria. Several years ago I taught the book of Nahum at my home church. I endeavored to illustrate my messages with archaeological discoveries relating to the text. In my studies, I was surprised at the number of references to objects in the British Museum. When I first visited the rooms with the reliefs, I was not disappointed. With the book of Nahum opened before me, most of the word pictures in the book could be illustrated, in one way or another, from the reliefs of Ashurbanipal II. In this article we will visit the galleries associated with the book of Nahum and visualize the “rest of the story.”

    The Date of the Book of Nahum

    Scholars have long debated the date of the book of Nahum. A wide range of dates has been suggested, from the 8th century BC (Feinberg 1951:126,148) to the Maccabean period, early 2nd century BC (Haupt). Yet the book gives us internal chronological parameters in order to date the book. Nahum describes the conquest of Thebes (No-Amon) by Ashurbanipal II in 663 BC as a past event, thus the book could not have been written before that date. The entire book is a prediction of the fall of the city of Nineveh in 612 BC. Thus, the book was written somewhere between 663 and 612 BC.

    A case can be made for the proclamation of the message, and writing of the book, about 650 BC. If this is the correct date, the Spirit of God used this book to put King Manasseh into a position where he could come to faith and to bring Judah back to the LORD. Up until this point in the reign of King Manasseh, the kingdom, led by the king, was “more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel” (2 Chron. 33:9). The LORD sent seers (prophets) to speak to the nation, but the nation would not listen to the Word of God (33:10, 18). While not named, one of the seers was probably Nahum. His vision concerning the total destruction of Nineveh would be seen by the Assyrian overlords as fomenting rebellion and insurrection, and possibly seen as support for Shamash-shum-ukin, the king of Babylon, in his current civil war with his brother Ashurbanipal II. If a copy of the book of Nahum fell into the hands of the Assyrian intelligence community, King Manasseh would have had to give account for this book. The Biblical records state, “the LORD brought upon them [Judah] the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon” (2 Chron. 33:11). This event would have transpired in 648 BC, the year that Ashurbanipal II temporarily ruled Babylon after he eliminated his brother as a result of the four-year civil war (Rainey 1993: 160).

    Dragging someone off with hooks in their nose would be in keeping with Ashurbanipal’s character. In the excavations of Sam’al (Zincirli) a stela was found with Esarhaddon holding two leashes attached to the nose-rings of Baal of Tyre and Usanahuru, a crown prince of Egypt. Flanking the stela, watching intently, is Esarhaddon’s son, Ashurbanipal on the left and his brother Samas-sumu-ukin on the right. Ashurbanipal observed his fathers brutality and followed his example (Parpola and Watanabe 1988:20, 21).

    During Manasseh’s interrogation by Ashurbanipal II (and it must have been a brutal one, the text uses the word “afflicted”), he “implored the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received His entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God” (2 Chron. 33:12,13).

    Upon his return to Jerusalem, Manasseh began building projects in the city as well as elsewhere in Judah and removed the idols and altars he had placed in the Temple (2 Chron. 33:14-15). “He also repaired the altar of the LORD, sacrificed peace offerings and thanks offerings on it, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel” (33:16). This activity was in accord with what Nahum had challenged the people to do. “Behold, on the mountains the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! O Judah, keep your appointed feast, perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; he is utterly cut off” (1:15). The challenge was for Judeans to renew their pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the thrice-yearly feasts of Pesach (Passover), Shav’uot (Pentecost) and Succoth (Tabernacles) (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:22-24; Deut. 16:16, 17). There was also a command for the remnant that faithfully prayed to the Lord desiring to bring the nation back to Biblical worship and to bring the king to the Lord. They were to perform the vow they had made to the Lord. The Bible records a half-hearted attempt to return to Biblical worship. “Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed on the high places, but only to the LORD their God” (2 Chron. 33:17). The only true place of worship was the Temple in Jerusalem, not the high places.

    Nahum prophesied the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the sole superpower, at the zenith of Assyria’s power and glory. He boldly proclaimed a message that was not popular, nor “politically correct.” In fact, most Judeans would think his prediction of the downfall of Nineveh was impossible.

    The Reliefs From Ashurbanipal’s Palace in the British Museum

    Ashurbanipal II reigned in Nineveh from 668-631 BC. At the beginning of his reign he lived in Sennacherib’s “palace without rival.” Ashurbanipal refurbished the palace about 650 BC. In Room XXXIII, he placed his own wall reliefs. Ashurbanipal’s other major construction project was the North Palace for the crown prince (Russell 1999: 154).

    Nahum was from Elkosh (Nah. 1:1). Some scholars have suggested Elkosk was located at the village of Al-Qush, 25 miles north of modern day Mosul, a city that is across the Tigres River from Nineveh. These scholars take this position because: (1) the names are similar, (2) the local Christian tradition holds that Nahum was from there and his tomb was there, and (3) Nahum’s writings show his familiarity with the city of Nineveh. Some speculate that Nahum was an Israelite captive who lived in the area and was an eyewitness to the city.

    There is, however, another possibility. Elkosh was in southern Judah and Nahum was part of the Judean emissary that brought the yearly tribute from King Manasseh to Nineveh. While in Nineveh, he would have observed the broad roads (Nah. 2:4), walls (Nah. 2:5), gates (Nah. 2:6), temples and idols (1:14), and its vast wealth (2:9). I’m sure the minister of propaganda would have shown him the wall reliefs in Ashurbanipal’s residence. These reliefs were intended “as propaganda to impress, intimidate and instigate by representing the might of Assyrian power and the harsh punishment of rebels” (Comelius 1989: 56). Or as Esarhaddon would say, “For the gaze of all my foes, to the end of days, I set it [stela] up” (Luckenbill 1989: II: 227).

    Let us examine the reliefs found on the walls of Ashurbanipal’s palace and see how they illustrate the word-pictures used by Nahum in his book.

    Blasphemy against Assur (Nahum 1:14)

    In 650 BC, Nahum would have seen the newly opened Room XXXIII in the Southwest Palace of Nineveh (Sennacherib’s “palace without rival”) with the reliefs depicting the campaign against Teumman of Elam and Dunanu of Gambula in 653 BC. One particular relief would have caught his attention (WA 124802, Slab 4). On it, a pair of Elamite captives is being depicted as having their tongues pulled out and being flayed. The caption above stated, “Mr. (blank) and Mr. (blank) spoke great insults against Assur, the god, my creator. Their tongues I tore out, their skins I flayed” (Russell 1999: 180; Gerardi 1988: 31). These two individuals are identified in Ashurbanipal’s annals as Mannu-ki-ahhe and Nabu-usalli (Russell 1999: 163).

    It was with great boldness that Nahum proclaimed, “The LORD has given a command concerning you [the king of Assyria]: ‘Your name shall be perpetuated no longer. Out of the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and molded image. I will dig your grave, for you are vile'” (1:14). These words were a direct attack on Assur and the rest of the Assyrian deities, as well as the king. Yet Nahum boldly proclaimed the message God gave him, in spite of the potential threat to his life!

    Chariots, Not Volkswagens! (Nahum 2:3,4)

    The second chapter of Nahum describes the fall of the city of Nineveh to the Babylonians and Medes in 612 BC. He describes in detail the shields, chariots and spears of the Assyrian foes. While we do not have any contemporary Babylonian reliefs of their chariots, there are Assyrian reliefs of Assyrian chariots riding furiously. These chariots are depicted on the reliefs of the Assyrians attacking the Arabs.

    Nahum mentions the broad roads of Nineveh. Ashurbanipal’s grandfather, Sennacherib, was the one who improved the streets of Nineveh. In the “Bellino cylinder” he boasts, “I (Sennacherib) widened its (Nineveh’s) squares, made bright the avenues and streets and caused them to shine like the day” (1:61).

    In the context of the book, Nahum sees a vision of chariots in the streets of Nineveh, not Volkswagens, as some prophecy teachers have speculated!

    Take the Booty and Run! (Nahum 2:9,10)

    Nineveh was the Fort Knox of mid-7th century BC Mesopotamia. On every Assyrian campaign they always removed the silver, gold and precious stones and other items from the cities that they sacked. When they bragged about the booty that was taken, silver and gold always topped the list. As an example, after the fall of No-Amon (Thebes), Ashurbanipal bragged that he took: “Silver, gold, precious stones, the goods of his palace, all there was, brightly colored and linen garments, great horses, the people, male and female, two tall obelisks. … I removed from their positions and carried them off to Assyria. Heavy plunder, and countless, I carried away from Ni’ (Thebes)” (ARAB II: 296, para. 778). There are also reliefs of Assyrian scribes writing down the booty that was taken from other cities.

    In Nahum’s vision he saw someone say, “Take spoil of silver! Take spoil of gold! There is no end of treasure, or wealth of every desirable prize. She is empty, desolate and waste!” (2:9,10a). The Babylonian Chronicles (BM 21.901) described the spoils taken from Nineveh by the Babylonians and the Medes in these terms: “Great quantities of spoil from the city, beyond counting, they carried off” (ARAB II: 420, para. 1178).

    One of the excavators of Nineveh has commented, that there has been very little gold and silver found in the ruins of the city. The Medes and Babylonians “cleaned house” after they conquered the city, just like Nahum predicted.

    Diodorus, a Greek historian from Sicily, writing in the 1st century BC, described the final hours of the king of Nineveh, Sardanapallus, in these words: “In order that he might not fall into the hands of the enemy, he built and enormous pyre in his palace, heaped upon it all his gold and silver as well as every article of the royal wardrobe, and then … he consigned [his concubines and eunuchs] and himself and his palace to the flame” (Book 2. 27:2; LCL 1:441). Unfortunately the Babylonian account is broken at this point. It says, “On that day Sin-shar-ishkun, king of Assyria, fled from the city (?) …” (ARAB II: 420; para. 1178).

    If Diodorus is correct, the king of Assyria tried to take his wealth with him. At best, the gold and silver melted and were collected later. The Bible is clear that people cannot take their wealth with them to the afterlife, but it can be sent on ahead. The Lord Jesus admonishes His disciples to “lay up for themselves treasures in heaven” (Matt. 619-21).

    The Lion Hunt (Nahum 2:11-13)

    David Dorsey, in his outstanding book, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (1999:301-305), places the lion’s den verses (2:11-13) at the center of the book’s chiastic structure. In commenting on the pattern of the structure he says, “This progression underscores the certainty of Nineveh’s fall: Yahweh’s prophet not only believes that it will happen; he composes dirges as though it has already happened. The placement of the eulogy over the ‘lion’s den’ in the book’s highlighted central position reinforces this sense of certainty” (1999:304, italics mine).

    Nahum used the lion and lion hunt motifs that both the Judeans and Assyrians would have been well familiar. The Assyrians had a long history of depicting their king and warriors as mighty lions or great lion hunters (Johnston 2001:296-301). The Bible also depicts the Assyrian warriors as roaring lions (Isa. 5:29) and Yahweh as a lion who will tear up His prey and carry it off to His lair (Hosea 5:14, 15; 13:7, 8; Johnston 2001:294, 295).

    According to Ashurbanipal’s annals, at the beginning of his reign, two deities, Adad and Ea blessed the land of Assyria with plenty of rain. This rain caused the forests to thrive and the reeds in the marshes to flourish. This blessing resulted in a population explosion among the lions. They exerted their influence in the hills and on the plain by attacking herds of cattle, flocks of sheep and people. Many were killed (ARAB II: 363, para. 935). Ashurbanipal II, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, took charge of the lion hunts in order to control the lion population (ARAB II: 392, para. 1025).

    Ashurbanipal also engaged in lion hunting as a sport. Apparently lions were captured alive and put in cages in the king’s garden in Nineveh and used for staged lion hunts (Weissert 1997:339-358). One relief that was found in the North Palace at Nineveh and had apparently fallen into Room S from a second floor had three panels depicting a lion hunt. On the top panel, a lion is released from a cage and Ashurbanipal is shooting him with arrows. The central panel is interesting because it shows the bravery of the king. On the right side of the panel, soldiers are distracting a lion. On the left side, Ashurbanipal sneaks up and grabs the lion by the tail as he rears to his hind legs. [I dare anybody to try this stunt at a zoo today!] The inscription above says, “I, Ashurbanipal, king of the universe, king of Assyria, in my lordly sport I seized a lion of the plain by his tail and at the command of Urta, Nergal, the gods, my allies, I smashed his skull with the club of my hand” (ARAB II: 391, para. 1023). The king attributes his bravery to the deities. Dr. J. E. Reade, one of the keepers of the Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum has observed, “It is notable that much of the lion’s tail has been chipped away, so that the lion has been, as it were, set loose; this defacement was probably the action, at once humorous and symbolic, of some enemy soldier busy ransacking the palace in 612 B.C.” (Curtis and Reade 1995:87). On the lower panel, Ashurbanipal is pouring out a wine libation over the carcasses of four lions. In the inscription above, the king boasts of his power by saying, “I, Ashurbanipal, king of the universe, king of Assyria, whom Assur and Ninlil have endowed with surpassing might. The lions which I slew, – the terrible bow of Ishtar, lady of battle, I aimed at them. I brought an offering, I poured out wine over them” (ARAB II: 392, para. 1021). The king attributes his mighty power to the gods, Assur and Ninlil.

    In contrast, Ashurbanipal boasts that kings and lions are powerless before him. At the beginning of one of his annals (Cylinder F) he states, “Among men, kings, and among the beasts, lions (?) were powerless before my bow. I know (the art) of waging battle and combat. … A valiant hero, beloved of Assur and Ishtar, of royal lineage, am I” (ARAB II: 347, para. 896). Ashurbanipal has tied his lion hunting and military conquests together in one statement.

    In the vision of Nahum concerning Nineveh, Nahum asks a rhetorical question, “Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion walked, the lioness and lion’s cub, and no one made them afraid?” (2:11). He sees Nineveh as a lions den that has been destroyed and the lions are gone. The “prey” in verse 12 is apparently the booty that the Assyrians have taken from all the cities they conquered in recent memory. In verse 13, the LORD states directly, “Behold, I am against you. I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messenger shall be heard no more.” The phrase “the sword shall devour your young lions” draws our attention to another relief showing Ashurbanipal thrusting a sword through a lion. The inscription associate with this relief says, “I, Ashurbanipal, king of the universe, king of Assyria, in my lordly sport, they let a fierce lion of the plain out of the cage and on foot … I stabbed him later with my iron girdle dagger and he died” (ARAB II: 392, para. 1024).

    The book of Nahum sets forth an ironic reversal of the Assyrian usage of the lion motif. Dr. Gordon Johnston has observed, “The extended lion metaphor in Nahum 2:11-13 includes the two major varieties of the Neo-Assyrian lion motif: the depiction of the Assyrian king and his warriors as mighty lions, and the royal lion hunt theme. While the Assyrians kept these two motifs separate, Nahum dovetailed the two, but in doing so he also reversed their original significance. While the Assyrian warriors loved to depict themselves as mighty lions hunting their prey, Nahum pictured them as lions that would be hunted down. The Assyrian kings also boasted that they were mighty hunters in royal lion hunts; Nahum pictured them as the lion being hunted in the lion hunt. By these reversals Nahum created an unexpected twist on Assyrian usage. According to Nahum the Assyrians were like lions, to be sure; however, not in the way that they depicted themselves: rather than being like lions on the prowl for prey, the hunters would become the hunted!” (2001: 304).

    Nahum was keenly aware of the culture that he was writing to and was able to effectively use it to convey a powerful message from the Lord.

    Nineveh, a Bloody City (Nahum 3:1)

    Nahum pronounced “woe to the bloody city (of Nineveh)” (3:1). The city and the Assyrian Empire had a well-earned reputation for being bloody. Just a casual glance at the reliefs in the British Museum from the palaces of Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal show the “gory and bloodcurdling history as we know it” (Bleibtreu 1991:52). There are reliefs with people being impaled, decapitated, flayed, tongues pulled out, making people grind the bones of their dead ancestors, even vultures plucking out the eyes of the dead!

    One panel graphically shows the disrespect for human life. On it, a commander is presenting a bracelet to an Assyrian soldier who had decapitated the five or six heads at his feet. There are two scribes behind him recording the event. This bracelet, perhaps a medal of valor, is worth five or six lives! In Assyrian thinking, life was cheap.

    Countless Corpse (Nahum 3:3)

    There is an old adage that says, “What goes around, comes around.” The Bible would use an agricultural metaphor, “You reap what you sow” (cf. Gal. 6:7). This is true in the geo-political realm as well as the personal realm. The Assyrians, over their long history, were brutal and barbaric people. Yet there came a point in history where God said, “Enough is enough,” and He removed the offending party (Nahum 2:13; 3:4).

    Nineveh fell in 612 BC, yet is wasn’t until the 1989 and 1990 seasons of the University of California, Berkeley excavations in the Halzi Gate that graphic evidence of the final battle of Nineveh was revealed. Upwards to 16 bodies were excavated in the gate, all slain (Stronach and Lumsden 1992: 227-233; Stronach 1997: 315-319). Archaeological excavations have vividly confirmed the words of the Biblical text. “Horsemen charge with bright sword and glittering spear. There is a multitude of slain, a great number of bodies, countless corpses – they stumble over the corpses” (Nahum 3:3).

    The Fall of No-Amon (Thebes) (Nahum 3:8-11)

    Nahum taunts the Assyrians for trusting in their fortifications for protection and security. Nineveh was a heavily fortified city, yet the Lord had decreed its demise.

    He asked rhetorically, “Are you better than No-Amon (Thebes) that was situated by the (Nile) River, that had the waters around her, whose rampart was the sea, whose wall was the sea?” (3:8). No-Amon is the Egyptian word for “city of (the deity) Amon” commonly known today by its Greek name, Thebes.

    Esarhaddon had taken Egypt on his second invasion in 671 BC. When he died, the Egyptians revolted and Ashurbanipal went to Egypt to put down this revolt. He cleared the Delta of the Cushites (Ethiopians) in 667/666 BC and the Cushite ruler, Taharqa fled to No-Amon. On Ashurbanipal’s first campaign against Egypt, he took 22 kings from the seacoast, with their armies, to help him fight the Egyptians. Ashurbanipal claims that he “made those kings with their forces (and) their ships accompany me by sea and by land” (Rainey 1993:157). One of those kings was Manasseh, king of Judah, with his army. On his second campaign, he went to No-Amon and defeated the city and razed it in 663 BC. There were Judeans in the Assyrian army that saw this event. When they heard or read the words of Nahum they would have been encouraged. The Assyrians were able to defeat a strong and impermeable No-Amon, and God would now fulfill His Word and Nineveh will fall.

    Ashurbanipal had a relief of the fall of No-Amon. It is labeled “an Egyptian fortress” in the British Museum. Yadin cautiously states, “The crowning achievement of Ashurbanipal’s expeditionary force to Egypt was the capture and destruction of Thebes ‘of the hundred gates’ (the Egyptian capital during the XXVth Dynasty) in the year 663 BC. It is most probable that this is the event which the Assyrian artist depicted in such detail here in his portrayal of an attack on an Egyptian city” (1963:462). If this is the case, we have a very graphic illustration of the Biblical text. The top of the relief has the Assyrians besieging the city with ladders, soldiers undermining the walls and a soldier torching the gate. A close examination of the defenders reveals that there are two ethnic groups defending the city. One group with the Negroid features is the Ethiopians and the others are the Egyptians. Nahum said, “Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength. And it was boundless” (3:9a).

    On the left of the relief, above the Nile River, are Ethiopian captives being taken out of No-Amon. A careful examination of these captives reveals chains on their ankles. Nahum prophesized, “Yet she was carried away, she went into captivity. … They cast lots for her honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains” (3:10).

    Another remarkable illustration of the Biblical text is the group of twelve Egyptians to the right side of the relief awaiting their fate on the banks of the Nile River. As I stared at the group I noticed three children. Two were seated on the donkey and one was on the shoulder of his father. I could not help but wonder if these children knew the fate that awaited them. The words of the prophet were, “Her young children also were dashed to pieces at the head of every street” (3:10). Thankfully the Assyrian artist did not have the audacity to carve this scene on the relief!

    An interesting side note should be mentioned. Manasseh was with Ashurbanipal II when he conquered No-Amon, the city of the deity Amon, in 663 BC. That was the year that a son was born to him, the future king of Judah, Ammon. Apparently Manasseh named his son after the Egyptian deity Amon. This is consistent with Manasseh’s character of following after other gods. But why an Egyptian god and not an Assyrian one, I do not know.

    The Fig Trees and the Forts (Nahum 3:12)

    After asking Nineveh, “Are you better than No-Amon?” Nahum proceeds to describe the rapid fall of the cities and fortressed surrounding Nineveh. He says, “All your strongholds are fig trees with ripened figs: if they are shaken, they will fall into the mouth of the eater” (3:13). When the figs are ripe, they drop easily from the tree when shaken. This is a word-picture that the Ninevites knew from personal experience. Figs were common in Nineveh, as attested to by their appearance on reliefs.

    A Locust at the Banquet (Nahum 3:15b-17)

    One of the most pathetic reliefs in Ashurbanipal’s palace is one of a royal banquet that commemorated the defeat of the king’s most hated foe, Teumman, the king of Elam. On this relief, Ashurbanipal is reclining on a couch under a grape vine in his garden sipping wine with his consort. There are servants around them with fans, while other servants are bringing food and playing musical instruments. From Ashurbanipal’s vantage point on the couch he could gaze on the trophy head of the Elamite king hanging from a ring in the fir tree.

    In a warped perversion of a Biblical description of peace, that of every man sitting under his vine and fig tree (Micah 4:1-4), this relief commemorated the cessation of war with the Elamites after nine years. Ashurbanipal attributes his victory to “the Assyrian pantheon, and in particular, the deities Ashur and Ishtar of Arbela. Thus the human head may be viewed as more than a memorial to a successful battle; it is symbolic of a major threat to the Assyrian throne, a threat that was decisively eliminated through divine might” (Albenda 1977:35). Yet Micah says that real peace will come when the nations go to the LORD’s House in Jerusalem and worship Him. Then “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nations, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Micah 4:3).

    There is one detail in this relief that should not be missed. In the upper left hand corner is one locust sitting on top of a palm tree. To its right is a bird swooping down as if to catch it. One art historian describes the scene this way: “Related to this is the image of a locust alight upon an upper branch of a tree, a short distance from the severed head of Teumman. A bird sweeps down toward the insect as if to devour it. This apparently minor detail may have special meaning, for in the annals Ashurbanipal describes the Elamites as a ‘dense swarm of grasshoppers’ [ARAB II: 329, para. 855]. Within this context, the locust may signify the last vestige of a once dreadful enemy, now virtually eliminated” (Albenda 1977:31,32).

    At the end of the book of Nahum we have another reversal of fortune. Instead of the Elamites being the locusts, the Assyrians are, and they are about to be eliminated! But Nahum does not describe the destructive aspects of the locust plague, but rather, the flight of the locusts after they have done their damage. In Nahum 3:17 he states, “Your commanders are like swarming locusts, and your generals like great grasshoppers, which camp in the hedges on a cold day; when the sun arises they flee away, and the place where they are is not known.”

    One of the pioneer Israeli biologists, Prof. F. S. Bodenheimer, puts this aspect of Nahum’s mention of locusts in scientific terms. He describes his observations of the body temperature of the Desert Locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) in the fifth hopper stage thus, “Since dawn the locusts had been turning their bodies towards the rays of the sun to ‘drink’ the maximum of heat. Intensive migration set in only when the body temperature had reached about 40 degrees C. This utilization of sun radiation we called heliothermy” (1959:202). He attributes the first mention of heliothermy to Nahum (1959:201).

    The Fall of Nineveh

    Prior to the beginning of the 20th century, commentators discussed the date for the fall of Nineveh. The possibilities for this event ranged from 716 to 709 BC. In 1923, C. J. Gadd published a tablet from Babylon in the possession of the British Museum. The tablet was called the “Babylonian Chronicles” (BM 21.901) and it covered the years 616-609 BC, or the 10th to the 17th year of Nabopolasser, king of Babylon. The annals place the fall of Nineveh in the 14th year of his reign, the year 612 BC. This event provides the student of history with an absolute chronological peg for Biblical and Assyrian history.


    We have journeyed through the halls of the British Museum in this article pointing out the reliefs and objects that help to illustrate the text of the small, yet important book, of Nahum. My hope is that this discussion has helped make the Biblical text “come alive” and has given the student of the Scriptures a more accurate visual aid to the Bible.


    Albenda, P.
    1977 Landscape Bas-Reliefs in the Bit Hilani of Ashurbanipal. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 225: 29-48.

    Bleibtreu, E.
    1991 Grisly Assyrian Record of Torture and Death. Biblical Archaeology Review 17/1:52-61,75.

    Bodenheimer, F.
    1959 A Biologist in Israel. Jerusalem: Biological Studies.

    Comelius, I.
    1989 The Image of Assyria: An Iconographic Approach by Way of a Study of Selected Material on the Theme of “Power and Propaganda” in the Neo-Assyrian Palace Reliefs. Old Testament Essays 2: 55-74.

    Curtis, J., and Reade, J.
    1995 Art and Empire. Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum. London: British Museum.

    Diodorus Siculus
    1998 Library of History. Book I-II.34. Vol. 1. Trans. C. Oldfather. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library.

    Dorsey, D.
    1999 The Literary Structure of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker.

    Feinberg, C.
    1951 Jonah, Micah and Nahum. The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets. New York: American Board of Missions to the Jews.

    Gerardi, P.
    1988 Epigraphs and Assyrian Palace Reliefs: The Development of the Epigraphic Text. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 40: 1-35.

    Johnston, G.
    2001 Nahum’s Rhetorical Allusions to the Neo-Assyrian Motif. Bibliotheca Sacra 158: 287-307.

    Luckenbill, D. D.
    1988 Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia. London: Histories and Mysteries of Man (ARAB).

    Masters, P.
    2000 A Tour of Biblical Evidence in the British Museum. Bible and Spade 13/2: 35-55.

    Mitchell, T. C.
    1988 The Bible in the British Museum. Interpreting the Evidence. London: British Museum.

    Parpola, S., and Watanabe, K.
    1988 Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths. State Archives of Assyria. Vol. 2. Helsinki: Helsinki University.

    Rainey, A.
    1993 Manasseh, King of Judah, in the whirlpool of the Seventh Century B.C.E. Pp. 147-164 in kinattutu sa darati. Raphael Kutscher Memorial Volume. A. Rainey, ed. Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University.

    Russell, J.
    1999 The Writing on the Wall. Studies in the Architectural Context of Late Assyrian Palace Inscriptions. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.

    Stronach, D.
    1997 Notes on the Fall of Nineveh. Pp. 307-324 in Assyria 1995. Eds. S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting. Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.

    Stronach, D., and Lumsden, S.
    1992 UC Berkeley’s Excavations at Nineveh. Biblical Archaeologist 55/4: 227-233.

    Ussishkin, D.
    1982 The Siege of Lachish by Sennacherib. Tel Aviv: Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University.

    Weissert, E.
    1997 Royal Hunt and Royal Triumph in a Prism Fragment of Ashurbanipal (82-5-22.2). Pp. 339-358 in Assyria 1995. S. Parpola and R. Whiting, eds. Helsinki: Neo-Assyrian Text Corpus Project.

    Yadin, Y.
    1963 The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands. Vol. 2. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Posted by Gordon Franz @ 8:22 pm

Comments are closed.