The History and Proponents of the Theory
    In 1858, G. Rawlinson first introduced the idea that Sennacherib invaded Judah on two occasions (1884: 1: 584, footnote 454). Since then, scholars have been divided on this issue. The leading proponents for two campaigns are Albright (1953: 4-11; 1956: 23-27), Bright (1981: 278-288, 298-309), Fullerton (1906: 577-634). Horn (1966: 1-28), and Shea (1980: 26-28; 1985: 401-418). There are others, but these are the main proponents (Rowley 1962: 405-406).

    This section will define this theory, set forth the arguments and show their weaknesses. Special attention will be given to Dr. Bill Shea’s recent article (1985).

    There are variations within this theory regarding the order of events and date of each campaign (Honor 1966: xiii-xiv). However, a basic outline can be set forth. The year 701 BC was the “fourteenth year” of King Hezekiah and the third campaign of Sennacherib. In this year, Sennacherib destroyed “all the cities of Judah” (2 Kings 18:13), which he numbered as 46 strong-walled cities, but he spared Jerusalem because he extracted tribute from her. The records of these events are found in 2 Kings 18:13-16 and 2 Kings 20, as well as Sennacherib’s Annals.

    The second campaign occurred around 688/7 BC (Shea 1985: 417) and is recorded in 2 Kings 18:17-19:36. During this campaign, Sennacherib encountered an Egyptian army led by Tirhakah, King of Ethiopia; and he suffered some sort of setback in Jerusalem. Unfortunately there are no clearly dated Assyrian inscriptions describing this campaign.¹  There is an undated mention of an Arabian campaign late in the reign of Sennacherib, but whether he campaigned against Judah at this time is uncertain (Honor 1966: 12).

    The date for the campaign by Tirhakah against the Assyrians is probably the strongest argument the “two campaign” theory has. Based on the Kawa stela published by Macadam (1949), the second campaign must have taken place sometime after 690 BC because Tirhakah did not become king of Ethiopia (and Egypt) until then (Albright 1953: 8-11; Horn 1966: 1-11). Furthermore, Tirhakah could not have led the army in 701 BC because he was only 9 years old! A renewed look, however, at the Kawa stela has shown that Tirhakah was at least 20 years old in 701 BC and could easily have led the campaign with the aid of his generals (Kitchen 1986: 154-172, 383-391; 1973: 225-233; Rainey 1976: 38-41).

    Even if Tirhakah led the army in 701 BC, another problem arises. In the Biblical record, he is called “King of Cush (Ethiopia)” (2 Kings 19:9; Isa. 37:9). How could he be called king when he has yet to be crowned? Kitchen points to a universal literary device called back-referencing, or prolepsis. In fact, the Kawa Stela IV, which has raised this problem, is a good contemporary example of this device. It is stated of Tirhakah, “Now His Majesty was in Nubia, being a goodly youth and a king’s brother pleasant of love, and he came north to Thebes among the goodly youths whom His Majesty King Shebitku had sent to fetch from Nubia” (Macadam 1949: 15). When this event transpired, Tirhakah was not king, yet he is called “His Majesty.” A phrase used solely of kings and gods. Kitchen goes on to give a modern illustration of prolepsis by the statement, “Queen Elisabeth II was born in 1926.” When she was born, she was not queen, but a princess. This device also explains why the writer of Kings and Isaiah called Sennacherib “King of Assyrian” in 713/12 BC, even though he was not yet king. When the account was written down sometime in the late 690’s or 680’s BC, Sennacherib was presently, or had been, king of Assyria. This points to the writers of these books being contemporary with the events.

    The evidence for Tirhakah being old enough to lead an army against Assyria in 701 BC is sufficient, thus taking away one of the main arguments of the two campaign theory.

    A “Rejoined” Assyrian Text
    Nedav Na’aman recently rejoined two Assyrian texts, one attributed to Sargon II and the other to Tiglath-pileser III, and determined that the text belonged, in fact, to Sennacherib (1974: 25-39). This text gave a detailed account of the beginning of the campaign against Judah in 701 BC and described the conquest of Azekah and another city, a royal Philistine city which was captured by Hezekiah, probably Gath.

    Shea uses this text to prove an alleged second campaign later than 701 BC (1985: 405-407). He points out that Sennacherib’s god Ashur is spelled in the Babylonian form, Anshar. This form was employed by Sennacherib only after he conquered Babylon in 689 BC. Na’aman recognized this as a serious problem for those who hold to a single 701 BC campaign, yet he leaves this problem unresolved (1974: 31).

    A detailed study of one of the fragments was first published by Hayim Tadmor in 1958. The name Anshar and the “Letter to God” style prompted him to date this fragment to the reign of Sargon II (1958: 80-64). In his article he lists a number of examples in Sargonic texts where Anshar is used (1958: 82). He also notes the style is similar to another “Letter to God” describing Sargon’s campaign to Urartu in 714 BC (1958: 82).

    An impasse has been reached on the dating of this rejoined fragment. Na’aman recognizes the serious difficulties in placing it in 701 BC. Shea could be correct in dating it after the fall of Babylon in 689 BC. However, it is entirely possible that the fragment was written by Tartan Sennacherib when he campaigned in Judah for Sargon in 713/12 BC, the “fourteenth year” of Hezekiah (See chapter V for details). A more exact date cannot be reached unless the rest of the text is found and rejoined.

    Hydraulic Engineering
    Shea notes in the account in Kings and Isaiah, one of the boasts of Sennacherib is, “I dug wells and drank foreign waters, and with the sole of my feet I dried up all the rivers of Egypt” (2 Kings 19:24; Isa. 37:25; Shea 1985: 407-408). Recently, H. Tawil has re-identified the “rivers of Egypt” (ye’ore masor) with the water conduits built by Sennacherib in 694 BC, which flowed from Mount Musri to Nineveh (1982: 195-206). If his identification is accepted, it has far-reaching implications for the date of Isaiah’s speech. He could not have given it in 701 BC because the conduits were not built until 694 BC. Thus, the speech by Isaiah must have been during the alleged second campaign which took place after 694 BC.

    Tawil, in this author’s opinion, does not give conclusive evidence that the “masor” is really Mt. Musri. Interestingly, in Akkadian, the word for Egypt and (Mount) Musri are the same. Tawil objects to this identification with Egypt on spelling and historical grounds, the historical reason being that Sennacherib never invaded Egypt.

    Calderone, in an article on the rivers of “masor” (1961: 423-432) points out that the identification of “masor” with Egypt is, at best, a 12th century tradition (1961: 423). He goes on to suggest that the word is an enclitic mem and should be translated “rivers of the mountains, or the rock” (1961: 425).

    If this translation is correct, then in Isaiah 19:6b the “channels of the rock” could refer to the cataracts of the Upper Nile (1961: 428). That being the case, verse 5 and 6 could be describing a drought in the whole Nile River system: “And the waters from the sea (the Delta region at flood stage) will dry up, and the river (main course of the Nile) will be parched and dry. And the rivers (main courses of Upper Egypt, the Blue and While Nile and Atbara) will emit a stench; the “streams of Egypt” (cataracts of the Upper Nile) will emit a stench” (1961: 429). The context of Isaiah 18-20 is the oracles concerning Cush (Ethiopia) and Egypt, so it would make sense that the whole Nile River is in view (1961: 430).

    The suggestion of Tawil, that ye’ore masor represents the conduits from Mt. Musri, seems to lack support. Calderone’s hypothesis, that this phrase represents the cataracts of the Upper Nile, fits nicely with the context of Isaiah 19. If this hypothesis is accepted, the spelling problem which Tawil envisioned has been removed by the enclitic mem. The historical problem could also be resolved.

    In Isaiah’s speech (2 Kings 19:21-28), he accused Sennacherib of blaspheming the Lord. Among other things, Sennacherib claimed he dried up the Nile River. Historically, Isaiah 19 describes a severe drought which took place sometime between 720 and 710 BC. Sennacherib, as Tartan, heard of it while he was in the area of Philistia in 713/12 BC. In the year 701 BC, he took credit for this phenomenon. Such blasphemy! It was Yahweh who caused it (Isa. 19:1; Kitchen 1986: 553).²

    The speech of Isaiah in 2 Kings 19:21-28 should be placed in 701 BC rather than during the alleged “second campaign” after the conduit was built. No pun intended, but Tawil’s conduit theory does not hold water!

    The Re-dated Tirhakah Inscription

    Recently, an inscription which was attributed to Sheshonk I (Shishak) was re-examined by P. Vernus and attributed to Tirhakah (Shea 1985: 413-415). A. Spalinger used this inscription as a basis for an article on Tirhakah’s foreign policy toward western Asia (1978: 22-47).

    This inscription is a long poetic speech by Tirhakah to his patron god, Amun. In it he describes his coronation and the unusual overflowing of the Nile River in the “6th year.” Then he turns his attention to some failure, dealing with his loss of control of the Asiatic lands. Tirhakah is at fault, yet he will not blame himself or Amun. On one line, Tirhakah says to Amun, “Let me do it with your tribute of Khor (Syria-Palestine) which has been turned aside from you” (1978: 30). Tirhakah goes on to ask Amun if he should press on with another attack to Khor.

    Vernus places this reversal somewhere between 677-674 BC, most likely when Esarhaddon carried out his subjugation of Phoenicia in 677/6 BC. Spalinger says the inscription must be dated before 675 BC because Tirhakah mounted a counter-offensive against Esarhaddon in 674/3 BC. Shea objects to both ideas because “the relevant Assyrian texts make no mention of any contact with Egyptian troops during either of these campaigns” (1985: 414). Shea goes on to argue that Tirhakah’s reversal came when he met Sennacherib sometime during his “second campaign,” ca. 688/7 BC (1985: 415-417).

    There are at least two problems with Shea’s view. First, the reversal of Tirhakah had to take place after the “6th year” when there was an unusually high inundation of the Nile River. This year, according to Kitchen, was ca. 685 BC (1986: 388). The second problem is that the inscription mentions the tribute of Khor which has been turned aside. It says nothing of the Assyrians (Spalinger 1978: 43).³  It is possible that there was a revolt of just Judah, Philistia, and Phoenicia, with no opposition from Assyria. The date for this reversal cannot be ascertained with certainty (Kitchen 1986: 558; Yurco 1980: 240, footnote 246). However, it is certain that it cannot be dated to Sennacherib’s alleged 688/7 BC campaign.

    Two campaigns, the first in 701 BC and the second in 688/7 BC, by Sennacherib have been proposed to reconcile some of the problems between the Biblical records and the histories of Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon. Unfortunately, Sennacherib’s annals post-dating 689 BC have not been found (if they exist at all), thus no extra-Biblical sources exist to substantiate this theory.

    One of the biggest problems to resolve for those holding one campaign in 701 BC is Tirhakah, king of Cush (Ethiopia). He was not crowned king until 690 BC. The two campaign theory nicely reconciles this problem by placing Tirhakah during the second campaign, after he became king. However, recent studies have shown that he was at least 20 years of age in 701 BC and fully capable of leading an army. The fact that he is called “king” in the Biblical narrative is due to the use of a literary device called prolepsis, which is also used in Egyptian records.

    Several arguments in Dr. Shea’s recent article were examined. In it, he re-dated a recently rejoined Assyrian text to post-690 BC. This was done primarily based on the use of the Babylonian form of Sennacherib’s god’s name, Anshar. However, it is possible that this text belongs to the Sargonic period and was written by Sennacherib in 713/12 BC. Thus, this text cannot be used as absolute proof of a second campaign after 690 BC.

    Shea favorably reviewed H. Tawil’s suggestion that the “rivers of Egypt” mentioned in 2 Kings 19:24 and Isa. 37:25 were actually the conduits which brought water to Nineveh from Mount Musri. The construction of these conduits was completed in 694 BC. Thus, Isaiah could not mention this in 701 BC. Based on the word usage in Isa. 19, the “rivers of Egypt” were the cataracts in the Upper Nile. Sennacherib apparently heard that the Nile dried up when he was campaigning in Philistia in 713/12 BC When he returned in 701 BC, he blasphemed the Lord, taking credit for drying up the Nile, rather than giving it to Yahweh. If there is no connection between the “rivers of Egypt” and the conduits from Mount Musri, then the evidence for the second campaign is weakened.

    Finally, a re-dated text belonging to Tirhakah, in which he mentions a military reversal in Palestine, is used to support a second campaign. Yet a careful reading of that text places it after the sixth year of Tirhakah (ca. 685 BC), thus too late to be the second campaign about 688/7 BC.

    The evidence for two campaigns, the first in 701 BC and the second after 690 BC, is wanting and fits another reconstruction much better.


    [1] Shea (1985: 404-407) tries to redate a recently rejoined inscription to this campaign. As will be shown, this is not certain.

    [2] Kitchen considers the “drying up the Nile” to be a metaphor referring to the defeat of the Egypto-Nubian force at Eltekeh.

    [3] Contrary to Spalinger who states “only the Assyrians can be the enemy.”

    Posted by Gordon Franz @ 8:00 pm

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