by Gordon Franz
The Significance of this Study
Sennacherib’s campaign(s) against the land of Judah during the reign of King Hezekiah has created much debate among Bible scholars. Yet few Biblical events are as well attested as this one. It is recounted in several places in the Biblical records as well as on a number of cuneiform inscriptions from Assyria. Josephus, the 1st century AD Jewish historian, wrote a free rendering of the Biblical narratives by trying to smooth over the apparent discrepancies in the text as well and including information which he had gleaned from Herodotus, the Greek historian.
It seems that each generation of Biblical scholars has produced an abundance of articles, monographs, and books on this subject, each trying to grapple with new material as it becomes available or recapitulate old theories, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses. The motivations of the scholars varied from person to person. Some sought to harmonize the sources, while others threw up their hands in despair saying it cannot be done. There are others who labeled these accounts as fictitious or legendary.
The importance of this study lies primarily in developing a chronological sequence of events based on the primary sources, the Biblical and Assyrian records, along with results from various excavations that have been conducted in Israel in the past half century.
The Introduction to the Problem
The account of Sennacherib’s invasion(s) is recorded in 2 Kings 18:13-19:35. A similar account is found in Isaiah 36-37, with the exception of three verses which have been omitted (2 Kings 18:14-16). An abbreviated version is found in 2 Chronicles 32:1-22.
In an attempt to harmonize the Biblical sources with themselves, as well as with extra-Biblical sources, various reconstructions have been proposed. Leo Honor, in his dissertation on this subject, has pointed out six different reconstructions proposed by various scholars to understand these accounts (1966: xiii-xiv). Basically there are two major theories each with variations.
The “Two-Campaign” reconstruction suggests that there were two separate invasions by Sennacherib, the first in 701 BC and corresponding to Sennacherib’s third campaign listed in his annals, and the second campaign sometime between 690 and 686 BC. The first campaign, recorded in 2 Kings 18:13-16, resulted in an Assyrian victory with Hezekiah submitting to Assyrian sovereignty and paying tribute to them. The second campaign, recorded in 2 Kings 18:17ff., and the parallel accounts, resulted in an unexpected Assyrian setback with Jerusalem being delivered.
The “One-Campaign” reconstruction places all the events recorded in the historical narratives in the year 701 BC. The variations within this view range from the campaign being a complete success for Assyria to success in the beginning and defeat at the end.
The Purpose of this Thesis
The primary purpose of this thesis is to reexamine the two major reconstructions. In so doing, Honor’s lament will be reconfirmed. “… that such an analysis will indicate the impossibility, in our present state of knowledge, of coming to an definitive conclusions in regards to the reconstruction of the events we are considering, and that all our conclusions must remain hypothetical in character until some new evidence will come to light, which will settle some moot question once for all” (1966: xiv; Italics Honor’s).
Brevard Childs concludes his monograph Isaiah and the Assyrian Crisis by stating that “the historical problems have not been solved” (1967: 120). He then goes on to declare, “In terms of the specific historical problem of 701, it seems unlikely that a satisfactory historical solution will be forthcoming without fresh extra-biblical evidence” (1967: 120). It is always an archaeologist’s dream to uncover written inscriptions. Realistically, however, such discoveries are few and far between. The solution lies, not in waiting for that rare discovery, but in a re-analysis of the sources and evidence which we do possess.
It is the author’s presupposition that the Biblical text should be taken as reliable historical documents. When there is a discrepancy between the Biblical text and the extra-Biblical texts, the Biblical text should not be interpreted in light of the extra-Biblical text, but rather, taken at face value. The extra-Biblical texts should also be taken at face value, except where it is obvious that the author is exaggerating. Emendations not supported by ancient witnesses should be avoided and all possible avenues should be examined in an attempt to harmonize both the Biblical and extra-Biblical sources.
The Plan of the Thesis
Chapter two will deal with the strengths and weaknesses of the “Two-Campaign” reconstruction by closely examining some recent arguments set forth by the proponents of this idea. Then attention will be turned to the “One-Campaign” reconstruction in chapter three. Since both reconstructions have serious weaknesses, chapter four will set forth a new proposal. Finally, chapter five will suggest some of the implications of this thesis for Biblical studies.