The name "Assyria" is the Greek form of the native "Asshur," the city on the west of the Tigris, near its confluence with the Lower Zab, from which the kingdom, and finally the empire, of Assyria was named. Assyria's relations to the people of Israel are of chief concern in this article; yet a brief statement is necessary regarding its position among the nations of the ancient East, in whose history it is such an important factor.Rise of Assyria.
After the city of Asshur had been founded at an unknown early date, perhaps by colonists from Babylonia, the settlement gradually spread till it extended to the mountains of Kurdistan forming the historical eastern boundary of the kingdom, which stretched along both sides of the Tigris. During the long period when Babylonia controlled the whole of the region from the Persian gulf to the Mediterranean sea, Assyria was its dependent. But about the sixteenth century
(1) a. Ahab, son of Omri, while usually subject to Damascus, gains some relief through an Assyrian invasion under Shalmaneser II. about 854
(2) a. Tiglath-pileser III. (Pul) reorganizes the Assyrian empire, and carries out the policy of progressive reduction of western Asia. Subject states are spared complete extinction only on condition of submitting to severe terms of probation to test their fidelity to Assyria's rule. Northern and middle Syria are annexed (743-738
(3) a. Sargon II. (722-705
The Medians, assisted by the Chaldeans, finally destroy Nineveh and divide the empire between them. Before the catastrophe, Pharaoh Necho II. of Egypt invades Syria. Josiah of Judah (639-608), who proceeds against him, is slain at Megiddo.
The official and to some extent the popular religion of Judah was greatly affected by Assyrian influence, especially under Ahaz and Manasseh.Assyria and the O. T. Literature.
Assyria occupies a prominent place both in the historical and in the prophetical literature of the Old Testament. The narrators were well informed as to the Assyrian events to which they refer; and are most discerning and explicit in regard to occasions on which the religion of Israel was influenced by Assyria, as in the innovations introduced by Ahaz and Manasseh (II Kings xvi. 18; xxiii. 11, 12), or when a great deliverance was wrought, as under Hezekiah (II Kings xviii., xix.), or when Israel's independence or actual existence was imperiled (II Kings xv. 29, xvii.). Since the historians wrote under the influence of the view of Hebrew history taken by the Prophets, Assyria is regarded by them from the prophetic point of view. But the Hebrew narrative is usually so objective that any higher purpose involved in the part played by the Assyrians is not specially indicated, except in the general statement with regard to the guilt of Samaria (II Kings xvii. 7 et seq.).Assyria and the Prophets.
The Prophets, on the other hand, are international, or rather world-wide, seers, and connect all events as they occur with the controlling divine purpose. In their theory of affairs, while Israel as the chosen people was always the special object of the Lord's care and interest, the other nations are not beyond His regard; and their political and military movements which concern the weal of Israel are made to subserve His purpose and the establishment of His kingdom. This general conception explains the watchfulness with which the Prophets viewed the gradual advance of the Assyrian empire to the secure possession of Syria and Palestine. Indeed, it may be said that in a certain sense the Assyrian policy occasioned Hebrew written prophecy.
Amos, the first of the literary prophets who proclaimed the active sovereignty of the Lord over the nations of the earth (Amos ix. 7), based his warnings to his people on the ground that God was to raise up against them a nation that would carry them captive beyond Damascus and lay waste their whole country (v. 27, vi. 14); indicating that the Assyrians were to take the place in the discipline of Israel formerly held by the Arameans of Damascus, and to outdo them in the work of punishment. This attitude toward Israel with its threat of a national catastrophe was consistently maintained by succeeding prophets until the end of the Assyrian empire.Amos, Hosea, and Micah.
As political complications increased, the Prophets were led to play not merely a theoretical but a practical part. In their capacity as political mentors they rebuked their people for intriguing with Assyria (Hosea v. 13, viii. 9), and foretold the consequence (viii. 10; ix. 3, 17; x. 5 et seq.). They thus assumed a twofold attitude toward the great Assyrian problem. On the one hand, it was necessary to warn their people against entanglement with Assyria, because (1) it would only result more surely in their absorption by the stronger power, and (2) it would bring Israel under religious as well as political subjection to the suzerain power. On the other hand, it was equally necessary to point out the inevitable loss of home and country at the hands of the Assyrian invaders. When the prophetic lessons had been thrown away upon northern Israel, and Samaria had become an Assyrian province, the admonition was impressed more strongly than ever upon the kingdom of Judah (Micah i.; Isa. xxviii.). When, under Tiglath-pileser I., Sargon, and Sennacherib, Judah, after the first false step of Ahaz (II Kings xvi. 7), became bound hand and foot to Assyria, and her end seemed near, it was the task of Isaiah to show how these antithetic points of view were reconciled in the great doctrine of God's justice supreme overall. That is to say, divine justice was bringing Israel under the Assyrian rod, and would finally call the oppressor himself to account when his allotted work should be done (Isa. x. 5 et seq.).Isaiah and Nahum.
The scourging of Judah and Jerusalem by Sennacherib, and the retreat of his plague-stricken army (II Kings xviii., xix.), were partial demonstration of the truth of the prophetic word, which was fully vindicated at last by the destruction of Nineveh and the fall of Assyria (Nahum). See the articles Assyriology and the Old Testament; Archeology, Biblical.
- Geography: Schrader, K. G. F. Giessen, 1878;
- Delitzsch, Wo Lag das Paradies? Leipsic, 1881;
- Delattre, L'Asie Occidentale dans les Inscriptions Assyriennes, Brussels, 1885;
- A. Billerbeck, Das Sandschak Suleimana, Leipsic, 1898.
- History: Tiele, Babylonisch-Assyrische Gesch. Gotha, 1886-88;
- Hommel, Gesch. Babyloniens und Assyriens, Berlin, 1885-88;
- Winckler, Gesch. Babyloniens und Assyriens, Leipsic, 1892;
- Robert W. Rogers, History of Babylonia and Assyria, New York, 1900.
- Relations to Old Testament: Schrader, C. I. O. T. 2 vols., London, 1885;
- Winckler, Keilinschriftliches Textbuch zum Alten Testament, Leipsic, 1892;
- McCurdy, History, Prophecy, and the Monuments, 3 vols., New York, 1894-1900;
- Evetts, New Light on the Holy Land, London, 1894;
- C. J. Ball, Light from the East, London, 1899;
- idem, The Old Testament in the Light of Assyrian Researches, London, 1897;
- Price, The Monuments and the Old Testament, Chicago, 1899;
- S. R. Driver, in Hogarth, Authority and Archeology, London, 1899.
- Religion: Jastrow, The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, Boston, 1898.
- Translations of texts: Records of the Past, 10 vols., edited by S. Birch, London, 1873-81;second series, edited by A. H. Sayce, 6 vols., London, 1888-92;
- Schrader, K. B. Berlin, 1889-1900.