Name and Origin.

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 B.C. it rose into independence as a rival of Babylonia; and thenceforth Syria and Palestine were left free from the aggressions of either power. Thus Egypt was given opportunity to secure a footing in Asia, which she maintained for the greater part of three centuries, though toward the end of the fourteenth century she had to relinquish Syria to the Hittites. At length the dominion of both Egyptians and Hittites in western Asia was ended, partly through invasion from the northern coastlands of the Mediterranean; but, on account of mutual hostility, neither Assyria nor Babylonia was in a position to occupy the country. In consequence, the Arameans "from over the river" made a permanent settlement in Syria; and the Hebrews, having escaped from Egypt, reclaimed their old tribal seats in Palestine, and at last became masters of most of the Canaanite territory. After the settlement, Israel was not disturbed by any power greater than the small countries of the neighborhood, whose attacks mark the period of the Judges. Thus arose the possibility of the Hebrew monarchy, as well as of the powerful Aramean kingdom of Damascus. But the subjection of Syria and Palestine to an Eastern power was only a question of time. From about 1100 B.C. Assyria's superiority became evident, and for nearly five centuries Babylonia ceased to be a power in Asia. Assyria, however, was not in a position to subdue Syria completely till the middle of the ninth century; and then the conquest was not permanent. Palestine proper was not invaded till 738 B.C. The history of Assyria may accordingly be treated for the present purpose under the following periods: A. To 1500 B.C., period of quiescence. B. To 745, period of extension. C. To 607, period of supremacy. The first period was of no significance for Israel; the second was of much direct importance; the third was of supreme importance, direct and indirect. This division should be supplemented by one having special regard to the history of Israel, as that history was affected by the policy of Assyria, and dealing only with the latter part of B and with C. These divisions are: (1) Epoch of the Syrian wars; (2) decline and fall of the northern kingdom; (3) vassalage of the kingdom of Judah.

Epoch of Syrian Wars.

(1) a. Ahab, son of Omri, while usually subject to Damascus, gains some relief through an Assyrian invasion under Shalmaneser II. about 854 B.C., which causes a temporary league among the western states, Ahab and Ben-hadad II. of Damascus fighting side by side against the invader. b. Jehu, the usurper, submits to Assyrian suzerainty about 842, but gains only a brief advantage; for Assyria, which has been pressing Damascus, after 839 retires for a time, and gives Hazael of that kingdom opportunity to ravage most of Palestine. c. Joash of Samaria (799) is successful against Damascus because the Assyrians have reappeared. They take Damascus in 797, and receive the homage of Phenicians, Philistines, and northern Israel. d. The prostration of Damascus is followed by the quiescence of Assyria for forty years, during which time both Israel and Judah expand under Jeroboam II. and Uzziah.

Fall of Kingdom of Israel.

(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 B.C.). Uzziah of Judah, their ally, is humbled; while Menahem of Israel buys off Tiglath-pileser with a heavy price. In 734 Ahaz seeks help from Tiglath-pileser against Samaria and Damascus, and becomes an Assyrian vassal. Galilee is annexed; and some of its people are deported. Pekah of Samaria is dethroned and slain in 733, and Hosea is made vassal king. Damascus is taken in 732. b. Hosea, instigated by Egypt, now under the Ethiopic dynasty, rebels in 724 against Shalmaneser IV. of Assyria. Sargon II., who comes to the throne at the end of 722, takes Samaria and deports 27,290 of the people to Mesopotamia and Media.

Vassalage of Judah.

(3) a. Sargon II. (722-705 B.C.) consolidates the Assyrian power. In 711, when Ashdod revolts (Isa. xx.), Judah is threatened for intriguing with Egyptand the Philistines. b. The policy of Hezekiah (719-690) is to treat with Egypt and assist in a general combination against Assyria after the accession of Sennacherib (705-681). In 701 Sennacherib invades Palestine, devastates Judah, and deports many people, but is diverted from the siege of Jerusalem by a plague in his army, so that he leaves Palestine and does not return. c. Esarhaddon, the best of the Assyrian kings (681-668), conquers Egypt. It rebels and is reconquered by Assurbanipal (668-626), but regains its freedom about 645. Judah and the West generally remain quiescent. In 650 a great revolt against Assyria rages from Elam to the Mediterranean, in which Manasseh of Judah joins (according to II Chron. xxxiii. 10-13), and is made captive for a time. d. Assyria declines rapidly. Cimmerians and Scythians invade the empire.

Destruction of Assyria.

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.
J. Jr. J. F. McC.
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