The End of Judah

After the reign of Hezekiah there is no record in the Assyrian inscriptions of any further raid on Judah. Till Assyria's end in 612 BC, no king of Judah apparently dared defy the mighty power of the Assyrians. From the archeological point of view this fact is rerettable, since it means that from that point on the Assyrian records have virtually no accasion to mention the Jews. Therefore, the important Manesseh-Amon-Josiah era (687-609 BC) is almost a blank as far as archeology is concerned.

However, Assyria had two of its greatest kings after the death of Sennacherib: Esarhaddon (680-669 BC), Sennacherib's son, and Ashurbanipal (669-633 BC), his son's son, and the last great Assyrian monarch. Esarhaddon, a famous (in his day) conqueror who defeated Taharka, Pharaoah of Egypt, was the fist Assyrian ruler to add to his grandiose array of titles, "King of the kings of Egypt." Esarhaddon's brilliant victory over Taharka was celebrated with a victory stele set up at Senjirli in northern Syria. In 1888 a German expedition discovered the stele.

Esarhaddon is taken to be referred to as the "cruel and fierce king" mentioned in Isaiah 19:2, who realized the highest ambition of all Assyrians: the conquest of Egypt. Esarhaddon is apparently referred to several times in the Old Testament; for instance in Ezra 4:2 he is metioned as the king who colonized Samaria.

Ashurbanipal was also a noted conqueror, but is better known for his cultural efforts. The large royal library that he established in Nineveh was discovered in 1853. It preserved vast quantities of Assyrian and Babylonian literature, notably the Babylonian story of creation and the Babylonian flood account. Ashurbanipal is mentioned only once in the Bible, and then under a Hebraized form of his name: "the great and noble Osnappar" (or "Asnapper"), who is also said to have colonized Samaria.

The Decline of the Hebrew Monarchy

During the zenith of Assyrian power there was a sharp decline in the moral stability of the occupants on the throne of Judah. Separation from the contaminating practices of the surrounding pagan nations had always been better with the southern kingdom, but their natural synchretizing tendencies seemed to have increased just before the end, rendering their destruction certain.

Manesseh and Judah's Idolatrous Orgy. Hezekiah's son, Manesseh (687-642 BC), was a complete contrast to his father. Where Hezekiah had attempted to eliminate idolatry and strenghthen the kingdom of Judah both morally and spiritually, Manessah worked hard at introducing a thorough-going religious syncretism that utterly perverted Yahwish and earned him the reputation of being "the most wicked king of Judah" (2 Kings 21:1-15; 2 Chron. 33:1-20). Manesseh's reign was one of the longest in the Davidic line (55 years, according to 2 Kings 21:1), and it opened the door wide to Canaanite paganism and did more to demoralize the nation and drag it inevitably toward the maelstrom of the Babylonian captivity than perhaps any other single factor in the history of Judah.

Archeology has shed a great deal of light on the religious syncretism of Manasseh. Baal, to whom he "raised up altars" (2 Kings 21:3) is now well known as the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon and identified with the storm god Hadad. The Baal cult included worship and dancing on wooded hilltops called "high places". Manasseh "built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed and made an Asherah" (2 Kings 21:3).

Asherah, as is now well-known from the Ugaritic epic literature of the 14th c. BC was the consort of the chief Canaanite deity El. But by the ninth century and later in Palestine she was regarded as the wife of Baal. There is some recent evidence to suggest that she became recognized as the consort of Yahweh, who then himself was given many of the attributes of Baal.

The "Asherah" which Manasseh made was probably an image of this pagan goddess (although it possibly could have been a sacred tree or grove of trees). Asherah (together with her alaises, Anath, Astarte and Ashtoreth) was a patroness of sex and war. She was often represented as a pregnant "virgin". Worship of Asherah often consisted of having sex with a prostitute in her temple.

Manessah also cultivated star and planetary worship (2 Kings 21:3, 5) and the cult of Moloch, an Ammonite deity, whose worship was closely connected with astral divination (Amos 5:25, 26; Acts 7:41-43) and whose ritual was characterized by parents' sacrificing their children by compelling them to pass through or into a furnace of fire. Excavations in Palestine have uncovered piles of ashes and the remains of infant skeletons in cemetaries around the altars, apparently pointing to the widespread practice of this sort of sacrifice.

An interesting reference to idolatry and Moloch worship and their connection with demonism is found in Psalm 106:36-37. The Hebrews are said to have mingled themselves with the nations...learned their works and served their idols...and eventhey have sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons..." In fact, Manasseh's idolatries were the result of a gigantic outburst of demon-energized occultism. He is said to have practiced augury (that is, the prophetic divining of the future by observation of natgural phenomena-- particularly the behavior of birds and animals and the examniation of their entrails and other parts, but also by scrutny of man-made objects and situations [among the vast number of sources of augury, each with its own specialist jargon and ritual, were atmospheric phenomena (aeromancy), cards (cartomancy), dice or lots (cleromancy), dots and other marks on paper (geomancy), fire and smoke (pyromancy), the shoulder blades of animals (scapulimancy), entrails of sacrificed animals (haruspicy), or their livers which were considered to be the seat of life (hepatoscopy).] Manasseh is said to have used enchantment, and dealt with those that had familiar spirits (divining demons) and with wizards (those possessed of occult knowledge became under the control of a divining demon; 2 Chron. 33:6 or 2 Kings 21:6). This sort of thing was the result of the Canaanite influence (perhaps brought by the Northern Kingdom refugees filtering down into the southern kingdom following its collapse and absorbtion by the Assyrian empire in 721 BC (Cf. Ecc. 6:12). When people no longer listen to God, they still want these questions answered, and will accept and seek any possibility, however ludicrous or evil.

Archeology has uncovered a vast quantity of evidence of the prevalence of demonic phenomena among the ancient peoples of the Bible lands. Tablets containing incatations, augural prognostications and exorcistic rituals show how rife belief in and enslavement to evil spirits were and prove that magic, divination, necromancy, and every variety of occultism were practiced in the ancient biblical world. Indeed, it is from Mesopotamia "that our richest sources for the study of early magic and divination come." This occultism was primarily the result of polytheism.

Manasseh and the Assyrian Monuments. The light shed on Manasseh's reign by archeology is for the most part of an indirect nature. However, there is one direct reference in the inscriptions of Esarhaddon to the Judean king that is of considerable interest. Particularly, because it illuminates the account of Manesseh's being carried away captive to Babylon, his repentance and subsequent restoration to his throne. According to the account in 2 Chron. 33:10-13 (not found in the equivalent passage in 2 Kings), Yahweh brought upon the idolatrous and unrepentant Manesseh and his people "the captain of the ouse of the king of Assyria, who took Manesseh with hooks and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon."

On the Senjirli Stele of Esarhaddon, Baalu, king of Tyre, is shown lifting manacled hands in supplication to Assyria and beside him is Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, portrayed with a hook through his lips and tied by a rope to Esarhaddon's hands.

As far as the fact of Manasseh's Babylonian captivity is concerned, there is no confirmation of this notice of the Chronicler. But the inscriptions of Esarhaddon do speak of the compulsory visit of Manesseh to the great Assyrian capital, Nineveh, about the year 678 BC:

At that time the older palace of Nineveh, which the kings who went before, my fathers, had built...had come to seem too small to me...and the people of the lands my arms had despoiled I made to carry the basket and the hod [a hod is a tray or trough with a pole handle that is borne on the shoulder for carrying mortar, brick, or similar loads]....That small palace I tore down in its totality....And I summoned the kings of Syria and those across the sea -- Baalu, king of Tyre, Manasseh, king of Judah, Kaushgabri, king of Edom, Musurri, king of Moab...Milki-ashapa, king of Gebail [Byblos], etc., etc....twenty kings in all. I gave them their orders.

The reference to Manasseh's captivity in Babylon was once commonly regarded as a mistake on the part of the Chronicler; most scholars thought that the Chronicler really meant that he'd been held captive in Nineveh. However, the inscriptions prove that Esarhaddon did in fact rebuild the ancient city of Babylon destroyed by his father Sennacherib:

...At the beginning of my rule, in the first year of my reign, when I took my seat upon the royal throne in might, there appeared favorable signs in the heavens and on earth....Through the soothsayers' rites encouraging oracles were disclosed, and for the rebuilding of Babylon and the restoration of Esagila [temple of the gods], they caused the command [oracle] to be written down.

Esarhaddon continues his description of the rebuilding of Babylon:

I summoned all of my artisans and the people of Babylonia in their totality. I made them carry the basket and laid the head pad upon them...I raised the hod [a hod is a tray or trough with a pole handle that is borne on the shoulder for carrying mortar, brick, or similar loads] to my head and carried it...I moulded brick...Babylon I built anew, I enlarged, I raised aloft, I made magnificent.

With such an achievement as the rebuilding of Babylon to his credit, it is not likely that Esarhaddon would have allowed Manasseh and the other kings he had summoned to Nineveh, to return to their countries without seeing this accomplishment of which he seems very proud.

The Reformation of Josiah. As a young child of eight Josiah came to the throne when his father Amon, son of Manesseh, was murdered following a very short reign of only two years (c. 642-c. 640 BC). Josiah's rule lasted much longer: from c. 640 to about 609 BC. Moreover, his reign is classified by the Bible as a good one. The outstanding event in his reign was the discovery of the "book of the law", brought to light in the course of extensive repairs on the temple. The reading of this book lead to a great revival and reformation (2 Kings 23:3-23:37).

Whether the "book of the law" was the Pentateuch or only the book of Deuteronomy, an alternate theory to that taught by most critics is possible. Since the discovery is closely linked with the activity of the stonemasons and carpenters, it is not entirely unreasonable to suppose that this copy of the Pentateuch had been placed in the cornerstone of the temple when it was erected by Solomon (c. 966 BC). Perhaps the masonry had so cracked over the intervening years that this stone had to be replaced and so the documents came to light.

This, it seems to me, is not less reasonable an explanation for the discovery than that of prevailing criticism which views the "book of the lw" as essentially Deuteronomy and as a late concoction of the seventh century BC, which was not so much "discovered" as "created" and then foisted upon a credulous king and people by a crafty clergy as an ancient Mosaic document. It is clear, from archeological excavations, for instance, that it was customary to place documents in the foundations of buildings, as is done even to the present day. Hense, the other proposed explanation for the discovery -- that it is a real discovery. Nabonidus, a Babylonian king of the sixth century BC, for example, delighted digging into the foundations of ancient buildings to recover the documents deposited there centuries earlier. He did this, for instance, at the temple of Shamash at Sippar in lower Mesopotamia:

When I had brought out Shamash from within it, and made him dwell in another house, that house I tore down, and made a search for its old foundation record; and I dug to a depth of 18 cubits and the foundation record of Naram-Sin the son of Sargon, Shamash...permitted me, even me, to behold

The question that remains, of course: why was the law unknown to Josiah and the other people of his time? Shouldn't the Mosaic legislation have been widely deseminated in Israel? Or had they really sunk so low after the time of Solomon that they didn't even bother to read or copy the "book of the law?"

The Death of Josiah. Archeology has facilitated a correct translation of the passage dealing with Josiah's death and revealed the reason for Pharoah Necho's advance toward the Euphrates. "In Josiah's days Pharaoh Necho, king of Egypt, went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him; and Pharaoh Necho slew him at Megiddo, when he saw him." (2 Kings 23:29, RSV; NIV writes that he went up to "help" him). Up to this time in the absence of an archeological clue the phrase "Pharoach Necho went up to the king of Assyria" has been wrongly translated ast "went up AGAINST the King of Assyria" (cf. KJV and ASV). While it is true that the Hebrew preposition 'al here used may mean "against", the historical context shows that in this passage it has one of its more specialized meanings.

Historians used to be perplexed as to why Josiah advanced "against" Necho when the Pharaoh was on his way to fight Assyria, the ancient enemy of the Hebrews. The Babylonian Chronicle, published by C.J. Gadd in 1923 has put the whole matter in a different light, demonstrating that Pharaoh Necho did not advance against the Assyrians at all, but rather was going to their aid.

Upon Ashurbanipal's death in 633 BC, the Assyrian Empire declined rapidly. In 612 BC Nineveh fell under attack by a coalition of Babylonians, Medes and Scythians. A remnant of the Assyrian army fled west to Haran and made it a temporary capital. The king of Egypt, Pharaoh Necho, accordingly, came to help the Assyran remnant and their king Ashuruballit, who stood at bay for several years at Carchemish under the combined attacks of the Medes and the Babylonians.

Josiah, no lover of Assyria, and not wishing any aid to reach the hard-pressed Assyrians, went to Megiddo to stop Necho, but was killed by him instead. Necho, in turn, was overwhelmingly defeatred when he eventually clashed with Nebuchadnezzer at the famous battle of Carchemesh (Qarqar) on the Euphrates in 605 BC.

With the battle of Carchemesh two ancient empires fell. Assyria passed away forever, and Egypt never again became a first-rate power. The magnificent city of Carchemesh, with a long and brilliant career behind it, was utterly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzer and lay buried under desert dust until excavations in the first half of the twentieth century brought the monuments back to light (during the 1930's).

The Hebrew Monarchy Under Egyptian Control. With the death of Josiah in 609 BC, the throne of Judah temporarily passed under the domination of Egypt. Jehoahaz, son of Josiah, was made king, but reigned only three months before being deposed by Pharaoh Necho (2 Kings 23:33), who took him to Egypt, where he later died (2 Kings 23:34). After he deposed Jehoahaz, Pharaoh Necho made Kliakim, another son of Josiah, king and changed his name to Jehoiakim (609-605 BC). This king paid tribute to his Egyptian overlord (2 Kings 23:35).

The Hebrew Monarchy Under Babylonian Control. In the gigantic three-cornered contest for world supremacy between Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon which characterized the latter part of the reign of Josiah and was contemporary with the ministry of Jeremiah in Judah, Babylon won out just as that great prophet had fortold. When Nebuchadnezzar became master of Palestine, Jehoiakim shifted his allegiance to him (2 Kings 24:1), and from then on, the kings of Judah were vassals of the Babylonian king, and paid dearly when they attempted to cast off their new chain.

Jehoiakim, the bitter enemy of Jeremiah and religious/moral reform, was an opportunist who attempted to throw off Babylonian control as he had thrown off his Egyptian allegiance when the im seemed favorable. Doing so, however, he found the might of Babylon moving against his capital. In the course of events that followed, he was evidently assassinated. He received the "burial of a donkey" according to Jeremiah 22:18-19.

With the death of Jehoiakim in 598 BC, his son Jehoiachin took the throne. However, he managed to rule for barely three months before being taken away captive to Babylon. There, he was a political prisoner for thirty-seven years. He was finally released by Nebuchadnezzer's successor whom the Bible refers to as Evil-merodach (Akk. Abel-marduk), who gave him a daily allowance of food for the rest of his life (2 Kings 25:27-30). This interesting detail of biblical history has been singularly confirmed by Babylonian records which list "Yaukin of the land of Yahud", that is, Jehoiachin of Judah, as one of the recipients of the royal rations. Moreover, the name of Jehoiachin has been authenticated in excavations by W.F. Albright and Melvin Grove Kyle at Tell Beit Mirsim (Kiryat-Sepher) and by Elihu Grant, at Beth Shemesh.

The Fall of Jerusalem

Jeremiah, by means of a long and faithful ministry that extended through the last forty years of the nation of Judah, tried desperately to save the people by calling upon them to repent. But, as God had warned him, hardly anyone paid him any attention. Refusing to heed Jeremiah's warnings, a terrible judgment finally fell on Jerusalem and Judah.

Zedekiah and the End of the Monarchy. After removing Jehoiachin from the throne of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar made Jehoiachin's uncle Mattaniah king and changed his name to Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17). As a puppet of Nebuchadnezar, Zedekiah was continually under pressure from his advisors and subjects to seek the help of Egypt and to revolt against Babylon. Despite Jeremiah's solemn warnings against this foolish course of action, Zedekiah turned to Pharaoh Hophra (Apries; c. 588-569 BC) for aid and revolted against Nebuchadnezzar.

The result: the Babylonian army moved against Jerusalem, bent on its complete destruction. In the seige that followed, pestilence, famine, and even cannibalism prevailed (2 Kings 25:1; Jer. 32:24). The appearance of the Egyptian army gave only a brief respite to the besieged capital (Jer. 37:5). The city fell in 587 BC. Zedekiah tried to escape, but was captured by the Babylonians at Jericho and brought to trial before the king of Babylon at Riblah, on the Orontes, fifty miles south of Hamath (Jer. 39:5-7).

Zedekiah saw his own sons put to death. Then they poked his eyes out. Next, he was fettered and carried captive to Babylon, where he was imprisoned until his death (2 Kings 25:1-7; Jeremiah 52:11). Jerusalem was mercilessly sacked and razed to the ground (2 Kings 25:17-25:10). Thus, "the year 587 BC marked the end not only of a dynasty, but of an age."

The Age of Jeremiah and the Lachish Letters. The life and times of Jeremiah have been vividly illustrated by the discovery in 1935 by J.L. Starkey of eighteen ostraca inscribed in Hebrew (using the old Hebrew or Phoenician script, rather than the square Aramaic script). The documents were uncovered in the guard room and adjoining outer gate of the city of Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir), an ancient fortress of Judah, some twenty-five mmiles southwest of Jerusalem. Three additional ostraca (raising the total found to twenty-one), were discovered in the last excavation campaign at Lachish in 1938.

These ostraca are composed of letters and name lists from the period just preceding the final fall of Jerusalem. Nearly all of tahem apparently date from the autumn of 589 BC, just two years before the destruction of the city in August 587 BC, since they belong to a layer of ash which represents the final destruction of Lachis, which Nebuchadnezzar accomplished before the final siege of Jerusalem.

Jeremiah, in one of his prophecies addressed to Zedekiah, makes a reference to Judah's fortified cities, a reference which is illuminated by the Lachish letters. He mentions "when the king of Babylon's army was fighting against Jerusalem, and against all of the cities of Judah that were left, against Lachish and against Azekah, for these alone remained of the cities of Judah as fortified cities." (Jer. 34:7).

Letter Number Four. Letter Number Four relates:

We are watching for the signal stations of Lachish, according to all the signals you are giving, because we cannot see the signals of Azekah.

Interestingly, the same term her employed for "signal" occures in Jeremiah 6:1: "Flee for safety, you children of Benjamin, out of the midst of Jerusalem, and blow the rumpet in Tekoa, and raise up a signal on Beth-haccherem; for evil looks forth from the north, and a great destruction."

Although the Mari letters of the eighteenth century BC have shown that signalling by fire was practiced in the Euphrates valley twelve centuries before Jeremiah's time, this letter from Lachish sheds light on the system of signal telegraphy used by the Jewish army in the last days of the kingdom of Judah. In addition, it strikingly illustrates Jeremiah's reference to Lachish and Azekah as fortified cities of Judah.

Both of these sites have been identified. Azekah (Tell Zakariya) in the Shephelah was excavated by Frederick J. Bliss of the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1898 and its strong fortifications were autheticated. The same is true of Lachish itself, exxcavated by the Wellcome-Marston Archelogical Expedition from 1933-1938 under the direction of J. L. Starkey and continued after his death by Charles Inge and Lankester Harding.

Letter Number Three. Letter Number Three is the most significant of the entire collection of twenty-one letters, at least from a biblical point of view. Like most of the others, it was written by a certain Hoshaiah, who was stationed at some military outpost. He was writing to someone named Jaosh, who apparently was the high commanding officer at Lachish. The text runs as follows:

The servant Hoshaiah has sent to inform my lord Jaosh: May the lord Yahweh cause my lord to hear tidings of peace! And now you have sent a letter but my lord has not enlightened your servant concerning the letter which you sent to your servant yesterday evening, for the heart of your servant has been sick since you wrote to your servant. And as for what my lord has said, "You do not know it! - read [any] letter," as the Lord lives no one has undertaken to read me a letter at any time, nor have I read anything for it! -- And it has been reported to your servant saying, "The commander of the army, Coniah son of Elnathan, has come down in order to go into Egypt and to Hodaviah, son of Ahijah, and his men he sent to me to obtain supplies from him," -- And as for the letter of Tobiah, servant of the king [the king being Zedekiah], which came to Shallum son of Jaddua through he prophet, saying, "Beware", your servant has sent it to my lord.

Hoshaiah, like a number of names in the various letters, is biblical and occures in Jeremiah 42:1 and Nehemiah 12:32. Jaosh is an abreviated form of Josiah. All the words and phrases are characteristically biblical, and God is referred to by the tetragrammaton YHWH. Many names, too, are good biblical compounds of Yahweh.

The wordiness of the letter is largely due to the polite and idiomatic use of "my lord" (Heb. adoni) in place of "you" and "your servant" or "slave" for "I" or "me". This was standard practice in letters throughout the ANE. The latter part of the letter seems clearly to refer to a visit of the commanding officer of the Jewish army to Egypt for military conferences with the officials of Pharaoh Psammetichus II (594-588 BC), in preparation for the threatening Chaldean invasion. The resultant expeditionary force is mentioned by Jeremiah: "The army of Pharaoh had come up out of Egypt; and when the Babylonians who were besieging Jerusalem heard news of them, they withdrew from Jerusalem." (37:5)

One of the most significant details of this reference is to "the prophet". While it is not impossible this might be an actual reference to Jeremiah himself (and several commentators have argued so, for instance Cyrus Gordon), there were othere prophets around at the same time who left no surviving written records.

What is important, here, perhaps, more than the identification of "the prophet" is the intimate contact here made with the inner life of Israel and that "here for the first time outside the Old Testament we find mention of a 'prophet' of the class which played so large a part in Hebrew history."

Letter Number Six. This letter is highly reminiscent of Jeremiah 38:4, where the prophet, proclaiming the wisdom of surrendering to the Babylonians, is thus accused by the princes before the king: "Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hand of all the people by speaking such words to them." The letter in question runs this way:

To my lord Yaosh, may Yahweh cause my lord to see this season in good health! Who is your servant but a dog that my lord has sent the letter of the king and the letters of the princes, saying "Pray, read them!"? And behold the words of the princes are not good, but to weaken your hands and to slacken the hands of the men who are informed about them [?]...And now [?] my lord, will you not write to them saying, "Why do you thus even [?] in Jerusalem? Behold the king and unto his house [?] are you doing this thing!" And as Yahweh your God lives, since your servant read the letters, there has been no peace [?] for your servant....

In the letter the alleged discouragement comes from the princes rather than the prophet. Evidently, however, the patriot at the front is one mind with the prophet at Jerusalem, realizing that reliance on the promises of Egypt was luring Judah to her doom and that true patriotism was encouraging the people to face the certainty of a Babylonian victory.

Few books of the Bible have been more vividly illustrated by archeological discoveries than the book of Jeremiah and few discoveries have had a more direct link to the Bible than the Lachish letters. They furnish what some have called a virtual "supplement" or "appendix" to Jeremiah.