Sennacherib's Campaign to Judah: New Studies

  • William R. Gallagher
  • Jan 1, 2002
  • Series: Volume 5 - 2002

Gallagher, William R. Sennacherib's Campaign to Judah: New Studies. Studies in the History and Culture of the Ancient Near East, 18. Leiden: Brill, 1999. xvii + 313 pp. $100.00 hb. ISBN 90-04-11537-4.

This is an extensively revised version of a doctoral thesis submitted to the University of Vienna in 1992. The purpose of this work is to reconstruct the details of Sennacherib's third campaign in the West in 701 B.C.E., particularly the phase of the war against Judah.

After a very helpful introduction, the argument of the volume divides nicely into four primary parts. Chapters 1-2 attempt to relate several other Isaianic passages beyond Isaiah 36-37 to the campaign. Chapters 3-4 deal with what Gallagher calls the initial, Phoenician phase of the campaign, while chapter 5 turns its attention to the conflict in Philistia. The fourth and final group of chapters, 6-9, concentrates on the attack on Jerusalem. The book closes with an enlightening appendix discussing the possible reasons for Hezekiah's revolt (pgs. 263-74), a select bibliography, several indices, and a set of nine plates that illustrate Assyrian war practices from the reliefs in Sennacherib's palace.

The introduction (pgs. 1-21) is dedicated to presenting the sources the author will utilize for reconstructing Sennacherib's campaign (He quickly dismisses the two campaign hypothesis on pgs. 8-9 and notifies the reader that it will not be discussed.). The author surveys the wide scope of pertinent Assyrian (the annals, bulls, and reliefs), biblical (2 Kgs. 18-19; Isa. 36-37; 2 Chr. 32), Greek (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews; Herodotus), and archaeological sources and their relevance. Gallagher is convinced that "all the sources can be used to produce a coherent picture of the war" (pg. 2). Throughout the rest of the book, he is very cautious in his reconstructions; he will be very frank about whether some data are problematic or tentative (note, e.g., his mention of three debated issues on pg. 5, all of which are dealt with later in the work) and is evenhanded in his interaction with other scholarly positions.

The opening chapters correlate (in convincing fashion in my view) three passages in the book of Isaiah to the events surrounding Sennacherib's incursion of the western part of the empire. Chapter 1 argues that Isa. 21-22:14 reflect the disappointment and despair caused by the defeat of the Babylonians and its allies at the battle of Kish in 704. With that debacle, Judah's doom was sealed; any hope the leadership might have had of a weakened foe was dashed, and the nation now had to prepare for Assyria's punishing strike against the rebellious vassal states in Syria-Palestine. In chapter 2 Gallagher demonstrates that Isa. 10:5-19 correctly summarize Assyrian ideology (and thus are similar to the rab-shaqeh's speeches in 2 Kgs. 18//Isa. 36). He believes that the taunt of Isa. 14:4b-21 actually relates the death of Sennacherib, even though a later redactor later placed it within a section denouncing Babylon. Chapters 3-5 sort out the details of the second and third phases of the Assyrian campaign-that is, the submission of Phoenicia (especially Tyre) and Philistia (Ashkelon and Ekron).

The last four chapters investigate the Judaean phase of the war. In chapter 6 he starts by looking at the Assyrian accounts (the Rassam Cylinder and Bulls 1 and 4). He then turns to the biblical evidence in chapter 7. As do most biblical scholars, Gallagher builds his analysis on the divisions of an A (2 Kgs. 18:13-16) and B source (2 Kgs. 18:17-19:37), but at several points of his reconstruction would disagree with some well known scholarly opinions. To begin with, Gallagher contends that the B source should not be read as two parallel stories (B1 as 2 Kgs. 18:17-19:9a, 36-37; B2 as 2 Kgs. 19:9b-35). The differences are too pronounced. Rather, the entire B source should be considered a sequential narrative of the developing political and military crisis that moves from the Assyrian delegation's taunting at the city wall to the subsequent private correspondence to King Hezekiah.

Second, chapter 8 (by far the longest in the volume) demonstrates the general historical reliability of the biblical account in 2 Kgs. 18-19 (sources A and B) of the blockade on Jerusalem (the mention of Tirhaqah, he believes, being one of the only problems, contra Kitchen and others). Both of the speeches by the rab-shaqeh would genuinely approximate Assyrian propaganda, and the predictions of the prophet Isaiah (2 Kgs. 19:20-34) prove to be an accurate rendition of the events of 701. Two parts of this chapter contribute fresh perspectives on the historical material. On the one hand, Gallagher compares the rab-shaqeh's words with Allied and German propaganda in World War II in order to better understand their tone and strategy (pgs. 174-86). In addition, he examines the notice of the death of the Assyrian soldiers in 2 Kgs. 19:35 in light of comparative data (such as Ashurbanipal's accounts of the Shamash-shum-ukin rebellion and Herodotus' description of Sennacherib's reversal when he attacked Egypt) in order to underscore that there could very well be "an historical kernel" of fact underlying the theological statement of divine intervention in the verse (pgs. 240-52). The last chapter (chapter 9) summarizes Gallagher's proposal and lays out his view of the order of events of Sennacherib's invasion.

All in all, this is a rewarding book for those who desire to better comprehend the nature of the Assyrian invasion of 701-its causes, key moments, and personages-in light of both biblical and extra-biblical evidence. It is well written, irenic in spirit, careful in presentation, and richly informative. Readers might find small points of disagreement (such as the evaluation of the Tirhaqah reference or the attempt to fit certain details in the Isaianic material to precise historical items instead of appreciating on occasion its literary flavor), but they will not walk away disappointed... or less knowledgeable of a watershed time in Judah's history.

M. Daniel Carroll R.
Professor of Old Testament
Denver Seminary