Sefer Melakhim and the Ancient Near East
Archaeological Artifacts Related to Sefer Melakhim
The following is a list of archaeological artifacts, including monumental inscriptions, reliefs, annals, and chronicles relevant to the study of Sefer Melakhim.
- Shoshenq I Inscription and Relief – The relief is part of a larger series of triumphal reliefs depicted on the Bubasite Portal of the Temple of Amun at Karnak. It lists the places conquered by the Egyptian king, Shoshenq I (identified with the Biblical Shishak), in his military campaign against the kingdoms of Yehuda and Yisrael c. 925 BCE. As such, it serves as an additional source to understand Shishak's invasion of Yehuda discussed in Melakhim I 14 and Divrei HaYamim II 12. For elaboration, see Shishak's Campaign and Egyptian Sources.
- Victory Stele of Shishak at Megiddo – A portion of a commemorative stele containing the cartouche of Shoshenq I was found in Megiddo by the Oriental Institute excavations in 1926.1 Though the stele preserves very little beyond the king's name, it provides further evidence that Shishak had invaded the Northern Kingdom. For a discussion of how this relates to Shishak's invasion of Yehuda mentioned in Tanakh, see Shishak's Campaign and Egyptian Sources.
- Kurkh Monolith – The monolith was discovered by J. Taylor in 1861 and is housed in the British Museum. It describes the various military campaigns that Shalmaneser III of Assyria undertook in the first six years of his reign (from 858-853 BCE). These include the Battle of Qarqar in which a coalition of 12 kings, including Hadadezer of Aram and Achav of Israel, joined to fight against Assyria. The monolith, thus, provides historical background regarding the relations between Aram and Israel in the time of Achav, elucidating events mentioned in Melakhim I 20 and Melakhim I 22. For discussion, see Achav, Aram, and the Battle of Qarqar.
- Mesha Stele – The Mesha Stele is a victory monument erected by Mesha, King of Moav (9th c. BCE), discovered by F. Klein in 1868 in Dhiban. It is presently in the Louvre Museum in Paris. The inscription describes Mesha's triumph over Israel and relates to the Moabite revolt and the ensuing war with Yehoram, Yehoshafat and Edom described in Melakhim II 3. For elaboration, see The Moabite Rebellion and the Mesha Stele.
- Tel Dan Stele – The fragments of the stele were discovered during excavations led by A. Biran in Tel Dan in 1993-1994. It is housed in the Israel Museum. Though the names on the stele are not completely legible, the inscription has been understood to speak of an Aramean victory over Yehoram, king of Yisrael and Achazyah, king of "the House of David". If so, it would correspond to the battle between Chazael of Aram and the two kings mentioned in Melakhim II 8.2 The mention of the "House of David" is considered by many to be the earliest extra-Biblical reference to the Davidic dynasty. See Chazael and the Tel Dan Stele for more.
- Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III – The obelisk was discovered in Tel Nimrud by A. Layard in 1846 and is currently in the British Museum. It speaks of the military campaigns of Shalmaneser III of Assyria (858-824 BCE) and includes both Hadadezer (Ben Hadad of Tanakh) and Chazael of Aram among his opponents. In addition, the caption for one of the bas-reliefs reads: "The tribute of Yehu, son of Omri..."3 The inscriptions, thus, provide historical background regarding international relations during the period of the dynasties of Achav and Yehu discussed at the end of Melakhim I through the first half of Mekakhim II. See Aram's Relations with Israel in Assyrian Sources.
- Inscriptions from the reign of Adad-Nirari III – The Saba'a Stele,4 Nimrud Slab5 and Adad Nirari III Stele (or the Tell al-Rimah Stele)6 all discuss the campaigns of Adad-nirari III of Assyria (811 to 783 BC), providing background regarding Assyrian-Aramean relations during the reigns of Yehoachaz, Yoash and Yerovam. The Tell al-Rimah stele further mentions tribute paid to the king by "Yoash the Shomroni". [This tribute is not mentioned in Tanakh.] For more, see Aram's Relations with Israel in Assyrian Sources.
- The Iran Stele –This is the only victory monument yet discovered from the reign of Tiglat Pileser III of Assyria. It was erected c. 737 BCE and recounts the military achievements of the first nine years of his reign.7 One section of the inscription comprises a list of kings who paid tribute to Assyria, and includes both "Menahem of Samaria" and "Rezin of Damascus".8 This matches Melakhim II 15:19-20 which shares that Menachem paid tribute to "Pul".9
- Annals and Summary Inscriptions of Tiglat Pileser III – Tiglat Pileser’s palace in Kalah was first excavated by Austin Henry Layard in 1847, where he discovered several of the annals and summary inscriptions10 detailing the king's reign. The following sources speak of interactions between Assyria, Aram, Yisrael and Yehuda, providing background regarding the Aramean-Israelite alliance against Achaz and the call to Assyria for aid described in Melakhim II 15, Melakhim II 16, Divrei HaYamim II 28 and Yeshayahu 7 and 8.
- Tiglat Pileser's summary inscription no. 7 (also referred to as Nimrud Tablet K.3751) speaks of tribute given by "Yehoachaz (=Achaz) of Yehuda."11 This is the first known archeological reference to Yehuda.
- Summary Inscriptions no. 4, 9 and 13 speak of a coalition of kings from the west, including Retzin of Aram and Pekach of Israel, who joined to fight against Assyria, but were subdued, their cities conquered, and their possessions taken. Retzin was killed and Aram annexed to Assyria, while Pekach was replaced with Hoshea.
- Annals no. 18, 23, and 24 further describe the war against Aram and Yisrael, including the exile of cities in the Galil (see Melakhim II 15:29-30).
- Annals of Sargon II (Khorsabad Annals) – Excavations done in 1842 and 1844 by archeologists Paul-Émile Botta and Eugène Flandin revealed these annals inscribed on stone wall slabs in several rooms of Sargon's palace. They review Sargon's campaigns in the first 15 years of his reign (720-707 BCE). In these, he takes credit for besieging and conquering Shomeron, describing how he exiled its inhabitants and replaced them with others.12 Melakhim II 17 attributes the conquest to the previous king, Shalmaneser.13
- The Nineveh Prism –This extremely fragmented inscription speaks of Sargon's subduing of a rebellion in Ashdod in 712 BCE.14 It mentions that the king of Ashdod had enlisted the help of several countries, including Yehuda, to fight against Assyria. It is not clear, however, if they assented. The event is mentioned in the heading of Yeshayahu 20, and provides some of the political background to that prophecy.
- Azekah Inscription – The tablets were discovered in the Library of Ashurbanipal by H. Rawlinson in 190315 and are presently in the British Museum. The inscription describes Assyria's besieging and destroying of Azekah in the time of Chizkiyahu, but scholars debate whether this occurred in the reign of Sargon II or Sancheriv. Regardless, it provides historical background to the period of Chizkiyahu. For elaboration, see Sancheriv's Campaign and Assyrian Sources.
- Sancheriv's Annals – Copies of Sancheriv's annals have been preserved on three monumental prisms, known as the the Taylor Prism, the Jerusalem Prism, and the Oriental Institute Prism. They describe Sancheriv's invasion of Yehuda in the time of Chizkiyahu (701 BCE), providing the Assyrian version of the events described in Melakhim II 18 and 19, Yeshayahu 36-37, and Divrei HaYamim II 32. For a discussion of the relationship between the two sets of sources and how the annals can shed light on Tanakh, see Sancheriv's Campaign and Assyrian Sources.
- The Shiloach tunnel and inscription – Divrei HaYamim II 32 describes Chizkiyahu's preparations for Sancheriv's attack, including his diverting of the waters from springs outside the city through what is now known as "Chizkiyahu's tunnel". This tunnel, stretching from the Gichon to the Shiloach springs, was discovered in 1838 by E. Robinson. In 1880, an inscription was found on the walls of the tunnel which recounts how the men digging it worked from opposite directions and met in the middle.
- Lakhish relief – Sancheriv recorded his siege and victory over Lakhish in a series of wall reliefs that cover an entire room in his palace in Nineveh.They provide further information regarding Sancheriv's campaign into Yehuda. See Sancheriv's Campaign and Assyrian Sources.
- LMLK seals – Prof. D. Ussishkin carried out excavations at Tel Lakhish between 1973 and 1994. Among the finds were a series of jugs whose handles contained a seal with the imprint "למלך". These date to the reign of Chizkiyahu and might have been storage vessels produced by the government as part of preparations for the Assyrian attack.
- Babylonian Chronicles – The Babylonian Chronicles are a series of tablets which record major political events in Babylonian history. Many have been acquired by the British Museum. The chronicles relating to the reigns of Nabopolassar and Nevuchadnezzer speak of the fall of Assyria and battles with Egypt, revealing what was going on in the larger geo-political sphere during the end of the Monarchic period. They can thus shed light on Melakhim II 23 and 24. The chronicles also speak of the exile of Yehoyachin, as discussed in Melakhim II 24. For discussion, see The Last Kings of Yehuda and Babylonian Sources.
- Yehoyachin's Rations Tablets – Hundreds of administrative texts detailing the distribution of rations to Babylonian captives and workers have been found in what is assumed to be the royal storehouses of Nebuchadnezzer. Four of these tablets mention the monthly rations of "Yehoyachin, king of Yehuda," shedding light on his fate in captivity. See The Last Kings of Yehuda and Babylonian Sources for more.
- Lakhish Ostraca – In 1935, a series of 18 letters inscribed on pottery shards were discovered at Tel Lakhish. As the ostraca date to the period of Tzidkeyahu and Yirmeyahu, they provide another source through which to learn about the final days of the Judean Kingdom.
- Bullae and seals – Many bullae bearing names of Biblical figures have been discovered. See, for example, the seals bearing the names of Chizkiyahu, Yeshayahu, Gemaryahu b. Shafan, Gedalyah ben Pashchur and Yehuchal ben Shelemyahu.