- Series: The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies (Book 363)
- Hardcover: 370 pages
- Publisher: Sheffield Academic Press (June 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0826462154
- ISBN-13: 978-0826462152
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,989,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Like a Bird in a Cage: The Invasion of Sennacherib in 701 BCE (The Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies)
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About the Author
Lester L. Grabbe is Professor Emeritus of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism at the University of Hull.He is founder and convenor of the European Seminar in Historical Methodology.A recent book is Ancient Israel:What Do We Know and How Do We Know it?
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Here I would note 1 minor correction to his statement in the "Tel Sheva" section that no LMLK pots were found there: In Aharoni's 1968 excavation, A.F. Rainey discovered a large 2-handled pithos jar with a LMLK stamp, & this remains a key milestone in the history of LMLK research, as nearly all other LMLK stamps appear on smaller 4-handled vessels. It may also testify to activity at Beersheba during Hezekiah's reign (Rainey & Nadav Na'aman have argued over the implications in other publications).
Bob Becking concentrates on chronology. After reviewing Assyrian eponyms along with Babylonian & synchronistic king lists, he utilizes the fragmented Azekah/Letter-to-the-God tablet to propose that Hezekiah's controversial 14th year might correspond with an initial campaign of Sennacherib to Azekah & Jerusalem in 715 BC (while still a prince under Sargon), thus assigning the 2nd Judean campaign by Sennacherib (his 3rd general campaign as king of Assyria in his annals) to Jerusalem in 701 BC (presumably Hezekiah's 28th year of reign). He rejects the traditional 2-campaign theory because it has no independent textual support for a campaign towards the end of Sennacherib's reign, but I'm not aware of any texts naming Sennacherib leading Sargon's troops for him. One other problem beckons those who prefer either of these 2-campaign theories: Lachish. Becking avoids it altogether.
Ehud Ben Zvi presents a philosophical fence for limiting interpretations of history, referring to it as the "malleability" of the narratives. He proceeds to analyze the authors of Kings, Chronicles, & Josephus, stressing that none of them could get away with an "anything goes" style; they each had recognizable boundaries. It's an interesting point to keep in mind, but his chapter is frustrating to read due to extensive footnote excursions, several of which dwarf his main train of thought on the pages.
Philip R. Davies also presents a philosophical discussion, but keeps it lighthearted in a somewhat frivolous manner we would expect from modern journalists reporting on the same event in today's media. For example, he says that "for the Assyrians Jerusalem was not particularly important," but is that not sour grapes at their finest? The effort it took to destroy 46 cities & obtain 30 talents of gold (plus miscellaneous expenses totaling several hundred talents) might not mean much to Davies today, but I would argue it must have been a "particularly important" quantity back then!
Next, Grabbe delivers his own paper on the mysterious account by Herodotus. He marvels at the coincidence between this record of mice devastating Sennacherib's weapons in Egypt, & the Biblical record of Sennacherib's army being decimated by an angelic massacre in Judah. To help establish some guidelines for historical legitimacy, he compares this account to other questionable stories: the early reign of Assyrian king Ninus, the rise of Darius over Cambyses, & whether or not Sesotris was one of the pharaohs named Senwosret.
Ernst Axel Knauf examines Sennacherib's campaign using the Chicago Prism as a primary source. Reading it as a geographical arrangement rather than chronological, he suggests it may have concluded with some sort of peace conference or indecisive stalemate at Eltekeh where the Egyptian army appeared out of thin air, then withdrew just as magically leaving the Assyrians too tired to finish off Jerusalem. He envisions Sennacherib playing the role of Napoleon, who, as his troops were dying by the dozens in Russia from illnesses, proclaimed, "The health of his majesty has never been better." Knauf argues that the Assyrian army was weakened, & Sennacherib must have been quite desperate to participate in the battle. Is Knauf's imagination 2,700 years after the event more credible than the ancient Biblical account?
Up to this point, the articles sound mostly balanced between reasonably objective middle-of-the-road scholarship & some with Minimalist inclinations. Niels Peter Lemche enters like a lead weight dropping on the scales asking his audience to "disregard 200 years of biblical scholarship & commit it to the dustbin." Please don't let this chapter dissuade you from purchasing the book--it's a classic example of how not to conduct scientific research that everyone can learn from. He calls the Rabshekah incident a "narrative ... clearly superfluous" on one page, then on the very next page rehearses without hesitation Sennacherib's "report" (Lemche doesn't miss any subliminal message opportunities) of Hezekiah delivering tribute via envoys after the campaign had ended. Sennacherib apparently took a Judean raincheck on good faith! It's no small wonder Lemche accuses others of inventing history!
Returning to objective scholarship, another discrepancy escaped the editor's eyes. When Grabbe gave an overview of Walter Mayer's paper, he mentioned the Assyrians engaging Egyptian forces near Beersheba, yet Mayer's chapter never mentions that site; his Egyptian discussion remains limited to possible encounters at Eltekeh in northwest Judah. Aside from that, Mayer asks many relevant questions, & tackles each one by presenting facts & comparing theories with texts. An appendix to his chapter includes recent transliterations & translations of the 11 most important cuneiform inscriptions attributed to Sennacherib; these, together in the same volume with the king lists presented earlier by Becking, make up for time lost on Lemche's chapter.
The only correction I would make to Mayer's paper is on p. 177 when he discusses the capture of Eltekeh & Timnah: "Although we cannot be sure of the exact location of these 2 cities..." The reader can simply turn to Fig. 1 of Knauf's chapter (p. 143) where Timnah is properly located with respect to Ekron & Beth Shemesh at modern Tel Batash, excavated extensively (but not exhaustively) by a team under the direction of George Kelm & Amihai Mazar from 1977-1989.
Nadav Na'aman examines the differences between the places cited in 2 Kings 18:34 & 19:12-13, then suggests that the former was written in the middle of the 7th century, while the latter must have been composed towards the end of the 6th century. While his work is professional, impressive, & thorough, keep your guard up when reading someone with a heavy anti-Bible bias who says, "We can safely assume..." (p. 212) While the information we have today supports Na'aman's hypothesis, gaps exist--little is known about some of the sites prior to Sennacherib's reign, & even the specific locations of some remain uncertain. Nor does he explain why exiled Jews would take circumstances known about sites conquered by the Babylonians, & apply them to a fictitious speech delivered on behalf of Sennacherib. Why pick sites that contemporaries could use to dispute the narrative? Why not invent sites if the narratives themselves were invented? Could somebody today associate Alaska (a northern state) & Hawaii (a southern state) to Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" to boost its authenticity?
Christoph Uehlinger reviews the Lachish reliefs from Sennacherib's palace, including their history of discovery by Layard (with reproductions of some of his original sketches compared to later ones by other artists), & attempts to discredit David Ussishkin's theory that they were sculpted by an eyewitness overlooking the attack from the southwest, the presumed location of the Assyrian camp. Although Uehlinger's discussion is based on the artwork, his chapter is the most verbose--more than twice as long as any other. Whether the artist remained in a single location, or recreated the scene from verbal descriptions, is overshadowed by his more important contribution: the possibility of another fragmented relief that may depict King Hezekiah alone in his citadel of Jerusalem like a bird in a cage (possibly even waving a flag of surrender). That portion begins on p. 293; if you're in a hurry, you can skip pages 221-292 & still get your money's worth!
Finally, Grabbe summarizes a discussion among the attendees, where they surprise themselves by agreeing that the Bible contains some reliable history. Imagine that! Even after Lemche assured us we could trash 2 centuries worth of Biblical scholarship! Which is more miraculous: that part of an army might suddenly die of unknown causes after a long trek to a foreign land & fighting numerous battles, or that a collection of books written/edited by multiple authors long after the events transpired would actually contain facts resembling accounts preserved by their enemies?
Thomas L. Thompson closes the book with the comment, "God gave Hezekiah 15 years of life: this is not history." Since Minimalists prefer archaeological data over narrative texts, they should reevaluate the LMLK handles. From the time when this seminar took place, the statistics now indicate half of them were made prior to Sennacherib's attack, & half soon thereafter. If the attack occurred in Hezekiah's 14th year & they were all made during his 29-year reign, then this datum would appear to support the very text Thompson assures us isn't history (29-14=15, doesn't it?). Furthermore, they stamped only a small portion (10-20%) of the jars. So the purpose of the LMLK jars appears to support the 2 Chronicles narrative of Hezekiah's worship reformation, a source mostly ignored at this seminar.
More books like this are needed in a mixed-company, open-ideas format; only it needs to be truly open--this one was obviously not. Hezekiah's revolt is a complicated but crucial subject (considered one of the most important events of human history by Military History Quarterly, spring 1998). In conjunction with the Bible, Grabbe's book will be of tremendous benefit to anyone interested in the subject, student or professor.