James Frederick McCurdy.

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of the inhabitants were spared. A discrimination between
them was made, as had been done in the case of Samaria
(§ 364), While those who were proved innocent of sedition
were amnestied, the guilty were carried away into captivity.
About the same time, or a little earlier, other towns within
the domain of Ekron were taken, the names of the most of
which, Joppa, Bene-berak (Josh. xix. 45), and Beth-Dagon
(Josh. XV. 41), are familiar to students of the Bible. These
the campaign annalist, who in this matter is heedlessly fol-
lowed by modern scholars, describes (Col. II, 65-67 ; cf. 58)
as dependencies of Askalon. But the sphere of influence
of Askalon was necessarily local, and between it and the


towns ill question there intervened not only Ekron but tlie
Assyrianized Ashdod. Over Ekron itself was reinstated
the former king Pad!, the prisoner of Hezekiah, who had
released him upon the demand of Sinacheiib (Col. Ill,

§ 696. It might seem that the subjugation and pacifi-
cation of Palestine and Syria were now completed. But
the Assyrian king thought otherwise. His army had not
been long Avithdrawn from Jerusalem, before he saw reason
for cancelling his agreement to spare the city. That com-
pact had, perhaps, been concluded unadvisedly on his part.
He ma}^ have thought it impossible that Hezekiah, impov-
erished by long tribute-giving, could pay the fine he
imposed. The effect produced by the prompt "raising"
of the money, according to the unconditional pledge of
Hezekiah, was doubtless enhanced by the release of Padi,
and the early prospect of his being replaced in Ekron, the
other leading insurrectionary state. Sinacherib, at all
events, kept his eye on Jerusalem. He well knew that
the strong Egyptian party there needed watching, and
before long he suspected, or, perhaps, was informed, of
renewed negotiations (2 K. xviii. 20 f.)^ This justified a
second attempt on Jerusalem. That perfidious city must
at last be made what Asshur had manifestly designed it for,
an Assyrian stronghold. Sargon's policy of clemency in
Palestine (§ 364, 625) must not be carried too far; Jeru-
salem, at least, must share the fate of her sister capital,
Samaria. Hence the sending of the Ass3a'ian army to
Jerusalem, described in 2 K. xviii. 17 ; cf. Isa. xxii. 6 f.
It, we may suppose, resumed also the Avork of destruction
and spoliation among the cities and villages of Judah, this
time to the west and south of the capital (cf. § 686).

1 Isaiah, in Ch. xxxiii. 8, accuses Sinacherib of having " broken the
covenant." But in this he does not necessarily lay the blame upon the
Assyrians alone. The "covenant" was, of course, the agreement made
upon the payment of the fine by Hezekiah, including the pronrise, ex-
pressed or implied, to leave Jerusalem unmolested.


§ 697. Meanwhile, Jerusalem was a scene of excitement
and confusion and the clash of opposing interests. The
Egyptian and revolutionary party, though still secretly
active, had proved themselves but sorry counsellors. Their
influence and jn-estige began to decline with the advance
of the Assyrians into the home-land, and must have re-
ceived notable shocks with the decision of Hezekiah to
bu}^ off Sinacherib (§ 688), the capture of Ekron (§ 695),
and, above all, with the disastrous overthrow of the tardy
Egyptian army of relief (§ 694). The state of affairs in
the capital is vividly pictured by Isaiah (ch. xxii.) as he
looks out from his prophetic watch-tower over Kidron,
" the valley of vision " (xxii. 1, 5), now filled with the
chariots and horsemen of Sinacherib and the contingents
from his subject states.^ This chapter is, in fact, more
important for its historical information than for its ethical
value. From it we gather that although a general and
strenuous endeavour was made to improve the defences of
the city (§ 698), a fierce struggle was still going on between
the two leading parties. It would seem that the palace
faction, who liad had their way so far in diplomatic and mili-
tary measures, and who were responsible for the coup d'etat
in Ekron and the understanding with Egypt, were under
the guidance and inspiration of a certain Shebna, the king's
chancellor (literally, " care-taker, manager," or the '^ con-
troller of the household," xxii. 15 ; § 522). This man
was apparently of foreign origin (v. 16), and possibly an
Aramaean, if anything is to be inferred from the form of
the name. He was specially obnoxious to Isaiah as the
head and front of a pernicious clique and a baneful policy.
And now that this untheocratic party had been discredited

1 Indicated, according to genuine Hebrew fashion, by the naming
of two prominent sections, the troops from Elam and those from Kir
(2 K. xvi. 9 ; Am. i. 5 ; ix. 7). It is noteworthy that the Assyrian kings
never mention the nationalities of tlieir dependent or auxiliary troops,
These are called indiscriminately and collectively "soldiers of (the god)
v^sshur," a striking evidence at once of the centralism of Semitic govern-
ment and the strength of tlie religious sentiment (§ 57).


by the course of events, Isaiah takes the opportunity of
dealing it a death-blow. Against its leader, Shebna, he
fulminates in terrific tones, which bespeak the concentrated
wrath and contempt nursed by years of self-restraint.
The ambitious intriguer is rebuked for his presumption in
preparing for himself a costly sepulchre like one of the
native-born nobles (v. 16). He shall be deposed from his
office and violently hurled from his seat into exile and
obscurity as one throws a ball into an open field (v. 17 ff.,
25). His official position is soon to be taken by the faith-
ful counsellor Eliakim, to whom will be safely entrusted
" the key of the house of David " (vs. 20-24). The threat
was not wholly fulfilled at once. Eliakim was, however,
made his successor, and he himself was placed, possibly to
break his fall and save the self-respect of the humiliated
king, his patron, in the inferior post of scribe (§ 699).
Some of the members of his party fled from Jerusalem,
perhaps to avoid popular indignation as much as to escape
the expected doom of the city (xxii. 3). The picture of
disorder is concluded by the melancholy spectacle of other
unworthy citizens who kept up their reckless revelry to
the bitter end, saying, " let us eat and drink, for to-morrow
we shall die" (v. 13).

§ 698. The taking of Jerusalem would have been a
serious but by no means an impossible undertaking for
the Assyrian army. When the invaders first appeared in
Judah, the capital was very inadequately prepared for a
siege, and this may have been one of the reasons which
induced Hezekiah to buy off the enemy (§ 688). But now,
upon Sinacherib's change of policy and the sending of his
army against Jerusalem, measures were taken at once to
fortify the city more strongly and to provide an accessible
Avater supply for the defenders (Isa. xxii. 8-11 ; cf. 2 Chr.
xxxii. 3-5). The fountains which were used within the
city, and which were ordinarily allowed to send their
superfluous discharge beyond the walls, were provided
with retaining reservoirs, for the double purpose of fur-


nisliing an extra supply to the besieged, and making water
generally inaccessible to the besiegers. Chief of these
sj)rings was the great fountain of Siloam. Its waters
had, possibly by Hezekiah himself ^ (2 K. xx. 20), been
brought southwestward from Gihon or the '' Fountain of
the Virgin " on the eastern side of the city, by a famous
winding tunnel 1708 feet long. This aqueduct is " the
brook that overflowed in the middle of the terrain "
(2 Chr. xxxii. 4). Its redundant supply was now checked
from following its wonted course to the " Fuller's Field,"
on the eastern slope of Ophel, through "the conduit of the
upper pool" (Isa. vii. 3), by the formation of "a reservoir
between the two walls for the waters of the old pool "
(Isa. xxii. 11). 2 The defects in the city walls were
repaired. Many of the buildings in the city were torn
down and the materials used to form an additional barri-
cade against the engines of the attacking army.

§ 699. If Jerusalem should surrender on demand, so
much the better for all parties. Such at least was the
opinion and expectation of the Assj'rian commanders.
Accordingly, the Rabshakeh (i^ah sdhl, " highest chief "),

1 It is thought, however, by some (Stade, GVI. I, 594 ; cf . Sayce, The
Higher Criticism, etc., p. 381 f.) that the language of Isa. viii. 6, "The
waters of Siloah that go softly," can only refer to the tunnel and its out-
flow, which would therefore have been already in existence in the days of
Ahaz. The forms of the letters on the famous tunnel inscription, discovered
in 1880 by young James Hornstein and a companion, cannot yet be assigned
to a particular date.

^ The "old pool" is therefore identical with the "upper pool," as
would naturally be expected. The " lower pool," whose waters were also
held in check by a reservoir (Isa. xxii. 9) , is to be explained by 2 Chr.
xxxii. 30, when it is said that Hezekiah " stopped the upper outflow of
the waters of Gihon, and directed them downwards on the west side of the
City of David." The waters of Gihon were those which came from
the Virgin's Spring. The "upper outflow" implies the "lower pool"
and its outflow. Indeed, traces have been found of a second tunnel con-
ducting from the pool of Siloam southwards to a second pool (cf. Sayce,
I.e. p. 382). The two pools probably sent their overflow in common to
the reservoir in the Fuller's Field. For the whole situation compare the
measures adopted by Ahaz (§ 326), and see the plans in Stade, I, 590 f£.


an officer of diplomatic as well as military functions,
who accompanied the commander-in-chief (^Turtmi) and
the lieutenant-general or division commander (rah sa rise
" chief of heads," Rabsaris), summoned the city to yield.
The scene of this memorable parley is one already familiar
to us in connection with the history of Ahaz (§ 326). It
was a place of great resort on account of the reservoir out-
side of the walls, which in times of peace was reached by
the gate of the king's garden. Here he was met by
Eliakim, the king's chancellor, Shebna, the scribe, and
Joah, the chronicler. On the wall were the few defenders
of the city. I>ehind them stood a crowd of the populace,
who had just now little sympathy with the Assyrian rule.
For was not Egypt again under arms and on the march ?

§ 700. An harangue was delivered by the Rabshakeh,
most admirably calculated to stir up discontent in the
minds of the people. He pointed out that it would be
useless for the Judaeans to resist the Great King, since
they had no other reliance for active conflict than
Egypt, and Egypt was a staff made of a broken reed.
Such a characterization of Egypt they had repeatedly
heard before as given by their own prophet Isaiah (cf.
Isa. XXX. 3-7). Thus the Assyrian legate could appeal
to a familiar feeling of distrust in the prevailing policy.
He then uses a much more specious plea. Believing, as
did all ancient Semites, in the potency of ever}^ national
god, he ingeniously appeals to what must have been the
popular sentiment even in Jerusalem with regard to the
intent and purport of Hezekiah's reforms in religious
worship (2 K. xviii. 22; cf. xviii. 4; 2 Chr. xxxi.). Tiie
removal of the " high places " was doubtless regarded as
contributing to the prestige of Jerusalem as compared with
the rest of Judah. But it was not difficult to make even
the Jerusalemites believe that to deprive Jehovah of liis
local sanctuaries was to abridge his authority and lower
him in comparison with the gods of the surrounding peo-
ples. Thus his power for offence or defence would be of


comparatively little account. He then ridiculed the idea
of resistance on the part of a people who had to trust to
Egypt for chariots and horsemen, saying that they would
not be able to muster two thousand riders, if that number
of Assyrian horses were offered to them for the purpose.
Finally he asserted, perhaps sincerely, that Jehovah had
given him a commission to march against Jerusalem and
destroy it.

§ 701. At this point the Judaite officials, fearing the
effect of his adroit appeals upon the half-hearted guardians
of the city, begged the legate not to continue to speak
"Judaic," but "Aramaic," with which all diplomatists
were familiar (xviii. 26). The Rabshakeh, feeling that
his command of the language of the country had given
him an unexpected power over the natives, retorted that
his mission really was not to the king and nobles, but to
the common soldiers, whose persistence in the defensive
would involve the whole population in the extremest and
most revolting necessities of a protracted siege (v. 27).
He then resumed his appeals in the Hebrew language,
urging the people not to be deceived by Hezekiah into
continued resistance to the Great King, but to submit to
the terms of surrender offered by him, making him at the
same time a substantial propitiatory gift (v. 31, cf. 2 K.
V. 15). They would thus be allowed at least to live upon
the products of their own country, till at the end of the
whole campaign they would be taken to another land as
fertile and productive as their own. Otherwise their fate
would be sealed, for no god had as yet been able to deliver
his people out of the hand of the king of Assyria. The
Syrian cities captured and destroyed within recent years
had appealed in vain to their gods for deliverance, and
Jehovah would prove like unto them (vs. 32-35).

§ 702. The harangue was listened to in silence ; and
with their garments rent, as the symbol of woe and des-
peration, Hezekiah's men told their unhappy king the
ultimatum of the Assyrian. There was but one in all


Jerusalem to whom Hezekiah could turn for help — the
man whose saving counsel had been neglected by king
and people, with the result that the kingdom had been all
but destroyed and its utter destruction was now impending.
The king- knew all along that Isaiah had the ear of Jehovah,
and now he begs of him to intercede in behalf of "the
remnant that is left" (2 K. xix. 1-5). But Isaiah had
already received the word of promise, and he returned
the king the cheering answer that he need not be afraid
of the threats of the tyrant, that Sinacherilj would hear
something that would send him back to his own land, and
that his death should be one of violence (vs. 6, 7).

§ 703. The deliverance did not follow at once. But
it finally came in very unexpected fashion. The legate
returned to report to his master his observations and the
effect of his summons. Meanwhile Lachish had fallen, and
Sinacherib's headquarters were transferred to the neighbour-
ing town of Libnah. Then followed in quick succession
the Egyptian incursion and defeat, the fall of Ekron, and
the complete subjugation of the southwest of Palestine.
To aid in the conflict with the Egyptians the Assyrian
troops were withdrawn from Jerusalem ; but the siege
was not abandoned. An embassy Avas sent to the Assyrian
king, onl}' to be repulsed (Isa. xxxiii. 7). Grief and con-
sternation overwhelmed Jerusalem, when Sinacherib sent
a special set of messengers with a letter to Hezekiah, to
reinforce the demand of the Rabshakeh for surrender. In
this the former arguments and threats were substantially
repeated (2 K. xix. 9-13).

§ 704. No reply was made to the message. Hezekiah
uttered a fervent prayer that Jerusalem might be saved
from the hand of Sinacherib (vs. 14-19). Then Isaiah
announced to him in Jehovah's name that his prayer was
heard: that Sinacherib, who like the other kings of
Assyria was only an instrument in the hands of Jehovah
to work his will among the nations, would be led back by
the way he had come ; that the now desolate country of


Judah would within two years be restored to its former
productiveness and prosperity, and the remnant of Judah
should be preserved. Sinacherib should not appear before
the city as its besieger, but should return to his own coun-
try, leaving Jerusalem intact (vs. 20-34). What might
now have happened in the ordinary course of events it is
difficult to sa}^ Probably Jerusalem would soon have
surrendered at discretion. Even with the precautions
above described (§ 698) and the strong natural defences
of tlie city, the princes were little disposed to stand the
threatened siege. But the fears of the Jerusalemites
and the well-grounded hopes of the Assyrians were alike
disappointed. The Hebrew record tells the story : " And
the angel of Jehovah went forth and smote in the camp of
Assyria one hundred and eighty and five thousand, and
when people arose in the morning, behold, all of those men
were dead corpses " (Isa. xxxvii. 36 ; cf. 2 K. xix. 35,
2 Chr. xxxii. 21).

§ 705. Certain questions are of prime interest in con-
nection with this account. We ask, in what historical
connection the event occurred, and what was the real
nature of the infliction. There is grave difficulty in these
questions, and they cannot be considered apart from one
another. As contributing in some slight degree to the
solution, the account of Herodotus (II, 141) may appro-
priately be given here : " After him [Sabakon the Ethi-
opian] a priest of Hephaestus [i.e. Ptah] came to the
throne whose name was Sethon [i.g. Seti]. He made the
military class among the Egyptians of little account, and
ignored them as though he were independent of their aid.
He dishonoured them in various ways, and especially by
taking from them their lands, which had been bestowed
upon them in the times of the earlier kings at the rate of
twelve acres for each man. After a time Sanacharib, king
of the Assyrians and Arabians, led a great army against
Egypt. Then the soldiery refused to succour the Egyp-
tians. The priest then, being reduced to great straits,


repaired to the temple ; and to the image of his god he
bewailed the perils in which he was involved. While
he was lamenting, sleep fell upon him, and it seemed to
him in vision as though the god were standing by him and
encouraging him, saying that he would incur no misfort-
une if he marched against the army of the Arabians, for
he himself would supply him with defenders. Trusting to
this apparition, he took with him such of the Egyptians as
were willing to follow him, and encamped in Pelusium,
since this was the key to the country. But none of the
warrior class would accompany him, only traders and handi-
craftsmen and market-people. After they had arrived
there, an army of field-mice fairly inundated their ene-
mies in the night time, gnawing apart their quivers, their
bows, and their shield-straps, so that on the following day,
being deprived of their weapons, they were put to flight,
and many of them fell. And this king, imaged in stone,
still stands in the temple of Hepha3stus, holding in his
hand a mouse, and bearing an inscription which says:
'Let him who looks upon me fear the gods.'"

§ 700. This extract from the garrulous Greek traveller
illustrates extremely well the growth of legend and myth
out of an event of national importance in a superstitious age.
But the substratum of fact in the story is evident enough.
The fine spelling of the name of the invading king, his
nationality, the vivid recollection of a great deliverance,
and the survival of the commemorative monument, all
attest the reality of the invasion as well as its sudden and
apparently supernatural repulse. That Arabians are men-
tioned along with Assyrians is not due, as has been sup-
posed, to the circumstance that large numbers of Arab
nomads had made a settlement among the Babylonians.
It rather points to an impressment by Sinacherib of Ara-
bian auxiliaries into his service (cf. § 708).

§ 707. The calamity which led to the retreat is natu-
rally regarded as having been an attack of pestilence.
Infectious diseases destroy life more rapidl}'- than any


other scourge of the race except war, of which they are
often the consequence (Amos iv. 10). They are also
ascribed specially to the intervention of the "angel of
Jehovah" (2 Sam. xxiv. 15 ff. ; 1 Chr. xxi. 12). The
number destroyed is indeed great ; but it has been equalled
and surpassed by other historic plagues. It is, moreover,
not certain, to the present writer at least, whether the
number was not originally written 5180. In the text of
Kings it is said that " the ' angel of Jehovah ' went forth
that night;" but the word "that" is not found in the Sep-
tuagint, while all reference to the night generally is ex-
cluded from both Isaiah and Chronicles. It would really
appear as though the idea of a nocturnal visitation had
been suggested to some late editor, as in the Egyptian story,
by the wide-spread belief of the people of the East that
destructive supernatural agencies generally, and especially
demons of disease, are busiest at night. At any rate,
it is clear that we need not assume that the loss of the
Assyrians was suffered in a single night. It should also be
mentioned that in the version of the affair given by Herod-
otus, the mice which gnawed the bowstrings of the "Assyr-
ians and Arabians" are the popular prosaic working out
of the fact that the mouse is a symbol of pestilence (1 Sam.
vi. 4 f.).i

§ 708. As to the locality, there is strong antecedent
probability against Jerusalem or the neighbourhood. Much
more likely is it to have been the region indicated by
Herodotus. It is perhaps not without significance that
the country about Pelusium, the district in question, has
always been notorious for the deadly miasma arising from
its bogs and marshes. There can be no doubt whatever
that Sinacherib's ultimate aim, like that of his successors,
was to gain possession of Egypt, the great goal of As-
syrian and Babylonian conquest. It was therefore quite
natural that, after the fall of Ekron, he should seek to
follow up his victory at Elteke and the capture of Lachish

1 See Note 13 in Appendix.


by an invasion of Egypt, and at the same time secure his
rear by taking and occupying Jerusalem, Moreover, the
Egyptian legend means nothing if it does not imply that
an invasion of the country by Sinacherib had actually
been undertaken. Further, it is certain that the Assyrians
carried on war at this time in Arabia beyond what is re-
corded either in Sinacherib's own. annals or in the Hebrew
records. Esarhaddon relates (see § 755) that Hazael, a king
of the Arab country, whose fortress Adumu had been taken
by Sinacherib, came to him to Nineveh to beg back from
him his ancestral gods. This circumstance indicates that
the operations of the Assyrians in this campaign were not
by any means confined to Palestine. Finally, it is unmis-
takably implied in the oracle of Isaiah (xxxvii. 25) that
Sinacherib contemplated the conquest of Egypt. The
words are here put into his mouth : " With the sole of my
foot I will dry up all the channels of Egypt." He regarded
the arms of the Nile and the canals of the Delta as being
already crossed by his army as though they were dry land —
so sure was he of an immediate triumph in Egypt.

§ 709. The occurrences after the taking of Ekron may
now be summarized as follows : The siege of Lachish was
brought to a conclusion, and Libnah was also captured.
By this means Sinacherib felt secure against any effort on
the part of Judah to combine with its Egyptian allies.
He hoped also to make an end of Judaite independence.
But as he could not spare a large bod}^ of troops from his
projected expedition, he sent his legate with a small guard,
expecting that Jerusalem would be terrified into surrender.
Meanwhile he made incursions into Arabia, and put off
the attack on Jerusalem, intimidated and helpless as it
was, till after he should have had his triumph over the
Egyptians. This he now^ proceeded to secure. But in the
neighbourhood of Pelusium his army was attacked by pesti-
lence ; and the far inferior troops of the prince of the Delta
awaiting him at the border, were encouraged to advance
upon the invaders, who thought it best to beat a retreat.


About the same time he heard news of disturbances in the

Online LibraryJames Frederick McCurdyHistory, prophecy and the monuments (Volume 2) → online text (page 27 of 39)