Museum of Biblical History Staff • 08.25.2015
One of the best documented events written of in the Bible is Sennacherib’s third campaign, during which he invaded the eastern Mediterranean coastline, including the nation of Israel, in 701 B.C. History tells us that Sargon II, emperor of Assyria fell in battle in 705 B.C. Seeing this as an opportunity, the people of the Mediterranean coast began to plot a revolt against Assyria; yet the prophet Isaiah warned: “Rejoice not, O Philistia that the rod that struck you is broken, for from the serpent’s root will come forth an adder, and its fruit will be a flying fiery serpent.” (Isaiah 14:29 – ESV) Despite his warning, in 701 B.C. the Philistines revolted. Tyre and Sidon also joined in the rebellion; and once the Egyptians sent an army led by Taharqo (Tirhakah according to the Bible), Judah’s king Hezekiah joined in as well. Sennacherib’s response to this would soon come to mean his greatest triumph, and yet the most embarrassing campaign deterrence in history. Yet despite the campaign’s remarkable documentation, what exactly happened in the midst of this campaign has become a topic of some controversy among scholars. What exactly happened to Sennacherib’s army in 701 B.C.? In this brief narrative, we will examine the key sources of information on the event’s details, and see if we can shed some light on what exactly happened here.
In response to the revolt, Sennacherib launched a massive campaign against the entire rebellion, beginning his attack from the north, defeating Sidon and moving southward in bloody conquest that is almost comparable to Sherman’s March to the Sea. The soldiers of Tyre, the Philistines, and the Egyptians took their stand at the Philistine city of Eltekah, near Ekron. Sennacherib’s army overwhelmed them and he then continued his conquest, leveling many major Philistine cities. He then turned his gaze on Judah; crushing its 46 fortified cities, and surrounding Jerusalem with enemy territory – or as he himself wrote: “. . . [Hezekiah] himself, I locked up within Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage” (Cogan, 303). In 2 Kings 18-19, the Bible tells us that while Sennacherib was putting Lachish under siege (one of the 46 fortified cities of Judah), he sent a message to Hezekiah, as well as another later. Both of these messages were intended to convince Hezekiah to surrender Jerusalem to him. The first was given through three messengers. In accordance with the word of the prophet Isaiah (19:6-7), Sennacherib heard a rumor that Taharqo had escaped Eltekah, regrouped his army in Egypt, and was coming to face him again. He then sent his second message in the form of a letter. Isaiah responded to the letter, saying “. . . [The LORD] will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David” (v.34). Continue reading