36. Sennacherib's Campaign in Palestine: 2 or 1 invasions?

What is the evidence for and against the “two invasion” theory of Sennacherib’s incursion into Palestine and its significance for our overall understanding of this period of biblical history?

Summary: Sennacherib's military campaign against Syria/Palestine (known as "the 3rd Campaign") and particularly his siege of Jerusalem are recorded in 2Kgs 18:13-19:37 (=Isa 36-37), 2Chr 32:1-23, and in Sennacherib's Annals. Due to certain inconsistencies within the Biblical record and due to some incongruences between the Biblical record and Sennacherib's annal, some scholars have suggested that there were actually two invasions of Palestine on the part of Sennacherib. Thus, these scholars argue that there was an invasion in 701 BCE and another invasion in 688-81 BCE. Conversely, other scholars hold that only one invasion occurred in 701 BCE. Thus, the inconsistencies in/between the Biblical record and/or Sennacherib's annals are due to different perspectives on one event which occurred in 701 BCE.

I. Records that Mention Sennacherib's Palestinian Campaign

1) Biblical Record (2Kgs 18:13-19:37; =Isa 36-37; 2Chr 32:1-23)

•"A"=2Kgs 18:13-16 (Assyria is apparently victorious):

-S. takes "all the fortified cities of Judah"

-Hezekiah sends to Lachish and offers to pay off S. and S. accepts the offer.

-Hezekiah scrapes gold from temple doors and sends to S.

•"B"=2Kgs 18:17-19:37 (Assyria is apparently NOT victorious):

**<"B1"=2Kgs 18:17-19:9a, 36f; Isa 36:1ff & "B2"=2Kgs 19:9b-35; Isa 37:9b-36>**

-S. sends Tartan, Rabsaris, and Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem with a great army.

-Rabshakeh hassles the Judeans on the city wall

-Isaiah reassures Hezekiah not to be afraid. States the S. will "hear a rumor and return to his land" where he will "fall by the sword in his own land"

-Rabshakeh returns to Lachish and finds S. is fighting against Libnah, because S. heard that Tirhakah king of Ethiopia came up to fight with him.

-S. again sends messengers calling upon Hezekiah to surrender

-Isaiah again reassures Hezekiah stating that YHWH will defend Jerusalem and save it.

-Angel of YHWH kills 185,000 Assyrian soldiers; S. returns home and is assasinated.

2) Sennacherib's Annals on the Rassam Cylinder (date to 700 BCE)

•S. subjugates Syria/Palestine: Sidon, Tyre, Akko, Byblos, Joppa, Ekron, Timnah, Ashkelon.

•S. overpowers 46 towns in Judah

•S. besieged Jerusalem. S. made Hezekiah "a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were leaving his city's gates."

•S. takes tribute from Hezekiah

**Lachish is NOT mentioned! 

3) Lachish Reliefs 

•Pictures of S. besieging Lachish, destroying city, execution of Lachish leaders, Judeans of Lachish deported

4) Fragmentary text perhaps of Sennacherib

• Mentions conquest of two Palestinian towns, one being Azekah.

II. Arguments for a Two-Campaign Theory (H. Winckler, R.W. Rogers, W.F. Albright, and J. Bright)

1) Two accounts with two different outcomes recorded in the Bible (2Kgs 18:13-16 vs. 2Kgs 18:17-19:37)

*The Bible seems to contain two different stories with two different outcomes of the invasion. The first account seems to present the Assyrians as the victors (2Kgs18:13-16), while the second account seems to present the Judeans as the victors and the Assyrians as devastated losers (18:17-19:37). In 2Kgs18:13-16, we read the Hezekiah scraped the gold off the temple to pay off the Assyrians. On the other hand, in 2Kgs 18:17-19:37, we read that the Assyrians merely threaten the Judeans with Rabshakeh's words and in the end the Assyrian army is devastated and killed and therefore they go home in defeat. 

*Because there are two different accounts with two different outcomes, scholars suggest that the these two different accounts are records of two different invasions. In the first, Sennacherib devastated Judah, but in the second, Sennacherib left Judah after his army was devastated.

2) Incongruences between the Biblical account and Sennacherib's annals.

*Sennacherib's annals seem to correspond ONLY with the 1st Biblical account (2Kgs 18:13-16)! Both Sennacherib's account and the 1st Biblical account portray Sennacherib as the victor. Both mention destruction of Judah. Both mention Hezekiah's tribute; Sennacherib's annals exaggerate this tribute a bit.

*On the other hand, Sennacherib's annals is very different from the 2nd Biblical account (2Kgs 18:17-19:37). The Bible mentions the siege of Lachish, but Sennacherib's annals don't mention it at all! This is strange because Lachish is the largest in size and importance after Jerusalem, so one would think that Sennacherib would include it in his annals! 

*The destruction of Lachish is not mentioned in the annals, but it is clearly depicted in the Lachish reliefs.  Lachish is not mentioned in the 1st Biblical account, but it is clearly mentioned in the 2nd Biblical account. 

*Additionally, in a fragmentary text, Azekah is mentioned as a destroyed city, but Azekah does not appear in Sennacherib's annals. 

*To explain the aforementioned discrepancies, scholars such as Cogan attribute different events to two invasions of Judah. Scholars suggest the 1st Biblical account (2Kgs 18:13-16) and Sennacherib's Annals both refer to the invasion of 701 BCE. On the other hand, the 2nd account (2Kgs 18:17-19:37) is a record of events of the invasion of 688-81; such a written record exists only in the Bible (i.e., 2Kgs 18:17-19:37) with no corresponding extra-Biblical written source.

*Additionally, the Lachish reliefs are artistic records of the 688-81 invasion (i.e., 2Kgs 18:17-19:37), NOT of the 701 invasion (i.e., 2Kgs 18:13-16). Likewise, the fragmentary record that mentions Azekah is also a record of the 688-81 invasion, NOT of the 701 invasion.

3) Mention of Tirhakah, King of Ethiopia in the 2nd Biblical Account (2Kgs 19:9)

*According to the 2nd Biblical account (2Kgs 18:17-19:37), after Rabshaqeh returns to Lachish, he finds out that S. is fighting in Libnah with Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia. The problem is that Tirhakah became king only in 690 BCE. Thus, it seems that S. must have fought him at a time after 690 BCE.

III. Reconstruction of Events Acc. to the Two-Invasion Theory

*Cogan reconstructs the events in the following manner. In 701, S. arrives in Judah. Destroys many cities in Judah. Besieges Jerusalem. Hezekiah sends tribute to S. in Lachish and thus averts destruction of Jerusalem. This is recorded in the 1st Biblical account (2Kgs 18:13-16) and in Sennacherib's annals.

Then, S. leaves on military affairs. Apparently, both Egyptians and Ethiopians were involved. Egyptian forces clash with Assyrian forces near Eltekeh. Although S. claims a great victory, perhaps his victory was not so magnanimous since he only claims that he captured the charioteers of Egypt and Ethiopia. This suggests S. had some setbacks in these battles. 

Between 688-81, S. returns to destroy Judah and besieges Jerusalem. In this campaign, Lachish is destroyed and the events of the 2nd Biblical account (2Kgs 18:17-19:37) take place. The Lachish reliefs and the fragmentary record mentioning Azekah belong to this campaign.

*Grayson reconstructs the two campaigns similarly. He argues that the first campaign was of 701BC and the second campaign probably took place late in the reign (688-81), a period for which no Assyrian annals are preserved. 

Sennacherib’s first Palestinian campaign could have taken place more or less as he described it in his annals.  The siege of Jerusalem came to an end when Hez. paid a huge tribute to Senn (see 2 Kgs 18:14-16).  In subsequent years, Hezekiah, encouraged by the absence of the Assyrian army, must have allied himself to Egypt. At the same time he took the precaution of fortifying Jerusalem to face a siege as narrated in 2 Chron. 

Sennacherib, late in his reign after he had dealt with other problems, was in a position to deal with Hezekiah. Thus, he probably led a second campaign into Palestine which involved among other things the siege of Lachish. It was possibly on this occasion that the Rabshakeh made his vain efforts to persuade Hezekiah to give up without a fight.  Tirhakah led an Egypto-Ethiopian force into Palestine to raise the siege.  Before the two armies met however a catastrophe befell the Assyrian camp and Senn retreated in haste (cf. Herodotus 2.141).  This is a hypothetical reconstruction of the events but it accepts the biblical narrative as essentially accurate while at the same time reconciling it with the Assyrian records.

IV. Refutations of Arguments for a Two-Campaign Theory

1) Two accounts with two different outcomes recorded in the Bible (2Kgs 18:13-16 vs. 2Kgs 18:17-19:37)

Refutation: Yes, there are two different accounts. However, both accounts refer to the same event. Both accounts speak of the same event from different perspectives.

2) Incongruences between the Biblical account and Sennacherib's annals.

Refutation: The incongruences are merely different perspectives upon the same event. In fact, there are nice agreements between the accounts. 

•Tribute (Sennacherib's annals; 1st Biblical account)

•Destroyed Judean cities (Sennacherib's annals; 1st Biblical account)

•Siege (Sennacherib's annals; 2nd Biblical account)

•Harassing of Judeans (Sennacherbi's annals; 2nd Biblical account)

**Absence of Lachish in S.'s annals and presence of Lachish in 2nd Biblical account is problematic. 

3) Mention of Tirhakah, King of Ethiopia in the 2nd Biblical Account (2Kgs 19:9)

Refutation: Although Tirhakah became king in 690 BCE, he was a general of Egypt even in 701 BCE, so it is not a problem that Tirhakah is mentioned in 2Kgs 19:9 as the king of Ethiopia fighting against S. 

V. Other Arguments Against a Two-Invasion Theory (historical and methodological)

1.  A historical analysis of the reign of Senn shows Sennacherib was not obliged to undertake a second campaign to the West after the impressive victory in 701.  Hez’s rebellion stemmed from circumstances of 705; Sargon’s death and the regaining of the throne of Babylon by Merodach-baladan led to the high expectation that Assyrian might was collapsing.  After Judah had been laid waste, what motivation can be suggested for a second rebellion by Hez, esp if the rebellion happened following the destruction of Babylon 689 (which was destroyed by Assyrian forces), which would have served as a warning?  

Also, if Senn had to retreat from Judah, Esarhaddon would have the burden of retaking the West.  But from E’s inscriptions it is learned that Manasseh, king of Judah, was among  the twelve western kings who submitted to E early in his reign. Thus, the only conclusion is but one Assyrian campaing ot Judah, and it was in 701.

2.  Methodologically, the two-campaign theory misrepresents the evidence at hand.  The sources – Senn’s annal account (the “Rassam cylinder”), the excerpt from the Judaean royal annals (18:13-16, aka, "A"), the two prophetic narratives ("B1"=2Kgs 18:17-19:9a, 36f; Isa 36:1ff & "B2"=2Kgs 19:9b-35; Isa 37:9b-36) – are treated as if they were all of the same literary genre and of equal value in hist reconstruction.  Thus the "B2" narrative which contains the story of a miraculous divine interventin on Hez’s behalf and which shows late reworking (e.g. 19.24) is treated as having the same degree of reliability as a chronicle or royal inscription.

3.  Two-campaign theory also creates new problems.  Readers must assume that events separated by 12 years have been telescoped into a single story; i.e. the report of Hez’s heavy tribute paid during the first campaign has been coordinated w/stories from Hez’s second rebellion.  Did the Dtr hist cover up Hez’s initial failure with Senn’s retreat from Judah?  If so, why did he mention tribute at all, since the tribute is equally embarrassing?

4. The richness of literary evidence for the events of 701, conflicting as it is, is no diff from the sometimes contradictory reports that issue forth from modern-day battlefields, and official gov sources.  Each shows a partisan view and is grist for the historian’s mill.  They may be utilized in historical reconstructions only after having been analyzed critically, using tools appropriate to their literary categories.

5. Another ancient story, related by Herodotus concerning Senn’s retreat from Egypt, has often been brought into discussions concerning the campaign of 701.  Opinions range from seeing in it “without doubt” an account parallel to 2 Kgs 18-19 (Montgomery-Gehman; Gray), to others who hold it to be “somewhat dubious” (Bright).  In effect, a multitutde of field mice swarm over the Assyrian camp and devour quivers and bows, handles fo their shields, etc.; they flee and many fall.  Josephus notes Herodotus’s error in calling Senn the “king of the Arabs and Assyrians” (not king of Arabs), but also it was Esarhaddon, not Senn, that successfully campaigned against Egypt in 671. BUT, Cogan suggests that Herodotus has recast his “Egyptian” material in Greek terms; thus, this is just a legend. If, on the other hand, Herodotus is indeed recounting Sennacherib's invasion of 701, then he is definitely referring to the events of the 2nd Biblical account (2Kgs 18:17-19:37) which recount how the Assyrians were miraculously destroyed. Therefore, this would mean that there was only one campaign, since the devastation of the Assyrians is the last event in the Biblical accounts and it would have had to happen in 701 BCE.

VI. Significance for Biblical History

*The significance of the above discussion for our overall understanding of this period of Biblical history is pretty straight forward. Either there was one invasion in 701 for which Hezekiah prepared before the invasion. The Biblical record and extra-Biblical records would all contribute to our reconstruction of that one invasion in 701. All events would have occurred in 701 or just prior to it.

Or there were two invasions separated by a period of about 12 years. Thus, a siege of Jerusalem would have occurred in 701 which resulted in Hezekiah paying a tribute to Sennacherib. After the 701 invasion, S. would have left to fight with the Egyptians and Ethipians. Hezekiah would have fortified Jerusalem at this time, as described in 2Chr. Later, in 688-81, the events of Rabshaqeh's visits and the miraculous devastation of the Assyrians would have taken place at this time. See also, the reconstruction of Grayson (above) for a fuller discussion of the reconstruction of events in a 2-Invasion Theofy.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.