Nahum, Nineveh and Those Nasty Assyrians
Technical – May 28, 2009 – by Gordon Franz MA
This article was first published in the Fall 2003 issue of Bible and Spade.
If I mentioned the city Nineveh, what would come to your mind? Most likely you would say Jonah. We have all heard the story about Jonah being swallowed by the great fish and then going to Nineveh to preach against the city. His message was short and to the point, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown” (Jon 3:4, all Scripture quotes are from the NKJV). The city, from the king to the dogcatcher, repented. Have you ever wondered what happened to Nineveh after that? The short prophetic book of Nahum tells us “the rest of the story.”
The Date of the Book of Nahum
Scholars have long debated the date of the book of Nahum. A wide range of dates has been suggested, from the eighth century BC (Feinberg 1951:126, 148) to the Maccabean period, early second century BC (Haupt 1907). Yet, the book gives us internal chronological parameters to date the book. Nahum describes the conquest of Thebes (No-Amon) by Ashurbanipal II in 663 BC as a past event, thus the book could not have been written before that date. The entire book is a prediction of the fall of the city of Nineveh in 612 BC. Thus, the book was written somewhere between 663 and 612 BC.
A case can be made for the proclamation of the message, and writing of the book, about 650 BC. If this is the correct date, the Spirit of God used this book to put King Manasseh into a position where he could come to faith and bring Judah back to the LORD. Up until this point in the reign of King Manasseh, the kingdom, led by the king, was “more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel” (2 Chr 33:9). The LORD sent seers (prophets) to speak to the nation, but the nation would not listen to the Word of God (33:10, 18). While not named, one of the seers was probably Nahum. His vision concerning the total destruction of Nineveh would be seen by the Assyrian overlords as fomenting rebellion and insurrection, and possibly seen as support for Shamash-shum-ukin, the king of Babylon, in his current civil war with his brother Ashurbanipal II. If a copy of the book of Nahum fell into the hands of the Assyrian intelligence community stationed at the Assyrian administrative centers of Samaria, Dor, Megiddo or Hazor, King Manasseh would have had to give account for this book. The Biblical record states,
the LORD brought upon them [Judah] the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon (2 Chr 33:11).
Relief of Elamites being tortured during the time of Ashurbanipal. From the palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh, now in the British Museum. The two Elamites shown on this portion of the relief are being skinned alive.
This event would have transpired in 648 BC, the year that Ashurbanipal II temporarily ruled Babylon after he eliminated his brother as a result of the four-year civil war (Rainey 1993:160).
Dragging someone off with hooks in their nose would be in keeping with Ashurbanipal’s character. In the excavations of Sam’al (Zincirli, in southern Turkey) a stela was found depicting Esarhaddon holding two leashes attached to the nose-rings of Baal of Tyre and Usanahuru, a crown prince of Egypt (see front cover). Flanking the stela, watching intently, is Esarhaddon’s son Ashurbanipal on the left and his brother Samas-sumu-ukin on the right. Ashurbanipal observed his father’s brutality and followed his example (Parpola and Watanabe 1988:20, 21).
During Manasseh’s interrogation by Ashurbanipal II (and it must have been a brutal one—the text used the word “afflicted”).
He implored the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God (2 Chr 33:12–13).
Upon his return to Jerusalem, Manasseh began building projects in the city as well as elsewhere in Judah and removed the idols and altars he had placed in the Temple (2 Chr 33:14–15).
He also repaired the altar of the LORD, sacrificed peace offerings and thanks offerings on it, and commanded Judah to serve the LORD God of Israel (33:16).
This activity was in accord with what Nahum had challenged the people to do.
Behold, on the mountains, the feet of him who brings good tidings, who proclaims peace! O Judah, keep your appointed feast, perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through; he is utterly cut off (1:15).
The challenge was for Judeans to renew their pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the thrice-yearly feasts of Pesach (Passover), Shav’uot (Pentecost) and Succoth (Tabernacles) (Ex 23:14–17; 34:22–24; Dt 16:16, 17). There was also a command for the remnant that faithfully prayed to the LORD desiring to bring the nation back to Biblical worship and to bring the king to the LORD. They were to perform the vow they had made to the LORD. The Bible records a half-hearted attempt to return to Biblical worship, “Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed on the high places, but only to the LORD their God” (2 Chr 33:17). The only true place of worship was the Temple in Jerusalem, not the high places.
Nahum prophesied the destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the sole superpower, at the zenith of Assyria’s power and glory. He boldly proclaimed a message that was not popular, nor “politically correct.” In fact, most Judeans would think his prediction of the downfall of Nineveh impossible.
The Reliefs From Ashurbanipal’s Palace
Ashurbanipal II reigned in Nineveh 668–631 BC. At the beginning of his reign he lived in Sennacherib’s “palace without rival.” Ashurbanipal refurbished the palace about 650 BC. In Room 33, he placed his own wall reliefs. Ashurbanipal’s other major construction project was the North Palace for the crown prince (Russell 1999:154).
Nahum was from Elkosh (Na 1:1). Some scholars have suggested Elkosk was located at the village of Al-Qush, 25 mi north of modern day Mosul, a city that is across the Tigris River from Nineveh. These scholars take this position because: (1) the names are similar, (2) the local Christian tradition holds that Nahum was from there and his tomb was there, and (3) Nahum’s writings show his familiarity with the city of Nineveh. Some speculate that Nahum was an Israelite captive who lived in the area and was an eyewitness to the city.
There is, however, the possibility that Elkosh was in southern Judah and Nahum was part of the Judean emissary that brought the yearly tribute from King Manasseh to Nineveh. While in Nineveh, he would have observed the broad roads (Na 2:4), walls (2:5), gates (2:6), temples and idols (1:14), and its vast wealth (2:9). I’m sure the minister of propaganda would have shown him the wall reliefs in Ashurbanipal’s residence! These reliefs were intended “as propaganda to impress, intimidate and instigate by representing the might of Assyrian power and the harsh punishment of rebels” (Comelius 1989:56). Or, as Esarhaddon would say, “For the gaze of all my foes, to the end of days, I set it [stela] up” (Luckenbill 1989:2:227).
Let us examine the reliefs from the British Museum that were found on the walls of Ashurbanipal’s palace and see how they illustrate the word-pictures used by Nahum in his book.
Blasphemy against Assur (Na 1:14)
In 650 BC, Nahum would have seen the newly opened Room 33 in the Southwest Palace of Nineveh (Sennacherib’s “palace without rival”) with the reliefs depicting the campaign against Teumman of Elam and Dunanu of Gambula in 633 BC. One Particular relief would have caught his attention. On it, Elamite captives are shown being tortured. The caption above stated, “Mr. (blank) and Mr. (blank) spoke great insults against Assur, the god, my creator. Their tongues I tore out, their skins I flayed” (Russell 1999:180; Gerardi 1988:31). These two individuals are identified in Ashurbanipal’s annals as Mannu-ki-ahhe and Nabuusalli (Russell 1999:163).
Two Assyrian scribes (right) recording booty (center) taken during a campaign in southern Iraq. Relief from the palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
It was with great boldness that Nahum proclaimed,
The LORD has given a command concerning you [the king of Assyria]: “Your name shall be perpetuated no longer. Out of the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and molded image. I will dig your grave, for you are vile” (1:14).
These words were a direct attack on Assur and the rest of the Assyrian deities, as well as the king. Yet Nahum boldly proclaimed the message God gave him, in spite of the potential threat to his life!
Chariots, Not Volkswagens! (Na 2:3, 4)
The second chapter of Nahum describes the fall of the city of Nineveh to the Babylonians and Medes in 612 BC. He describes in detail the shields, chariots and spears of the Assyrian foes. While we do not have any contemporary Babylonian reliefs of their chariots, there are Assyrian reliefs of Assyrian chariots riding furiously. These chariots are depicted on the reliefs of the Assyrians attacking the Arabs.
Nahum mentions the broad roads of Nineveh. Ashurbanipal’s grandfather, Sennacherib, was the one who improved the streets of Nineveh. In the “Bellino cylinder” he boasts,
I [Sennacherib] widened its [Nineveh’s] squares, made bright the avenues and streets and caused them to shine like the day (1:61).
In the context of the book, Nahum sees a vision of chariots in the streets of Nineveh, not Volkswagens, as some prophecy teachers have speculated!
Take the Booty and Run! (Na 2:9, 10)
Nineveh was the Fort Knox of mid-seventh century BC Mesopotamia. On every Assyrian campaign they removed the silver, gold and precious stones and other items from the cities they sacked. When they bragged about the booty that was taken, silver and gold always topped the list. As an example, after the fall of No-Amon (Thebes), Ashurbanipal bragged that he took:
Silver, gold, precious stones, the goods of his palace, all there was, brightly colored and linen garments, great horses, the people, male and female, two tall obelisks…I removed from their positions and carried them off to Assyria. Heavy plunder, and countless, I carried away from Ni’ [Thebes] (Luckenbill 1989, 2:296, ¶778).
There are also reliefs of Assyrian scribes writing down the booty that was taken from other cities.
In Nahum’s vision he heard someone say,
Take spoil of silver! Take spoil of gold! These is no end of treasure, or wealth of every desirable prize. She is empty, desolate and waste! (2:9, 10a).
The Babylonian Chronicles described the spoils taken from Nineveh by the Babylonians and the Medes in these terms: “Great quantities of spoil from the city, beyond counting, they carried off” (Luckenbill 1989, 2:420, ¶ 1178).
One of the excavators of Nineveh has commented that very little gold and silver has been found in the ruins of the city. The Medes and Babylonians, “cleaned house” after they conquered the city, just as Nahum predicted.
Diodorus, a Greek historian from Sicily, writing in the first century BC, described the final hours of the king of Nineveh, Sardanapallus, in these words:
In order that he might not fall into the hands of the enemy, he built an enormous pyre in his palace, heaped upon it all his gold and silver as well as every article of the royal wardrobe, and then…he consigned [his concubines and eunuchs] and himself and his palace to the flame (Book 2. 27:2; Old father 1998:1:441).
Unfortunately, the Babylonian account is broken at this point. It says, “On that day Sin-shar-ishkun, king of Assyria, fled from the city (?)…” (Luckenbill 1989, 2:420; ¶ 1178).
If Diodorus is correct, the king of Assyria tried to take his wealth with him. At best, the gold and silver melted and were collected later. The Bible is clear that people cannot take their wealth with them to the afterlife—but it can be sent on ahead! The Lord Jesus admonished His disciples to, “lay up for themselves treasures in heaven” (Mt. 6:19–21).
The Lion Hunt (Na 2:11–13)
David Dorsey, in his outstanding book, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament (1999:301–305), places the lion’s den verses (2:11–13) at the center of the book’s chiastic structure. In commenting on the pattern of the structure he says,
This progression underscores the certainty of Nineveh’s fall: Yahweh’s prophet not only believes that it will happen; he composes dirges as though it has already happened. The placement of the eulogy over the “lion’s den” in the book’s highlighted central position reinforces this sense of certainty (1999:304, italics added).
Nahum used the lion and lion hunt motifs that both the Judeans and Assyrians would have been well familiar with. The Assyrians had a long history of depicting their king and warriors as mighty lions or great lion hunters (Johnston 2001:296–301). The Bible also depicts the Assyrian warriors as roaring lions (Is 5:29) and Yahweh as a lion who will tear up His prey and carry it off to His lair (Hos 5:14, 15; 13:7, 8; Johnston 2001:294, 295).
Ashurbanipal pouring out a libation on the lions (left) and Ashurbanipal holding a lion by the tail during a lion hunt. Note the defacement of the tail on the right. From the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
According to Ashurbanipal’s annals, at the beginning of his reign, two deities, Adad and Ea, blessed the land of Assyria with plenty of rain. This rain caused the forests to thrive and the reeds in the marshes to flourish. This blessing resulted in a population explosion among the lions. They exerted their influence in the hills and on the plain by attacking herds of cattle, flocks of sheep and people. Many were killed (Luckenbill 1989, 2:363, ¶ 935). Ashurbanipal II, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, took charge of the lion hunts in order to control the lion population (Luckenbill 1989, 2:392, ¶ 1025).
Ashurbanipal also engaged in lion hunting as a sport. Apparently lions were captured alive and put in cages in the king’s garden in Nineveh and used for staged lion hunts (Weissert 1997:339–58). One relief that was found in Ashurbanipal’s palace at Nineveh, apparently from a second floor, had three panels depicting a lion hunt. On the top panel, a lion is released from a cage and Ashurbanipal is shooting him with arrows. The central panel is interesting because it shows the bravery of the king. On the right side of the panel, soldiers are distracting a lion. On the left side, Ashurbanipal sneaks up and grabs the lion by the tail as he rears to his hind legs. The inscription above says,
I, Ashurbanipal, king of the universe, king of Assyria, in my lordly sport, I seized a lion of the plain by his tail and at the command of Urta, Nergal, the gods, my allies, I smashed his skull with the club of my hand (Luckenbill 1989, 2:391, ¶ 1023).
The king attributes his bravery to the deities. Dr. J. E. Reade, one of the keepers of the Western Asiatic Antiquities at the British Museum, has observed,
It is notable that much of the lion’s tail has been chipped away, so that the lion had been, as it were, set loose; this defacement was probably the action, at once humorous and symbolic, of some enemy soldier busy ransacking the palace in 612 B.C. (Curtis and Reade 1995:87).
On the lower panel, Ashurbanipal is pouring out a wine libation over the carcasses of four lions. In the inscription above, the king boasts of his power by saying,
I, Ashurbanipal, king of the universe, king of Assyria, whom Assur and Ninlil have endowed with surpassing might. The lions which I slew, the terrible bow of Ishtar, lady of battle, I aimed at them. I brought an offering, I poured out wine over them (Luckenbill 1989, 2:392, ¶ 1021).
Once again the king attributes his mighty power to the gods, in this case Assur and Ninlil.
In contrast, Ashurbanipal boasts that kings and lions are powerless before him. At the beginning of one of his annals (Cylinder F) he states,
Among men, kings, and among the beasts, lions (?) were powerless before my bow, I know (the art) of waging battle and combat…A valiant hero, beloved of Assur and Ishtar, of royal lineage, am I (Luckenbill 1989, 2:347, ¶ 896).
Dead bodies of the Assyrian enemies (left). The top body has its eyes being plucked out by a vulture, while the bottom body is beheaded. Assyrians forcing their enemies to grind the bones of their dead ancestors (right).
Ashurbanipal has tied his lion hunting and military conquests together in one statement.
In the vision of Nahum concerning Nineveh, Nahum asks a rhetorical question,
Where is the dwelling of the lions, and the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion walked, the lioness and lion’s cub, and no one made them afraid? (2:11).
He sees Nineveh as a lions’ den that has been destroyed and the lions are gone. The “prey” in verse 12 is apparently the booty that the Assyrians have taken from all the cities they conquered in recent memory.
In verse 13, the LORD states directly,
Behold, I am against you. I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messenger shall be heard no more.
The phrase “the sword shall devour your young lions” draws our attention to another relief showing Ashurbanipal thrusting a sword through a lion. The inscription associated with this relief says,
I, Ashurbanipal, king of the universe, king of Assyria, in my lordly sport, they let a fierce lion of the plain out of the cage and on foot…I stabbed him later with my iron girdle dagger and he died (Luckenbill 1989, 2:392, ¶ 1024).
The book of Nahum sets forth an ironic reversal of the Assyrian usage of the lion motif. Gordon Johnston has observed.
The extended lion metaphor in Nahum 2:11–13 includes the two major varieties of the Neo-Assyrian lion motif: the depiction of the Assyrian king and his warriors as mighty lions, and the royal lion hunt theme. While the Assyrians kept these two motifs separate, Nahum dovetailed the two, but in doing so he also reversed their original significance. While the Assyrian warriors loved to depict themselves as mighty lions hunting their prey, Nahum pictured them as lions that would be hunted down. The Assyrian kings also boasted that they were mighty hunters in royal lion hunts; Nahum pictured them as the lions being hunted in the lion hunt. By these reversals Nahum created an unexpected twist on Assyrian usage. According to Nahum the Assyrians were like lions, to be sure; however, not in the way that they depicted themselves; rather than being like lions on the prowl for prey, the hunters would become the hunted! (2001:304).
Ashurbanipal stabbing a lion with his sword.
Nahum was keenly aware of the culture that he was writing to and was able to effectively use it to convey a powerful message from the LORD.
Nineveh, a Bloody City (Na 3:1)
Nahum pronounces: “woe to the bloody city (of Nineveh)” (3:1). The city and the Assyrian Empire had a well-earned reputation for being bloody. Just a casual glance at the reliefs from the palaces of Sennacherib and Ashurbanipal shows the “gory and bloodcurdling history as we know it” (Bleibtreu. 1991:52). There are reliefs with people being impaled, decapitated, flayed, and tongues pulled out. Other reliefs show the Assyrians making people grind the bones of their dead ancestors, and even vultures plucking out the eyes of the dead!
One panel graphically shows their disrespect for human life. On it, a commander is presenting a bracelet to an Assyrian soldier who had decapitated the five or six heads at his feet. There are two scribes behind him recording the event. This bracelet, perhaps a medal of valor, is worth five or six lives! In Assyrian thinking, life was cheap.
Countless Corpses (Na 3:3)
There is an old adage that says, “What goes around, comes around.” The Bible would use an agricultural metaphor, “You reap what you sow” (cf. Gal 6:7). This is true in the geo-political realm as well as the personal realm. The Assyrians, over their long history, were brutal and barbaric people. Yet there came a point in history where God said, “Enough is enough,” and He removed the offending party (Na 2:13; 3:4).
Nineveh fell in 612 BC, yet it wasn’t until the 1989 and 1990 seasons of the University of California, Berkeley excavations in the Halzi Gate that graphic evidence of the final battle of Nineveh was revealed. Upwards of 16 bodies were excavated in the gate, all slain (Stronach and Lumsden 1992:227–33; Stronach 1997:315–19). Archaeological excavations have vividly confirmed the words of the Biblical text.
Horsemen charge with bright sword and glittering spear. There is a multitude of slain, a great number of bodies, countless corpses—they stumble over the corpses (Na 3:3).
The fortifications of the walls of Nineveh. From the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
The Fall of No-Amon (Na 3:8–11)
Nahum taunts the Assyrians for trusting in their fortifications for protection and security. Nineveh was a heavily fortified city, yet the LORD had decreed its demise. He asked rhetorically,
Are you better than No-Amon that was situated by the River, that had the waters around her, whose rampart was the sea, whose wall was the sea? (3:8).
No-Amon is the Egyptian word for “city of (the deity) Amon” commonly known today by its Greek name, Thebes.
Esarhaddon had taken Egypt on his second invasion in 671 BC. When he died, the Egyptians revolted and Ashurbanipal went to Egypt to put down this revolt. He cleared the Delta of the Cushites (Ethiopians) in 667/666 BC and the Cushite ruler, Taharqa, fled to No-Amon. On Ashurbanipal’s first campaign against Egypt he took 22 kings from the seacoast, with their armies, to help fight the Egyptians. Ashurbanipal claims that he “made those kings with their forces (and) their ships accompany me by sea and by land” (Rainey 1993:157). One of those kings was Manasseh, king of Judah, with his army.
On his second campaign in 663 BC, Ashurbanipal went to No-Amon and defeated the city and razed it. There were Judeans in the Assyrian army that saw this event. When they heard or read the words of Nahum they would have been encouraged. The Assyrians were able to defeat a strong and impregnable Thebes, and God would now fulfill His Word and Nineveh would fall.
Ashurbanipal commissioned a relief depicting the fall of No-Amon. It is labeled “an Egyptian fortress” in the British Museum. Yadin cautiously states,
The crowing achievement of Ashurbanipal’s expeditionary force to Egypt was the capture and destruction of Thebes “of the hundred gates” (the Egyptian capital during the XXVth Dynasty) in the year 663 BC. It is most probable that this is the event which the Assyrian artist depicted in such detail here in his portrayal of an attack on an Egyptian city (1963:462).
If this is the case, we have a very graphic illustration of the Biblical text. The top of the relief has the Assyrians besieging the city the ladders, soldiers undermining the walls and a soldier torching the gate. A close examination of the defenders reveals that there are two ethnic groups defending the city. One group with the Negroid features is from Ethiopia (Cush) and the other are the Egyptians. Nahum said, “Ethiopia and Egypt were her strength. And it was boundless.” (3:9a).
Relief of the fall of Thebes. From the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
On the left of the relief, above the Nile River, are Ethiopian captives being taken out of No-Amon. A careful examination of these captives reveals chains on their ankles. Nahum recounts the event.
Yet she was carried away, she went into captivity…They cast lots for her honorable men, and all her great men were bound in chains (3:10).
Another remarkable illustration of the Biblical text is the group of 12 Egyptians to the right side of the relief awaiting their fate on the banks of the Nile River. As I stared at the group I noticed three children. Two were seated on the donkey and one was on the shoulder of his father. I could not help but wonder if these children knew the fate that awaited them. The words of the prophet were, “Her young children also were dashed to pieces at the head of every street” (3:10). Thankfully, the Assyrian artist did not carve this scene on the relief!
Children being led away from Thebes, two on the back of a donkey and one carried on his father’s back. From the palace of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
An interesting side note should be mentioned. Manasseh was with Ashurbanipal II when he conquered No-Amon, the city of the deity Amun, in 663 BC. That was the year that a son was born to him, the future king of Judah, Amon. Apparently Manasseh named his son after the Egyptian deity Amun. This is consistent with Manasseh’s character of following after other gods. But why an Egyptian god and not an Assyrian one, I do not know.
The Fig Trees and the Forts (Na 3:12)
After asking Nineveh, “Are you better than No-Amon?” Nahum proceeds to describe the rapid fall of the cities and fortresses surrounding Nineveh. He says,
All your strongholds are fig trees with ripened fruit; if they are shaken, they will fall into the mouth of the eater” (3:12).
When the figs are ripe, they drop easily from the tree when shaken. This is a word-picture that the Ninevites knew from personal experience. Figs were common in Nineveh, as attested to by their appearance on reliefs.
A Locust at the Banquet (Na 3:15b–17)
One of the most sordid reliefs in Ashurbanipal’s palace is one of a royal banquet that commemorated the defeat of the king’s most hated foe, Teumman, the king of Elam. On this relief, Ashurbanipal is reclining on a couch under a grape vine in his garden sipping wine with his consort. There are servants around them with fans, while other servants are bringing food and playing musical instruments. From Ashurbanipal’s vantage point on the couch he could gaze on the trophy head of the Elamite king hanging from a ring in the fir tree.
Ashurbanipal’s garden banquet.
A bird swooping down on a lone locust sitting on the branch of a palm tree: the head of an Elamite king hangs in an adjacent fir tree (right). From the palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, now in the British Museum.
In a warped perversion of a Biblical description of peace, that of every man sitting under his vine and fig tree (Mi 4:1–4), this relief commemorated the cessation of war with the Elamites after nine years of hostilities. Ashurbanipal attributes his victory to,
the Assyrian pantheon, and in particular, the deities Ashur and Ishtar of Arbela. Thus the human head may be viewed as more than a memorial to a successful battle; it is symbolic of a major threat to the Assyrian throne, a threat that was decisively eliminated through divine might (Albenda. 1977:35).
Yet Micah says that real peace will come when the nations go to the LORD’S House in Jerusalem and worship Him. Then,
They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nations, neither shall they learn war anymore (Mi 4:3).
There is one detail in this relief that should not be missed. In the upper left corner is a locust sitting on top of a palm tree. To its right is a bird swooping down as if to catch it. One art historian described the scene this way:
Related to this is the image of a locust alight upon an upper branch of a tree, a short distance from the severed head of Teumman. A bird sweeps down toward the insect as if to devour it. This apparently minor detail may have special meaning, for in the annals, Ashurbanipal described the Elamites as a “dense swarm of grasshoppers” (Luckenbill 1989, 2:329, ¶ 855). Within this context, the locust may signify the last vestige of a once dreadful enemy, now virtually eliminated (Albenda 1977:31–32).
At the end of the book of Nahum we have another reversal of fortune. Instead of the Elamites being the locusts, the Assyrians are, and they are about to be eliminated! But Nahum does not describe the destructive aspects of the locust plague, but rather, the flight of the locusts after they have done their damage. In Nahum 3:17 he states,
Your commanders are like swarming locusts, and your generals like great grasshoppers, which camp in the hedges on a cold day; when the sun arises they flee away, and the place where they are is not known.
One of the pioneer Israeli biologists, Prof. F. S, Bodenheimer, puts this aspect of Nahum’s mention of locusts in scientific terms. He describes his observations of the body temperature of the Desert Locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) in the fifth hopper stage thus,
Since dawn the locusts had been turning their bodies towards the rays of the sun to “drink” the maximum of heat. Intensive migration set in only when the body temperature had reached about 40 degrees C. This utilization of sun radiation we called heliothermy (1959–202).
He attributes the first mention of heliothermy to Nahum (1959:201).
The Fall of Nineveh
Prior to the beginning of the twentieth century, commentators discussed the date for the fall of Nineveh. The possibilities for this event ranged from 716 to 709 BC. In 1923, C. J. Gadd published a tablet from Babylon in the possession of the British Museum. The tablet was called the “Babylonian Chronicles” and it covered the years 616–609 BC, or the tenth to the 17th years of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon. The annals place the fall of Nineveh in the 14th year of his reign, the year 612 BC. This event provides the student of history with an absolute chronological peg for Biblical and Assyrian history.
We have journeyed through the halls of the British Museum in this article pointing out the reliefs and objects that help to illustrate the text of the small, yet important, book of Nahum. My hope is that this discussion had helped make the Biblical text “come alive” and has given the student of the Scriptures a more accurate visual aid to the Bible.
Recommended Resources for Further Study
the Old Testament
|Bible and Spade
1977 Landscape Bas-Reliefs in the Bit Hilani of Ashurbanipal. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 225:29–48.
Bleibtreu, Erika S.
1991 Grisly Assyrian Record of Torture and Death. Biblical Archacology Review 17.1:51–61, 75.
Bodenheimer, Friedrich S.
1959 A Biologist in Israel. Jerusalem: Biological Studies.
1989 The Image of Assyria: An Iconographic Approach by Way of a study of Selected Material on the Theme of “Power and Propaganda” in the Neo-Assyrian Palace Reliefs. Old Testament Essays 2:55–74.
Curtis, John E., and Reade, Julian
1995 Art and Empire: Treasures from Assyria in the British Museum. London: British Museum.”
Dorsey, David A.
1999 The Literary Structure of the Old Testament. Grant Rapids. Baker, Feinberg. C.
1951 Jonah, Micah and Nahum. The Major Messages of the Minor Prophets. New York: American Board of Missions to the Jews.
Gerardi: Pamela D.
1988 Epigraphs and Assyrian Palace Reliefs: The Development of the Epigraphic text. Journal of Cuneiform Studies 40:1–35)
1907 Eine alttestamentliche Fesliturgic fur den Nikanortag. Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft (61:257–97.)
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