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King Jehu: An Archaeological Biography

King Jehu was a man who had served for years as a commander in the army of Israel (2 Kings 9:5), and was infamous for the ferocious way he drove his chariot (2 Kings 9:20). One day, while in a council of war, a prophet arrived and anointed him king of Israel, and gave him a message from the Lord: “You shall strike down the house of Ahab your master, so that I may avenge on Jezebel the blood of my servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of the LORD” (2 Kings 9:7). In the bloody coup that followed, Jehu killed Joram, king of Israel, Ahaziah, king of Judah, and Jezebel, the Queen mother. He further arranged for the murder of “all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his great men and his close friends and his priests, until he left him none remaining.” (2 Kings 10:11). Then, Jehu deceitfully called for a solemn assembly for Baal, at which he slaughtered the prophets, priests and worshipers, and demolished the temple of Baal. (2 Kings 10:25-27). Having secured the throne, Jehu reigned over Israel for 28 years from ca. 841-814 BC.1

king jehu photo1Credit: © The Trustees of the British Museum | CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Jehu likely drove a chariot similar to these Assyrian chariots pictured on the Balawat Gates of Shalmaneser III, which date to the same time period.

Jehu’s Reign at Samaria

Like the Israelite kings of Israel before him, Jehu reigned over Israel from Samaria (2 Kings 10:36). Omri had moved the Israelite capital from Tirzah to Samaria and built a palace at the top of the hill he had purchased from Shemer (1 Kings 16:24). Parts of this palace were excavated by the Harvard Expedition (1908-1910). The original structure was later expanded, possibly by Omri’s son, although recent scholarship has suggested that some of the renovations previously associated with Ahab should be attributed to Jehu.2 Having reigned in Samaria for close to three decades, he no doubt would have made changes to the architecture of the site as evidence of his power. Much of the original Israelite architecture was erased when Herod the Great built a temple to Augustus on the acropolis.

king jehu photo2Credit: Todd Bolen |
The Iron Age ruins of the Israelite palace on the acropolis at Samaria.

Jehu’s Destruction of Baal

Jehu’s “zeal for the LORD” (2 Kings 10:16) began well, with his destruction of the cult of Baal. Jehu’s predecessor, King Ahab, had “set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.” (1 Kings 16:32). In 2 Kings 10:27 we read that Jehu “demolished the pillar of Baal, and demolished the house of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day.”

No evidence of the Temple of Baal was discovered by either of the teams that excavated Samaria, but the site was not fully explored. It makes sense that the Temple would have been located on the acropolis, as ancient temples were often located on the highest point of a site. However, the eastern half of the acropolis has never been excavated.3

The practice of desecrating a holy site by setting up a toilet in it is attested in antiquity. While conclusive evidence of Jehu’s destruction of Baal worship has yet to be unearthed, evidence of Hezekiah’s religious reforms was discovered at Lachish in 2016. There, a gate-shrine was discovered, along with two four-horned altars that had their horns intentionally broken off. Within the shrine, excavators also found a toilet – evidence of intentional desecration.4 Based on the biblical description, Jehu did something similar at the temple of Baal at Samaria.


king jehu photo3Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority
An Iron Age toilet discovered at Lachish in a desecrated gate shrine.

Jehu in Assyrian Inscriptions

king jehu photo4Credit: Ardon Bar-Hama
The Marble Slab Inscription from Ashur contains the Annals of Shalmaneser III and record the tribute he received from King Jehu.

Jehu’s reign corresponded with that of Shalmaneser III, and he is mentioned in numerous Assyrian inscriptions.

One of the longest versions of Shalmaneser III’s annals was discovered on a large stone tablet in the wall of the city of Ashur. It records the various campaigns he took through the first 21 years of his reign.5 In his 18th year, Shalmaneser describes how he crossed the Euphrates river to defeat Hazael of Damascus. In addition to this victory, he wrote, “I received tribute from Ba’ali-manzeri of Tyre and from Jehu of the house of Omri.”6 Other copies of Shalmaneser’s annals have been discovered with the same description of Jehu’s tribute. These include inscriptions on two monumental bulls discovered at Nimrud (ancient Calah),7 in an annalistic tablet,8 as well as on the Kurba’il stature of Shalmaneser III.9 This statue was discovered at Fort Shalmaneser, but appears to have been dedicated to the god Adad at Kurba’il.

The most famous inscription naming Jehu is recorded on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III. This black alabaster monument was discovered in the central building at Nimrud by archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard in 1846. It records Shalmaneser III’s military achievements throughout the first 31 years of his reign and includes reliefs of the tributes that were paid by five of the regions that he conquered.10 The inscription over one of these reliefs reads, “Tribute of Jehu, son of Omri. Silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden beaker, golden goblets, pitchers of gold, lead, staves for the hand of the king, javelins, I received from him.”11 This relief contains an image of Shalmaneser III receiving this tribute from a prostrate figure. Many scholars believe this to be an image of King Jehu. Archaeologist, Dr. Bryant Wood explains the image:

The Black Obelisk represents the only possible likeness of a king of Israel or Judah. All 14 of the Israelites are bearded, have long hair and wear a pointed cap. They also wear a belted tunic that has a fringe at the bottom. In addition, the Israelite porters wear a mantle or cloak over the tunic that extends over the shoulders and is fringed or tasseled down the front on both sides. The kneeling figure, however, does not wear the outer cloak. His position before Shalmaneser may explain its absence. He is bowing in obeisance on his hands and knees before the Assyrian king with his chin and beard towards the ground. As a part of this humiliation, it seems that he had to remove his outer garment, thus forcing him to bow before the emperor of the world in what amounts to his underwear!12

king jehu photo5Credit: © The Trustees of the British Museum | CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III contains a record of the tribute he received from King Jehu, and may contain an image of his likeness.

It should be noted that, in Assyrian records, Jehu is often associated with the “house of Omri” or described as the “son of Omri.” Jehu was not a descendant of Omri; rather he was the successor to the Omride dynasty. The Assyrians often referred to successive rulers in relation to the name of the ruler of the country with whom they had first contact.13

king jehu photo6Credit: © The Trustees of the British Museum | CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
The inscription on this panel of the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III reads, “The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri…” It likely depicts King Jehu prostrate before Shalmaneser III.

Jehu in his World

These Assyrian inscriptions date Jehu’s tribute to the 18th year of Shalmaneser III (841 BC), the year in which he began his reign. While this event is not recorded in Scripture, it would be consistent with the biblical description of the political world in which Jehu rose to power.

More than a decade earlier, Hadadezer, the Aramean king of Damascus, and a coalition of forces, including Ahab, king of Israel and his 2000 chariots, fought against Shalmaneser III at the Battle of Qarqar. This event is described on the Kurkh Monolith of Shalmaneser III. As a chariot commander, Jehu likely fought in that battle (2 Kings 9:25) along side his Aramean allies.

Sometime after this, Israel and Aram became foes, as Ahab’s son, Joram allied himself with Ahaziah, king of Judah and went to battle against Hazael, the new king at Damascus (2 Kings 8:28).

Shalmaneser’s annals record that, in 841 BC, he again came to fight against the Arameans:  “Hazael of Damascus put his trust upon his numerous army and called up his troops in great number…I fought with him and inflicted a defeat upon him, killing with the sword 16,000 of his experienced soldiers. I took away from him 1211 chariots, 470 riding horses as well as his camp. He disappeared to save his life (but) I followed him and besieged him in Damascus (Di-mas-qi), his royal residence…. I received tribute from Ba’ali-manzeri of Tyre and from Jehu of the house of Omri.”14 

Jehu, who had recently claimed the throne in Israel aligned himself with Assyria, rather than his old ally – now foe, Aram-Damascus.  Thus, Jehu paid tribute to Assyria, and became a vassal to Shalmaneser III, as recorded in the Assyrian records. 

This helps explain the biblical comment about hostility with Hazael throughout Jehu’s reign: “But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the LORD, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin.  In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel. Hazael defeated them throughout the territory of Israel…” (2 Kings 10:31-33). 

king jehu photo7Credit: Wikimedia Commons | Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin | CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Engraved on the the Kurba’il Statue of Shalmaneser III is a record his victory over Hazael, the Aramean King of Damascus, as well as King Jehu’s tribute.

Jehu and the Tel Dan

Finally, we should make note of the Tel Dan Inscription and how it relates to Jehu.  While this stele is most often used to highlight the historicity of David (and rightly so!), it appears to be referencing the historical situation at the time of Jehu and was likely written by Hazael, King of Aram.  Kenneth Kitchen provides the following reconstruction of the fragmentary inscription:

[And I killed? xxx]ram, son of [xxxx], king of Israel.

And [I] killed [xxx]iah, son of [xxxx.xx]? the house of David15

Kitchen goes on to note, “In the whole series of the kings of Irsael, there is one and only one king whose name ends in -ram, and that is J(eh)oram, son of Ahab…in strict parallel with the sentence about [Jeho]ram of Israel, we have another that our Aramean king killed “[xxx]iah, son of [X],” plus mention of the House of David = Judah…it is extremely likely that we should further restore “[Ahaz]iah son of [Joram] [king of] the house of David.”16 Thus, most scholars interpret the Tel Dan Inscription as a victory stele of Hazael, King of Aram, claiming to have killed Joram, king of Israel and Ahaziah, king of Judah.

king jehu photo8Credit: Wikimedia Commons | Oren Rozen | CC-BY-SA4.0
The Tel Dan Stele with the “House of David” inscription, testifying to the historicity of David and the reality of his dynasty.

The Tel Dan Stele appears to contradict the biblical account, which clearly states that Jehu killed both Jehoram and Ahaziah (2 Kings 9).  How do we explain this discrepancy? It is hardly surprising that Hazael would take credit for the death of his enemies, as it was common in the Ancient Near Eastern for kings to claim credit for the actions of others.17  Todd Bolen points out that some scholars interpret the word qtl as “to strike” or “defeat” rather than “to kill.”  He notes that it was Hazael who originally wounded Joram in battle, which is why he was recovering at Jezreel when Jehu came to kill him (2 Kings 8:29). Thus, Hazael could claim to have defeated him, as the fact that Joram never recovered from his wounds would have “provided Hazael with justification for taking credit for the king’s death.” 18 Others have tried to suggest that perhaps Jehu was allied with Hazael, which caused him to take credit for the deaths of the kings of Israel and Judah.  However, the biblical text is clear that Jehu and Hazael were foes, and the Assyrian inscriptions clearly state that Jehu was allied with Shalmaneser III. 


Assyrian records affirm the historicity of King Jehu, and confirm that he was the successor to King Omri’s dynasty, as described in Scripture.  Moreover, they provide important background information that helps us understand the world in which Jehu came to power.   Archaeology is an important tool that often affirms and illuminates details in the biblical text.


1 Ewin R. Thiele, The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 118.
2 Norma Franklin, “Samaria: from the Bedrock to the Omride Palace,” Levant 36, 2004, pg. 189, 201. Online: file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/samariabedrockLevant.pdf (Accessed Oct. 7, 2020).
3 Norma Franklin, Personal email to the author.  Oct. 8, 2020.
4 Bryan Windle, “Desecrated Gate Shrine Discovered at Tel Lachish.”  Associates for Biblical Research. Oct. 4, 2016. (Accessed Oct. 8, 2020).
5 Albert Kirk Grayson,  Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC: II (858-745 BC).

(Toronto:University of Toronto Press, 1996), 50.
6 Ibid, 54.
7 Ibid, 48.
8 James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Easter Texts Relating to the Old Testament,  (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1969), 280.
9 Albert Kirk Grayson,  Assyrian Rulers of the Early First Millennium BC: II (858-745 BC). (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 60.
10 Daniel David Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia. (Chicago: University of Chicago

Press, 1926), 200.
11 Ibid, 211.
12 Bryant G. Wood, “Israelite Kings in Assyrian Inscriptions.” Associates for Biblical Research. May 22, 2012. (Accessed Oct. 5, 2020).
13 Randall Price and H. Wayne House, Zondervan Handbook of Biblical Archaeology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 135.
14 James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Easter Texts Relating to the Old Testament,  (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1969), 280.
15 K. A. Kitchen, On The Reliability of the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 36.
16 Ibid, 37.
17 Ibid, 37.
18 Todd Bolen, “The Aramean Oppression of Israel in the Reign of Jehu,” PhD diss., (Dallas Theological Seminary, 2013), 56. (Accessed Oct. 9, 2020).

Sometimes reading about the Ammonites, Moabites, or Edomites in the Bible can seem to modern readers much like reading about people from Gondor, Rohan, or Mordor in The Lord of the Rings.  I find it helpful to contextualize the people and places I read about in the Bible by locating them on modern maps.  It helps remind me of the historicity of the accounts that are recorded in the pages of Scripture.  Unlike Tolkien’s fictional world of Middle Earth, the world of the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites in the Bronze Age and Iron Age was very much a real world.  Archaeologists have learned much about these ancient peoples from the material remains they left.

So which modern-day country did the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites inhabit?

jordan1The Kingdoms of Ammon, Moab, and Edom ca. 830 BC.
Photo credit: Richardprins / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 /

The answer is the modern-day kingdom of Jordan.  When we read in the Bible about things that happened on “the east side of the Jordan,” we’re reading about events that took place in present-day Jordan.

Every year many tourists flock to the Holy Land of Israel, without realizing that the Land of the Bible includes its neighbour Jordan.  Indeed, Todd Bolen of notes, “You’re missing half of the story by not studying the east side of the Jordan River.”

So who were these ancient people who lived east of the Jordan River?

1) The Ammonites – The Bible describes the Ammonites as descending from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his younger daughter (Gn 19:38).  They were the frequent enemies of the Israelites, and Jephthah delivered Israel from their oppression in Judges 11.  During the Iron Age, their capital city was Rabbah (modern-day Amman, Jordan).  The remains of an Ammonite watch-tower can still be seen there today.

jordan2An Ammonite watchtower in Amman, Jordan dates to the 7th Century B.C.
Photo credit: Mrdrummond / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain /

2) The Moabites –  The Moabites were the descendants of Moab, the son of Lot by his older daughter (Gn. 19:37).  At times there appeared to be a peaceful coexistence between those from Moab and Judah.  In Ruth 1:1 we read, “In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.”  Ruth herself is perhaps the most famous Moabitess in the Bible.  Later, during the time of the kings the nations of Moab and Judah were enemies.  Both David (2 Ch 18:2) and Jehoshaphat (2 Ch 20:1) both fought against the Moabites.  One of the most famous archaeological artifacts is the Moabite Stone.  Discovered in 1868 in Dhiban, Jordan, the Moabite Stone (or Mesha Stele) confirms the events of 2 Kings 3 – the account of how Moab was subject to Israel, but rebelled. King Jehoram of Israel.  The inscription of King Mesha of Moab, tells the story from Moab’s perspective.

jordan3The Moabite Stone or Mesha Stele.
Photo credit: Daderot / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 /

3) Edomites – The Edomites were the descendants of  Esau, Jacob’s brother and at one time their kingdom covered parts of both southern Israel and southern Jordan.  “Because they were close relatives, the Israelites were forbidden to hate the Edomites (Dt 23:7). However, the Edomites regularly attacked Israel, and many wars were fought as a result. King Saul fought against the Edomites, and King David subjugated them, establishing military garrisons in Edom. 

The Edomite stronghold of Sela, located near modern-day Borzah, Jordan, is mentioned at least four times in Scripture and may be the place where Amaziah, King of Judah, slaughtered 10,000 Edomites  as described in 2 Ch 25:12 and 2 Ki 14:7.

jordan4The Edomite mountain stronghold of es-Sela. Photo credit:

4) The Nabateans – No discussion of biblical people in Jordan would be complete without mentioning the Nabateans.  The rock-hewn city of Petra is arguably the most famous archaeological landmark in the country.  In New Testament times, the kingdom of Nabatea extended from Jordan to Saudi-Arabia.  The Nabataeans held a monopoly on the Frankincense trade, amassing considerable wealth from the sale of it from Petra. It is quite possible that the magi stopped at Petra to purchase the frankincense that they gave to Jesus, or at the very least, that it was Nabataean frankincense that was given.  The Nabatean King Aretas IV is mentioned in 2 Cor. 11:32-33.

jordan5The Treasury of the Nabatean city of Petra.
Photo Credit: Bernard Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0 /

Many other events in bible history took place in the modern-day country of Jordan, including:

  • Jacob wrestled at the Jabbok
  • The Israelites looked on the bronze serpent
  • The Israelites defeated the army of Sihon
  • Moses spoke the book of Deuteronomy
  • Moses viewed the land from Mount Nebo
  • Saul delivered the city of Jabesh Gilead
  • Uriah the Hittite died because of David’s treachery
  • David fled from his son Absalom
  • Ahab was killed by the Arameans
  • Jehu launched his coup
  • Elijah was born and later ascended into heaven
  • The prophets spoke against Ammon, Moab, and Edom
  • John the Baptist ministered and baptized
  • Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist
  • Jesus traveled through Perea

Knowing where on modern maps these biblical people lived helps to underscore the fact that they were real people, whose archaeological remains confirm many details we read about in the Bible.  Ammon, Moab, and Edom are not Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor; unlike the mythical world of Tolkien’s Middle Earth these biblical places actually existed and we are learning more about the people who lived there each year through the many excavations that take place in the country of Jordan.

For those wanting to stay informed about archaeology in the country of Jordan, I recommend the following website:

Iraq is called the 'Cradle of Civilization,' as evidence has been found there for the earliest writing system, urban centers, literature, metallurgy, science, medicine and business, as reflected in the Bible (Gn 2:14; 4:21-22; 10:10-11; 11:1-5). Our modern culture has its roots in ancient Iraq...

This article was first published in the April 2003 ABR E-Newsletter.

We are becoming increasingly familiar with the topography of Iraq as we watch TV news reports and read newspaper accounts of events unfolding there. Iraq, about the size of California, is ancient Mesopotamia, Greek for "in the midst of the rivers." The rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, played a key role in the development of civilization in this region. The easternmost river, the Tigris, has its headwaters in eastern Turkey and flows past Mosul (ancient Nineveh), Tikrit, Baghdad, Kut and Basra. The Euphrates begins in east-central Turkey and flows past Karbala, Hilah (ancient Babylon) and Nasiriyah.

Iraq is called the "Cradle of Civilization," as evidence has been found there for the earliest writing system, urban centers, literature, metallurgy, science, medicine and business, as reflected in the Bible (Gn 2:14; 4:21-22; 10:10-11; 11:1-5). Our modern culture has its roots in ancient Iraq. Biblical names for the southern part of ancient Mesopotamia include Shinar (ancient Sumer), Chaldea, and Babylon, and for the northern area, Assyria. The ancient language of the region is called Akkadian, named after the city of Akkad, one of the cities founded by Nimrod in Shinar (Gn 10:10). The language was written in cuneiform, or "wedge-shaped," characters impressed into clay tablets with a wedge-shaped stylus. There are tens of thousands of archaeological sites in this celebrated land. Starting in the south, we shall point out Biblical connections to some of the many discoveries that have been made in this country so rich with ancient history and archaeological remains. These connections cluster around two time periods: the time of the Patriarchs, i.e., the Early Bronze and the first part of the Middle Bronze Ages, and the time of the Divided Monarchy, the Iron Age.


Located ten miles southwest of Nasiriyah, Ur is most famous as the hometown of Abraham. He migrated from Ur to Haran in southern Turkey, the actual homeland of the Patriarchs, and then to Canaan (Gn 11:31; 12:15). Evidence for a very advanced culture from Abraham's day has been unearthed at Ur. Its restored ziggurat, or temple tower, is often shown in news reports. A temple to the moon god Nanna, or Sin, was situated on the top of the tower. The name of the Babylonian king Belshazzar (Dan 5) appeared for the first time in a text found in a foundation deposit of the temple. Scholars once said the Bible was wrong in naming Belshazzar as king when the Persians conquered Babylon, since the known records indicated that Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon. What the foundation deposit tablet, along with other subsequently found texts, revealed was that Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus and coregent with his father. While Nabonidus was away campaigning, which he loved to do, Belshazzar was left to run the country from Babylon. Thus, Belshazzar offered Daniel the position of "third highest ruler in the kingdom" if he would decipher the handwriting on the wall (Dan 5:16). This was the highest available office in the kingdom, since Nabonidus was number one and his son Belshazzar was number two. Instead of being in error, the Bible precisely reflected the political situation that existed in ancient Babylon at the time of its fall to the Medes and Persians.

Uruk (=Erech)

Twenty-five miles east of Samawah is Erech, another of the world's earliest cities built by Nimrod (Gn 10:10). Excavations there have shown that it indeed was one of the oldest cities in the world and a key city in the Sumerian culture.


The expansive ruins of Babylon are located a few miles north of Hilah and about 25 miles south of Baghdad. Founded by Nimrod (Gn 10:10), it was one of the most famous cities in the ancient world. Babylon was capital of the Babylonian empire that ruled the world from 612 to 539 BC. Five of its kings are named in the Bible: Merodach-Baladan (2 Kgs 20:12), Nebuchadnezzar II destroyer of Jerusalem in 586 BC (2 Kgs 24-25, etc.), Evil-Merodach (2 Kgs 25:27-30; Jer 52:31-34), Nergal-Sharezer (Jer 39:3, 13) and Belshazzar (Dan 5). Many important finds have been made at Babylon, including the foundations of the "Tower of Babel" (Gn 11:18), the royal palace built by Nebuchadnezzar where God pronounced judgment on the Babylonian Empire by means of the handwriting on the wall (Dan 5), records detailing rations given to King Jehoiachin and his family who had been taken to Babylon as captives (2 Kgs 24:15), the Babylonian Chronicle detailing the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar March 16, 597 BC, and the Cyrus Cylinder recording the fall of Babylon (in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy) in 539 BC and the subsequent freeing of captives so they could return to their native lands as was the case with the Judeans (2 Chr 36:23; Ezra 1:24, 6:35).


One of the tragedies of the war in Iraq, and perhaps the greatest archaeological tragedy of all time, was the looting of the National Museum following the capture of Baghdad by U.S. forces. Mobs ransacked the museum, grabbing treasures dating back to the dawn of civilization in Mesopotamia. "They have looted or destroyed 170,000 items of antiquity...They were worth billions of dollars," said deputy director Nabhal Amin, weeping. Some of the world's most important ancient finds chronicling the achievements of the Uruk, Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian and early Islamic civilizations were there. Included were mankind's earliest written documents, ancient mathematical texts, ancient sculptures and other works of art. Also the riches from the royal death pits at Ur from the late third millennium BC and tablets of the Gilgamesh Epic describing a great flood with many elements similar to those of Noah's Flood (building an ark, taking animals on board, releasing birds). Museums in other parts of the country were looted as well.


Located eight miles southwest of Kirkuk, the oil capital of the north, Nuzi was a center of the Hurrian culture. The Hurrians are called Horites, Hivites and Jebusites in the Bible. About 3,500 tablets were found there dating from 1600 to 1400 BC. Many of the tablets deal with laws and customs and provide some of the best available evidence for the common social, economic and legal practices in the ancient world. Such things as a childless couple adopting a slave to be their heir (Gn 15:23), having children by proxy (Gn 16:12), deathbed blessings (Gn 27, 4849) and the importance of household gods (Gn 31:19, 30) are illuminated in the texts.


Calah, 20 miles southeast of Mosul, is one of three cities referred to as the "Assyrian Triangle." Along with Nineveh and Khorsabad, Calah was an important center of the Assyrian Empire that flourished ca. 900-612 BC. Nimrod built it when he went from Shinar to Assyria (Gn 10:10-11). Two Assyrian kings mentioned in the Bible ruled from Calah: Tiglath-Pileser III, also called "Pul" (2 Kgs 15:19, 29; 16:7, 10), and Shalmaneser III (2 Kgs 17:36, 24; 18:9). The ruins of the palace of Tiglath-Pileser III were found, including his annals recording his campaigns to Israel mentioned in 2 Kings 15:19-20 (740 BC) and 2 Kings 15:29 (732 BC). In addition, three Israelite kings who paid him tribute are named (Menahem, Pekah and Hoshea), as well as one king of Judah (Ahaz). A prize find was made in the palace of Shalmaneser III - the so-called "Black Obelisk" that depicts Jehu, king of Israel, bowing before Shalmaneser III as he presents tribute.

Tell al-Rimah

In 1967, a stela of the Assyrian king Adad-nirari III was found at Tell al-Rimah, 40 miles west of Mosul. It records a campaign to the west in which Adad-nirari received tribute from Jehoash, king of Israel.


Located at Mosul, Nineveh was also founded by Nimrod (Gn 10:11). Walls nearly eight miles long enclose an area of 1,700 acres. There were outlying suburbs as well, so that when Jonah went there in the early eighth century BC it took him three days to traverse the city (Jon 3:3). Although Nineveh repented at Jonah's preaching (Jon 3:5) the revival was short-lived. The Assyrians were soon back to their cruel practices and God ultimately brought the empire to an end, as predicted by the prophets Nahum and Zephaniah.

Nineveh was most famous as the capital city of Sennacherib, the greatest of the Neo-Assyrian kings. Portions of his fabulous palace covering three large city blocks have been excavated. Painted sculptured reliefs depicting his exploits lined the walls. Many records were also found. The Bible tells of Sennacherib's campaign against Judah in 701 BC (2 Kgs 18:18-19:36). In the Assyrian version, Sennacherib states that he shut Hezekiah in Jerusalem "like a bird in a cage." He could not boast of capturing Jerusalem, because an angel of the Lord decimated his army and he was forced to return to Nineveh (2 Kgs 19:35-36). His most significant accomplishment, in 701, was the defeat of Lachish (2 Kgs 18:14, 17; 19:8). One entire room in Sennacherib's palace was devoted to this event. The walls were lined with reliefs, now in the British Museum in London, depicting the city and the battle. Sennacherib is seen seated on a throne reviewing a procession of captives and booty being brought out of the city.

The next two kings, Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, are also referred to in the Bible at 2 Kings 19:37 and Ezra 4:10, respectively. Their records mention Manasseh king of Judah. He supplied building materials for Esarhaddon's palace at Nineveh and troops for Ashurbanipal's invasion of Egypt. One of the most significant finds at Nineveh was the library of Ashurbanipal which comprised about 1,500 different texts, some with multiple copies, including archival, literary, magical, medical, divinatory and ritual tablets. It was here that the famous Epic of Gilgamesh, with its flood story, was first discovered.


At Khorsabad, 15 miles northeast of Mosul, is the site of Dur Sharrukin, "fortress of Sargon," ruler of the Assyrian Empire 721-705 BC. Prior to 1847, Sargon was known only from Isaiah 20:1 where it says, "In the year that the supreme commander, sent by Sargon king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and attacked and captured it." Since his name did not appear in classical sources, scholars concluded that the Sargon in the Bible was not a bona fide king, but rather an alias for some other Assyrian ruler. Ironically, Sargon was the first name of an Assyrian king to be read from Assyrian inscriptions when, in 1847, his vast palace of more than 200 rooms and 30 courtyards, with sculptured reliefs and written records, was excavated at Khorsabad.

Sargon campaigned in the Palestine region three times, 720, 716/715 and 712/711 BC, turning Israel into an Assyrian province and Judah into a vassal state in the process. In 720 BC, following the initial defeat of Samaria by his predecessor Shalmaneser V, Sargon boasted of deporting 27,280 Israelites to Assyria. In 712/711 BC he turned his attention to Ashdod and the area of Philistia. According to Isaiah 20:1, he sent his commander-in-chief (tartân) to capture the city. Assyrian records verify that Sargon remained in his capital at Khorsabad, stating that he stayed "in the land," no doubt to supervise the construction of his palace.

The Future of Iraq

What lies ahead for Iraq? In the short term we pray for a quick end to hostilities, and peace, stability and prosperity for the Iraqi people. In the long term, God said through the prophet Isaiah, "In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship [the Lord] together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, 'Blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria My handiwork, and Israel My inheritance'" (Is 19:23-25). 

Recommended Resources for Further Study









Editorial Note: Initial reports from the media indicated massive looting of archaeological treasures in Iraq during the U.S. invasion. After the initial release of this article, subsequent news reports seemed to indicate that the looting may not have been nearly as severe as originally thought.


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This article was first published in the June 2004 ABR E-Newsletter.

What ever became of the so-called lost twelve tribes of Israel? In the Book of Kings (2 K 17: 6), we are told that during the reign of Hoshea a three-year siege was concluded against the capital city of Samaria. The mass deportations that followed were recorded in both the Bible and the annals of King Sargon of Assyria.

The Bible records that the survivors were taken away and resettled in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. The fate of these survivors is obscure. But it was the policy of the Neo-Assyrians to resettle civilian populations in other portions of the empire, these areas themselves having been previously depopulated following their conquest. The Assyrian kings also recorded the employment of captives in the construction of large-scale building projects. We can be sure that this was the case at Dur-Sharrukin, or the city of Sargon, modern Khorsabad.

The last chapter in the history of the kingdom of Israel had begun prior to its final reduction when the Assyrian empire pushed its conquests southward. The climactic events were set in motion in 722 BC when King Hoshea decided to test his mettle against the Assyrian colossus. He schemed with the king of Egypt and ceased payment of his annual tribute to Shalmaneser V. Hoshea was shut up and bound in prison (2 K 17:4), and Samaria put under siege about the year 722 B.C. It was left to Sargon II to carry out the final defeat of the city (Miller and Hayes 1986: 336-37). One of two Assyrian inscriptions dealing with the event describes the aftermath:

I besieged and conquered Samarina.
I took as booty 27,290 people who lived there.
I gathered 50 chariots from them.
And I taught the rest (of the deportees) their skills.
I set my governor over them, and
I imposed upon them the (same) tribute as the previous king
(Shalmaneser V). (ANET 284-5)

The number of deportees probably reflects the total taken from both the district of Samaria and the city itself. This marked the end of the Northern Kingdom. Though Sargon did not carry away the entire population of Israel, his actions were sufficient to put an end to its existence as a political entity and resulted in the annexation of the territory into the Assyrian Empire, which was renamed Bit-Humri (House of Omri).

Credit for the modern discovery of Dur-Sharrukin belongs to Paul Emile Botta who was appointed French Consul in Mosul, Iraq, in 1840. He had already taken a keen interest in the ancient mounds when he began soundings at Kuyunjik, ancient Nineveh. He was having little success there when one of his workmen reported that ancient sculptures had been found at Khorsabad, about 12 miles northeast of Kuyunjik. In 1843 he began excavations on the building now known as the palace of Sargon II. His success was immediate and rivaled those of Layard two years later at Numrud. He was assisted by an excellent draftsman by the name of E. Flandin, who recorded the large number of reliefs and other sculptures uncovered by the expedition.

After the initial campaigns by Botta, Layard had occasion to examine the site on two visits in 1846 and again in 1849. What he found at the site was a rapid depletion of the exposed remains. He remarked that since Botta's departure the chambers had been partly filled up by the falling in of trenches; the sculptures were rapidly perishing; and shortly, little will remain of this monument. On his second visit he continued in the same vein: of those reliefs which had been left exposed to the air after Botta's departure scarcely any traces remained (Albenda 1986: 28).

Botta dug the site until 1848, when he was reassigned to an obscure post in the Levant. He had by that time established that Kuyunjik was not the ancient city of Nineveh as originally thought.

In 1852 Botta was replaced by Victor Place and it is to his principle assistant Felix Thomas to whom can be credited the only surviving records of the major finds of the French expedition during that and the following years.

By the end of 1853, Place calculated that he had cleared 209 chambers, grouped around 31 courts, in addition to three temples and a small ziggurat. The circumference of the city walls were traced, in some places 24 meters thick on stone foundations with seven gateways, three of which had sculptured portal figures and 1 almost fully intact. The gate he numbered 3 on his plan had vaulted archways decorated in colored glaze.

By 1855 Place was ready to return to France when a disaster took place. The sculptures were transported safely as far as Baghdad where 235 cases were loaded on to a large country boat and two rafts with the destination of Basra. Near Kurnah, where the Tigris and Euphrates join together, the convoy was attacked by hostile tribesmen. All five vessels were overturned. Nevertheless, some 80 cases escaped the shipwreck, as well as two large sculptures now displayed in the Louvre. Fortunately, an earlier shipment sent by Botta had arrived safely with two winged-bull figures, which are today displayed in the British Museum. With the conclusion of Place's work at Khorsabad, European involvement came to an end.

Excavations were revived some 70 years later by Edward Chiera, a scholar of ancient Near Eastern languages at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. His first season of exploration took place in 1927. After several seasons of work directed by Henri Frankfort and Gordon Loud between 1929 and 1934, work ceased and had not been renewed at a large-scale as of 1986.

In summarizing work at the site, Loud recounted that so complete was the removal of possessions or so thorough the pillaging at the time of abandonment that there remains practically nothing in the line of inscriptions or utensils whereby the buildings can be identified. Literally miles of walls forming groups of meaningless rooms are neither gratifying nor very instructive (Loud 1938)

A unique aspect of the site noted by Loud was the one-period nature of its deposits. No previous occupation was found at the site and only remains of squatters followed what appeared to be a complete and peaceful abandonment of the city. The average depth required to trace the buildings at Dur-Sharrukin was only about 1.50 meters. This made excavation relatively simple, but the city was denuded of whatever objects once adorned the architecture there. The excavator estimated that the city was occupied for only a year or two.

Since inscriptions indicate that construction of the city took eleven years to complete and was inaugurated with a great banquet feast accompanied by music and celebration, why would it be left vacant so quickly and thoroughly? What role did Israelites play in its building?


Albenda, P. 1915 The Palace of Sargon, King of Assyria: Monumental Wall Reliefs at Dur-Sharrukin From Original Drawings Made at the Time of Their Discovery In 1843-1844 by Botta and Flandin. Paris: Recherche Sur Les Civilisations, 1986.

Loud, G. 2002 Khorsabad II. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938.

Lloyd, S. 1992 Khorsabad. Pp. 196-204 in The Archaeology of Mesopotamia. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978.

Miller, J.M. and Hayes, J. 1981 A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986.

This article was first published in the Winter 1998 Issue of Bible and Spade

Omri was commander-in-chief of the army of the Northern Kingdom of Israel under Elah, who ruled for two years, 886-885 BC. Zimri, an official in charge of half the chariot force, assassinated Elah in his palace in Tirzah, the capital. At the time, Omri was with his army at Gibbethon in Philistine territory. When news of the coup reached the camp, the Israelite soldiers immediately proclaimed Omri king. They marched to Tirzah and lay siege to the city. Just seven days after the coup, Zimri saw that the end was imminent and committed suicide by setting fire to the royal palace. Omri then took possession of the capital. His rule was not uncontested, however, for half the people supported Tibni for king. Omri prevailed, no doubt due to his military support, and ruled Israel for 12 years, 885-874 BC (1 Kgs 16:15-23).

Nothing is said in Scripture about the lineage of Omri. His name is either Amorite or Arabic (Thiel 1992: 17), suggesting he was a foreign mercenary. The name of his daughter, Athaliah (2 Kgs 8:26), contains the theophoric element for Yahweh, so he may have at least paid lip service to being a follower of the God of Israel. He established the second longest dynasty of the Northern Kingdom, 45 years. Following Omri, his son Ahab ruled 22 years, 874-853 (Wood 1996a), his grandson Ahaziah two years, 853-852, and a second grandson Joram 12 years, 852-841.

Because of Ahab's sin in the matter of Naboth's vineyard, God brought the dynasty to a bloody end by means of Jehu (1 Kgs 21:20-29). Jehu then began the longest dynasty for the Northern Kingdom, spanning five generations and 90 years. Other than these two dynasties, kingship in the Northern Kingdom was marred by a succession of bloody coups and much instability. In contrast, the Davidic line of Judah to the south continued nearly unbroken until the Babylonian exile, in keeping with God's promise to David (2 Sam 7:11-16).

The only break in the Davidic line came when Athaliah, Omri's granddaughter, usurped the throne and ruled for six years, 841-835 BC. She was married to Jehoram, crown prince of Judah, in a political marriage (2 Kgs 8:18, 25-26 ; 2 Chr 18:1). After Jehoram's rule, 848-841, Athaliah's son Ahaziah became king. His reign lasted but a year, however, since he fell victim to Jehu's coup in the north (2 Kgs 8:25-9:29). Athaliah then seized power and ruled until deposed six years later. The Davidic line was reestablished when Joash, the lone-survivor of Athaliah's purge, was placed on the throne (2 Kgs 11). Athaliah has the distinction of being the only queen to rule Israel or Judah.

Little is said of Omri's reign in the Bible. A total of 12 verses is devoted to him (1 Kgs 16:16-18, 21-28; 20:34), five of which relate how he came to power. The remaining seven tell of the length of his reign (16:23), how he established a new capital at Samaria (16:24), did evil in the eyes of the Lord (16:25-26), and that the king of Aram captured cities from him and set up markets in Samaria (20:34). Archaeology, however, has rounded out the picture, portraying Omri as one of the most powerful rulers of Israel.

Findings at Tirzah

Omri's first capital, Tirzah, has been identified as Tell el-Far'ah (North). This site was excavated by the École Biblique et Archéologique Française for nine seasons between 1946 and 1960 under the direction of Roland de Vaux. Stratum VIIb, was the city besieged by Omri. It had been destroyed by fire, with the thickness of the destruction layer reaching 1 m in some places (Chambon 1984: 38). After a period of abandonment, reconstruction began, apparently on the order of Omri. The main building consisted of a central courtyard surrounded by three large rooms. The walls were faced with stone on both sides and were reinforced on the front and at the corners by pilasters. A pilaster is a rectangular support projecting partially from the wall, with a base, shaft and capital. The structure was well built, using fine-dressed masonry, some of which was finished with a boss, or smoothed area, on the edges. The stones' oblique dressing resembles that of the masonry in the palace at Samaria, also constructed by Omri. Strangely enough, the building was never finished. Construction was abruptly halted as evidenced by abandoned building materials, partly dressed stones, and the absence of ruins (Chambon 1984: 39; 1993: 439). It appears that construction was discontinued halfway through Omri's reign when work began on the new capital, Samaria.

Findings at Samaria

The hill of Samaria was purchased by Omri and a new capital built there. There have been two major expeditions at Samaria. The first, from 1908 to 1910, was sponsored by Harvard University and directed by Clarence Fisher and George Reisner. The second was conducted from 1931 to 1935 by the British Academy, British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, Harvard University, Hebrew University and Palestine Exploration Fund, under the direction of John Crowfoot. A royal citadel was found on the summit of the hill. It was enclosed by two fortification walls, an inner, earlier, wall built by Omri, and an outer, later, wall built by Ahab. Omri's wall was 1.6 m wide and 89 x 178 m in size, covering an area of 4 acres. It was constructed of fine ashlar masonry laid in header-stretcher fashion and represents one of the finest examples of this type of construction in Palestine. The stones were fitted with the greatest of care. On the southwest side of the enclosure was a palace, built at the same time as the inner fortification wall and thus attributable to Omri. Constructed around a central courtyard, the preserved portion measured 24 x 27 m.

Samaria remained the capital of the Northern Kingdom until the Assyrian captivity in 721 BC.

Findings at Jezreel

The Bible states that during Ahab's reign, there was another royal palace at Jezreel, some 21 mi north of Samaria, overlooking the beautiful Jezreel Valley (1 Kgs 21:1; Wood 1992). Excavations sponsored by Tel Aviv University and the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem have been going on there since 1990, led by David Ussishkin and John Woodhouse. A royal citadel has been uncovered which is much larger than that at Samaria. The original builder of this impressive fortress was likely Omri. In style and scale, the fortifications are unparalleled in the Iron Age in Palestine. It is rectangular and surrounded by a casemate (double) wall with projecting towers at the corners, enclosing an area of 11 acres. Around three sides was a rock-cut moat measuring ca. 150 m long on the east side, 320 m on the south side and a minimum of 200 m on the west side. The moat was 8-12 m wide and nearly 6 m in depth in some places. Unfortunately, little has been found inside the enclosure due to destruction by later occupation. The site was abandoned at the end of the Omride dynasty.

What was the purpose of such a grand fortress and why wasn't it utilized by Jehu and his successors? The answer, Hugh Williamson believes, lies in politics and propaganda. Williamson argues that the fortress not only served a military function, but also a political one.

The amount of labour involved, particularly to quarry the moat and to pile up the ramparts, reminds us of the use of such grandiose public works as a means of social control and as a way of pressing claims of legitimacy.... The high visibility of the defensive strength of the fortifications seems indeed intended as much to overawe, if not to intimidate, the local population as it does to deter external aggression.... The location of Jezreel, right beside one of the main west-east routes through the kingdom and on the edge of the Jezreel Valley at the point where it gives way to the northern extreme of the central hill country, appears to owe more to considerations of who within the kingdom would pass by and see it than to defensive military considerations. (1996:49).

Then, when the Omride dynasty was overthrown, Jezreel was not utilized by Jehu because of its association with the previous administration.

As a symbol of the Omri dynasty par excellence, there could be no more effective way for Jehu and his dynasty to register their triumph than to abandon it. It is likely that it would have been at least partly demolished, but if this was by 'peaceful' means, then we should not be surprised that little trace of this remains in the archaeological record.' (Williamson 1996:50).

Literary Evidence

References in records outside the Bible reinforce the conclusion reached from the architectural remains, that Omri was indeed a powerful ruler.

846 BC, Mesha Inscription

Lines 7 and 8 of the Mesha Inscription read:

Omri had occupied the land of Medeba (northern Moab), and had dwelt there in his time (Albright 1969: 320; for a discussion of the Mesha Inscription, see Wood 1996b).

Other than how he came to power, and the fact that he established a new capital at Samaria, the Bible says nothing about Omri's accomplishments. For this, the reader is referred to the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel (1 Kgs 16:27), which, of course, we do not have. The Mesha Inscription, on the other hand, informs us that Omri expanded his holdings to include northern Moab east of the Jordan River, the tribal territories of Reuben and Gad. Mesha, king of Moab, won the land back in the days of Omri's grandson Joram (Wood 1996b: 57-58).

841 BC, Records of Shalmaneser III

The Assyrian king Shalmaneser III campaigned in Syria and along the Mediterranean coast in 841 BC. He required the defeated kings of the region to pay him tribute, including Jehu, king of Israel. Despite the fact that Jehu had put an end to the Omride dynasty, the accomplishments of Omri made such an impression on the Assyrians that Jehu was referred to as the 'son of Omri' in their records. An annalistic record states:

In the 18th year of my rule I crossed the Euphrates for the 16th time.... At that time I received the tribute of... Jehu, son of Omri (Oppenheim 1969:280).

Another record of the same event, the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, records, 'The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri...' (Oppenheim 1969:281).

732 BC, Annalistic Record of Tiglath-Pileser III

In 732 BC, the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III campaigned in Israel, taking many captives. In their record of that event, the Assyrian scribes referred to Israel as 'Omri-Land,' over 100 years after the end of the Omride dynasty: 'Omri-Land... and its inhabitants and their possessions I led to Assyria' (Oppenheim 1969:284).

721 BC, Annalistic Record of Sargon II

Finally, because of their failure to follow God's ways, Samaria was captured and its citizens taken into captivity by the Assyrian king Sargon II. As with Tiglath-Pileser before him, his record of the event refers to the land of Israel as 'Omri-Land':

I conquered and sacked the towns of Shinuhtu and Samaria, and all Omri-Land (Oppenheim 1969:285).

Although Omri was a great military leader, administrator, and builder, and accumulated vast wealth, the Bible gives him low marks. Why? Because he failed in his spiritual responsibilities. He 'walked in all the ways of Jeroboam' (1 Kgs 16:26). In other words, he continued to foster the pagan worship Jeroboam, the first king of the Northern Kingdom, instituted at Dan and Bethel (1 Kgs 12:28-33). Omri, in fact, outdid Jeroboam, because he 'sinned more than all those before him' (1 Kgs 6:25).

In the final analysis, our lives are not judged by our wealth, or earthly accomplishments. We are judged, rather, by our walk with the Lord and our adherence to His ways. Jesus said, 'What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?' (Mt 16:26). 


Albright, W.F. 1969 Palestinian Inscriptions. Pp. 320-22 in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed., ed. J.B. Pritchard. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chambon, A. 1984 Tell el-Far'ah I: L'Âge du Fer. Paris: Editions Recherche sur les Civilisations.

Chambon, A. 1993 Far'ah, Tell el- (North): Late Bronze Age to the Roman Period. Pp. 439-40 in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, vol. 2, ed. E. Stern. Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society and Carta.

Oppenheim, A.L. 1969 Babylonian and Assyrian Historical Texts. Pp. 265-317 in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed., ed. J.B. Pritchard. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Thiel, W. 1992 Omri. Pp. 17-20 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, ed. D.N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday.

Williamson, H.G.M. 1996 Tel Jezreel and the Dynasty of Omri. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 128: 41-51.

Wood, B.G. 1990-1991 Excavations at Jezreel, 'City of Blood.' Archaeology and Biblical Research 5: 123-24.

Wood, B.G. 1996a Bible Personages in Archaeology: Ahab the Israelite. Bible and Spade 9: 111-13.

Wood, B.G. 1996b Bible Personages in Archaeology: Mesha, King of Moab. Bible and Spade 9: 55-64.

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