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People, Places, and Things from the Hebrew Bible

Three Palaces of Biblical Kings
Three Palaces of Biblical Kings Viewed from Google Earth

Bryan Windle


Technology and archaeology have intersected in unprecedented ways since the dawn of the 21st century. Detailed satellite images of the planet now allow archaeologists to view ancient sites in a whole new way. In fact, satellite imagery has led to a whole new field, dubbed space archaeology, which has led to some breathtaking discoveries.1

For the average person, Google Earth’s satellite images provide an interesting way to explore archaeological sites. Here are the palaces of three biblical kings which can be viewed using Google Earth.

The Palace of Sennacherib, King of Assyria

The Palace of Sennacherib

Sennacherib ascended the Assyrian throne around 705 BC and devoted himself to turning Nineveh into a magnificent city and building himself a “palace without rival."2 It remained the capital of the Assyrian empire until the Babylonians sacked the city around 612 BC. In Jonah’s day, Nineveh had a population of 120,000 people who “could not tell their right hand from their left.” (Jonah 4:11)

When Austen Henry Layard excavated at Nineveh in 1847, one of the first buildings he unearthed was the Southwest Palace of Sennacherib, located on the citadel mound of Kuyunjik. It was here that he found the famous reliefs of the siege of Lachish, one of the top discoveries in biblical archaeology.

Sennacherib’s Southwest Palace can be seen on older Google Earth images, before a roof was built over-top of it. The palace’s overall dimensions were an astounding 180 by 190 meters and it contained at least 80 rooms, many of which were lined with sculptures and reliefs. It has been calculated that there were almost 2 miles of reliefs on the walls in Sennacherib’s palace!3 Most of these reliefs and the guardian animals that Sennacherib ordered carved were destroyed by the Babylonians, with only their lowest parts remaining into the 21st century.4

The palace of Sennacherib had been preserved as a museum, with a roof constructed over it and 100 reliefs left in situ. Sadly, when ISIS occupied Mosul (the site of ancient Nineveh), they looted and destroyed Sennacherib’s palace in a way that the Babylonians never could. Recent satellite images taken by Digital Globe/ASOR show that in 2016, ISIS removed the protective roof, tore down the pillars and visible vehicle tracks are proof that they removed most of the valuable material by the truckload.5

The Palace of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Bablyon

Palace of Nebuchadnezzar

Serious investigation of the ruins of Babylon began in the late 1800’s, first with industrial-scale digging by the British Museum from 1879-1882, and then with systematic and scientific excavations led by Robert Koldewey of the German Oriental Society.6 Beginning in 1899 and continuing for 18 years, Koldewey made numerous discoveries, including the famous blue-bricked Ishtar Gate, the Processional Way which led to the Temple of Marduk, and the Southern Palace of King Nebuchadnezzar.

Nebuchadnezzar himself describes how he rebuilt the palace of his father:

I tore down its walls of dried brick, and laid its corner-stone bare and reached the depth of the waters. Facing the water, I laid its foundation firmly, and raised it mountain high with bitumen and burnt brick. Mighty cedars I caused to be laid down at length for its roofing. Door leaves of cedar overlaid with copper, thresholds and sockets of bronze I placed in its doorway. Silver and gold and precious stones, all that can be imagined of costliness, splendor, wealth, riches, all that was highly esteemed I heaped up within it, I stored immense abundance of royal treasure within it.”7

During his excavations of the Southern Palace Koldewey discovered a structure in one corner with 14 long rooms laid out in two rows, along with a system of wells and channels nearby. He identified this as the infrastructure of the famed Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Modern scholars have suggested it was a storehouse for oil, grain, dates and spices.8

In 1987, Saddam Saddam Hussein came to visit the site of Babylon, located 60 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. He ordered one of the palaces to be rebuilt, with little regard for the archaeological past which he was erasing. Dubbed “Disney for a Despot” the new “palace” was hastily built over-top of the ancient one out of brinks inscribed with both his name and that of Nebuchadnezzar.9 Fortunately, the remains of the Southern Palace remained largely untouched and are clearly visible in Google Earth images today.

The Palace of Darius I, King of Persia

Palace of Darius I

The ancient city of Susa, located in modern-day Iran, served as the winter residence of the Persian kings of the Achaemenid empire. Darius I built his palace on one of the four hills, called the Apadana. His foundation deposit from the palace has been discovered inscribed in three languages: Old Persian, Akkadian, and Elaminte. This inscription is known as the DSf, and its description is remarkably similar to the way the palace is described in Esther 1:5-6.

“The palace which I built at Susa, from afar its ornamentation was brought…the cedar timber, this – a mountain named Lebanon – from there was brought. The Assyrian people, it brought to Babylon; from Babylon the Carians and the Ionians brought it to Susa. The yaka-timber was borught from Gandhara and from Carmania. The gold was brought from Sardis and from Bactria, from here was wrought. The precious stone lapis-lazuli and carnelian which was wrought here, this was brought from Sogdiana. The precious stone turquoise, this was brought from Chorasmia, which was wrought here. The silver and the ebony were brought from Egypt. The ornamentation with which the wall was adorned, that from Ionia was brought. The ivory which was wrought here, was brought from Ethiopia and from Sind and from Arachosia. The stone columns which were wrought, a village by name Abiradu in Elam – from there were brought. The stone-cutters who wroght the stone, those were Ionians and Sardians….Saith Darius the King: At Susa a very excellent work was ordered, a very excellent work was brought to completion.”10

This palace is the setting for the book of Esther, who was married to Darius’s son, Xerxes I (called King Ahasuerus in Hebrew). In fact, the description in the book of Esther is so detailed that one can even identify the places from the Google Earth image where the specific events took place:

  1. The Audience Hall/Court of the Gardens – “And when these days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small, a feast lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king’s palace.” (Esther 1:5)

  2. The Outer Courtyard – “Later the king said: ‘Who is in the courtyard?’ Now Haman had come into the outer courtyard of the king’s house to speak to the king about having Mordecai hanged on the stake that he had prepared for him.” (Esther 6:4)

  3. The Inner Courtyard facing the Throne Room – “On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner courtyard of the king’s house, opposite the king’s house…" (Esther 5:1a)

  4. The Throne Room – “…while the king was sitting on his royal throne in the royal house opposite the entrance.” (Esther 5:1b)

Indeed, these descriptions match the excavated palace so precisely that many scholars have concluded that whoever wrote the book of Esther must have personally spent time there. French archaeologist Jean Perrot was the world’s foremost authority on the ancient palace at Susa, having served as the Director of Excavations there for over a decade. Before his death in 2012 he said, “One today rereads with a renewed interest the book of Esther, whose detailed description of the interior disposition of the palace of Xerxes is now in excellent accord with archaeological reality.”11


ENDNOTES:

1 Space archaeologist, Sarah Parcak, believes she has discovered the ancient Egyptian city of Itj-Tawy – the capital city of the 12th Dynasty Pharaohs (https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2017/01/30/how-new-technology-accelerates-the-search-for-ancient-sites/) This was likely home of Joseph, who lived during that period according to biblical chronology.

2 Max Mallowan, “Ninevah,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. September 6, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/place/Nineveh-ancient-city-Iraq (Accessed April 30, 2019).

3 Howard F. Vos, Archaeology in Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody Press, 1977), 120.

4 “Southwest Palace,” Learning Sites, Inc., December 9, 2016. http://www.learningsites.com/Nineveh/SWP_Nineveh_home.php (Accessed April 30, 2019).

5 Christopher Jones, “The Cleansing of Mosul,” Gates of Nineveh. June 6, 2016. https://gatesofnineveh.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/the-cleansing-of-mosul/ (Accessed April 30, 2019).

6 “Koldeway at Babylon,” Current World Archaeology. January 25, 2013. https://www.world-archaeology.com/great-discoveries/koldewey-at-babylon/ (Accessed May 1, 2019).

7 Robert Koldeway, The Excavations at Babylon. (London : Macmillan and Co., 1914), 113. Accessed online: https://archive.org/details/ldpd_10797913_000/page/158 (Accessed May 1, 2019).

8 Juan Luis Montero Fenollos, “Beautiful Babylon: Jewel of the Ancient World” National Geographic History Magazine. January/February 2017. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/archaeology-and-history/magazine/2017/01-02/babylon-mesopotamia-ancient-city-iraq/ (Accessed May 1, 2019).

9 Neil MacFarquhar, “Hussein’s Babylon: A Beloved Atrocity” New York Times, August 19, 2003. https://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/19/world/hussein-s-babylon-a-beloved-atrocity.html (Accessed May 1, 2019).

10 Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990), 296.

11 “Shushan The Citadel With Bible In Hand,” Bible Reading Archaeology. September 20, 2018. https://biblereadingarcheology.com/2018/09/20/shushan-the-citedal/ (Accessed May 2, 2019).

 

Bible Personages in ARCH May 2019

Bryant G. Wood

The Story of Jezebel

Jezebel was no doubt the wickedest woman in the Bible. In the book of Revelation her name was invoked in condemning a false prophetess in Thyatira who promoted sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols (Rv 2:20). Even today the name is emblematic of a sinful, shameless woman. Jezebel means "where is his highness (=Baal)?" (Korpel 2008: 37). Baal was the great Canaanite storm and fertility god. Jezebel's father Ethbaal, whose name means "with Baal" or "man of Baal," was king of the Phoenicians (I Kgs 16:31). The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that Ethbaal was formerly a priest of Ashtoreth, consort of Baal, who usurped the throne and reigned over Tyre and Sidon for 32 years (Contra Apionem i.18.123).

In order to form a political alliance with the Phoenicians, Ahab, king of Israel (874-853 BC), married Baal-worshipping Jezebel (1 Kgs 16:31). "Urged on by Jezebel his wife" (1 Kgs 21:25), Ahab became a follower of Baal, and even erected a temple and altar to the pagan deity in Samaria (1 Kgs 16:32). He had the distinction of being the king who "did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of lsrael before him" (1 Kgs 16:33). Jezebel bore Ahab a son, Joram, who ruled Israel for 12 years from 852 to 841 BC,n and she herself became a strong political figure bearing the title "Queen Mother" (2 Kgs 10:13).

Jezebel was zealous in her efforts to stamp out Yahwism and promote the worship of Baal. She mounted a campaign to kill the Lord's prophets (1 Kgs 18:4, 13), while at the same time feeding 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah, the Canaanite mother goddess and consort of El, at the royal table (I Kgs 18:19). This led to a confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, resulting in the extermination of the prophets of Baal (I Kgs 18:16-40).

Photo by: Bryant Wood
Baal the Canaanite storm god, also worshipped
by the later Phoenicians. In his left hand he holds a
spear which flashes lightning and in his right hand a
mace. The relief, which dates to 1650- 1500 BC. was
found in a sanctuary in the Canaanite city of Ugarit,
Syria, in 1932. It is now on display in the Louvre
Museum in Paris.

Jezebel also figures prominently in the account of the appropriation of Naboth 's vineyard. Naboth refused to sell his vineyard to greedy Ahab. Conniving Jezebel arranged to have false charges brought against Naboth, which resulted in his death (1 Kgs 21). When Ahab went to take possession of the vineyard, Elijah was there with a message from God:

       "I am going to bring disaster on you. I will consume your
       descendants and cut off from Ahab every last male in
       lsrael --- slave or free ... because you have provoked me to
       anger and have caused Israel to sin." And also concerning
       Jezebel the LORD says: "Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall
       of Jezreel" (1 Kgs 21:21-23).

Shortly thereafter Ahab was killed in a battle against the Arameans (1 Kgs 22:29-40). Twelve years later a prophet of the Lord anointed Jehu, a general in the Israelite army, king with the following charge:

       You are to destroy the house of Ahab your master, and
       I will avenge the blood of my servants the prophets and
       the blood of all the LORD's servants the prophets and the
       blood of all the LORD's servants shed by Jezebel (2 Kgs 9:6).

Photo by: Henry B. Smith, Jr.
Statue of Elijah on Mt. Carmel memorializing
Elijah's encounter with Jezebel's prophets. Elijah
challenged the 450 prophets of Baal who ate at
Jezebel's table to a sacrifice cook-off: "you call on
the name of your god and I will call on the name of
the LORD. The god who answers by fire -- he is God:
(1 Kgs 18:24). Who do you think won? You can read
the account in 1 Kings 18:16-40.

Jehu went on to wipe out Ahab's descendants, including Jezebel's son Joram. As the Lord had predicted through Elijah, Jezebel met a grisly end. Jehu went to the royal residence at Jezreel and found the Queen Mother, with her eyes painted and hair arranged, looking out a palace window. Jehu ordered her eunuchs to throw her out the window:

       So they threw her down, and some of her blood spattered
       the wall and the horses as they trampled her underfoot.
       Jehu went in and ate and drank. "Take care of that cursed
       woman," he said, "and bury her, for she was a king's
       daughter." But when they went out to bury her, they found
       nothing except her skull, her feet and her hands. They went
       back and told Jehu, who said, "This is the word of the LORD
       that he spoke through his servant Elijah the Tishbite: On the
       plot of ground at Jezreel dogs will devour Jezebel 's flesh"
       (2 Kgs 9:33- 36).

Jezebel's Seal

In the early 1960s a seal was purchased on the antiquities market and donated to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The late Nahman Avigad, a leading Israeli paleographer (one who studies ancient writing), published an article about the seal in 1964. He suggested the name on the seal was possibly Jezebel, but there was a problem- the first letter of the name was missing. And so, little attention was paid to the seal and it languished in the Israel Museum for decades. Then, Dutch researcher Marjo Korpel (Associate Professor of Old Testament, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands) became interested in it. Korpel was first drawn to the seal because of its imagery, but then became intrigued with the inscription. She noticed that a piece had broken off at the top and this could very well have been where the missing letter was originally located. She conjectured that there were initially two letters in the area of the break: a Hebrew lamed, or L, which stood for "(belonging) to" or "for," and the missing first letter of Jezebel's name.

                                                
           Collection of the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Photo copyright: The Israel Museum
Opal seal with the name of Jezebel. The inscription and symbols on the seal
make it highly likely that it was the official seal of the wicked woman of the
Old Testament. She was a woman of power as indicated by her title
"Queen Mother" (2 Kgs 10: 13).  Although Jezebel had her own seal to
authenticate official correspondence, when she forged the letters to the elders
and nobles of Jezreel in order do away with Naboth and seize his
vineyard, she used Ahab's seal rather than her own for maximum
authority (1 Kgs 21 :8).

Apart from the inscription, there are other compelling reasons for identifying the seal as that of Jezebel. First, as Avigad observed, it is very fancy, suggestive of royalty. It is made of the gemstone opal and is larger than average, being 1.24 in (31 mm) from top to bottom (Avigad 1964: 274). Secondly, the form of the letters is Phoenician, or imitates Phoenician writing (Korpel 2008: 37). Thirdly, the seal is filled with common Egyptian symbols that were often used in Phoenicia in the ninth century BC and are suggestive of a queen. At the top is a crouching winged sphinx with a woman's face, the body of a lioness and a female lsis/Hathor crown. To the left is an Egyptian ankh, the sign of life. In the lower register, below a winged disk, is an Egyptian-style falcon, symbol of royalty in Egypt. On either side of the falcon is a uraeus, the cobra representation of Egyptian royalty worn on crowns. At the bottom left is a lotus, a symbol often associated with royal women. All of these icons taken together denote female royalty (Korpel 2008: 36- 37).

Although 100% certainty cannot be attained, Korpel's assessment of the evidence leads her to conclude, "I believe it is very likely that we have here the seal of the famous Queen Jezebel" (2008: 37).

Photo by: Utrecht University
Seal of Jezebel with missing letters restored.
The top of the seal has been damaged and it is in this
area that Old Testament scholar Marjo Korpel suggests
that there were originally two letters: a lamed, meaning
"(belonging) to" and an aleph, the first letter of Jezebel's
name. The restored inscription would then read "(belonging) to
Jezebel." The seal is scheduled to go on display at the Israel
Museum in Jerusalem in 2010 when renovation work at the
museum is completed.

Bibliography
Avigad, Nahman.
     1964 The Seal of Jezebel. Israel Exploration Journal 14: 274-76.
Korpel, Marjo C.A.
     2008 Fit for a Queen: Jezebel's Royal Seal. Biblical Archaeology Review 34.2: 32-37, 80.

This article was updated in June 2019.

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