Sargon II was followed by his son Sennacherib who ruled from 705-681 BC. Early in his reign he began to attack and defeat the fortified cities of Judah. One of those cities was Lachish, which he defeated in 701 BC, and was still present in the city when Hezekiah engaged in correspondence with him in a desperate plea to spare the overthrow of Jerusalem.
Archaeologists discovered the palace of Sennacherib in 1847. Seventy different rooms contained reliefs decorating the walls, highlighting Sargon’s various exploits. Room 36—the waiting room for foreign dignitaries—contains a relief eight feet high and 62 feet long (originally 80 feet). Among other things, it pictures the fall of the Judean fortress of Lachish in 701 BC on panel number seven. It pictures Judahite women walking down siege ramps, and men being impaled and flayed alive by the Assyrians.
The relief has been dated to 700-681 BC.
- It demonstrates that Judah was a powerful nation in the early 6th century BC, otherwise Sennacherib would not have erected a relief of his defeat of Lachish in the waiting room of foreign dignitaries. He would want to display his military might. If Lachish and Judah were insignificant, displaying their defeat would do little more than display your ability to beat up children!
The fact that Sennacherib pictured the defeat of Lachish rather than Jerusalem is telling. Why portray the defeat of the second most powerful city of a nation if you could picture the defeat of the most powerful city? The best explanation is that Sennacherib did not destroy Jerusalem, just as the Bible declares (2 Kings 18-19). Such will be the topic of tomorrow’s post.
There is a problem with the reconciling the Biblical and extra-biblical dating. According to 2 Kings 18:10 Samaria fell in the 9th year of Hoshea’s reign, and 6th year of Hezekiah’s reign. Then 18:13 says Sennacherib invaded the fortified cities of Judah in Hezekiah’s 14th year. That’s only 8 years later, which would be 714 BC, not 701 BC as we know from extra-biblical sources. It could not have been much earlier than 701 BC because Sennacherib did not begin to reign until 705. One solution is to understand the Biblical text to refer to the time that Sennacherib began his campaigns against Judah’s fortified cities, not the time at which Lachish fell, or the time at which Hezekiah was corresponding with Sennacherib at Lachish. This would explain how Hezekiah was able to accomplish all the preparations described in 2 Chron 32:2-6,32. He didn’t begin preparing in 701 BC (his 27th or 28th regal year), but in his 14th.
This battle is also recorded in the Sennacherib Prism.