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Kings of Judah & Israel Attested in Archaeology

 

Have you ever wondered if some of the Biblical characters are mentioned in other sources outside the Bible? Has anyone found evidence of their existence? Were there other kings around at the time who interacted with these Biblical characters?  In this article, we will look at archaeological discoveries that testify to fifteen of the kings of Israel and Judah who reigned between 1000 – 500 BC. Some of the kings appear in the writings and monuments of the nations that oppressed Judah and Israel, while other kings have their names inscribed on their personal belongings or the belongings of their servants.

King David

King David was the second king of the United Kingdom. He reigned for 40 years. In 1993 a fragment of a monumental inscription was discovered at Tel Dan in northern Israel, it contains the first and only reference to King David found in an archaeological context.

 

The inscription also contains the partially readable names of two other kings, most likely Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah. The Tel Dan Inscription reads: ‘… I slew [seve]nty kin[gs], who harnessed thou[sands of cha]riots and thousands of horsemen. [I killed Jo]ram son of [Ahab] king of Israel, and killed [Ahaz]iahu son of [Jehoram kin]g of the House of David.’

Image by Oren Rozen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0) - See below for link

King Uzziah

Uzziah (Azariah) reigned as king of Judah for 52 long years. Toward the end of his reign he became afflicted with leprosy as a result of disobedience and pride. When he died he was buried in a field near the other kings and his son Jotham took power (2 Chronicles 26).

 

In 1931 an inscribed funerary plaque was discovered that indicates his bones may have later been relocated. The plaque dates to the time of Jesus (about 700 yrs after Uzziah’s death) and states: ‘Here were brought the bones of Uzziah king of Judah, do not open’. The plaque possibly covered the entrance of his new burial place.

Image courtesy of Museums of Israel Portal - not for reproduction

Kings Jotham and Ahaz

It isn’t often that archaeologists find something personal that had belonged to a Judean king. This tiny item called a bulla is the official signature of King Ahaz of Judah, formed when his signet ring was pressed into clay. The signature on the bulla reads: ‘Ahaz, son of Jotham, King of Judah’

 

Ahaz was one of the more evil kings of Judah. He reigned for sixteen years during which time he had a Syrian style altar erected in the temple court. He is also  reported to have offered his son as a sacrifice to one of the ‘foreign’ gods at a hilltop shrine (2 Kings 16). 

Image courtesy of theosophical.wordpress.com - not for reproduction

King Hezekiah

During the reign of Ahaz’ son and successor Hezekiah, the city of Jerusalem was attacked by the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. To prepare Jerusalem for the attack, Hezekiah built a huge underground tunnel to redirect water into the city. He also strengthened the city walls (2 Kings 18:17-20:21).

 

The item depicted here is called Sennacherib’s Prism. On it is written Sennacherib’s own account of his attack on Hezekiah and the city. In one place the prism reads: ‘As to Hezekiah the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to his strong cities… [Hezekiah] Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.’ The attack by Sennacherib ultimately ends in failure when God miraculously intervenes and Sennacherib flees back to Assyria.

Image British Museum Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

King Manasseh

Following the reign of his father Hezekiah, Manasseh’s kingdom remained under the yoke of Assyrian oppression. As a vassal of Assyria, King Manasseh was required to pay a regular tax or tribute to the Assyrian overlords (2 Kings 21:1-18).

 

The object to the right, known as the ‘Esarhaddon Prism’ is a record kept by the Assyrian king Esarhaddon of his reign. The prism lists ‘Manasseh King of Judah’ among the vassals who were ordered to send wood and stone to Esarhaddon king of Assyria as tribute in order that he could build his palace.

Image British Museum Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

King Jehoiachin

Only three months into his reign, Jehoiachin, king of Judah was take into captivity by a new superpower, the Babylonians. Some time after his move to Babylon, Jehoiachin was released from prison and was given a regular food ration for the remainder of his life (2 Kings 24:8-14, 25:27-30). 

 

This Babylonian tablet is one of several that detail the rations given to Jehoiachin and his family. This tablet outlines the oil ration and reads as follows: ‘10 [sila of oil] to the king of Judah, Jehoiachin; 2 1/2 sila [of oil] to the offspring of Judah’s king;  4 sila to eight men from Judah.’ 

Image courtesy of Ferrell Jenkins Blog - not for reproduction

King Zedekiah (Inferred)

Zedekiah was the last king to reign in Judah before the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587/6 BC. He was placed on the throne by the Babylonians following the exile of his nephew Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:15-17).

 

This tablet, known today as the Babylon Chronicle, summarises Nebuchadnezzar’s own account of his conquest of Jerusalem and his appointing of Zedekiah to the throne. It states that: ‘On the second day of the month of Adara he [Nebuchadnezzar] conquered the city and took the king [Jehoiachin] prisoner. He installed in his place a king [Zedekiah] of his own choice, and after he had received rich tribute, he sent [them] forth to Babylon.’

Image British Museum Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

King Omri

King Omri came to power during a very unstable period of Israel’s history. He was the first of four kings that made up what became known as the Omride dynasty or ‘the house of Omri’. It was Omri who established Samaria as the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He is recorded as doing evil in the eyes of the Lord, and sinning more than all those before him (1 Kings 16:21-28).

 

Omri is described in 2 Kings 16:16 as commander of Israel’s army. Although the Bible tells us nothing of his military achievements, these are mentioned in a Moabite inscription. On this object, known today as the ‘Mesha Stele’, it records that: ‘As for Omri the king of Israel, he humbled Moab for many years ...’

King Ahab

Omri’s son and successor Ahab, continued in the evil practices of his father. He added to his list of evils by marrying Jezebel, the daughter of a foreign king and taking up the worship of Baal. Over time Jezebel’s influence led Ahab further and further astray (1 Kings 16:29-22:40).

 

During his twenty two year reign, Ahab fought several battles. One of these, called the battle of Qarqar, is recorded on a huge monumental inscription of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III known as the Kurkh Monolith. The inscription states that: ‘Irhuleni brought twelve kings to his support [Syrian Coalition]; they came against me to offer battle and fight: 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalry, and 20,000 soldiers belonging to Hadad-ezer of Damascus; … 2,000 chariots, and 10,000 soldiers belonging to Ahab, the Israelite.’

King Jehu

The wicked Omride dynasty was bought to an end when the prophet Elisha appointed Jehu king of Israel in place of Ahab’s son Joram. One of Jehu’s first tasks was to eliminate all the potential Omride heirs to Israel’s throne (2 Kings 9:1-10:36).

 

Throughout Jehu’s twenty eight year reign, Israel remained under Assyrian oppression. Each year Jehu paid a tribute tax to the Assyrian overlords. One of these payments is recorded on a large Assyrian monument known as the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III as: ‘The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.’ The Black Obelisk may also provide us with the only depiction of an Israelite king yet discovered. The kneeling figure is either Jehu or one of his officials bowing before Shalmaneser III.

King Jehoash (Joash) 

Jehoash ascended to the throne following the death of his father Jehoahaz, son of Jehu. He continued in the evil practices of the previous kings of Israel and also remained under Assyrian oppression throughout his reign (2 Kings 13:10-13).

 

Like the kings before him, Jehoash too, paid a yearly tribute to the Assyrians. On a monument called the Tel al Rimah Stele, the Assyrian ruler Adad-Nirari III wrote: ‘I received 2,000 talents of silver, 1,000 talents of copper, 2,000 talents of iron, 3,000 linen garments with multi-coloured trim - the tribute of Mari' - of the land of Damascus. I received the tribute of Jehoash the Samarian, of the Tyrian ruler and of the Sidonian ruler. ‘

Image courtesy of www.biblearchaeology.org- not for reproduction

Image courtesy of biblewalks.com- not for reproduction

King Jeroboam II

Kings like Jeroboam II, the son of king Jehoash (2 Kings 14:23-29), had many servants who administered his royal affairs.

 

In 1904, a seal made from Jasper was found that bore the inscription ‘Shema, servant of Jeroboam.’ It appears that Shema was one of those servants working in the royal courts and who had the authority to seal documents with his own signet under the king’s charge.

King Menahem

In the years leading up to the destruction of Samaria and the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, a succession of coups placed new kings on the throne. One of those usurper kings was Menahem, who had assassinated the previous usurper king Shallum (2 Kings 15:13-22).

 

On the Iran Stele of Tiglath Pileser III, or Pul as he is known in the Bible, Tiglath Pileser lists Menahem as one of many kings from whom he received tribute. He states: ‘I received tribute from . . . Rezon of Damascus, Menahem of Samaria, Hiram of Tyre, . . .’

Image courtesy of Bible Places.com - not for reproduction

Image courtesy of theosophical.wordpress.com - not for reproduction

King Pekah

Menahem’s son King Pekahiah was then killed by Pekah and his troops, and Pekah took over the throne of Israel. The Bible states that after reigning twenty years, Pekah himself was then overthrown by Hoshea and Hoshea set himself up as king (2 Kings 15:23-31). 

 

In the annals of Tiglath Pileser III found in the ruins of his palace at Calah, he records the overthrow of King Pekah and claims that he himself placed Hoshea as the new king. The annals state: ‘Omri-land… All its inhabitants I led to Assyria. They overthrew their king Pekah and I placed Hoshea as king over them. I received from them 10 talents of gold, 1,000 talents of silver as their tribute and brought them to Assyria.’  Unfortunately, some of these annals of Tiglath Pileser III were either severely damaged or went missing at a later date and so the inscriptions are preserved through squeezes created during the excavations in the mid 1800s.

King Hoshea

King Hoshea was the last king to rule the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He rebelled against the Assyrians, refusing to pay them tribute and forming an alliance with Egypt. In response, the king of Assyria put him in prison and proceeded to lay siege to his capital city Samaria. After a three year siege, Samaria fell to the Assyrians. Nothing more is known of Hoshea after this time. (2 Kings 17:1-6) 

 

This seal bearing the inscription ‘Abdi, Servant of Hoshea’ first appeared in 1993 at Sotheby’s auction house in New York. Because it was first identified at an auction house, some have considered it may be a forgery.

Image courtesy of www.free-online-bible-study.org - not for reproduction

Photo Credits

Ross and Sarah Nightingale images: Mesha Stele (Louvre, Paris, France), Kurkh Monument (British Museum, London, England), Black Obelisk (British Museum, London, England)

Tel Dan Stele: By Oren Rozen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47055869

Uzziah Plaque: Museums of Israel Portal,

http://www.museumsinisrael.gov.il/en/items/Pages/ItemCard.aspx?IdItem=ICMS_IMJ_353190

Ahaz Bulla: https://theosophical.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/biblical-archaeology-14-ahaz-bulla/

 

Taylor Prism, Esarhaddon Prism, Babylonian Chronicle: British Museum Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0),

http://www.britishmuseum.org/join_in/using_digital_images/using_digital_images.aspx?asset_id=418652001&objectId=295077&partId=1

Jehoiachin Ration Tablet: https://ferrelljenkins.blog/2012/02/08/evil-merodach-562-560-graciously-freed-jehoiachin/

Tel al Rimah Stele: www.biblearchaeology.org

Jereboam Seal: https://biblewalks.com/sites/megiddo.html

Iran Stele: Bible Places.com - https://blog.bibleplaces.com/2015/04/neo-assyrian-kings-and-biblical-history.html

Calah Annals: https://theosophical.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/biblical-archaeology-13-tiglath-pileser-iii-inscriptions/

Abdi Seal: www.free-online-bible-study.org

Article provided by Bibleworld Museum & Discovery Centre, Rotorua, New Zealand. Please do not reproduce without permission. www.bibleworld.org.nz.