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25. The years 701 BCE and 586 BCE in Judaean History

The discrepancy between theology and political reality was one that plagued Israel at every stage of its history. Two of the most critical moments were the period around 701 B.C.E. and that in and around 586 B.C.E. Describe these two moments, discussing how and why they may have been similar to each other, and how and why they may have been different.

Summary: In 701 BCE, Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Syria/Palestine and destroyed many Judaean cities. He also besieged Jerusalem but left back to Assyria without destroying or capturing Jerusalem. In the early 6th century BCE (590'-580's), Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon also marched upon Syria/Palestine and destroyed many cities in Judah. He besieged Jerusalem in 588 BCE, and captured the city in 586 BCE. The two events are similar in that both involved a siege and a devastating time for Jerusalem. However, in 701 BCE, Jerusalem was NOT destroyed. This in turn affected the theology of Judaeans suggesting that Jerusalem was protected by God and therefore inviolable (i.e. zion theology"). In 586, however, Jerusalem was in fact destroyed. This forced the Judaeans to deal with the question why Jerusalem was allowed to be destroyed. The answer by DH and the prophets was that Jerusalem's destruction was a result of Judah's sins.

I. 701–Sennacherib of Assyria Besieges Jerusalem

*732–722 BCE: Assyria (Tiglath-pileser II and Shalmaneser V):

•Conquered Golan, Gilead, Galilee

•Ammon, Moab, and Edom surrendered without a battle

Began conquest of Phoenicia and Philistia

*722 BCE: Assyria (Shalmazeser V, Sargon II, and beginning of Sennacherib):

•Shalmaneser V Destroys Samaria 

•Conquered Philistia

*In 701 BCE: Assyria's Siege of Jerusalem.

Sennacherib turned his attention at the revolt of Hezekiah in Syria-Palestine. Sennacherib claims to have taken 46 cities in Judah. As he marched upon Syria-Palestine, certain cities swore their allegiance to him–Tyre, Akzib, Acco, Sidon, Arvad, Byblos, Ashdod, Ammon, Moab, and Edom.

He claims to have captured the following cities: Beth-Dagan, Joppa, Babai-Barqa, Azor, Ekron, Eltekeh, Timnah, Lachish, Azekah, and he implies to have captured Ashkelon.

Rabshaqeh came to Judah to molest the Jerusalemites. He tries to convince them to surrender to Sennacherib (2Kgs 18:19-25; 19:9-13).

Sennacherib definitely intended to take Jerusalem, but he only claims to have shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem as a bird in a cage, as his own annals record.

The devastation as a result of Sennacherib's campaign in Judah must have been enormous (Isa 1:4-9). Sennacherib exacted heavy tribute from Jerusalem. 

Although Jerusalem was not captured or destoryed in 701 BCE, there was indeed a deportation of Judaeans from Judah to Assyria! Stohlmann argues that the number of deportees was no smaller than the number of deportees in 722 BCE or in 586 BCE. Deportees were taken from Lachish, Azekah, and even Jerusalem. Stohlmann argues that the Bible preserves references to the devastation of Sennacherib's campaign and to the exile of 701 BCE. He suggests the following verses: Isa 1:4-9, 10:33-34 ("toppling of a forrest with an ax"), 7:20 ("as the shaving with a razor the hair of the beard and of the feet"), 5:5-6 ("as a vineyard about to be destroyed"), 6:11-12 ("cities lie waste"). The exile of 701 BCE is mentioned in 5:13 ("my people go into exile for lack of knowledge"), 6:12 ("the Lord removes men far away"), 11:12-16 (oracle promises a return from exile from Assyria and other nations in ANE), 27:8 ("by exile thou didst contend with them"). Also, Hosea 11:11 ("they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt and like doves from the land of Assyria"). Also, Micah 1:16 ("For they shall go forth from you into exile"); this verse describes the Assyrian advance to the Sphelah and Lachish. Micah 4:6 has a promise form the Lord that He'll gather those who had been driven away.

Lachish reliefs depict Judaeans being deported to Assyria. Moreover, Sennacherib's annals claim that he deported 200, 150 people (an  exaggerated number!); the annals state that Hezekiah sent his daughters, concubines, male and female musicians as tribute to Sennacherib!

Nevertheless, Jerusalem is not captured! Sennacherib return to Assyria. DH ascribes the salvation of Jerusalem to a miracle in which an angel slew 185,000 men of the  Assyrian army. Herodotus, the Greek historian in Egypt, speaks of this event. He says that the Assyrian army was ravaged by a plague of mice at the border of Egypt.

II. Theological Response to 701 = Zion Theology Reinforced

*It was not was not destroyed in 722 when Samaria was destroyed. Many Northern refugees fled to Jerusalem. Since 8th C, Jerusalem became immeasurably larger and more populated than any other city in Judah. Additionally, Jerusalem was not captured in 701. For the Judaeans, this meant that Zion Theology was confirmed.

What is Zion Theology?

In short, Zion theology holds that David is YHWH's chosen king and Jerusalem is YHWH's chosen city. Therefore, Jerusalem will be protected by God!

This idea starts with Yahweh’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, promising eternal rule to his descendants, which was expanded by the citizens of Jerusalem, and some of its priests and prophets, to include guarantees concerning the city of Jerusalem, as well as the Temple (Ps 132:11–18; Isa 31:4–5; 37:33–35).

YHWH has chosen it as the sit of his royal palace, temple, place where he finds rest (Ps 78:68-69; 132:13; cf. 1 Kgs 8:44, 48:11:13, 32; 14:21; 2 Kgs 21:7; 23:27; Zech 1:17; 2:16; 3:2.)

David is YHWH’s sub-regent, a manifestation of YHWH’s rule (Ps 110), even over the powers of chaos (Ps 89:26).

Peace is a major Zion theme, no surprise since Jerusalem is lexically related (Ps 122:6-8). But it goes deeper: God protects his temple city. Its status a visible symbol of futility of wars against it. Protection and Peace Zion symbolized and manifested thought to be available even in absence of eschatological glorification of mountain (Isa 2:2-4).

With David’s accession, Solomon’s construction of temple, Zion tradition became essential component of religious tradition. Zion became symbol of people of Israel’s national honor: where king dwelt, who was YHWH’s viceroy, effortlessly subduing rebellious vassals, just as his divine suzerain and adoptive father subdue the kingdoms that assault his sacred mountain Ps 2; 110).

How and Why was Jerusalem protected by YHWH in 701?

In Isaiah 36–39: Depiction of Hezekiah shaped as counterpart to that of Ahaz, Hezekiah's father. Hezekiah = man of faith, reformer, rends garments, asks Isaiah’s prayer (37:1–2); offers own prayer, which motivates God’s verdict against Sennacherib (37:21); signs provided and not scorned (37:30–32); Hezekiah is a paradigm of faithfulness (2 Kgs 18:5; “He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel; so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.” On the other hand, Ahaz failed as a religious leader.

During Hez. Reign, Zion traditions seem to have come to the fore through the prophet Isaiah (Hayes and Irvine; Levenson 1987):

'For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake' (Isaiah 37:35).

‘Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria, “He will not come to this city or shoot an arrow there; and he will not come before it with a shield or throw up a siege ramp against it. By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and he shall not come to this city,”’ declares the Lord (2 Kings 19:32-33)

*Thus, although 701 BCE was a very devastating year for Judah, nevertheless, Jerusalem was not captured. In result, Zion theology was strengthened.

III. 586–Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon Besieges and Captures Jerusalem

*598–588 BCE: Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar)

•598 Nebuchadnezzar II himself arrived

•597 King Jehoiakim died

•597 King Jehoiakim surrendered and was exiled

Babylonians deported thousands from Judah

Babylonians appointed Zedekiah as king

*588-6 BCE: Rebellion of Zedekiah, Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem

•588 BCE King Zedekiah rebelled

Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. Abandoned siege briefly to fight Egypt, then returned.

•586 BCE Jerusalem captured, destroyed, and deported upper classes

Zedekiah was the final Judaean king that was set up by Nebuchadnezzar before the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Against the counsel of Jeremiah, Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon in the late 588 BCE. 

In 588 BCE, the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem. After a two and half year siege, in 586 BCE, Jerusalem fell. Food ran out. The wall was breached. Zedekiah escaped but was captured by Jericho. His sons were executed and his eyes were put out (2Kgs 25:3-7; Jer 52:5-11; 39:1-7). The elite Judaeans were taken into exile. Only the poor remained in Jerusalem. There are different numbers of deportees. According to Jeremiah, 4,600 deportees were taken to Babylon (Jer 52); according to Kings (24-25), some 18,000 along with the "rest of the people in the city" were deported to Babylon. 

The land of Judah was destroyed. This created a disruption in the industry and economics of the country. Schniedewind points out that:

In the 7th c., there were at least 116 settled sites; this number drops to 41 at the end of the 6th c. 

•92 of the 116 sites of the late monarchic period were abandoned in the Babylonian period

IV. Theological Response to 586 = DH Theology Reinforced

*In short, Dtr ideology contends that faithfulness to YHWH leads to prosperity, while infidelity leads to punishment (Niditch 2008: 11). Thus, one may argue that since Hezekiah destroyed the high-places, he was faithful to God, and therefore, God delivered Jerusalem from the Assyrians. When Sennacherib did not capture Jerusalem, this fed the myth that Jerusalem was inviolable and protected by God. Psa 46:5 reads, "God is in the midst of the city, it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns." The belief that Jerusalem was protected by YHWH was old and the event of Sennacherib's siege reinforced this notion. 

However, Nebuchadnezzar did destroy Jerusalem and took captives to Babylon. And this is explained with DH theology. Specifically, the destruction of Jerusalem is explained as a punishment of Manasseh's sins (2Kgs 21:10-15). 

*Thus, according to Ps 132:12, Covenant with David was understood to be conditional. This was explained Deut 28 (Punishment for Israel’s sin) and  Deut 30 (restoration after exile if repent).

*For Ezekiel, Israel must be judged because: a) it must accept responsibility for its own actions (Ez 3 and 33), and b) because it is held responsible for the sins of previous generations, as a consequence of its refusal to repent (14:12–23; 18:1–32; 33:10–20). Ezekiel repeatedly proclaims that repentance is still possible (16:54–63; 33:10–16) although the pessimistic tone of chapters 1-24 suggests that Ezekiel may not have been convinced of this, himself. According to Ezekiel restoration will come, including united monarchy. Ezek 37 speaks of a Davidic King. But in final vision, a “prince” נשִׂיא rather than a king. 

*According to Jeremiah, Judah experienced punishment for sin. There was time to repent up to the end, but they refused to repent. Nevertheless, God will restore line of David.

*Zechariah. Punishment for sin. Restoration will come, with a priest as the king. But also references to the house of David. YHWH will be king of the earth and Jerusalem will be the head of all.

*Third Isaiah envisions the remarriage of spurned nation, return of her lost children, where tormentors will do homage. YHWH will accomplish a new victory to be enthroned as of Old (60-62).

*Thus, after the events of 586 BCE, DH was strengthened. If Judah acts righteously, prosperity will follow; if not, punishment will follow. With the destruction of Jerusalem, a new hope emerged, namely, messianism. This was the idea that a ruler would come to restore Jerusalem to its glory and thus Zion theology would be restored. This begins to emerge in Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah.