Discuss the fall of Samaria in biblical and non-biblical perspective. Pay attention to both historiographical and historical issues and the relationship between them. Your extra-biblical sources should include (at least) archaeology and Assyrian writings.
The fall of Samaria is an uncertain time period for a number of reasons. The cuneiform sources about the event are in conflict with each other as well as the biblical text itself. Shalmaneser V, whom 2 Kings attributes the capture of Samaria, left no royal inscriptions in his reign of 5 years. The Babylonian Chronicle seems to corroborate the Biblical account, but is in turn conflicting with Sargon II’s own claims to have conquered and deported Samaria. Additionally, Sargon II’s inscriptions throughout his reign tend to conflict with one another on the year that this occurred. The archaeological evidence in Samaria was previously interpreted as showing widespread destruction but has been reanalyzed and seems to argue against a destruction of the city by the Assyrians but show the Assyrians took control without only “minimal physical destruction” (Tappy 2005).
The main sources for the reconstruction of the event are:
2 Kgs 17:1-6 (v. 3 – Shalmaneser V receives tribute from Hoshea; v. 4 – Hoshea conspires by sending a message to So king of Egypt, stops tribute, king of Assyria arrests him, puts him in prison; v. 5 – king of Assyria comes again, besieges Samaria for 3 years; v. 6 – 9th year of Hoshea, king of Assyria takes Samaria, exiles Israel.)
2 Kgs 18:9-11 (Shalmaneser besieges for 3 years, 7th-9th year of Hoshea, and afterwards took and exiled the population)
Babylonian Chronicle – “He [Shalmaneser V] ravaged Samaria”
Inscriptions of Sargon II: “I besieged and conquered Samaria” took 27,290/27,280 and formed a chariot core of 50/200 chariots. – these inscriptions put the conquest in accession year, 1st or 2nd year
Josephus, quotes from Greek Menander who translated the Tyrian archives (341-291 BCE) – Menander says that Shalmaneser marches on Phoenicia twice. He invades Phoenicia, then left, but then a number of towns revolted and he returned to unsuccessfully siege Tyre for five years.
Archaeology – The finds at Samaria were previously interpreted as having been completely destroyed by the Assyrians (Kenyan) but further scrutiny has cast doubt on this conclusion since the latest Israelite occupations occur over varying layers and there is little evidence for widespread destruction (Tappy).
The data can and has been interpreted in a variety of ways. Some have proposed that there was a single attack upon Samaria and only one king could have taken it (Na’aman = Sargon II; Reade = Shalmaneser V). Hayes and Kuan propose there were as many as 4 assaults upon Samaria between Shalmaneser V and Sargon II, and others (Tadmor, Younger, Becking) argue for two conquests, one happening under Shalmaneser V (722) and another under Sargon II (720).
Hayes and Kuan take the biblical evidence more seriously by supposing that Shalmaneser V campaigned against Samaria at the beginning of his reign (726), received tribute, then returned to arrest Hoshea for stopping tribute and conspiring with king So and “ravaged Samaria” (725). He later returned after Samaria was caught up in a revolt with Phoenicia (725-724) and began a three year siege. He died shortly after the siege (722/721), and Sargon II after putting down a rebellion in the east (720), then went west to put down rebellion by Hamath which included Samaria (720). Hayes and Kuan use the Josephus data to show that Shalmaneser was on the move multiple times in the Levant, and that since the Babylonian chronicle includes the ravaging of Samaria before the mention of his fifth year, then it has to preceded the siege.
Those that propose two conquests assume that Shalmanaser V carried out only the siege of three years, but died shortly after (722). Sargon II returns again to put down a rebellion in the West and destroying Samaria (720).
It has also been proposed that Sargon II may have been the general that carried out the capture under Shalmaneser V and that there was only one capture (Park).
The cruxes in interpretation is whether one takes the biblical evidence to mean that there were multiple confrontations with Shalmaneser V, whether this refers to a single episode, or whether it conflates the two kings (Shalmaneser V/Sargon II) since only “king of Assyria” is mentioned in later verses. Additionally, does the Bab. Chron.’s assertion refer to Samaria the city or merely the region? Does the verb “ravaged” (Akk: ḫepû) imply that the city/region was destroyed or just captured? Does mention of the ravaging of Samaria for the fifth year (separated by double lines) indicate that it preceded the siege?
The inscriptions of Sargon II put things in geographical rather than chronological order therefore it is difficult to produce an easy sequence. Sargon II's destruction of Samaria seems to be in connection with a rebellion of Hanath in 720. However, earlier that year Sargon had apparently fought a battle with Elam and Babylon (which he lost according to the Babylonian chronicle, but Sargon claims to have won). This puts everything onto a tight window. Additionally, it is wondered if Samaria would have been in position to rebel again still after having just underdone a three year siege and “capture.”
The archaeological data, which argues against any widespread destruction, has been used by Na’aman to argue against the biblical account of a siege since it is argued that the Assyrians usually were quite violent in there destruction of besieged cities. Younger argues that the archaeological evidence is unclear but there are other examples of cities conquered by Assyrians with minimal destruction
Hayes, J. H., and J. K. Kuan. “The Final Years of Samaria (730-720 BC).” Biblica 72, no. 2 (1991): 153–181.
Hayes, John, and J. Maxwell Miller. A History of Ancient Israel and Judah. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006.
Na’aman, N. “The Historical Background to the Conquest of Samaria (720 BC).” Biblica 71 (1990): 206–225.
Park, Sung Jin. “A New Historical Reconstruction of the Fall of Samaria.” Biblica 93 (2012): 98–106.
Tappy, Ron E. “Samaria.” Edited by Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson. Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2005.
. “The Final Years of Israelite Samaria: Toward a Dialogue Between Texts and Archaeology.” Up to the Gates of Ekron”, Essays on the Archaeology and History of the Eastern Mediterranean in Honor of Seymour Gitin. Jerusalem (2007): 258–279.
Younger, K Lawson. “The Fall of Samaria in Light of Recent Research.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 61(1999): 461–482.