A city of Assyria founded by Nimrod, “a mighty hunter in opposition to Jehovah.” Together with Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen it constituted “the great city.” (Ge 10:9, 11, 12; Mic 5:6) Much later it became the capital of the Assyrian Empire. As such, Nineveh was a “city of bloodshed” (Na 3:1), for the Assyrians waged many wars of conquest and employed brutal methods in killing captured warriors. Doubtless the military campaigns contributed greatly to the city’s wealth. (Na 2:9) The principal deity of Nineveh appears to have been Ishtar, a goddess of love and war.
Archaeological Investigation. Kuyunjik and Nebi Yunus (“Prophet Jonah”), two mounds located on the E bank of the Tigris River opposite Mosul, N Iraq, mark the site of what was once the great city of Nineveh. A modern village, with a cemetery and a mosque, occupies Nebi Yunus. Therefore this mound, which covers a palace of Esar-haddon, has been little investigated. At Kuyunjik, however, excavations have brought to light much that testifies to Nineveh’s past glory. The findings include thousands of cuneiform tablets from Ashurbanipal’s library and the ruins of the palace of Sennacherib and that of Ashurbanipal. These palaces were impressive structures. Based on his findings, Sir Austen Layard wrote:
“The interior of the Assyrian palace must have been as magnificent as imposing. I have led the reader through its ruins, and he may judge of the impression its halls were calculated to make upon the stranger who in the days of old, entered for the first time the abode of the Assyrian kings. He was ushered in through the portal guarded by the colossal lions or bulls of white alabaster. In the first hall he found himself surrounded by the sculptured records of the empire. Battles, sieges, triumphs, the exploits of the chase, the ceremonies of religion, were portrayed on the walls, sculptured in alabaster, and painted in gorgeous colors. Under each picture were engraved, in characters filled up with bright copper, inscriptions describing the scenes represented. Above the sculptures were painted other events—the king, attended by his eunuchs and warriors, receiving his prisoners, entering into alliances with other monarchs, or performing some sacred duty. These representations were inclosed in colored borders, of elaborate and elegant design. The emblematic tree, winged bulls, and monstrous animals, were conspicuous amongst the ornaments. At the upper end of the hall was the colossal figure of the king in adoration before the supreme deity, or receiving from his eunuch the holy cup. He was attended by warriors bearing his arms, and by the priests or presiding divinities. His robes, and those of his followers, were adorned with groups of figures, animals, and flowers, all painted with brilliant colors.
“The stranger trod upon alabaster slabs, each bearing an inscription, recording the titles, genealogy, and achievements of the great king. Several doorways, formed by gigantic winged lions or bulls, or by the figures of guardian deities, led into other apartments, which again opened into more distant halls. In each were new sculptures. On the walls of some were processions of colossal figures—armed men and eunuchs following the king, warriors laden with spoil, leading prisoners, or bearing presents and offerings to the gods. On the walls of others were portrayed the winged priests, or presiding divinities, standing before the sacred trees.
“The ceilings above him were divided into square compartments, painted with flowers, or with the figures of animals. Some were inlaid with ivory, each compartment being surrounded by elegant borders and mouldings. The beams, as well as the sides of the chambers, may have been gilded, or even plated, with gold and silver; and the rarest woods, in which the cedar was conspicuous, were used for the woodwork. Square openings in the ceilings of the chambers admitted the light of day.”—Nineveh and Its Remains, 1856, Part II, pp. 207-209.
In the Time of Jonah. Jehovah’s prophet Jonah, in the ninth century B.C.E., declared impending doom for Nineveh because of the wickedness of its inhabitants. However, since the people, including the king, repented, Jehovah spared the city. (Jon 1:1, 2; 3:2, 5-10) At that time Nineveh was a great city, “with a walking distance of three days.” (Jon 3:3) Its population numbered more than 120,000 men. (Jon 4:11) This Biblical description is not controverted by archaeological evidence. Observed André Parrot, Curator-in-Chief of the French National Museums:
“Just as today, that part of London which lies within its ancient boundary is very different from what is called ‘greater London’—a term which includes the suburbs and denotes a much larger area—so it may be that people who lived far away from Assyria understood by the word ‘Nineveh’ what is now known as ‘the Assyrian triangle’ . . . , which stretches from Khorsabad in the north to Nimrud in the south, and, with an almost unbroken string of settlements, covers a distance of some twenty-six miles. . . .
“Felix Jones estimated that the population of Nineveh might have numbered 174,000 persons, and quite recently, in his excavations at Nimrud, M. E. L. Mallowan discovered a stele of Ashurnazirpal on which it is recorded that he invited to a banquet the fabulous number of 69,574 guests. Mallowan considers that, allowing for foreigners, the population of Kalakh (Nimrud) might have been 65,000. But Nineveh is twice the area of Nimrud, and thus it may be reckoned that the figure in Jonah 4.11 is indirectly confirmed.”—Nineveh and the Old Testament, 1955, pp. 85, 86; see JONAH No. 1; JONAH, BOOK OF.
Its Destruction Fulfills Prophecy. Although repenting at the preaching of Jonah (Mt 12:41; Lu 11:30, 32), the Ninevites relapsed and again took to their wicked ways. It was some years after Assyrian King Sennacherib had been murdered at Nineveh in the house of his god Nisroch (2Ki 19:36, 37; Isa 37:37, 38) that Nahum (1:1; 2:8–3:19) and Zephaniah (2:13-15) foretold the destruction of that wicked city. Their prophecies were fulfilled when the combined forces of Nabopolassar the king of Babylon and of Cyaxares the Mede besieged and captured Nineveh. The city was evidently subjected to burning, for many Assyrian reliefs show damage or stain from fire and accompanying smoke. With reference to Nineveh, a Babylonian chronicle reports: “They carried off the vast booty of the city and the temple (and) [turned] the city into a ruin heap.” (Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, by A. Grayson, 1975, p. 94; PICTURE, Vol. 1, p. 958) To this day Nineveh is a desolate waste, and in the spring, flocks graze near or atop the mound of Kuyunjik.
Date of Nineveh’s Fall. Though effaced from the extant cuneiform tablet that relates the fall of Nineveh, the date for this event, the 14th year of Nabopolassar, can be supplied from the context. It is also possible to place the destruction of Nineveh in the framework of Bible chronology. According to a Babylonian chronicle, the Egyptians were defeated at Carchemish in the 21st year of Nabopolassar’s reign. The Bible shows this to have taken place in the fourth year of Jehoiakim’s reign or in 625 B.C.E. (Jer 46:2) Therefore, the capture of Nineveh (about seven years earlier) in the 14th year of Nabopolassar’s reign would fall in the year 632 B.C.E.—See ASSYRIA (The fall of the empire).