(Sen·nachʹer·ib) [Sin (the moon god) has multiplied the brothers; or, may Sin replace the (lost) brothers].
Son of Sargon II and king of Assyria. He inherited from his father an empire of great strength, but was obliged to spend most of his reign in subduing revolts, particularly as regards the city of Babylon.
Sennacherib appears to have been serving as a governor or general in the northern region of Assyria during his father’s reign. After his succession to the throne, this region evidently caused him little trouble, his difficulties coming chiefly from the S and the W. The Chaldean Merodach-baladan (Isa. 39:1), abandoning his refuge in Elam into which Sennacherib’s father Sargon had driven him, now proclaimed himself king of Babylon. Sennacherib marched against him and his Elamite allies, defeating them at Kish. Merodach-baladan, however, escaped, going into hiding for another three years. Sennacherib entered Babylon and set Bel-ibni on the throne as viceroy. Other punitive expeditions were thereafter effected to keep in check the peoples in the hill countries surrounding Assyria.
Then, in what Sennacherib refers to as his “third campaign,” he moved against “Hatti,” a term evidently referring at that time to Phoenicia and Palestine. This area was in a state of general rebellion against the Assyrian yoke. Among those who had rejected such domination was King Hezekiah of Judah (2 Ki. 18:7), though there is no evidence to show that he was in coalition with the other kingdoms in revolt.
In Hezekiah’s fourteenth year (732 B.C.E.) Sennacherib’s forces swept westward, capturing Sidon, Achzib, Acco and other cities on the Phoenician coast and then headed south. Frightened kingdoms, including those of Moab, Edom and Ashdod, are listed as now sending out tribute to express submission. Recalcitrant Ashkelon was taken by force along with the nearby towns of Joppa and Beth-dagon. An Assyrian inscription accuses the people and nobles of the Philistine city of Ekron of having handed their king Padi over to Hezekiah, who, according to Sennacherib, “held him in prison, unlawfully.” (Compare 2 Kings 18:8.) The inhabitants of Ekron are described as having petitioned Egypt and Ethiopia for help to stave off or thwart the Assyrian attack.
The Bible record indicates that at about this point Sennacherib attacked Judah, laying siege to and capturing many of its fortified cities and towns. Hezekiah now sent word to the Assyrian at Lachish offering to pay the sum of tribute Sennacherib might impose. (2 Ki. 18:13, 14) Sennacherib’s capture of Lachish is presented in a frieze showing him seated on a throne before the vanquished city, accepting the spoils of that city brought to him while some of the captives are being tortured.
The Bible account does not indicate whether King Padi, if in reality a captive of Hezekiah, was now released, but it does show that Hezekiah paid the tribute demanded by Sennacherib of three hundred silver talents (over $425,000) and thirty gold talents (some $1,150,000). (2 Ki. 18:14-16) Now, however, Sennacherib sent a committee of three officers to call upon the king and people of Jerusalem to make a capitulation to him and, eventually, submit to being sent off into exile. The Assyrian message was particularly disdainful of Hezekiah’s reliance on Jehovah. Through his spokesman, Sennacherib boasted that Jehovah would prove to be as impotent as were the gods of the lands that had already fallen before the Assyrian might.—2 Ki. 18:17-35.
The Assyrian committee returned to Sennacherib, who was now fighting against Libnah, as it was being heard “respecting Tirhakah the king of Ethiopia: ‘Here he has come out to fight against you.’” (2 Ki. 19:8, 9) Sennacherib’s inscriptions speak of a battle at Eltekeh (a few miles N of Libnah) in which he claims to have defeated an Egyptian army and the forces of “the king of Ethiopia.” He then describes his conquest of Ekron and his restoration of the freed Padi to the throne there.
JEHOVAH DESTROYS THE ELITE OF HIS ARMY
As for Jerusalem, though Sennacherib had sent threatening letters warning Hezekiah that he had not desisted from his determination to take the Judean capital (Isa. 37:9-20), the record shows that the Assyrians did not so much as “shoot an arrow there, . . . nor cast up a siege rampart against it.” Jehovah, whom Sennacherib had taunted, sent out an angel who, in one night, struck down “a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians,” sending Sennacherib back “with shame of face to his own land.”—Isa. 37:33-37; 2 Chron. 32:21.
Sennacherib’s inscriptions make no mention of the disaster suffered by his forces. But, as Professor Jack Finegan comments in his book Light from the Ancient Past (1946 ed., p. 178): “In view of the general note of boasting which pervades the inscriptions of the Assyrian kings, . . . it is hardly to be expected that Sennacherib would record such a defeat.” It is interesting, nevertheless, to note the version that Sennacherib presents of the matter, as found inscribed on what is known as the Oriental Institute Prism preserved at the University of Chicago. In part he says: “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered [them] by means of well-stamped [earth-] ramps, and battering-rams brought [thus] near [to the walls] [combined with] the attack by foot soldiers, [using] mines, breeches as well as sapper work. I drove out [of them] 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered [them] booty. Himself [Hezekiah] I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. . . . His towns which I had plundered, I took away from his country and gave them [over] to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, end Sillibel, king of Gaza. . . . Hezekiah himself, . . . did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, antimony, large cuts of red stone, couches [inlaid] with ivory, nimedu-chairs [inlaid] with ivory, elephant-hides, ebony-wood, box-wood [and] all kinds of valuable treasures, his [own] daughters, concubines, male and female musicians. In order to deliver his tribute and to do obeisance as a slave he sent his [personal] messenger.”
This boastful version inflates the number of silver talents sent from three hundred to eight hundred, and doubtless does so with other details of the tribute paid; but in other regards it remarkably confirms the Bible record and shows that Sennacherib made no claims of capturing Jerusalem. It should be noted, however, that Sennacherib presents the matter of Hezekiah’s paying tribute as having come after the Assyrian’s threat of a siege against Jerusalem, whereas the Bible account shows it was paid before. As to the likely reason for this inversion of matters, note the observation made in Funk and Wagnalls New Standard Bible Dictionary (p. 829): “The close of this campaign of S[ennacherib] is veiled in obscurity. What he did after the capture of Ekron . . . is still a mystery. In his annals, S[ennacherib] locates at this point his punishment of Hezekiah, his raiding of the country of Judah, and his disposition of the territory and cities of Judah. This order of events looks like a screen to cover up something which he does not wish to mention.” The Bible record shows that Sennacherib hurried back to Nineveh after the divinely wrought disaster to his troops, and so Sennacherib’s inverted account conveniently has Hezekiah’s tribute being paid to him through a special messenger at Nineveh. It is certainly significant that ancient inscriptions and records show no further campaign by Sennacherib to Palestine, although historians claim that his reign continued for another twenty years.
The Jewish historian of the first century C.E., Josephus, claims to quote the Babylonian Berossus (considered as of the third century B.C.E.) as recording the event thus: “Now when Sennacherib was returning from his Egyptian war to Jerusalem, he found his army under Rabshakeh his general in danger, for God had sent a pestilential distemper upon his army; and on the very first night of the siege, a hundred fourscore and five thousand, with their captains and generals, were destroyed.” Some commentators attempt to explain the disaster by an account from Herodotus (of the fifth century B.C.E.) in which he claims that a legion of rats gnawed everything in the Assyrians’ weapons that was made of rope or leather, leaving them unable to carry out an invasion of Egypt. This account obviously does not coincide with the Biblical record, nor does Herodotus’ description of the Assyrian campaign harmonize with the Assyrian inscriptions. Nevertheless, the accounts by Berossus and Herodotus at least reflect the fact that Sennacherib’s forces met up with sudden and calamitous difficulty in this campaign.
Sennacherib’s troubles had not ended, however, and following his return to Assyria he had to quell another revolt in Babylon, provoked by Merodach-baladan. This time Sennacherib placed his own son, Ashur-nadin-shumi, as king in Babylon. Six years later Sennacherib embarked on a campaign against the Elamites, but they soon retaliated by invading Mesopotamia, captured Ashur-nadin-shumi, and placed their own king on the throne of Babylon. Several years of struggle for control of the region followed, until finally the enraged Sennacherib took vengeance on Babylon by leveling it to the ground, an unparalleled act in view of Babylon’s position as the “Holy City” of all Mesopotamia. The remaining years of Sennacherib’s reign were apparently without major incident.
Sennacherib’s death is considered to have come some twenty years after his campaign against Jerusalem. This figure is dependent on Assyrian records, their reliability being subject to question. At any rate, it should be noted that the Bible account does not state that Sennacherib’s death occurred immediately upon his return to Nineveh. “Later on he entered the house of his god” Nisroch, and his sons, Adrammelech and Sharezer, “struck him down with the sword,” escaping to the land of Ararat. (2 Chron. 32:21; Isa. 37:37, 38) An inscription of his son and successor, Esar-haddon, confirms this.
The Assyrian Empire thus saw no particular expansion under Sennacherib. He did, however, carry out an ambitious building project in Nineveh, which he had restored to its position as the capital city. The vast palace he erected there was a complex of halls, courts and rooms of state covering an area 1,500 feet (457 meters) long by 700 feet (213 meters) wide. He brought in water from thirty miles (48 kilometers) away, constructing a causeway over the Gomer River, known as the Jerwan Aqueduct. Its waters contributed toward the irrigation of gardens and parks, as well as the strengthening of the city’s defenses by its encircling moat.