Nineveh—“The Bloody City”
“WOE to the bloody city!”—this was God’s decree upon Nineveh, once the queen city of the earth. Capital of Assyria under its greatest kings, Nineveh was like a den of lions: Ferocity and rapacity reigned supreme. By warfare Nineveh enriched itself, becoming the greatest and most feared city on the face of the earth.—Nah. 3:1, AV.
Not surprising that war and bloodshed and cruelty were the favorite pastimes of Nineveh’s rulers. Why, Nineveh’s very founder was the cruel, ruthless Nimrod: “He went forth into Assyria and set himself to building Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah and Resen between Nineveh and Calah: this is the great city.”—Gen. 10:11, 12.
Nineveh, together with its suburbs such as Calah and Resen, constituted one great city. Because of its great wickedness, God sent the prophet Jonah to Nineveh. The Ninevites’ timely repentance at the preaching of Jonah saved the city from swift destruction at God’s hands. But the inhabitants of this great city relapsed and again took to their wicked ways. During the reigns of Kings Sargon, Sennacherib, Esar-haddon and Ashurbanipal, Nineveh reached the height of its wickedness and bloody doings.
Nineveh would devour a city, bring in the loot and treat the captives cruelly. As C. W. Ceram says in Gods, Graves and Scholars: “Nineveh was impressed on the consciousness of mankind by little else than murder, plunder, suppression, and the violation of the weak; by war and all manner of physical violence; by the deeds of a sanguinary dynasty of rulers who held down the people by terror and who often were liquidated by rivals more ferocious than themselves.”
When the Assyrian armies returned to Nineveh with prisoners, the captives suffered unspeakable cruelty. They were often led about by cords attached to hooks that pierced the nose or the lips. Nineveh’s king sometimes blinded his captives by putting their eyes out at the point of a spear. Other prisoners were impaled or flayed alive. Nineveh was the heart of a great military machine that mercilessly ground to dust all weaker states and peoples.
GREEDY MERCHANTS AND PRIESTS
Warfare benefited the city’s merchants, who, for their numerousness, seemed like the stars of the heavens. Loot poured into the great city. Nineveh’s shops were supplied with all the appliances of luxury that the world could then supply. What treasures filled the city! Declared God’s prophet Nahum: “There is no end to the stores, an abundance of all sorts of valuable articles.”—Nah. 2:9, AT.
With all its ferocity, Nineveh was exceedingly religious. There was a whole pantheon of gods, many of them being imported from Babylon. Note the number of deities mentioned in this passage from the Annals of Ashurbanipal: “By the command of Ashur, Sin, Shamash, Ramman, Bel, Nabu, Ishtar of Nineveh, Ninib, Nergal, and Nusku, I entered the land of Mannai and marched through it victoriously. Its cities, great and small, which were without number, as far as Izirtu, I captured, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire.”
The priests of Nineveh were not at all opposed to war. “Fighting was the business of the nation,” says the volume Ancient Cities, “and the priests were incessant fomenters of war. They were supported largely from the spoils of conquest, of which a fixed percentage was invariably assigned them before others shared, for this race of plunderers was exceedingly religious.” Greedy priests exulted at the sight of armies going out and returning with booty.
JEHOVAH DECREES NINEVEH’S RUIN
What are we to think of this city of plunderers? What are we to think of a city whose inhabitants delighted in fiendish cruelty? What are we to think of a proud, arrogant city that said to itself: “I am, and there is none else”? It deserved destruction. But who could destroy such a great city as Nineveh? Jehovah, the God of heaven and earth, could, and through his prophet Nahum Jehovah declared: “Behold, I am against thee, saith Jehovah of hosts, and I will uncover thy skirts upon thy face; and I will show the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame. And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazing-stock. And it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her?”—Zeph. 2:15, AT; Nah. 3:5-7, AS.
But how would Jehovah bring about Nineveh’s ruin? Enemy armies would besiege Nineveh. “The battering ram is set up.” Enemy soldiers would gain entrance to the city: “The gates of the rivers are opened, and the palace melts away.” Foretelling Nineveh’s doom in graphic language, Jehovah’s prophet declared: “The crack of the whip, and the noise of the rumbling wheel, and the galloping horse, and the jolting chariot; the charging horseman, and the flashing sword, and the glittering spear, and a multitude of slain, and a mass of bodies, and no end to the corpses! They stumble over the corpses!” Dead Assyrian soldiers would litter the ground; the victors would step upon and trip over the corpses.—Nah. 2:5, 6; 3:2, 3, AT.
Nineveh’s plundering days were to come to an end, and people would wonder as to the whereabouts of this great city of lions. God’s prophet says: “Where is the den of the lions, and the cave of the young lions, whither the lion went, bringing in prey, the lion’s cub, with none to disturb? where the lion tore enough prey for his cubs, and rended for his lionesses, filling his den with prey, and his lair with booty?”—Nah. 2:11, 12, AT.
If the princes and merchants of Nineveh thought this prophecy was incredible and farfetched, then God’s prophet reminded them to ponder the fate of the famous Egyptian city of Thebes. Despite a formidable military force and despite its boasted impregnability, Thebes was razed to the ground; and it was shattered by none other than the Assyrian king himself. Indeed, King Ashurbanipal made an inscription concerning the fall of Thebes: “The entire city . . . my hands captured—silver, gold, precious stones, the contents of his palace, all that there was; parti-coloured raiment, cloth, horses and people, male and female.” So the prophet says to Nineveh: “Are you any better than Thebes, that sat by the great Nile? . . . yet even she became an exile; she went into captivity; even her children were dashed in pieces . . . You too shall reel and swoon; you too shall seek refuge from the foe.”—Nah. 3:8-11, AT.
TURNED INTO A RUIN
Nineveh’s doom was sealed, for Jehovah’s words can never fail. About 633 B.C. it happened. The supposedly impregnable fortress of Nineveh easily fell into the hands of the besiegers, the Medes and the Chaldeans. The Babylonian king Nabopolassar, in his annals, describes the capture of Nineveh by the Medes and Babylonians: “By the bank of the Tigris they marched against Nineveh: a mighty assault they made upon the city, . . . a great havoc of the chief men was made. . . . The spoil of the city, a quantity beyond counting, they plundered, and turned the city into a mound and a ruin.”—Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to The Old Testament.
What jubilation throughout the world at the news of Nineveh’s fall! Even this rejoicing was foretold by God’s prophet: “Everyone who shall hear the news about you, will clap his hands over you. For against whom has not your malice continually gone forth?” The “bloody city” deserved its fate. Would Nineveh rise again? Never; there will be no need for God to bring another destruction on Nineveh: “He is about to execute complete destruction; he will not take vengeance twice upon his enemies.” What a hideous end for Nineveh! “He will make Nineveh a desolation.”—Nah. 3:19; 1:9; Zeph. 2:13, AT.
Nineveh’s fall was its ruin. So complete was its ruin that soon its very site was forgotten. We learn from Xenophon’s Anabasis that, when this Greek historian passed Nineveh’s site at the beginning of the fifth century B.C., it had so completely perished that he did not hear its name. What about Herodotus? This historian writes of the Tigris as “the river upon which the town of Nineveh formerly stood.” Hardly two centuries had passed since Nineveh’s fall, and yet Herodotus passes it over as if the jaws of history had opened its mouth and swallowed up the city, leaving not a vestige worthy of viewing. Alexander the Great may have marched over the ruins of Nineveh; his victory at Gaugamela was won almost in sight of Nineveh’s ruins. Yet Alexander’s historians, with the exception of Arrian, do not even allude to Nineveh. The Greek writer Lucian wrote, about A.D. 150, that “not a trace of it remains.” Vanished from history!
Before the age of great archaeological discoveries, skeptics ridiculed the Bible, denying that Nineveh of the Bible could have ever existed. The time came when people visited the general area, looking for some trace of Nineveh. At the close of the sixteenth century Sir Anthony Shirley visited the area and said: “Nineveh, that which God Himself calleth That great Citie hath not one stone standing which may give memory of the being of a towne.”
EXCAVATIONS AT NINEVEH AND ITS SUBURBS
Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, archaeologists have excavated various parts of Nineveh and its suburbs. The excavation area is tremendous. The area has a mound that is one of the largest in Mesopotamia, and it is estimated that 14,000,000 tons of earth would have to be moved to excavate it completely. “Nineveh is a site so enormous,” says Harper’s Bible Dictionary, “that it may never be completely excavated, as Albrecht Goetze pointed out. . . . Though scholars have been investigating Nineveh for nearly 100 years, the lower strata remain untouched.”
What have scholars found at Nineveh’s ruins? Innumerable objects, monuments of many kinds and the remains of palaces that must have been, in their day, wonders of the world.
Inscriptions and monuments agree with the Bible that Nineveh was a den of lions. In fact, colossal lions with human heads, together with huge winged bulls, were found guarding temples and palaces. The lion seems to have been a kind of national emblem. The streets of Nineveh that once rang with the tramp of soldiers were paved with blocks of limestone that show the deep ruts worn by war chariots some twenty-five centuries ago.
Sir Austen Layard, noted author of Nineveh and Its Remains, gave a speech in London in 1854 and said: “But who could have believed that records themselves should have been found which, as to the minuteness of their details, and the wonderful accuracy of their statements, should confirm almost word for word the very text of Scriptures?” Inscriptions have been uncovered that mention such Bible characters as Jehu, Menahem, Omri, and Hazael. Hezekiah is mentioned in Sennacherib’s own account of his invasion of Palestine.
Sennacherib’s palace has been uncovered, laying bare seventy-one rooms and almost two miles of sculptures. Its magnificent entrance was decorated with ten colossal winged bulls with human heads, the bulls being inscribed with the annals of six years of his reign. The inner surfaces of his palace walls once gleamed with facings of enameled bricks, blue, orange and red. The floors were of marble inlaid with metal arabesques. On a palace wall Assyrian warriors are shown impaling prisoners and flaying them alive. Sennacherib is shown sitting on a throne with a long procession of captives advancing toward the king. An inscription says: “Sennacherib, king of the world, king of the land of Ashur.”
Another palace uncovered belonged to King Ashurbanipal. What a surprise greeted scholars at this location—the king’s royal library! It contained thousands of clay tablets. The king had obtained some of the tablets from private sources, but the largest section consisted of copies he had made of originals scattered throughout all the provinces of his realm. Among the tablets found were the Babylonian accounts of the creation and of the Flood. Some tablets had inscriptions written in letters so fine that a magnifying glass was required to read them. An inscription shows the great interest King Ashurbanipal took in his library: “I read the beautiful clay tablets from Sumer and the obscure Akkadian writing which is hard to master. I had my joy in the reading of inscriptions on stone from the time before the flood.”
King Ashurbanipal, like the other Assyrian kings, was cruel and ruthless. He shut up captives in cages, exposing them to the derision of jeering spectators; he forced captives to carry in processions the heads of their former comrades in arms. On their own admission, from their own records comes evidence that Nineveh was one of the most warlike cities on the face of the earth. “Woe to the bloody city!”
Its fate was deserved and unavoidable. Today its desolate-looking ruins and mounds are a haunt for wild creatures, and the pillars of palaces are perches for birds. The traveler to Iraq who visits Nineveh’s ruins does well to reflect on the prophet Zephaniah’s words, words that express God’s determination: “He will make Nineveh a desolation, a drought like the desert; and herds shall lie down in the midst of her, every beast of the field. Both jackdaw and hedgehog shall lodge in her capitals; the owl shall hoot in the window, the bustard on the threshold; for I will destroy her city. . . . How she has become a ruin, a lair for wild beasts!”—Zeph. 2:13-15, AT.
[Picture on page 149]
From palace wall in Nimrud (Calah)