Nineveh—Proud Assyrian Capital
AS CAPITAL of the vast and ruthless Assyrian Empire, Nineveh was hated among the subjugated peoples. They longed for the day when the power of Nineveh would be shattered, never again to impose its oppressive yoke on others.
Today two mounds, Quyunjiq and Nebi Yunus, on the east bank of the Tigris River mark the site of what was once mighty Nineveh. A modern village occupies Nebi Yunus, standing, as it were, atop the grave of ancient Nineveh. On the larger mound, Quyunjiq, there are a few strips of cultivated land and a little grass, on which flocks may be seen grazing in the spring. The words of the Hebrew prophet Zephaniah concerning Nineveh have been fulfilled: “In the midst of her, droves will certainly lie stretched out. . . . This is the exultant city that was sitting in security, that was saying in her heart, ‘I am, and there is nobody else.’ O how she has become an object of astonishment.”—Zeph. 2:14, 15.
Little did such haughty Assyrian monarchs as Sennacherib, Esar-haddon and Ashurbanipal think that mighty Nineveh would come to nothing. When considering what archaeological excavations have brought to light about that city, we, too, cannot help but be amazed that Nineveh is no more.
In its heyday, Nineveh was imposing and impressive. Its massive seven-and-a-half-mile-long wall towered to a height of perhaps a hundred feet. In certain places, the wall was as much as 148 feet thick. Fifteen great gates provided access to the city. A city with such tremendous fortifications would not have been easy to conquer.
During Sennacherib’s reign, his palace must have been one of the most magnificent structures in Nineveh. Measuring some 600 by 630 feet, that palace contained at least eighty rooms. Many of these rooms were lavishly decorated with scenes of battles, sieges, victories, hunting exploits and religious ceremonies. These representations were sculptured in alabaster and then painted in vivid colors. Under each scene appeared an inscription about the event portrayed. The engraved characters were filled in with copper.
“CITY OF BLOODSHED”
The reliefs show that Nineveh was, as the Hebrew prophet Nahum stated, a “city of bloodshed.” (Nah. 3:1) They illustrate the cruel treatment the Assyrians meted out to captives of war. Often captives were led by cords attached to hooks that pierced the nose or the lips. Many were blinded or had their noses, ears and fingers cut off. Some were burned or skinned alive. Others were impaled atop pointed stakes.
The Assyrian monarchs shamelessly boasted about wars and sadistic tortures. Of his campaign against the Philistine city of Ekron, Sennacherib said: “I assaulted Ekron and killed the officials and patricians who had committed the crime [of handing their King Padi, Sennacherib’s loyal vassal, over to Judean King Hezekiah] and hung their bodies on poles surrounding the city.” Esar-haddon, after defeating the two allied kings Sanduarri and Abdimilkutte, boasted: “I hung the heads of Sanduarri and of Abdimilkutte around the neck of their nobles/chief-officials to demonstrate to the population the power of Ashur, my lord, and paraded (thus) through the wide main street of Nineveh.” Regarding what his forces did during a campaign against Egypt, Ashurbanipal stated: “They did not spare anybody among (them). They hung their corpses from stakes, flayed their skins and covered (with them) the wall of the town(s).”
Another decorative relief shows that, even when the Assyrian king reveled in food and drink as he reclined on a comfortable couch set up amidst the trees and vines of his pleasant garden, warfare was not necessarily forgotten. Not far from the king’s couch there might be a table on which his bow, sword and quiver were deposited. And a grim trophy of war, perhaps the head of a defeated king, might be hanging from the limb of a nearby tree.
The cruel manner in which the Assyrians dealt with those who put up stiff resistance was doubtless designed to frighten others. Not wanting to become victims of Assyrian cruelty, many cities simply capitulated. Thus, without having to carry on an involved siege, the Assyrians gained their objective—a large tribute from those who willingly submitted to their yoke.
‘ENSNARING NATIONS BY PROSTITUTION’
Other nations were drawn into alliances with Assyria, hoping thereby to maintain a measure of independence. The prophet Nahum evidently refers to this when speaking of Nineveh as “ensnaring nations by her acts of prostitution.”—Nah. 3:4.
This can be best understood against the background of what the Bible says about the actions of a prostitute. The book of Proverbs describes the encounter of a young man with a prostitute as follows:
“The woman comes to meet him, dressed like a harlot, wrapped in a veil. She is loud and brazen; her feet cannot rest at home. Now in the street, now in the square, she is on the look-out at every corner. She catches hold of him, she kisses him, the bold-faced creature says to him, ‘I had to offer sacrifices: I discharged my vows today, that is why I came out to meet you, to look for you, and now I have found you. I have made my bed gay with quilts, spread the best Egyptian sheets, I have sprinkled my bed with myrrh, with aloes and with cinnamon. Come, let us drink deep of love until the morning, and abandon ourselves to delight. . . . With her persistent coaxing she entices him, draws him on with her seductive patter. Bemused, he follows her like an ox being led to the slaughter.”—Prov. 7:10-22, Jerusalem Bible.
Like such a prostitute, Nineveh deceived nations with empty promises of help and benefits. Her offers of friendship were enticing but treacherous. Those getting involved with her lost their liberty and came into slavery. This is well illustrated in the case of Judean King Ahaz. He paid Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser (Tilgath-pilneser) III to come to his help in counteracting a conspiracy of Syria and Israel to depose him as king. (2 Ki. 16:5-9) While Tiglath-pileser did destroy the power of Syria and Israel, whatever relief this brought to Ahaz was but temporary. Of the final result to Ahaz, the Bible reports: “Tilgath-pilneser, king of Assyria, did indeed come to him, but to oppress him rather than to help him. Though Ahaz plundered the LORD’S house and the houses of the king and the princes to make payment to the king of Assyria, it availed him nothing.” (2 Chron. 28:20, 21, New American Bible) So instead of real relief, Ahaz only brought himself and his people under the oppressive Assyrian yoke.
Reckoned on the basis of Bible chronology, Nineveh’s “bloodshed” and “prostitution” came to an end in 632 B.C.E. At that time the city fell into the hands of the combined forces of Nabopolassar the king of Babylon and Cyaxares the Mede. As indicated by fire and smoke damage of the reliefs found at Nineveh, the conquerors must have burned the city. Regarding Nineveh, the Babylonian Chronicles state: “The great spoil of the city and temple they carried off and [turned] the city into a ruin-mound.”
In a powerful manner, the destruction of Nineveh vindicated the prophetic “word of God.” That destruction also demonstrated the truth that disregard for God’s ways, including the pursuit of blood-spilling militarism and deceptive alliances, cannot succeed indefinitely. This is something to which we should give serious consideration. Surely we do not want to come to disappointment by supporting or allying ourselves with ways and systems that are divinely disapproved. Hence, we should make sure of what God’s Word, the Bible, teaches and put our full trust in His promised Kingdom government.