Bible and Archaeology

by Tuvia Pollack

The story written thrice in the Bible – and the archaeology confirming it.
As you probably know, after the death of king Solomon in 931 BC, the Israelite kingdom split between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. The Assyrian empire destroyed the northern kingdom in 720 BC, and threatened Judah too. A campaign by the Assyrian king Sancherib in 701 AD threatened to put an end to the kingdom of Judah. This happened during the time of the prophet Isaiah.
Miraculously, Judah survived the assault, and lived for another 115 years. (Until 586 BC when Babylon invaded Judah in the times of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel in the Babylonian captivity).
The campaign in 701 was spectacular and dangerous. The Assyrians occupied all of Judah except Jerusalem, and put a siege to the city. It was such a traumatic time, that it’s recorded thrice in the Bible – 2 Kings 18-19, Isaiah 36-37 and 2 Chronicles 32.
The biblical account says that an angel of the Lord killed so many of the soldiers that they had to go back. This sounds like the description of a disease. Such a huge event would have ramifications that would echo outside of the Bible too, wouldn’t it?
And it has. There are three sources outside of the Bible that document this in different ways:
          The first one is the Assyrian version of the story, written in 691 BC. Sennacherib’s annals were inscribed on clay prisms, and discovered in excavations in the Assyrian capital Nineveh in 1830. He will not admit to defeat, but neither does he claim to have captured Jerusalem. It says “As for Hezekiah, I shut him up like a caged bird in his royal city of Jerusalem.” He mentions all the other cities as captured, only Jerusalem as besieged.
          The second one is the Egyptian story, retold by the Greek historian Herodotus. He wrote hundreds of years later, but cites an oral tradition in Egypt about the same Assyrian campaign in the area. According to this story, the Egyptian gods sent mice into the Assyrian camp to eat the leather of their weapons, forcing the troops back home. “Then after they came, there swarmed by night upon their enemies mice of the fields, and ate up their quivers and their bows, and moreover the handles of their shields, so that on the next day they fled, and being without defence of arms great numbers fell.” (Herodotus, book 2, verse 141).
Apparently, the Egyptians and the Judeans saw the same thing – a huge army of the Assyrians forced to get up and leave. The Judeans noticed a lot of Assyrian soldiers dying, and the Egyptians saw a lot of mice in the camp. It sounds like a bubonic plague, doesn’t it? This was thousands of years before anyone even knew that there was a connection between rats and the bubonic plague.
          The third one is the newly discovered find in Jerusalem. Some time after 701 AD, when the threat of the Assyrians had passed, the Jerusalemites felt secure enough to build a large mansion outside of the walls, in a place overlooking the city. The evidence of this structure was published in September 2020. No one would dare to build a large house like that in times of war – it is a testimony to the sense of security and safety that arrived after the Assyrian conquest was over.
Yaakov Billig of the Israel antiquities authority said about the discovery: “This find, alongside the palace that was found in the past at Ramat Rachel and the administrative center found on the slopes of Arnona attest to a revival of the city and leaving the walled areas of the First Temple era after the Assyrian siege.”
Over and over again, external sources and archaeology confirm the validity and reliability of the Bible.