Biblical Archeology

Who was the "saviour" of Israel referred to in 2 Kings 13:5?

William H. Shea, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Old Testament at the Andrews University Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan.


Following his success in Syria and Palestine during the campaign of 841 B.C., Shalmaneser III turned his attention to areas in the northwest and to the north and east of Assyria. During the final six years of his reign, he faced revolt in Assyria itself, and consequently was unable to conduct foreign campaigns. This "neglect" led to predictable conduct among his vassal states and their kings. As long as Shalmaneser, their suzerain, marched through the land on annual or somewhat frequent campaigns to collect tribute, his subjects usually remained "loyal" under the threat of force. However, when the great king's army was occupied elsewhere for any extended time, the vassal states in the neglected area rebelled with considerable frequency.

Such had been the pattern for centuries, no matter who was ruling or being ruled. Thus it was only to be expected that the city-states and kingdoms of Syria and Palestine would go their own ways, independent of both Assyria and each other, during the last third of the ninth century while the Assyrians were occupied elsewhere. In such a vacuum it was also natural that the strongest local kingdom would dominate the immediate area and exercise power over its neighbors. During the last third of the ninth century B.C. the kingdom of Damascus, led. by Hazael, was the power that came to the fore in Syria and Palestine.

The Bible describes this rise of Damascus in 2 Kings 13:2-4: "[Jehoahaz] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and followed the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from them. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them continually into the hand of Hazael king of Syria and into the hand of Ben-hadad the son of Hazael. Then Jehoahaz besought the Lord, and the Lord hearkened to him; for he saw the oppression of Israel, how the king of Syria oppressed them" (R.S.V.). The passage goes on to state that the Lord supplied Israel with a specific antidote for the dominance of Damascus: "Therefore the Lord gave Israel a savior, so that they escaped from the hand of the Syrians; and the people of Israel dwelt in their homes as formerly" (verse 5).

The minor mystery we shall attempt to unravel in this article is to determine the identity of the savior mentioned here. At first glance the last verse of this chapter seems to point to Jehoash himself, since he finally defeated Ben-hadad III in battle several times. "When Hazael king of Syria died, Ben-hadad his son became king in his stead. Then Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz took again from Ben-hadad the son of Hazael the cities which he had taken from Jehoahaz his father in war. Three times Joash defeated him and recovered the cities of Israel" (verses 24, 25).

Yet if the Biblical writer had desired to specify Jehoash of Israel as the savior referred to in 2 Kings 13:5, he seemingly could have done so more directly, in stead of leaving the savior unidentified. Moreover, it is possible that Jehoash was successful in his battles against Benhadad 's forces not so much because Israel had become stronger but because Damascus had been weakened. In such a case we should look for factors beyond Jehoash's mere military prowess to ex plain Israel's deliverance. Inscriptions from outside the Bible come to our aid by filling in the picture of the political situation in Syria and Assyria at this time.

Following both internal and external revolts against Shalmaneser III late in his reign, Assyria remained in a state of weakness through much of the rulership of his son and successor Shamshi-Adad V (824-811 B.C.). Not until the reign of Adad-Nirari III (811-782 B.C.) did the Assyrian power really revive and take the road to conquest again. Adad-Nirari III appears to have come to the throne in his minority, with affairs of state evidently handled largely by the queen mother and regent, Sammu-ramat, the famous Semiramis of later legends. By his fifth regnal year (806 B.C.), however, Adad-Nirari had taken over the reins of state and was conducting its affairs him self. His first foreign campaign of that year took his army into Syria for the first time in three decades.

Six different inscriptions, two of them published quite recently, have provided a fair amount of information about Adad-Nirari's western campaigns. Among these six inscriptions is one known as the Eponym List. Assyrian custom named every calendar year after some government official. Since the official's name was placed "upon" that year, the list of these years as compiled by Assyrian scribes is known as the Eponym List. The fact that each Assyrian king's name normally served as the eponym for a year early in his reign helps to calibrate the list in terms of the reigns of the different kings. In addition, this list supplies the name of the major military target for each year that the Assyrian army went into the field to campaign. For the year equivalent to 806 B.C. (805 in a variant form of the list), Arpad, in northern Syria, is listed, a place name that identifies this campaign as Adad-Nirari's first in the west. According to the Eponym List he conducted three more campaigns in that area in 805, 804, and 797 B.C. Another western campaign may have taken place. The list specifies "the Sea" as the military objective for 803 B.C., but it is uncertain whether the "sea" referred to means the Mediterranean (called by the Assyrians the "Upper Sea") or the Persian Gulf (known by them as the "Lower Sea").

An inscription published in 1973 by British Assyriologist A. R. Millard tells us that when Adad-Nirari crossed the upper Euphrates River into Syria, the king of Arpad led a coalition of western kings against him, but was forced to surrender. Millard's translation of the relevant portion of this broken inscription reads: "I called out my chariotry and infantry and gave the command to march to Haiti-land [Syro-Palestine in general]. I crossed the Euphrates when it was in flood stage, and descended to Paqarhubuna. Atar-shumki, the king of Arpad, and the kings who had rebelled and trusted in their own strength, the fearful splendour of Ashur my Lord overwhelmed ... I conquered the land of Hatti in its totality in a single year."

Another fragmentary inscription tells how Adad-Nirari sacked Arpad after meeting the coalition that he led in the field: "Atar-shumki trusted to his own strength and came forward to battle. I defeated him and took his camp. I took the treasure of his palace. . . . Atarshumki, son of Arame, I deposed from his royal throne. His booty beyond ac count I received ..."

Following these successes Adad-Nirari directed his army against Damascus to the south. He obviously considered the subjugation of Damascus his major achievement in the west, since three of the six inscriptions that refer to his western campaigns mention this accomplishment. These inscriptions indicate that the Assyrians did not take Damascus by storm but that the city surrendered rather than risk the effects of a prolonged siege. As a result, the king of Damascus had to pay Adad-Nirari an enormous amount of tribute. These inscriptions do not mention the personal name of the king of Damascus; they merely refer to him by the Aramaic title Mart', which means "lord." Thus the inscriptions could refer either to Hazael or Ben-hadad III, depending upon the date when Adad-Nirari subjugated Damascus and the date when Ben-hadad followed his father upon the throne.

Although it is difficult to pin down these dates precisely, I am of the opinion that the subjugation of Damascus took place during the same campaign of 806 The stele of Adad-Nirari III from Tell al Rimah. B.C. in which Adad-Nirari conquered Arpad. Other scholars prefer to date the subjugation of Damascus to the later campaign of 797 B.C. Even less information exists regarding the time when Benhadad III succeeded Hazael, but it must have occurred in this general period. Exact dates are not vital for our purpose here, and we may simply assign these events an approximate date of 800 B.C.

Adad-Nirari recorded the siege and surrender of Damascus in a text known as the Nimrud Slab Inscription: "Against Aram [Syria] I marched. Mari', king of Aram—in Damascus, his royal city, I shut him up. The terrifying splendor of Ashur my lord, overwhelmed him and he laid hold of my feet, he became my vassal. 2,300 talents of silver, 20 talents of gold, 3,000 talents of copper, 5,000 talents of iron, colored woolen and linen garments, an ivory bed, an ivory couch, inlaid and bejeweled, his property and his goods, in immeasurable quantity, in Damascus, his royal city, in his palace, I received."

During the extensive 1967 excavations con ducted by the British School of Archaeology at Tell al Rimah in Iraq, a new stele of Adad-Nirari III was discovered, and its inscription was published promptly the next year by Stephanie Page. This text refers to the subjugation of Damascus in similar but less explicit terms than the Nimrud Slab Inscription. However, the Rimah Stele adds another detail previously unknown from the other inscriptions of Adad-Nirari. It states that subsequent to the subjugation of Damascus the Assyrian monarch received tribute from Jehoash of Israel. The translation of this line reads: "I received the tribute of Jehoash the Samarian, of the Tyrian [ruler] and of the Sidonian [ruler]."

For the first time the name of Jehoash of Israel has appeared in an inscription outside the Bible. The names of nine kings of Israel and Judah are now attested in the inscriptions of the kings of Assyria. There is no evidence that Adad-Nirari went on to campaign in Israelite territory at this time. It is more likely that Jehoash sent his tribute to Adad-Nirari while the latter was camped in the vicinity of Damascus, in order to prevent his forces from making an incursion upon Israelite territory. The close connection between the subjugation of Damascus and Jehoash's payment of tribute to Adad-Nirari suggests that the savior who delivered Israel from Damascus, according to 2 Kings 13:5, was Adad-Nirari rather than Jehoash, since the Assyrian king was the one who at this time effectively curtailed the power of Damascus in the area. By weakening the power of Damascus, he made it susceptible to defeat by Jehoash, who took advantage of the situation created in the area by his Assyrian savior.

Various passages in the prophets point out that God used foreign powers such as Assyria and Babylon to punish His people for their transgressions. Other passages in the prophets declare that those powers were also to receive their just sentence for their own guilt. Second Kings 13:5 illustrates that God also used one foreign power (Assyria) to deliver His people from the hand of a more immediate oppressor (Damascus).


For the previously known inscriptions of Adad-Nirari III, see D. D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1926), Vol. I, and Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, edited by J. B. Pritchard (Princeton: Princeton University, 1955).

For the more recently published inscriptions of Adad-Nirari III, see S. Page, "A Stela of Adad-Nirari III and Nergal-Eres from Tell al Rimah," Iraq 30 (1968): 139-153; and A. R. Millard and H. Tadmor, "Adad-Nirari III in Syria," Iraq 35 (1973): 57-64.

For the Eponym List, see D. D. Luckenbill, Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylonia (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1927), Vol. II, Appendix II; and E. R. Thiele, Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), Appendix F.

For a detailed study of the inscriptions of Adad-Nirari III relating to his western campaigns and the chronology of this period, see my study "Adad-Nirari III and Jehoash of Israel," Journal of Cuneiform Studies, in press.

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William H. Shea, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Old Testament at the Andrews University Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

September 1979

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