by David Wheeler
Via Evidence in Archaeology
To see a Biblical figure referenced in a stone inscription is a beautiful thing. It testifies that the book which we revere and study from is a trustworthy historical document and based in reality. Sometimes the secular inscriptions can reveal details of the Biblical figure’s life that aren’t included in the Biblical narrative. Today we will discuss one such monument which records the exploits of King Ahab of Israel, the Kurkh Monoliths.
There are two steles which are under consideration as the Kurkh Monoliths, both of which record the military campaigns of Assyrian Rulers of the late ninth century B.C., Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) and Shalmaneser III (859-824 BC). At the time they ruled, the Assyrian Empire was seeking to establish dominance over the region of the upper Levant (Syria) to gain a foothold on the Mediterranean coast. It was Shalmaneser’s march that was met by fierce opposition in the region north of the Bible lands. Several of the local, smaller kingdoms made an alliance to oppose the march of the Assyrian monarch. Among the opposition was Israel under the leadership of Ahab. The stele records the famous Battle of Qarqar of 853 BC and the opposition that was mounted against Shalmaneser’s war machine. Daniel Luckenbill translated the inscription this way,
“To Karkar I drew near. Karkar, his royal city, I destroyed, I devastated, I burned with fire. 1,200 chariots, I,200 cavalry, 20,000 soldiers, of Hadad-ezer, of Aram (? Damascus); 700 chariots, 700 cavalry, 10,000* soldiers of Irhulêni of Hamath, 2,000 chariots, 10,000 soldiers of Ahab, the Israelite, 500 soldiers of the Gueans, 1,000 soldiers of the Musreans, 10 chariots, 10,000 soldiers of the Irkanateans, 200 soldiers of Matinuba'il, the Arvadite, 200 soldiers of the Usanateans, 30 chariots, [ ],000 soldiers of Adunu-ba'il, the Shianean, 1,000 camels of Gindibu', the Arabian, [ ],000 soldiers [of] Ba'sa, son of Ruhubi, the Ammonite, - these twelve kings he brought to his support; to offer battle and fight, they came against me. (Trusting) in the exalted might which Assur, the lord, had given (me), in the mighty weapons, which Nergal, who goes before me, had presented (to me), I battled with them. From Karkar, as far as the city of Gilzau, I routed them. 14,000 of their warriors I slew with the sword. Like Adad, I rained destruction upon them. I scattered their corpses far and wide, (and) covered (lit.., filled) the face of the desolate plain with their widespreading armies. With (my) weapons I made their blood to flow down the valleys(?) of the land. The plain was too small to let their bodies fall, the wide countryside was used up in burying them. With their bodies I spanned the Arantu (Orotes) as with a bridge(?). In that battle I took from them their chariots, their cavalry, their horses, broken to the yoke. (*Possibly 20,000).” (Luckenbill)
The Battle of Qarqar is not recorded in the Bible, but there is certainly a great deal about King Ahab of Israel. He reigned from 871-852 BC, a reign which would certainly have encompassed the Battle of Qarqar. Ahab is described as a wicked king who, along with his wife Jezebel, instituted Baal worship in the northern kingdom of Israel. His story in the Bible is recorded in II Kings 16:29-22:40 and II Chronicles 18.
The alliance he joined kept the Assyrians at bay for a time, but Israel was put under tribute during the reign of its next king, Jehu, which is recorded on an archaeological find known as the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III.
The steles were discovered in 1861 in the town of Kurkh in Turkey. They are now housed at the British Museum in London.