by David Wheeler
Previously, I reported on one of a set of Stele’s known collectively as the Kurkh Monoliths. The one which was our subject was the stele of Shalmaneser III. Shalmaneser III was the ruler of the Assyrian Empire from 859-824 BC. The Kurkh Monolith recorded his advancement to the Syrian coast and attempt at taking the upper Levant. He was met by a coalition of smaller kingdoms, including Israel, Damascus, Hamath, and Ammon at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BC. The coalition fended off the Assyrian ruler and kept their sovereignty for a time. However, in 841 BC, Shalmaneser was successful in putting many of these kingdoms under tribute, most notably, Jehu king of Israel.
The Bible records Jehu being instructed by Elisha through “one of the sons of the prophets” (II Kings 10:1) to make an end of the House of Ahab and that he was being anointed as king of Israel. Jehu followed through on the order, taking the throne of Israel by force from Jehoram (Joram), killing both he and his mother Jezebel in the process. He also kills Ahaziah, king of Judah, at the same time. Jehu went on to attempt to purge the land of Baal worship. Soon after this, it appears that Jehu decided to side with Assyria, who was advancing to take Damascus from King Hazael. The Biblical history involving Jehu can be read in II Kings 9-10.
Jehu’s payment of tribute is recorded by Shalmaneser III’s administration in the Black Obelisk. This is a black limestone sculpture that is four sided. It contains five scenes (registers) of five different rulers paying tribute to Shalmaneser. The registers go from top to bottom and each register wraps around the sculpture with four sides (A though D) completing the scene. Jehu’s tribute payment is recorded in the second from the top register. The rulers from top to bottom are as follows:
- Sua of Gilzanu (in northwestern Iran)
- Jehu of the House of Omri
- A ruler of Musri who is unnamed (some have identified as Egypt)
- Marduk-apil-usur of Suhi (a Babylonian ruler)
- Qalparunda of Patin (present-day region of Turkey)
Some scholars, most notably George Smith, P. Kyle McCarter, and Edwin R. Thiele, believe the second register to record a tribute given by Jehoram (Joram) of Israel to Shalmaneser. However, most believe it to be a depiction of Jehu. Regardless, this is, at the present time, the earliest depiction of a Biblical figure. The inscription for register 2 reads, "The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears."
The obelisk was erected as a public monument in 825 BC at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu) in northern Iraq. It was likely erected at a time of civil war (Taylor). It is housed at the British Museum in London.