The Lachish Reliefs and Sennacherib’s Annals
by David Wheeler
Today we will discuss a rather large archaeological discovery. It is the Lachish Reliefs from the palace of Sennacherib which were unearthed between 1845 and 1847. Sennacherib was the king of Assyria from 705-681 BC and his reign largely overlapped the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. During this period, the kings of Assyria had to deal with several revolts around the Empire, mainly from Babylon which was under the leadership of Merodach-Baladan. In 703 BC Sennacherib conquered the Babylonians, then turned to the western part of the Empire to put down problems that have arisen in Judah in 701 BC.
Sennacherib attacked the fortified cities in the northern and western areas of Judea first (II Kings 18:14; II Chronicles 32:1; Isaiah 36:1). His final aim in taking the nation of Judah would be to take Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, and its largest city. Jerusalem was over six times as large as Lachish, with Jerusalem measuring about 125 acres and Lachish only about 20 acres. Sennacherib sends messengers to Hezekiah in Jerusalem to surrender (II Kings 18:17-37; II Chronicles 32:9-19; Isaiah 36:2-22). Hezekiah went to God in prayer for deliverance and was delivered. The Scriptures records that God responded to Hezekiah’s prayer with the words, “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it” (II Kings 19:32). The Bible records for us this in II Kings 19:35, “And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.” This verse is virtually repeated in Isaiah 37:36. II Chronicles records the event this way, “And the LORD sent an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander, and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria” (II Chronicles 32:21) Sennacherib retreated to Nineveh, his capital, without the satisfaction of taking the city of Jerusalem.
Interestingly, that is exactly what we see that Sennacherib has sought to immortalize on the walls of his palace in the Lachish Reliefs. These are about 40 feet long and 16.5 feet high relief carvings of the siege and plunder of the Judean city of Lachish in 701 BC. There can be little doubt that, had Sennacherib not been thwarted by God when preparing to take Jerusalem, these carvings would have been a depiction of the taking of Judah’s capital of Jerusalem. Today, they are housed at the British Museum.
A related artifact, Sennacherib’s Annals, recorded on three different “prisms”, records a list of his victories over different rebellious rulers. They are the Taylor Prism, found by Robert Taylor in 1830 at Nineveh and now housed at the British Museum, the Jerusalem Prism, which was acquired in 1970 by the Israel Museum, and the Oriental Institute Prism, purchased from a Baghdad antique dealer for the Oriental Institute in Chicago in 1919. Each prism records the same text and was likely posted in different cities in a public area and served as propaganda to support the might of the Assyrian Monarch.
Of particular interest is what is stated about the “defeat” of Hezekiah, king of Judah. It says, “As for the king of Judah, Hezekiah, who had not submitted to my authority, I besieged and captured forty-six of his fortified cities, along with many smaller towns, taken in battle with my battering rams. ... I took as plunder 200,150 people, both small and great, male and female, along with a great number of animals including horses, mules, donkeys, camels, oxen, and sheep. As for Hezekiah, I shut him up like a caged bird in his royal city of Jerusalem. I then constructed a series of fortresses around him, and I did not allow anyone to come out of the city gates. His towns which I captured I gave to the kings of Ashod, Ekron, and Gaza." (Luckenbill)