Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Sennacherib's camps identified?

HISTORICAL GEOGRAPHY: Discovery of Neo-Assyrian Camp Allegedly Decimated by Biblical Angel (Nathan Falde, Ancient Origins).
In a new paper just published in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology, [archaeologist Stephen C.] Compton explained how he arrived at the conclusion that he had discovered a previously unrecognized Assyrian army camp looking down over the city of Jerusalem, dating to approximately the late eighth century BC. Fascinatingly, Compton’s process of discovery began with the discovery of another Assyrian archaeological site, found 42 miles (65 kilometers) south of Jerusalem at the site of the ancient city of Lachish.
This story began surfacing a few days ago. The headlines like this one made me wonder if it was credible, but it turns out to have been published in a peer review journal, which is as credible as we can manage. This Ancient Origins article gives a pretty good summary.

That article in Near Eastern Archaeology (87.2, June 2024) is behind the subscription wall, but I have it through my university access. It covers more sites than Lachish and Jerusalem and, not surprisingly, it does not mention the angel. The abstract is public:

Pp. 110-120: “The Trail of Sennacherib’s Siege Camps,” by Stephen C. Compton

Images of military conquest on Sennacherib’s palace walls often featured his siege camps. By comparing the visual and textual references to these camps with the surroundings of the cities he besieged (on site and via aerial and satellite imagery, archaeological and historical data, and early maps and surveys), likely locations are proposed for Sennacherib’s royal camps. These sites are found to have all had the same name on early maps, Mudawwara, which, in Arabic in the Middle Ages, denoted the enormous tent that housed the sultan on military expeditions. (At times, this name was prefaced with Khirbet al, indicating the ancient stone ruins thereof.) Examining all occurrences of this toponym within Judah and Philistia reveals a distribution consistent with what is known of Sennacherib’s invasion route and of the cities besieged. It also resolves some long-standing questions and contributes to identifying the locations of the cities of Libnah and Nob.

Naturally the media has been focusing on the camp at Jerusalem and the biblical claim that the angel of the Lord smote the Assyrian army there. Some of the headlines are temperate, others more exhuberant. A sampling:

New Method Helps Uncover Clues of Biblical Battle in Jerusalem (Brian Freeman,

Clues of bloody Biblical battle between angel of God and 185K invading soldiers uncovered in Jerusalem: new research (Hannah Sparks, New York Post)

Proof of Bible story about angels killing 185,000 soldiers in a night is uncovered after 2,700 years (Nikki Main, Daily Mail)

Discovery of Assyrian Military Base May Prove Biblical Battle of Angels Defending Jerusalem (Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, Israel365News)

I struggle to imagine how an archaeological survey could "prove" that an angelic military intervention took place in antiquity, but there you have it.

We already knew about Sennacherib's campaign in this region. We have his own account as well as the biblical ones etc. But if it holds up, this new research may help us to understand it better. That is the real story.

For PaleoJudaica posts on Sennacherib's siege of Jerusalem and that story about the angel of the Lord, see here (scroll down a bit), here (cf. here), and here and links. And for still more on Sennacherib, see here and here.

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