Sennacherib Watches the Capture of Lachish by Unknown Assyrian artist

Unknown Assyrian artist

Sennacherib Watches the Capture of Lachish, 700–692 BCE, Gypsum wall panel, 251.46 x 177.80 cm, The British Museum, London, 1856,0909.14, Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY

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Doomsday with Eclipse

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This wall relief from the South-West Palace at Nineveh, the imperial capital of the ancient Assyrians, depicts the procession of prisoners after the capture of the Judahite city of Lachish by the Assyrian army in 701 BCE. Two Assyrian soldiers, marked by their characteristic conical helmets, force several hapless Lachishite prisoners forward, some of whom are prostrating themselves before the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, at far right, just beyond the frame of this photograph.

The reliefs on these slabs originally formed a single, continuous work, measuring 2.4 metres high and 24.4 metres wide, that covered the inner walls of the royal chamber. They vividly depict Sennacherib’s victory over the fortified city. This crushing invasion of the Assyrian army is only suggested in 2 Kings 18:13–15, the Bible’s sketchy account of the event.

These monumental stone portraits of mayhem, abject humiliation, and mass destruction covered the inner walls of the imperial court, serving as the grisly, oversized decorations of an Assyrian-style royal interior that literally surrounded the monarch as he sat on his throne. The reliefs were an indoor billboard advertising the bloodlust and cruelty of Assyria’s imperial military might.

According to Micah, this very bloodlust and cruelty would soon strike Jerusalem as a divine rod of reproof to chasten Judah’s venal, greedy elites: ‘Therefore because of you [rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel], Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins’ (3:12).

But it wouldn’t. And it wasn’t. And it didn’t. The books of Chronicles recap Sennacherib’s threat to attack Jerusalem: but pace Micah, the city was miraculously spared the fate of Lachish, and was left, for the moment at least, in peace (2 Chronicles 32:9–11).

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