Revolutions in Egypt and Israel

The revolt of Jehu, whose horses tread the dead body of Jezebel, thrown out of a window of the palace in Jezreel (Gubla), was a signal for a change not just in religious allegiance, but equally so in political orientation. The palace revolution in Egypt and the lowering of Egypt’s standing in international politics prompted Jehu’s pro-Assyrian revolt, which met no true opposition in Israel nor in Judea: at Jezreel he killed the kings of both kingdoms, related by marriage.

At home Jehu started as a cruel tyrant by eliminating all the progeny of Ahab in Jezreel and in Samaria—baskets full of heads of the royal sons were carried to him from Samaria; next he ordered the priests of Baal and his worshippers killed. But against Hazael, king of Damascus, Jehu proved himself a poor opponent.

While the house of Judah and the house of Israel went through a series of revolutions and fraternal wars, the Assyrians, who already in the days of Shalmaneser III towered over other nations of Western Asia, did not cease their penetration into the region of Syria and Palestine, the bridge to Egypt and Ethiopia. The Assyrian expansion which had started under Ashurnasirpal (ca -883 to -859), the father of Shalmaneser III, took a more aggressive form under Shalmaneser, whose inroads into Syria, Phoenicia, Israel, and Judah can be read in the el-Amarna tablets as those of Burraburiash, King of Hatti. At Qarqar he fought a coalition in which also Ahab of Samaria participated, backed by a brigade of Egyptian (Musri) troops.

But besides this direct contact with Egyptian troops, Shalmaneser did not dispatch any military forces past the line Tyre-Qarqar-Damascus, instead employing local princelings in an effort to disrupt the Egyptian colonial domain. The rebellion of Mesha, a vassal king of Moab, against Ahab, the king of Samaria, and the intrusion of desert tribes from across the Jordan toward Jerusalem in the days of Jehoshaphat resulted from this disruptive policy, with the king of Damascus changing more than once his political orientation.

Shalmaneser fought also on several other fronts—he claims to have defeated, among others, Sapalulme of Hattina. We may identify this Sapalulme with Suppiluliumas, King of Hatti, author of one, possibly two, el-Amarna letters—a collection of hundreds of diplomatic missives exchanged between the pharaohs Amenhotep III, and Akhnaton after him, and the independent kings of Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, and also the vassal kings of Syria, Phoenicia, Israel, and Judah. As was shown in the chapters dealing with the letters of el-Amarna, Shalmaneser of the Assyrian texts is Burraburiash of that correspondence. Burraburiash wrote insulting letters to Akhnaton and demanded gifts in objects of gold, ivory, and other objects of art in quantities amounting to a tribute.(1)

On an obelisk Shalmaneser let himself be portrayed in low relief with his entourage, while a kneeling person kisses the ground near his feet. The text names the person Jehu, king of Judah. It is often assumed that the figure represents a messenger of Jehu.

In those days the Lord began to cut Israel short:
and Hazael smote them in all the coasts of Israel.
From the Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead,
from Aroer, which is by the river Arnon,
even Gilead and Bashan.

At the same time we read in Shalmaneser’s detailed annals that he carried on war against Damascus, and though the Assyrian king claimed victory, from the very fact that Shalmaneser’s ally Jehu was such a loser, one would conclude that Hazael was much on the offensive.

Under Jehu and his son Jehoaz, Israel was so oppressed by Hazael that Jehoaz’ army was reduced to ten chariots, fifty horsemen, and ten thousand footmen. Hope of relief came only in the days of Joash, son of Jehu. The Second Book of Kings gives this vivid picture:

Now Elisha was fallen sick of the sickness whereof he died. And Joash the king of Israel came down unto him and wept over his face. . . . And Elisha said unto him, “Take bow and arrows.” And he said to the king of Israel, “Put thine hand upon the bow.” And he put his hand upon it: and Elisha put his hands upon the king’s hands. And he said, “Open the window eastward.” And he opened it. Then Elisha said, “Shoot.” And he shot. And he said, “The arrow of the Lord’s deliverance, and the arrow of deliverance from Syria.”
"And Jehoash slept with his fathers, and was buried in Samaria with the kings of Israel; and Jeroboam his son reigned in his stead.” The sepulcher of the kings of Israel has not been found, even though Samaria was excavated.

Joash’s son, Jeroboam II, one of the later kings of Israel and the last of the house of Jehu, reigned forty-one years in Samaria in the palace built by Omri and Ahab. “He restored the coast of Israel from the entering of Hamath unto the sea of the plain.” After many years of “affliction” that beset Israel (II Kings 14: 26), the enlargement of the state toward the north (Hamath is a hundred miles north of Damascus) and toward the south ("sea of the plain” is known today as the Dead Sea), constituted the high point in the history of Israel, only a few decades before the extinction of the state and the final eviction of its people from its land.

“. . . And all that he [Jeroboam] did and his might how he warred, and how he recovered Damascus and Hamath . . . are they not written in the book of Chronicles of the kings of Israel?” (II Kings 14: 28).

The Book of Chronicles incorporated in the Old Testament is not the book referred to in this and several other passages of the Book of Kings. It obviously dealt with the records of the Kings of Israel, whereas the existing Book of Chronicles is a short survey, predominantly of the events in the Kingdom of Judah. Were it extant, such a record, especially of the reign of Jeroboam II, who ruled longer and more successfully than other kings of Israel in the last century of the kingdom, would now be of inestimable value also for the exact synchronization of the political history of Israel with that of neighboring countries, Egypt and others.


  1. This tribute was also found near Kalah, the capital of Shalmaneser. Only a few miles from Kalah, in the early 1950’s , a mound was opened, containing Fort Shalmaneser. It was excavated by Mallowan. In large storage rooms were found ivories with Egyptian motifs in great profusion; one of the rooms, ninety feet long, was found filled to the ceiling with objects of art, mainly ivory—the very objects described in an inventory sent by Akhnaton to Burraburiash.