Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 209

Across the meadows so beautiful in March the great armies of Ashur-natsir-pal returned with the booty of great campaigns--horses and cattle and sheep, bales of embroidered cloth, ivory and jewels, silver and gold, the products of many countries; while thousands of prisoners were assembled there to rear stately buildings which ultimately fell into decay and were buried by drifting sands.

Layard excavated the emperor's palace and dispatched to London, among other treasures of antiquity, the sublime winged human-headed lions which guarded the entrance, and many bas reliefs.

The Assyrian sculptures of this period lack the technical skill, the delicacy and imagination of Sumerian and Akkadian art, but they are full of energy, dignified and massive, and strong and lifelike. They reflect the spirit of Assyria's greatness, which, however, had a materialistic basis. Assyrian art found expression in delineating the outward form rather than in striving to create a "thing of beauty" which is "a joy for ever".

When Ashur-natsir-pal died, he was succeeded by his son Shalmaneser III (860-825 B.C.), whose military activities extended over his whole reign. No fewer than thirty-two expeditions were recorded on his famous black obelisk.

As Shalmaneser was the first Assyrian king who came into direct touch with the Hebrews, it will be of interest here to review the history of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, as recorded in the Bible, because of the light it throws on international politics and the situation which confronted Shalmaneser in Mesopotamia and Syria in the early part of his reign.

After Solomon died, the kingdom of his son Rehoboam was restricted to Judah, Benjamin, Moab, and Edom. The "ten tribes" of Israel had revolted and were ruled over by Jeroboam, whose capital was at Tirzah.[432] "There were wars between Rehoboam and Jeroboam continually."[433]

The religious organization which had united the Hebrews under David and Solomon was thus broken up. Jeroboam established the religion of the Canaanites and made "gods and molten images". He was condemned for his idolatry by the prophet Ahijah, who declared, "The Lord shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; and he shall root up Israel out of this good land, which he gave to their fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the river, because they have made their groves, provoking the Lord to anger. And he shall give Israel up because of the sins of Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin."[434]

In Judah Rehoboam similarly "did evil in the sight of the Lord"; his subjects "also built them high places and images and groves, on every high hill, and under every green tree".[435] After the raid of the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak (Sheshonk) Rehoboam repented, however. "And when he humbled himself, the wrath of the Lord turned from him, that he would not destroy him altogether: and also in Judah things went well."[436]

Rehoboam was succeeded by his son Abijah, who shattered the power of Jeroboam, defeating that monarch in battle after he was surrounded as Rameses II had been by the Hittite army. "The children of Israel fled before Judah: and God delivered them into their hand. And Abijah and his people slew them with a great slaughter: so there fell down slain in Israel five hundred thousand chosen men. Thus the children of Israel were brought under at that time, and the children of Judah prevailed, because they relied upon the Lord God of their fathers. And Abijah pursued after Jeroboam, and took cities from him, Bethel with the towns thereof, and Jeshanah with the towns thereof, and Ephraim with the towns thereof. Neither did Jeroboam recover strength again in the days of Abijah, and the Lord struck him and he died."[437]