Hezekiah showing off his wealth to envoys of the Babylonian King. Oil on canvas by Vicente López y Portaña, 1789. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At that time Merodach-baladan the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent envoys with letters and a present to Hezekiah, for he heard that Hezekiah had been sick. And Hezekiah welcomed them, and he showed them all his treasure house, the silver, the gold, the spices, the precious oil, his armory, all that was found in his storehouses. There was nothing in his house or in all his realm that Hezekiah did not show them. Then Isaiah the prophet came to King Hezekiah, and said to him, “What did these men say? And from where did they come to you?” And Hezekiah said, “They have come from a far country, from Babylon.” He said, “What have they seen in your house?” And Hezekiah answered, “They have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.”

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the Lord. And some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” – 2 Kings 20: 12-18 (ESV)

One way to verify whether the Bible is a reliable historical document is to answer the question, “Did the events predicted in the Scriptures actually happen?” A new find of an ancient Assyrian letter, gives additional support to major events recorded in biblical history.

The destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the exile of Judah’s population to Babylon was predicted in the Old Testament Book of Second Kings (above) and again in Chapter 39 of the Book of Isaiah. While scholars dispute when the various books of the Bible were written, (many even putting all the writings after the time of the exile to Babylon), there is mounting evidence indicating earlier dates, and many of the prophets, such as Isaiah, are viewed as being among the earliest.

Bible scholars believe that Judah’s King Hezekiah reigned from 726 to 697 BC, and showed off his wealth to Babylonian envoys during the last 15 years of his reign. The passages in 2 Kings and in Isaiah suggest that flaunting his affluence would lead to invasion. However, Babylon was not sufficiently powerful at the time.

The Assyrian Empire was the mightiest in the world when Isaiah prophesied. The Assyrians had been arch-enemies of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah throughout their history. In 720 BC, Assyria carried the northern Kingdom of Israel into captivity and was Judah’s chief threat during the time of Josiah, one of its last kings. Then, Assyria was suddenly supplanted by Babylon, and true to the predictions of Isaiah, Babylon brought Judah to an ugly end.

The Fall of Assyria

A team of archaeologists, led by Timothy Matney of the University of Akron, Ohio, has excavated the site of an Assyrian provincial capital in southeast Turkey. A palace, an administrative complex, elite residences and a military barracks yielded 27 cuneiform tablets. Among these 7th Century BC writings was a frantic letter acknowledging the downfall of the Assyrian Empire. Contents of the letter were reported in the Dec. 14, 2017 online issue of Popular Archaeology.

Cuneiform tablet in which the writer Mannu-ki-libbali reports the disintegration of the military infrastructure as the Assyrian empire collapsed. (Credit: Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Project)

Attributed to Mannu-ki-libbali, a senior official of the Assyrian provincial capital of Tushan, the letter expresses frustration and anguish at his inability to mount a military defense against forces threatening the city. Among his final thoughts were these chilling words:

“How can I command?. . . . Death will come out of it. No one will escape. I am done!”

Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian Empire, was itself destroyed in 612 BC by a force consisting of Persians, Babylonians and Medes. (Source: History on the Net) Popular Archeology reports that records discovered during the Matney excavation indicate Tushan was captured shortly afterward by the Babylonian King Nabopolassar in 611 BC. The Assyrian Empire was failing and Babylon would soon replace it as the dominant force in the region and in the lives of the Judeans.

Prior to its fall, the Assyrian Empire had conquered and begun to assimilate the northern Kingdom of Israel. However, they allowed the southern Kingdom of Judah to remain, despite imposing a heavy tax burden. Judah regained a measure of independence as Assyria faltered, but the southern kingdom soon fell sway to other regional powers.

After 609 BC, Judah began paying taxes to Egypt and then to Babylon after it defeated Egypt in key battles. King Nebuchadnezzar, son of King Nabopolassar, ultimately besieged and conquered the southern kingdom. His army carried the Judean population into exile, and his soldiers destroyed the capital city of Jerusalem by fire in 587/586 BC. (Source: Wikipedia Judea, Neo-Assyrian Empire, and Nebuchadnezzar II)

Aerial view of work in progress in the Assyrian palace. (Credit: Ziyaret Tepe Archaeological Project)

And so, the improbable overthrow of the great Assyrian Empire and the rise of the Babylonian Empire, predicted years earlier by the prophet Isaiah, is today being confirmed in a unique way by modern-day archaeological excavations—as is the exile of the Judean people and the destruction of Jerusalem.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. – 2 Kings 35:8-12 (ESV)

This past year, a team of archaeologists with the Israel Antiquities Authority found evidence of the fiery destruction of Jerusalem, which was confirmed by the dating of a rosette seal that survived the ancient holocaust. For more on this discovery, read our Aug. 18, 2017 Post, entitled “Dig Supports Biblical Story of Jerusalem’s Destruction”.

…And keep on thinking!