Pul the soldier becomes Tiglath-Pileser III — King Pekah mentioned at Hawr — Assyrian governors over Israel — Samaria's three-year defiance — consul Botta looks for Nineveh — the bourgeois king opens the first Assyrian museum-searching for evidence by moonlight — the library of Ashurbanipal — deportation of people. “And Pul the king of Assyria came against the land” (2 Kings 15:19).
Concise, sober and dispassionate, these words announce the end of the northern kingdom. The death of Jeroboam II introduced the last act. In the same year 747 B.C. the leprous king Uzziah of Judah also died. In the short intervening period during which anarchy reigned Menahem made himself king at Samaria. In 745 B.C. a former soldier by name Pulu had ascended the throne of Assyria, and from then on was known as Tiglath-Pileser III (745-727 B.C.). He was the first of a succession of brutal tyrants who conquered what was so far the greatest empire of the Ancient East. Their goal was Syria, Palestine, and the last cornerstone of the old world, Egypt. That meant that both Israel and Judah were caught between the pitiless millstones of a military state, for which the word peace had a contemptible sound, whose despots and cohorts had only three values: marching, conquering, oppressing.
From North Syria Tiglath-Pileser III swept through the Mediterranean countries, and forced independent peoples to become provinces and tributaries of the Assyrian Empire. Israel at first submitted voluntarily: “And Menahem gave Pul (Tiglach-Pileser III) 1,000 talents of silver, that his hand might be with him, to confirm the kingdom in his hand. And Menahem exacted the money of Israel, even of all the mighty men of wealth, of each man fifty shekels of silver, to give to the king of Assyria. So the king of Assyria turned back, and stayed not there in the land” (2 Kings 15:19-20). “I received tribute from Menahem of Samaria,” notes Tiglath-Pileser III in his annals.
One thousand talents correspond to 6 million gold sovereigns, 50 shekels per head from the “men of wealth” amounted to 100 gold sovereigns each. Economists and statisticians will gather that there must have been 60,000 well to do people in Israel.
King Menahem entertained the illusion that a pact with the tyrant and voluntary tribute would be the lesser of two evils. But the result was bad blood among his own people. Anger at the Assyrian taxes found an outlet in conspiracy and murder. Pekah, an army officer, murdered Menahem's son and heir and ascended the throne. From then on the anti-Assyrian party was the determining factor in the policy of the Northern Kingdom.
Rezin, king of Damascus, powerfully grasped the initiative. Under his leadership the defensive league of the Aramaean states against Assyria came to life again. Phoenician and Arab states, Philistine cities and Edomites joined the alliance. Israel too took its place in the federation. Only King Ahaz of Judah remained obstinately outside. Rezin and Pekah tried to force Judah into the league violently. “Then Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel, came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him” (2 Kings 16:5).
In dire straits the king of Judah sent out an S.O.S. “So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, saying, I am thy servant, and thy son: come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, which rise up against me. And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 16:7-8).
“I received tribute from Jauhazi [Ahaz] of Judah,” observes the Assyrian once more.
Now events took their disastrous course. For our knowledge of further developments we are indebted to two great historical records. Firstly, the Bible and secondly the cuneiform tablets of stone and clay, on which — over 600 miles from where the terrible events took place — the military developments were officially recorded. For more than two and a half millennia these documents lay in the magnificent palaces on the Tigris until scholars ran them to earth and translated them into our tongue. They make it plain once more in quite a unique way how true to history are the contents of these Biblical stories.
The Bible and the Assyrian monuments are in entire agreement in their description of these events which were fatal for the Northern Kingdom. The Old Testament historian notes down the facts soberly, the Assyrian chronicler records every brutal detail: