Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

What's in a Name? Neo-Assyrian Designations for the Northern Kingdom and Their Implications for Israelite History and Biblical Interpretation

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

What's in a Name? Neo-Assyrian Designations for the Northern Kingdom and Their Implications for Israelite History and Biblical Interpretation

Article excerpt

Nearly a decade ago, Israel Ephcal published a brief study that examined some of the Assyrian designations for the northern kingdom in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E.1 He operated with the basic claim that the Neo-Assyrian designations reflect various historical situations involving Israel from 853-720 B.C.E. In the course of this study, however, Ephcal reached a negative conclusion and asserted that these Assyrian designations "cannot be taken as indicative of the territorial extent (nor of the political conditions) of the kingdom of Israel."2 This assertion represents a tradition of viewing the different designations for the northern kingdom as simple synonyms that had little, if any, relationship to Israel's changing political circumstances throughout the ninth and eighth centuries.

There are several weaknesses in Ephcal's treatment that call for a new examination of this topic. First, he does not analyze all the appearances of northern designations. Additionally, new pieces of evidence (such as the Tel Dan inscription) and new issues have emerged in the last decade. He also deals mostly with texts that are not royal inscriptions and does not consider in an extended way the study of Israelite and Judean history. Furthermore, Ephcal's denial of territorial and political implications for the designations ignores the specific form (including the presence of determinatives) and context of the IMAGE FORMULA3

terms in the various inscriptions. Accordingly, the present article both builds upon and moves beyond Ephcal's study in order to reexamine the designations for the northern kingdom found in Assyrian royal inscriptions from Shalmaneser III to Sargon II. This examination specifically analyzes the various designations within this corpus by focusing on the differences in the terms, their relationships to one another, their literary and historical contexts, and their implications for Israelite history and biblical interpretation.

The datable Assyrian royal documents indicate that references to the northern kingdom span over 150 years. These references primarily consist of three different terms: "Bit-Humri," "Samaria," and "Israel." The term "BitHumri," or "house of Omri," occurs only in Assyrian sources, while "Samaria" occurs also, but more rarely, in the Hebrew Bible (1 Kgs 21:1; 2 Kgs 1:3; Hos 10:7). Moreover, in the Assyrian texts, the term "Israel" occurs only in an inscription of Shalmaneser III, while "Samaria" and "Bit-Humri" occur in various contexts throughout the rest of the inscriptions of this period. The occurrences of designations for the northern kingdom in the inscriptions are as follows: IMAGE FORMULA5

By reexamining these designations and their intersections with Israelite and Judean history, one may question Ephcal's negative conclusion and consider the possibility that the three different designations in the Assyrian inscriptions are not synonyms for the same static geopolitical entity but rather may indicate changing historical and political situations involving Israel from 853 to 720.

I. Shalmaneser III's Monolith Inscription

The earliest known reference to the northern kingdom in Assyrian inscriptions appears in the Monolith Inscription of Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.E.).3 The inscription begins with an invocation of the gods and the royal epithets and genealogy and then describes Shalmaneser's expeditions from his accession year (859-858) through his sixth regnal year (853-852).

The final campaign listed for the sixth regnal year (853-852) is Shalmaneser's first encounter with a south Syrian-Palestinian coalition (col. 2, lines 78-102). The Monolith Inscription indicates that the three major players in the anti-Assyrian coalition were Adad-idri (Hadadezer) of Aram-Damascus, Irhuleni of Hamath, and a-ha-ab-bu KUR sir-i-la-a-a (col. 2, lines 91-92). The common interpretation of the third leader argues that the name is "Ahab of the land of Israel" and that this text is the first Assyrian reference to an Israelite ruler and the only Assyrian use of the name "Israel. …

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