Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Last Battle of Hadadezer

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

The Last Battle of Hadadezer

Article excerpt

The recently discovered stele at Tel Dan consists of three fragments that join together to present thirteen partial lines of Old Aramaic text.1 Most interpreters classify it as a memorial inscription and ascribe it to Hazael, the king of Aram-Damascus ca. 844-800 B.C.E. The text divides into two sections, (1) Lines l-4a review events during the reign of a previous Aramean king, whom Hazael calls "my father." The reference presumably is to Hadadezer, who is attested repeatedly in the Assyrian inscriptions of Shalmaneser III.2 (2) Lines 4b-13 report Hazael's rise to kingship and his subsequent campaign against Jehoram of Israel and Ahaziah of "the House of David," that is, Judah.

Biblical scholars have concentrated on the second section, since it appears to contradict 2 Kgs 9:15-27. The text in 2 Kings 9 claims that the Israelite general Jehu, commissioned by the prophet Elisha, executed Jehoram and Ahaziah in the vicinity of Jezreel and Iblearn. In contrast, the Tel Dan stele asserts in lines 7-9 that Hazael killed the two kings in battle. In a separate article, I have argued for the historical reliability of the inscription's report over against the pro-Jehu account in 2 Kings 9.3

The present essay concerns the first section of the stele. It is of equal historical interest, since it also appears to bear on the question of Aramean-Israelite relations during the mid-ninth century B.C.E,, as well as the issue of Hazael's background and the manner of his ascendance to the throne in Damascus.4 I will focus specifically on the meaning and historical value of the statements about military conflicts in lines 2 and 3b-4a.

Avraham Biran and Joseph Naveh published the editio princeps of the inscription, and the following translation rests largely on their transcription of the Aramaic text.5 Since very little of line 1 is preserved, any restoration of the text here is highly conjectural.6 I begin, accordingly, with line 2.

2. ... aga[inst] my father, he went up7 [against him when] he fought at Ab[el].8

3. And my father lay down, he went to his [ancestors]. Now the king of I[s]rael had entered

4. previously into the land of my father. [And] Hadad made me king.9

If the last word of line 2 is restored correctly, the text here reports a battle at Abel between Hadadezer and a certain enemy whose name is lost. Several scholars assume that the enemy was a king of Israel, and they identify Abel as Abel-Beth-Maacah (Abil al-Qamh), just west of biblical Dan (Tell al-Qadi) in the border area between Aram-Damascus and Israel.10 Presumably Jehoram, Ahab, or Omri encroached on the southern fringe of Hadadezer's kingdom.

After a notice on the death of Hadadezer (line 3a), the inscription refers to an Israelite invasion of Aramean territory (lines 3b-4a). The Aramaic reads: wy'l.mlky[s].qdm.b'rq.'by. The meaning of qdm in line 4a is crucial. Following Biran and Naveh, most scholars render the term as a temporal adverb, "formerly, previously." Lines 3b-4a thus appear to describe an attack by a king of Israel during Hadadezer's time, presumably the same attack as the one noted in line 2.11

Nadav Na'aman recently has challenged this interpretation, arguing that, as a temporal adverb, qdm does not fit the immediate context.12 He asks: "Why should Hazael report [in lines 3b-4a] what he already said about Israelite aggression (line 2)?" To eliminate the repetition, Na'aman construes qdm as a verb specifying the preceding verb wy'l.13 He thus translates the sentence: "And the king of Israel invaded, advancing in my father's land." The report supposedly explains that Israel's aggression began during Hadadezer's reign (line 2) and subsequently resumed between the king's death and Hazael's enthronement (lines 3b-4a).

Although this proposal is not impossible, there is good reason to doubt it. Among Northwest Semitic inscriptions, qdm as a verb does not occur in Old Aramaic. It is attested in Official Aramaic, but its meanings there are "precede (in time), rise, stand up, present oneself, be brought. …

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