Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Assyria, Empire of, one of the major empires in the ancient Near East. The heartland of Assyria lay in what is now northern Iraq around the Upper Tigris River. Its initial development as a territorial state and empire came in the second millennium b.c., in the Old and Middle Assyrian periods. But its greatest period—and the only one involving direct contact with Israel—was its last: the Neo-Assyrian period of the first millennium b.c. (911-609). The triumphant achievement of Neo-Assyria was the creation of an empire that went far beyond earlier models to become the largest political configuration the Near East had yet seen. Four phases marked the course of this achievement.

In the first phase (911-824 b.c.), Adad-nirari II, Tukulti-ninurta II, Ashurnasirpal II, and Shalmaneser III finally halted the Aramaean attacks that had plagued Assyria for the preceding three centuries and counterattacked through Syria, the best known of their battles occurring at Qarqar in 853 between Shalmaneser and a Syro-Palestinian coalition that included Ahab of Israel (1 Kings 22). In these as in other campaigns to the north, east, and Babylonian south, the Assyrians wanted not so much permanent conquest as the neutralization of external threats and the acquisition of booty and prisoners, which could then be used in building projects such as Ashurnasirpal’s grandiose reconstruction of the city of calah.

The death of Shalmaneser III (824) initiated the second phase, which continued until 744 b.c. Its first decades saw more military activity against the Aramaeans, of which one beneficiary was Israel (2 Kings 13:5). But in the main, this was a time of Assyrian retreat, brought on by the growing power of its northern neighbor, Urartu, and by the growing challenge to royal authority by various Assyrian officials. With Assyria and the Aramaeans thus weak, it is no surprise that in the latter years of this phase Israel and Judah were able to expand their territories significantly, under their kings Jeroboam II (2 Kings 14:23-29) and Uzziah (2 Chron. 26) (770-744 b.c.).

Assyria’s troubles were reversed in the third and climactic phase of the Neo-Assyrian period, the century (744-627) of Tiglath-pileser III, Shalmaneser V, Sargon II, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, and Ashurbanipal. Under the standard set by Tiglath-pileser, they restored royal power and established a standing army, whose constant campaigning eventually brought under Assyrian sway almost all of the Near East. The aim now was not simply spoil, but permanent conquest—an empire of provinces and vassal states backed by an increased use of deportation to control the conquered. To administer this, the bureaucracy became more complex and more dependent on non-Assyrian deportees, especially Aramaeans, whose language and culture gradually pervaded the whole. To display the new-found power, the imperial cities, especially the heartland capitals of Ashur, ucalah, Nineveh, and the short-lived Dur-Sharrukin, were made larger and more splendid.

This empire had serious flaws, however. Its heartland became increasingly dependent on tribute and deportees from the conquered areas, who, being increasingly burdened, revolted whenever they could. Israel, for example, joined revolts against Tiglath-pileser, Shalmaneser, and Sargon and paid for its ‘disobedience’ by dismemberment into provinces and deportation (732-720 b.c.; 2 Kings 17:1-6). Judah, fearing the consequences, remained a loyal vassal through these revolts; but eventually it too yielded, joining the outbreak against Sennacherib (704-701 b.c.), who responded harshly but allowed Judah to resume its vassal status (2 Kings 18:13-20:21).

These recurring revolts strained Assyrian resources and organization and exacerbated latent tensions within the ruling elite, which resurfaced in the assassination of Sennacherib (681) and especially in the civil war between Ashurbanipal and his brother, who was regent of Babylonia, a constantly troublesome vassal (652-648 b.c.). Ashurbanipal won, but the ensuing military and political exhaustion began a loosening of imperial authority.

The process accelerated after Ashurbanipal’s death (627), in the fourth and final phase of Neo-Assyrian history. Now many subjects openly asserted their independence—Judah under King Josiah (2 Kings 21:24-23:34), Babylonia under its new Neo-Babylonian/Chaldean dynasty, the Medes—and conflict broke out again among the Assyrian elite for what power remained. Exploiting this conflict, the Medes and Chaldeans began attacking the Assyrian heartland, and between 614 and 612 the capital cities fell into their hands. The Assyrian army, always a kind of state within the state, held out a little longer in Harran to the west, apparently with Egyptian support. But in 610-609, a Chaldean army dislodged it, helped by Josiah of Judah, who at the cost of his life (2 Kings 23:29-30) delayed the arrival of Egyptian forces. With that, the Assyrian state disappeared, and the bulk of its territories were taken by the Chaldeans.


All glossary terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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