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

Sennacherib, king of Assyria (705-681 b. c). He assumed the throne of the vast Assyrian Empire convulsed by uprisings on both its southern and western flanks following the death of his father Sargon II. Babylon and its sometime ally Elam were perceived as the most immediate threat to his rule, so that Sennacherib undertook a two-year campaign (704-702) to restore Assyrian suzerainty over the south.

In 701, he turned to the troubled west. Details of this military undertaking are known from two major sources: an Assyrian royal inscription of Sennacherib’s ‘third campaign’ and 2 Kings 18:7-8, 13-16; 18:17-19:37, a patchwork of chronistic and prophetic material arranged and edited by the author of the book of Kings. These sources complement each other and are in agreement as to the main outline of the rebellion and its suppression by the superior Assyrian forces. Only the biblical source reports the miraculous salvation of Jerusalem. The following outline is based on a critical reading of both sources and on the assumption that Sennacherib campaigned only once in the west, in 701.

King Hezekiah of Judah spearheaded an anti-Assyrian coalition of Phoenician, Philistine, and south Syrian states. Though there were several years to prepare for the inevitable Assyrian response—note the drilling of the Siloam tunnel in Jerusalem to supply water to the city in case of siege (2 Kings 20:20; 2 Chron. 32:3-4)—the coalition was no match for Sennacherib. The coastal cities succumbed quickly, so that the full brunt of reprisal was soon directed against Judah. An Egyptian relief force under the command of Tirhakah engaged Sennacherib at Eltekeh in the Judean Shephelah (cf. 2 Kings 18:21; 19:9); but it suffered heavy losses and withdrew.

During the attack upon Judah’s border fortresses, Sennacherib sent a negotiating team, led by top Assyrian officers—their titles are recorded in 2 Kings 18:17 (Tartan, Rabsaris, Rabshakeh)—to solicit Hezekiah’s surrender. The counsel of the prophet Isaiah not to surrender strengthened Hezekiah’s determination to hold out (2 Kings 19:5-7; 2-34). But ‘when all the fortified cities of Judah’ had fallen to Sennacherib, Hezekiah capitulated. He agreed to pay a heavy indemnity of ‘three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold’ (2 Kings 18:14-16), which together with other valuables he sent to Nineveh. Thus, the siege of Jerusalem was lifted and the city spared destruction. The other territories of the kingdom of Judah were ceded to loyal Assyrian subjects, namely, the rulers of Ashdod, Ekron, Gaza, and Ashkelon. Thus Hezekiah resumed his former status as Assyrian vassal. Sennacherib commemorated his victories in Judah with a wall relief in his palace at Nineveh depicting the attack and capture of Lachish.

Assyrian historical inscriptions indicate that for most of the next twelve years Babylonian affairs engaged Sennacherib’s attention. Other areas of the empire remained pacified; the fear of Assyrian military might sustained a pax Assyria. But at least three campaigns to Babylon were undertaken (700, 694-693, and 691-689). Apparently it was this seemingly intractable situation that led to the unprecedented decision to destroy Babylon and put an end to the problem once and for all.

Sennacherib designated his son Esarhaddon as his heir, though he was not in the direct line of succession. Two of his other sons, Adrammelech and Sarezer, murdered their father and led an unsuccessful rebellion against Esarhaddon (2 Kings 19:37).


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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