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The Untold Story of the Kingdom of Judah

(C4) The Untold Story of the Shephelah in Sennacherib’s campaign

Prof. Oded Lipschits

Towards the end of the eighth century BCE, Judah was at the peak of its development as a mature and developed kingdom. It was based on a fairly dense hierarchy of settlements, which was spread throughout all parts of the kingdom, and included farms, villages, secondary settlements and central towns. The lowlands were the most populated and fertile region of the kingdom, and Lachish served as the secondary capital. Standing at the top of the pyramid was unquestionably Jerusalem, the largest and most important governmental center in the kingdom, the seat of the king and his home, the priests of the central temple and a large part of the elite class. This was the end of a long development process that took place in the 9th and 8th centuries BCE. Judah enjoyed long years of peace, culminating in the second half of Ahaz’s reign (734-715 BCE) and the first decade of Hezekiah’s reign (715-686 BCE). But Hezekiah’s rebellion against Sennacherib and the Assyrian military campaign against the kingdoms of the region and Judah among them, caused the biggest demographic and settlement crisis in the history of the kingdom. In addition to Lachish, all the cities of the lowlands were destroyed, and the important and rich region of the kingdom, which experienced flourishing and development in the 9th and 8th centuries BCE, was densely populated and became the economic and administrative center of the Kingdom of Judah, had been destroyed, abandoned for many years and never recovered.
The Assyrian sources on Sennacherib’s campaign emphasize the fate of the lowlands, and in contrast, the biblical account focuses on Jerusalem, and this despite the fact that the authors knew about the fate of the lowlands and that it was a major target of the Assyrian army. This is another testimony to the untold story about the areas in the Kingdom of Judah that were out of sight and out of mind for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to how much biblical historiography focuses on Jerusalem, the Temple and the House of David. Even when there was information about the fate of the other territories of the kingdom, about the lowlands’ centrality in Sennacherib’s campaign and the heavy destruction it suffered, the emphasis in the historical descriptions is on the fate of Jerusalem and the story focuses on the Deuteronomistic ideas that prevailed in Jerusalem at the time of its writing, and for the very specific target audience that stood in front of the authors’ eyes.

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