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The Untold Story of the Kingdom of Judah

(E5) The Untold Story of Sennacherib’s Campaign and the Fate of Jerusalem

Prof. Oded Lipschits

Sennacherib’s campaign against the Kingdom of Judah, held in 701 BCE, was the most dramatic and significant event in the history of the Kingdom of Judah until the Babylonian destruction that came 115 years later. It left in its wake clear and well-dated layers of destruction, and resulted in severe damage to Judah, the exile of many residents, the destruction of the economy, and the lowlands’ separation from the kingdom. But it seems that beyond all the immediate effects that Sennacherib’s campaign had on Judah, another, long-term, largely unpredictable and destructive long-term effect was on the ideological, theological and historiographical side.
Despite the terrible destruction of many cities, the exiles and the heavy economic damage, the main memory of the campaign among the Jerusalem elite one, two and three generations later, was the memory of the miraculous salvation of Jerusalem, which stood before the Assyrian army and was not conquered. It was the seed that was sown in the ground, from which grew the idea of God’s eternal promise to his chosen city, to the temple and to the dynasty of kings in Jerusalem. This is also the reason for the untold story of Sennacherib’s campaign. The authors of the biblical historiography as well as their readers, the members of the Jerusalem elite, were well acquainted with history and knew what the terrible results of the campaign were.
But the memory of all this faded in contrast to the memory of the miraculous rescue of Jerusalem and the ideas that grew among the Jerusalem elite about God’s eternal promise to the city, the temple and the dynasty. In the days of Josiah, when Assyria withdrew from the area and it seemed that Judah was about to return to the glory days of the “united monarchy,” Sennacherib’s campaign marked the proof of the existence of the idea of God’s eternal promise, and was a clear symbol of this promise.

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