Archaeology Odyssey 3:5, September/October 2000


The Writing on the Wall: Studies in the Architectural Context of Late Assyrian Palace Inscriptions

John Malcolm Russell (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1999) 348 pp., $47.50

Preparing for an Assyrian invasion, the Israelite king Hezekiah (727–698 B.C.) complained to God: “The Kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands, and have hurled their gods into the fire” (2 Kings 19:17–18). Much later, in “The Destruction of Sennacherib,” the 19th-century poet Lord Byron described that same invasion: “The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold / And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold.”

These images, expressed with such bravado, have shaped our sense of Assyrian kings, who once ruled what is now northern Iraq. Those ancient monarchs would, no doubt, be pleased that we imagine them in this manner. John Malcolm Russell’s The Writing on the Wall does not attempt to dispel the notion that Assyrian kings were ferocious conquerors; rather, it explains how the kings themselves deliberately constructed the myths upon which the Bible and Byron built.

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