The Biblical Account of Sennacherib’s Attack

Sidebar to: Sennacherib’s Siege of Jerusalem: Once or Twice?

The Biblical text is one key to understanding whether the Assyrians attacked Jerusalem once or twice. In the accompanying article, author Mordechai Cogan suggests that the account in 2 Kings consists of three units. The first is a straightforward account of Assyria’s conquest of Judah’s fortified cities and of the tribute Judah’s King Hezekiah was forced to pay. In the second unit, an Assyrian official, the rabshakeh, tells the people of Jerusalem that resistance will prove fruitless. The third unit, seen by some scholars as describing a later attack, relates that Jerusalem was spared destruction when an angel slew 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. Cogan, however, argues that the third unit refers to the same attack as the first unit but was written by a later author who attributed Jerusalem’s survival to God’s miraculous intervention.

Unit 1 (2 Kings 18:13–16)

In the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, King Sennacherib of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. King Hezekiah of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong; withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear.” The king of Assyria demanded of King Hezekiah of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasuries of the king’s house. At that time Hezekiah stripped the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord, and from the doorposts that King Hezekiah of Judah had overlaid and gave it to the king of Assyria.

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