Biblical Archaeology Review 29:6, November/December 2003

Israelites in Exile

Their Names Appear at All Levels of Assyrian Society

By K. Lawson Younger Jr.

The popularly told story of the Israelites’ exile under Assyrian rule is a simple one: The Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E. and deported the population. These Israelites—the “Ten Lost Tribes”—were never heard from again.

Actually, the situation was more complicated—and more interesting. The demise of the northern kingdom of Israel was a longish affair, lasting from 734 B.C.E. to the conquest of the capital at Samaria in 722 B.C.E. and its reconquest in 720 B.C.E. And, though the deportation of the Israelites began with the early Assyrian campaigns in 734–732 B.C.E., it continued until at least 715 B.C.E.

Furthermore, three different Assyrian kings were responsible for Israelite deportations: Tiglath-pileser III (745–727 B.C.E.), Shalmaneser V (727–722 B.C.E.) and Sargon II (722–705 B.C.E.).

Before 745 B.C.E., Assyria had experienced a period of political weakness. The accession of Tiglath-pileser III, one of Assyria’s greatest military leaders, marked the resurgence of Assyrian power. Israel, by contrast, had seen its territory expand to its greatest size yet under King Jeroboam II (c. 782–753 B.C.E.), resulting in a period of considerable prosperity. But after the death of Jeroboam II, internal weaknesses within Israel led to a series of usurpations.

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