Assyria to Iberia exhibit features Tel Dan Stela and other treasures

Biblical Archeology Society
Biblical Archeology Society

Megan Sauter / 05 NOV 2014 – An extraordinary inscription from Israel referencing the Davidic dynasty is currently on display in New York. Written only about 150 years after King David would have reigned, the inscription is dated to c. 830 B.C.E. The inscription hails from Tel Dan in northern Israel and commemorates the conquests of Hazael, king of Aram-Damascus, enemy of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Hazael claims to have killed both Jehoram, king of Israel, and Ahaziahu, king of “the House of David”—or Judah. That the nation of Judah is referred to as the “House of David” is significant because it is the only archaeological evidence of a historical David—a belief that had been hotly debated prior to this discovery—thus substantiating part of the Biblical narrative.

Through January 4, 2015, this inscription and other treasures from the ancient Near East are on display in the exhibit Assyria to Iberia: at the Dawn of the Classical Age at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Three particularly noteworthy pieces—from a Biblical archaeological perspective—in the exhibit are the Tel Dan Stela (mentioned above), the Sennacherib Prism and the Taanach Cult Stand. Curiously, other reviews of the exhibit have failed to highlight these three significant finds. If you visit the exhibit, do not overlook these pieces, for indeed each has contributed significantly to our understanding of ancient Israel.

Annals of Sennacherib; Taylor Prism, British Museum. Photo: David Castor.
Annals of Sennacherib; Taylor Prism, British Museum. Photo: David Castor.

Further, from November 6–7, 2014, the Met will be holding a symposium featuring lectures by Ann E. Killebrew, Israel Finkelstein, Marian Feldman and Marc Van De Mieroop, among others—free with museum admission. Attend and hear these well-known BAR and Archaeology Odyssey authors in person!

Stretching from modern Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea, the Assyrian empire was the largest in the world during the eighth and seventh centuries B.C.E. The Assyrian monarchs Tiglath-Pileser, Shalmaneser and Sennacherib are well known from the Biblical accounts (2 Kings 15–18). The Taylor Prism from Nineveh recounts the story of Sennacherib’s siege of Jerusalem from the Assyrian point of view. Whereas the Bible claims that the Assyrians withdrew from Jerusalem after the Angel of the Lord went through and killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s men, the prism sings a different tune. In his account, Sennacherib describes locking up Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage” and withdrawing from Jerusalem with much plunder.

Ivory plaque with striding sphinx from Nimrud.  Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Ivory plaque with striding sphinx from Nimrud.
Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Displaying more than 250 objects—from jewelry, ivories and intricate metalwork to monumental sculptures and wall reliefs—the exhibit Assyria to Iberia explores the incredible influence and reach of the Assyrian empire. It features items from the Assyrian homeland—such as the ninth- or eighth-century B.C.E. ivory plaque with a striding sphinx from the Assyrian site of Nimrud (ancient Kalhu)—and also artifacts from conquered lands and peoples, who adapted Assyrian imagery and techniques into their assemblages.

Taanach Cult Stand. Photo: © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem/Israel Antiquities Authority (photograph by Avraham Hay).
Taanach Cult Stand. Photo: © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem/Israel Antiquities Authority (photograph by Avraham Hay).

A cult stand from Taanach, Israel, dating to the tenth century B.C.E., might show representations of the Israelite god Yahweh and the goddess Asherah. Arguments have been made that each of these deities are represented on two of the four tiers: Yahweh on one and three and Asherah on two and four. While this might seem scandalous to some, the connection between Yahweh and Asherah can be also be found at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom.

Phoenicia is another focus of the exhibit: While paying tribute to the Assyrian empire, the Phoenicians established an immense trade network across the Mediterranean and even founded colonies in North Africa like Carthage, therefore extending the reach of the Assyrian empire even further.

Advertisements