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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Assyria

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a kingdom of Asia, of the extent, origin, and duration of which very different accounts have been given by ancient writers. Ctesias and Diodorus Siculus affirm, that the Assyrian monarchy, under Ninus and Semiramis, comprehended the greater part of the known world: but, if this had been the case, it is not likely that Homer and Herodotus would have omitted a fact so remarkable. The sacred records intimate that none of the ancient states or kingdoms were of considerable extent; for neither Chederlaomer, nor any of the neighbouring princes, were tributary or subject to Assyria; and "we find nothing," says Playfair, "of the greatness or power of this kingdom in the history of the judges and succeeding kings of Israel, though the latter kingdom was oppressed and enslaved by many different powers in that period." It is therefore highly probable that Assyria was originally of small extent. According to Ptolemy, this country was bounded on the north by part of Armenia and Mount Niphates; on the west by the Tigris; on the south by Susiana; and on the east by part of Media and the mountains Choatra and Zagros. Of the origin, revolutions, and termination of Assyria, properly so called, and distinguished from the grand monarchy which afterward bore this appellation, the following account is given by Mr. Playfair, as the most probable:—"The founder of it was Ashur, the second son of Shem, who departed from Shinar, upon the usurpation of Nimrod, at the head of a large body of adventurers, and laid the foundations of Nineveh, where he resided, and erected a new kingdom, called Assyria, after his name, Genesis 10:11 . These events happened not long after Nimrod had established the Chaldean monarchy, and fixed his residence at Babylon; but it does not appear that Nimrod reigned in Assyria. The kingdoms of Assyria and Babylon were originally distinct and separate, Micah 5:6; and in this state they remained until Ninus conquered Babylon, and made it tributary to the Assyrian empire. Ninus, the successor of Ashur, Genesis 10:11 , seized on Chaldea after the death of Nimrod, and united the kingdoms of Assyria and Babylon. This great prince is said to have subdued Asia, Persia, Media, Egypt, &c. If he did so, the effects of his conquests were of no long duration; for, in the days of Abraham, we do not find that any of the neighbouring kingdoms were subject to Assyria." Ninus was succeeded by Semiramis, a princess bold, enterprising, and fortunate; of whose adventures and exploits many fabulous relations have been recorded. Playfair is of opinion that there were two princesses of this name, who flourished at different periods; one, the consort of Ninus; and another, who lived five generations before Nitocris, queen of Nebuchadnezzar. Of the successors of Ninus and Semiramis nothing certain is recorded. The last of the ancient Assyrian kings was Sardanapalus, who was besieged in his capital by Arbaces, governor of Media, in concurrence with the Babylonians. These united forces defeated the Assyrian army, demolished the capital, and became masters of the empire, B.C. 821.

"After the death of Sardanapalus," says Mr. Playfair, "the Assyrian empire was divided into three kingdoms; namely, the Median, Assyrian, and Babylonian. Arbaces retained the supreme authority, and nominated governors in Assyria and Babylon, who were honoured with the title of kings, while they remained subject and tributary to the Persian monarchs. Belesis," he says, "a Chaldean priest, who assisted Arbaces in the conquest of Sardanapalus, received the government of Babylon as the reward of his services; and Phul was intrusted with that of Assyria. The Assyrian governor gradually enlarged the boundaries of his kingdom, and was succeeded by Tiglath-pileser, Salmanasar, and Sennacherib, who asserted and maintained their independence. After the death of Assar-haddon, the brother and successor of Sennacherib. the kingdom of Assyria was split, and annexed to the kingdoms of Media and Babylon. Several tributary princes afterward reigned in Nineveh; but we hear no more of the kings of Assyria, but of those of Babylon. Cyaxares, king of Media, assisted Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in the siege of Nineveh, which they took and destroyed, B.C. 606."

The history of Assyria, deduced from Scripture, and acknowledged as the only authentic one by Sir Isaac Newton and many others, ascribes the foundation of the monarchy to Pul, or Phul, about the second year of Menahem, king of Israel, twenty-four years before the aera of Nabonassar, 1579 years after the flood, and, according to Blair, 769, or, according to Newton, 790, years before Christ. Menahem, having taken forcible possession of the throne of Israel by the murder of Shallum, 2 Kings 15:10 , was attacked by Pul, but prevented the hostilities meditated against him by presenting the invader with a thousand talents of silver. Pul, thus gratified, took the kingdom of Israel under his protection, returned to his own country, after having received voluntary homage from several nations in his march, as he had done from Israel, and became the founder of a great empire. As it was in the days of Pul that the Assyrians began to afflict the inhabitants of Palestine, 2 Kings 11:9; 1 Chronicles 5:26 , this was the time, according to Sir Isaac Newton, when the Assyrian empire arose. Thus he interprets the words, "since the time of the kings of Assyria,"

Nehemiah 9:32; that is, since the time of the kingdom of Assyria, or since the rise of that empire. But though this was the period in which the Assyrians afflicted Israel, it is not so evident that the time of the kings of Assyria must necessarily be understood of the rise of the Assyrian empire. However, Newton thus reasons; and observes, that "Pul and his successors afflicted Israel, and conquered the nations round about them; and upon the ruin of many small and ancient kingdoms erected their empire; conquering the Medes, as well as other nations." It is farther argued, that God, by the Prophet Amos, in the reign of Jeroboam, about ten or twenty years before the reign of Pul, (see Amos 6:13-14 ,) threatened to raise up a nation against Israel; and that, as Pul reigned presently after the prophecy of Amos, and was the first upon record who began to fulfil it, he may be justly reckoned the first conqueror and founder of this empire. See 1 Chronicles 5:26 . Pul was succeeded on the throne of Assyria by his elder son Tiglath-pileser; and at the same time he left Babylon to his younger son Nabonassar, B.C. 747. Of the conquests of this second king of Assyria against the kings of Israel and Syria, when he took Damascus, and subdued the Syrians, we have an account in 2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 15:37; 2 Kings 16:5; 2 Kings 16:9; 1 Chronicles 5:26; by which the prophecy of Amos was fulfilled, and from which it appears that the empire of the Assyrians was now become great and powerful. The next king of Assyria was Shalmaneser, or Salmanassar, who succeeded Tiglath-pileser, B.C. 729, and invaded Phoenicia, took the city of Samaria, and, B.C. 721, carried the ten tribes into captivity, placing them in Chalach and Chabor, by the river Gazon, and in the cities of the Medes,

2 Kings 17:6 . Shalmaneser was succeeded by Sennacherib, B.C. 719; and in the year B.C. 714, he was put to flight with great slaughter by the Ethiopians and Egyptians. In the year B.C. 711 the Medes revolted from the Assyrians; Sennacherib was slain, and he was succeeded by his son Esar-Haddon, Asser-haddon, Asordan, Assaradin, or Sarchedon, by which names he is called by different writers. He began his reign at Nineveh, in the year of Nabonassar 42; and in the year 68 extended it over Babylon. He then carried the remainder of the Samaritans into captivity, and peopled Samaria with captives brought from several parts of his kingdom; and in the year of Nabonassar 77 or 78 he seems to have put an end to the reign of the Ethiopians over Egypt. "In the reign of Sennacherib and Asser-Hadon," says Sir I. Newton, "the Assyrian empire seems arrived at its greatness; being united under one monarch, and containing Assyria, Media, Apolloniatis, Susiana, Chaldea, Mesopotamia, Cilicia, Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Ethiopia, and part of Arabia; and reaching eastward into Elymais, and Paraetaecene, a province of the Medes, and if Chalach and Chabor be Colchis and Iberia, as some think, and as may seem probable from the circumcision used by those nations till the days of Herodotus, we are also to add these two provinces, with the two Armenias, Pontus, and Cappadocia, as far as to the river Halys: for Herodotus tells us that the people of Cappadocia, as far as to that river, were called Syrians by the Greeks, both before and after the days of Cyrus; and that the Assyrians were also called Syrians by the Greeks." Asser-Hadon was succeeded in the year B.C. 668 by Saosduchinus. At this time Manasseh was allowed to return home, and fortify Jerusalem; and the Egyptians also, after the Assyrians had harassed Egypt and Ethiopia three years, Isaiah 20:3-4 , were set at liberty. Saosduchinus, after a reign of twenty years, was succeeded at Babylon, and probably at Nineveh also, by Chyniladon, in the year B.C. 647. This Chyniladon is supposed by Newton to be the Nebuchadonosor mentioned in the book of Judith, Judges 1:1-15 , who made war upon Arphaxad, king of the Medes; and, though deserted by his auxiliaries of Cilicia, Damascus, Syria, Phoenicia, Moab, Ammon, and Egypt, routed the army of the Medes, and slew Arphaxad. This Arphaxad is supposed to be either Dejoces or his son Phraortes, mentioned by Herodotus. Soon after the death of Phraortes, in the year B.C. 635, the Scythians invaded the Medes and Persians; and in 625, Nabopolassar, the commander of the forces of Chyniladon in Chaldea, revolted from him, and became king of Babylon. Chyniladon was either then or soon after succeeded at Nineveh by the last king of Assyria, called Sarac by Polyhistor. The authors of the Universal History suppose Saosduchinus to have been the Nebuchadonosor of Scripture, and Chyniladon or Chynaladan to have been the Sarac of Polyhistor. At length Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Nabopolassar, married Amyit, the daughter of Astyages, king of the Medes, and sister of Cyaxares and by this marriage, the two families having contracted affinity, they conspired against the Assyrians. Nabopolassar being old, and Astyages dead, their sons Nebuchadnezzar and Cyaxares led the armies of the two nations against Nineveh, slew Sarac, destroyed the city, and shared the kingdom of the Assyrians. This victory the Jews refer to the Chaldeans; the Greeks, to the Medes; Tobit, Tob_14:15 , Polyhistor, and Ctesias, to both. With this victory commenced the great successes of Nebuchadnezzar and Cyaxares, and it laid the foundation of the two collateral empires of the Babylonians and Medes, which were branches of the Assyrian empire; and hence the time of the fall of the Assyrian empire is determined, the conquerors being then in their youth. In the reign of Josiah, when Zephaniah prophesied, Nineveh and the kingdom of Assyria were standing; and their fall was predicted by that Prophet, Zephaniah 1:3; Zephaniah 2:13 . And in the end of his reign, Pharaoh-Necho, king of Egypt, the successor of Psammitichus, went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates, to fight against Carchemish, or Circutium; and in his way thither slew Josiah, 2 Kings 23:29; 2 Chronicles 35:20; and therefore the last king of Assyria was not yet slain. But in the third and fourth years of Jehoiakim, the successor of Josiah, the two conquerors having taken Nineveh, and finished their war in Assyria, prosecuted their conquests westward; and, leading their forces against the king of Egypt, as an invader of their right of conquest, they beat him at Carchemish, and took from him whatever he had recently taken from the Assyrians, 2 Kings 24:7; Jeremiah 46:2; "and therefore we cannot err," says Sir Isaac Newton, "above a year or two, if we refer the destruction of Nineveh, and fall of the Assyrian empire, to the third year of Jehoiakim," or the hundred and fortieth, or according to Blair, the hundred and forty-first year of Nabonassar; that is, the year B.C. 607.

Of the government, laws, religion, learning, customs, &c, of the ancient Assyrians, nothing absolutely certain is recorded. Their kingdom was at first small, and subsisted for several ages under hereditary chiefs; and their government was simple. Afterward, when they rose to the sublimity of empire, their government seems to have been despotic, and the empire hereditary. Their laws were probably few, and depended upon the mere will of the prince. To Ninus we may ascribe the division of the Assyrian empire into provinces and governments; for we find that this institution was fully established in the reigns of Semiramis and her successors. The people were distributed into a certain number of tribes; and their occupations or professions were hereditary. The Assyrians had several distinct councils, and several tribunals for the regulation of public affairs. Of councils there were three, which were created by the body of the people, and who governed the state in conjunction with the sovereign. The first consisted of officers who had retired from military employments; the second, of the nobility; and the third, of the old men. The sovereigns also had three tribunals, whose province it was to watch over the conduct of the people. The Assyrians have been competitors with the Egyptians for the honour of having invented alphabetic writing. It appears, from the few remains now extant of the writing of these ancient nations, that their letters had a great affinity with each other. They much resembled one another in shape; and they ranged them in the same manner, from right to left.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Assyria'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/a/assyria.html. 1831-2.

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