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Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times
Donald Redford -- Princeton University (1992)

Winner of the 1993 Best Scholarly Book in Archaeology
Award of the Biblical Archaeological Society

Pre-History and Archaeology Glossary

Excerpts and Definitions and Addendums:

We have described earlier the long-standing national animosity that existed between the principality of Assyria, whose center lay in the city of Ashur (Toponym) on the upper Tigris, and the Hittite Empire whose perceived sphere of expansion was eastward into the plains of Mesopotamia. With the passage of the Sea Peoples [the Philistines being the most important historically] and the sudden demise of Hittite hegemony in Asia Minor, this Bronze Age contretemps became a thing of the past; but the weakened condition of Assyria at the time did not permit them to capitalize on the power vaccuum that had resulted. It was not until the reign of Tiglath-Pileser I (circa 1115 - 1077 BC) that a sufficiently strong government emerged at Ashur to consider once again a major westward thrust.

But now another ethnic group, by geopolitical posture also opposed to Assyria, had adopted the former Hittite goal, and was moving eastward into Mesopotamia, and this was the Arameans. Here was a force to be reckoned with, young and vibrant, and with all the vigor associated with a tribal state. Twenty eight times, so Tiglath-Pileser tells us, he was obliged to lead punitive campaigns against the encroaching Aramaeans, until finally he burst into Syria. The startled Phoenician cities of Sidon, Byblos, and Arvad followed time honored practice and "bought off" the newcomer with presents and facilitated his cutting of timber in the (Lebanon) Mountains. But Tiglath-Pileser's exploit proved ephemeral. His successors for over 150 years were wholly incapable of resisting Aramaean pressure; and by the third quarter of the tenth century BC, just as Sheshonq I was seating himself on the throne of Egypt, the invader's had reached the Tigris.

The Aramaeans themselves, however, found it difficult to sustain their own momentum, and once the disciplined military might of Assyria had been marshaled by an effective head of state, they gradually gave ground.


At its greatest extent its empire stretched from northeast Africa to the Caucasus, and from the Mediterranean to the mountains of Iran ...

For Egypt and its clients and neighbors in the Levant, the moment of truth came during the reign of Shalmaneser III (858 - 824 BC). Shalmaneser crossed into North Syria and established himself in the captured principality of Bit-Adini; but when he turned south to advance up the Orontes River, he was met by formidable opposition. At last all Syria had been galvanized into action, and twelve independent states united under the leadership of Hada-Ezer of Damascus, including Hamath, Cilicia, Arvad, Israel, Musri, Ammon, and even an Arabian tribe. With nearly seventy thousand troops, the coalition met the Assyrians at Qarqar on the Orontes in 853 BC and fought them to a standstill. Repeated attacks by Shalmaneser in the years that followed failed to crack the unity of the Aramaean front.

The same pattern of indecisive confrontation between the Tigris based power of Assyria and the Mediterranean coastlands was to prolong itself for over one hundred years after the battle of Qarqar until a civil war in Assyria unseated the royal family and catapulted a general named (Biblical "Pul") known to history as Tiglath-Pileser III to the throne of the empire. This usurper proved to be an organizational genius and a master strategist. By relentless campaigning and indiscriminate use of mass deportation, he encompassed the destruction of Damascus and Israel and by 732 BC even threatened Egypt.

At the outset he faced formidable opponents. The upstart state of Urartu (Biblical Ararat) had expanded into North Syria and the northern Zagros, thus encircling the Assyrian heartland. Arpad in north Syria was Urartu's ally, and elsewhere in Syria no state felt obliged to offer "Pul" presents. Tiglath-Pileser's action was swift. By skillful campaigning he completely defeated Urartu in two years and repaired to Syria in 743 to receive tribute. The next year he laid siege to Arpad, which fell after a three year investment. The years 740 and 738 witnessed the sacking of Ullubu and Kullanu and it became evident that Tiglath-Pileser III aimed at nothing less then the liquidation of all states in the Levant to the border of Egypt.

One can imagine the panic that must have seized Damascus and Samaria as they saw the irresistible advance of the Assyrians. Their first impulse was to proffer a propitiary tribute to Tiglath-Pileser in 738 BC. Again an attempt was made to revive the Syrian anti-Assyrian coalition under Damascene and Israelite leadership. Only Ahaz of Judah remained outside the group and Ahaz asked Tiglath-Pileser for help instead of joining the alliance.

Again Tiglath-pileser responded with a speed a determination that bewildered his enemies. Adopting a strategy of attacking the weaker, coastal allies and of driving a wedge between Israel and Damascus, he descended upon Phoenicia in the spring of 734 BC, capturing Sumur, Arka, and Byblos, and forcing Tyre to pay tribute and suffer partial deportation. Acco was assaulted and reduced to ashes, the territory of Naphtali annexed, and the Assyrians were able to march all the way through Philistia.

Two years later Damascus fell, its population was deported and the territory annexed as a province. This period also witnessed the annexation of Israel's territory in Galilee and TransJordan, and the reduction of the state to little more than the environs of Samaria.

None of the implications of this spectacular spread of Assyrian power could have been lost on the Egyptians. While from 732 to 725 BC the Assyrians were occupied elsewhere, it was but the calm before the storm. It may well have looked to observers on the Nile that Assyria considered expansion into Africa its "manifest destiny ...

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