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Cyprus and Cilicia on the west. In the reign of Ašurbanipal it extended its confines to Elam on the east and to Egypt on the west. Then it suddenly declined through internal exhaustion, and was supplanted by the new Babylonian empire, which in its turn rapidly succumbed, in less than a century from its rise, to the arms of the Persian Cyrus (538 B.C.).
During the period of Assyrian domination with which we are now more immediately concerned, there was only one power which was in any degree able to oppose this advancing tide of conquest, namely Egypt. Egypt on the one side, and Babylonia or Assyria on the other, might be called the two great powers of Western Asian politics during the millennium which intervened between the time of Thothmes III and that of Pharaoh Hophra (1600-570 B.C.). Both the empire on the Nile and that on the Euphrates possessed a civilization of vast antiquity. Babylonia has clay documents either still reposing in its tells' (i.e. mounds of ruins), or scattered among the museums of Europe and America, which reach back to the fifth millennium B.C. Egypt has monuments whose antiquity is almost as remote.
But in the middle of the eighth century, when Isaiah lived, the twenty-fourth dynasty was reigning in Egypt, and her military power was weak through internal divisions and therefore unable to resist the progress of the Assyrian arms. It was not till 'the close of the century, about 708 B.C. ", when the twenty-fifth dynasty, which was Ethiopian, succeeded, that fresh energy was infused into Egypt's foreign policy. In the seventh century King Taharķo (or Tirhaķah) was able to confront the Assyrian colossus and inspire the Palestinian princes,
1 See the useful coloured map appended to Schrader's Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek, vol. ii.
* This is the date given by Max Müller, followed by most recent historians, as compared with that of earlier authorities who placed the advent of the twenty-fifth dynasty about 730 B.C.
who had had bitter experience of Egypt's weakness and procrastination, with stronger and better-founded hopes of maintaining their independence (691 B.C.),
For it must be remembered that all the princes of the Palestinian borders, from Tyre in the north to Moab and Judah in the south, played quite a subordinate part in this conflict of races and rulers. Menahem, Hoshea, Aḥaz, and Hezekiah sustained the ignoble rôle of dependent or even vassal kings, seeking to curry favour either with the Assyrian or Egyptian monarch, just as the expediency of the moment dictated. Probably no other rôle was possible for princes whose tenure of authority was brief and precarious, subject to the good pleasure of one or other of these two great powers, while the domain of any one of these princes hardly exceeded in size that of the largest among the English counties. Hoshea was but a puppet placed on the throne of Samaria by Tiglath-Pileser, and did his best to please Assyria and Egypt at the same time or by turns (Hos. v. 13, vii. 11, xi. I).
Thus the position held by even the most powerful of the Palestinian kings somewhat resembled that of the Amir of Afghanistan, graphically described by the late Lord Lytton as an earthen pipkin between two iron pots,' viz. the English power in India on the one side and the Russian in Central Asia on the other. And the analogy holds yet further. Palestine possessed as great a strategic importance then as Afghanistan holds now. Palestine was the only well-watered and therefore practical highway and caravan track between north or north-east and south or south-west. Now Egypt was invulnerable upon the eastern border save along the very narrow frontier now traversed by the Suez Canal and protected in ancient times by a series of fortresses. It could therefore only be attacked by the northern power, Assyria, by way of Palestine. For in those days the sea was deemed a treacherous element, and the Phoenicians were the only maritime race whose vessels were at the service of a foreign power. Therefore, against Egypt, Palestine furnished the natural route for the advance of the Assyrian army.
Thus Egypt could only remain secure against Assyrian invasion when such towns as Lachish, Ashkelon, Jerusalem, Gaza, Eķron, Ashdod, and Samaria were not under the control of Assyria, and their rulers were friendly to the Egyptian power. Accordingly Palestine possessed an unrivalled strategic importance in Western Asia (see article 'War' in Enc. Bibl. § 1). The possession of such a land was coveted by the north-eastern or Assyrian power in Western Asia and by Egypt in North-Eastern Africa, not only because its soil was fertile. (Gen. xiii. 10, xlix. 11 foll., 20, 22, 25 foll.; Exod. iii. 17; Num. xiii. 23, 27; Deut. i. 25, viii. 7, &c.), but also because it had considerable military value.
The prophetic ministry of Isaiah nearly covers the latter, half of the eighth century, the period of Assyrian military enterprise and aggrandisement to which we referred on a previous page. The shocks of collision between the Assyrian power and the western states and kingdoms, Syrian and Palestinian, which had begun in the northern or Syrian region under Shalmaneser II and Rammân-nirâri III in the preceding century, were continued with greater vigour and persistence under TiglathPileser III and his successors. The expeditions of the Assyrian armies were now carried further to the south. Not only the northern kingdom of Israel, but also the southern kingdom, as well as the Philistine towns, were compelled to feel the heavy hand of the conqueror, until nearly all these states and kingdoms, from the Hittites in the north to the Hebrews and Philistines in the south, were pounded to fragments by the successive blows of Assyrian attack. To most of these in succession Assyria
1 We know from the monuments that Sennacherib made use of Phoenician vessels, just as Xerxes did in the fifth century in his wars against the Hellenes.
became the 'mace of Divine wrath' (Isa. x. 5). Their lands were ravaged, their cities destroyed, and their populations deported to the east, no unfamiliar spectacle in ancient Semitic, and more especially in Assyrian, warfare.
We shall presently notice the profound influence which these events produced on Isaiah's mind and on those of the earlier and contemporary prophets, Amos, Hosea, and Micah. The Divine significance of these events is duly set forth and interpreted in their oracles recorded in the 0. T. In order that the oracles of Isaiah may be better understood and appreciated, it will be necessary to trace in further detail (1) the external events in the politics of Western Asia and Israel in their mutual interrelations, (2) the internal social and religious condition of Israel during the latter half of the eighth century.
§ 2. EXTERNAL HISTORY OF WESTERN ASIA AND ISRAEL IN THEIR MUTUAL 'INTERRELATIONS 750-700 B.C.
Fortunately, we possess ampler materials for the exposition of our subject than biblical scholars possessed more than sixty years ago, when Ewald and Delitzsch 1 in Germany and Henderson in England were writing their commentaries on the prophets. The monuments and tablets inscribed with cuneiform signs which have been discovered by Botta, Layard, and Rassam at Kujundshik, Khorsabad, and Nimrûd between 1840 and 1854, now stored in the Louvre and British Museum, have been read, interpreted, and explained by a succession of scholars, and have shed a flood of welcome light on the age in which Isaiah lived and worked 2. We are therefore now in a far
1 Prof. Franz Delitzsch, the veteran Evangelical Professor of Leipzig, lived to perfect his work. Thus in the 3rd edition of his commentary on Isaiah (in German, 1879), and still more in the 4th (1889), the results of Assyriology communicated by his distinguished son, Prof. Friedrich Delitzsch, were incorporated.
? All the annals of Assyrian kings relating to this period will be found transcribed from the cuneiform and translated better position to understand the oracles of Isaiah and his contemporary prophets than was possible half a century ago.
The tablets recording the campaigns of Tiglath-Pileser III have unfortunately been grievously mutilated. They were used as building material by a later Assyrian monarch, Esar-haddon, who reigned in the following century. These tablets of his predecessor, Tiglath-Pileser, he removed from that monarch's palace on the south-east platform of Nimrûd (the ancient Kalah), 'caused the inscriptions with which they were covered to be partially chiselled away, and employed the plates themselves in building his own south-west palace 1' Notwithstanding these defects it is possible to obtain a fairly distinct impression of the military expeditions of this great warrior in the western regions and in something approximating chronological order, with the aid of the 'eponym lists' and 'tables of rulers 2'
Tiglath-Pileser's operations in the west began about 742 B. C. In 740 he captured Arpad after a two years' siege and made Rezin of Damascus (called in the inscriptions Raşunnu) and Hiram, King of Tyre, tributary. In the year 738 he conquered a certain Azrijau (Azariah) King of Jaudi, who was the head of a coalition of nineteen northern states against the Assyrian king. It was formerly supposed with much apparent probability that this king was Uzziah (who was also called Azariah) of Judah, and this view was sustained by the great authority of Professor Schrader 3, but, since Dr. Schrader's arguments were published, the important discovery of the Senjirli in Schrader's Keilinschriftliche Bibliothek (KIB.), vol. ii. pp. 1-119, an invaluable storehouse of contemporary illustrative material.
1 Schrader, COT., i. p. 234.
? COT., vol. ii. pp. 178 foll., cf. p. 168 foll. The name of the monarch called in COT. Tiglath-Pileser II is now designated as Tiglath-Pileser III.
3 COT., vol. i. p. 208 toll.