Israel’s King On Bended Knee

Credit:, British Museum

In Exodus 10-12, Moses repeatedly appears before the Egyptian pharaoh. In Exodus 10, Moses warns the pharaoh of an impending plague of locust, and then is brought back and asked to remove the plague. The same process is repeated in the plague of darkness. In Exodus 11 Moses warned the pharaoh of the plague of the firstborn, until in Exodus 12 the pharaoh summoned Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt.

In the 9th century BCE, either an Israelite king or his messenger appeared before an Assyrian king.

In 2 Kings, Joram the king of Israel and Ahazia king of Judah combined forces to fight the Arameans. After Joram was wounded, the two found themselves at Jezreel. Elsewhere, the prophet Elisha sent a messenger to anoint Jehu as the king of Israel. Jehu set out to kill Joram. Joram’s guards recognized Jehu approaching: “The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi, he drives like a maniac.” Jehu met with Joram and Ahazia, and committed an act of treachery and mortally wounded both.

The Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II began an expansionary military policy, and after his death, his son Shalmaneser III continued his policies. Recognizing the gravity of the threat, rivals such as Aram Damascus and Israel joined forces at the Battle of Karkar to challenge the Assyrian threat. After this battle, Shalmaneser III continued to push into Syria, and in 841 BCE his armies successfully weakened Aram-Damascus to eliminate them as a true threat. In response, to deflect the Assyrian threat, other regional states paid tribute to Shalmaneser III.

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser records the tribute that was given to Shalmaneser III.

The second register from the top records that “I received the tribute of Iaua son of (the people of the land of) Omri: silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears.” In the Akkadian language of the Assyrians the name reads as “Ia-ú-a mar Hu-um-ri.” Most associate “Iaua” with Jehu. The associated image shows either the Israelite king or his messenger bowing, the first clearly identifiable image of an Israelite, and if Jehu, the first Israelite or Judahite royal for whom a recorded image exists.

The identification of Jehu as the king in the record has been challenged. Jehu was not of the “House of Omri,” as he was an usurper of the throne, Others have suggested it is referring to Jehoram as the king of Israel. However, this is not the consensus view.

The image above is of the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, with the relevant words in cuneiform translated. It was discovered at Nimrud, Iraq, the ancient Kalhu, and is today on display at the British Museum in London.