This article is from
Creation 35(3):48–49, July 2013

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Monuments from Ancient Assyria confirm biblical history

Archaeological evidence from the British Museum


The Stela of Ashurnasirpal II [ANE 118883] in Room 6 of the British Museum

The British Museum holds a huge number of major discoveries that provide direct corroboration and background confirmation for an immense sweep of Bible history.1

It is possible to tour a selection of the museum’s exhibits that constitute an outstanding summary of the whole field of archaeological discovery relating to the Bible. In today’s secular climate, most people have no idea how much powerful evidence exists for the literal accuracy of the biblical record.

Here we will look at an exhibit found in excavations of the Assyrian royal palaces. From around 880 BC, the Assyrian empire really began to take shape. It brought terror and tyranny for nearly three centuries, and engulfed many other kingdoms. Several Assyrian kings invaded or threatened the Bible lands of Israel and Judah, securing submission and tribute from them. Many years of such interaction naturally led to various names and battles being mentioned in both the Bible and the annals and monuments of the Assyrians. The latter provide independent support for the historical accuracy of these parts of the biblical record.

The Stela of Shalmaneser III [ANE 118884] in Room 6 of the British Museum

One fascinating and significant item is an Assyrian monument mentioning the names of two kings who feature prominently in the Old Testament. Three similar monuments stand together in the museum, one of which commemorates Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 BC). He was the Assyrian king who began the policy of expansion and empire building. He introduced new siege techniques to Assyrian warfare, particularly the use of earth ramparts and battering engines, supported by sling-shooters and archers.

Also on display is a sandy-coloured monument of tremendous importance to biblical history. It is known as the Stela of Shalmaneser III (also called the Kurkh Monolith). Shalmaneser III ruled Assyria from 859–824 BC. The stela (or stele) shows him saluting his gods symbolized in the small pictures above his hand. Writing appears all over the king’s picture and also on the back of the monument. This text describes Shalmaneser’s first six military campaigns, including specific mention of Ahab (king of Israel) and Benhadad I (king of Syria).

He records how (in 853 BC) he ventured west threatening many kingdoms, but Iruleni, the king of Hamath, organized a mighty defence force supplied by twelve kings—Ahab and Benhadad among them. These two spent most of their time at war with each other, but during a three-year peace (mentioned in 1 Kings 22:1) they joined forces with Hamath to repel Shalmaneser. (This was during the ministry of the prophet Elisha.) An engagement was fought at Karkar (also spelt Qarqar) near Hamath. In his stela, Shalmaneser describes it in these words:

“I approached Karkar. I destroyed, tore down, and bound Karkar, his royal residence. He brought along to help him 1,200 chariots, 1,200 cavalrymen, 20,000 foot soldiers belonging to Hadadezer [Benhadad I] of Damascus, … 2,000 chariots, 10,000 foot soldiers belonging to Ahab the Israelite …”

The text records that the whole confederate army had 50,000 infantry, 14,000 cavalry, and nearly 4,000 chariots. Shalmaneser boasts that he won such a great victory that the rivers were dammed with corpses and the valleys flowed with blood. However, ancient near-eastern kings exaggerated their feats and claimed victory in all their battles. This battle was really a strategic defeat, because his advance was effectively halted and he never took possession of his enemy’s territory. Nor does the Bible mention that either Ahab or Benhadad suffered a military set-back on such a scale. Shortly after this event, Ahab returned to the offensive against Benhadad and died on the battlefield (1 Kings 22:34–35).

Although the battle at Karkar is not described in the Bible, inscriptions such as these provide confirmation of various people described in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, that they were true historical figures. This monument is typical of so much that has been unearthed confirming that biblical characters lived at the times and in the places stated in the Bible.

Posted on homepage: 15 September 2014

References and notes

  1. See documentation in Masters, P., Heritage of Evidence in the British Museum, The Wakeman Trust, London, 2004. Return to text.

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