Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, by Julius Wellhausen, , at sacred-texts.com
Hitherto the small kingdom of Judah had stood in the background. Its political history had been determined almost exclusively by its relation to Israel. Under the dynasty of Omri the original enmity had been changed into a close but perhaps not quite voluntary friendship. Judah found itself drawn completely into the train of the more powerful neighbouring state, and seems even to have rendered it military service. The fall of the house of Omri was an ominous event for Judah as well as Israel; Jehu, as he passed to the throne, put to death not only Ahaziah the king but also two and forty other members of the royal house of David who had fallen into his hands; and those who still survived, children for the most part, were murdered wholesale by the regent Athaliah for reasons that are unknown. Only one little boy, Joash, was concealed from her fury, and by a successful conspiracy six years afterwards was placed upon the throne of his ancestors. At that time the Syrians were extending their incursions to Judah and Philistia, and Joash bought them off from Jerusalem with the temple treasures. Perhaps it was this disgrace that he expiated with his death; in like manner perhaps the assassination of his successor Amaziah is to be accounted for by the discredit he had incurred by a reckless and unsuccessful war against Israel. Just as Israel was beginning to recover itself after the happy termination of the Syrian wars, Judah also experienced its period of highest prosperity. What Jeroboam II. was to the northern kingdom, Uzziah was to that of the south. He appears to have obtained possession of Edom, and for a considerable time to have held that one province of David's conquests which fell to Judah; and at the trading port of Elath he revived the commerce which Solomon had created. The prosperity of his long reign was uninterrupted till in his later years he was smitten with leprosy, and found it necessary to hand over the affairs of the kingdom to his son Jotham. But Jotham appears to have died about the same time as his father,—his successor, still in very early youth (Isa. iii. 12), being Ahaz ben Jotham ben Uzziah.
If Judah could not compare with Israel in political and general
historical importance, it nevertheless enjoyed more than one considerable advantage over the larger kingdom. It was much safer from foreign foes; for the Egyptians, as a rule, were not dangerous neighbours. But its chief advantage consisted in the stability of its dynasty. It was David who had elevated Judah and Jerusalem to a position of historical significance, and the prosperity of his house was most intimately connected with that of the town and territory, and even with that of religion. On two separate occasions it occurred that a king of Judah was murdered by subjects, but in both cases the "people of the land" rose up against the assassins and once more placed a member of the Davidic family upon the throne. The one actual recorded revolution was that against Athaliah, which had for its object the restoration of the throne to the legitimate heir. Under shelter of the monarchy the other institutions of the state also acquired a measure of permanency such as was not found at all in Israel, where everything depended on the character of individuals, and the existing order of things was ever liable to be subjected to fresh dispute. Life in Judah was a much more stable affair, though not so exciting or dramatic. Possibly the greater isolation of the little kingdom, its more intimate relations with the neighbouring wilderness, and the more primitive modes of life which resulted, were also factors which contributed to this general result.
In the capital of course the life was not primitive, and its influence was undoubtedly greater than that of the country. Successive kings exerted themselves for its external improvement, and in this respect Hezekiah ben Ahaz was specially distinguished. Above all they manifested sincere interest in the temple, which from an early period exerted a powerful force of attraction over the entire mass of the population. They regulated the cultus according to their individual tastes, added to it or curtailed it at their pleasure, and dealt with the sacred treasures as they chose. Although the priests had in a certain sense great power—the conspiracy against Athaliah was led not by a prophet but by a priest,—they were nevertheless subjects of the king, and had to act according to his orders. That the cultus of Jehovah at Jerusalem was purer than that at Bethel or at Samaria is an assertion which is contradicted by more than one well-attested fact. In this respect there was no essential difference between Israel and Judah. It was in Israel that the reaction against Baal-worship originated which afterwards passed over into Judah; the initiative in all such matters was Israel's. There
the experiments were made from which Jerusalem learned the lesson. How deep was the interest felt in the affairs of the larger kingdom by the inhabitants even of one of the smaller provincial towns of Judah is shown in the instance of Amos of Tekoah.
Step by step with the decline of Israel after the death of Jeroboam II. did Judah rise in importance; it was already preparing to take the inheritance. The man through whom the transition of the history from Israel to Judah was effected, and who was the means of securing for the latter kingdom a period of respite which was fruitful of the best results for the consolidation of true religion, was the Prophet Isaiah. The history of his activity is at the same time the history of Judah during that period.
Isaiah became conscious of his vocation in the year of King Uzziah's death; his earliest discourses date from the beginning of the reign of Ahaz. In them he contemplates the imminent downfall of Samaria, and threatens Judah also with the chastisement its political and social sins deserve. In chap. ix., and also in chaps. ii.-v., he still confines himself on the whole to generalities quite after the manner of Amos. But on the occasion of the expedition of the allied Syrians and Ephraimites against Jerusalem he interposed with bold decision in the sphere of practical politics. To the very last he endeavoured to restrain Ahaz from his purpose of summoning the Assyrians to his help; he assured him of Jehovah's countenance, and offered him a token in pledge. When the king refused this, the prophet recognised that matters had gone too far, and that the coming of the Assyrians could not be averted. He then declared that the dreaded danger would indeed be obviated by that course, but that another far more serious would be incurred. For the Egyptians would resist the westward movement of Assyria, and Judah as the field of war would be utterly laid waste; only a remnant would remain as the basis of a better future.
The actual issue, however, was not yet quite so disastrous. The Egyptians did not interfere with the Assyrians, and left Samaria and Damascus to their fate. Judah became indeed tributary to Assyria, but at the same time enjoyed considerable prosperity. Henceforward the prophet's most zealous efforts were directed to the object of securing the maintenance, at any price, of this condition of affairs. He sought by every means at his command to keep Judah from any sort of intervention
in the politics of the great powers, in order that it might devote itself with undivided energies to the necessities of internal affairs. He actually succeeded in maintaining the peace for many years, even at times when in the petty kingdoms around the spirit of revolt was abroad. The ill success of all attempts elsewhere to shake off the yoke confirmed him in the conviction that Assyria was the rod of chastisement wielded by Jehovah over the nations, who had no alternative but to yield to its iron sway.
While thirty years passed thus peacefully away so far as foreign relations were concerned, internal changes of all the greater importance were taking place. Hezekiah ben Ahaz undertook for the first time a thoroughgoing reformation in the cultus of Jehovah. "He removed the high places, and brake the pillars, and cut down the Ashera, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made;" so we are told in 2 Kings xviii. 4, with a mixture of the general and the special that does not inspire much confidence. For, e.g., the "high places" which Solomon had raised on the Mount of Olives were not removed by Hezekiah, although they stood quite close to Jerusalem, and moreover were consecrated to foreign deities. But in every respect there must have been a wide difference between the objects and results of the reformations of Hezekiah and Josiah. Undoubtedly Hezekiah undertook his reforms in worship under the influence of Isaiah. Following in the footsteps of Hosea, who had been the first to take and to express offence at the use of images in the worship of Jehovah, this prophet, utilising the impression which the destruction of Samaria had produced in Jerusalem (Isa. xvii., cf. Jer. iii.), strove to the utmost against the adoration of the work of men's hands in the holy places, against the Asheras and pillars (sun-pillars), and above all against the ephods, i.e., the idols of silver and gold, of which the land was full. But against the high places in and by themselves, against the multiplicity of the altars of Jehovah, he made no protest. "(In the Messianic time) ye shall loathe and cast away as an unclean thing your graven images with silver coverings and your molten images overlaid with gold," he says (xxx. 22); and the inference is that he contemplated the purification of the high places from superstitious excesses, but by no means their abolition. To this one object 1
[paragraph continues] Hezekiah's reformation seems to have confined itself,—an object of much greater primary importance than the destruction of the altars themselves. Their destruction was a measure which arose simply out of despair of the possibility of cleansing them.
Sargon, king of Assyria, was succeeded in 705 by Sennacherib. The opportunity was seized by Merodach Baladan of Babylon to secure his independence; and by means of an embassy he urged Hezekiah also to throw off the yoke. The proposal was adopted, and the king of Judah was joined by other petty kingdoms, especially some of the Philistine towns. Relations with Egypt were established to secure its support in case of need. Sennacherib's more immediate and pressing business in Babylon enabled Palestine to gain some time; but the issue of that revolt made self-deception impossible as to the probable result of the other movement.
This was the period at which Isaiah, already far advanced in life, wielded his greatest influence. The preparations for revolt, the negotiations with Egypt, were concealed from him,—a proof how greatly he was feared at court. When he came to know of them, it was already too late to undo what had been done. But he could at least give vent to his anger. With Jerusalem, it seemed to him, the story of Samaria was repeating itself; uninstructed by that sad lesson, the capital was giving itself up to the mad intoxication of leaders who would inevitably bring her to ruin. "Quietness and rest" had been the motto given by Jehovah to Judah, powerless as it was and much in need of a period of peace; instead of this, defiance based on ignorance and falsehood expressed the prevailing temper. But those who refused to listen to the intelligible language of Jehovah would be compelled to hear Him speak in Assyrian speech in a way that would deafen and blind them. Isaiah shows himself no less indignant against the crowd that stupidly stared at his excitement than against the God-forsaken folly of the king, with his counsellors, his priests, and his prophets. They do not suffer themselves to be shaken out of their ordinary routine by the gravity of such a crisis as this; the living work of Jehovah is to them a sealed book; their piety does not extend beyond the respect they show for certain human precepts learnt by rote.
Meanwhile Sennacherib, at the head of a great army, was advancing against Philistia and Judah along the Phœnician coast (701). Having captured Ascalon, he next laid siege to Ekron, which, after the combined
[paragraph continues] Egyptian and Ethiopian army sent to its relief had been defeated at Eltheke, fell into the enemy's hand, and was severely dealt with. Simultaneously various fortresses of Judah were occupied, and the level country was devastated (Isaiah i.). The consequence was that Hezekiah, in a state of panic, offered to the Assyrians his sub-mission, which was accepted on payment of a heavy penalty, he being permitted, however, to retain possession of Jerusalem. He seemed to have got cheaply off from the unequal contest.
The way being thus cleared, Sennacherib pressed on southwards, for the Egyptians were collecting their forces against him. The nearer he came to the enemy the more undesirable did he find it that he should leave in his rear so important a fortress as Jerusalem in the hands of a doubtful vassal. Notwithstanding the recently ratified treaty, therefore, he demanded the surrender of the city, believing that a policy of intimidation would be enough to secure it from Hezekiah. But there was another personality in Jerusalem of whom his plans had taken no account. Isaiah had indeed regarded the revolt from Assyria as a rebellion against Jehovah Himself, and therefore as a perfectly hopeless undertaking which could only result in the utmost humiliation and sternest chastisement for Judah. But still more distinctly than those who had gone before him did he hold firm as an article of faith the conviction that the kingdom would not be utterly annihilated; all his speeches of solemn warning closed with the announcement that a remnant should return and form the kernel of a new commonwealth to be fashioned after Jehovah's own heart. For him, in contrast to Amos, the great crisis had a positive character; in contrast to Hosea, he did not expect a temporary suspension of the theocracy, to be followed by its complete reconstruction, but in the pious and God-fearing individuals who were still to be met with in this Sodom of iniquity, he saw the threads, thin indeed yet sufficient, which formed the links between the Israel of the present and its better future. Over against the vain confidence of the multitude Isaiah had hitherto brought into prominence the darker obverse of his religious belief, but now he confronted their present depression with its bright reverse; faint-heartedness was still more alien to his nature than temerity. In the name of Jehovah he bade King Hezekiah be of good courage, and urged that he should by no means surrender. The Assyrians would not be able to take the city, not even to shoot an arrow into it nor to bring up their siege train
against it. "I know thy sitting, thy going, and thy standing," is Jehovah's language to the Assyrian, "and also thy rage against me. And I will put my ring in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest." And thus it proved in the issue. By a still unexplained catastrophe, the main army of Sennacherib was annihilated on the frontier between Egypt and Palestine, and Jerusalem thereby freed from all danger. The Assyrian king had to save himself by a hurried retreat to Nineveh; Isaiah was triumphant. A more magnificent close of a period of influential public life can hardly be imagined.
What Sennacherib himself relates of his expedition against his rebellious vassals in Palestine (George Smith, Assyrian Eponym Canon, p. 67, 68, 131-136) runs parallel with 2 Kings xviii. 14-16, but not with the rest of the Bible narrative. These three verses are peculiar, and their source is different from that of the context. After having captured various Phœnician cities, and received tribute from a number of kings, his first measure is forcibly to restore the Assyrian governor who had been expelled from Ascalon, and next he turns his arms against Ekron. This city had put in irons its own king, Padi (who remained loyal to the suzerain), and handed him over to Hezekiah, who appears as the soul of the rebellion in these quarters. The Egyptians, who as usual have a hand in the matter, advance with an army for the relief of the beleaguered city, but are defeated near Eltheke in the immediate neighbourhood; Ekron is taken, remorselessly chastised, and forced to take Padi back again as its king. For Hezekiah in the meantime has delivered up his prisoner, and, terrified by the fall of his fortresses and the devastation of his territory, has accepted the position of a vassal once more, paying at the same time a heavy fine, inclusive of 30 talents of gold and 800 of silver. Such is the Assyrian account. If we treat the 300 talents mentioned in 2 Kings xviii. 14 as Syrian (=800 Babylonian), it completely fills in the vague outlines given in 2 Kings xviii. 14-16, and, while confirming in their place immediately after ver. 13 these verses, unrelated as they are to the main connection of the Biblical narrative, corrects them only in one point, by making it probable that the subjection of Hezekiah (which is not equivalent to the surrender of his city) took place while Sennacherib was still before Ekron, and not at later date when he had gone further south towards Libnah. As regards his further advance towards Egypt, and the reasons of his sudden withdrawal (related by Herodotus also from Egyptian tradition), the great king is silent, having nothing to boast of in it. The battle of Eltheke, which is to be regarded only as an episode in the siege of Ekron, being merely the repulse of the Egyptian relieving army, was not an event of great historical importance, and ought not to be brought into any connection either with 2 Kings xix. 7 or with xix. 35; Sennacherib's inscription speaks only of
the first and prosperous stage of the expedition, not of the decisive one which resulted so disastrously for him, as must be clear from the words themselves to every unprejudiced reader.
480:1 That is, to the abolition of the images. Jeremiah's polemic is directed no longer against the images, but against wood and stone, i.e., Asheras and pillars. The date of the reformation under Hezekiah is uncertain; perhaps it ought to be placed after Sennacherib's withdrawal from Jerusalem.