Assyrian invasion of Israel
The first Chronicles tells the story of the invasion of the Kingdom of Northern Israel, occupied by ten of the original twelve tribes of Israel. The ruling city of the Northern Kingdom, Samaria, was occupied after a siege of more than three years. The Book of Kings carries accounts of the Assyrian occupation, and the removal of the Israelites to Assyrian exile. Whether large populations of the cities and towns of Northern Israel were actually transported to Assyria or lived in their homelands under Assyrian rule remains a source of debate among scholars of the Bible and of history, but by 720 BCE all of Northern Israel was under Assyrian rule.
The Hebrew Bible books of Isaiah, Chronicles, and Second Kings tell of the Siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians. King Hezekiah of Judah, as well as his predecessor King Ahaz, allowed their kingdom to become a de facto vassal state to the Assyrians, paying annual tribute to its rulers. When Hezekiah reconquered lands from the Philistines in the Negev and negotiated an alliance with Egypt, he suspended the tribute to the Assyrians. As the Assyrians prepared for an invasion of Judah Hezekiah took steps to defend Jerusalem, including reinforcing the walls of the city, the construction of a tunnel to deliver fresh water from the Spring of Gihon, and the filling-in of wells outside the city, to deny water to the Assyrians.
As the Assyrians approached Hezekiah relented and paid a heavy tribute for the promise that they would withdraw, which the Assyrians accepted and continued to approach anyway. The Assyrian commander Sennacherib used psychological warfare to convince the citizens of the city that their god could not help them, as the Assyrians had swept away all false gods before them. The Hebrew account of the siege relates that God sent an angel who killed 185,000 of the Assyrians in a single night, and the devastation of the army forced the Assyrians to withdraw to Nineveh. Josephus somewhat corroborates this account, confirming a pestilence which struck the invaders.
The Assyrian records of the siege of Jerusalem and other cities of Judah are recorded in Sennacherib’s Prism, discovered in Nineveh in 1830. It claims that the size of the Assyrian army caused the allies of the Israelites to flee and that the Assyrians received sizable tribute from the King of Judah. The casualties caused by either the pestilence mentioned by Josephus or the angel in the Hebrew Bible are not mentioned in the prism. The Assyrian wars of conquest continued following the siege of Jerusalem, which the Hebrew Bible claims were a victory of Yahweh over the enemies of his people. The Assyrians likewise claimed victory.
The existence of the Assyrian prism, which contains some references which agree with the Hebrew accounts, also calls much of the biblical version into question. Sennacherib claimed to have captured more than 40 fortified cities of Judah, and from Hezekiah received tribute in money, his daughters, his harem, jewels, antimony, and other payments for which he allowed the King of Judah to retain his throne. From then on Judah paid tribute to Assyria, and several of its cities became vassal states of the Assyrian empire. The prism has been dated to about 690 BCE, making it contemporaneous to events described.