The Nimrud Dogs

The Nimrud Dogs


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In 612 BCE the Neo-Assyrian Empire fell to the invading forces of Babylonians, Persians, Medes, and Scythians. The empire had been expanding in every direction since the reign of Adad Nirari II (c. 912-891 BCE) and grew more powerful under great kings such as Tiglath Pileser III (745-727 BCE), Shalmaneser V (727-722 BCE), Sargon II (722-705 BCE), Sennacherib (705-681 BCE), and Esarhaddon (681-669 BCE) until, by the time of Ashurbanipal (668-627 BCE), it had grown too large to manage effectively. Ashurbanipal was the last of the Assyrian kings who had the personal power and skill to manage an empire, and after he died the vassal states recognized their chance to free themselves. The many regions which had been held so tightly under Assyrian control seized on the weakness of the fracturing empire and, banding together, marched to destroy it.

All of the great Assyrian cities, many of which had endured for millennia, were sacked and their treasures carried off, destroyed, or discarded at the various sites. The Assyrians had held the region under such a tight grip that, once it was loosened, the former subject-states knew no restraint in venting their frustrations and seeking revenge for past injustices. Great cities such as Nineveh, Kalhu, and Ashur were sacked, with Nineveh so thoroughly destroyed that future generations could not even tell where it had been.

Excavations & Discovery

At Kalhu, site of one of the former capitals of the empire, the sands of Mesopotamia gradually covered the ruins, and the city probably would have been forgotten were it not for the prominent mention of Mesopotamian cities such as Babylon and Nineveh in the Bible. In the 19th century CE European explorers, seeking historical evidence for biblical narratives, descended upon Mesopotamia and recovered these lost cities. Among these was Austen Henry Layard (1817-1894 CE) who was the first to systematically excavate Kalhu, afterwards known as Nimrud.

Layard and the others were sponsored by European organizations and museums who hoped their efforts would uncover physical evidence proving the historical accuracy of the Bible, specifically the books of the Old Testament. These expeditions, however, had a completely different effect than what was intended. Prior to the mid-19th century CE, the Bible was considered the oldest book in the world and the narratives thought to be original works; the archaeologists discovered that contrary to this belief Mesopotamia had created narratives of the Great Flood and the Fall of Man centuries before any of the biblical books were written.

These discoveries increased European interest in the region, and more archaeologists and scholars were sent. When Layard began his work at Kalhu, he did not even know which city he was excavating. He believed he had discovered Nineveh and, in fact, published his bestselling book on the excavation, Nineveh and its Remains, in 1849 CE, still confident of his conclusions. His book was so popular and the artifacts he uncovered so intriguing that further expeditions to the region were quickly funded. Further work in the region established that the ruins Layard had uncovered were not those of Nineveh but of Kalhu, which the scholars of the time associated with the biblical Nimrud, the name the site has been known by ever since.

The Nimrud Ivories

Layard's work was continued by William K. Loftus (1820-1858 CE) who discovered the famous Nimrud Ivories (also known as the Loftus Ivories). These incredible works of art had been thrown down a well by the invading forces and perfectly preserved by the mud and earth which covered them. Historian and curator Joan Lines of the Metropolitan Museum of Art describes these pieces:

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The most striking objects from Nimrud are the ivories - exquisitely carved heads that once must have ornamented furniture in the royal palaces; boxes inlaid with gold and decorated with processions of small figures; decorative plaques; delicately carved small animals. (234)

The discovery of the ivories suggested there could be even greater finds buried in the former wells, crypts, and ruined buildings of the cities and further expeditions to Mesopotamia were funded. Throughout the rest of the 19th and into the 20th century CE, archeologists from all over the world worked the sites of the region, uncovering the ancient cities and retrieving artifacts from the sands.

In 1951-1952 CE, the archaeologist (and husband of mystery writer Agatha Christie) Max Mallowan (1904-1978 CE) came to Nimrud and discovered even more ivories than Loftus had. Mallowan's discoveries, in fact, are among the most recognizable from museum exhibits and photographs. The ivories are routinely cited, naturally, as Mallowan's greatest find at Nimrud, but a lesser-known discovery is of equal importance: the Nimrud Dogs.

Dogs & Magic

Dogs featured prominently in the everyday life of the Mesopotamians. The historian Wolfram Von Soden notes this, writing:

The dog (Sumerian name, ur-gi; Semitic name, Kalbu) was one of the earliest domestic animals and served primarily to protect herds and dwellings against enemies. Despite the fact that dogs roamed freely in the cities, the dog in the ancient Orient was at all times generally bound to a single master and was cared for by him. (91)

Dogs were kept as pets but also as protectors and were often depicted in the company of deities. Inanna (later Ishtar), one of the most popular goddesses in Mesopotamian history, was frequently depicted with her dogs, and Gula, goddess of healing, was closely associated with dogs because of the curative effect of their saliva. People noticed that when a dog was injured it would lick itself to heal; dog saliva was considered an important medicinal substance and the dog a gift of the gods. The dog, in fact, became a symbol of Gula from the Old Babylonian Period (c. 2000-1600 BCE) onward.

The dog statuettes did not represent beloved pets but divine protection. They were created to keep safe the people one cared for.

The dog as a protector, however, was as important as its role as healer. During the time of Hammurabi's reign (1792-1750 BCE), dog figurines were regularly cast in clay or bronze and placed under thresholds as protective entities. The scholar E. A. Wallis Budge, writing on discoveries at the city of Kish, notes how "in one room two clay figures of Papsukhal, messenger of the gods, and three figures of dogs were found: the names of two of the dogs are inscribed on them, viz., 'Biter of his enemy' and 'Consumer of his life'" (209). After a ceremony 'awakening' their spirit, these dogs were positioned in buildings to defend against supernatural forces. Joan Lines describes the purpose of these figures further:

Such figurines, made of clay or bronze, were symbols of the Gula-Ninkarrak, goddess of healing and defender of homes. They were buried beneath the floor, usually under the doorstep, to scare away evil spirits and demons and an incantation called "Fierce Dogs" was recited during the ceremony. Many of the dog effigies had their names inscribed on them. (242-243)

These dog statuettes are significant in understanding the Mesopotamian concept of magic and magical protection. The Mesopotamians believed that people were co-workers with the gods to maintain order against the forces of chaos. They took care of the tasks the gods had no time for. In return, the gods gave them all they needed in life. There were many gods in the Mesopotamian pantheon, however, and even though one might mean a person only the best, another could have been offended by one's thoughts or actions. Further, there were ghosts, evil spirits, and demons to be considered. The Mesopotamians, therefore, developed charms, amulets, spells, and rituals for protection, and among these were the dog statuettes.

The Mesopotamians believed that their actions, however small, were recognized and rewarded or punished by the gods and what they did on earth mattered in the heavens. The creation of the dog statuettes drew on the protective power of the spirit of the dog as an eternal and powerful entity, and, through rituals observed in their creation, the figures were imbued with this power. Scholar Carolyn Nakamura comments on this:

Through this production of figurines, Neo-Assyrian apotropaic [evil-averting] rituals trace out complex, and even disorienting, relations between humans, deities, and various supernatural beings in space and time...the creation of powerful supernatural beings in diminutive clay form mimes the divine creation of being from primordial clay. (33)

Just as the gods had created humanity, humans could now create their own helpers. Once created, the dogs performed their important function of protection in concert with other magical artifacts. At Nimrud, Mallowan discovered magical boxes in the rooms of houses which also served to protect the inhabitants. The boxes would be placed in the four corners of a room and often at the four points where a bed would have rested, and were carved with charms to protect against evil spirits and demons. The dogs, buried beneath the entranceways to the home, were the first line of defense against supernatural dangers and the amuletic boxes inside the house provided an added degree of comfort and security.

The Nimrud Dogs

The rituals surrounding dog figurines are exemplified by the location of a set of five such figures discovered by Layard in the 19th century CE at Nineveh. These were all found under a doorway of the North Palace, and this is in keeping with the practice described above. To ensure maximum protection, it was recommended that one bury two sets of five such figures on either side of a door or beneath the doorway.

At Nimrud, Mallowan found the dog statuettes in a well in the corner of a room of the Northwest Palace. The discovery is described by scholar Ruth A. Horry:

Mallowan's team came across a deep well in the corner of Room NN which was filled with sludge that Mallowan described as being "the consitency of plaster of Paris". No electric pumps were available to dig out the well so the workmen had to scoop out the water and sludge by hand, aided only by the heavy-duty winching equipment borrowed from the Iraq Petroleum Company. It was difficult and dangerous work as the well bottom repeatedly filled up with water...[however] the sludge had provided ideal conditions for preserving materials that would otherwise have decayed, such as fragments of Assyrian rope and wooden well equipment that had accidentally fallen in. (1-2)

Among these other objects were those which had been purposefully thrown into the well during the sack of the city, and included in these were the ivories and the dog statuary. Mallowan interpreted these pieces as being discarded during the destruction of Nimrud - rather than simply thrown in the well by their owners - based on other articles, such as foreign horse harnesses, found with them.

Five of the dog figures were clearly canine and some had their names inscribed on them (just as the ones found at Nineveh did), but the sixth had no name and, further, looked more like a cat. The cat was never considered a protective entity in Mesopotamia, however, and cats are not represented by any amulets or statuary. Horry writes:

Omens portray [cats] as wild animals, at best untameable ones, that wandered in and out of houses at will. Humans and cats lived around each other but did not engage directly...in other words, the inhabitants of Kalhu, even the king in his palace, could not rely on cats to guard a building, whether from mice or more supernatural forces. (2-3)

Mallowan had difficulty in interpreting the piece for this reason: although it looked like a cat, there was no precedent for cat figures or for cats represented in amuletic imagery at all. In his initial reports, he cites the discovery of five dog figurines and one other which was "feline in character" (Horry, 5). The preponderance of evidence, however, argued against interpreting the figure as a cat, and Mallowan later seems to have believed that it was a dog with a "feline appearance" (Horry, 5). Mallowan delivered his finds to the Iraqi authorities, and in keeping with his contract, some went to the Iraqi Museum and some to other institutions. The 'cat' figure was reinterpreted by the British scholars at Cambridge as a cat and remained so until 2013 CE when the figurines were studied as a group and it was recognized that the cat figure was another dog.

The Dogs Today & Their Significance

The dog figures found at Nineveh are in the British Museum today while the Nimrud Dogs can be found in museums at Baghdad, Iraq; Cambridge, England; New York, America, and Melbourne, Australia. The figures from the Iraq Museum were left untouched in the looting of 2003 CE and remain a part the permanent collection.

Visitors to these museums quite rightly marvel at exhibits of Mesopotamian art such as the famous Nimrud Ivories but often overlook the dog figurines. Even in those exhibits where their history is told, the focus is largely on their discovery with only brief mention of what they meant to the people who created them. Often, it seems, the small dogs are interpreted by visitors as representations of ancient pets. The dog statuettes did not represent beloved pets, however, but divine protection. They were created to keep safe the people one cared for. Centuries ago, people crafted the dog figures, gave them life through ritual, and buried them beneath their doorway for peace of mind.

In the same way, an individual living today might install a security system in the home, make sure doors and locks are secure, perhaps even hang a religious symbol or totemic talisman near the door. The Nimrud Dogs are significant artifacts because they are so personal. Nakamura comments on their creation and use, noting how "an idiom of protection arises in material enactment of memory" (33). The "enactment of memory" in the past had to do with the awakening of the spirit of the dog in the figurine. Today, however, the Nimrud Dogs evoke the spirit of the past and the memory of those who created the figures to protect themselves and those they loved from harm.


XKV8R: The (Retired) Blog of Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.

The Biblical Archaeology Society is pleased to announce the publication of the following articles in the May/June 2019 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) Volume 45, Number 3:

“Inside the Huqoq Synagogue”
By Jodi Magness, Shua Kisilevitz, Matthew Grey, Dennis Mizzi, Karen Britt, and Ra‘anan Boustan
Season after season, archaeologists have uncovered stunning mosaics at Huqoq’s synagogue in Galilee. From Biblical scenes to the first historical episode ever found in a synagogue, the mosaics’ themes never cease to amaze and surprise. Join us on a tour of the Huqoq synagogue—with its vivid mosaics and much more!

“Artistic Influences in Synagogue Mosaics: Putting the Huqoq Synagogue in Context”
By Karen Britt and Ra‘anan Boustan
How do the mosaics from Huqoq’s synagogue compare to mosaics from other Late Roman synagogues in Galilee and throughout the Mediterranean world? Their similarities and differences reveal cultural and artistic trends from this period.

“From Pets to Physicians: Dogs in the Biblical World”
By Justin David Strong
What roles did dogs play in the Biblical world? A survey of dogs’ portrayals in ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures shows that far from being perceived as “unclean,” dogs served as companions, guard dogs, sheep dogs, hunters, and—surprisingly—physicians. These diverse roles inform our understanding of the famous parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31).

“Who Were the Assyrians?”
By Christopher B. Hays
The Assyrians referenced in the Hebrew Bible were a mighty force that exerted power over much of the Near East, including Israel and Judah, in the ninth through seventh centuries B.C.E. Learn about their beginnings over a millennium before they appeared in the Bible and how they expanded their empire from Urartu to Egypt.

FIRST PERSON
“Who Owns History?”
By Robert R. Cargill

CLASSICAL CORNER
“Checking Out Roman Libraries”
By Christina Triantafillou

BIBLICAL VIEWS
“Paul, the Python Girl, and Human Trafficking”
By John Byron

ARCHAEOLOGICAL VIEWS
“Herod the Great Gardener”
By Kathryn L. Gleason

REVIEWS
“The Careful Dialogue between Archaeology and the Bible ”
The Bible and Archaeology by Matthieu Richelle
Reviewed by Eric H. Cline


The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

This two-metre high stone monument is inscribed with words and imagery celebrating the military successes of king Shalmaneser III. After its discovery in 1846, the Obelisk quickly became famous for containing the earliest depiction of a king of Israel  PGP  . It is now on display in the many museums around the world, including the British Museum  TT  in London.


The city governor's 'dinner service'

Image 3 : Cache of fine quality ceramics found on a mud brick pedestal in Room S of the Governor's Palace. View large image. Photo: BSAI/BISI.

Fine quality vessels, similar to those in the Northwest Palace, were discovered in 1950-51 in the residence of Nimrud's city governor (3) . The BSAI excavators discovered a mud-brick table in Room S, covered with around 100 fine quality ceramic plates, wine cups, bottles and goblets (Image 3). MAA's beaker D 1953.16 is part of this group. The vessels were buried when the building was sacked by invaders in 612 BC.

Mallowan imaginatively dubbed this newly-discovered collection of vessels the "governor's dinner service":

"The last phase in the lifetime of the palace was illustrated by a dramatic discovery. This was a mud-brick table in one of the rooms. which contained a set of nearly a hundred beautifully made palace-ware pots. We called it the governor's dinner service: plates and wine cups, goblets and other vessels lay in a heap on a big mud-brick pedestal buried under the debris of collapsed walls." (4)

Further examples of fine quality Assyrian pottery from the 7th century BC were found elsewhere the governor's residence, such as dimpled palace ware beaker D 1953.10, found in Room M1. Dimpled palace ware  TT  is so named because of the distinctive dimples around the base, which were made by the potter's fingertips pinching the wet clay during production. Also from the governor's residence is MAA's palace ware beaker D 1953.12, found in Room Y. The exact find location or findspot  TT  was written in ink onto this object while still at the field site at Nimrud (Image 4).

Image 4 : 'ND 49 PAL Rm Y in fill above floor 1': the findspot was written onto palace ware beaker MAA D 1953.12 by one of the excavation teamwhile still at Nimrud. The abbreviation '49 PAL' stands for the Governor's Palace, which was initially designated the "1949 building" by the excavators (5) . This beaker was found in Room Y, in the fill layer above the first floor level found. View large image.


The Archaeology Channel

A filmmaker recounts the remarkable story of recovering the Treasures of Nimrud in the Central Bank of Iraq and comments on Iraq's heritage crisis.

The Interview:

The Treasures of Nimrud, jewelry and other precious artifacts recovered in the late 1980s from Assyrian royal tombs near Mosul in northern Iraq, have been compared to the contents of Tutankhamun's tomb. In the aftermath of the looting that took place in Baghdad following the demise of the Saddam Hussein regime, many feared that this collection was lost forever along with countless other priceless objects from Irag's National Museum and elsewhere in the country. Early in June 2003, film-maker Jason Williams and his National Geographic camera crew succeeded in locating and recovering the Treasures of Nimrud and other precious heritage objects in the Central Bank of Iraq, where in 1990 they had been placed for safekeeping. Meanwhile, looting is reportedly continuing at archaeological sites elsewhere in the country. In this interview, recorded via telephone on 31 July 2003, Mr. Williams recounts this remarkable story and offers his perspectives on the heritage crisis in Iraq.

About Jason Williams:

Jason Williams is the President of JWM Productions. His multiple Emmy Award-winning work has been seen on the BBC, CBS, UK Channel 4, UK Channel 5, CNN, Discovery, Le Cinq, National Geographic, NBC, PBS, TBS, and TLC, as well as on numerous broadcast, cable and satellite outlets around the world. Jason has produced and directed programs in thirty countries and on six continents. He has made films on such diverse subjects as natural history, anthropology, current affairs, ancient history and marine technology.

His career began as an anthropologist, but, in 1985, he switched to journalism, producing live news and current events programming for CNN. A Senior Producer for TBS Productions in the late 1980's, he became Vice-President of Development & Production for Time-Life in 1991. As Series Producer and Producer of the landmark series, Lost Civilizations, he won the Primetime Emmy for Best Informational Series in 1996. That same year, he founded JWM Productions with Bill Morgan. Their company is now based in Takoma Park, Maryland, and has produced more than 120 hours of programming over the past six years.

Currently in production is a new reality format for the History Channel, Time Titans The Thieves of Baghdad for National Geographic's Ultimate Explorer, Nazi Grand Prix for Channel 4 (UK) andNatural Born Sinners for Animal Planet. Other recent productions include Aftermath for Discovery Health Turkey Secrets for Animal Planet The Treasure Seekers for National Geographic The Unfinished War for CNN 24/7 for TLC and Granada Hidden Worlds for Travel and Time Life Beating Time for Discovery Health Biomes & Eco-Systems for Kids for Schlessinger Media Challenger:Go For Launch for Discovery and the BBC, and Millennium Man for PBS and Channel 4.

Past productions include contemporary and historical programming such as Treasure!, Behind the Badge and Inside the Inferno for TLC expedition and adventure programming like Expedition Discovery for Discovery and Great National Parks of the World for The Reader's Digest and natural history films like Underdogs: Prairie Dogs Under Attack and Tiger! for Turner Original Productions and the National Wildlife Federation, as well as The Velvet Killer and the Emmy award-winning Saving JJ for National Geographic Explorer.


Nimrud: Photos show IS destruction of ancient Iraqi city

Much of the area lies in rubble, with shattered statues and a ziggurat reduced to a fraction of its size.

IS circulated video footage showing militants blowing up or smashing up monuments and artefacts last year.

Government forces recaptured Nimrud as part of a wider assault on Mosul, the last major IS stronghold in Iraq.

A senior source in the Iraqi military's Nineveh Operations command reported significant advances around the city on Tuesday.

Warplanes bombed IS positions in Mosul's airport, on the southern outskirts, as units of elite Rapid Response Division encircled the nearby village of Albu Saif.

Counter-Terrorism Service personnel meanwhile fought fierce battles with IS militants in the eastern district of Qadisiya al-Thaniya, according to the source.

The city of Nimrud, about 32km (20 miles) south of Mosul, was founded more than 3,300 years ago. Then known as Kalhu, it was a capital of the Assyrian empire.

The site covered some 3.5 sq km (1.35 sq miles) and included a prominent "citadel" mound, the palaces and tombs of Assyrian kings, temples to their gods, colossal statues depicting lions and winged bulls, and widely revered frescos.

IS militants captured Nimrud in June 2014, shortly after they overran Mosul, routing the Iraqi army.

In March 2015, the Iraqi tourism ministry reported that militants had used bulldozers and other heavy vehicles to vandalise the site.

A month later, IS published a video showing militants smashing statues and frescos with sledgehammers before blowing up much of what remained.

On Tuesday, a pro-government tribal militia commander visiting the site for the first time in two years told the AFP news agency: "When you came here before, you could imagine the life as it used to be. Now there is nothing."

"One hundred percent has been destroyed," Ali al-Bayati added. "Losing Nimrud is more painful to me than even losing my own house."

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) described the destruction of Nimrud last year as a "war crime", saying IS was "clearly determined to wipe out all traces of the history of Iraq's people".

The jihadist group has denounced pre-Islamic art and architecture as idolatrous, and has destroyed several other ancient sites in Iraq and neighbouring Syria.


Dogs and Gods

A plaque dating back to the reign of Babylonian king Nabu-mukin-apli, 978-943 BCE, showing Gula with one of her pooches. (Source)

In her book, The Healing Goddess Gula: Towards an Understanding of Ancient Babylonian Medicine, Barbara Böck writes about Lamashtu, a demon whose “specialty is killing babies,” among other horrible things. To protect their babies from Lamashtu, Mesopotamians called on Gula and her dogs.

Gula, among other things, was the goddess of healing and dogs. She is always either depicted with a dog at her side (as shown above) or as a dog herself it was during the Old Babylonian Period (c. 2000- 1600 BCE) that her symbol became simply the dog.

When Gula was called upon through an incantation to keep Lamashtu from snatching a baby, her dogs faced the demon and threatened her:

“We are not just any dog, we are dogs of Gula, poised to flay your face, tear your back to pieces, and lacerate your ankles.” (Source)

You’ll note that Gula is primarily the goddess of healing, though she wears a few more hats, including that of being the goddess of dogs, but what do those things have to do with each other so that they exist in one deity?

Well, dogs were the sacred companions of Gula because they were healers themselves. The saliva of dogs, which Mesopotamians observed could heal wounds, was valued as medicine.

Another part of Gula that the Mesopotamian view of dogs drew from is the fact that the goddess was also associated with the underworld and transformation, things people experience after death. Dogs in this context were the companions of the dead on their journey to the afterlife, where they might have to face demons or other unsavory characters they need protecting from.

It’s a very bittersweet thing, the heights the relationship between dogs and humans reached, especially when you take into consideration that it was children whom dogs accompanied the most on their journeys to the afterlife. (No, I’m not crying, you are.)

Going back to the part about her being the goddess of dogs, Gula protected them (along with cats…this goddess is my kind of goddess), and as Böck writes, a partially-preserved prayer to Gula makes it clear that not doing right by a dog, alive or dead, is really not okay with her:

“He has shown great disrespect which before Gula…

[He saw…] but pretended not to notice it. He saw a wounded dog but he pretended [not to notice it].

He saw [a…dog] but pretended not to notice it. The dogs [were] fighting…

[…they were wai]ling and he saw it but pretended not to notice it…

[He saw a dead dog] but did not bury it and threw it to the ground…

…the dogs were fighting but he did not remove them…” (Source)

Keep in mind, we’re talking about a deity associated with the underworld, which means it’s best to not anger her, or you might need to find another way to protect yourself from harm. And you might as well forget about a dog coming to your rescue then.


Vilified in the Bible, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, as seen in this painting by Frederic Leighton, circa 1863, were among the first rulers of Israel as a true kingdom.

King Solomon, son of the legendary giant-killer David, has long been held up as a founder of the first Israelite kingdom. Historical and archeological evidence, though, shows that this wasn’t the case.

King Solomon has been given credit for many of the impressive building projects that actually happened during the Omride Dynasty.

A true kingdom — featuring monumental building projects, a professional army and bureaucracy — didn’t appear on the ancient Near East scene until the early 9th century BCE, during what’s known as the Omride Dynasty.

This won’t sit well with biblical literalists, given that the most famous figures from this line are King Ahab and his notorious wife, Jezebel, a demonized princess from Phoenicia.

Jezebel, in an 1896 painting by John Liston Byam Shaw, wouldn’t be the first woman to get a bad rap in the Bible. (Incidentally, she was originally painted nude, but the work wasn’t selling, so Byam Shaw added clothes.)

Ahab and Jezebel’s Bad Rap

The most famous (or should I say “infamous”?) Omride couple, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, are accused of “repeatedly committing some of the greatest biblical sins: introducing the cult of foreign gods into the land of Israel, murdering faithful priests and prophets of YHWH, unjustly confiscating the property of their subjects, and violating Israel’s sacred traditions with arrogant impunity,” explain Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman in The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origins of Its Sacred Texts.

Judging by the evidence, the authors of the Bible could instead have said that Ahab was “a mighty king who first brought the kingdom of Israel to prominence on the world stage and that his marriage to the daughter of the Phoenician king Ethbaal was a brilliant stroke of international diplomacy,” the authors write. “They might have said that the Omrides built magnificent cities to serve as administrative centers of their expanding kingdom.“

Part of their success was certainly due to the fact that they had one of the most powerful armies in the region.

Omri, the founder of the dynasty, and his son Ahab weren’t particularly pious and did act brutally on occasion. “But the same could be said of virtually every other monarch of the ancient Near East,“ say Finkelstein and Silberman.

King Omri founded the first powerful Israelite dynasty — sorry, King David!

Israel vs. Judah: The North vs. the South

The Bible tells us that the Israelite kingdom of Judah developed in the south, home to the city of Jerusalem. But it was actually the northern region of Israel that progressed faster.

“Judah was always the most remote part of the hill country, isolated by topographical and climatic barriers,“ write Finkelstein and Silberman. “By contrast, the northern part of the highlands consisted of a patchwork of fertile valleys nestled between adjoining hilly slopes.”

That northern region, Israel, was a more productive area, allowing for grain growing as well as the cultivation of olive orchards and vineyards. With the specialization of oil and wine, some villages turned to trade to get the grain and animal products they needed.

“The result was increasing complexity of the northern highland societies and, eventually, the crystallization of something like a state,” write Finkelstein and Silberman. “Export trade to the people of the lowlands and, more important, to the markets in the great cities of Egypt and the ports of the Phoenician coast pushed things still further.“

King David didn’t rule over a powerful kingdom — he was a mere hill country chieftain.

A Look at the Evidence

The story of Ahab and Jezebel’s bad behavior was written over 200 years after their deaths. “The biblical narrative is so thoroughly filled with inconsistencies and anachronisms, and so obviously influenced by the theology of the seventh century BCE writers, that it must be considered more of a historical novel than an accurate historical chronicle,” write Finkelstein and Silberman.

In the 9th century BCE, we finally have firsthand testimonies of events and personalities from the Old Testament in the records of the Assyrians and other neighboring powers. Omri is mentioned in the Mesha stele, found in 1868 in Jordan, at the site of biblical Dibon, the capital of the kingdom of Moab.

Most famously, the Monolith Inscription, discovered in the 1840s at the ancient Syrian site of Nimrud, mentions how fierce an enemy Ahab was.

The archaeological evidence shows that Omri and his court arrived at Samaria, what would become their capital city, around 880 BCE. The remains of an impressive palace have been unearthed there.

“For visitors, traders and official emissaries arriving at Samaria, the visual impression of the Omrides’ royal city must have been stunning,” write Finkelstein and Silberman. “Its elevated platform and huge, elaborate palace bespoke wealth, power and prestige.”

The cities of Megiddo, Hazor and Jezreel followed. The architectural styles all follow certain patterns and were built during Omride rule — and not a century before by King Solomon, as had been previously supposed.

The Monolith of Shalmaneser III mentions a battle the Assyrian army fought against “Ahab the Israelite.”

On top of this, there’s the pottery. You'd be amazed by how much archaeologists can learn from broken pots. They’re all distinct in their way and help pinpoint dates and populations in the various layers of ancient sites. The shards of pottery at these and other locations can be used as a clear dating indicator for the Omride period.

In a battle with the king of Aram, Ahab disguised himself — but was slain by a stray arrow.

Israel’s Forgotten First Kingdom

I’m sure most Jews and Christians don’t want to hear that the first kingdom of Israel wasn’t founded by David or Solomon but by the supposedly devious sinners Ahab and Jezebel. But that’s what happens when you don’t take the Bible as the gospel truth (so to speak) and look to architectural and historical evidence to corroborate (or, as the case may be, disprove) the ancient stories.

Ahab coveted a garden, but when its owner, Naboth, refused to sell it, Jezebel had him stoned to death. The prophet Elijah shows up to curse the couple.

Looking with an open mind and trusting in science — two admittedly rare qualities when dealing with religion — we learn “that David and Solomon were, in political terms, little more than hill country chieftains, who in administrative reach remained on a fairly local level, restricted to the hill country,” write Finkelstein and Silberman.

The supposedly sinful Jezebel is thrown from the palace to her death.

For those with whom the evidence doesn’t sit well, take heart in the prophecy of Elijah, described in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, which supposedly came to pass: Jezebel was thrown from an upper window of the palace, with only her skull, feet and palms remaining. The rest had been eaten by stray dogs. –Wally

As prophesied by Elijah, dogs tore apart and ate most of the corpse of Queen Jezebel. Queen Jezabel Being Punished by Jehu by Andrea Celesti, from the second half of the 17th century


All Dogs Go To Heaven

Dog paw prints accidentally and wonderfully left in clay, from Ur, c. 2047-2030 BCE. (Source)

At Gula’s most prominent temple at Isin, where dogs considered sacred roamed and were taken care of by the priests and priestesses there, underneath the ramp leading up to the building, 30 actual dogs were found buried.

Böck writes that although the dogs might have been sacrificial, it is also possible they were just the sacred dogs of the temple whose burial was simply a way to honor them after their natural passing, as Gula liked.

Of course, I choose to believe the latter option.

I choose to believe the latter option, because I can’t imagine that even in the harsh world of antiquity, where live animals were often buried with their owners in order to accompany them to the afterlife, anyone could stomach a stand-alone sacrifice of a protector, healer, and best friend. I choose to believe that the dog has always, from day one, held a large chunk of humanity’s collective heart. I choose to believe we’re all dog people if we all knew what our ancestors figured out about the creature that is love itself.


Muslims Bulldoze Ancient Assyrian City

From the 1840s to 1850s, the site of Nimrud, in modern-day Iraq, was excavated under English archaeologist Austen Henry Layard. Underneath the sand was discovered a grand city, the political center of an empire which dominated the ancient Middle East.

Nimrud is the site of the ancient Assyrian city of Calah (Akkadian: Kalhu) near the Tigris River. During the Neo-Assyrian period (911-605 BC), it served as an early capital and main residence city of the king of the Assyrian Empire. Within the city lay the great palaces of King Ashurnasirpal II and King Shalmaneser III along with several temples dedicated to various gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon.

The populous and splendorous city of Calah gave testament to the grandiose and militaristic nature of the Assyrians and their kings about three thousand years ago. The city remained as the main royal residence until the court was officially moved by King Sennacherib (705-681 BC) to the city of Nineveh, which lay just to the north. Calah remained an important center until the fall of the Assyrian Empire in the seventh century BC.

The discovery of the site of Calah, in Nimrud, remains one of the most significant findings in the history of Ancient Near Eastern archaeology. Although, there are others who do not share this sentiment.

In 2015, muslim jihadists of the Islamic State in Iraq began systematically destroying ancient sites and artifacts. The museum in Mosul was raided and the specific targets for defacement and destruction were ancient Mesopotamian artifacts. Across Iraq, several ancient Assyrian sites, notably the sites of Nineveh, Dur-Sharrukin, and Hatra, were being demolished.

It appears that a particular target for demolition was the site of Nimrud, wherein the muslims were reported to have begun bulldozing many ancient buildings and defacing many statues and monuments. The remains of the grand palace and the imposing ziggurat were crushed under heavy machinery (explosives were also employed). Though the dismantling was not complete, the damage to the original buildings leaves them almost unrecognizable and irreparable.

The jihadists justified their deliberate destruction of Assyrian culture by claiming that the sites were blasphemous and contrary to Islamic belief. This is the explanation for their desolation of cities which were built over a thousand years before the birth of their prophet and the Arab invasions.

Contrary to common belief, the people occupying modern-day Iraq do not constitute the original populations of ancient Assyria and Babylon. The Arabs with their religion invaded and spread throughout the Middle East during the seventh century AD. They do not respect ancient Assyrian culture because it is admittedly not a part of their heritage. Indeed, the Middle East was a very different place in ancient times, in contrast to more recent history.

This is what they will do with the presence of cultures which do not fit their “beliefs,” no matter how ancient. The Assyrians had formerly ruled the Near East a thousand years before the muslims claimed dominance, and since then their culture has been treated as though it was foreign by muslims today.

The muslims occupied the Middle East over a thousand years ago and now they are beginning their true infiltration into Western Europe. The destruction of these ancient Assyrian cities should be a warning to all countries wishing to give these people refuge. They do not respect your culture, and they most certainly do not respect your religion.


Watch the video: Dogs in Ancient Mesopotamia