This month’s artifact is known as the Sennacherib Prism. Made in ancient Assyria in c. 700 BC of baked clay, the prism is approximately 15 inches tall. The cuneiform script in the Akkadian language refers to Israelite King Hezekiah and to Assyrian King Sennacherib, both of whom are mentioned in the biblical text (cf. 2 Kings 19:9). In the inscription the Assyrian ruler boasts of trapping Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a caged bird. The artifact was purchased from a Baghdad antiquities dealer in c. 1919 and is now in the Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago. It is one of eight similar prisms with nearly identical text found so far (e.g., the Taylor Prism in the British Museum).
Of particular interest to biblical studies is the “spin” Sennacherib put on the story of his assault into the land of Israel in comparison to the typical portrayals in the biblical text of this and similar events. For instance, Sennacherib included his victories such as his aforementioned claim to have locked up Hezekiah in Jerusalem like a caged bird; yet he conveniently neglected to mention that he lost his entire army in the process. In fact, this approach to recording events is quite typical for Ancient Near Eastern rulers. In contrast, the Biblical text repeatedly takes a more evenhanded attitude to historical events by recording both the victories and defeats of the Israelites, and, perhaps more importantly, the reasons thereof. The more balanced approach by the biblical authors speaks to their interest in historical and theological accuracy, and also to the fact that they were inspired by One who has similar interests.
For information on similar artifacts related to the Bible, see Bible and Archaeology – Online Museum.
(Photo: BiblePlaces.com. Significant resources for further study of this “group” of prisms: The Context of Scripture, volume 2, pages 302-303; Lost Treasures of the Bible, by Fant and Reddish, pages 158-163.)