Our last couple of posts have dealt with Pharaoh Tirhakah, the Cushite (Ethiopian) king of Egypt’s 25th dynasty, and mentioned by name in 2 Kings 19:9, in correction with Judah’s good King Hezekiah, and the Assyrian King Sennacherib. We noted, “In some translations (i.e., NKJV) Tirhakah is said to be king of Ethiopia. “Ethiopia” here refers to southern Egypt, and is rendered Cush in CSB, ESV, NASB (Hebrew is כּוּשׁ, transliterated kûš).” Cush is also called the land of Nubia, with Nubia being the more modern name.
On our recent tour of Egypt (Oct. ’22) we had the opportunity to go south of Aswan (positioned “First Cataract” here on map below), where the ancient border separated Egypt from Cush.
Earlier when our group stopped for a visit at Kitchener Island in the Nile, we saw trees and plants from many locations. It is used as a research station called the Botanical Research Institute. While there we saw a sycamore tree, which is referenced many times in the scripture. Unlike the sycamore tree of my home in Alabama, the biblical sycamore produced figs (see Amos 7:14-17). I was explaining to some of our group nearby as to the significance of the tree, when a gentleman who also was listening (apparently an employee) approached. He picked up a fig, broke it open, to let our folks better see. This was very helpful. He also very emphatically said, “I am Nubian.”
Here is the sycamore tree on site there:
Here is a sycamore tree in Israel at Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel. (Located near Modi’in, midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel).
In our present post we further consider Tirhakah, the Cushite (Ethiopian) Pharaoh mentioned in 2 Kings 19:9: “Now Sennacherib received a report that Tirhakah, the Cushite king of Egypt, was marching out to fight against him.
It is fascinating (and illuminating) when there are other historical records, inscriptions, and artifacts which coincide with biblical persons and events. The battle between the Assyrians and Egyptians mentioned in our text above was of no great or decisive consequence. The biblical text shows that Assyria’s King Sennacherib was primarily interested in conquering Judah, and Tirhakah lived to fight another day. As was seen in yesterday’s post, Sennacherib conquered many Judean cities, but Yahweh delivered Jerusalem from his hands (701 BC), and Sennacherib fled back to Nineveh.
But there would be further conflict and fighting between Egypt and Assyria. Sennacherib was succeeded by his son Esarhaddon (2 Kings 19:37). The Lexham Bible Dictionary has the following info which references additional contact/conflict with Assyria and Egypt’s Pharaoh Tirhakah:
In 677 BC, Esarhaddon invaded Egypt after settling a revolt in Ashkelon, but was held back and retreated. In 671 BC he invaded again, this time capturing and sacking Memphis. He also took several members of the royal family captive, including Tirhakah’s son, Ushankhuru. Tirhakah fled to the south while Esarhaddon established Necho I as king of Sais. After Esarhaddon left, Tirhakah attempted to destabilize Necho I. On his way back to deal with the trouble Tirhakah was causing, Esarhaddon died. His son Ashurbanipal defeated Tirhakah, causing him to flee to Thebes, where he died in 664 BC.
Nettelhorst, R. P. (2016). Tirhakah. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, L. Wentz, E. Ritzema, & W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Lexham Press.
The Victory stele of Esarhaddon commemorated his 671 BC victory over Pharaoh Tirhakah (Taharqa/Taharka). Esarhaddon holds a mace club in his left hand, with a rope that passes through the lips of the two conquered kings, thought to be Pharaoh Tirharkah (lower left) and King Baal of Sidon (lower right). Esarhaddon’s right hand is addressing the gods. The script on the bottom half is in Akkadian Cuneiform.
The photo above was taken at the Semitic Museum in Harvard. The original stele is in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
Tirhakah (Taharqa/Taharka) is mentioned in the context of the mighty Assyrian King Sennacherib’s attempt to take Judah’s capitol city of Jerusalem, 701 BC, during good King Hezekiah’s reign. The biblical text reads, “Now the king heard concerning Tirhakah king of Cush, ‘Behold, he has set out to fight against you.’ So he sent messengers again to Hezekiah, saying,” (2 Kings 19:9; cf. the parallel in Isa. 37:9).
The background is that Sennacherib (r. 705-681 BC) had already taken “all the fortified cities of Judah” (2 Kings 18:13). In fact, Assyrian records state that he had taken 46 fortified cities, besides unwalled towns and villages. In the context of our passage above that mentions Tirhakah, the fortress city of Lachish had been taken (cf. the displays in Lachish Room in the British Museum), and Assyrian was fighting against Libnah (2 Kings 19:8). It was at that point that Sennacherib “heard concerning Tirhakah.”
In some translations (i.e., NKJV) Tirhakah is said to be king of Ethiopia. “Ethiopia” here refers to southern Egypt, and is rendered Cush in CSB, ESV, NASB (Hebrew is כּוּשׁ, transliterated kûš). At the time of the battle (701 BC), Tirhakah was the commander of the Egyptian forces. He would later become Pharaoh (25th dynasty; r. 690-664 BC). Note: “Ancient Oriental writers, as well as modern, frequently referred to persons by titles acquired later than the period being described (K. A. Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament, Chicago: Inter-Varsity, 1966, pp. 82–84).” (Source: C. F. Pfeiffer, H. F. Vos, & J. Rea (Eds.), The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia. Moody Press.).
Todd Bolen states,
Tirhakah meets the Assyrians in battle at Eltekeh, possibly modern Tell esh-Shallaf, 28 miles (45 kilometers) west of Jerusalem. It is not clear if Judah had sent tribute to Egypt in order to gain assistance or if the Egyptians saw an opportunity in attacking the Assyrian army when numerous battles had weakened it and it was far from home. Isaiah had warned Judah of the futility of trusting Egypt (Isa 31:1-5). (NIV Zondervan Study Bible, p. 696).
Taharqa was the fourth king of the Twenty-fifth Dynasty and also king of his native Kush; located in Northern Sudan. The remains of this huge kiosk, built by 25th Dynasty pharaoh Taharqa (690-664 B.C.) originally consisted of ten twenty-one meter high papyrus columns linked by a low screening wall. Today there is only one great column still standing. It is believed that it was a barque chapel (or Station) although some Egyptologists think it may have been used in ritual activities to join with the sun.
Photo above was taken during our 2022 Fall tour of Egypt. You can see the column of Tirhakah as well as two statues of Rameses II.
Here is a closer look at that column:
Back to the text of 2 Kings 19:9, the Assyrians were only temporally diverted by the Egyptians, though it would be a bit later when Assyrian completed the task of conquering Egypt. The greater point by far as the text continues, is YHWH’s miraculous deliverance of the city of Jerusalem. Sennacherib returned to Assyria after his mighty army was devastated.
The text is in Akkadian Cuneiform, the international language of the time. The reference to Hezekiah reads:
As for Hezekiah, the Judean, I besieged forty-six of his fortified walled cities and surrounding smaller towns, which were without number. Using packed-down ramps and applying battering rams, infantry attacks by mines, breeches, and siege machines, I conquered (them). I took out 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, cattle, and sheep, without number, and counted them as spoil. He himself, I locked up within Jerusalem, his royal city, like a bird in a cage.
(Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2000). Context of Scripture: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World (p. 303). Leiden; Boston: Brill).
More to come re: Tirhakah. Click photos for larger view.