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).
https://discoveringegypt.com/karnak-temple/karnak-temple-great-court/ has the following information:
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.
Right center shows column built by Tirhakah at entrance to Karnak. Photo ©Leon Mauldin.
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.