How to Blaspheme God

The Iron Age changed the face of the world. Iron was not new, but the extensive mass production of iron was. When Tiglath-Pileser III took the Assyrian throne in 744 BC, he reorganized every aspect of the empire, from military to the arts. He created the first Corps of Engineers as a separate branch of the army. An army of hundreds of thousands of soldiers with iron weapons would have required an enormous number of bloomeries to smelt the iron at the high temperatures required. Iron could break through bronze. Tiglath-Pileser created an army that was unstoppable. There was something else, even more dangerous, that he created at the same time. That was an attitude of superiority and disdain for everyone else.


Imagine someone so rich and powerful that he can do anything he wants, and have anything he wants. He answers to no one. His religious model is the goddess Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, who is known for being extremely ambitious. He conquers in the name of his chief god Ashur. He has no moral limitations to curtail his ruthlessness. This was Tiglath-Pileser III. He was a narcissist, and he propagated his domineering attitude to all those under him, especially to his sons, Shalmaneser V and Sargon II, and his grandson Sennacherib.


Tiglath-Pileser III was responsible for the fall of Samaria. His grandson Sennacherib was known for his campaigns against Babylon and Judah. In 701 BC, Sennacherib came down the Mediterranean coast taking cities until he came to Lachish in Judah and besieged it. He later decorated one room of his palace with reliefs of the siege, showing seven siege engines. A siege ramp found at Lachish is remarkable for being the only one found in Israel and the oldest one in the Near East. Sennacherib’s version of the campaign is recorded in the Sennacherib Prism.


From Lachish, Sennacherib sent his servants to Jerusalem to intimidate its people to rebel against king Hezekiah and surrender. They used the standard propaganda speech, saying that no god has ever been able to deliver its people from the Assyrians. That was true. Knowing a little more about Hezekiah, they went on to say that he had destroyed all the people’s altars and that there was only one left, in Jehovah’s temple. How could one altar and one God save them? 2 Chronicles 32:19 describes this from Jerusalem’s viewpoint: “And they spoke of the God of Jerusalem as they spoke of the gods of the peoples of the earth, which are the work of men’s hands.”


Sennacherib sat proudly upon his throne, while Hezekiah, at Jerusalem, humbly cried out to heaven. The Jewish text says that an angel killed 185,000 Assyrians in a single night, and that Sennacherib returned to Nineveh where he was eventually assassinated in the house of his god. How ironic! The Sennacherib Prism told the same story from a different perspective. There was no angel. In fact, there was no Assyrian loss, only the mention that Hezekiah did not submit, even though Sennacherib claims to have laid siege to 46 of Hezekiah’s strong cities and countless small villages and that Hezekiah’s troops had deserted him. Why wouldn’t Sennacherib continue until Jerusalem fell and Hezekiah submitted? The Sennacherib Prism definitely doesn’t tell the whole story.


Jewish history was written from a higher perspective than this, with all the blemishes of man’s failings, especially the kings’. Whether we’re talking about Assyria, Babylonia, or Egypt, these narcissistic rulers wrote their own history for their own glory. These powerful abusers of mankind despised all other nations and their gods. Even their own gods were meant to be used and manipulated for their own success. It was a mistake however, for Sennacherib to blaspheme the God of Jerusalem.

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