1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hezekiah

HEZEKIAH (Heb. for “[my] strength is [of] Yah”), in the Bible son of Ahaz, one of the greatest of the kings of Judah. He flourished at the end of the 8th and beginning of the 7th century B.C., when Palestine passed through one of the most eventful periods of its history. There is much that is uncertain in his reign, and with the exception of the great crisis of 701 B.C. its chronology has not been unanimously fixed. Whether he came to the throne before or after the fall of Samaria (722–721 B.C.) is disputed,[1] nor is it clear what share Judah took in the Assyrian conflicts down to 701.[2] Shortly before this date the whole of western Asia was in a ferment; Sargon had died and Sennacherib had come to the throne (in 705); vassal kings plotted to recover their independence and Assyrian puppets were removed by their opponents. Judah was in touch with a general rising in S.W. Palestine, in which Ekron, Lachish, Ascalon (Ashkelon) and other towns of the Philistines were supported by the kings of Muṣri and Meluḥḥa.[3] Sennacherib completely routed them at Eltekeh (a Danite city), and thence turned against Hezekiah, who had been in league with Ekron and had imprisoned its king Padi, an Assyrian vassal. In this invasion of Judah the Assyrian claims entire success; 46 towns of Judah were captured, 200,150 men and many herds of cattle were carried off among the spoil, and Jerusalem itself was closely invested. Hezekiah was imprisoned “like a bird in a cage”[4]—to quote Sennacherib, and the Urbi (Arabian?) troops in Jerusalem laid down their arms. Thirty talents of gold, eight hundred of silver, precious stones, couches and seats of ivory—“all kinds of valuable treasure”,—the ladies of the court, male and female attendants (perhaps “singers”) were carried away to Nineveh. Here the Assyrian record ends somewhat abruptly, for, in the meanwhile, Babylonia had again revolted (700 B.C.) and Sennacherib’s presence was urgently needed nearer home.

At what precise period the Babylonian Merodach (i.e. Marduk)-Baladan sent his embassy to Hezekiah is disputed. Although ostensibly to congratulate the king upon his recovery from a sickness, it was really sent in the hope of enlisting his support, and the excessive courtesy and complaisance with which it was received suggest that it found a ready ally in Judah (2 Kings xx. 12 sqq.; Isa. xxxix.). Merodach-Baladan was overthrown by Sargon in 710 B.C., but succeeded in making a fresh revolt some years later (704–703 B.C.), and opinion is much divided whether his embassy was to secure the friendship of the youthful Hezekiah at his succession or is to be associated with the later widespread attempt to remove the Assyrian yoke.[5]

The brief account of the Assyrian invasion, Hezekiah’s submission, and the payment of tribute in 2 Kings xviii. 14-16, supplements the Assyrian record by the statement that Sennacherib besieged Lachish, a fact which is confirmed by a bas-relief (now in the British Museum) depicting the king in the act of besieging that town.[6] This thoroughly historical fragment is followed by two narratives which tell how the king sent an official from Lachish to demand the submission of Hezekiah and conclude with the unexpected deliverance of Jerusalem. Both these stories appear to belong to a biography of Isaiah, and, like the similar biographies of Elijah and Elisha, are open to the suspicion that historical facts have been subordinated to idealize the work of the prophet. See Kings, Books of.

The narratives are (a) 2 Kings xviii. 13, 17-xix. 8; cf. Isa. xxxvi. 1–xxxvii. 8, and (b) xix. 9b-35; cp. Isa. xxxvii. 9-36 (2 Chron. xxxii. 9 sqq. is based on both), and Jerusalem’s deliverance is attributed to a certain rumour (xix. 7), to the advance of Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia (v. 9), and to a remarkable pestilence (v. 35) which finds an echo in a famous story related, not without some confusion of essential facts, by Herodotus (ii. 141; cf. Josephus Antiq. x. i. 5).[7] It is difficult to decide whether xix. 9a belongs to the first or second of these narratives; and whether the “rumour” refers to the approach of Tirhakah, or rather to the serious troubles which had arisen in Babylonia. It is equally difficult to determine whether Tirhakah actually appeared on the scene in 701, and the precise application of the term Muṣri (Mizraim) is much debated. Unless the two narratives are duplicates of the same event, it may be urged that Sennacherib’s attack upon Arabia (apparently about 689) involved an invasion of Judah, by which time Egypt was in a position to be of material assistance (cf. Isa. xxx. 1-5, xxxi. 1-3?). This theory of a second campaign (first suggested by Sir Henry Rawlinson) has been contested, although it is pointed out that Sennacherib at all events did not invade Egypt, and that 2 Kings xix. 24 (Isa. xxxvii. 25) can only refer to his successor. The allusion to the murder of Sennacherib (xix. 36 sq.)[8] points to the year 681, but it is uncertain to which of the above narratives it belongs. On the whole, the question must be left open, and with it both the problem of the extension of the name Muṣri and Mizraim outside Egypt in the Assyrian and Hebrew records of this period and the true historical background of a number of the Isaianic prophecies. It is quite possible that later events which belong to the time of the Egyptian supremacy and the wars of Esarhaddon have been confused with the history of Sennacherib’s invasion.

It is not certain whether Hezekiah’s conflict with the Philistines as far as Gaza or his preparations to secure for Jerusalem a good water supply (xviii. 8, xx. 20; 2 Chron. xxxii. 30; Ecclus. xlviii. 17 sq.)[9] should precede or follow the events which have been discussed. On the other hand, the reforms which the compiler of the book has attributed to the early part of the reign were doubtless much later (2 Kings xviii. 1-8). Not the fall of Samaria, but the crisis of 701, is the earliest date that could safely be chosen, and the extent of these reforms must not be overestimated. They are related in terms that imply an acquaintance with the great “Deuteronomic” movement (see Deuteronomy), and are magnified further with characteristic detail by the chronicler (2 Chron. xxix.-xxxi.). The most remarkable was the destruction of a brazen serpent, the cult of which was traditionally traced back to the time of Moses (Num. xxi. 9).[10] This persistence of serpent-cult, and the idolatry (necromancy, tree-worship) which the contemporary prophets denounce, do not support the view that the apparently radical reforms of Hezekiah were extensive or permanent, and Jer. xxvi. 17-19 (which suggests that Micah had a greater influence than Isaiah) throws another light upon the conditions during his reign. Hezekiah was succeeded by his son Manasseh (q.v.).

See further W. R. Smith, Prophets, 359-364, and Hebrew Religion. According to Prov. xxv. 1, Hezekiah was a patron of literature (see Proverbs). The hymn which is ascribed to the king (Isa. xxxviii. 9-20, wanting in 2 Kings) is of post-exilic origin (see Cheyne, Introd. to Isaiah, 222 sq.), but is further proof of the manner in which the Judaean king was idealized in subsequent ages, partly, perhaps, in the belief that the deliverance of Jerusalem was the reward for his piety. For special discussions, see Stade, Zeits. d. alttest. Wissenschaft, 1886, pp. 173 sqq.; Winckler, Alttest. Untersuch., 26 sqq.; Schrader, Cuneiform Inscr. and Old Test. (on 2 Kings, l.c.); Driver, Isaiah, his Life and Times, pp. 43-83; A. Jeremias, Alte Test. 304-310; Nagel, Zug d. Sanherib gegen Jerus. (Leipzig, 1903, conservative); and especially Prášek, Sanherib’s “Feldzüge gegen Juda” (Mitteil. d. Vorderasiat. Gesell., 1903, pp. 113-158), K. Fullerton, Bibliotheca sacra, 1906, pp. 577–634, A. Alt, Israel u. Ägypten (Leipzig, 1909); also the bibliography to Isaiah.  (S. A. C.) 

  1. See W. R. Smith, Prophets of Israel,[2] 415 sqq.; O. C. Whitehouse, Isaiah, pp. 20 sqq., 372; J. Skinner, Kings, p. 43 seq.; T. K. Cheyne, Ency. Bib. col. 2058, n. 1, and references.
  2. The chief dates are: 720, defeat of a coalition (Hamath, Gaza and Muṣri) at Ḳarḳar in north Syria and Raphia (S. Palestine); 715, a rising of Muṣri and Arabian tribes; 713–711, revolt and capture of Ashdod (cp. Is. xx.). That Judah was invaded on this latter occasion is not improbable.
  3. Meluḥḥa is held by many critics to be N.W. Arabia; the identification of Muṣri is uncertain, see below.
  4. The phrase was a favourite one of Rib-Addi, king of Gebal (Byblus), in the 15th century B.C.; Tell-el-Amarna Letters (ed. Knudtzon), Nos. 74, 79, &c. Jeremiah (v. 27) uses the simile in a different way. For a discussion of Sennacherib’s record, see Wilke, Jesaja u. Assur (Leipzig, 1905), pp. 97 sqq.
  5. For the early date (between 720 and 710), Winckler, Alttest. Unt. 139 sqq., Burney, Kings, 350 sq.; Driver; Küchler, &c.; for the later, Whitehouse, Isaiah, 29 sq., in agreement with Schrader, Wellhausen, W. R. Smith, Cheyne, M‘Curdy, Paton, &c.
  6. Isa. x. 28-32 may perhaps refer to this invasion. Allusions to the Assyrian oppression are found in Isa. x. 5-15, xiv. 24-27, xvii. 12-14; and to internal Judaean intrigues perhaps in Isa. xxii. 15-18, xxix. 15. For a picture of the ruins in Jerusalem, see Isa. xxii. 9-11. But see further Isaiah (Book).
  7. See, on the story, Griffith, in D. Hogarth’s Authority and Archaeology, p. 167, n. 1.
  8. The house of Nisroch should probably be that of the god Nusku; see also Driver in Hogarth, op. cit. p. 109; Winckler, op. cit. p. 84.
  9. It is commonly believed that Hezekiah constructed the conduit of Siloam, famous for its Hebrew inscription (see Inscriptions, Jerusalem). But Isa. viii. 6, would seem to show that the pool was already in existence, and, for palaeographical details, see Pal. Explor. Fund, Quart. Stat. (1909), pp. 289, 305 sqq.
  10. The name Nehushtan (2 Kings xviii. 4, cp. nāhāsh, “serpent”) is obscure: see the commentaries.