The second relief scene from the top (see top image) portrays Jehu, centre right, bowing before Shalmaneser III, who is standing at centre left wearing the typical Assyrian crown. Behind each are two eunuchs (no beards) and directly above Jehu are divine symbols. The text above the relief scene explains: “I received the tribute of Jehu son of Omri: silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden tureen, golden vessels, golden buckets, tin, a staff of the king’s hand, and spears.” The other panels in this scene portray a connected procession of Israelite tribute-bearers, led by Assyrian officials, terminating at the image of Jehu bowing down.
You may remember that the Bible calls Jehu “the son of Jehoshaphat, the son of Nimshi” (2 Kings 9:2, 14, 29). It may seem strange, then, that on the Black Obelisk he is called “son of Omri.” According to the Bible, Omri was the father of Ahab, whose family Jehu wiped out. How is this to be explained?
The Bible and the Black Obelisk are not actually in disagreement here. Both the Bible and Assyrian royal inscriptions often use the word “son” in the sense of “affiliated with” rather than “direct male descendant of”. So the Bible refers to “the sons of Judah and the sons of Jerusalem” (Joel 4:6) or “the sons of Babylon” (Ezekiel 23:15), as well as “sons of the prophets” (1 Kings 20:35). The Assyrian royal inscriptions, similarly, refer to the “sons of Babylon and Borsippa” (citizens of Babylon and Borsippa) or the “sons of the craftsmen” (members of the guild of craftsmen). This raises the possibility that “son” might have this sense of affiliation when it refers to Jehu.
The Bible’s description of Jehu’s ancestry seems to indicate that Jehu’s father was Jehoshaphat and his grandfather (or a more distant ancestor) was Nimshi. When the Black Obelisk refers to Jehu as “son of Omri”, this is best explained as the Assyrians’ way of saying “Jehu, ruler of Israel”, rather than implying anything in particular about Jehu’s real father or even ancestor. The Assyrians would sometimes refer to countries as “House of (PERSONAL NAME)”, for example Bit-Adini, which literally means “House of Adini”, where Adini was regarded as the founder of the dynasty ruling the country at the time the Assyrians came into contact with it. This was kept up even if a new dynasty replaced it and the phrase became a kind of fossilised country name, with little relevance for the ancestry of the currently ruling dynasty. Rulers of the country were then referred to by name and designated “son” of this founder, as in “Ahuni, son of Adini”, which, for all intents and purposes, meant “Ahuni, member of the ruling dynasty of the country Bit-Adini,” or simply, “Ahuni, ruler of Bit-Adini.”
This is helpful because the Assyrians in fact called Israel Bit-Humri, “House of Omri”, presumably since Omri was the founder of the dynasty in power when Assyria first came into contact with Israel in the ninth century BC. It is Ahab who appears first of the Israelite kings in the Assyrian texts, in the royal inscriptions of Shalmaneser III, the king of the Black Obelisk, during a time when Omri would, according to the Bible, have been the founder of the ruling dynasty of Israel. It is not a surprise, then, that the Assyrians continue to refer to Israel as Bit-Humri, “House of Omri”, even long after the demise of Omri’s dynasty, and that they refer to Jehu as “son of Omri”.