In 701 BC, the merciless Assyrian army, led by their king, Sennacherib, invaded the kingdom of Judah. Judah had been forming alliances with neighbouring states in an attempt to throw off the yoke of Assyrian imperial rule, so Sennacherib had decided it was time to end their rebellion and obliterate the Judean nation.
Ultimately, as we read in brilliant detail in 2 Kings 18–19, Isaiah 36–37, and 2 Chronicles 32, Sennacherib failed in his mission. Although he destroyed many of Judah’s fortresses, he was not able to take the crown jewel—the city of Jerusalem—just as God had assured the Judean king Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah. This seems to have been a bit of a sore spot for Sennacherib, because, after returning home to the city of Nineveh, he commissioned a memento of the invasion. Sennacherib had carved into stone on the walls of a central room in his palace a gruesome depiction of the siege of one of the Judean cities he had managed to defeat—the great fortress city of Lachish.
This carved relief is now in the British Museum, displayed in a room roughly the same size as the one in which it originally stood. It provides us with one of the few ancient depictions of the people of Judah, and if you follow it from left to right as you walk round the room, it transports you back 2,700 years as it tells its horrific story.
The start of the invasion
On the far left of the relief, Assyrian slingmen, archers, and spearmen take aim at the city, bombarding the defenders on the walls (Figure 1). Amazingly, some of the very arrows and slingstones shot during the battle have been excavated at Lachish. The slingstones were made of flint and were roughly the size of tennis balls—a stark reminder that when David killed Goliath with a sling a few centuries earlier, he wasn’t using a child’s toy but a lethal weapon of war.