Monday, July 30, 2012

Israelite King, British Museum, Assyrian Stele

The united Israelite monarchy had a short lifespan: after 400 years of existence as a tribal confederation, the nation of Israel restructured itself into a monarchy shortly before 1000 B.C.; by around 931 B.C., the country was split into a northern half and southern half in a civil war. The united monarchy lasted only around a century.

The northern half likewise has a short duration. It was occupied and otherwise absorbed into the Assyrian Empire around 732 B.C.; for the two centuries that the Northern Kingdom lasted, it was ruled by a series of monarchs, most of them corrupt, many assassinated at the end of their reigns.

Confusingly, the united monarchy was known as Israel, and after its split, the Northern Kingdom was also known as Israel. The Southern Kingdom was known as Judah. Historian Jonathan Kirsch tells us about archeological details of the Northern Kingom:

On a stele of polished basalt in a gallery of the British Museum, the image of a kneeling man can be discerned among the dozens of other figures inscribed into the cold black stone. He is believed to be Jehu, an obscure monarch who sat on the throne of the northern kingdom of Israel in the late ninth century B.C., and he is shown in a gesture of obeisance to the Assyrian emperor who subjugated him, Shalmaneser III. "Silver, gold, a golden bowl, golden goblets, a golden beaker, pitchers of gold, lead, sceptres for the king and balsam-wood I received from him," goes the inscription on the so-called Black-Obelisk, which offers the only contemporary image of an Israelite king ever recovered from the archaeological record.

A stele - or 'stela' - is an upright stone slab or column typically bearing a commemorative inscription or relief design. Sometimes a stele can serve as a gravestone. In this case, it did not.