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Assyrian Captivity of Israel

Found in: Ancient Israel and Judah

The Northern Kingdom of Israel was extorted, invaded, conquered, and taken captive primarily by the Neo-Assyrian monarchs, Tiglath-Pileser III (Pul) and Shalmaneser V. The later Assyrian rulers Sargon II and his son and successor, Sennacherib, were responsible for finishing the twenty year demise of Israel's northern ten tribe kingdom. Sennacherib also invaded some parts of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. He records forty-six fortified towns captured from Judah, and presumably carried away into Assyria. Jerusalem was besieged, but not taken. The tribes exiled by Assyria later became known as the Ten Lost Tribes.

Biblical account

The captivities began in approximately 740 BCE, when the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and eastern half-tribe of Manasseh were carried away by one of the first successful Assyrian invasions.

And the Elohim of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgathpilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day.

In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and took Ijon, and Abelbethmaachah, and Janoah, and Kedesh, and Hazor, and Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and carried them captive to Assyria.

In 722 BCE, nearly twenty years after the initial deportations, the ruling city of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Samaria, was finally taken by Sargon II after a three year siege started by Shalmaneser V. describes it

3 Against him came up Shalmaneser king of Assyria; and Hoshea became his servant, and gave him presents.

4 And the king of Assyria found conspiracy in Hoshea: for he had sent messengers to So king of Egypt, and brought no present to the king of Assyria, as he had done year by year: therefore the king of Assyria shut him up, and bound him in prison.

5 Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years.

6 In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria, and placed them in Halah and in Habor by the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

Assyrian Cuneiform

Assyrian cuneiform mention 27,290 captives were taken from Samaria [1.], the capital of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, by the hand of Sargon II.

Sargon records his first campaign on the walls of the royal palace at Dur-Sarraku (Khorsabad):

In my first year of reign *** the people of Samaria *** to the number of 27,290 ... I carried away.

Fifty chariots for my royal equipment I selected. The city I rebuilt. I made it greater than it was before.

People of the lands I had conquered I settled therein. My official (Tartan) I placed over them as governor. (L.ii.4.)[1.]

The description of the final defeat of the Northern Kingdom of Israel above appears to be a minor event in Sargon's legacy. Some historians attribute the ease of Israel's defeat to the previous two decades of invasions, defeats, and deportations.

Some estimates assume a captivity numbering in the hundreds of thousands, minus those who died in defense of the kingdom and minus those who fled voluntarily before and during the invasions.

However, it has also been suggested that the numbers deported by the Assyrians were rather limited and the bulk of the population remained in situ. There is also evidence that significant numbers fled south to the kingdom of Judah.

No Historical Return

Unlike the Kingdom of Judah, which was able to return from its Babylonian Captivity, the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom never had a foreign edict granting permission to return and rebuild their homeland. Many centuries later, rabbis of the restored Kingdom of Judah were still debating the return of the lost ten tribes .

Rumors of New Names

Two centuries after their exile, there have been theories that they were temporarily conquered again under different names at the hands of a different empire, Persia. This is the mid-19th century interpretation of the Behistun Inscription, King Darius's record of his conquered, by the famous transcriber and translator of the inscription George Rawlinson:

We have reasonable grounds for regarding the Gimirri, or Cimmerians, who first appeared on the confines of Assyria and Media in the seventh century B.C., and the Sacae of the Behistun Rock, nearly two centuries later, as identical with the Beth-Khumree of Samaria, or the Ten Tribes of the House of Israel. -George Rawlinson, note in his translation of History of Herodotus, Book VII, p. 378


1. Luckenbill, Daniel David. Ancient Records of Assyria and Babylon ISBN 1-85417-049-X

2. Keller, Werner. The Bible as History ISBN 0-281-04544-5

3. Book of Isaiah 36:1-22, 37:1-38, 7:1-20, 8:1-23, 9:1-20, 10:1-34, 11:1-16, 17:1-14, 19:21-25, 38:1-22

See also


Kingdom of Israel

History of ancient Israel and Judah

Lost Tribes of Israel


Stick of Joseph

Two House Movement.

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