Exile, Assyrian

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The mass deportation of population groups from conquered nations, as a measure to prevent these nations from rebelling, was introduced as a general policy by Tiglath-Pileser iii in the second half of the eighth century b.c.e. Although deportation by Assyrian kings is well attested in the ninth century, it was Tiglath-Pileser's innovation to practice deportation on a vast scale and to accompany it with population exchange; a practice continued by his successors in Assyria. (The Babylonians did not accompany deportation with population exchange.) The first deportation of peoples from the northern Israelite kingdom took place when Tiglath-Pileser iii campaigned against Syria and Palestine (734–732 b.c.e.), at which time *Pekah son of Remaliah joined the rebellion led by the king of *Aram-Damascus against Assyria. In the course of this campaign the Assyrians conquered Gilead and deported the heads of the Israelite clans that inhabited Transjordan (i Chron. 5:6, 26). One of Tiglath-Pileser iii's fragmentary inscriptions lists several thousand captives, apparently only males, whom he exiled from eight cities in Galilee (among which were biblical Hannathon, Jotbah, Rumah, and Merom).

When *Hoshea son of Elah revolted against Assyria, Shalmaneser v besieged and conquered Samaria. His successor, Sargon ii, states that 27,290 people (variant 27,280) were exiled from the city of Samaria. In place of the Israelite deportees, Sargon settled residents of other defeated nations in the Assyrian province of Samaria. In this connection the Bible mentions exiles from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim (ii Kings 17:24), while an inscription of Sargon ii specifies members of four Arab tribes who were settled in "Omriland" (Bīt Ḫumri) in 716/5 b.c.e. Finally, according to Ezra 4:1–2, forbears of the later Samaritans were brought into the province of Samaria by Esarhaddon, and, according to Ezra 4:9–10, "the great glorious Asenappar" – probably to be identified with Ashurbanipal – settled people from *Erech, *Babylon, *Shushan, and other localities in the city of Samaria and elsewhere in Syria-Palestine. However, it cannot be determined whether these seventh-century colonists were brought in to replace Israelites, who may have revolted again and been deported. The foreign elements that were brought to Samaria assimilated into the remaining Israelite population; the outcome of this lengthy process was a distinct cultural-national group which became known as the *Samaritans, i.e., the population of the province of Samaria. The Assyrians also exiled inhabitants of Judah (see *Sennacherib, *Hezekiah).

The Israelite exiles were settled mainly in the Assyrian provinces in Upper Mesopotamia (biblical Aram-Naharaim), along the Habor River in the vicinity of Gozan (Tell-Ḥalāf). After 716 when some "cities of the Medes" came under Assyrian control, some Israelites were resettled in Media (ii Kings 17:6; 18:11; probably in the province of Ḫarḫar (Diakonoff in Bibliography)). In i Chronicles 5:26 there is the addition "and Hara" (הרא: lxx, Lucian recension kai harran, possibly referring to Haran (cf. Isa. 11:11)).

Notwithstanding the manifold legends fabricated about the exile of the so-called "*Ten Lost Tribes," there is no certain information about the fate of the Israelite exiles in Mesopotamia during the Assyrian empire or at a later period. Only a few extant allusions in the Bible and in epigraphic sources testify to their existence. Of the latter sources, the onomastic evidence from Mesopotamia contained in Assyrian documents dated to the end of the eighth and to the seventh centuries is of particular significance, since it presents names which are known from the Bible to be Israelite. However, with the exception of personal names composed of the Israelite theophoric element yau (yhwh), it is not always certain that the reference is to Israelite exiles, since these names are common Northwest Semitic ones and may also designate either Phoenicians or Arameans.

The documents dealing with or discovered at Gozan, which is mentioned in the Bible in relation to the exile of Israel (see above), are particularly instructive in this respect. One letter (abl 633) actually mentions one Ḫalabišu (or less likely, Haldu) from Samaria living in Gozan, although he may not have been an Israelite. The same document, however, names two officials called Palṭiyau and Niriyau (= biblical Pelatiah and Neriah respectively) who almost certainly were. Another Assyrian letter (abl 1009), dated to the seventh century b.c.e., mentions Samaritans among the troops of the Assyrian king who were serving in Mesopotamia. In a commercial contract from Gozan (jadd 234 = saa 6:34) dated to the end of the eighth century, the signatory witnesses are two high-ranking officials in the Assyrian administration whose names are Nādbiyau (biblical Nedabiah), who bore the title "chariot driver," and Paqaha (identical with the Israelite royal name Pekah), whose title was "village manager." In a document discovered at Gozan (No. 111) two typical Hebrew names are mentioned – Usi'a (*Hosea) and Dayana (Dinah), as well as Yaseme'il. In B. Mazar's opinion, this document concerns Hosea's redemption of an Israelite woman (Dinah) from an Aramean. In a legal document from Nineveh (saa 14:50) one Il-yau (= אליהו) sells a girl.

Traces of Israelite captives (and possibly even Judeans) seem to appear from the end of the eighth century at Calah (present-day Nimrud) on the Tigris, then capital of Assyria. An Aramaic ostracon discovered there lists Northwest Semitic personal names, some of which are common in Israel, such as Elisha, Haggai, Hananel, and Menahem. This document possibly concerns a group of Israelites who lived in Calah alongside Phoenician and Aramean elements, and who worked as craftsmen in one of the enterprises of the Assyrian kingdom. Among the Nimrud ivories which bear inscriptions in Phoenician-Aramaic script, one is clearly a Hebrew inscription (nd. 10150). Some bronze bowls also found there were engraved with West Semitic names, such as Yibḥar-ʾel, El-heli, and Aḥiyô (Ahio), the last name being unmistakably Hebrew. It cannot be ascertained how these objects, dating from the second half of the eighth century, reached Calah, but they may have been taken as spoil from Samaria when the city fell.

Various Assyrian documents contain additional names of an ordinary Hebrew type, such as Menahem, Amram, Naboth, and Abram, but it is difficult to determine beyond doubt that they belong to descendants of the Israelite exiles. In an Assyrian administrative document from the second half of the eighth century b.c.e., the name Aḥiyaqāma appears in relation to the Assyrian city of Halah (Ḥalaḥḥa), which is mentioned in the Bible as one of the places to which the Israelite exiles were deported (ii Kings 17:6; 18:11). The text could be interpreted as referring to an Israelite deportee named Ahikam. In the view of Tur-Sinai (Torczyner), the inscription on an amulet discovered at Arslan Tash (ancient Hadatta), east of the Euphrates, is written in Hebrew (though this is doubtful; see Sperling in Bibliography), and he attributes it to an Israelite deportee from Samaria. The existence of an Israelite exile is also alluded to in legendary tradition, such as that embodied in the book of Tobit. The hero claims descent from the tribe of Naphtali, supposedly deported in the days of Shalmaneser.

From the documents that presumably refer to the Israelites, or for that matter to any other exiles, it is evident that as a rule they did not possess the status of slaves or of an oppressed population. The exiles were first settled in Mesopotamia as land tenants of the king (cf. the words of Rab-Shakeh in ii Kings 18:32), while the craftsmen among them were employed in state enterprises. Eventually, some of the exiles achieved economic and social status and even occupied high-ranking positions in the Assyrian administration. They were given the right to agricultural holdings and to observe the customs of their forefathers, and enjoyed a certain measure of internal autonomy. The striking of roots in Mesopotamian society by a large part of the descendants of the Israelite exiles resulted in their eventual absorption into the foreign milieu. Nevertheless, part of the Israelite community undoubtedly preserved its distinct national character and maintained connections with the homeland (cf. ii Kings 17:28), later merging with the Judean exile. The return to Zion apparently included remnants of the ten tribes, as alluded to in the Bible (see the prophecies concerning national unification in Ezek. 16:53ff.; 37:16ff.; and cf. Zech. 8:13; 10:6ff.) and as indicated in the genealogical lists of Ezra and Nehemiah (cf., e.g., Ezra 2:2; Neh. 7:7).


S. Schiffer, Keilinschriftliche Spuren… (olz 10, Beiheft 1, 1907); W. Rosenau, in: huca, 1 (1925), 79ff.; A. Ungnad, in: J. Friedrich et al., Die Inschriften vom Tell Halaf (1940); H.J. May, in: ba, 6 (1943), 55ff.; H. Torczyner, in: jnes, 6 (1947), 18ff.; B. Maisler (Mazar), in: bies, 15 (1949–50), 83ff.; em, 2 (1954), 500–3 (incl. bibl.); J.B. Segal, in: Iraq, 19 (1957), 139ff.; W.F. Albright, in: basor, 149 (1958), 33–36; A.R. Millard, in: Iraq, 24 (1962), 41ff.; R.D. Barnett, in: Eretz Israel, 8 (1967), 1*–7*; S.M. Paul, in: jbl, 88 (1969), 73–74. add. bibliography: B. Oded, Mass Deportations and Deportees in the Neo-Assyrian Empire (1979); idem, in: K. van Lerberghe and A. Schoors (eds.), Immigration and Emigration within the Ancient Near East (fs Lipiński, 1995), 205–12; S.D. Sperling, in: huca, 53 (1982), 1–10; H. Tadmor and M. Cogan, ii Kings (1988), 176–80, 198–201, 336–37; M. Diakonoff, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 33 (fs Tadmor; 1991), 13–20; I. Ephʿal, ibid., 36–45; B. Becking, The Fall of Samaria (1992); H. Tadmor, Tiglath-Pileser iii (1994), 82–3; G. Knoppers, i Chronicles 1–9 (ab; 2003), 382.

[Abraham Malamat]