King Sennacherib, who inherited the throne of his father, Sargon II, turned south at the beginning of his reign toward Babylon. It was only during his third campaign, in 701 BCE, that he found time to go west, toward the coast of Sidon from whence he turned south to the cities of Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, Lachish, Lavana and ‘Azeqa. Sennacherib’s main purpose in doing so was to reestablish Assyrian rule in the districts that had rebelled against it. Sennacherib’s campaign to Judah in the year 701 BCE was scorched in the consciousness of various historians as one of the harshest and most traumatic occurrences in the sequence of events that befell the Kingdom of Judah. The attempt by King Hezekiah to cast off the yoke of foreign rule and free the kingdom of the burden of the heavy taxes that were sent annually to Assyria was an important and deliberate measure that was not sufficiently successful. The results of the revolt took an extremely hard toll on the Kingdom of Judah. The cities of the Shephelah were destroyed and the amount of taxes that were placed on the monarchy increased and constituted a heavy burden on the king’s treasury.

Our information about the events of the year 701 BCE is drawn from four different sources.
1. The biblical text in three books of the Bible (2 Kings 18-19; Isaiah 36-37; 2 Chronicles 32).
2. The descriptions of King Sennacherib’s military campaigns and the booty he plundered during those campaigns.
3. An artistic description that is displayed in a relief that covered the walls of Room XXXVI in the king’s palace in Nineveh.
4. The archaeological finds that are discovered in he destruction layers of the cities and the rural settlements in the Shephelah.

The present lecture will briefly review what we know of the first three sources and will focus primarily on the fourth source, namely the archaeological findings from Judah.

The settlement picture on the eve of Sennacherib’s campaign to Judah indicates a period of unusual prosperity and growth – this was the golden age of the Kingdom of Judah. The archaeological evidence indicates this was the peak of the settlement distribution in the Judean Shephelah. It seems that this process began in the ninth century BCE and continued until the end of the eighth century BCE. During Hezekiah’s reign the Kingdom of Judah took control of territories west of the Shephelah as far as the sea and thereby blocked the important trade route that led to Assyria. The alliances that were agree to with the kings of the cities on the southern coast of Philistia, including the exchange of rulers that would remain loyal to the monarch of the Kingdom of Judah, were meant to establish a buffer kingdom between Assyria, which had apparently begun to collapse, and Egypt. I wish to draw attention to a number of important points regarding this matter.

1. Most of the settlement from this period was in the Judean Shephelah, which extended across an area of c. 730 square kilometers. The western part of the Shephelah is extremely suitable for growing grain, a commodity that was exceptionally important to the growing population of the kingdom. During the archaeological survey of the Judean Shephelah 731 survey sites were identified that date to the Iron Age; these include different kinds of sites (settlements, cities, cemeteries, installations, agricultural activity etc). When we classify the types of survey sites according to the different periods and based on the different kinds it turns out that 290 of the settlements we identified which were divided into types (cities/mounds, farmsteads, villages, isolated buildings etc) belong to the Iron Age IIB (ninth-eighth centuries BCE).

2. From the last phase of the Iron Age IIC (seventh-sixth centuries BCE) the settlement picture is completely different and we only identified ninety two settlements of different kinds.

Perhaps there was no exile from Judah to Assyria at all?
Based on the Assyrian text a tremendous amount of booty was taken from the cities of Judah, the king promised to pay heavy taxes to Assyria and many of the residents of the Kingdom of Judah were taken prisoner and sent on the long journey to Assyria. The reconstruction of the events is problematic and does not seem to reflect clearly the steps that preceded the conquest of Lachish and which occurred afterward. The points listed below need to be clarified:

1. When Sennacherib arrives in Philistia he extends his authority for the first time over the coastal kingdoms and in the cities under their control, Jaffa, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Gaza. In the next stage, after fighting the Egyptian army, the Assyrian forces reach Ekron and control is turned back over to Pedi, his loyal vassal, who was imprisoned in Jerusalem. How exactly did the overthrown ruler return to Ekron and why was he released from prison in Jerusalem? If this was done by Hezekiah, then the king understood it was preferable to free Pedi, who was the protégé of the Assyrian ruler. Therefore we must consider this a signal to Sennacherib of Hezekiah’s desire to end the revolt. If so, why did Sennacherib continue to destroy the Kingdom of Judah after this surrender?

2. Relying on the summary of Sennacherib’s campaign, the Assyrian army destroyed the cities and settlements in Judah and took their residents prisoners to Assyria. There can be no doubt about the verse relating to the devastation that the Assyrian army left behind it in the Judean Shephelah and on the transfer of the western part of the Judean Shephelah to the Kingdom of Ekron. Two points need to be elucidated. 1) What was the extent of the campaign of destruction? Did the soldiers of Sennacherib go so far as the Hebron Heights and where did they march to in th