The Mysterious Bible Numbers of Edwin Thiele


Damien F. Mackey


“…. despite the undoubted merits of Thiele’s own chronological scheme, his treatment

of the chronology of king Hezekiah, specifically, is perhaps the least satisfactory part of

his entire work”.


The Fall of Samaria

This famous event has traditionally been dated to c. 722/21 BC [E. Thiele dates it to 723/722 BC. The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, p. 162.] and, according to the statement in 2 Kings, it occurred “in the sixth year of Hezekiah, which was the ninth year of King Hoshea of Israel” (18:10). While all this seems straightforward enough, more recent versions of biblical chronology, basing themselves on the research of the highly regarded Professor Thiele [ch. 9: “The Chronology of the Kings of Judah (715-561 BC)”], have made impossible the retention of such a promising syncretism between king Hoshea and king Hezekiah by dating the beginning of the latter’s reign to 716/715 BC, about six years after the fall of Samaria. Moreover, there is disagreement over whether Samaria fell once or twice (in quick succession) to the Assyrians (e.g. to Shalmaneser V in 722 BC, and then again to Sargon II in 720 BC); with Assyriologist Tadmor, whom Thiele has followed, claiming a ‘reconquest’ of Samaria by Sargon II [H. Tadmor, ‘The Campaigns of Sargon II of Assur’, p. 94. Tadmor here refers to Sargon’s “reconquest of Samaria”. For Thiele’s discussion of what he calls Tadmor’s “masterly analysis”, see Thiele, op. cit, e.g. pp. 167-168].

Let us briefly touch upon these objections here.

Firstly, regarding the Hezekian chronology in its relationship to the fall of Samaria, one of the reasons for Thiele’s having arrived at, and settled upon, 716/715 BC as the date for the commencement of reign of the Judaean king was due to the following undeniable problem that arises from a biblical chronology that takes as its point of reference the conventional neo-Assyrian chronology. I set out the ‘problem’ here in standard terms.

If Samaria fell in the 6th year of Hezekiah, as the Old Testament tells it, then Hezekiah’s reign must have begun about 728/727 B.C. If so, his 14th year, the year in which Sennacherib threatened Jerusalem, must have been about 714 B.C. But this last is, according to the conventional scheme, about ten years before Sennacherib became king and about thirteen years before his campaign against Jerusalem which is currently dated to 701 B.C. On the other hand, if Hezekiah’s reign began fourteen years before Sennacherib’s campaign, that is in 715 B.C, it began about twelve to thirteen years too late for Hezekiah to have been king for six years before the fall of Samaria. In short, the problem as seen by chronologists is whether the starting point of Hezekiah’s reign should be dated in relationship to the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C, or to the campaign of Sennacherib in 701 B.C.

A second reason for Thiele’s divergence from the traditional dating for Hezekiah is that Thiele, following others such as O. Zöckler [op. cit., p. 169], had found no evidence whatsoever for any contact between king Hezekiah and king Hoshea. Not even when Hezekiah had, in his first year, sent his invitations throughout Hoshea’s territory for the great Passover in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 30). Thus Thiele could not accept that these two kings had reigned concurrently.

In regard to the first point, the true date of commencement of the reign of king Hezekiah, I should simply like to make the general comment here that this is in fact an artificial ‘problem’. The situation has arisen, as we shall find, from Thiele’s heavy reliance upon the conventional neo-Assyrian chronology, which has been significantly over-stretched, thereby doubling the activities of the one Assyrian king: Sargon II/Sennacherib. See my:

Assyrian King Sargon II, Otherwise Known As Sennacherib

Failure to recognize this – and a too confident reliance upon the conventional scheme in general – has caused Thiele, and those who have followed him, to turn the reign of Hezekiah of Judah into one of the most vexed problems of Old Testament chronology. And, despite the undoubted merits of Thiele’s own chronological scheme, his treatment of the chronology of king Hezekiah, specifically, is perhaps the least satisfactory part of his entire work.

With Sennacherib found to have been at work in connection with both the fall of Samaria and, of course, the campaign in Hezekiah’s 14thyear, then it becomes necessary to date the Judaean king’s reign in relationship to both, and not merely to one, of these significant Assyrian campaigns.

Thiele’s other point, about the lack of evidence for contemporaneity of reigns between Hoshea and Hezekiah, is indeed a legitimate one, as is also Tadmor’s argument – in connection with the neo-Assyrian evidence – in favour of two actual conquests of Samaria by the Assyrians.

A Solid Foundation Needed for the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah

Thiele has, in his widely accepted, neo-Assyrian-based so-called biblical’ chronology, completely rejected – and hence lost – that triple biblical link of the 9thyear of Hoshea, the6th year of Hezekiah and the fall of Samaria.

Despite this current mood in academic thinking, let us not forget that the testimony of Israel has sometimes been our only source of knowledge about a particular king, nation or event, prior to the flowering of archaeology in modern times. Thus, for twenty centuries or more, the only mention of the great Assyrian king, SARGONII, was to be found in the opening verse of Isaiah 20: “In the year that the commander-in-chief, who was sent by King Sargon of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and took it”. Historians doubted Isaiah’s testimony that there even was such an Assyrian king, ‘Sargon’. Again, relevant to the Era of king Hezekiah, there is some interlocking chronology between the Assyrian records and 2 Kings for the incident of the fall of Samaria. These syncretisms, I suggest, should not be lightly dismissed. Potentially, they are fully preserved in my five chronological ‘anchors’ for EOH as listed in my thesis:

A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah

and its Background

(Chapter 1, p. 28); but they are annihilated in Thiele’s chronology, despite the latter’s assertion that [ibid., p. 174]:

… never will the events of the Old Testament record be properly fitted into the events of the Near Eastern world, and never will the vital messages of the Old Testament be thoroughly or correctly understood until there has been established a sound chronology for Old Testament times.

Montgomery tells of the devastating effect that Thiele’s chronology has had upon the traditional dating of Hezekiah in its relation to Hoshea of Israel and the fall of Samaria [‘Towards a Biblically Inerrant Chronology’, section: “The Divided Kingdom”]:

Thiele’s chronology has the fall of Samaria in 722 BC, Hezekiah’s accession year in 715 BC and his 14th year in 701 BC – 21 years apart. He insists that Hezekiah and Hosea [Hoshea] had no contact at all. He says “… it is of paramount importance that synchronisms (II Kings 18:1, 8, 10) between him (Hezekiah) and Hosea be recognized as late and artificial.”[12, p174], i.e. they are false.

This is an extremely bold conclusion for Thiele to have reached in regard to an ancient document that provides us with multi-chronological links; especially given his insistence

upon“a sound chronology for Old Testament times”. Admittedly though, as already noted, there are problems to be sorted out in connection with the biblical link between Hoshea and Hezekiah, the beginning of whose reign is said to have occurred during Hoshea’s third year (2 Kings 18:1): “In the third year of King Hoshea son of Elah of Israel, Hezekiah son of King Ahaz of Judah began to reign”. Thiele has discussed this in several places, and has rejected the veracity of the biblical evidence. His argument firstly centres upon the fact that Hezekiah had, in the great Passover he proclaimed in his first year, sent invitations to Israel – to Ephraim and Manasseh and even Zebulun (2 Chronicles 30:1, 6, 10), leading Thiele to conclude [Op. cit, ch’s 8 and 9]: “While the northern kingdom was still in existence, it would not, of course, have been possible for the envoys of Judah to pass through the territory of Israel; so we have here a clear indication that it was no longer in existence”.

On a more general note, Thiele has offered this related objection [Ibid,p. 169]:

Nowhere in the record of Hezekiah’s reign is mention made of any contact by him with Hoshea. In less serious times there was always a mention in the account of a king of Judah of some contact with the corresponding king of Israel, but none is found here. If it had been during the days of the God-fearing Hezekiah that Assyria was bringing Israel to its end, it is almost certain that Hezekiah would have had some contact with Hoshea and mentioned that contact. The deafening silence in this regard is a clear indication that Hoshea and his kingdom were no more when Hezekiah began.

This is a legitimate point. The most likely solution to the problem, in my opinion, is that Hoshea was no longer in charge of Israel.

I suggested in Chapter 1 (p. 26) that Hoshea’s revolt against Assyria, involving his turning to ‘So King of Egypt’,would have occurred close to 727 BC, the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign. Some years earlier, with the Assyrian forces of Tiglath-pileser III “approaching the very border of Israel and … threatening to push onward to Samaria”, according to Irvine’s construction of events, Hoshea had led “a pro-Assyrian, anti-Pekah movement within Israel …” [Isaiah, Ahaz, and the Syro-Ephraimitic Crisis, p. 34] But now, in the face of Hoshea’s revolt, the swift-acting Shalmaneser V (who I am identifying with Tiglath-pileser), had promptly “confined [Hoshea] and imprisoned him” (2 Kings 17:4). Hoshea was thus rendered inactive from about the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign and on into the siege and subsequent capture of Samaria. And so the Egyptian-backed Hezekiah, who had like Hoshea rebelled against Assyria, became for a time the sole ruler of the entire land, prior to the Assyrian incursions into Judah. In this way, one presumes, Hezekiah would have been able to have sent his messengers into northern Israel.

The other legitimate objection that I had noted in Chapter 1 (on p. 22) concerned Tadmor’s view, followed by Thiele, that Samaria was captured twice by Assyria; a second time in 720 BC. [op. cit., p. 94. Tadmor here refers to Sargon’s “reconquest of Samaria”]. Moreover, Roux considers whether it were Shalmaneser V or Sargon II who captured Samaria as “still a debated question” [Ancient Iraq, p. 310]. While van de Mieroop writes of Shalmaneser V as conquering Israel’s capital “just before his death” [A History of the Ancient Near East, p. 235], adding that: “His successor Sargon II claimed the victory for himself and turned the region into the province of Samaria”.

Whilst I have discussed in detail in Chapter 6 of my thesis the neo-Assyrian chronology in its relation to Hezekiah, I should like to make some comments here, following Boutflower. Sargon, according to D. Luckenbill, had claimed that the fall of Samaria occurred (i.e. he caused it) in his first year [Ancient Records of Assyria & Babylonia, vol. 1, # 4. At least, the fall of Samaria is generally regarded as being the incident to which Sargon referred here]. “[At the beginning of my rule, in my first year of reign … Samerinai (the people of Samaria) … 27,290 people, who lived therein, I carried away …]”. I see no good reason though not to accept Sargon’s plain statement here. There is apparently a one year discrepancy between Sargon II’s Annalsand the document that Winckler called Cylinder B, according to which the fall of Samaria could not have occurred in the reign of Sargon, but of his predecessor, Shalmaneser. Here is Boutflower’s explanation of the apparent puzzling discrepancy [The Book of Isaiah, pp. 112-113]:

… the Annals make Sargon’s reign to commence in the year 722 BC., styled the rish sharruti or “beginning of the reign”, 721 being regarded as the first year of the reign; whereas our cylinder, which after Winckler we will call Cylinder B, regards 721 as the “beginning of the reign”,and 720 as the first year of the reign.

From this conclusion we obtain the following remarkable result. The capture of Samaria is assigned by the Annals to the “beginning of the reign” of Sargon, the last three months of the year 722, and it is recorded as the first event of the reign. But according to this new reckoning of time on Cylinder B that event would not be included in the reign of Sargon at all, but would be looked upon as falling in the reign of his predecessor Shalmaneser V.

When, then, it is objected that in 2 Kings xvii. 3-6 the capture of Samaria – which took place in 722 – appears to be assigned to Shalmaneser … we can answer that the sacred writer is no more at fault than the scribe who wrote Cylinder B ….

It does appear from Sargon II’s Annals that Samaria revolted again even after it had been captured by the Assyrians. This action, tied up I believe with Hezekiah’s own revolt – part of an Egyptian-backed Syro-Palestine rebellion against Sargon II – was followed by further such revolts, possibly also involving Samaria. It does not alter the fact that Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, had fallen to Shalmaneser V and Sargon II in the ninth year of Hoshea, which was the sixth year of Hezekiah. When the plain testimony of Sargon II above, in relation to the capture of Samaria, is synthesized with that of 2 Kings 18:10, we gain this four-way cross-reference for c. 722 BC: (a) fall of Samaria; (b) beginning of Sargon’s rule; (c) sixth year of Hezekiah; (d) ninth year of Hoshea.

We can even add to this list (e) year one of Merodach-baladan as king of Babylon, according to Sargon’s testimony:“In my twelfth year of reign, (Merodach-baladan) …. For 12 years, against the will (heart) of the gods, he held sway over Babylon …”.

Thus, in regard to the one historical incident of the fall of Samaria (c. 722 BC), one can bring into solid alignment three of the four major nations with which this thesis is primarily concerned (Judah/Israel; Assyria and Babylonia). Unfortunately, as already noted, historians and biblical chronologists, notably Thiele, have basically ignored the above four-way synchronism, preferring to align Hezekiah’s regnal years to a miscalculated neo-Assyrian history, making Hezekiah a late contemporary of Sargon II’s, and dating the former to c. 716/5-687 BC. This means, as we also saw, that Hezekiah would have begun to reign about a decade later than where 2 Kings locates him; far too late for his having been the king of Judah during the fall of Samaria.


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