Sargon II, Ashdod, and Isaiah 20:1

Ashdod was located along an international highway known as the Way of the Sea, the Way of Philistia, or the Via Maris. This was the important route connecting Egypt and Assyria. We have already discussed, in the past few posts, that the Assyrian king Sargon II captured Ashdod in 712/11 B.C. The prophet Isaiah makes reference to this event in Isaiah 20:1.

 The LORD revealed the following message during the year in which King Sargon of Assyria sent his commanding general to Ashdod, and he fought against it and captured it. (Isa 20:1 NET)

Sometime discoveries are made, but get little attention. A discovery at Tel Ashdod in 1963 falls into this category. Tel Ashdod was excavated from 1962 to 1972 under the direction of Moshe Dothan. David Noel Freedman wrote an article in Biblical Archaeologist (26:4, 1963)) about “The Second Season at Ancient Ashdod.” He describes the fragments of a stele of Sargon II.

Fragments of another stele, commemorating the victories of Sargon, were found at Ashdod during the current season, thus offering direct confirmation and vivid illustration of the biblical and Assyrian accounts. In all, three pieces of the stele were discovered. Enough can be made of their contents to show that the inscription duplicated in content if not precisely in wording other victory steles of the Assyrian king. By comparing the Ashdod stele with the others it will be possible to reconstruct the missing parts, one of which described the actual conquest of Ashdod. The inscription was carved in cuneiform signs characteristic of Sargon and his period, on all four sides of a slab of basalt which had been imported from a region north of Megiddo. It may have served as a pedestal for an obelisk, or a statue of the emperor. It must have been erected between the year of victory at Ashdod and the death of the king in 705 B.C., perhaps in 707 when a similar stele was set up in Cyprus. With the accession of Sennacherib in 704, most of the vessel countries revolted; Hezekiah of Judah and Sidqa of Ashkelon were the ringleaders in the west. They were able to liberate Ashdod from Assyrian control, and doubtless the event was observed by the destruction of Sargon’s victory stele, symbol of foreign oppression. These fragments of a monumental Assyrian inscription are the first ever found in Palestine.

The photos below were published in an article by Hayam Tadmor (“Philistia Under Assyrian Rule.” Biblical Archaeologist (29:3, 1966). Several years ago I used a digital camera to copy the photo. Sorry it is not better, but at least you can see the pieces. A photo of the piece in the middle below is also published in a BAR article (Jan-Feb, 2007) by H. Shanks on the “Assyrian Palace Discovered in Ashdod,” but the quality is about the same.
Fragment of the Sargon II inscription found at Ashdod.

Fragment of the Sargon II inscription found at Ashdod.

For several years the fragments were displayed in a case across from the replica of the Siege of Lachish in the Israel Museum. For the past years the fragments have not been on display. I made inquiry at the Museum earlier this year without any success. I wonder if the pieces have been moved to the Corine Maman Museum of Philistine Culture in Ashdod. Can anyone help with this?

This discovery is one of those that complement the biblical record. Sargon II (721–705 B.C.) is mentioned only once in the Bible — Isaiah 20:1. Isaiah says that the commanding general of Sargon II fought against Ashdod and captured it.

The photo below shows Sargon II (right) facing a person who is generally considered to be an Assyrian high dignitary. (See the discussion in Fant & Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible, 133-140.

Sargon II and an attendant. Displayed in Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Sargon II and an official. Displayed in Louvre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jack Finegan says of the reference to Sargon II in Isaiah 20:1,

… for a long time this was the only place in extant literature where his name was known.

The palace of Sargon II was discovered by Paul Emile Botta at Khorsabad in 1843. This relief comes from that palace, and is displayed in the Louvre. Other reliefs and artifacts from the palace are exhibited in the British Museum and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

Written copies of Isaiah existed in what we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls nearly 2000 years before the discovery of Sargon’s palace and archive. Perhaps we should be slow to think of Isaiah and other biblical writers as being unhistorical. To say this in a positive way, this illustrates the historical trustworthiness of the Bible. That the only reference to Sargon is specifically linked to Ashdod is even more impressive.

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5 responses to “Sargon II, Ashdod, and Isaiah 20:1

  1. I am interested to know if anyone was able to help in your search for the “lost Sargon fragments.
    This page has some related info and photos, but it does not mention the biblical connections like you have done.
    http://oracc.museum.upenn.edu/saao/aebp/essentials/countries/philistia/

  2. Thank you so much. I can use this information to expand my lecture on the historical reliability of the Bible.

  3. Thanks to each of you. A.D., no one has indicated knowledge of the current location of the fragments. Thanks for the info you supplied. AB (Bud), I want to add a link to your page for those who may be interested: http://www.biblicalarchaeologytruth.com/index.html

  4. Pingback: Visualizing Isaiah 20: Sargon the king of Assyria | Ferrell's Travel Blog

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