I recently got a new study Bible, which describes historical events. In a part of the Bible that says “Ancient Texts Relating to the Old Testament” it describes “Sennacherib’s Prism”: “Sennacherib vividly describes his siege of Jerusalem in 701 BC, making Hezekiah a prisoner of his own royal city (but cf. 2 Kings 19:35-37).” Yet 2 Kings 19:35-37 says nothing about Hezekiah being taken prisoner. This seems to be a contradiction to me. Can you explain if these historical sources are actually contradicting each other? If so, how do we know if the Bible is right or Sennacherib’s Prism?


This may appear at first glance to be a contradiction, but this is cleared up rather easily.  In Sennacherib’s account he reports having conquered all the cities of Judea except Jerusalem. This is in exact accord with the account in 2 Kings 18 and 19.  Then, as we are told in 2 Kings 18, Sennacherib put Jerusalem under siege.  The way he describes this in the Sennacherib Prism (also known as the Taylor Prism) is that he put Hezekiah as a prisoner in his own royal city.  This is putting a positive spin on what actually happened.  Hezekiah and the citizens of Jerusalem were all imprisoned in Jerusalem.  That part is true.  There was no way in or out of the city.  What Sennacherib never says, we know from 2 Kings 19.  Sennacherib left the work of the siege to his subordinates.  After Isaiah and Hezekiah prayed for deliverance, God destroyed the entire army of Sennacherib in a single night.  Naturally, Sennacherib did not record this humiliating defeat.  Ancient kings never mentioned their defeats.  However, what he did record, which is that he imprisoned Hezekiah in Jerusalem is accurate.   Of course, he never mentions actually conquering Jerusalem, as he does all the other cities of Judea because he never conquered the city.  The account in 2 Kings and Sennacherib’s Prism are in complete agreement, except that 2 Kings records the entire events–not leaving out the parts which would be an embarrassment to the Assyrians.  It is worth noting that this provides indirect supporting evidence for the miracle recorded in 2 Kings of the destruction of the Assyrian army.  How else would the siege of the most powerful army in the world have been broken?

By the way, 2 Kings also reports that Hezekiah built a very long tunnel out to the Gihon Spring outside the city in order to prepare for the siege.  This tunnel has been found.  Visitors to Jerusalem can go into the tunnel.  It gives dramatic support to the reliability of the biblical account, along with Sennacherib’s Prism.

John Oakes

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