Living in Truth:
Archaeology and the Patriarchs

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by Charles N. Pope
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Chapter 34
"Through the Fire"
(A New World Empire under Takelot III/Tiglath-pileser III)


The Self-Made Man and Self-Serving King

The first seven chapters of Isaiah embody a literary progression crafted with divine duplicity. It leads up from the death of Uzziah in times of trouble to a vision of God transcendent, then down to a fearful Ahaz and the calling of Assyria (Tiglath-pileser). At the time, the foreign identities of Egyptian kings were still being guarded religiously. Although Horemheb (Hazael) had brought Aramean soldiers as far as Thebes, Takelot III/Shabaka apparently "crossed the line" when he brought Assyrian troops over the Euphrates River and into Egypt. He was careful to disguise his Egyptian identity to Assyrian troops and also his Assyrian identity to native Egyptians. Later kings would abandon this charade altogether and explicitly claim conquest in Egypt under their Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian names, and as part of the transfer of power from Egypt to a new seat of family empire in Mesopotamia.

Takelot/Shabaka/Ahaz could not prevail over his rivals using resources available to him only in Libya/Egypt, Nubia and Judah/Israel. Therefore, he escalated the conflict by enlisting the support of his "alter-ego" Tiglath-pileser in Assyria to tip the balance in his favor:

"So Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, saying, I am thy servant and thy son: come up, and save me out of the hand of the king of Syria, and out of the hand of the king of Israel, which rise up against me. And Ahaz took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord, and in the treasures of the king's house, and sent it for a present to the king of Assyria. And the king of Assyria hearkened unto him: for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus, and took it, and carried the people of it captive to Kir, and slew Rezin." a

The immediate royal family certainly knew that he had become king in Assyria, however this privileged information was not to be divulged outside the royal court. Identity deception was a fundamental element of ancient kingship, and considered essential for the control of a vast, multi-cultural empire. Members of the royal family prided themselves as being masters of disguise, and this is fully reflected in the Biblical narratives. Prior to this episode in question, there are many other examples.

  1. Abram pretending that Sarah was only his sister and not his wife. In this case, it was not actually done to fool pharaoh or king Abimelech, but the people. Isaac later resorted to a similar ruse with his wife Rebecca.
  2. Jacob tricking his father Isaac into thinking he was Esau and thereby inducing Jacob to give him the greater blessing.
  3. Tamar disguising herself as a village prostitute in order to seduce her father-in-law Judah.
  4. Laban passing off Leah as Rachel on Jacob's wedding night.
  5. Joseph masquerading as a non-Hebrew speaking Egyptian in order to prevent his brothers from recognizing him.
  6. Elisha hiding his identity from the army of Aram.

In the Kings/Chronicles narrative, there are two instances of the name Tiglath-pileser. Two other times he is simply called Pul, and two times he is called Tilgath-pilneser. Pul or Pulu evidently derives from the phonic "pil (-eser)." In Egyptian sources, Tiglath-pileser is similarly called by the short form of Arsa or Iarsa, a transposition of Ezer ("preeminent"). Iarsa renders the less flattering connotation of "self-appointed" in the Egyptian language.b While the term "self-made man" is claimed with pride today, it was a slur of illegitimacy in the ancient world. The second form, Tilgath-pilneser is especially revealing. This variant indicates that Tiglath-pileser was also concealing his identity in various parts of Mesopotamia, at least at the beginning of his reign, during which time he was called Nabu-neser (Nabonassar) in Babylon. We encounter similar and perhaps more playful duplicity in the reign of the next Assyrian king Sargon II who expressed admiration for the horses of Piye in Egypt, his own alter ego!

It was noted above that the Kings account of Ahaz differs from the Chronicles regarding how badly Ahaz suffered from the assault of Pekah and Rezin. They also differ even more substantially concerning the usefulness of Assyrian forces. The Chronicles account reads:

"At that time did king Ahaz sent unto the kingsc of Assyria to help him ... And Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria came unto him, and distressed him, but strengthened him not. For Ahaz took away a portion out of the house of the Lord, and out of the house of the king, and of the princes, and gave it unto the king of Assyria: but he helped him not." d

From the perspective of the Theban priests, Shabaka (Ahaz) did not get a good deal. He paid much and received little in return. From the perspective of Shabaka (Ahaz) himself, he benefited greatly by this daring operation. He was able to transfer large amounts of wealth out of Egypt and also reinforce his army without exposing his foreign interests and loyalties. Knowledge of the king's true agenda would have led to immediate outrage and revolt on the part of the people, but they did not know they had been sold out until it was too late, and most never realized it at all. The Kings narrative quoted above better reflects the vantage point of the king. According to Isaiah 8:1-10, the king of Assyria was to ravage Damascus and Judah in an immediate sense, that is, literally before a child could be sired by Isaiahe and learn to say "mommy" or "daddy."

The Kings narrative mentions the sack of Damascus by Tiglath-pileser, but not the invasion of Judah. Strangely, Tiglath-pileser also does not mention that he led his army into either of the two lands called Judah. He does boast of the deportation of Israel, although he does not speak its conquest. It might be expected that if a conquest or deportation had occurred in the Judah of Palestine, then he would have included the exploit in his annals along with Israel. However, the prevailing rules of kingly etiquette may have required him to remain silent about an Assyrian invasion of the Judah of Upper Egypt. There is at least partial acknowledgment in Egypt of this event made in retrospect during the reign of Ramses III. It was written: "The land of Egypt was overthrown from without and every man was thrown out of his right ... Iarsu, a certain Syrian was with them as chief. He set the whole land tributary before him together; he united his companions and plundered their possessions." f Even the author of this history was not willing to say that Tiglath-pileser was an Assyrian, but only a Syrian. The memory of this event was far too traumatic.

The decision of Shabaka to bring Assyrian troops deep into Egypt was considered necessary for the king's personal survival, but proved disastrous for the nation. The war with Rezin and Pekah had bereaved the people, many of them stripped of their very clothes, other personal belongings, and even children. Although Pekah was considered an evil king, the Kings narrative does not blame him or Rezin/Jotham for this.  The record of Jotham's reign precedes that of Ahaz, and Jotham is declared to have been a wholly righteous king in the example set by David. Only Ahaz can be held responsible for the catastrophe, and far more was yet to come on account of him. By the command of Ahaz/Tiglath-pileser,g Assyrian troops covered every nook and cranny of the country and then shaved the land "naked" as if by a "razor." 1

The "killing" of Rezin, leader of the opposition against him, was of course of tremendous value to Ahaz. However, it is doubtful this king of Damascus was put to death in a literal sense. In the Assyrian annals, Tiglath-pileser claimed to have received tribute from "Rezon." He also recorded the tribute sent by Jeho-ahaz, that is, items of value from his own holdings in "Judah." [I (Tiglath-pileser) received] the tribute of ... Byblos, ... Moab, ... Ashkelon, ... Jehoahaz of Judah, ... Edom ..." h Tiglath-pileser further claimed emphatically to have defeated Rezon, but it cannot be confirmed that Rezon was also executed by him. In fact, dead kings don't usually pay tribute! Rather, Tiglath-pileser states that another king named Mitinti of Ashkelon, after hearing of Rezon's defeat, had died and was replaced by a "son." The relevant inscription is damaged, but is reconstructed as follows:

"[ ... (as to) Mitinti from] Ashkelon (who had [violated], (when) he learned about [the defeat inflicted upon] Rezon he [perished] in in[sanity]. [Rukibtu, son of Mitinti] sat (himself) on his throne." i

"In Every Corner"

In Damascus, Jotham was not called by a Hebrew name, or by the Egyptian/Libyan name of Rudamun, but as to be expected by a Syrian name, Radyan.j This Syrian name was written as Rezin in the Bible and Rezon by Tiglath-pileser in Assyria. The Chronicles account of Ahaz does not mention the fall of Damascus or the death of Rezin. It is therefore more probable that Radyan/Rezin/Rezon endured only a symbolic death. His defeat and possible capturek by Tiglath-pileser correlates well with the abandonment, not only of his Syrian name but also the Egyptian/Libyan name of Rudamun at about this time. Henceforth, he would be known as Piye or Pi-ankhy instead. Possibly this name change was even imposed upon him by Tiglath-pileser as part of the terms of submission to his authority.l Takelot III was formerly the "son" of Rudamon as a Libyan dynast.

After Tiglath-pileser defeated Rezin, "Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglathpileser king of Assyria." m Once again, the Kings narrative is covering for Ahaz and also denying the brutal and perennially hated conquest of the Assyrians. Although predicted in various places, the presence of Assyrian troops in Jerusalem, either in the reign of Ahaz, or later in the reign of Zedekiah, is nowhere described. It is not possible that the original author of this narrative failed to perceive that Ahaz and Tiglath-pileser were one and the same person. This will become much more clear when the Biblical accounts of subsequent kings of Judah and the internal textual clues of their foreign identities are examined.

From Damascus, Ahaz (Tiglath-pileser) sent plans of an altar he admired there to the priest Uriah,n ostensibly to honor the gods of Damascus who had earlier defeated him.o Uriah can be associated with Hori/Kashta,p who was the father-in-law of Takelot/ Shabaka, and also the natural (but not legal) father of Piye/Rezin. Uriah (Hori/Kashta) must have tried to remain as neutral as possible in the conflict between the two brothers. He had earlier been called upon by Ahaz to witness the liaison between Isaiah and the prophetess.q This was included in the discourse pertaining to the dispute between Ahaz and Rezin. In the Kings narrative of Ahaz, Uriah is just as eager to comply with the wishes of Ahaz. The requested altar was immediately constructed and ready for use by the time Ahaz returned to Jerusalem. If the priest Uriah or others objected to this particular "foreign" influence in the temple, it is not mentioned in the Kings account. In general, the Kings account is far less critical of Ahaz than that of Chronicles. What we would normally expect to be denounced as an abomination is reported more or less objectively in Kings and with surprising detail. In fact, so much so that it stands out as the sole redeeming quality in an otherwise regrettable reign.

The most notable addition to the Karnak Temple by Takelot III was a chapel built early in his reign, and probably started while his father Osorkon III was still alive. It was located in a back corner of the temple complex and dedicated to Osiris Hekadjet, translated as "Osiris Ruler of Eternity," or "Osiris Ruler of Life." Osiris was traditionally judge and ruler of the dead and the world of the dead. The emphasis on Osiris in the land of the living was then something of an innovation, and another precursor of Christianity. Osiris was also a leading god in Syria and especially Damascus under the names of Tammuz and Rimmon ("pomegranate").r If the new altar was associated with Osiris worship and placed within the unobtrusive chapel of Osiris, then it probably would not have caused any serious disturbance among the temple priests at that time.s The altar was also far more likely to be a tribute to Takelot's now deceased father, who he now wanted to honor for blessing him and giving him victory, and perhaps as atonement for earlier failing him in defeat.

The typecasting of Osorkon III as Osiris comes across strongly in the Chronicles description of his reign: "Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem ... He also built towers in the desert and dug many cisterns, because he had much livestock in the foothills and in the plain. He had people working his fields and vineyards in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil." t The revival and alteration of the Osiris cult can be attributed to the influence of Osorkon III, who had taken up the cross of Akhenaten and the earlier Djehuty as a "living Osiris." The small temple of Osiris Hekadjet ("Osiris Lord of Life/Living") at Karnak is decorated with scenes of Osorkon III, his co-regent Takelot III and his daughter Shepenwepet, Amenirdis the daughter of Nubian Kashta, as well as the Nubian Shebitku. Kashta is depicted along with Osorkon III in the Osiris Hekadjet temple, but not in the same scenes. This may reflect the rivalry between Osorkon III/Alara and Kashta and their sons that had developed by the end of Osorkon's very long life and reign.

In the temple of Osiris Hekadjet, both Shepenwepet and Amenirdis hold the title "God's Wife of Amun," therefore Egyptologists speculate that Amenirdis of the Nubian 25th Dynasty had been "adopted" by Shepenwepet of the Libyan 23rd Dynasty. However, it now can be said that all of the persons depicted in the chapel were members of the same extended family. Alara of the proto-25th Dynasty was actually the Nubian name of Osorkon III, who was named among the pharaohs of the Libyan 23rd Dynasty. His Egyptian given name was Amen-wennemef, a variant of Wennefer, an epithet of Osiris meaning, " 'the perpetually good being', in recognition of his beneficence." u Likewise, Shabaka and Piye of the 25th Dynasty are listed as Takelot III and Rudamon of the 23rd Dynasty.

The Kings narrative is much less critical of Ahaz and his "reforms" v than Chronicles, which does not approve of the reverence of Damascene gods or any of his other practices. Both Kings and Chronicles record the typical complaint that "he sacrificed and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree." w However, the Chronicles author includes other general examples of how Ahaz encouraged decentralized, non-orthodox worship. It does not mention the new altar placed in the corner of the main temple complex, but says that: "he made him altars in every corner of Jerusalem. And in every several [different] city of Judah he made high places to burn incense unto other gods, and provoked to anger the Lord God of his fathers." x Consistent with this, "nearly every great religious center in Egypt bears traces of Shabaka's building activity in the form of stone blocks and various small objects with inscriptions containing his name." y Whereas Piye had done little or no construction in Egypt, Shabaka's abundant works can be found not only in Thebes, but Athribis, Memphis, Abydos, Dendera, Esna, and Edfu.z

Although the troubled times did not allow any major works, Shabaka compensated with a great many minor ones. In contrast, little or nothing attributable to Shabaka other than a ruined pyramid cenotaph has been found in Nubia, which belies his presumed origins there, and that of the 25th Dynasty itself. In addition to the Osiris Hekadjet at Karnak, Shabaka also built a new chapel in Western Thebes at Medinet Habu (The City of David). In emulation of his archetype Menkhaure, Shabaka is best known for his activity in Memphis, the city of Ptah. It was there that Shabaka devoted the most effort to construction, and where he also supposedly rescued of the "Memphite Theology" of Ptah from an old, neglected papyrus. Like the Osiris Hekadjet temple, this was an article that incorporated future Christian concepts.aa Menkhaure was made infamous for his attempt to restore the cult of Ptah and other gods in Egypt after their suppression by Khufu/Cheops and Khafre/Chephren. Likewise, Ahaz (Shabaka) is included among the ranks of the most idolatrous kings of Israel and Judah.

The Queen-maker

After the defeat of Rezin and deportation of Damascus, Tiglath-pileser initiated the deportation of Israel. This apparently took place without any resistance from Pekah, who he does not mention in his annals, either as being defeated or paying tribute. Through a combining Egyptian and Biblical sources, it can be understood that after the defeat of Rezin, the fire of Pekah was put out by his stepmother Queen Twosret, who ruled as his regent for as much as six years.2 She had him killed,ab assumed the title of pharaoh, and sued for peace with Tiglath-pileser. Tiglath-pileser wrote in his annals:

"Israel (lit.: 'Omri-Land' Bit Humria) ... all its inhabitants (and) their possessions I led to Assyria. They overthrew their king Pekah (Pa-qa-ha) and I placed Hoshea (A-u-si-') as king over them." ac

The two names, Twosret and Hoshea, would have been similar in pronunciation, with the hard "t's" in Twosret unvoiced in the Hebrew tongue. The pronunciation would have been close enough at least for Hoshea ("Savior") to make a suitable and sarcastic Hebrew nickname for Twosret, the final ruler of the 19th Dynasty. Hoshea, king of Israel, is described using masculine pronouns. Twosret had assumed a masculine pharaonic identity as Hatshepsut did in the 18th Dynasty.ad It would have pleased Tiglath-pileser to recognize and even establish Twosret as a pharaoh. The rule of a divine queen was required in order to bring the great 19th Dynasty to a close and allow the ongoing Exodus (deportations) from Egypt (and Israel) to proceed according to traditional form. Once she had fulfilled her designated role, Twosret herself would be removed only about two years later.ae

Late in his reign, Tiglath-pileser suppressed a revolt in Babylon and reestablished direct rule. "He 'took the hand of Bel (Marduk)' during the New Year Festival and was proclaimed King of Babylon under the name of Pulu." af The following year he died or, to use the Babylonian expression, 'he went to his destiny.' " The "placement" of Hoshea (Twosret) is the last word from the annals of Tiglath-pileser in Assyria. The Book of Isaiah characterizes Ahaz as one who was prone to anxiety, ala his archetype Elijah. And as Elijah, Ahaz had good reason to worry. He, like the two Smenkhkare's before him, and the Menkhaure before that, was destined for disgrace. Just when final victory and honor in his "rebellion" was won, Tiglath-pileser and his alter ego Shabaka vanish from the archaeological record, even as his role models had done. The disgrace and even death of the previous two Smenkhkare's both came by the hand of a Moses-figure. (The demise of Old Kingdom Menkhaure is not known.) Likewise, this is what we would expect for Shabaka. His destiny would have been to be "struck down" by a Moses-figure for his insubordination. Or as it would be in this case, the prince who did kill him was after-the-fact designated as Moses.


  1. 2 Kings 16:7 (KJV)
  2. Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, p 271.
  3. Translated in the singular as "king" by the NIV, in accordance with the Septuagint, the Vulgate and one Hebrew manuscript, and which is consistent with the parallel verse in 2 Kings 16:7. However, most Hebrew manuscripts read "kings" as translated in the KJV.
  4. 2 Chron. 28:16, 20-21 (KJV)
  5. Isaiah was directed by "God" to produce a son by the prophetess, i.e., the "God's Wife of Amun." Uriah was further directed to be a witness that the son was Isaiah's.
  6. Excerpt from the Papyrus Harris I, translated by James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Vol. 4, 1906.
  7. Isaiah 7:10-25
  8. Ancient Near Eastern Texts, J. Pritchard, ed., p 282.
  9. Ancient Near Eastern Texts, J. Pritchard, ed., p 283.
  10. Note the close correspondence between Rud-amun and Rad-ya-n. As noted in the previous chapter, it is possible that Rud-amon was not the Libyan name of Piye but actually that of High Priest Amenhotep, who was later called Urdamane in Assyrian inscriptions.
  11. Isaiah 8:4
  12. Compare the later name changes imposed on subjugated kings of Judah. In the case of Eli-akim to Jeho-iakim, the change is subtle (2 Kings 23:34; 2 Chron. 36:4). However, there is little similarity between Matttaniah and Zedekiah (2 Kings 2417).
  13. 2 Kings 16:10 (KJV)
  14. 2 Kings 16:10-18
  15. 2 Chron. 28:23
  16. Uriah is simply called "the priest." In the reign of Shabaka/Takelot, the "chief priests" (High Priests) were Amenhotep (Amariah) and Horemakhet/Osorkon F (Azariah).
  17. Isaiah 8:2
  18. Robert Graves, The Greek Myths, 27.10, p 110. See also the discussion in Chapter 3 of Archaeology and the Patriarchs.
  19. Osiris/Tammuz did come under attacked a short time later, as evidenced by Ezekiel 8:24.
  20. 2 Chron. 26:9-10 (NIV). The name Azar-iah also naturally lends itself to an association with Asar (the Egyptian writing of the Greek name Osiris).
  21. Barbara Watterson, Gods of Ancient Egypt, p 56.
  22. 2 Kings 16:4, 10-18; 2 Chron. 28:2-4, 22-25
  23. 2 Kings 16:4; 2 Chron. 28:4
  24. 2 Chron. 28:24-25
  25. Karol Mysliwiec, The Twilight of Ancient Egypt, p 89.
  26. Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, p 344.
  27. Aidon Dodson, Monarchs of the Nile, p 184. Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, p 343.
  28. 2 Kings 15:30
  29. Ancient Near Eastern Texts, J. Pritchard, ed., p 284.
  30. Peter Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, p 159.
  31. 1 Chron. 5:6; 2 Kings 17:3-6
  32. Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq, p 310.

Note 1:

The Hebrew words for "naked" (4636, 6174, 6544) and "razor" (8593) are word plays.

2 Chron 28:15 "all that were naked among them"
naked (4636) ma'arom, mah-ar-ome'; from 6191, in the sense of stripping; bare:-- naked
(6191) aram, aw-ram'; prop. to be (or make) bare, take crafty [counsel], be prudent, deal subtly.

2 Chron. 28:19 "he [Ahaz] made Judah naked"
naked (6544) para, paw-rah'; to loosen, by impl. to expose, dismiss; fig absolve, begin:-- avenge, avoid, bare, go back, let, (make) naked, set at nought, perish, refuse, uncover.

Isaiah 20: 2, 3, 4; 58:7 Isaiah "went about naked and barefoot" in expectation of another Assyrian invasion targeting Cush and Egypt rather than Damascus and Judah.
naked (6174) arowm, aw-rome'; from (6191), nude, naked

The use of aram/arom is a play on the region of Aram (758) arawm', "the highland." Ahaz (Tiglath-pileser III) effectively annexed Egypt to Aram/Assyria.

Ahaz took vengeance on those who had sided with Rezin and had rejoiced in the earlier defeat of Ahaz by Rezin. It was a struggle for supremacy between Ahaz and Rezin. Isaiah (8:10) declared that God was the side of Ahaz. He therefore encouraged the desolation, but also appealed for compassion, as in Isaiah 58:6-7 and as demonstrated in 2 Chron. 28:15.

razor (8593) ta'ar, tah'ar; from 6168; a knife or razor (as making bare); also a scabbard (as being bare, i.e. empty): -[pen-]knife, rasor, scabbard, shave, sheath.

(6168) arah, aw-raw'; to be (caus. make) bare; hence to empty, pour out, demolish:-- leave, destitute, discover, empty, make naked, pour (out), rase, spread self, uncover.

Again there is an emphasis on Ra, who as personification/deification of the sun scorched [Upper] Egypt in his vengeful anger and denuded it of vegetation if not people.

Note 2:

Twosret is believed to have acted as the regent of Siptah-Meremptah for his entire six-year reign as pharaoh. During this period, Twosret was increasingly influenced by her advisor Chancellor Bay, the former royal scribe of Sethos II who gained control over the royal finances and was afforded with his own tomb in the Valley of the Kings. (Nicolas Grimal, A History of Ancient Egypt, p 270) Bay is variously referred to as an "upstart Syrian" (Aidon Dodson, Monarchs of the Nile, p 141) and a "Kingmaker" (Peter Clayton, Chronicle of the Pharaohs, p 159), that is, one "who established the king on the throne of his father." (Grimal p 270)

Based on this characterization, Bay is generally considered to be one and the same as Iarsa/Iarsu, the "Syrian" who overthrew Egypt "from without." If the king placed on the throne of his father was Sethos II son Meremptah (later killed by order of Siptah), then Bay may have been one and the same as Shabaka/Tiglath-pileser III. In this case, Twosret may not have been forced to fully recognize his status in Thebes as a pharaoh and overlord of all Egypt. However, it does not seem likely that Shabaka would have placed his rival Siptah-Meremptah "on the throne of his father" unless Siptah is not one and the same as the Biblical Pekah.

In the following chapters, the sudden appearance of Tefnakhte/Setnakhte in Upper Egypt between the reigns of Shabaka and Piye will be discussed. He also should be considered as a candidate for Chancellor Bay.

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