This ancient Assyrian sculpture contains the earliest pictorial depiction of the King of Israel

Anita Durairaj
The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III shows the King of Israel bowing and prostrating himself before Shalmaneser IIICredit: Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg); CC-BY-SA-4.0 International

The Black Obelisk of King Shalmaneser III is an Assyrian monument of King Shalmaneser III who ruled from 852 to 824 BC. It commemorates the military victories of the king.

The obelisk was discovered in 1845 in Nimrud, Iraq, and may have been created around 827 to 824 BC.

The black limestone sculpture depicts many scenes in bas-relief. Bas-relief refers to the method of projecting an image with a shallow overall depth such as the images seen on coins. The Black Obelisk was also decorated with cuneiform inscriptions.

There are four illustrated faces on the Black Obelisk showing the Assyrian king receiving gifts and tributes from different delegations such as the Israelites, people from the Euphrates, and other rulers from Iraq.

The obelisk is of historical importance because it is thought to depict the King of Israel bowing and prostrating himself before the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III. The second row of reliefs depicts the Israelite delegation. The King of Israel during this time period is purported to be Jehu, the tenth king of the northern Kingdom of Israel.

An inscription is written in cuneiform above this particular scene on the obelisk. The inscription reads,

"The tribute of Jehu, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears."

Still, not all scholars are convinced that the scene depicts King Jehu specifically. It could also represent a different king of Israel or an ambassador. However, the scholars unanimously agree that it is a representative of Israel who is paying tribute to the Assyrian king.

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III is currently displayed in the British Museum.

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Trained with a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, I write unique and interesting articles focused on science, history, and current events.


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