The Discovery of the Black Obelisk

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser

"He will raise a signal for a nation from afar off, and whistle for it from the ends of the earth; and lo, swiftly, speedily it comes." Isaiah 5:26

The Discovery of the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser

In 1846 an English traveler and artist named Austen Henry Layard was digging around the ruins of ancient Nimrud (known as Calah) in northern Iraq. He discovered something amazing, a black limestone obelisk now referred to as "The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III”.

Sketch of the Black Obelisk

When Layard discovered this wonderful obelisk he had no idea what it really was that he had found. He had no way of deciphering the cuneiform writing, but he did notice that it had beautifully carved images on all four sides. He also knew that obelisks were stone monuments or pillars in the ancient world, and they were usually created for public display to honor someone very important.

When one scholar investigated the discovery he determined that it was a monument of one of the greatest kings in the ancient world, Shalmaneser III. Shalmaneser ruled ancient Assyria around 850 BC. They also determined that one of the carved images revealed Jehu, the king of Israel bowing before the powerful monarch with his face to the ground. It was the same Jehu that is mentioned in the Bible.

The Black Obelisk actually has 20 hand-carved relief panels, 5 on each side from top to bottom with cuneiform writing all around. The cuneiform inscriptions contain detail about Shalmaneser's war campaigns and the tribute of submissive kings. Each panel contains the carved images of 5 kings bringing tribute to the king of Assyria, Shalmaneser III.

Sketch of the Jehu Panel

The panel that depicts king Jehu and the inscriptions around it make it clear that it is the same Jehu that is mentioned in the Bible, the King of Israel in 850 BC. Layard's discovery would be the first and only image of a real Hebrew king that is mentioned in the Bible in all archaeological discoveries.

The cuneiform inscriptions 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."

Layard's Account of the Black Obelisk Discovery

"I mounted my horse; but had scarcely left the mound when the corner of a monument in black marble was uncovered, which proved to be an obelisk, about six feet six inches in height, lying on its side, ten feet below the surface. An Arab was sent after me without delay, to announce the discovery; and on my return I found, completely exposed to view, an obelisk terminated by three steps or gradines and flat at the top. I descended eagerly into the trench, and was immediately struck by the singular appearance, and evident antiquity, of the remarkable monument before me. We raised it and speedily dragged it out of the ruins. On each side were five small bas-reliefs, and above, below, and between them was carved an inscription 2l0 lines in length. The whole was in the best preservation. The king was twice represented followed by his attendants; a prisoner was at his feet, and his vizier and eunuchs were introducing captives and tributaries carrying vases, shawls, bundles of rare wood, elephant's tusks, and other objects of tribute, and leading various animals, among which were the elephant, the rhinoceros, the Bactrian or two humped camel, the wild bull, and several kinds of monkeys. In one bas-relief were two lions hunting a stag in a wood, probably to denote the nature of one of the countries conquered by the king. From the animals portrayed, particularly the double-humped camel, and the elephant, which is of the Indian and not of the African species, it is natural to conjecture that the obelisk was sculptured to commemorate the conquest of nations far to the east of Assyria, on the confines of the Indian peninsula. The name of the king, whose deeds it records, was the same as that on the center bulls." - Austen Henry Layard

(A Popular Account of Discoveries at Nineveh. Austen Henry Layard. J. C. Derby. New York. 1854).

Also see: What is the Black Obelisk?