What is 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

What is The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser?

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III is a four-sided monument or pillar made of black limestone. It stands about 6 1/2 feet tall. It was discovered in 1846 by A.H. Layard in the Central Palace of Shalmaneser III at the ruins of Nimrud, known in the Bible as Calah, and known in ancient Assyrian inscriptions as Kalhu. It is now on display in the British Museum.

The Obelisk contains 5 rows of bas-relief (carved) panels on each of the 4 sides, 20 panels in all. Directly above each panel are cuneiform inscriptions describing tribute offered by submissive kings during Shalmaneser's war campaigns with Syria and the West.

The "Jehu Relief" is the most significant panel because it reveals a bearded Semite in royal attire bowing with his face to the ground before king Shalmaneser III, with Hebrew servants standing behind him bearing gifts. The cuneiform text around it reveals the tribute bearer and his gifts, it says:

"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."

The Assyrians referred to a northern Israel king as a "son of Omri", whether they were a direct son of Omri or not. Other Assyrian inscriptions reveal Israel's southern kings from Judah, as recorded on Sennacherib's Clay Prism (also known as the Taylor Prism) which reads "Hezekiah the Judahite".

The Black Obelisk has been precisely dated to 841 BC, due to the accurate Assyrian dating methods. One modern scholar refers to the accuracy of Assyrian records:

"Assyrian records were carefully kept. The Assyrians coordinated their records with the solar year. They adopted a system of assigning to each year the name of an official, who was known as the "limmu." In addition, notation was made of outstanding political events in each year, and in some cases reference was made to an eclipse of the sun which astronomers calculate occured on June 15, 763 B.C. Assyriologists have been able to compile a list of these named years, which they designate "eponyms," and which cover 244 years (892-648 B.C.). These records are highly dependable and have been used by Old Testament scholars to establish dates in Hebrew History, particularly during the period of the monarchy."

Walter G. Williams, "Archaeology in Biblical Research" (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1965) p. 121.

Shalmaneser III ruled ancient Assyria from 858-824 BC., and was the son of Assurnasirpal II.

British Museum Excerpt

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

Neo-Assyrian, 858-824 BC
From Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), northern Iraq

The military achievements of an Assyrian king

The archaeologist Henry Layard discovered this black limestone obelisk in 1846 during his excavations of the site of Kalhu, the ancient Assyrian capital. It was erected as a public monument in 825 BC at a time of civil war. The relief sculptures glorify the achievements of King Shalmaneser III (reigned 858-824 BC) and his chief minister. It lists their military campaigns of thirty-one years and the tribute they exacted from their neighbours: including camels, monkeys, an elephant and a rhinoceros. Assyrian kings often collected exotic animals and plants as an expression of their power.

There are five scenes of tribute, each of which occupies four panels round the face of the obelisk and is identified by a line of cuneiform script above the panel. From top to bottom they are:

Sua of Gilzanu (in north-west Iran)
Jehu of Bit Omri (ancient northern Israel)
An unnamed ruler of Musri (probably Egypt)
Marduk-apil-usur of Suhi (middle Euphrates, Syria and Iraq)
Qalparunda of Patin (Antakya region of Turkey)

The second register from the top includes the earliest surviving picture of an Israelite: the Biblical Jehu, king of Israel, brought or sent his tribute in around 841 BC. Ahab, son of Omri, king of Israel, had lost his life in battle a few years previously, fighting against the king of Damascus at Ramoth-Gilead (I Kings xxii. 29-36). His second son (Joram) was succeeded by Jehu, a usurper, who broke the alliances with Phoenicia and Judah, and submitted to Assyria. The caption above the scene, written in Assyrian cuneiform, can be translated

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.

Height: 197.85 cm
Width: 45.08 cm

Excavated by A.H. Layard
ANE 118885
Room 6, Assyrian sculpture