The ruins of ancient Nineveh lie near the modern city of Mosul, in north central Iraq. During the Old Testament period, Nineveh is often mentioned. Destroyed by the Babylonians and Medes in 612 BCE, Nineveh was lost to history until the mid 1800’s when the first archaeological discoveries were made there.
The first mention of Nineveh is found in Genesis 10:11. Nimrod, son of Cush, son of Ham, son of Noah, is said to have built Nineveh.
In 2 Kings 19, Sennacherib, King of Assyria, attached Jerusalem, then ruled by Hezekiah. Hezekiah had turned to false gods, but returned to the one true God when he learned of the Assyrian threat. God spared Jerusalem at that time from the Assyrians.
The next major mention of Nineveh is in the Book of Jonah. Jonah was called upon by God to go and preach to the people and leaders in Nineveh, an extremely wicked city. As we all know, Jonah wasn’t too excited by this command and tried to avoid it. God intervened and Jonah not only went to Nineveh, but was highly successful there.
The Book of Nahum is devoted to the pending destruction of Nineveh. Nahum 1:1: “An oracle concerning Nineveh.” Nahum was probably written in the late-mid 7th century BCE, after the Assyrians defeated Thebes in 663 BCE but before the destruction of Nineveh in 612 BCE. Both Matthew 12:41 and Luke 11:12 speak to the destruction of Nineveh because it had not followed what Jonah had told them.
History of Nineveh
Archaeological evidence indicates that the immediate area of Nineveh was occupied as early as the 7th millennium BCE. The Assyrian Empire was at its highpoint from around 900 BCE until it fell in 612 BCE. Sargon II made Nineveh the capital city of Assyria during his reign (772-702 BCE) when he built his palace there. King Sennacherib (704-681 BCE) built Nineveh into a fortified city, surrounded by a moat and wall 50′ high and supplied by aqueducts.
In warfare, the Assyrians were extremely brutal. Archaeological records show that they built pyramids of severed heads and piled bodies of their adversaries like cord wood outside of enemy city’s walls.
Sennacherib built a beautiful city full of parks and palaces. His own palace rivaled that of Kings David and Solomon.
King Ashurbanipal (669-626 BCE) built a huge library there which contained over 22,000 clay tablets. This was by far the largest library prior to the Egyptian library in Alexandria.
In 612 BCE the Babylonians and Medes under Nabopolassar attacked Nineveh. After a three-month siege, the attackers were ready to give up when God brought a flood that gave them entry through the city’s walls. Nineveh was sacked and completely destroyed. Within years the ruins were covered by the moving sands and the area did not gain importance again for centuries when modern Mosul on the other side of the Tigris River was established.
The Tale of the Tel.
Most of the remains of Nineveh lay under two large mounds. These were first explored by the French in the mid-1800’s. Up until this time, Nineveh was largely thought to be a Biblical myth. In a number of digs over the past 160 years, some of the things unearthed include:
Sargon II’s palace.
Sennacherib’s enormous palace and many gardens.
Ashurbanipal’s library which included 12 clay tablets containing the Epic of Gilgamesh.
City walls and the remains of a moat measuring almost 8 miles in total length.
Hundreds of stella, murals and clay tablets containing a great deal about the region during the Assyrian reign. Included are many extra-Biblical reference that show the reliability of many Biblical accounts. Hezekiah and other leaders of Judah are mentioned giving further evidence that they were real.
In many cases, the accounts from the ruins of Nineveh differ from the Biblical accounts. This is to be expected since these accounts would have been written to show the Assyrians in a favorable light.
The actual city of Nineveh would not have taken three days to cross, as reported by Jonah. Although a large city in its time, Jonah could have easily walked its length of breadth in a few hours. The three days more likely refers to the time it took Jonah to cross the immediate area ruled by Nineveh or to go from neighborhood to neighborhood to deliver his message from God.
The Modern Plight of Tel Nineveh.
Modern Nineveh, located in north central Iraq, has been a war-torn area for the last two decades. Located in a Kurdish region, it was also subject to very harsh treatment during the reign of Saddam Husein. There has been a huge amount of looting of the ruins since the first excavations in 1847. Some of this looting has caused massive destruction of parts of the ruins and left other parts to exposure to nature.
The ravages of time have also taken a huge toll. Many of the ruins found under Kuyunjik Mound were left uncovered for decades, adding to their degradation. Much of this has now been put under roof and is considered an Iraqi nations treasure.
The second mound has a Mosque built to the Prophet Mohammad atop it, so cannot be excavated.
The Biblical Importance of Tel Nineveh.
Much has been learned from these ruins about both Sumerian and Assyrian history and culture. That alone makes it a site of immense importance.
From a Biblical standpoint, the importance of Tel Nineveh is that it provides a great deal of extra-Biblical evidence of Biblical truth. From the existence of Hebrew leaders to Nahum’s accurate prophesy of Nineveh’s destruction the Old Testament is shown to have historical truth.
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