NINEVEH (Heb. נִינְוֶה; Akk. Ninua, Ninâ; in Mari Ninuwa; Ar. Ninawa), the capital of the Assyrian empire from Sennacherib's time on, situated about 1 mi. (about 1½ km.) E. of the Tigris, opposite modern Mosul. Since the cuneiform for Nineveh (Ninâ) is a fish within a house, it has been suggested that the name of the city was derived from that of a goddess associated with fish, but it seems that it is of Hurrian origin. From the Akkadian period on, the city was dedicated to the "Ishtar of Nineveh."
The ancient citadel of Nineveh was situated on a hill known today as Quyunjiq ("Little Lamb") and located near the center of the western region of the city. On the hill there were also the Assyrian royal palaces and the temples. South of this citadel is a smaller tell, called Nebi Yūnis ("the Prophet Jonah"), where, according to Islamic tradition, the prophet Jonah is buried, and on which is a large mosque. The city, however, extended over a much larger area.
Archaeological excavations were conducted in the city for about a century, mainly by the British (beginning in 1842). The excavations of 1932 (by M.E.L. Mallowan) laid the foundations for the study of the prehistory of northern Mesopotamia, the city thus becoming a key site for a knowledge and understanding of the prehistoric period.
The investigation made during the 1932 excavations of Quyunjiq down to its virgin soil uncovered the tell's earliest stratum, which contains remnants of the Hassuna culture and has been assigned to about 5000–4500 B.C.E.
One of the earliest pieces of written evidence is an inscription of Narâm-Sin of the Akkadian dynasty (2291–2255 B.C.E.). Hammurapi king of Babylonia mentions the city in the introduction to his code of laws as the site of a temple of Ishtar. At the beginning of the 14th century B.C.E. Nineveh belonged to Mitanni. Tushratta king of Mitanni sent the image of "Ishtar of Nineveh" (identified with the Hurrian goddess Šauška) twice to Egypt to heal Amenophis III, his ally and in-law. Subsequently, Nineveh reverted to Assyrian rule, since the Assyrian king Ashur-uballiṭ (1364–1329 B.C.E.) stated that he rebuilt the temple of Ishtar which, according to indications, was renovated a number of times between the 13th and ninth centuries B.C.E. Individual bricks, inscribed with the builders' names and with dedicatory inscriptions that have been brought to light, attest to the existence of several palaces built during these centuries. The earliest palace of which actual remains have been uncovered is that of Ashurnaṣirpal II (883–859 B.C.E.).
The city reached its zenith toward the end of the eighth century B.C.E., when it was in effect reconstructed during the reign of Sennacherib (705–681 B.C.E.) and became the capital of the Assyrian empire. Near the city – and in fact within its limits – Sennacherib planted a botanical garden with trees from all parts of the empire, among them vines and fruit-bearing trees. Magnificent spacious palaces were erected in the city. In the southwestern corner of the site, Sennacherib built a new palace to replace the earlier smaller one that had been there, and called it "the palace which has no equal." Today it is known as "the southwestern palace." On most of the walls of the halls, reliefs have been found depicting scenes from the building of the palace as well as war scenes, including the siege of *Lachish (found in Hall XXXVI). In the disorders that broke out upon the death of Sennacherib, part of his palace was apparently burned down and left in ruins for about 40 years. On the smaller tell (Nebi Yūnis), Esarhaddon (681–669 B.C.E.) built himself a palace. Ashurbanipal (668–627 B.C.E.) reestablished his residence on the main tell (Quyunjiq). Not content with merely renovating and embellishing the palace of Sennacherib, his grandfather, he built his own palace at the extremity of the tell. It was explored in the course of the excavation of Quyunjik, 1853–54, and reliefs portraying scenes from various battles and representing Assyrian art at its zenith were uncovered. Ashurbanipal's greatest achievement was the establishment of a vast royal library in the city, containing several thousand cuneiform documents in the fields of literature and ritual, science and mythology, lexicography, astronomy, and history, as well as economic documents, letters, and state contracts.
At the end of Ashurbanipal's reign, the royal residence was apparently transferred from Nineveh and established, according to one view, in Harran. Nineveh was captured, plundered, and destroyed in the summer of 612 B.C.E. by the forces of the Median and Babylonian empires, and became a desolate heap. The site itself was later occupied again until the Mongol invasion of the 14th century.
In the Bible
According to the Table of the Nations, Nineveh was established – together with other principal centers in Mesopotamia
In II Kings 19:36–37 (and in the parallel passage in Isa. 37:37–38), Nineveh is mentioned as the city to which Sennacherib returned after his failure to capture Jerusalem, and in which he was murdered by his sons.
Two contemporary prophets, *Zephaniah (2:13ff.) and *Nahum, prophesied the destruction of Nineveh.
In the Aggadah
Nineveh was a huge city, covering 40 square parasangs and containing a million and a half persons. The "six score thousand persons" alluded to in Jonah 4:11 refer to the population of only one of the 12 districts into which the city was divided. The voice of the prophet Jonah was so stentorian that it reached every corner of the city and all who heard his words resolved to turn aside from their ungodly ways (Mid. Jonah, 99–100, in A. Jellinek, Beit ha-Midrash, 1 (19382)). Under the leadership of their king, the people of Nineveh justly compelled God's mercy to descend upon them. The king of Nineveh was the pharaoh of the Exodus, who had been installed by the angel Gabriel. Seized with fear and terror he covered himself with sackcloth and ashes and with his own mouth made proclamation and published this decree through Nineveh: "Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock taste anything, let them not feed nor drink water, for know that there is no God beside Him in all the world; all His words are truth, and all His judgments are true and faithful" (Yal. Ex. 176). The repentance of the people of Nineveh was sincere. They held their infants heavenward, crying, "For the sake of these innocent babes hear our prayers." They separated the young of their cattle from their dams and both began to bellow. Then the Ninevites cried, "If Thou wilt not have mercy on us, we will not have mercy upon these beasts" (Ta'an. 16a; Mid. Jonah 100–2). The penitence of the people of Nineveh manifested itself not only in fasting and praying, but also in deeds. If a man had usurped another's property, he would return it, even at the cost of leveling his castle in order to restore a stolen beam to its owner (Ta'an. 16a). Others publicly confessed their secret sins and declared themselves willing to submit to their punishment. According to the Palestinian amoraim, however, the repentance of the Ninevites was not sincere (TJ, Ta'an. 2:1, 65b). After 40 days they departed again from the path of piety and became more sinful than ever. Then the punishment foretold by Jonah overtook them and they were swallowed by the earth (PdRE 43). The attitude of the Palestinian aggadists in their evaluation of the repentance of the Ninevites may have been a reaction to Christian criticism of the Jews for their stubbornness in not following the example set by the people of Nineveh.
A.H. Layard, Nineveh and its Remains (1849); idem, Nineveh and Babylon (1967); H. Rassam, Ashur and the Land of Nimrod (1897); R. Buka, Die Topographie Nínewes (1915); Luckenbill, Records, 2 (1926), 417–22; R.C. Thompson and R.W. Hutchinson, A Century of Excavation at Nineveh (1929); R. Dhorme, in: RHR, 110 (1934), 140–56; C.J. Gadd, The Stones of Assyria (1936); A. Parrot, Nineveh et l'Ancien Testament (1955); R.W. Ehrich, Chronologies in Old World Archaeology (1965), index. IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1913), 250–3;6 (1928), 350–2; E. Urbach, in: Tarbiz, 20 (1950), 118–22.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.