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Sennacherib (Akk. Sin-aḫḫê-eriba; Heb. סַנְחֵרִב ,סַנְחֵרִיב) was the king of Assyria and Babylonia (705–681 B.C.E.) and son of Sargon II. During his reign the northern and eastern frontiers were relatively calm; however, he had to deal with rebellions in Babylonia and Syro-Palestine. In 702, Sennacherib defeated Merodach-Baladan, who, upon his return from exile in Elam, had deposed the new Babylonian king. In 689, the Babylonians, supported by Elam, revolted again. Sennacherib met them at Hallulê, on the Tigris, and defeated them but not without heavy losses. To solve the Babylonian problem once and for all, he destroyed Babylon and let the Euphrates flow over it.

In 701, Sennacherib marched against the rebels of Syro-Palestine. He went from victory to victory: Sidon, Ammon, Moab, Edom, Ashkelon, Ekron, and Lachish fell before him. At Elteke he defeated a considerable Egyptian army, which had come to the rescue of Ekron. It was from Lachish that he sent a mission headed by the Tartan, Rab-Saris, and Rab-Shakeh, to Hezekiah in Jerusalem in order to convince him to surrender (II Kings 18:13–19:37; Isa. 36–37). According to his annals, Sennacherib took 46 fortified cities and small cities without number of Judah; he made 200,150 prisoners of war and exacted from Hezekiah a heavy tribute – 30 talents of gold and 800 (300 according to II Kings 18:14) talents of silver. Although he besieged Jerusalem, he was unable to take the city, for "that night the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians" (II Kings 19:35). Another version tells of a legion of rats that invaded the Assyrian encampment (Herodotus) and a third version tells of a pestilential sickness (Berosus). Whatever happened, the fact remains that Sennacherib was forced to abandon the siege and return to Assyria. Sennacherib is remembered as a great builder; he enlarged and embellished Nineveh, built and restored various temples and public buildings all over Assyria, and undertook very important hydraulic works.

He was assassinated by one of his own sons in a temple of Nineveh. For further details see *Mesopotamia.

In the Aggadah

After having previously conquered the rest of the world (Meg. 11b), Sennacherib equipped a massive army against Hezekiah, consisting of 45,000 princes, each enthroned in a golden chariot and accompanied by his ladies and courtesans, 80,000 warriors in coat of mail, 60,000 swordsmen, and numerous cavalry (Sanh. 95b). With this vast army Sennacherib marched on Judea in accordance with the disclosures of his astrologers, who warned him that he would fail to capture Jerusalem if he arrived too late. He rested at Nob and from a raised platform observed the Judean capital, which appeared weak and small to him. When his warriors urged him to attack, he bade them rest for one night before storming the city the next day. This delay spared Jerusalem since Saul's sin against the priests at Nob was fully expiated on that very day (Sanh. 95a). That night, which was the eve of Passover, the entire army was annihilated when Hezekiah and the people began to recite the Hallel Psalms (Ex. R. 18:5). The death of the Assyrians occurred when the angels permitted them to hear the ḥayyot ("celestial beings") sing praises to God (Sanh. 95b). Their souls were burnt, although their garments remained intact (Ex. R. 18:5). Sennacherib and his two sons were among the few survivors. On his return to Assyria, Sennacherib found a plank which was part of Noah's ark and made it an object of worship. He vowed that if he prospered in his next ventures he would sacrifice his sons to it. His sons overheard this vow and put him to death (Sanh. 96a). They fled to Kardu where they released the many Jewish captives there. With them they marched to Jerusalem and became proselytes. The well-known scholars *Shemaiah and *Avtalyon were the descendants of these two sons of Sennacherib (Git. 57b; Targ., II Kings 19:35, 37).


Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (19475), 267–72; 5 (19463), 361–6.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.