The Archaeological Evidence of Nineveh
Two books in the Old Testament tell the story of the great and ancient city of Nineveh. Jonah, who prophesied between 786-746 BC, and Nahum, who prophesied between 615-612 BC, left written records of God’s judgment against the Ninevites.
Nineveh was located on the Tigris River, near what is now Mosul, Iraq. For many years, historians thought the city was a Biblical “myth.” Then it was discovered in 1845 by the British archaeologist Austen Henry Layard. Among the ruins of the city was a vast library consisting of more than 22,000 clay tablets. Many of the writings described the day-to-day achievements of Nineveh’s mighty kings.
Nineveh was established around 1800 BC and lasted for an incredible twelve hundred years. In 700 BC, the Assyrian king Sennacherib conquered the ten tribes of Israel. He was responsible for making Nineveh into a “modern” city full of streets and squares and parks. The palace he built for himself was said to be without rival in the ancient world. It had eighty rooms, each of which was lined with exquisite sculptures.
The city is described on page 760 in Nelson’s Bible Dictionary. "In Sennacherib's day,” it reads, “the wall around Nineveh was 40 to 50 feet high. It extended for 4 kilometers along the Tigris River and for 13 kilometers around the inner city. The city wall had 15 main gates, 5 of which have been excavated. Each of the gates was guarded by stone bull statues. Both inside and outside the walls, Sennacherib created parks, a botanical garden, and a zoo. He built a water-system containing the oldest aqueduct in history at Jerwan, across the Gomel River."
The cruelties of Nineveh’s rulers were legendary. “Woe to the bloody city,” Nahum cried. “It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs.” Monuments and stone tablets from Nineveh confirm the prophet’s accusation. A sculpture of an ancient king found inside the palace read: “Many within the border of my own land I flayed, and spread their skins upon the walls.” Scenes on statues and colossal bas-reliefs portrayed victims being impaled and captives beheaded in the streets. After a victory over Babylon, Sennacherib wrote, "Its inhabitants, young and old, I did not spare, and with their corpses I filled the streets of the city."
Before prophesying the doom of the Ninevites, Nahum may have remembered the travails of the prophet Jonah, more than a hundred years before. Fearing the blood-thirsty kingdom, Jonah fled when he was ordered by God to go to the wicked city and prophesy against it. To the prophet’s surprise, everyone in the city repented and God spared it the destruction he had promised.
There would be no repentance in the time of Nahum. “I cut off their hands and fingers, and from others I cut off their noses, their ears, their fingers, of many I put out their eyes,” wrote an unknown king.
Soon after Nahum’s prophesies, the Medes and Babylonians attacked Nineveh. The city fell in 612 BC, and was burned to the ground. Over the years, it faded entirely from view. While other ancient Biblical cities were identified by ruins that were still visible in the 1800s, Nineveh remained buried in oblivion until it was discovered by archaeologist Layard.
“There the fire will devour you,” writes Nahum of Nineveh. “The sword will cut you off; it will eat you up like a locust...”
Archaeologists have found evidence of this great fire--yet another example of secular history confirming Biblical truth.