Who Was Sennacherib In The Bible

Sennacherib was a powerful king who ruled over Assyria during the eighth century BCE. He is a key biblical figure and is mentioned in the Old Testament as an enemy of both Judah and Israel. During his reign, Sennacherib conducted numerous campaigns that had a profound effect on the ancient Near East.

Born of aristocratic origins around 704 BCE, Sennacherib ascended to the throne in 705 BCE following the death of his father, Sargon II. Sennacherib was determined to enhance Assyrian power and set out to conquer many of the countries surrounding Assyria. He marched his army through the cities of Babylon, Tyre, Sidon, Hezekiah and Philistine among others.

Sennacherib reputedly brought Judea under his control and came to blows with the King of Judah, Hezekiah, upon refusing to surrender the city. As a result, the Assyrian monarch launched a siege against Jerusalem which lasted three years. During the siege, Sennacherib spared the city of Lachish and kept Hezekiah’s defenders holed up in the city of Jerusalem. It is here that Sennacherib sent a message to Hezekiah demanding his submission, several of which were found on clay tablets at his palace in Ninevah.

Though the biblical accounts suggest that Sennacherib never actually conquered Jerusalem, archaeological evidence suggests that he likely did gain some key victories. Historians have postulated that Sennacherib’s siege of the city may have actually caused a famine there which had devastating intellectual and economic consequences. It was in 691 BCE that Sennacherib claimed to have taken 47 cities from Hezekiah and that the walls of Jerusalem had been broken.

Sennacherib’s ploy to break Hezekiah’s power, whilst successful in the short-term, led to his eventual downfall. After a failed assault on Babylon, a group of his own people assassinated him in 681 BCE. Following his death, his son Ashurbanipal assumed the throne.

In understanding who Sennacherib was in the Bible, a comprehensive knowledge of the historic period in which he lived is essential. Sennacherib’s life provides an incredible insight into the biblical world and how this period in history impacted the way in which the world has evolved today.

Military Strength and Expansion

A key feature of Sennacherib’s tenure as King of Assyria was his pursuit of military expansions. In his lifetime, Sennacherib reportedly marched his army all the way from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, effectively transforming Assyria from a regional power to a global superpower. This expansion employed a variety of tactics; Sennacherib sent ambassadors to distant lands, employed diplomacy in negotiations and often made strategic alliances with other leaders. This aggressive pursuit of conquest, alongside his ruthless military tactics, transformed Assyria into an unparalleled force in the ancient world.

Although the majority of his expansion stayed clear of Western nations, the Assyrian Army spent a fair amount of time in Palestine. Whilst the intent of this conquest was to expand his empire, it was also to protect the border against the Babylonian threat, which was particularly threatening facing the loss of previously-conquered regions.

The bible references Sennacherib, particularly in the Book of Kings, as a powerful leader and military conquerer. Biblical accounts of his expeditions are often dramatised, however, there is undoubtedly a strong element of truth that implies his military and empowering strategies of expansion. This is evidenced in the fact that his campaigns led to the formation of the Neo Assyrian Empire.

What often sets Sennacherib apart from other renowned kings such as Nebuchadnezzar II and Hammurabi, is his relentless desire to build siege machines. This was a lesser-known feature of Assyrian tactics, as they were known to hunt and kill natives, but Sennacherib was one of the first to utilise heavy machinery to overwhelm the opposition. Evelyn Sayre Gardener, a renowned historian noted that: “The use of siege machines by this period suggests the existence of considerable mechanical skill and engineering knowledge.

Religious Significance

The Bible also documents Sennacherib’s role in religious matters. He is registered in scripture as a proud and ambitious monarch who had a complex relationship with the kingdom of Judah and the Israelites. He reportedly had a “contention” with Hezekiah over his alleged apostasy from the Didanite faith and was an influential figure in the Israelites’ return to their native land.

Sennacherib’s faith is well documented; he is known to have had strong religious allegiances to Didanites and Ammonites. Consequently, he attempted to unify his subjects by merging the Didanite faith with the Assyrian criteria of worshipping gods. According to scholars, Sennacherib’s rule was considered significant in terms of politics and religion, as he successfully ushered in the Assyrian rule of gods.

Because of his effort to dominate the beliefs of his territories, Sennacherib is the subject of a multitude of prohibitions, warnings and appeals that take place in the Bible. He is referred to several times as a cruel and unrepentant king who erased his people’s “rightful inheritance”, citing his various attempts as “turning nations into deserts.”

Sennacherib’s oppressive reign caused great suffering and deaths among his victims. He is often compared to the likes of Pharaoh and the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar, comparing his use of rigid military tactics and strength to oppress the Israelites. It is through this that Sennacherib’s religious significance comes to light.

The way that Sennacherib overcame his opposition armed with tangible weapons is not dissimilar to the way in which spiritual instigators such as Nebuchadnezzar attempted to quash faith in Hebrews. The insatiable appetite his subjects had for power, justice and victory acted as a consequence of his oppressive rule.


The legacy that Sennacherib left behind is of a maverick, who led a ruthless but successful campaign to expand his empire across the ancient near-east. His rule was remembered by the Hebrews with hatred and fear, as the Bible attests, but his campaigns and military strength again, attracted admiration and earned him a place in history.

Sennacherib’s reign was transitional, as he sought to create a multilingual, multi-cultural, and multi-religious empire. The combination of this with his powerful weaponry and engineering successes, meant that his legacy still lives on today. As well as sparking a time of great unrest throughout his territories, Sennacherib’s reign also facilitated unification among the Neo-Assyrian Empire, which would set the precedence for powerful empires throughout the following millennia.

He left a lasting impression on religious and academic study, as well as being remembered as a powerful figure throughout literature and ancient history.

Attributes and Personality

Sennacherib’s life and reign is a testament to a strong character, and many of his attributes are still celebrated today. As a born leader, Sennacherib was a gifted and astute strategist, with a remarkable level of intelligence and military prowess.

Sennacherib was highly ambitious and was often accused of overshadowing his predecessors. With an unyielding hunger for power, Sennacherib sought to unify what he saw as a divided world, and to do this he began a relentless campaign of empowerment.

With his immense appetite for military and political success, Sennacherib sought to conquer any city or nation that posed a threat to Assyrian power. This ambition was unprecedented at a time when Assyria wasn’t a strong power in its own right, and through his courage and iron-grip leadership, Sennacherib was able to successfully establish the Assyrian Empire.

Though viewed by many as a cruel and ruthless leader, Sennacherib also excelled in diplomatic expertise, something suggested by his recorded message from Lachish, which showed great clemency on Sennacherib’s part.

Moreover, Sennacherib built a library that contained a wealth of knowledge. This was an incredibly forward-thinking move for the period, as it allowed scholars from around the world to access a variety of academic works. This has taught us a great deal about Sennacherib as a leader, and has enabled us to piece together the puzzle of his rule.

Reception in Ancient Sources

Sennacherib was a figure who looms large in the Middle Eastern History. Whilst the bible paints a picture of a cruel, excessive ruler, archaeological record paints a different picture. Sennacherib’s victories are frequently celebrated in Babylonian stone reliefs, while his mighty palace at Ninevah remains a testament to his power. In addition, his architectural achievements such as the excavated city of Khorsabad, demonstrate his ambition and dedications to transforming Assyrian territories.

In accordance with this, archaeological surveys and ancient epigraphy has been essential in understanding both the experience of those living in the cities, as well as providing a better picture of Sennacherib’s rule. It is through the physical remains and works of literature from the period in which Sennacherib lived which provides us with an opportunity to explore his legacy in further detail.

When looking at the ancient sources available to us, it can be concluded that Sennacherib was not just a powerful conqueror, but an influential figure in the politics, religion and culture of the period. Whilst a number ancient sources portray him negatively, it must be remembered that he brought stability and prosperity to a number of previously warring nations.

Sculptures, Art and Design

The art of the Neo Assyrian period, throughout which Sennacherib’s rule was particularly prolific, had a number of fascinating characteristics. This includes carved reliefs, figurines and other religious items. According to historians and scholars, many of these artefacts had particular religious significance and allowed the public to honour their gods.

For example, reliefs have been found featuring Sennacherib, often depicting his victories. These typically show Sennacherib mounted on a chariot and a horse that is modelled to look like a bull and visible weapons that suggest great strength and power. This could suggest that Sennacherib wanted to inspire his people, symbolising the power and authority that he held over his empire.

The Assyrian architecture also reflects Sennacherib’s rule. He commissioned the building of a new city – Khorsabad, situated some 15 miles Northeast of modern day Mosul. It was this structure that was fundamental in unifying Assyria’s citizens, and it was here where Sennacherib installed elements of the Assyrian culture into the capital.

Hilda Scott is an avid explorer of the Bible and inteprator of its gospel. She is passionate about researching and uncovering the mysteries that lie in this sacred book. She hopes to use her knowledge and expertise to bring faith and God closer to people all around the world.

1 thought on “Who Was Sennacherib In The Bible”

  1. I am fascinated by Biblical archeology and the cultural-political peculiarities of the Assyrian-Babylonia eras as they set the stage for the much later Roman Empire. Sennecherib is certainly a key player. Appreciated your information


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