The House of Omri by Shuichi Hasegawa

The Black Obelisk in the British Museum, originally discovered in the ancient Assyrian capital of Nimrud, features a series of beautifully carved figures of animals and plants on its four panels. The Assyrian ruler Shalmaneser III (858–824 B.C.E.), who led a number of military campaigns to Syria-Palestine, erected this obelisk. More striking than the finely carved flora and fauna is a scene of two vassals prostrating themselves before Shalmaneser. Who are they and what do they signify?

From the cuneiform caption, which reads “Jehu, son of Humri [Omri],” the prostrated figure in the second register is generally regarded as Jehu of Israel, who brought or sent tribute to Shalmaneser in 841 B.C.E. Ever since Edward Hincks identified this person with biblical Jehu (2Kgs 9:1-10:27) in 1851, scholars have been discussing the enigmatic affiliation of this Israelite king.

According to the Bible (2Kgs 9:2-20), Jehu was not related to Omri, who established a new dynasty after a period of political turmoil in Israel. Rather, Jehu usurped the throne from Omri’s grandson, Joram, and expunged Omri’s other descendants, founding his own dynasty. So why this Assyrian depiction of Jehu as Omri’s son?

Another extrabiblical source may provide a clue: the Mesha Stela, erected by Mesha, king of Moab, also refers to Omri and his son, who oppressed Moab in the ninth century B.C.E.

These references to Omri in extrabiblical sources seem to indicate that the northern kingdom of Israel emerged as a major regional power in Syria-Palestine under Omri, perpetuating his name in Assyria, and eventually house of Omri became synonymous with the northern kingdom of Israel in Assyrian royal inscriptions, even when Israel’s kings no longer came from his lineage.

Assyrian royal ideology also shows a conspicuous tendency to magnify the deeds of kings. Referring to a dynasty by its founder is customary in Assyrian royal inscriptions. However, Assyrian royal inscriptions continued to designate the northern kingdom of Israel as bīt Humri, “house of Omri,” through the eighth century B.C.E, long after Jehu’s annihilation of Omri’s dynasty in 841 B.C.E.

In addition, Ahab, Omri’s actual son, was counted as one of the major members in the anti-Assyrian coalition that Shalmaneser confronted in northern Syria in 853 B.C.E. After twelve years, Shalmaneser finally subjugated the northern kingdom of Israel. Even if it was Ahab, the previous Omride king of Israel who successfully fought back the Assyrians, it is Jehu the usurper who is immortalized on the Black Obelisk.  Jehu, “son of Omri” becomes a symbol of Shalmaneser's dominance and the ultimate fall of his long-time enemy, Israel.

To complicate matters, the Bible also calls Omri’s dynasty “house of Ahab.” Most of the biblical description of Ahab depicts him as a bad king (1Kgs 16:19-22:40) and his wife Jezebel, a Phoenician princess from the kingdom of Tyre, introduced the Baal cult to Israel (1Kgs 16:31-33). Since Ahab’s daughter was married to Jehoram, king of Judah (2Kgs 8:18), the name and activities of this apostate king may have been more known than those of Omri in the kingdom of Judah. Hence the Judahite authors of Kings may have preferred to use his name as a disgraceful label for the northern dynasty.

Shuichi Hasegawa, "House of Omri", n.p. [cited 20 Jul 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/house-of-omri

Contributors

Shuichi Hasegawa

Shuichi Hasegawa
Associate Professor, Rikkyo University

Shuichi Hasegawa is associate professor of Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East in the Department of Christian Studies, Rikkyo University, Japan. As a member of the staff of the Japanese expedition, he has joined the excavations at Tel En Gev and Tel Rekhesh, Israel. He is the author of Aram and Israel during the Jehuite Dynasty (de Gruyter, 2012) and of articles relating to the books of Kings and the history of ancient Israel.

A region in northern Mesopotamia whose kings ruled most of the ancient Near East in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.E.

People from the region of northern Mesopotamia that includes modern-day Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

The supreme male divinity of Mesopotamia and Canaan.

A system of religious worship, or cultus (e.g., the Israelite cult). Also refers to adherents of that system.

The writing system of ancient Mesopotamia, consisting of wedges pressed into clay.

A sequence of rulers from the same family.

Short written texts, generally inscribed on stone or clay and frequently recording an event or dedicating an object.

Short written texts, generally inscribed on stone or clay and frequently recording an event or dedicating an object.

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel during the divided monarchy, or more broadly describing the biblical descendants of Jacob.

A stone inscribed in the Moabite language, commissioned by the Moabit king Mesha to celebrate his accomplishments, including a successful revolt against the kingdom of Israel (see 2 Kings 3).

An Assyrian city located on the upper Tigris River, known as Kalhu in Assyiran and Calah in the Hebrew Bible. Nimrud was the capital of the Neo-Assyiran empire for much of the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E., and its palaces have yielded stunning archaeological artifacts.

The kingdom consisting of the northern Israelites tribes, which existed separately from the southern kingdom of Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, all the tribes were part of a unified kingdom under David and Solomon, but the northern kingdom under Jeroboam I rebelled after Solomon's death (probably sometime in the late 10th century B.C.E.), establishing their independence. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E.

Another name often used for the area of Israel and Judah, derived from the Latin term for the Roman province of Palaestina; ultimately, the name derives from the name of the Philistine people.

An upright stone slab usually inscribed or carved for commemorative purposes.

An eastern Mediterranean Roman province from the second through the fourth centuries C.E.

2Kgs 9:1-10:27

Anointing of Jehu
1Then the prophet Elisha called a member of the company of prophets and said to him, “Gird up your loins; take this flask of oil in your hand, ... View more

2Kgs 9:2-20

2When you arrive, look there for Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi; go in and get him to leave his companions, and take him into an inner chamber.3Then tak ... View more

1Kgs 16:19-22:40

19because of the sins that he committed, doing evil in the sight of the Lord, walking in the way of Jeroboam, and for the sin that he committed, causing Israel ... View more

1Kgs 16:31-33

Ahab Marries Jezebel and Worships Baal
31And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, he took as his wife Jezebel d ... View more

2Kgs 8:18

18He walked in the way of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab was his wife. He did what was evil in the sight of the Lo ... View more

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