Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III

The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III is a black limestone Assyrian sculpture with many scenes in bas-relief and inscriptions. It comes from Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), in northern Iraq, and commemorates the deeds of King Shalmaneser III (reigned 858–824 BC). It is on display at the British Museum in London, and several other museums have cast replicas.

Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III
Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III in the British Museum, the White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I just behind
Materialblack limestone
Sizec. 1.98 metres high, 45 cm wide
Created858–824 BC
DiscoveredNimrud, Iraq
Present locationBritish Museum, London
RegistrationME 118885

It is the most complete Assyrian obelisk yet discovered, and is historically significant because it is thought to display the earliest ancient depiction of a biblical figure – Jehu, King of Israel. The traditional identification of "Yaw" as Jehu has been questioned by some scholars, who proposed that the inscription refers to another king, Jehoram of Israel.[1][2] Its reference to Parsua is also the first known reference to the Persians.

Tribute offerings are shown being brought from identifiable regions and peoples. It was erected as a public monument in 825 BC at a time of civil war, in the central square of Nimrud, close to the much earlier White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. It was discovered by archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard in 1846 and is now in the British Museum.


The Assyrian king Shalmaneser III receives tribute from Sua, king of Gilzanu, The Black Obelisk.

It features twenty relief scenes, five on each side. They depict five different subdued kings, bringing tribute and prostrating before the Assyrian king. From top to bottom they are: (1) Sua of Gilzanu (in north-west Iran), (2) "Jehoram of Bit Omri" (Jehoram of the House of Omri), (3) an unnamed ruler of Musri (probably Egypt), (4) Marduk-apil-usur of Suhi (middle Euphrates, Syria and Iraq), and (5) Qalparunda of Patin (Antakya region of Turkey). Each scene occupies four panels around the monument and is described by a cuneiform script above them.

On the top and the bottom of the reliefs there is a long cuneiform inscription recording the annals of Shalmaneser III. It lists the military campaigns which the king and his commander-in-chief headed every year, until the thirty-first year of reign. Some features might suggest that the work had been commissioned by the commander-in-chief, Dayyan-Assur.

Second registerEdit

Jehu, or Jehu's ambassador, bows before Shalmaneser III.

The second register from the top is thought to include the earliest surviving picture of a biblical figure. The name appears as mIa-ú-a mar mHu-um-ri-i. Rawlinson's original translation in 1850 seminal work "On the Inscriptions of Assyria and Babylonia" stated: "The second line of offerings are said to have been sent by Yahua, son of Hubiri, a prince of whom there is no mention in the annals, and of whose native country, therefore, I am ignorant"[3][4] Over a year later, a connection with the bible was made by Reverend Edward Hincks, who wrote in his diary on 21 August 1851: "Thought of an identification of one of the obelisk captives — with Jehoram, king of Israel, and satisfying myself on the point wrote a letter to the Athenaeum announcing it".[5] Hincks' letter was published by Athenaeum on the same day, entitled "Nimrud Obelisk".[6] Hincks' identification is now the commonly held position by biblical archaeologists.

The identification of "Yaw" as Jehu was questioned by contemporary scholars such as George Smith[7] as well as in more recent times by P. Kyle McCarter and Edwin R. Thiele,[1][2] based on the fact that Jehu was not an Omride, as well as transliteration and chronology issues. However, the name read as "Yaw, son of Omri (Bit-Khumri", see House of Omri), is generally accepted to follow Hincks as the Biblical Jehu, king of Israel.

The stele describes how Jehoram brought or sent his tribute in or around 841 BC.[8] Jehu severed Israel’s alliances with Phoenicia and Judah, and became subject to Assyria. The caption above the scene, written in Assyrian cuneiform, can be translated:

“The tribute of Jehoram, son of Omri: I received from him silver, gold, a golden bowl, a golden vase with pointed bottom, golden tumblers, golden buckets, tin, a staff for a king [and] spears."

Casts and replicasEdit

Replicas can be found at the Oriental Institute in Chicago, Illinois; Harvard's Semitic Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the ICOR Library in the Semitic Department at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.; Corban University's Prewitt–Allen Archaeological Museum in Salem, Oregon; the Siegfried H. Horn Museum at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI; Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology in Pittsburgh, PA; Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand; the Museum of Ancient Art at Aarhaus University in Denmark, and in the library of the Theological University of the Reformed Churches in Kampen, the Netherlands.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b P. Kyle McCarter, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 216 (Dec., 1974), pp. 5–7
  2. ^ a b Edwin R. Thiele, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 222 (Apr., 1976), pp. 19–23
  3. ^ On the Inscriptions of Assyria and Babylonia, 1850
  4. ^ The Bible in the British Museum: Interpreting the Evidence, T. C. Mitchell, page 14
  5. ^ Studies on the Text and Versions of the Hebrew Bible in Honour of Robert Gordon, edited by Geoffrey Khan, Diana Lipton, p159
  6. ^ "Nimrud Obelisk, Athenaeum, 1251, 1384-85
  7. ^ Assyrian Eponym Canon, George Smith, 1875, page 190, "There is another supposed Hebrew king in the annals of Shalmaneser, b.c. 842, Extracts VIII. and X., called "Jehu son of Omri," who is generally identified with "Jehu son of Nimshi," the king of Israel. The country ruled by Jehu, son of Omri, is not stated in the inscriptions; and it appears unlikely that Jehu, king of Israel, who exterminated the family of Omri, should call himself son of that king. Without advancing any theory for the identification of the monarch mentioned in the Assyrian inscriptions, I would urge that the identity of the Jehu of the Bible with the Jehu of the inscriptions is not proved, and that these notices are not enough to force us to alter all our Bible dates."
  8. ^ Millard, Alan (1997) Discoveries from Bible Times, Oxford, Lion, p121

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