Top archaeologists are chuffed as ninepence this week to announce that they have unearthed a massive statue - perhaps as tall as 4m when it was erect - which was probably an "idol" tumbled down by a terrible race of warriors referred to in the Bible as "the rod of my [God's] anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath".
We hear of the excellent idol find courtesy of an announcement from the University of Toronto:
A beautiful and colossal human sculpture is one of the latest cultural treasures unearthed by an international team at the Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP) excavation site in southeastern Turkey ...
The head and torso of the human figure, intact to just above its waist, stands approximately 1.5 metres in height, suggesting a total body length of 3.5 to four metres ...
A lengthy Hieroglyphic Luwian inscription, carved in raised relief across its back, records the campaigns and accomplishments of Suppiluliuma, likely the same Patinean king who faced a Neo-Assyrian onslaught of Shalmaneser III as part of a Syrian-Hittite coalition in 858 BC.
The excavating scholars believe that the the massive statue formed part of a gate complex built by the neo-Hittite Iron Age civilisation in the early first millennium BC. The neo-Hittites were a successor power emerging after the collapse of the mighty Bronze Age empires of the middle East at the end of the preceding millennium: Tayinat, now in southeastern Turkey, was located on the road from ancient Antioch to Aleppo - today the scene of armed struggle between Syrian rebels and government forces.
However the statue so proudly erected by the neo-Hittites was at some point knocked down and buried. According to the Toronto uni announcement:
The Tayinat gate complex appears to have been destroyed following the Assyrian conquest of the region in 738 BC, when the area was paved over and converted into the central courtyard of an Assyrian sacred precinct.
Scholars have long speculated that the reference to Calno, identified as one of the “kingdoms of the idols” in Isaiah’s oracle against Assyria (Isaiah 10:9-10), alludes to the Assyrian devastation of Kunulua (i.e., Tayinat).
“The two pieces appear to have been ritually buried in the paved stone surface of the central passageway through the Tayinat gate complex,” says Professor Tim Harrison, a Toronto uni expert on such matters.
The Assyrians, well kno'n to any fule for their habit of coming down like the wolf upon the fold, purple and gold cohorts etc, are described in the Old Testament as being the unwitting instruments of God in that they do His work in smashing up idol-fanciers to terrible effect - but they aren't doing it for good reasons, and will get their comeuppance in the end. One translation of the relevant passage in Isaiah goes like this:
God's Judgment on Assyria
"Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations.
'Are not my commanders all kings?' he says. 'Has not Calno fared like Carchemish? ... As my hand seized the kingdoms of the idols, kingdoms whose images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria - shall I not deal with Jerusalem and her images as I dealt with Samaria and her idols?' ..."
But that's a bad call by the Assyrian.
When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, "I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes ... Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up, or a club brandish him who is not wood! Therefore, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors ... the remaining trees of his forests will be so few that a child could write them down ...
The Toronto uni announcement can be read in full here. ®