Sennacheribís Last Campaign

The last campaign of Sennacherib was directed not only against Jerusalem, but also against Egypt and Ethiopia (Sudan)—an enterprising warrior, Tirhaka, who invaded Egypt from the Sudan, reinstated Sethos, and put the occupant of the throne of Egypt, underling of Sennacherib, to flight.

When Sennacherib came to Palestine for the second time, Hezekiah refused to submit or to pay tribute. The Ethiopian king Tirhakah (Taharka) stood together with his Egyptian confederate, Sethos, at the border of Egypt, prepared to meet the threat. Sennacherib sent his messengers to Hezekiah from Lachish and once more from Libnah to demand submission; he also wrote him an ultimatum, and blasphemed the Hebrew God.

Then in a single night the Assyrian host, about 185,000 warriors, perished, destroyed by some natural cause.(1)

Herodotus (II. 141) relates this event and gives a version he heard from the Egyptians when he visited their land two and a half centuries after it happened. When Sennacherib invaded Pelusium, the priest-king Sethos went with a weak army to defend the frontier. In a single night hordes of field mice overran the Assyrian camp, devoured quivers, bowstrings and shield handles, and put the Assyrian army to flight. Another version was given by Berosus, the Chaldean priest of the third century before the present era.

This event and the writings relating to it have been investigated in Worlds in Collision, Part II, which deals with the natural history of the period. A sequence of natural phenomena that bewildered the world for almost a hundred years during the eighth century and the beginning of the seventh is investigated and described in that volume. With knowledge of the precise character and time of these physical phenomena, an exact synchronism can be established; for the purposes of the present book I borrow from Worlds in Collision the exact date: Sennacherib’s army was annihilated on the night of March 23, -687. The calculations of modern historians who place the second invasion of Judah by Sennacherib in -687 are correct. However if to harmonize the involved chronological problems the debacle of Sennacherib’s army needs to be placed fifteen years earlier (not in -687 but in -701) and the first invasion in -715 and the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign in -729, then I would need to change the date for the last global catastrophe from -687 to -701 or -702.


  1. II Kings 19: 35; Isaiah 37: 36; cf. Josephus quoting Berosus in Jewish Antiquities X. i. 4-5.