The Siege of Jerusalem

The siege of Jerusalem was a miracle – and a national disaster. It depends which siege you’re talking about. The first – a dramatic miracle in the history of Jerusalem – began in 701 BCE, when the Assyrians, as part of the expansion of their empire, conquered most of Judah and surrounded the city.

Although the city has been besieged many times, this was perhaps the most famous of the sieges in the history of Jerusalem, the one that prompted Lord Byron to pen his famous lines, “The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold, and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,” (later parodied by my favorite Ogden Nash poem, Very Like a Whale – such is the impact of Jerusalem history on literature!)

assyrian officials

Assyrian officials of Sennacherib's court

The Assyrians tried psychological warfare, yelling demoralizing statements to the defenders on the walls of Jerusalem. When they invoked God to their side, however – by asking the Jerusalemites sarcastically, “Have any of the gods of nations saved his [King Hezekiah’s] land from the king of Assyria?” – the Assyrians were in trouble. That night, an angel swept down and killed the entire Assyrian army surrounding Jerusalem. (II Kings 19:35)

Some time later, however, with the advent of the Babylonian Empire, the kingdom of Judah became a vassal state. In 586 BCE, Babylonian forces surrounded the city. This time the siege of Jerusalem was ruthless and there was no last minute miracle.

On the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av, the Babylonians sacked the city, destroyed the First Temple and burnt Jerusalem to the ground. To this day, Jews observe the 9th of Av as a day of mourning and fasting.

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