The ZKR inscription occupies the front (A. 1–17), right (B. 1–28), and left sides (C. 1–2) of a fragmentary basalt stela discovered in 1903 by H. Pognon at Afis, 40 km (25 mi.) southwest of Aleppo, Syria, and published by him in 1908. It contains lacunae throughout, especially from A. 15 onward; however, the surviving text is legible, allowing a reasonably clear reconstruction of its contents.
The stela, honoring a little-known deity, 'LWR ('Iluwēr?), is dedicated by Zakkur, king of Hamath and L῾Š (probably Lu῾ath, ancient Nuḫašše). The body of the inscription commemorates the invasion of a coalition of perhaps sixteen rulers, led by Bar-Hadad, king of Damascus, that besieged the city of ḤZRK (assumed to be the capital of Lu῾ath; cf. the Akkadian Ḫatarikka and Ḥadrāk in Zec. 9:1). Zakkur appealed to the Syro-Palestinian sky god Baal-Shamayn (Ba῾al Shamêm), who promised deliverance through prophetic functionaries (A. 2–B. 3)—a deliverance apparently described in the missing and fragmentary lines following A. 17. Zakkur then describes his subsequent building program (B. 4–15), including a probable reference to Afis itself (B. 11, 'PŠ). A typical invocation of curses and blessings concludes the inscription (B. 16–C. 2; cf. the Sefire and Nerab inscriptions). [See Sefire Aramic Inscriptions; Nerab Inscriptions.] Such a combination of dedicatory offering with historical commemoration finds parallels in other Northwest Semitic inscriptions (e.g., from Karatepe and Mesha). [See Karatepe Phoenician Inscriptions; Moabite Stone.]
Bar-Hadad's identification as the son of Hazael (A. 4) associates this inscription with one phase of Israel's perennial wars against the Arameans (cf. 2 Kgs. 8–14). [See Arameans.] Bar-Hadad III (or II) succeeded his father in about 800 BCE, after which point the fortunes of Damascus declined (see 2 Kgs. 13:22–25, 14:23–28). This decline was undoubtedly hastened by the western campaigns of the Assyrian ruler Adad-Nirari III (810–783 BCE) in 805–803/802 and 796; undated inscriptions referring to the defeat of Damascus and payment of tribute by Joash of Israel would belong to one of these campaigns (most plausibly 796). [See Assyrians.] Damascus—and Ḫatarikka—were again the object of an Assyrian expedition in 773/72. The motives and precise historical background of Bar-Hadad's campaign are not clear. One interpretation views Zakkur as an Assyrian loyalist attacked by an anti-Assyrian coalition and rescued by Adad-Nirari in 796 (cf. 2 Kgs. 16:5–18). Alternatively, Zakkur may have threatened the local balance of power by uniting Hamath and Lu῾ath and so prompted retaliation. The inscription would have been composed in approximately 800–775 BCE.
Apart from its historical significance, the inscription sheds light on the religion of the area (A. 2–4, 11–17). Many details find parallels in the Hebrew Bible (e.g., Is. 36–38; 2 Chr. 20:1–23): the lifting of hands in prayer to avert a crisis; the deity's answer through seers and messengers (?, ῾ddn, A. 12); and the assurance of deliverance based on divine election of the king. (cf. the Ugaritic prayers in KTU 1.40 and 1.119.26–36 and the role of prophetic intermediaries at Mari, Emar, Byblos, Deir ῾Alla and—implicitly—in the Moabite Stone, ll. 14 and 32.) [See Ugaritic Inscriptions; Mari Texts; Emar Texts; Byblos; Deir ῾Alla Inscriptions.] Of linguistic significance are the form and poetic content of the text, and three apparent wayyiqtol forms that are almost unique in Aramaic (A. 11, 15; cf. Deir ῾Alla inscriptions).
- Fitzmyer, Joseph A., and Stephen A. Kaufman. An Aramaic Bibliography, part 1, Old, Official, and Biblical Aramaic. Baltimore and London, 1992. .
- Gibson, John C. L. Textbook of Syrian Semitic Inscriptions, vol. 2, Aramaic Inscriptions, Including Inscriptions in the Dialect of Zenjirli. Oxford, 1975. .
- Klengel, Horst. Syria, 3000 to 300 B.C.: A Handbook of Political History. Berlin, 1992. .
- Millard, A. R. “Israelite and Aramean History in the Light of Inscriptions.” Tyndale Bulletin 41.2 (1990): 261–275. .
- Pitard, Wayne T. Ancient Damascus: A Historical Study of the Syrian City-State from Earliest Times until Its Fall to the Assyrians in 732 B.C.E. Winona Lake, Ind., 1987. .
- Ross, James F. “Prophecy in Hamath, Israel, and Mari.” Harvard Theological Review 63.1 (1970): 1–28. Parallels to Zakkur's oracle, from Israel and Mari; the theory of Zakkur's origin from Ḫana has found no acceptance. Compare more recently K. van der Toorn, “L'oracle de victoire comme expression prophétique au Proche-Orient ancient,” Revue Biblique 94.1 (1987): 63–97, covering prophecy in Israel and the ancient Near East, with brief references to Zakkur; and Jean-Georges Heintz, Bibliographie de Mari: Archéologie et textes, 1933–1988 (Wiesbaden, 1990), with entries concerning Mari prophecy and the Hebrew Bible throughout.
David M. Clemens