(ḥizqîyāhû; ḥizqîyāh; yְḥizqîyāhû; yְḥizqîyāh) The variety of extant textual materials concerning Hezekiah, the king of Judah, the son and successor of Ahaz, both in the biblical corpus (2 Kgs 18–19; Isa 36–39; 2 Chr 29–32) and in the Assyrian annals, as well as the presence of important epigraphic and archaeological data from the time of his reign, have led to extensive scholarly interest in him. His name appears on an Assyrian inscription of Sennacherib's campaign as Ḫa-za-qi-ya-ú. As is apparent in the Akkadian, his name, which consists of a verb in the perfect, ḥāzaq, plus the theophoric element yāhû, means “Yahweh is strong” or “Yahweh has prevailed.”

The dates of Hezekiah's reign are inconsistent in the Bible. 2 Kings 18:9–10 states that Samaria fell in the sixth year of Hezekiah's reign, thus putting his ascension in 727 B.C.E. In 2 Kings 18:13, however, Sennacherib's conquest in 701 is said to have occurred in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah's reign, thereby placing his ascension at 715 B.C.E. Some scholars have explained the discrepancy as due to a period of coregency with Ahaz, his father. Hence, the dates of Hezekiah's reign are either c.715–687 or c.727–698 B.C.E.

Biblical Sources

Descriptions of Hezekiah's reign are found in three main biblical sources: 2 Kings, Isaiah, and 2 Chronicles. These biblical books contain, with variations, three accounts of events during his reign: the Assyrian attack in 701 (2 Kgs 18–19; Isa 36–37; 2 Chr 32:1–23), Hezekiah's sickness (2 Kgs 20:1–11; Isa 38; 2 Chr 32:24–26), and the visit of the Babylonian envoys (2 Kgs 20:12–19; Isa 39; 2 Chr 32:27–31). While the account in 2 Chronicles differs significantly from the others, the narratives in Isaiah and 2 Kings are nearly identical, making it unlikely that they arose independently. Hence, a central issue about the development of the narratives about Hezekiah concerns the relationship between the material in Isaiah and that in 2 Kings. Most scholars maintain that the author/redactor of Isaiah adapted and borrowed the account from 2 Kings. However, some scholars, such as K. A. D. Smelik and Christopher Seitz, have argued that the material was originally situated in Isaiah.

Brief references to Hezekiah are also found in prophetic and wisdom texts, especially in First Isaiah (Isa 1–39), since the prophet was a contemporary of the king. Isa 9:2–7, for example, is most likely a coronation hymn for Hezekiah's accession. Isa 1:7–9 and 10:5–11 probably describe the invasion of Sennacherib in 701. The “Immanuel” child of Isa 7:1–17 might be another allusion to Hezekiah. Other mentions of Hezekiah include Jer 26:19, which notes that the king, when confronted by the prophet Micah, repented and saved Jerusalem. In a small note hinting at literary activity during Hezekiah's reign, Prov 25:1 states that Hezekiah's scribes copied a collection of proverbs.

Sennacherib's Attack in 701

The reign of Hezekiah occurred during the height of Assyrian power. In 722 B.C.E. the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed and exiled by Assyria. The death of Sargon, king of Assyria, in 705 B.C.E. led to revolts in the Assyrian empire, in which Judah under Hezekiah participated. Hezekiah allied himself with Egypt, Ethiopia, and probably Babylon, and withheld tribute. The attack on Jerusalem by Assyria in 701 B.C.E. was part of an attempt by King Sennacherib, Sargon's successor, to reassert control over his western vassals.

Archaeological discoveries have clarified the preparations that Hezekiah undertook for the coming onslaught. The presence of storage jars stamped with the royal standard (lmlk), which earlier scholars attributed to King Josiah, reveal the extent of Hezekiah's political and economic expansion. Constructions in preparation for the Assyrian attack included the Broad Wall (2 Chr 32:5) and the Siloam Tunnel (2 Kgs 20:20; 2 Chr 32:30), the completion of which is commemorated by the famous inscription written on its wall. The increase in the population of Jerusalem during Hezekiah's reign, some scholars have argued, also indicates the strength of Hezekiah's infrastructure. Many believe that Hezekiah's sweeping religious reform was also connected to the coming attack; it was either an attempt to centralize Judah in preparation for Sennacherib's offense or an assertion of Judean independence from Assyrian hegemony.

Despite these preparations, a massive destruction layer at Judean sites attests to the devastation that Assyria wreaked during its campaign. Bas-reliefs found in Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh commemorating Sennacherib's conquest of Lachish, the second most important city next to Jerusalem, depict in graphic details the horror of the attack. Jerusalem avoided total destruction by paying a heavy tribute. Descriptions of the onslaught against Jerusalem, as well as a list of the booty that Hezekiah gave to Sennacherib, are found on various Assyrian monuments. The inscription of Sennacherib on the “Rassam Cylinder” states that Sennacherib locked up Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage” and includes a long catalogue of items given to appease the Assyrian king; the list is shortened on subsequent editions of Sennacherib's annals, such as the Taylor Prism and the Oriental Institute Prism.

Though Jerusalem barely escaped, its survival was viewed as miraculous. The Assyrian attack in 701—and its failure to capture Jerusalem—became a central event in Israelite history, because Jerusalem's survival confirmed the validity of the theology that maintained that Zion, the dwelling place of Yahweh, was inviolable. The significance of this event is evident in the many, sometimes contradictory, accounts and interpretations it generated in the biblical sources. Most scholars, like Brevard Childs, divide the accounts of the 701 attack in Kings and Isaiah into three sources: Source A (2 Kgs 18:13–16), Source B1 (2 Kgs 18:17–19:9a, 36//Isa 36.2–37), and Source B2 (2 Kgs 19: 9b–35//Isa 37:9b–36). Source A, which most closely matches the Assyrian sources, claims that Hezekiah submitted to vassal status and paid a large tribute, including three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold, to ward off Sennacherib. The amount gold and silver in Source A partially correspond to the sum—thirty talents of gold and eight hundred talents of silver—listed on the Rassam Cylinder. In contrast, the B sources attribute the survival of Jerusalem to divine intervention: Sennacherib's army voluntarily withdrew either because of a rumor (B1) or an angel (B2) sent by God.

The conflicting accounts have led some scholars to argue that Sennacherib led two campaigns: one in 701, which ended with Assyrian victory and reinstatement of Judah's vassalage, and a subsequent campaign, which ended in Assyrian defeat. This theory, however, has been generally discounted. There is no reason why two different attacks would have been conflated into a single tale in the biblical account.

Hezekiah's Reform and the Deuteronomistic History

In contrast to the attack, there is little archaeological or textual evidence of Hezekiah's religious reform. It is briefly alluded to in the speech of the Rabshakeh in Isaiah and 2 Kings (2 Kgs 18:22//Isa 36:7), but the Chronicler describes the event at great length (2 Chr 29:3–31:20). While all three books describe Hezekiah's removal of the high places and sacred poles, only Chronicles contains extensive description of the cleansing of the Temple and the national celebration of the Passover. That a full description of the reform is exclusive to Chronicles is problematic because until around the turn of the twenty-first century, many scholars viewed the Chronicler's work as little more than a biased retelling of the Deuteronomistic History and dismissed its historical and literary value. Archaeological evidence of projects undertaken by Hezekiah, such as the “Broad Wall,” the construction of which is mentioned only in Chronicles, has lent some credibility to the Chronicler's account, however.

The distrust of Chronicles, compounded by the lack of archaeological and nonbiblical evidence, has led some scholars to doubt the historicity of Hezekiah's reform. Others contend, however, that some type of reform, though perhaps not as extensive as the one described in Chronicles, was carried out, most likely in connection with the attack on Jerusalem; it was either a defensive attempt to consolidate the city or an act of rebellion against Assyria. Some scholars even maintain that the account of Hezekiah's reform was deliberately repressed. Hezekiah's descendant Josiah, the favorite king of the Deuteronomistic History, also undertakes a religious reform, an act that many scholars have argued is portrayed as the climax of Israelite history in the books of Kings. Such scholars have theorized that the Deuteronomistic historians deliberately downplayed the significance of Hezekiah's actions in order to present a less favorable comparison with Josiah. They contend that the striking similarities between Hezekiah and Josiah show that there is some relationship, whether real or fictive, between the two kings and their reforms. Therefore, as Josiah is associated with an edition of the Deuteronomistic History, so some argue that there existed a pre-Josianic Hezekian edition of that history that was reworked by later redactors/editors from the Josianic court.

Hezekiah's Illness and the Visit of the Envoys

While the narrative about the 701 Assyrian invasion is generally positive in its depiction of Hezekiah, portraying the survival of Jerusalem as a result, in part, of Hezekiah's piety (2 Kgs 18:30//Isa 36:15; 2 Kgs 19:1–7//Isa 37:1–7), the subsequent stories about Hezekiah's sickness (2 Kgs 20:1–11; Isa 38; 2 Chr 32:24–26) and the visit of the Babylonian envoys (Kgs 20:12–19; Isa 39; 2 Chr 32:27–31), by contrast, depict Hezekiah more negatively. The account of the visit of the envoys links the king with the Babylonian exile, an event that occurred more than a century after his reign.

Scholars such as R. E. Clements argue that the story of the illness and that of the envoys were added to the story of the attack in order to preclude the misunderstanding, which arose after 701, that God will protect Jerusalem unconditionally. Others posit that the portrayal of Hezekiah in these stories, especially in the tale of the envoys' visit, is related to the insertion of the narratives about the king into the book of Isaiah. The story of the envoys, which concludes First Isaiah (Isa 1–39), foretells the coming Babylonian exile; the end of this exile is then heralded at the beginning of Second Isaiah (Isa 40–55). The stories about Hezekiah thus function as a transition point between the two books of Isaiah. Indeed, textual evidence supports the idea that the sequence of the stories was deliberately rearranged, and that the events described in the stories—the attack, the sickness, and the visit of the Babylonian envoys—most likely occurred in a different historical order. For example, many argue that the Babylonian envoys' visit was in connection with a formation of an anti-Assyrian coalition before, not after, the attack.

Legacy of the Hezekiah Narratives

The importance of Hezekiah is evident in the recurrence of the king in postbiblical literature. Hezekiah appears as one of the three righteous kings alongside David and Josiah (Sir 49:4) and as an intercessor for his people (2 Esd 7:41) who causes his people to be divinely saved and delivered from their enemies (2 Macc 15:22). Rabbinic sources associate Hezekiah with the messianic age. A famous statement attributed to Rabbi Yohanan b. Zakkai (fl. 70 C.E.) says to prepare a throne for Hezekiah the “one who is coming” (b. Ber. 28b). Also, passages in b. Ber. 94a and in b. Sanh. 98b and 99a seem to hint that Hezekiah was either some type of messianic figure or a close contender for this role. In b. Sanh. 94a, God wishes to appoint Hezekiah as the messiah but is stopped by the Attribute of Justice. Justin the Martyr and Tertullian also record that Jews of the second century C.E. thought that messianic passages in the Bible referred to Hezekiah.

Biblical evidence hints at the reasons behind this continued interest in Hezekiah. The superlative assessment of Hezekiah in the Deuteronomistic History, the association of this king with an event of tremendous theological significance such as the survival of Zion in 701, and the allusions to Hezekiah in Isaiah, especially in passages that later came to be interpreted messianically, all contributed to the development of an idealized picture of Hezekiah in the later traditions of Israel.

[See also Zion.]


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Song-Mi Suzie Park