An Assyrian Embassy located in the ‘burbs of ancient Jerusalem

According to this press release, Oded Lipschits from the department of Archaeology in Tel Aviv University has found evidence that Assyrians were establishing ‘local administrative centers,’ branch offices if you may, that kept tabs on their Judaen vassals. This ain’t really surprising finding by itself, from the very start of the Assyrian empire, they have been well known for their diplomacy, even though it was a rather domineering legacy. The cuneiform library founded by Sargon II holds bountiful records of envoys between Assyria, Babylon and Elam which lasted for over 800 years.

But, knowing where this site is located gives this news a bit more significance to the find. The site, Ramat Rachel, was actually a suburb of ancient Jerusalem. It is about 2,700 years old. During this time, the Neo-Assyrian empire was the regional power and they –for the most part– practiced a polytheistic religion, Ashurism. Under certain situations, they were tolerant of other ethnicities, ways of life… So, the fact that the Assyrian ’embassy’ was located two miles away, indicates to Lipschits that the Assyrian overlords decided ‘to take a few steps back, and not appear to be interfering with the city’s religious center and local culture.’

I do have problems with where Lipschits takes this observation. From the press release,

“The Assyrians built their economic hub for the region two miles south of Jerusalem at Ramat Rachel. They created elaborate gardens, stocked their cellars with the wine and olive oil they collected in taxes, and quietly but carefully monitored Jerusalem.

“You can see Jerusalem from Ramat Rachel, but when you’re inside Jerusalem’s City of David, you can’t see Ramat Rachel at all,” says Lipschits. “The Assyrians kept a watchful eye, but didn’t let the locals feel a dominant foreign presence.

“It was smart for the Assyrian managers to take a few steps back, and not appear to be interfering with the city’s religious center and local culture. Businesses today could be advised to adopt similar strategies with their branch offices in foreign locations,” he surmises.”

I really don’t know enough about the Assyrian presence in Ramat Rachel other than what was reported in this release. But I, for one, am cautious to use them as a template for good business practices. I find it far too common nowadays for people who study the past to draw tangents to modern day life. In doing so they overlook the pretty obvious facts that make their claims much less utopic.

In this case, like many early empires, the Assyrian one was forged out and maintained out of rather horrible things such as war, slavery and totalitarianism. One of the earlier Assyrian kings, Ashurnasirpal II, decimated Aramaeans and set the tone for the Assyrians to bask in their ruthlessness. Their social structure was largely founded by a land-holding class which consisted almost entirely of military commanders who grew wealthy from the spoils taken in war. Their dominance was not successfully challenged until Battle of Nineveh, when the Neo-Assyrian Empire collapsed under the invasion of Iranian peoples from the east. During this time, under the rule of Cyrus the Great, the Assyrians were exposed to live by one of the first human rights edicts of the time, the Charter of Cyrus the Great. It was not until then that the Assyrian dominance over Judeah subsided.

So, while it may have been beneficial for the Assyrians near Jerusalem to step back and not put pressure on their Judean state, can they really be a reliable model for modern day economical ethics and societies?

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