3. The Royal Battle Narrative in the Ancient Near East

As seen in the last chapter, characters and themes shape and reshape the battle narrative, and this chapter considers a standard variation, the royal battle narrative. Here the roles of hero and leader are combined on both the human and divine levels. On the human level, the king takes the roles of both hero and leader; as such, he does not need to turn to any other human character for a commission. The official approbation and command to undertake the fight comes from the king’s deity, who plays the role of the divine leader and also may fight as the divine hero. The fusion of the roles of hero and leader on both the human and divine levels identifies the king with the deity. The identification is not gratuitous but rather the point of the story.

In his famous work, Holy War in Ancient Israel, Gerhard von Rad considered “holy war” only as an Israelite institution without reference to the larger ANE context.[1] However, Manfred Weippert has shown that the literatures of Israel and Assyria reflect the same practices and ideologies of war.[2] Instead of practices and ideology, I shall be dealing with motifs and patterns used in storytelling. Again we are faced with the differences between a historical and a literary approach. The two are not contradictory; rather, they should complement one another.

Weippert confines his study to Assyria, but I wish to extend the boundaries both in time and space. Much of this material can be characterized as “royal battle reports,” for little or no attention is paid to the development of narrative tension or to the retardation of the story. The enemy’s threat quickly gives way to the announcement of the king’s victory. The bulk of the report is concerned most often with the extent of the destruction, the plunder taken, and the tribute offered by defeated or neighboring kings. As such, the battle report emphasizes the magnitude of the victory and the recognition paid to the king.[3]

In his meticulous study, K. Lawson Younger, Jr. has analyzed these conquest accounts of the ancient Near East and used the information as a lens to view Joshua 9-12. For this, he generated a set of motifs corresponding to those developed in the previous chapter,[4] and he uses these “syntagms” to analyze in great detail the Assyrian, Hittite, and Egyptian “conquest accounts,” and further refines these basic categories both in terms of actions and vocabulary. In the end, Younger uses his analysis to show that Josh 9-12 belongs to a literary genre and must be appreciated as such. His remarks are aimed mainly at historical critics who do not recognize “the figurative nature” or “the use of hyperbole in the narrative.” Therefore, “once one admits this element into the interpretive process, there is no reason to maintain that the account in Josh 9-12 portrays a complete conquest.”[5]

3.1. The Literary Texts of Royal Battle Narratives

The royal battle narrative, as defined here, exploits the traditional possibilities for tension and retardation to tell a story and not merely to report the king’s greatness. Even so, these texts vary in literary quality. Not all are of great length, and some are very fragmentary, yet all are more than a battle report.

  1. The Sargon King of Battle Epic, found in an Old Babylonian version and a Tel el-Amarna version.[6]
  2. The Cuthean Legend of Naram-Sin.[7]
  3. The “Apology of Ḫattušili.”[8]
  4. Pharaoh Ramesses II’s “Literary Record” of the Battle of Kadesh.[9]
  5. Pharaoh Merneptah’s defeat of the Libyans in the Great Karnak Inscription.[10]
  6. Kurigalzu: King Kurigalzu’s two battles with the King of Elam.[11]
  7. Ashur-uballiṭ: King Ashur-uballiṭ’s fight with the Kassites.[12]
  8. Adad-narari Epic: The triumph of King Adad-narari I over the Nazi-Maruttash, the Kassite king of Babylon.[13]
  9. Tukulti-Ninurta Epic: the battles of King Tukulti-Ninurta I against Kashtiliash.[14]
  10. Shalmaneser in Ararat: The campaign of King Shalmaneser III against Urartu.[15]
  11. Esarhaddon: King Esarhaddon’s fight for the throne.[16]
  12. The Moabite Stone: King Mesha’s victory over the “son of Omri.”[17]

3.2. Characters

Whereas the hero and helpless leader take the major roles in the heroic pattern, the king and his deity are central in the royal pattern. Their relationship is that of hero and leader, yet the king is also the human leader, and the deity may take the role of divine hero; neither is helpless.

In his study of Divine War in the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East, Sa-Moon Kang shows the deity act as “a warrior who fights against the enemy.” Therefore the war is understood “as originating from divine command,” and the core of these divine wars “is the divine intervention in battle by miracles of natural phenomena such as flood or rain-storms, or historical events of revolt amongst the enemies, or as the terror of the divine warriors themselves.” Since the divine warrior is the true victor, the spoils of battle belong to him or her, and the king erects steles or monuments or builds temples to commemorate the victory of the divine warriors.”[18] The literary texts considered here certainly carry out these themes and exalt the human king, except for the Cuthean Legend of Naram-Sin. “Initially, he is depicted as a self-willed individual, putting himself above the gods. Since Naram-Sin defies the will of the gods, he must be punished. He must realize and acknowledge his tragic error before he can receive assistance from the gods.”[19]

Helpless characters make only an occasional appearance when the king, for some reason, is absent from the scene of the enemy threat. The other central character, the royal army, forms an extension of the king but has little personality otherwise. Counselors and religious personnel may play minor roles to carry out their functions.

Characters on the enemy side generally include only the enemy king and army who play their traditional roles as the representatives of chaos and destruction.

In the Tukulti-Ninurta Epic, an elaborate exchange of letters creates a larger and more mimetic sense of the enemy king, Kashtiliash. With the ring of history, Tukulti-Ninurta reminds the enemy king of the long history of their relationship and accuses him of violating their treaty, perhaps, as Foster notes, with the possibility of reconciliation. Kashtiliash, however, replies with insults and refuses to let the Assyrian messengers return. Tukulti-Ninurta sends further indictments and calls upon the deity Shamash to vindicate him for keeping the treaty. Filled with fear at the impending trial by battle, Kashtiliash “offers a soliloquy on his impending doom.”[20] Despite the realism, Kashtiliash plays the traditional role of the enemy king.

3.3. The Beginning: Description of the King, Threat and Helplessness

3.3.1. Description of the king

Since the royal battle narrative serves to exalt the king, the story may open with a description of the hero. The only impediment which might keep a king from immediately resolving the enemy threat is his absence from the scene.[21] Otherwise, the king appears as the complete hero.

3.3.2. Enemy’s threat and power

In the Legend of Naram Sin (lines 31-62), a monstrous enemy arrives to wreak great devastation. The threat, created both by the enemy’s proximity and their terrible power, is also found in the Battle of Kadesh; there, the Hittite troops arrayed before the Egyptians are said to be like the sands of the sea (P 66). In general, however, the enemy’s strength is attenuated in these royal stories. This shift may well reflect the actual historical facts behind these narratives, but it also reflects a movement away from elements that would denigrate the magnificence of the king, the most powerful figure in the story. Still, something of the initial tension is lost in the exchange.

The enemy’s threat divides into four different types of wars, which account for variations in the opening of the story:

  1. wars against outside aggressors who usually attack some outpost of the kingdom;
  2. wars against rebels within the kingdom;[22]
  3. wars of redress, i.e., wars waged to redress past atrocities by the enemy before the king’s accession;[23]
  4. wars of conquest.[24]

The first two types are similar to the threat posed by the enemy in the heroic pattern. The wars of redress begin with a history of the suffering and defeat endured in the past at the enemy’s hands. Kings wage wars of conquest to expand the kingdom in the name of their deity, and so the pattern begins with a scene of commission and preparation.

3.3.3. Reaction of helplessness

In the heroic battle narrative, the leader is the central character in the reaction of helplessness, but the motif is inappropriate for the kings because they are the battle heroes and the human leaders. Therefore, where the reaction of helplessness appears, the king must be absent from the scene of conflict.[25] Furthermore, since the narrative is told from the king’s point of view, often in the first person, the reaction of helplessness, where it appears, is not developed with the vigor seen in the heroic battle narratives. It may only be implicit in the need to call for the king.

3.4. The Middle: Call and Commission with the Preparation for Battle.

3.4.1. Call and commission of the king by the helpless

Since the king is hero by virtue of his kingship, the search for a hero becomes inappropriate, and likewise, there are no false heroes.[26] Where helpless inhabitants appear, a messenger must bring their call for help to the king, as in the case of a vassal besieged by an enemy.[27]

3.4.2. King’s reaction of righteous indignation

As seen in the previous chapter, the hero’s stock response to the news of the enemy’s threat is righteous indignation, and both Merneptah and Esarhaddon display their anger at the report of the enemy’s villainy.[28]

3.4.3. Divine call and commission of the king

Kingship brings a duty to wage war. Technically speaking, the king’s primary call and commission come with his accession to the throne, and Merneptah’s accession is incorporated into the battle narrative.[29] As a result, the call motif does not have the prominence found in the heroic pattern. Still, a divine commission for each battle is a regular feature.

The patterns for the call and commission confirm almost exclusively to the first two patterns found in the heroic narratives:

  1. The divine leader (calls and) commissions the king, and the king accepts.[30]
  2. The king calls for the divine commission, and the divine leader grants the divine commission.[31]

Normally, this scene contains no objection by either the king or the deity because it serves to underline the unanimity between the human and the divine.[32]

As Kang says, “There was a profound conviction that no military action could succeed unless its plan had the prior approval of the gods.”[33] The king typically calls for the divine commission in one of four ways:

  1. direct personal prayer,[34]
  2. sacrificia consultoria[35]
  3. sacrifices entreating the favor of the gods,[36]
  4. a vow which promises something in return for victory.[37]

The divine oracle of commission, whether initiated by the god(s) or in answer to the king’s call, is communicated in the following ways:

  1. to the king himself
    a. by direct address,[38]
    b. by a dream;[39]
  2. a spontaneous oracle to a third person that is not a cultic person, for example, a person who reports a dream;[40]
  3. an answer to sacrificia consultoria, as interpreted by the proper cultic personnel.[41]

These three orders represent a descending scale of dramatic intimacy in which direct personal contact is sacrificed more and more to the constrictions of ordinary experience. The sacrifices entreating favor and especially the vows do not envision either a direct or indirect response; likewise, the king’s prayer in some narratives receives no reply, with the assumption that it is affirmative.[42]

The divine commission may appear without further elaboration, as in the Moabite Stone, where the deity Chemosh says to King Mesha: “Go, take Nebo from Israel” (line 14). The assurance of divine presence and aid is added to Amon’s commission of Ramesses II: “Straight on! Forward! I am with thee; I am thy father! My hand is with thee, for I am worth more to thee than hundreds of thousands, and I am the strong lord who loves valor.”[43] The commission to Esarhaddon is shorter but similar: “Go (ahead), do not tarry! We will march with you and kill your enemies.”[44]

The encouragement motif (“Do not fear”) does not fit well with the vision of the king as the great and mighty warrior.[45] Merneptah receives the commission both by an oracle from Amun and in a dream by Ptah. In preparation for the battle, he receives the gift of a sword with these words: “Then his majesty saw in a dream, as if a [statue] of Ptah were standing near Pharaoh, l.p.h. He was high […] He was saying to him: “Seize (it) here! And expel the foul heart from yourself.”[46]

The text may add the “hand-formula,” a formula whereby the divine leader announces that the enemy has been given into the hand of the king.[47] The formula is an extension of the assurance of divine presence and aid; with its introduction into a narrative, all pretense of dramatic tension disappears.

Within the heroic tradition, the hero receives the divine commission as approval from the ultimate dimension within the hero’s society. While this is a factor in the royal tradition, the divine commission also establishes a primary theme of the story: the identification of the king and deity in both person and action. The deity, particularly the head of the pantheon, is responsible for the protection and defense of the community, as is the king, who is the human manifestation of the divine king.

3.4.4. Preparation for battle: the arming of the leader and muster of the army

The Battle of Kadesh recounts the arming of the hero with weapons, armor, and chariot for Ramesses II.[48] The muster of the army is the major motif of preparation in these narratives.[49] The king may also call and commission the army and add an exhortation.[50] Interestingly in the story of Ashur-uballiṭ, the army delivers a speech and calls on the king to lead them into battle.[51]

3.4.5. Journey

Since the enemy is generally at some distance, the journey continually appears in these narratives, but the motif is not developed except in Shalmaneser in Ararat, in which the journey serves as the frame for the battle narrative.

3.5. The Resolution: Victory, Plunder, and Recognition

3.5.1. The verbal exchange between king and enemy

The king and enemy may carry out a verbal exchange, similar to that found in the heroic tradition. Typically it takes place through messengers rather than face to face on the battlefield as in the heroic pattern. Tukulti-Ninurta offers the most interesting example with the exchange between messengers creating the central drama of the story.[52] The enemy king may display his false confidence in this exchange or thereby add dramatic irony.[53]

3.5.2. Fight and the victory by the deity, king, and army

The royal fight scene ends almost as soon as it begins, sometimes being reduced to a simple statement of victory.[54] These narratives typically recount the meeting of faceless armies whose diffuse and simultaneous actions do not lend themselves easily to the storyteller’s art.[55] This speed of the victory comes not from a lack of imagination but signifies central themes.

First of all, the speed underlines the divine aid promised the king. This promise may be fulfilled concretely in the story with the deity or deities taking part in the battle as the divine hero who leads the king into battle, marches at his side, and fights.[56] Kang, in particular, has demonstrated that “from the pre-Sargonic period…, the gods began to intervene in wars.” Various Hittite and Mesopotamian deities aided their kings. In Mesopotamia, “the major divine warriors were rain-storm gods.”[57] Therefore, the storm and other meteorological images point to the divine hand by recalling these weather deities.[58] Amun-Re, the sun god, was the primary divine warrior in Egypt. Still, as Manassa points out, other deities join him in “the earliest depiction of warfare,” and the Merneptah Inscription (42) proclaims, “All the gods have felled him [the enemy king] on account of Egypt.[59] She goes on to point out that war in Egypt is a “cosmic struggle” with “the equation of foreigners to chaotic elements,” and Merneptah “as the earthly embodiment of Re” and therefore the representative of the divine hero.[60] Ramesses II also rushes into battle “like Mont … like Baʿal,” that is, like a god (P 77, 155), and Tukulti-Ninurta I has vestiges of the storm god as “the raging, pitiless storm.”[61]

Secondly, as G. Furlani has shown, Babylonia and Assyria conceived of every battle as a trial in which the righteous party necessarily won.[62] From this perspective, a speedy victory represents a speedy verdict against the enemy and for the king.

Finally, the speed is a sign of the king’s magnificent power. Unlike the heroic narratives in which great power belongs to the enemy, the royal stories exalt the king’s might which may be so great that it pre-empts the fight and leads directly to the enemy’s recognition of defeat.[63] The Hittite king, Ḫattušili, announces that Ishtar goes before him and claims the heroic motif for himself: “I personally conquered the enemy. When I killed the man who was in command, the enemy fled.”[64]

The poetic text of Ramesses II at Kadesh breaks the traditional royal pattern by having his army retreat leaving only the king surrounded by 2,500 Hittites chariots (P 83-87). He prays to Amun (P 92-127) and sends the enemy fleeing (P 128-165). Rebuking his cowardly army, he retells his victory, attributing it to Amun (P166-204). In a flashback, his shield-bearer begs him to stop, but he refuses (P 205-234). The army now recognizes the hero of the battle, and the king rebukes them again, saying: “Fair indeed is fame (“name”) won in battle, over and over.”[65] The single-handed combat brings this story closer to the heroic pattern, and so magnifies Ramesses’ greatness.

3.5.3. The enemy’s recognition of defeat and their destruction or capture

As in the heroic narrative, the victory brings about the enemy’s recognition of defeat and leads to a reaction of helplessness: fear and flight. The royal army, already responsible for the victory, pursues and inflicts great or total destruction upon the enemy.[66] Even so, the enemy king does not necessarily die in the conflict, unlike his counterpart in the narratives of single-combat. The enemy king may escape,[67] or he may be captured[68] and become part of the scene of recognition.[69] These events rob the climax of its utter decisiveness but reflect a more realistic or even historical portrayal of the battle.

In the Merneptah’s battle against the Libyans, the storyteller states that “there was none that escaped among them” (the Libyans), yet he contradicts this by reporting that the Libyan king fled, “his heart fearing.” This news comes to the pharaoh with information about a new Libyan king who had opposed the old (§583-586). The specific details of the escape and new appointment have the marks of unique historical fact, yet this is mixed blithely with the traditional statement that no one escaped. In the royal tradition, however, the storyteller’s fidelity to the tradition and even to history more often gives way to a more basic loyalty, the storyteller’s loyalty to the king and the king’s glory.

3.5.4, Plunder, Recognition,  and Reward of the Deity and King

Plunder figures prominently in the royal narrative, along with the recognition of the divine and human heroes. As Kang points out, “it is natural that the spoils belong to the gods, for a war is the war of gods,”[70] Kang links this to the Moabite Stone where Mesha “killed every one of [it]—seven thousand native men, foreign men, native women, for[eign] / women, concubines—for I devoted (ḥrm) it to ʿAshtar-Kemosh.”[71] Kang ties this to the ḥērem or “ban,” which plays a vital role in biblical texts, but it has not been found elsewhere in the ancient Near East beyond the Moabite Stone.[72] The ban has, of course, received great attention from biblical scholars and theologians, but, for this study, the biblical ḥērem or ban serves the recognition of the divine hero, whatever it may have meant historically or may mean for us today. [73]

In Shalmaneser in Ararat, the king carries out a festival and “with joy in Aššur the lordliness of a lion […] with all his lands pronounced Aššur [blessed].” In the prose account the king says: “I made for myself a large royal stele, [inscribed] on it the praise of Aššur my lord and the power of my might of which I had given evidence in the land of Urartu.”[74]

The recognition of the human victory undergoes some alteration since a king cannot easily recognize himself as a hero though Merneptah does it.[75] Most logically, perhaps, the divine leader (s) should recognize the hero-king, as in the Battle of Kadesh on Ramesses’ return to Egypt.[76] A captured enemy king, accompanied by appropriate tribute, may assume for this duty.[77] A neighboring king may offer the conquering king tribute, whether under duress or of their own accord.[78] Finally, the army or even the enemy army in Kurigalzu may acknowledge the hero.[79]

The scene of recognition is of special importance for Esarhaddon. Though he has been appointed crown prince by his father, Esarhaddon has not yet become king when his rebel brothers assassinate their father. Esarhaddon pre-empts the fight with a brilliant show of power, interpreted in the imagery of divine heroes, and this causes the rebel army to defect and proclaim, “This is our king.” The Assyrian people come next to kiss their king’s feet, and then, as the hero of the battle, Esarhaddon takes possession of the royal city and the throne of his father. The scene of recognition ends with the gods registering their acknowledgment through portents, omens, and oracles.[80] This narrative preserves the traditional tie between the victorious hero and the reward of kingship to justify Esarhaddon’s accession.

The king may also set up a monument to mark the victory. As Weinfeld points out, this is connected with the establishment of a “name forever.”[81] In several instances below, the erection of a stele is connected to the king’s recognition of the god(s) as the divine hero, a motif expressed by sacrifice, etc.[82] Weippert lists the return journey and the disbanding of the army as other concluding motifs.[83]

3.6. Conclusion

This survey is by no means exhaustive. It does not attempt to isolate the peculiarities of specific cultures. Instead, I have tried to show that the royal pattern is a variation of the heroic pattern, which results from the combination of the human hero and leader into a single character—the king. Appendix 2 provides a list of these motifs. Again this pattern is a theoretical model, a distillation of the tradition, as is the heroic pattern. Both are descriptive rather than prescriptive. The close between the two appears most clearly in the Battle of Kadesh, where the lone king defeats a great army. However, the royal storytellers are less interested in the drama of the story than are their heroic counterparts. Narrative tension and retardation give way to the exaltation of the king and his identification with the deity. In short, the battle narrative has become a tool of royal propaganda.

3.7. Footnotes for Chapter 3

[1] Except for a passing reference to the Assyrian use of mercenaries, von Rad does not point to the larger ANE context; Holy War in Ancient Israel, 124, n. 12.

[2] M. Weippert, “Heiliger Krieg,” 460‑493.

[3] W. Richter’s work focused particularly on vocabulary; Traditionsgeschtliche Untersuchungen zum Richterbuch (Bonner Biblishe Beiträge 18; Bonn: P. Hastein, 21966) 262‑266. For Assyrian other examples of the battle report, cf. the annalistic reports of Shalmaneser III in ANET3, 276‑280. Cf. also Manfred Weippert, “Die Kämpfe des assyrischen Königs Assurbanipal gegen die Araber: Redaktionskritische Untersuchung des Berichts in Prisma A,” Die Welt des Orients, 7.1 (1973) 39-85. This longer report offers a good example of a historical report with its many details and people. It makes clear that Ashurbanipal acts at the command of his many deities and that Umwaite᾽ receives the curses of the oath he has violated, but the text is not interested in narrative tension and resolution. Michael G. Hasel has also produced a descriptive survey of siege tactics and the destruction of life support systems in the ancient Near East; Military Practice and Polemic: Israel’s Laws of Warfare in Near Eastern Perspective (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 2005).

[4] K. Lawson Younger, Jr. Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series, 98 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990), 72-79. His “syntagms” with correlation to this study in brackets are as follows: A. spatio-temporal coordinates; B. disorder [tension]; C. divine aid [divine commission]; D. gathering of the troops [muster]; E. move from place to place [journey]; F. presence of the deity [deity as hero]; G. flight; H. pursuit; I. combat; L. outcome of the combat [destruction of the enemy and plunder]; M. submission; N. exemplary punishment; O. consequences; P. acts of celebration [recognition of deity and king]; Q. return [journey]; R. supplemental royal activities on the campaign [recognition]; S. summary statement; T. geographic note. What I find interesting about Younger’s motifs is the occurrence of flight and pursuit after the appearance of the deity and before the battle. As outlined in the heroic pattern, the enemy’s flight is a reaction to the recognition of helplessness after the defeat of the enemy hero. The “combat” comes here only after the pursuit of the enemy. This alteration of the pattern underlines the power of the deity and of the king.

[5] Younger, Ancient Conquest Accounts, 243.

[6] Joan Goodnick Westenholz, surveys the various fragments along with Amarna Recension in Text 9B: “King of Battle.” in her Legends of the Kings of Akkad (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1997), pp. 102-140. Also cf. Foster, Before the Muses, vol. I, 103-108.

[7] Cuthean Legend of Naram Sin: Joan Goodnick Westenholz has published the various Babylonian texts related to this narrative which she renames “Naram-Sin and the Enemy Hordes”: The “Cuthean Legend,” in her Legends of the Kings of Akkad, Texts 20-22, pp. 263-368; Text 2: The Standard Babylonian Recension, pp. 294-331. Cf. also Peter Machinist’s comparison of the historian’s perspective in this text with that of the Deuteronomistic History in “The Voice of the Historian in the Ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean World,” Interpretation 57. 2 (2003) 117-137. Westenholz has also gathered a number of literary texts recounting the heroic deeds of Sargon and Naram Sin. All are rather fragmentary; still, a few references are included below.

[8] “The Apology of Ḫattušili” has been translated by Th. P. J. van den Hout, in Context of Scripture, edited by William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger (Leiden: Brill, 2003) vol. 1, pp. 199-203. J. Randall Short comments extensively on the relationship of this text to the “History of the Rise of David” (1 Samuel 16 – 2 Samuel 5) in his The Surprising Election and Confirmation of King David, Harvard Theological Studies 63 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010). As he shows, the text is a justification by Ḫattušili for his rebellion. It is more of a historical document than a literary document. Still, it emphasizes his devotion and reliance particularly on Ishtar which fits with the typical call and commission in the royal pattern.

[9] Battle of Kadesh: A. Gardiner, The Kadesh Inscription of Ramesses II (Oxford: Griffith Institute, 1960) 7-14. Gardiner refers to the text in question by the letter “P” which stands for “poetic text” although he notes that the text is not in verse. I have quoted the newer translation by K. A. Kitchen, “Ramesses II (2.5): The Battle of Qadesh: The Poem, or Literary Record,” in Context of Scripture, edited by William W. Hallo and K. Lawson Younger (Leiden: Brill, 2003) vol. 2, pp. 32-38.

[10] Merneptah Inscription: Colleen Manassa, The Great Karnak Inscription of Merneptah: Grand Strategy in the 13th Century B.C. Yale Egyptological Studies (New Haven, CT: Yale Egyptological Seminar, 2003). Originally in J.H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1906‑1907) III, §572‑592. Manassa divides the narratives into sixteen sections that correspond closely to the pattern of the battle narrative:

1. List of enemies (1 with some text lost here and elsewhere) [= threat], 2. Merneptah as a warrior (2-6); [= description of the warrior], 3. vanguard of the enemy (7); [= threat], 4. the beloved land without a champion (8-9) [= reaction of helplessness], 5. Merneptah: Champion of Egypt (10-12) [= hero], 6. One came to say: “The Libyans attack.” (133-15a) [= threat], 7. Merneptah’s address: Pharaoh rages (15b-19) [= The king describes the threat ], 8. Conclusion of Merneptah’s address and oath (21-25) [= He claims his role as hero.], 9. The oracle and preparation for battle (26-28a) [= divine commission], 10. Message of Ptah: the divine dream (28-30a) [= divine commission], 11. The victory of the battle of Perire (30b-40a) [= the victory; the Egyptian army destroys the enemy “without a remnant amongst them” and the enemy leader flees], 12. Frontier report and speech of the captives (40b-44) [reports are unable to confirm the death of the enemy king], 13. Aftermath of the Battle: Egypt rejoices (45-48a) [= army bearing plunder and recognition by “the entire land rejoicing”], 14. The plunder list 48b-61) [= plunder including the other enemy chiefs brought alive before the hero-king], 15. Royal appearance and speeches of Merneptah (62-73a) [= recognition of the hero-king who appears and gives a speech announcing the death of the enemy king by his tribe and recognizing his deities], 16. Speech of the Council of Thirty and concluding praise (73b-79) [= recognition of the hero-king by others].

Manassa classifies this text as a “Königsnovelle” (107) because it “serves functionally as royal propaganda, specifically focused upon actions performed by the king in order to preserve cosmic order” (109). Still from the standpoint of plot, the text belongs to the genre of the battle narrative.

[11] Kurigalzu: A fragment telling of the battle, the flight and capture of the enemy king is known: A.K. Grayson, Babylonian Historical‑Literary Texts (Toronto Semitic Texts and Studies 3; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975) Ch. 5, esp. p. 52-55. As he says, “The main source for the Kurigalzu epic is oddly enough, Chronicle P. This chronicle quotes extensively from an epic in its description of two battles fought by Kurigalzu. It is possible that the fragment in chapter 5 in which the hostilities with Elam are narrated is part of the same epic” (42). Chronicle P is found as “Chronicle 22” in A.K. Grayson, Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles, Texts from Cuneiform Sources 5 (Locust City, NY: J.J. Austin, 1975) 170-177. The same text is also translated as “”45. Chronicles of the Kassite Kings” in Jean-Jacques Glassner, Mesopotamian Chronicles, edited by Benjamin R. Foster (Leiden: Brill, 2005) 278-281.

[12] Ashur-uballiṭ: For the text see R.C. Thompson, “VII. The Excavations on Nabû at Nineveh,” Archaeologia 79 (1929) 103-148, esp. 131‑132, and the commentary in Thompson, Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology 20 (1933) 116‑117. This fragment tells of the army calling Ashur-uballiṭ II (c. 1386-1369) to battle against the king of the Kassites.

[13] Adad-narari Epic: E. Weidner, “Assyrische Epen über die Kassiten Kämpfe,” Archiv für Orientforschung, 20 (1963) 113‑116. Grayson, Chronicles, 57, n. 65.

[14] Tukulti-Ninurta Epic is translated by Foster in Before the Muses, vol. I, pp. 211-230 with information on the various text on p. 230, and for the citations, I have followed his indications. For the recent discussions dealing with the relation of this text to the Bible, cf. P. Machinist, “Literature as Politics: The Tukulti Ninurta Epic and the Bible,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 36 (1976) 455‑482, and P.C. Craigie, “The Song of Deborah and the Epic of Tukulti Ninurta,” Journal of Biblical Literature  88 (1969) 253‑265. On Ninurta as a divine warrior, cf. Kang, Divine War, 24-31.

[15] Shalmaneser in Ararat: W.G. Lambert, “The Sultantepe Tablets: VIII. Shalmaneser in Ararat,” Anatolian Studies 11 (1961) 143‑158. Lambert includes both a prose account and a poetic account which “unlike the hundreds of other Assyrian royal inscriptions containing annalistic material this one is—uniquely, so far as the present writer knows—poetry” (143). The prose account contains several battle reports (147-149). The poetic text contains only some sixty lines (149-153).

[16] Esarhaddon: R. Borger, Die Inschriften Assarhaddons, Königs von Assyrien (Archiv für Orientforschung, Beiheft 9; Graz: 1956; Osnabrück: Biblio-Verlag, 1967) §27; English translation in ANET3, 289‑290; Weippert also discusses the text; “Heiliger Krieg,” 466‑468.

[17] Moabite Stone: Kent P. Jackson and J. Andrew Dearman, “The Text of the Meshaʿ Inscription,” and Kent P. Jackson, “The Language of the Meshaʿ Inscription” in Studies in the Mesha Inscription and Moab, ed. Andrew Dearman (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1989) 93-95, 96-130. Aarnoud van der Deijl, Protest or Propaganda: War in the Old Testament Book of Kings and in Contemporaneous Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Leiden: Brill, 2008) 304-339.

[18] Kang, Divine War, 108-110.

[19] Westenholz, Legends, 264.

[20] Foster, Before the Muses, 216-221.

[21] Battle of Kadesh, P 1-24; Legend of Naram Sin, 1-30; Esarhaddon, I 1-9. Except in the Legend of Naram Sin, the king’s absence from the scene of conflict is the only impediment to his dissolving the enemy’s threat immediately.

[22] Cf. Esarhaddon, in which the hero’s brother kills the old king and father, Sennacherib.

[23] Moabite Stone, 1‑9; Merneptah Inscription, 1, 7, 18-23.

[24] Weippert, “Heiliger Krieg,” 469, 487‑488, 492; cf. Shalmaneser in Ararat where the Assyrian king wages a fierce war of conquests which causes others to come with tribute; poetic text, 56-57. Weippert points out that the wars of conquest are undertaken at the will of the god; there is no qualm of conscience about undertaking an offensive war. Younger, Ancient Conquest Accounts, passim.

[25] Merneptah’s Inscription, 8-9: the narrator describes the situation before the pharaoh’s appearance.

[26] The retreating Egyptian army in the Battle of Kadesh, (P 74‑75) can be analyzed as a false hero whose failure brings the hero into the battle.

[27] Merneptah Inscription 15b: “raged like a lion”; also Josh 10:6. The King of Battle Epic (Tel el‑Amarna edition), merchants call upon King Sargon to defeat the oppressive king, and they offer to pay for the campaign, a very businesslike reward (ll. 13-21); Westenholz, Legends, 114-117.

[28] Esarhaddon, I 53‑59; Merneptah Inscription 15b.

[29] Merneptah Inscription 10-12. Esarhaddon, I 8‑22: The hero is designated as heir to the throne by his father, the gods, and the people; this likewise functions as a primary call and commission which allows Esarhaddon to act like a king even though his enthronement comes after the battle. Note also the “Apology of Ḫattušili” §11 = 4:7-40; for most of this story, the hero is not a king in his own right and thus receives commissions to wage war from his brother the king; cf. §5 = 1:66; §6 = 2:20; §7 = 2:35.

[30] Merneptah Inscription 26-28a contains an oracle announcing that “Amun has assented,” and in 28b-30a, Ptah appears in a dream saying “Seize it here” while giving Merneptah “the scimitar.” A dream is found in Shalmaneser in Ararat, poetic text, 25‑30; “Apology of Ḫattušili” §11 = 4:7‑15; Moabite Stone, 14.

[31] Battle of Kadesh, P 92-123. Legend of Naram Sin, 72‑83, 99‑114+; Esarhaddon, I 60‑62. In Text 13: “Erra and Naram-Sin” 1-15, Ishtar commissions the hero and grants him weapons; Westenholz, Legends, 192-195, ll. 1-15.

[32] An exception is found in the Legend of Naram Sin. The king calls and gathers his seers to seek an oracle, but the gods refuse to grant the commission. Against their will, Naram‑Sin goes out against the enemy and meets with defeat, followed by a reaction of helplessness (72‑83, 84‑87, 88‑98). In the fourth year, the gods at the behest of Ea (seemingly) grant the king an oracle of commission  (99‑114+). The importance of seeking an oracle of commission is stressed again toward the end when the king is faced with deciding the fate of his prisoners. In the Tukulti-Ninurta Epic, iii (A obv.) 41’-46’, the enemy king Kashtiliash complains that he is unable to obtain a divine commission by oracle or dream—an indication of rejection by the gods; see also 1 Sam 28 where Saul has Samuel conjured up without effect.

[33] Kang, Divine War, 42.

[34] Tukulti-Ninurta, ii (=A obv.) 11ʹ-24ʹ: prayer to Shamash; Esarhaddon, I 59‑60; Battle of Kadesh, P 91‑125; Ashur-uballiṭ, ii 2‑18. The first two kings receive a direct reply. Scholes and Kellogg note: “Prayer, in particular, was designed in ancient literature to reveal thought and character with unquestionable validity, and this attitude persists right up through Shakespeare”; Nature of Narrative, 200-201.

[35] Weippert, “Heiliger Krieg,” 470‑472. Sacrificia consultoria are found in the Legend of Naram Sin and in the Tukulti-Ninurta Epic iii 41-46, the enemy king is denied omens and dreams. Cf. also Esarhaddon, I 61. Kang discusses these sacrifices in some detail; Divine War, 42-45, 56-65, 98-101.

[36] Shalmaneser in Ararat, poetic text, 41: sacrifices are offered even though the king has received a divine commission in a dream.

[37] There are no vows in this selection of royal narratives, but Weippert treats vows in “Heiliger Krieg,” 476, n. 74. Alice Logan also discusses the vow during biblical warfare found in Num 21:23; Joshua 6-7; Judg 8:4-21; Judg 11:30 and 1 Sam 14; she notes that “all underscore the seriousness of wartime pledges and the encumbrances that deals with the deity placed on those who made them”; “Rehabilitating Jephthah,” Journal of Biblical Literature 128.4 (2009) 665-685. Younger does not list it as a motif in his Ancient Conquest Accounts.

[38] Battle of Kadesh, P 125‑127: Amun says: “Forward! I am with you. I am your father, my hand is with you! I am more useful to you than hundred-thousands of men, I am the Lord of Victory, who loves bravery.” Moabite Stone, 14. Kang in Divine War discusses oracles and signs in Mesopotamia (42-43), Anatolia (56-62), in Syro-Palestine (79-80) and Egypt (98-99).

[39] Merneptah Inscription, 28b-30a; Manassa also discusses dreams in Egyptian texts, 117-119; Shalmaneser in Ararat, poetic text, 25‑30 according to Lambert’s text: “Aššur inspired me with confidence and [showed me a dream,]” (25). Dreams play an important role in the “Apology of Ḫattušili,” §3 = 1:9-21; §9 = 3:1-13; in §11 = 4:7-40, the goddess appears to his generals and to his wife saying: “”I will march ahead of your husband and all of Hattusa will turn to (the side) of your husband.”

[40] Weippert has used the term “spontane Orakel”; “Heiliger Krieg” 471. He cites an example of a dream to a third person in the Prism of Ashurbanipal A, III 118‑127.

[41] Weippert, “Heiliger Krieg,” 470‑471.

[42] Ashuruballiṭ, ii 2‑18.

[43] Battle of Kadesh, P 125‑130.

[44] Esarhaddon, I 61‑62. Shalmaneser in Ararat, poetic text, 25‑30: “Aššur inspired me with confidence and [showed me a dream], the rest is largely obliterated except for the assurance of divine presence and aid, “May Ninurta go before you, may Girru follow at your rear.”

[45] For the motifs of assurance and encouragement in a different context, cf. “Apology of Ḫattušili” §4 = 1:37‑38.

[46] Merneptah Inscription, 28b-29. According to Manassa, the command to “expel the foul heart from yourself” refers to the “foul heart” of the enemy king; Great Karnak Inscription 118. Breasted, however, translated it: “and banish thou the fearful heart from thee” (§ 582) which would be more traditional. While Manassa tries to exclude this reading on the basis of grammar (the preposition ı͗m can imply both “within” and “from”) and also the lack of other indications that “Merneptah’s heart ever possessed the quality of ḥwɜ,” the tradition does not always follow logic.

[47] Weippert, “Heiliger Krieg,” 472‑473, n. 54. The biblical tradition is surveyed by von Rad in Holy War in Ancient Israel, 42-44; also C. Westermann, Prophetic Oracles of Salvation in the Old Testament, translated by. Keith Crim (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991) 24-25 where “Übergabeformel” is translated as the “conveyance formula”; in this text I have referred to it as the “hand-formula.” Kang discusses the formula in a Mari letter; Divine War, 43-45, 67. Also van der Deijl, Protest or Propaganda, 289-290.

[48] Ramesses, informed of his army’s retreat, girds for battle and mounts his chariot drawn by “Victory of Thebes,” he being “like his father Mont…like Baʿal…”; Battle of Kadesh, P 76‑80. Note also the sword given to the pharaoh in Merneptah Inscription 29. Manassa notes that “the image of the god handing the khepesh scimitar to the king is a ubiquitous motif in the New Kingdom reliefs and inscriptions” and “is accompanied by statements proclaiming the inevitable victory of the king over the enemies to be smitten with the divinely given weapons; Great Karnak Inscription, 117-118.

[49] Cf. Iliad XVI 155‑220; also Battle of Kadesh, P 25‑28 following the initial description of Ramesses. In Weippert’s pattern of motifs, the muster of the troops follows immediately after the report of the enemy threat; “Heiliger Krieg,” 269. In the Merneptah Inscription 15b-25, 30, the pharaoh gives his army or people a speech to lay out the enemy threat and encourage them who “are trembling like birds,” and at the beginning of the battle the army gathers in rank. In Cf. also Shalmaneser in Ararat, poetic text 17-19. In Ashur-uballiṭ and Esarhaddon, the muster follows the divine commission as in the heroic pattern. The army may also be called and commissioned; typically an exhortation is included. For the muster see also Kang, Divine War, in Egypt, 100-101.

[50] King of Battle Epic (OB edition) 1‑9; Battle of Kadesh, P 167‑195, 250‑277; Shalmaneser in Ararat, poetic text 17‑24. In Text 13: “Erra and Naram-Sin” 1-15, the hero receives weapons from Ishtar; Westenholz, Legends, 195, l. 16. Kang notes the ritual of the soldier’s oath in Anatolia; Divine War, 63.

[51] Ashur-uballiṭ, ii 2‑22: This speech ends with the prayer (ii 22): “And may the Sun-god cause our lord [i.e. Ashur-uballiṭ] to attain in the revolt a glorious name o’er the king of the Kassites!”

[52] Tukulti-Ninurta Epic, ii (=A obv.) 26ff; ii (= F col. “x”) 10’; iii (=A obv.) 1’-20’; iv (A rev.) 11’-33’. In Adad‑narari Epic, the verbal exchange is the only extant part of the story. See also in Westenholz, Legends, Text 12: “Naram-Sin and the Lord of Apišal,” col v and vi, pp. 182-187; Text 13: “Erra and Naram-Sin,” ll. 19-23, p. 95.

[53] King of Battle Epic (Tel el‑Amarna edition), ll. rev. 3-7; Weippert, “Heiliger Krieg,” 478, n. 84.

[54] An exception would be Ashur-uballiṭ ii 23-45 which describes the deities leading the hero into battle as he cries: “I am Ashur-uballiṭ, the destroying giant”—with his army “eager for the fray” like lions and whirlwinds.

[55] In the Legend of Naram Sin, three initial failures by the king extend the battle scene. The ambush would also seem to be a conventional way of drawing out a battle; cf. Tukulti-Ninurta Epic iv (=A rev.) 36’-40 where the enemy tries to ambush the Assyrians but fail; Joshua 8; Judg 9:34‑45; 20:29‑48.

[56] Ashur-uballiṭ, 25‑32 lists Ashur, Bel, Anu, the Crescent Moon, Adad, the Sun-god, Ninurta and Ishtar leading the king at the forefront of his army; Esarhaddon, I 72; “Apology of Ḫattušili” §6 = 2:24; §7 = 2:37; §11 = 4:8: “My Lady, marched ahead of me.” In the “Deeds of Šuppiluliuma” translated by Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., the Hittite text repeats thirteen times the phrase: “The gods (of my father) marched before PN”; in Context of Scripture, vol. 1, pp. 185-191. Cf. also von Rad, Holy War in Ancient Israel, 48-49. Rowlett, Joshua, 54-65.

[57] Kang, Divine War, 23. 45-46, 101-105, and his summary 108-109.

[58] Weippert, “Heiliger Krieg,” 479; cf. King of Battle Epic (OB edition), 59‑63. Both the heroes of Baal and Yamm and Ullikummis are storm gods; note also Marduk’s army of meteorological forces.

[59] Manassa, The Great Karnak Inscription, 119.

[60] Manassa, The Great Karnak Inscription, 122-124.

[61] Tulukti Ninurta, iv (=A rev.) 41ʹ.

[62] G. Furlani, “Le guerre quali guidizi di dio presso i Babilonesi e Assiri,” Miscellanea Giovanni Galbiati (Fontes Ambrosiani 27; Milan: U. Hoepli, 1951) III, 39‑47, esp. 47. Also R.M. Good, “The Just War in Ancient Israel,” Journal of Biblical Literature  104.3 (1985) 385-400; Kang, Divine War, 14-15 and 108 where he notes that the “lawsuit chiefly appears in the Hittite and Mesopotamian historical sources, but not in the Egyptian historical sources”; Younger, Ancient Conquest Accounts, 236-237.

[63] King of Battle Epic (OB edition), 65‑68; Esarhaddon, I 72‑73; Weippert, “Heiliger Krieg” 477.

[64] “Apology of Ḫattušili” §7 – 2:31-47. See also Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., “A Hittite Analogue to the David and Goliath Combat of Champions?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 30 (1968) 220-225. He translates the short Hittite text. Hoffner argues that this is a contest of champions parallel to the fight between David and Goliath in which a fighter from each side fights as a representative. Roland de Vaux suggested this phenomenon existed in Greece and the ancient Near East in his “Les combats singuliers dans l’Ancien Testament,” Bibica 40 (1959) 495-508; translated as “Single Combat in the Old Testament” in The Bible and the Ancient Near East, translated by Damian McHugh (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1971) 122-135.

[65] P257: Kitchen’s translation.

[66] Younger notes that the outcome of the battle results in either destruction or acquisition. In the Assyrian texts and Hittite text, the destruction is massive; war in the ancient Near East brought slaves, and so total destruction was against the interests of the victor. Under hyperbole Younger cites the common phrase in Egyptian military accounts: ‘who makes them non-existent”; Ancient Conquest Accounts, 75-76, 190-192. In Text 13: “Erra and Naram Sin,” ll. 33-45: Erra and Naram-Sin join forces in the battle against Enlil and in the “attack (on) the cities of the enemies […]. Westenholz, Legends of the Kings of Akkad, 197-199. Kurigalzu, in Chronicle P ii 4-6: “did not leave a soul”; even so, another battle takes place in column iii.

[67] Merneptah Inscription 40b-44; Esarhaddon I 82‑84. In the “Apology of Ḫattušili,” the Hittite king spares the life of Urḫitešub, but when the enemy king “plotted another plot against me, and wanted to ride to Babylon—when I heard the matter, I seized him and sent him alongside the sea”; §11 = 4:7-40. The passage shows the marks of being shaped by historical rather than traditional forces.

[68] In Kurigalzu obv.(?) ii (?) 17-19, the enemy king “retreated, he headed toward the mountains” … but “they overtook/captured him.”

[69] King of Battle Epic (Tel el‑Amarna edition), ll. rev 19-23. Similarly, in the Battle of Kadesh, (P 295‑332), the Hittite king sues for peace, and Ramesses graciously accedes; in the Hittite version (ANET3, 319), the Egyptians are defeated. In each case, the historical reality is subordinated to a traditional ending of the battle narrative. In Text 13: “Erra and Naram Sin,” the victory ends with the building of a temple and the blessing of Naram-Sin and the giving to King Naram Sin, “the might weapon, the scimitar”; ll. 46-67, pp. 197-199.

[70] Kang, Divine War, 46.

[71] Jackson, “The Language of the Mesha Inscription,” 98.

[72] Kang, Divine War, 80-82. For the exclusion of the ḥērem elsewhere in the ancient Near East, he cites C.H.W Brekelmans, De Ḥerem in het Oude Testament (Nijmegen: Centrale Drukkerij, 1959) 128-145.

[73] So also Kang, Divine War, 224.

[74] Shalmaneser in Ararat, poetic text, 61-62; prose text, 55. Merneptah Inscription 48b-61: a long plunder list with some enemy chiefs brought alive before the pharaoh.

[75] Merneptah Inscription, 62-73a.

[76] Battle of Kadesh, P 339‑345: the gods receive Ramesses on his return. “Apology of Ḫattušili” §6 = 2:30: Ishtar proclaims the hero’s name after the battle in § 12a = IV 47‑48: “And my Lady Ishtar gave me the kingship of the land of Hatti also, and I became a great king. / My Lady Ishtar took (as a) prince and placed me on the throne.” In Ashur-uballiṭ ii 22, the army prays before the battle that the Sun-god grant the king “a glorious name” for victory over the enemy.

[77] King of Battle Epic (Tel el‑Amarna edition), ll. rev 19-23.

[78] In Battle of Kadesh, P 335-345: The gods of the land <come> to him in greeting saying: “Welcome, our beloved Son, King of Southern and Northern Egypt, Usima[re] Setepenre, Son of Re, Ramesses II, given life! – according as they have granted him a million jubilees and eternity upon the throne of Re, all lands and all foreign lands being overthrown and slain beneath his sandals, eternally and forever.” Shalmaneser in Ararat, poetic text, 55‑57. Kurigalzu in Chronicle P, iii 17-19: Hurbatila, king of Elam, recognizes Kurigalzu.

[79] Merneptah Inscription, 73b-79: the Council of Thirty recognize Merneptah as the hero; Battle of Kadesh, P 235-250: Ramesses army praises him for saving them single-handedly. Kurigalzu Chronicle P, ii 9-14: the enemy army recognizes Kurigalzu.

[80] Esarhaddon, I 77 ‑ II 10.

[81] M. Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972) 193, n.4.

[82] Shalmaneser III says in the “Monolith Inscriptions” (ANET3, 277): “At that time, I paid homage to the greatness of (all) the great gods (and) extolled for posterity the heroic achievements of Ashur and Shamash by fashioning a (sculptured) stela with myself as king … .” For a larger discussion of Aššur, cf. Kang, Divine War, 40-42. Cf. also Esarhaddon’s “Sinjirli Stela” in ANET3, 293. In the “Apology of Ḫattušili” §12B = 4:48-80, Ḫattušili makes peace with the previous allies and with those who had been enemies of his father and grandfather; then he gives “Ishtar, My Lady, the property of Armatarḫunta” and sees to the erection of her statue and the worship of her as “Ishtar the High.” For a fuller discussion of Ishtar as a warrior, see Kang, Divine War, 31-36.

[83] Weippert, “Heiliger Krieg,” 486; here Weippert also gives a schema for the royal battle narrative which focuses on the praxis of war in the ancient Near East; as such, it is more restrictive than my own proposal for the traditional pattern.


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