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Habiru-like Bands in the Assyrian Empire and Bands in Biblical Historiography.

The first part of this article discusses the term [urbi.sup.LU] mentioned three times in Assyrian royal inscriptions. It is suggested that this word refers to groups of fugitives who, in response to Assyrian military campaigns, fled from their homelands to peripheral areas, formed bands, and served on occasion as mercenaries in the armies of rulers in revolt against Assyria. These characteristics are typical of the bands of Habiru so well known from late third- and second-millennium B.C. ancient Near Eastern documents. The assumed make-up and role of the [urbi.sup.LU] are then reconstructed on the basis of what is known of the Habiru bands. In the second part of the article it is suggested that some biblical descriptions of bands found in the narratives of the period of the Judges and the early monarchy were strongly influenced by the political and social situation of the narrator's time (the late eighth and seventh centuries B.C.).

The term [urbi.sup.LU] for a certain kind of troop or band is mentioned three times in the Assyrian royal inscriptions. They are, in translation and in chronological order:

(1) Sennacherib's first campaign after he conquered the cities of the Chaldeans (703 B.C.):

The urbi ([ur.sup.LU]-bi), Arameans ([Aramu.sup.LU], (and) Chaldeans ([Kaldu.sup.LU] who were in Uruk, Nippur, Kish, (and) Hursagkalamma, together with the citizens mare ali), the rebels, I brought forth and counted as spoil. [1]

(2) Sennacherib's third campaign against Judah (701 B.C.):

Hezekiah himself, the awe-inspiring splendor of my lordship overwhelmed him, and he sent me after my (departure) to Nineveh, my lordly city, the urbi ([ur.sup.LU]-bi) and his elite troops ([sabe.sup.LU]-su damquti), which he had brought in to strengthen (ana dunnun) Jerusalem, his royal city, and were auxiliary troops irsu tillati), together with 30 talents of gold.... [2]

(3) Assurbanipal's third campaign against Elam (653 B.C.):

I brought as spoils from the land of Gambulu to the land of Ashur the rest of Bel-iqisha's sons, his kinsmen, the members of his family... together with the urbi ([ur.sup.LU]-bi), the rebels ([tebe.sup.LU], the inhabitants (nise) of the land of Gambulu, cattle, sheep and goats.... [3]

Scholars have offered two main lines of interpretation for urbi: an ethnic group, i.e., Arabs; and a designation of a type of warrior. The first was dismissed long ago by I. Eph[GRAPHIC EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]al, [4] and abandoned. The second interpretation has many variants. H. Winckler [5] and T Bauer [6] suggested that urbi means "fugitives" or "bandits." A. L. Oppenheim [7] translated it "irregular troops." H. Tadmor [8] has translated it "a special type of soldiery," "elite troops," and considered a possible West Semitic derivation (from the Hebrew verb [contais]rb, "lie in wait"). Finally, E. Frahm [9] has suggested combining the two ethnic and military interpretations. He assumed that urbi is a designation of elite troops named after an assumed Arab tribe, [supset]Urbu.

It seems to me that urbi is an Assyrian form, which (as suggested by Winckler and Bauer) is derived from the verb nerubu ("to flee, run away, escape"), and is closely related to other derivatives of this verb, such as arbu ("fugitive, person without family"), arbutu ("flight"), munnarbu ("runaway") and nerubtu ("flight"). The term urbi refers to groups of fugitives who, in the face of Assyrian military campaigns, often involving destruction or annexation, fled from their homeland and found shelter in peripheral areas. These uprooted people tried to adapt themselves to new circumstances by forming a band under the command of a prominent leader. The bands were independent armed bodies, restricted in number and characterized by their predatory nature and military ability. Often they became dangerous to sedentary and pastoral societies. Thanks to their military ability, they served on occasion as mercenaries in the armies of neighboring rulers.

All these characteristics are typical of the bands of Habiru, which are so well known from late third- and second-millennium ancient Near Eastern documents. [10] It seems to me that the Assyrians coined the collective denomination urbi in order to describe the Habiru-like bands that emerged in marginal areas of their empire. According to the first reference, uprooted bands were mobilized by the rebellious Babylonian cities (Uruk, Nippur, and Kish), together with Aramean and Chaldean tribal groups, and after the capture of these cities they were deported to Assyria. According to the second reference, a band (or bands) of urbi served as mercenaries in Hezekiah's army side-by-side with his elite troops, and following the failure of the rebellion were transferred and deported to Assyria. According to the third reference, uprooted bands participated in the struggle of the Gambulaeans against the invading Assyrian troops, and following their defeat, both bands (urbi) and Gambulnean rebels (Lutebe) were deported to Assyria.

It is clear that the Assyrians made efforts to eradicate these unstable and predatory elements, who joined their enemies either as individual mercenaries or as independent bands and must have given trouble to the inhabitants of peripheral areas. They fought them, and whenever possible deported them to Assyria. The scope and distribution of bands at this period is unknown, since our sources do not sufficiently illuminate the situation in marginal areas, where bands of refugees must have found shelter.

The above discussion sheds an interesting light on the description of bands in the Old Testament. As was recognized long ago, the bands of Jephthah and David were socially identical with the Habiru-bands of the second millennium. [11] In fact, the best descriptions of bands in ancient Near Eastern literature appear in the biblical narratives of these leaders. They portray the background of the flight, the emergence of the bands, their ways of survival, and the manner in which they were reintegrated into Israelite society. However, in addition to these clear examples, there are other episodes in which Habiru-like bands are portrayed. [12

(a) Abimelech came to power by hiring "worthless and reckless fellows," who followed him and killed all his brothers (Judg. 9:4-5). The author of the story is doubtless referring to the hiring of a band of uprooted men as a means of gaining political and military power.

(b) Gaal, the son of Ebed, and his "kinsmen" are also portrayed as refugees who formed a band and found shelter in the city of Shechem, under the protection of the "lords" of Shechem (Judg. 9:26-29). They served the city as mercenaries until they were expelled from it as a result of Abimelech's military pressure (vv. 25, 31--41). [13]

(c) The tribe of Dan is depicted as a band of outlaws in Judg. 18. The migrating Danites are portrayed as a brigade of six hundred armed men (vv. 11, 16, 17), i.e., a [g.sup.e]dud, exactly like the bands of David (1 Sam. 23:13; 27:2; 30:9) and Rezon (1 Kgs. 11:24), and their behavior in the plot is wholly brigand-like. [14]

(d) Following the victory over the Philistines in the battle of Michmash (1 Sam. 14:1-20), two different groups joined the victorious side: the "Hebrews" ([subset]ibrim) who served in the Philistine camp (v. 21), and the Israelites who, in face of the Philistine onslaught, hid in Mount Ephraim (v. 22; see 1 Sam. 13:6). This is the only biblical reference that makes the distinction between Israelites and "Hebrews." The latter term refers to a band of outlaws who served as mercenaries in the Philistine army, much like the service of David and his band in the army of Achish, king of Gath.

(e) Sheba, the son of Bichri, who revolted against King David (2 Sam. 20), is depicted as an outlaw who stayed with his band of "Hebrews" (I suggest transcribing in v. 14 kl h([subset])brym) on Mount Ephraim. After the failure of Absalom's rebellion, he tried to incite a revolt but failed, and was obliged to escape. He sought refuge at Abel-beth-maacah, near the northern border of Israel, but was betrayed and killed. [15]

(f) It seems to me that the author of the story of David's escape from Jerusalem at the time of Absalom's revolt portrays Ittai the Gittite as a leader of a band of outlaws. [16] Ittai led a contingent of six hundred men, i.e., a [g.sub.e]diid, "who had accompanied him from Gath" (2 Sam. 15:18b). In the discussion of David, Rezon, and the migrating Danites, we have noted that a brigade/band of six hundred men is typical of the descriptions of bands in biblical narratives. Moreover, according to 2 Sam. 15:22, the band of Ittai included men and children (taf). The combination of a contingent of warriors along with women and children is typical of bands, and is mentioned in the narratives of the Danites (Judg. 18:11, 16, 17, 20) and of David's escape and wanderings (1 Sam. 27:2-3; 30:2-3, 18-19; 2 Sam. 2:2-3). Labeling Ittai a leader of a band explains why David calls him a "foreigner," addressing him as an "exile from your home," i.e., an uprooted person. Like some other leaders of bands depicted in biblical na rratives (i.e., Gaal and Sheba), Ittai's figure is literary. It was created in order to convey a message about the concern of the king for those who served him, and about the devotion of the foreigner, in contrast to the treachery of the king's son and his followers.

(g) Rezon, son of Eliada, was an officer in the army of Hadadezer, king of Zobah, who became the leader of a band ([g.sub.e]dud), and subsequently seized the throne of Damascus and became king (1 Kgs. 11:23-24). The description of his rise in Damascus resembles in outline the depiction of David's rise to power in Israel.

The presentation of this variegated gallery of bands and their leaders in biblical historiography calls for an explanation. It is clear that the biblical narrators deliberately picked these figures of outlaws in order to depict the history of the pre-monarchical and early monarchical periods. It is commonly held today that the biblical historiography of these periods was written hundreds of years after the time in which the depicted episodes supposedly took place. The depicted "events" are more literary than historical, although some episodes may reflect certain oral traditions that had come down to their authors. It is therefore legitimate to ask where the narrators in the late monarchical period might have encountered bands of refugees, and why was their life-style so suitable for the depiction of the pre-monarchical and early monarchical periods?

It is well known that the term "Habiru" vanished from western Asiatic documents towards the end of the second millennium, and in the first millennium it is mentioned only in scholarly texts. The phenomenon of uprooted bands, on the other hand, did not vanish, although its scope was more limited in the early first millenium, following the establishment of a new array of states in many parts of western Asia. [17] With the destruction of this system of kingdoms following the expansion of Assyria, and the emergence of a large-scale empire on their territory, many people lost their homes and property and were forced to leave their places and find shelter on the periphery of the empire. As a result, the number of uprooted people increased considerably. The three references above to bands reflect the situation of migration and desertion, which must have been far more widespread than represented in our written sources.

The Assyrian campaigns against the kingdom of Israel were destructive; they culminated in the annexation of its territory and the deportation of tens of thousands of its inhabitants to other parts of the empire. Sennacherib's campaign against Judah was devastating, aimed at breaking the power of the kingdom, and his deportation of tens of thousands left parts of the kingdom, in particular the Shephelah, desolate. [18] Following this campaign, the devastated areas may have attracted groups of refugees, who wandered there in search of shelter and provisions. The kingdom of Judah in the first half of the seventh century was too weak either to re-settle the peripheral areas or to restore their security and order.

The band or bands (urbi) who served in the army of Hezekiah and were stationed in Jerusalem in 701 were recruited from among the refugees of the earlier Assyrian campaigns. The inhabitants of the city must have encountered these mercenaries. Additional bands may have served in the other fortified cities of the kingdom. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that the mobilization of refugees--as individuals or groups--to serve in the army was not limited to particular situations, and that they served in the army of Judah in the seventh century. The inhabitants of peripheral areas of the kingdom must have encountered individuals as well as groups of outlaws. Thus, it is evident that the phenomenon of Habiru-like bands was well known in Judah in the late eight and seventh centuries B.C.

With this background in mind, we can explain the many descriptions of bands and their leaders in the biblical historiography of the pre-monarchical period. Later sources may reflect the concerns of the times in which they were written, and texts may be investigated in search of the environment in which their authors operated and of their historical knowledge of ancient reality. I suggest that the biblical descriptions of bands in the narratives of the periods of the Judges and the early monarchy were "borrowed" from the situation of their authors' time. The condition of destruction and desolation, and the emergence of groups of refugees, suggested to the narrators that similar situations had prevailed in the pre-monarchical period, before the rise of urban centers and the establishment of army and administration to control the peripheral areas. Bands symbolized the absence of central control, hence the widespread use of this motif in stories that refer to pre-monarchical situations.

Scribes in the court of Jerusalem may even have portrayed episodes of the early history of Israel in the light of actual events and historical figures of their own time. Thus, for example, the Shephelah and the southern highlands of Judah were badly affected by Sennacherib's campaign. The narratives about the wanderings of David and his band in these areas, in search of shelter and provisions, pursued from time to time by the king and his army, finally escaping to Philistia and serving there as mercenaries, may have reflected an unknown historical episode of the time of their author. Unfortunately, the history of Judah in the seventh century is unknown, and there is no way to confirm such a hypothesis. Be that as it may, the reality of bands and their leaders must have been well known to scribes in Jerusalem in the late eighth and seventh centuries, and influenced their shaping of narratives and figures in the early history of Israel. These narratives came down to the Deuteronomistic historian, and he incorp orated them in the history of Israel in the pre-monarchical and early monarchical periods.

(1.) D. D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1924), 54, 1. 52.

(2.) Luckenbill, Sennacherib, 33, II. 37-48.

(3.) M. Streck, Assurbanipal und die lerzten assyrischen Konige bis zum Untergange Niniveh's, vol. II (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1916), 28, II. 61-67.

(4.) I. Eph[GRAPHIC EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]al, "'Arabs' in Babylonia in the 8th Ce JACS 94 (1974): 110, n. 160; see already T. Bauer, Das Inschriftenwerk Assurbanipals vervollstandigt und neu bearbeitet, vol. II (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1933), 1.

(5.) H. Winckler, "Besprechungen: Erasmus Nagel, Die nachdavidische Konigsgeschichte Israels," OLZ 9 (1906): 333-34.

(6.) Bauer, Inschriftenwerk Assurbanipals, 1.

(7.) A. L. Oppenheim, "Babylonian and Assyrian Historical Texts" in J. B. Pritchard, ed., ANET, 3rd ed. (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969), 288; cf. CAD B, 176b.

(8.) H. Tadmor, "The Aramaization of Assyria: Aspects of Western Impact," in Mesopotamien und seine Nachbarn, vol. II, ed. H.-J. Nissen and J. Renger (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 1982), 454, "The urbi of Hezekiah," Beer-sheva 3 (1988): 175-77 (Hebrew); M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, II Kings: A New Thanslation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1988), 247, n. 2.

(9.) E. Frahm, Einleitung in die Sanherib-Inschriften (Vienna: Institut fur Orientalistik der Universitat Wien, 1997), 104-5.

(10.) J. Bottero, Le probleme des Habiru a Ia 4 Rencontre assyriologigue internationale (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1954); idem, "Habiru," Reallexikon der Assyriologie, IV (1972-75): 14- 27; idem, "Entre nomades et sedentaires: Les Habiru," Dialogues d'histoire ancienne 6 (1980): 201-13; M. Greenberg, The Uab/ piru (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1955); M. Liverani, "II fuoruscitismo in Siria nella tarda eta del Bronzo' Rivista storica Italiana 77 (1965): 315-36; 0. Loretz, Habiru-Hebraer: Eine sozio-linguistische Studie uber die Herkunfi des Gentiliziurns [subset]ibri vom Appelativum habiru (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1984), with earlier literature; N. P. Lemche, "Habiru, Hapiru," The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), III: 6-10.

(11.) See, for example, G. Buccellati, "La 'carriera' di David e quella di Idrimi, re di Alalac," Bibbia e Oriente 4 (1962): 95-99; B. Mazar, "The Military Elite of King David," VT 13 (1963): 310-12; G. E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1973), 133-36.

(12.) N. Na[contains]aman, "Habiru and Hebrews: The Transfer of a Social Term to the Literary Sphere' JNES 45 (1986): 278-85, with earlier literature.

(13.) Na[contains]aman, ibid., 281.

(14.) Na[contains]aman, ibid., 281. For the tendentious aspects of Judg. 18, see Y. Amit, "Hidden Polemic in the Conquest of Dan: Judges XVII-XVII," VT 40 (1990): 2-20.

(15.) Na[contains]aman, ibid., 282-85.

(16.) N. Na[contains]aman, "Ittai the Gittite," Biblische Notizen 94(1998): 22-25.

(17.) M. B. Rowton, "Dimorphic Structure and the Problem of the [subset]Apiru- [subset]Ibrim," JNES 35 (1976): 16, suggested that the term "Suteans" probably evolved in the first millennium into a social ethnoym.

(18.) N. Na[contains]aman, "The Kingdom of Judah under Josiah," Tel Aviv 18 (1991): 57-58; Y. Dagan, "The Shephelah during the Period of the Monarchy in Light of Archaeological Excavations and Surveys" (M.A. thesis, Tel Aviv university, 1992), 252-63 (Hebrew); A. Ofer, "The Highlands of Judah during the Biblical Period" (Ph.D. diss., Tel Aviv University, 1993), 1.11: 125-31 (Hebrew).
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Author:Naaman, Nadau
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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