Jereboam introduced calf worship into Israel shortly after the division of the kingdom (I Kings 12), but it was not until the time of Ahab (ca. 874 - 853 B.C.) that Baal worship became prevalent. The Bible describes Ahab's sin in this way:
"And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him. And he reared up an altar for Baal in the hoUSe of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. And Ahab made the Asherah; and Ahab did yet more to provoke Jehovah, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel that were before him" (I Kings 16:31-33).
Before the time of Omri, the capital of the Northern Kingdom had been at Shechem and Tirzah. Omri, the sixth king of Israel, bought the hill of Samaria and fortified it and it served as the capital of Israel until the end of the kingdom in 721 B. C. II Kings 16:21-24). Ahab, the son of Omri, continued the fortification and beautification program begun by his father. It was during his reign that Assyria became a world power that would eventually destroy Samaria and take Israel captive.
Shalmaneser III Fights Ahab
The period of Assyrian supremacy is described by the phrase "From Qarqar to Carchemish." The overthrow of the Assyrians by the Babylonians came at Carchemish in 605 B.C. At the battle of Qarqar on the Orontes River in 853 B.C., Shalmaneser III defeated a coalition of kings including Ahab. That this battle may not have been as decisive as Shalmaneser III claimed is indicated by the total silence in which the Bible passes over this great event. At any rate, a monolith of Shalmaneser III, found in 1861 at Kurkh (ancient Tushkha) on the Tigris River, pictures the king standing under the symbols of his gods saluting them. The monolith is covered front and back with lines of writing recording the events of his first six campaigns of conquest. The monolith tells of the battle of Qarqar and says that the kings defeated included "Ahab, the Israelite" who provided 2,000 chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers. (Remember Solomon's chariot cities.) Even though the Bible does not mention this battle, the record on this monolith helps us to understand the Assyrian threat which would loom heavily over Samaria for the next 126 years. (For additional information see R. D. Barnett, Illustrations of Old Testament History, p. 46; William W. Hallo, "From Qarqar to Carchemish: Assyria and Israel in the Light of New Discoveries," The Biblical Archaeologist, May, 1960.)
The Walls of Samaria
Mention was made earlier of the fact that Omri bought the "hill of Samaria" and fortified it for his capital (I Kings 16:24).. The archaeological excavations at Samaria indicate that "when Omri purchased Samaria, he was not buying an empty hill, but a hill with a small village on it" (G. E. Wright, "Samaria," The Biblical Archaeologist, Sept., 1959, p. 77.) The most interesting ruins at Samaria date to the period of the Israelite monarchy and the time of Herod the Great. The Israelites (Omri, Ahab, Jehu, and Jeroboam II) did a considerable amount of building at Samaria and the most astonishing feature is the city walls around the summit. Wright says that their masonry "is of such excellence that, while it has been equaled, it has never been surpassed in the later history of the country." (Ibid., p. 72) The walls were of the casemate type, that is, a wall consisting of two parallel walls joined by cross walls which make small chambers ("casemates")7 These chambers were probably filled with earth making thick walls. At Samaria there was a smaller inner wall five feet thick, while the outer wall was as much as 19 1/2 feet thick. This thick wall would make the city easy to defend and perhaps this is the reason why Shalmaneser V, king of Assyria, found it necessary to besiege Samaria for three years before capturing it (2 Kings 17:3-5).
In 2 Kings 6:26 there is a record of the king of Israel "passing by upon the wall." A woman cries out to him and they carry on a conversation and conduct business with the king on the wall and the Woman standing below. Learning that the wall was nearly 20 feet wide allows one to read of this incident without apprehension for the king's safety.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV: 15, pp. 9-10
February 19, 1970