|Present location||British Museum|
|Identification||ME 118883 and ME 118884|
The Kurkh Monoliths are two Assyrian stelae that contain a description of the reigns of Ashurnasirpal II and his son Shalmaneser III. The Monoliths were discovered in 1861 in Üçtepe, Bismil by a British archaeologist John George Taylor, who was the British Consul-General stationed in the Ottoman Eyalet of Kurdistan. 
The Shalmaneser III monolith contains a description of the Battle of Qarqar at the end. This description contains the name "A-ha-ab-bu Sir-ila-a-a" which was proposed to be a reference to Ahab of Israel. Although scholars have disputed the translation, it is significant in biblical archeology as the only possible known reference to the term "Israel" in Assyrian and Babylonian records.
The location of the discovery at Üçtepe, Bismil was described as "about 14 miles from Diyarbakir...situated at the eastern end of an elevated platform... on the right bank of the Tigris, and close to the angle formed by the junction of the Giuk Su with the former, which receives also the waters of the Ambar Su, on the left bank opposite.", then in the Ottoman Eyalet of Kurdistan in Al-Jazira, today in Turkey.
Taylor described his find as follows:
"...I had the good fortune to discover a stone slab bearing the effigy of an Assyrian king, and covered on both sides with long inscriptions in the cuneiform character, to within 2 feet of its base, which had purposely been left bare to admit of its being sunk erect in the ground, as a trophy commemorative of its capture by the king, and at the point probably where his legions effected their forced entry into the city. Some little way below it, on the slope of the mound, and nearly entirely concealed by debris, I exhumed another perfect relic of the same description. The head had been somewhat damaged by the attempts of some ignorant Moslem fanatics to sever it from the body..."
The Monolith stands some 2.2 metres tall, and roughly covers years one through six of the reign of Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (859-824 BC), although the fifth year is missing.
The Monolith mainly deals with campaigns Shalmaneser made in western Mesopotamia and Syria, fighting extensively with the countries of Bit Adini and Carchemish. At the end of the Monolith comes the account of the Battle of Qarqar, where an alliance of twelve kings fought against Shalmaneser at the Syrian city of Qarqar. This alliance, comprising eleven kings, was led by Irhuleni of Hamath and Hadadezer of Damascus, describing also a large force led by King Ahab of Israel. The Monolith is also the first time that the Arabs make an appearance in world history, fielding a contingent containing dromedaries led by King Gindibu.
Shalmaneser Monolith - "Ahab of Israel"
Eberhard Schrader published the first partial translation of the Shalmaneser II Monolith in 1872, in his Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament ("Cuneiform inscriptions and the Old Testament"). The first full translation of the Shalmaneser Monolith was provided by James Alexander Craig in 1887.
Schrader wrote that the name "Israel" was found only once in cuneiform inscriptions at that time, on Shalmaneser's monolith. He wrote that whilst Assyriologists had disputed whether the name was "Israel" or "Jezreel", because the first character is the phonetic "sir" and the place-determinative "mat". Schrader described the rationale for the reading "Israel", which became the scholarly consensus, as:
"the fact that here Ahab Sir'lit, and Ben-hadad of Damascus appear next to each other, and that in an inscription of this same king [Shalmaneser]'s Nimrud obelisk appears Jehu, son of Omri, and commemorates the decendant Hazael of Damascus, leaves no doubt that this Ahab Sir'lit is the biblical Ahab of Israel. That Ahab appears in cahoots with Damascus is quite in keeping with the biblical accounts, which Ahab concluded after the Battle of Aphek an alliance with Benhadad against their hereditary enemy Assyria."
Scribal errors and disputes
There are a number of issues surrounding the written words contained in the Monolith, mostly surrounding the text of the Battle of Qarqar. For example, the scribe lists one city as Gu-a-a, which some scholars believe refers to Que. However, H. Tadmor believes that this is actually a mistake, with Gu-a-a being an incorrect spelling for Gu-bal-a-a, that is, Byblos. Other scholars have also pointed out that it would be more logical if Shalmaneser fought Byblos instead of Que, because it would make better geographic sense - since the other kings of the area are polities to the south and west of Assyria, it might be expected that another city-state in that area - Byblos - would fight at Qarqar, rather than Que, which is in Cilicia.
Another issue with regard to spelling is the term musri, which is Akkadian for "march". Tadmor says that the actual Musri people had been conquered by the Assyrians in the 11th century BC, and thus believes that this reference to Musri must be "Egypt", although some scholars dispute this.
Another major error in the text is the assertion that Assyria fought "twelve kings". Casual readers will note that the Monolith in fact lists eleven, but some scholars have attempted to explain that there really is a missing king, stemming from the description of "Ba'sa the man of Bit-Ruhubi, the Ammonite". One scholar suggests that the two entities be split into "Bit-Ruhubi" Beth-Rehob, a state in southern Syria and "Ammon", a state in the Trans-Jordan. However, "twelve kings" is a common Mesopotamian literary device for any kind of alliance, so it is entirely possible that the scribe here was using a figure of speech, rather than miscounting.
- British Museum description
- Problems of Location and New Suggestions on the Historical Geography of the Diyarbakır Region in the First Millennium B.C.
- Israel in Transition 2: From Late Bronze II to Iron IIA, edited by Lester L. Grabbe, p56, quote "The single case where “Israel” is mentioned is Shalmaneser's account of his battle with the coalition at Qarqar"
- Taylor, J. G., Travels in Kurdistan, with Notices of the Sources of the Eastern and Western Tigris, and Ancient Ruins in Their Neighbourhood, 1865, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London
- Karlheinz Kessler, Untersuchungen zur historischen Topographie Nordmesopotamiens, 1980, pp117-120
- Nadav Naʼaman, Ancient Israel and Its Neighbors: Interaction and Counteraction : Collected Essays, Eisenbrauns, 2005. p. 2 ISBN 1575061082
- Huffmon, Herbert B. "Jezebel - the 'Corrosive' Queen" in Joyce Rilett Wood, John E. Harvey, Mark Leuchter, eds. From Babel to Babylon: Essays on Biblical History And Literature in Honor of Brian Peckham, T&T Clark, 2006, ISBN 978-0-567-02892-1 p. 276
- Eberhard Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament, 1872 Quotes in German:
p58-59 "Der Name "Israel" selber findet sich und zwar als Name für das "Reich Israel" nur einmal in den Inschriften, nämlich auf dem neuentdeckten Stein Salmanassar's II, wo Ahab von Israel als Sir-'-lai d. i. als "der von Israel" bezeichnet wird (s. die Stelle in der Glosse zu 1 Kon. 16, 29). Es ist nun allerdings unter den Assyriologen Streit darüber, ob dieser Name wirklich mit hebr. ישראל und nicht vielmehr mit יזרעאל d. i. "Jezreel" zu identificiren sei, dieses deshalb, weil das erste Zeichen sonst den Lautwerth "sir" hat. Indess da das Adjectiv das Land-determinativ ("mat") vor sich hat, Jezreel aber kein "Land", denn vielmehr eine "Stadt" war, so wird schon deshalb die letztere Vermuthung aufzugeben sein. Dazu wird gerade bei zusammengesetzten, mit Zischlauten beginnenden Sylben ein so strenger Unterschied in den verschiedenen Zischlauten nicht gemacht, wie denn z. B. mit Bar-zi-pa in den Inschriften auch Bar-sip wechselt, obgleich sonst dem letzten Zeichen sip der andere "sip" fur gewohnlich nicht zukommt."
p99-100 "Der Umstand, dass hier Ahab, der Sir'lit, und Ben-hadad von Damaskus neben einander erscheinen, sowie dass dieser selbe Konig in der spater redigirten Inschrift des Nimrud obelisk's des Jehu ; Sohnes des Omri ; sowie anderseits des Hazael von Damask gedenkt, lässt darüber keinen Zweifel, dass unter diesem Ahab, dem Sir'lit en, der biblische Ahab von Israel gemeint ist. Dass aber Ahab im Bunde mit Damask erscheint; ist durchaus in Uebereinstimmung mit dem biblischen Berichte; wonach Ahab nach der Schlacht bei Aphek mit Benhadad ein Bündniss schloss, selbstverständlich gegen den Erbfeind von Damaskus , gegen Assyrien."
- The Monolith Inscription of Salmaneser II, (July 1, 1887), James A. Craig, Hebraica Volume: 3
- Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, p278-279
- Chronology of the Old Testament, Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones, p152. Quote: "“A-ha-ab-bu Sir-ila-a-a” may be some other historically obscure ruler, perhaps of something no more than a city-state anywhere along the nearly three hundred mile seacoast area of the fertile crescent."
- A New Chronology for Old Testament Times, Jan Van Tuyl, 2012. Quote: "For many decades, searchers looked for a biblical name in a non-biblical document so that secular proof of Samaria, and by correlation Israel, would finally be found. When they hit on this name, many scholars' eyes read in this name what their heart really wanted their eyes to read, without putting first their brain into gear: that was nothing less than the name of King Ahab of Samaria.... The real man who came to this battle, and the real man behind the name A-ha-ab -bu of Sir-'i-la-a-a, was, according to this author, nobody else but Ben Hadad III of Syria."
- Oswald Thompson Allis: "The name of Ahabbu’s country is given as Sir’ila-a-a. The reading is somewhat uncertain, since the first character might also be read as shud or shut. Even if sir is correct, the name is a poor spelling of Israel; and it is double questionable because nowhere else on Assyrian tablets is Israel given this name.",in: Biblical Chronology, Vol. 4, No. 2, February, 1992, Ahab and Assyria (Chronologies and Kings VIII)