The Murderer of Sennacherib, yet Again The Case against Esarhaddon

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Andrew Knapp

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Who was responsible for the murder of Sennacherib? This question fascinated Assyriologists for most of the twentieth century, until a new interpretation of an obscure, fragmentary letter convinced many that a disenfranchised elder son of Sennacherib, Urad-Mullissu, had hatched the conspiracy. Since the (re)publication of this text in 1980 by Simo Parpola, near consensus has developed about these events. In this paper I reexamine the issue and revive the theory that Esarhaddon, Sennacherib’s son and successor, may have been behind the assassination, rather than his elder brother. I do not question the coherence of Parpola’s interpretation, but I suggest that the field may place undue confidence in a single broken, decontextualized letter. More importantly, the evidence implicating Esarhaddon is ample. I extend six arguments that point toward Esarhaddon’s guilt, most of which are derived from Esarhaddon’s own account of events in his famous Nineveh A inscription. I do not propose that we can establish Esarhaddon’s guilt conclusively at this remove, but I conclude that the weight of this evidence equals, if not surpasses, that which points to a plot concocted by Urad-Mullissu.




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