Assyria, Israel, Amos, Sakkuth, and Dēr

There is an interesting passage in Amos 5.26-27 (NRSV):

You shall take up Sakkuth your king,
and Kaiwan your star-god, your images,
which you made for yourselves;
therefore I will take you into exile beyond Damascus,
says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts.

We know of the city Dēr as the home of the deity Sakkud from various texts, including this one, describing the conquering of Dēr in about 813 BC by Šamšī-Adad V (RIMA 3, A.0.103.2: iii.37’b-48′):

I marched to Dēr. Dēr, the great city whose foundations are as firm as bedrock, (40′) …, I surrounded (and) captured that city. [I carried off] the deities Anu-rabû, Nannai, Šarrat-Dēr, Mār-bīti-ša-pān-bīti, Mār-bīti-ša-birīt-nāri, Burruqu, (45′), Gula, Urkītu, Šukāniia, Nēr-e-tagmil, Sakkud of the city Bubê—the gods who dwell in Dēr—together with their property, […]

In the Dictionary of Deities and Demons, we read about, s.v. Sakkuth:

The problem of why the Israelites adopted an obscure god like Sakkut remains unsolved. The Israelites may have borrowed the worship of this planet from the Assyrians. In this case there are two options. (1) The Israelites took over the worship before the fall of Samaria. Then Amos 5:26 can be interpreted as a prophetic accusation for not having served Yahweh (e.g. BARSTAD 1984). (2) Amos 5:26 refers to one of the deities mentioned in 2 Kgs 17:28-30 who were brought to the Samaritan area by Assyrian settlers. This view implies that the text is a later insertion by a (deuteronomistic) redactor who confused situations before and after the conquest of the capital (H. W. WOLFF, Dodekapropheton 2. Joel und Amos [BKAT XIV/2; Neukirchen-Vluyn 1969] 310-311).

There are, however, other options, taking into account both the Assyrian and Hebrew texts.

Notice this important piece of Assyrian information from Tiglath-Pileser III from accounts of his Eighth Campaign, 738 BC (Ann 13*:3-5, Tadmor, 67):

600 captives of the city of Amlate of the Damunu (tribe), 5,400 captives of Der | in the cities of Kunalia, […], Huzarra, Tae, Tarmanazi, Kulmadara, Hatatirra, Irgillu, | [cities] of the land of Unqi, I settled.

Elements in play here:
1.) Dēr, the home of Sakkud, was subject to Assyrians, first (?) subjugated by Samsi-Adad V, then being (largely? entirely?) depopulated by Tiglath-Pileser III in 738
2.) Exile of Israelites by Assyrians in 734-732 by Tiglath-Pileser III
3.) Settlment of Israelites in “cities of the Medes” is noted in 2 Kings 17.6, which category undoubtedly applies to Dēr
4.) Apparent mention by Amos 5.26 of Israelites worshipping Sakkud/Sakkuth

There are two, I feel more likely, conclusions possible here than those mentioned by DDD. (1) Some Israelites were settled in Dēr by Tiglath-Pileser III, where they turned to worshipping local deities, including Sakkud. In their contact with the homeland, they transferred images of their new god back to Samaria before its fall, and this worship of Sakkud is what Amos 5.26 refers to. (2) Amos 5.26 is a genuine prophecy dating prior to Tiglath-Pileser’s exile of the majority of Israel, a threat to unfair and unfaithful Israel of exile to the lands of Dēr (and other places). Knowledge that Dēr had fallen, was depopulated, and was a very likely settlement of any exiled Israelites did not require Divinely given foreknowledge (though such certainly wouldn’t hurt!). News of the Assyrians destroying yet another city and deporting its inhabitants must have been quite widespread, no doubt as intended by the Assyrians themselves as a kind of deterrent against further insurrections.

Of the two options, I find the second given here more likely, owing to the wider context of chapter 5 of Amos, especially including reference to Gligal (5.5) which would surely have been included in the exile of Gilead, and “house of Joseph” (5.6), which would seem to imply that the regions of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Benjamin were still considered intact. Relatedly, practical knowledge of Assyrian treatment of rebellious subjects is all that was necessary for anyone to propose Israelite deportees being resettled in Dēr, home of Sakkud.

Always falling back onto suggestions of interpolation is so passé, don’t you think? In this case, it is also completely unnecessary.


  1. The view that Amos 5:26-27 is not an interpolation is argued on somewhat similar grounds by M. Cogan and Sh. Paul. See Paul’s Amos commentary ad loc in the Hermeneia series, where he cites Cogan.

    A weakness in your argument, it seems to me, is the underlying assumption that worship of Sakkud was not widespread, but limited enough for the mention of the god to suggest the name of the city of Der. I doubt this, but it remains probable that former inhabitants of Der resettled in Samaria at the time Amos prophesied would have continued to worship Sakkud. The Yahwists of Samaria may have allowed processions of Sakkud to take place in Samaria, even if they did not participate in them. If so, Amos’ prediction that they would hold Sakkud aloft in a procession into exile would have been a deliberate affront to their religious sensibilities, a prescient allusion to what would in fact befall them, and a stinging satirization of the Sakkud cult, all at the same time.

    I appreciate your site, Kevin, and I will write you separately about my own.

  2. Thanks for that John, I’ll look it up.

    Regarding your objections, Sakkud is a quite obscure deity, mentioned only rarely in Assyrian texts. I’ve only seen it mentioned explicitly once in a spread of almost 400 years of royal inscriptions. On the popularity front, I just don’t think Sakkud rates, really, at least outside of Der.

    Similarly, the dating of the Assyrian exiles involved would have placed those exiles from Der (conquered 738) much further north than Samaria in one of the North Syrian territories just previously conquered and exiled. None of the Israelite territories were available for their settlement when they were exiled. Just a little later, a large batch of Israelites would be available to be transfered to the Elamite front’s cities, in 732, with the annexation and depopulation of most of Israel. We don’t have any indication of Derites being moved to Samaria after 732 or 722. That would be unprecedented.

    I think it likelier that the direct connection came from the first/majority 732-exiled Israelites, some of whom were certainly settled into cities on the Elamite front (mentioned also in K. Lawson Younger’s “Deportation of the Israelites” [JBL 117/2 (1998): 201-227], which certainly included Der. I should’ve worked that article in there, somehow. It’s a good one.

    Anyhow, thanks!

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