The Hebrew Bible’s Forgotten Civilization
The Kingdom of Cush, Egypt’s neighbor to the south, played an important role in biblical history despite being one of the lesser known kingdoms. According to 2 Kings 19:9, “Tirhakah, King of Cush” came to the aid of Hezekiah against Sennacherib, king of Assyria, when his forces laid siege to Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E. Without such aid, it is hard to imagine that the Kingdom of Judah would have survived. Judah would have likely gone the way of the Kingdom of Israel—spread to the four winds, never to return.
The land of Cush has been known by many names throughout history. The Egyptians knew the land as Cush. To the Greeks and Romans it was Aethiopia (or Ethiopia—though not to be confused with the modern nation located on the Horn of Africa). The medieval Arabs referred to the country as Nubia.
Regardless of the name by which it was known, Cush played an interesting role in the history of Canaan, Egypt, and the wider ancient Near East as a whole. Mentioned some 54 times in the Hebrew Bible, Cush features in the historical books—specifically Kings and Chronicles—as well as the prophets. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekial, and Nahum all make mention Cush or the Cushites.
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No modern nation corresponds exactly to ancient Cush. Located along the middle course of the Nile—between the junction of the Blue and White Nile and the First Cataract—the territory of Cush lies partly in Egypt and partly in the Republic of Sudan. Much like its powerful neighbor to the north, Cush benefited from the Nile and its life-giving waters, although the Nile flood plains of Egypt are broader and more continuous. And during the mid-eighth century to the mid-seventh century B.C.E., Cush managed to take control of Egypt and ruled as the pharaohs of the 25th Dynasty.
It was also during this time—the reign of Hezekiah and the Cushite 25th Dynasty—that Isaiah wrote of Egypt in his prophetic messages. This Egypt, mentioned several times in Isaiah 1–40, was an Egypt controlled by the Cushites. Isaiah even rebukes the Israelites for paying tribute to (Cushite) Egypt and putting their trust in the Egyptians instead of God for deliverance from the Assyrians (Isaiah 30:1–7; 31:1). Ironically, it was this trust that ultimately led to Jerusalem’s salvation from the Assyrians.
To learn more about the Cushites and their role, both within history and the Hebrew Bible, read “Representing Cush in the Hebrew Bible” by Kevin Burrell published in the Winter 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.Not a BAS Library or All-Access Member yet? Join today.
A version of this post first appeared in Bible History Daily in January, 2021
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