King Cushan-Rishathaim



 Damien F. Mackey



According to Judges 3:8: “The anger of the Lord burned against Israel so that He sold them into the hands of Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram Naharaim, to whom the Israelites were subject for eight years”.

But do we know anything about this king Cushan-Rishathaim as a concrete historical character, in a real archaeological setting?



We read of the account of the power of king Cushan-Rishathaim, and his ultimate defeat by Othniel, in the Book of Judges 3:7-11:

And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth. Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia [Aram-Naharaim]. And the people of Israel served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand. And his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim. So the land had rest forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died.

The Jewish Virtual Library article on this subject questions the very historicity of the story (

CUSHAN-RISHATHAIM (Heb. כּוּשַׁן רִשְׁעָתַיִם), the first oppressor of Israel in the period of the Judges (Judg. 3:8–10). Israel was subject to Cushan-Rishathaim, the king of Aram-Naharaim, for eight years, before being rescued by the first “judge,” *Othniel son of Kenaz. The second element, Rishathaim (“double wickedness”), is presumably not the original name, but serves as a pejorative which rhymes with Naharaim. The combination Aram-Naharaim is not a genuine one for the period of the Judges, since at that time the Arameans were not yet an important ethnic element in Mesopotamia. In the view of some scholars, the story lacks historical basis and is the invention of an author who wished to produce a judge from Judah, and raise the total number of judges to twelve. ….

[End of quote]

It may not, however, be a matter of “Arameans” here. We have found that this region of the world had already been the seat of a very powerful empire, the Akkadians:

Tightening the Geography and Archaeology for Early Genesis

an empire with a highly-advanced culture:

Akkadian and Elamite Impact on Early Egypt.

Part Two: Lost Culture of the Akkadians

Considering the wide-ranging influence of kings such as the Akkadians, who ruled Sumer in southern Mesopotamia, as well as Akkad (now re-located to NE Syria), one ought to look for strong evidence of these kings also in the land of Sumer. Hence I tentatively posited:

Sargon of Akkad (Nimrod) as ‘Divine’ Shulgi of Ur III


The same situation may well apply to the powerful king Cushan-Rishathaim, and indeed Dean Hickman and others have looked to Sumer for evidence of this monarch. Hickman, in his extremely useful attempted revision of Mesopotamian history (“The Dating of Hammurabi”, Proc. 3rd Seminar of Catastrophism & Ancient History, Uni. of Toronto, 1985, p. 13-28), has proposed for this enigmatic Cushan-rishathaim of c. C14th BC an historical identification with the similarly rather obscure Enshag-kushanna of the Uruk II dynasty.

Wikipedia tells this about the latter monarch (


Enshakushanna (or En-shag-kush-ana, Enukduanna, En-Shakansha-Ana) was a king of Uruk in the later 3rd millennium BC who is named on the Sumerian king list, which states his reign to have been 60 years. He conquered Hamazi, Akkad, Kish, and Nippur, claiming hegemony over all of Sumer. He adopted the Sumerian title en ki-en-gi lugal kalam-ma en ki in Sumerian means god of the Apsû,[1][2] which may be translated as “lord of Sumer and king of all the land” (or possibly as “en of the region of Uruk and lugal of the region of Ur[3]), and could correspond to the later title lugal ki-en-gi ki-uri “King of Sumer and Akkad” that eventually came to signify kingship over Babylonia as a whole. ….

[End of quote]

Apparently king Enshag-kushanna’s sway extended at least from Akkad to Sumer.

The ‘Cushan-kushan’ element in the names is an obvious fit. And Hickman explains how the name elements, enshag and rishathaim, can also perhaps be correlated (op. cit., n. 58): “The element –rishathaim is also present in Enshag-kushanna in a disguised form: En- may be interpreted as Ru- (Robert L. Biggs, BA, Spring 1980, p. 78) and -shag- or -sag- may be “reshtum” (Alfonso Archi, BA, Fall 1980, pp. 201, 205-206) …”.

An Archaeology for Cushan-rishathaim

The eight-years of dominance of Syro-Palestine by a king of Aram-Naharaim ought to be a very singular event able to be fully identified in the archaeological record – just as was the invasion of the four kings at the time of Abram clearly identifiable:

Bible Bending Pharaonic Egypt.

Part One: Abraham to Exodus.

And Dr. John Osgood, who had well identified the Abramic incident, has also been able to discover the clear archaeological traces of Cushan-Rishathaim:

The Times of the Judges—The Archaeology:

(b) Settlement and Apostasy

Thus Osgood writes:

As the nation apostasised [sic] from the worship of God, turning to idolatry, the Scriptures tell us (Judges 3:5–11) that they were soon confronted with a northern foe, conquered and occupied. The foe was Aram-Naharaim (or Syria-Naharaim) under its shadowy but obviously capable ruler Chushan Rishathaim; a name unknown to this date in the archaeological records (see Figure 3).

The Khabur basin and Chushan

Israel’s first captivity under Aram-Naharaim should be accepted as simple history, which would leave open the possibility of verification by archaeological evidence. Chushan-Rishathaim is here taken to be a real historical character and the biblical narrative to be simple history.

We are told of Chushan that he ruled over Israel for eight years and from his yoke the land was liberated by Caleb’s nephew Othniel.

Figure 2. Map showing the geographic location and distribution of Amiram’s and Dever’s ‘family’ groupings.

Unknown are:

(1) Chushan’s method of rule over vassal Israel;

(2) Aram-Naharaim’s degree of cultural influence on Israel; and

(3) The details of the fate of Chushan after the liberation.

We are only told that:

“—the children of Israel served Chushan Rishathaim eight years” (Judges 3:8).

And of the liberation:

“The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord delivered Chushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed over Chushan-Rishathaim” (Judges 3:10).

“So the land had rest for forty years. Then Othniel the son of Kenaz died” (Judges 3:11).

Thus we are dealing with a new phase—a total of eight years. What archaeological confirmation do we have?

The revised chronology here espoused provides for MB I to be identified as the wandering, conquering and settling Israelites. It follows that if our chronology is correct, the next period archaeologically that is, MB IIA (MB I Kenyon), should reflect consistency with the biblical narrative of Chushan-Rishathaim.

Figure 3. Map showing the location of Syria-Naharaim and the Khabur Basin, and the direction of Chushan-Rishathaim’s attack on Palestine.

It is therefore with some interest that I read Amiram’s earlier conclusions about the pottery of MB IIA (especially knowing that she holds the accepted chronology of the Holy Land, and not the chronology here espoused).

Amiram first recognises the distinctiveness of the characteristics of MB IIA;

“A close analysis of MB IIA and B-C pottery shows many differences between the two periods, but a definite continuity of form and decoration can undoubtedly be observed.”10

What then are the particular differences?

“Plate 35 has been arranged with the intention of illustrating certain features of the MB IIA pottery which can be traced back to their origin through Byblos an Qatna to the Khabur region. The ultimate origins of the Khabur Ware are beyond the scope of this work. This chapter follows up a suggestion of Albright’s, made many years ago, concerning the affinity between MB IIA pottery and the Khabur Ware.”11

Amiram then, as Albright, asserts a connection between the Khabur basin and the M IIA pottery of Palestine—the same areas affected by the biblical narrative of Chushan-Rishathaim. Is this imagined? Or coincidental? To be sure, this connection has been disputed—most particularly by Jonathan Tubb.12 However, in analysing his objections, we discover that he was criticising the hypothesis of a cultural sequence from one area to the other, and this definitely cannot be demonstrated. In fact, it is contradicted. Understandably Tubb then rejects such a cultural connection (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Diagram depicting two views on the relationship between the Khabur ware and the MB IIA of Palestine.

What Tubb, however, does not do is pay attention to the biblical model envisioned by the Chushan story, which describes a brief but vital contact by conquest of Israel by the forces of Aram-Naharaim. He cannot do this meaningfully because his absolute chronology does not allow such a connection with the Israelite story in the days of the Judges. This also would overthrow accepted thinking and would mean a simple recognition of the Judges accounts as valid and simple historical records, and not just tribal narratives as the ‘documentary hypothesis’ demands, in current thinking. That there was such contact the Bible asserts. That there were, in Palestine, in MB IIA (MB I Kenyon), signs of Khabur influence at the same period that Khabur Ware was in vogue in Aram-Naharaim is confirmed by Patty Gerstenblith.

“…the appearance of both ‘Habur’ ware store jars and ‘Habur’-type decorations marks the beginning of MB I period in the Levant … we see that the ‘Habur’ store jars appear in quantity at Chagar Bazar, just before the end of MB I period in the Levant … That it may have been present there at an earlier date and is only missing at those sites excavated in northern Mesopotamia is perhaps shown by its presence in quantity at the Baghouz cemetery, which probably corresponds more closely to the Levant MB I than do the northern Mesopotamian sites, which seem to postdate the MB I period.”13 (emphasis ours) (Note: MB I Kenyon = MB IIA Albright)

In other words, here in Palestine in the boundaries of ancient Israel is just the cultural influence evident which we would expect from the biblical narrative, taken at face value. The culture of the Khabur basin (Aram-Naharaim) is seen and at no other period. Its appearance then in Palestine first corresponds to the initial appearance of this ware in the Khabur region.

Some would call it coincidental and feel it was not significant, but its presence, identified by those who have no stakes in the biblical chronology here espoused, and following the new invasive MB I culture, would seem to give poignant testimony to, at the minimum, a sequence of events which corresponds to the biblical sequence (MB I Albright). The MBIIA period in Palestine testifies to a regional influence which increases the fit of the revised chronology, here presented, to the simple scriptural narrative.

The only historical narrative which, at such an early period, can tie Khabur influence to the geography of ancient Israel, is the biblical narrative of Chushan-Rishathaim found in the book of Judges.

This then is suggested by the author of this paper to be the explanation of Khabur ware in Palestine in MB IIA (MB I Kenyon): The conquest of the apostatizing Israelite nation by the forces of Aram Naharaim under the able leadership of Chushan Rishathaim for a period of occupation of eight years; the Khabur wares themselves most likely being vessels brought in by the conquerors with stores, most particularly wine, and later adopted for a long time by the native population as a useful item of storage and perhaps trade. Then influence of this culture would proceed until a new dominant culture arose—and this was to happen as we shall see, from a southern direction. Hence the rebuilt cities after Chushan’s influence had gone would still reflect the Khabur ware influence, perhaps for a series of levels until the new influence was felt. All these levels would be described as MB IIA. ….


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