No one likes war, but war is a reality that has existed in human society from the dawn of civilization. With no exception, one characteristic of wars is the extreme violence that goes on in the battlefield. Wars cause much anguish, disruption, destruction, and an untold number of lost lives.
In warfare, nations use different techniques to achieve their goal, which is victory against their enemies. In antiquity, as well us in modern times, nations develop policies of intimidation and terror in order to force submission by their opponents. These acts of uncontrolled violence strike fears in the hearts of those under siege.
In wars, soldiers cast aside their inhibition, their sense of humanity, and take the lives of men, women, and children. Their actions express the horrors of war and the paroxysms of violence that are present in conflicts between nations.
One of the most violent nations in antiquity was the Assyrians. Their records and monuments preserve the evidence that they were a brutal and violent nation. Assyrian reliefs show prisoners being impaled, Assyrian soldiers flaying captured soldiers, beheadings, mutilation, and dismembering.
In wars some of the most vulnerable victims are the women and children. On one Assyrian monument, women and children are portrayed with their lifted arms, lamenting the violence and the destruction of their city. Archaeologists have uncovered many mass graves in places where battles occurred and one common feature of these mass graves was the presence of bones of women and children who were buried along with the men killed in battle.
One of the most violent and brutal conducts in times of war was the Assyrian practice of ripping open pregnant women in order to expose their fetus. In his article, “‘Ripping Open Pregnant Women’ in Light of an Assyrian Analogue,” Mordechai Cogan quotes an Assyrian poem, probably dated to the reign of Tiglath-Pileser I (1114-1076), in which the poet praises the actions of the victorious king. On one section of the poem, in which the poet relates the victory of the Assyrian king against his enemy, reads as follow:
He slits the wombs of pregnant women
he blinds the infants
He cuts the throats of their strong ones.
In commenting on the words of the poet describing the acts of the victorious king, Cogan wrote: “Out of the entire catalogue of the horrors of war, he singled out the attack upon the defenseless women and children; and this in order to impress upon all that the cruelest of punishments awaits those who sin against Assyria’s god” (1983:756).
This terrifying practice, the disembowment of pregnant women, was a form of psychological warfare. It was Assyria’s way to show Assyria’s enemies the consequences of revolting against the empire. In case of rebellion by vassals, the Assyrians would bring reprisal by enforcing their rule with violence and brutality.
However, the biblical record shows that the practice of ripping open pregnant women was also the practice of war of other nations in the ancient Near East.
When the prophet Elisha anointed Hazael to be the next king of Damascus, Elisha wept aloud when he saw how Hazael would cause violence and horror against the women of Israel. When Hazael saw the prophet weeping, he asked: “‘Why does my lord weep?’ [Elisha] answered, ‘Because I know the evil that you will do to the people of Israel; you will set their fortresses on fire, you will kill their young men with the sword, dash in pieces their little ones, and rip up their pregnant women’” (2 Kings 8:11-12).
In his oracle against the Ammonites, Amos said the Lord would punish them because of their violence against the women of Gilead: “Thus says the LORD: For three transgressions of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment; because they have ripped open pregnant women in Gilead in order to enlarge their territory” (Amos 1:13).
In his oracle against Israel, the prophet Hosea pronounced a judgment against the Northern Kingdom. The judgment would be an Assyrian invasion that would bring untold terror and violence against the inhabitants of Samaria: “Samaria shall bear her guilt, because she has rebelled against her God; they shall fall by the sword, their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open” (Hosea 13:16).
In discussion this inhumane practice during siege warfare, Cogan wrote: “Acts of horror such as these, performed during the course of war, are documented throughout history, and no specific age or people can be pointed to as having had a patent on atrocity” (1983:755).
Cogan’s words, that “no specific age or people can be pointed to as having had a patent on atrocity,” can be seen in the fact that one king in Israel also committed such an atrocity.
The writer of the book of Kings says that Menahem, after he became king of Israel, invaded Tappuah to punish them for not supporting him. Most texts read “Tiphsah” (2 King 15:16 NIV), a city near the Euphrates River. However, the text should be read “Tappuah,” a town located in the tribe of Ephraim (Joshua 17:8).
During the invasion, “Menahem punished Tappuah, all the inhabitants of the town and of its whole district, because on his way from Tirzah they did not let him in. He punished them even to ripping open all the pregnant women” (2 Kings 15:16 NAB).
In his description of Menahem’s act, Josephus wrote:
Menahem, the general of his army, . . . made himself king, he went thence, and came to the city Tiphsah; but the citizens that were in it shut their gates, and barred them against the king, and would not admit him;
but in order to be avenged on them, he burnt the country round about it, and took the city by force, upon a siege; and being very much displeased at what the inhabitants of Tiphsah had done, he slew them all, and spared not so much as the infants, without omitting the utmost instances of cruelty and barbarity; for he used such severity upon his own countrymen, as would not be pardonable with regard to strangers who had been conquered by him.
And after this manner it was that this Menahem continued to reign with cruelty and barbarity for ten years.
Josephus was so appalled at the cruelty and barbarity Menahem used against his own countrymen that he said such a practice would be unforgivable even if it were done against foreign enemies.
Such are the barbarities of war.
But, there is hope. The Bible says that when the Messiah comes, there shall be peace among the nations: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4).
Cogan, Mordechai. “Ripping Open Pregnant Women” in Light of an Assyrian Analogue.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 103 (1983): 755-757.
Herzog, Chaim and Mordechai Gichon. Battles of the Bible. New York: Barnes and Nobles, 1997.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Morbid satanic, why would you post this.
Because it is in the Bible. No one should be afraid to deal with issues that are in the Bible. If this is satanic, why did God allowed it to be in the Bible?
And the spirit of God entered into them becoming as demons. They did as they were commanded and smote all, even the women with child. II Kings 15:16, is the old testament King James version.
This is what 2 Kings 15:16 says in the King James Version: “Then Menahem smote Tiphsah, and all that were therein, and the coasts thereof from Tirzah: because they opened not to him, therefore he smote it; and all the women therein that were with child he ripped up” (2 Kings 15:16 KJV).
Nowhere in the KJV we are told that “the spirit of God entered into them becoming as demons.” Nowhere we are told that “They did as they were commanded and smote all, even the women with child.”
In interpreting the Bible, we must interpret the Bible correctly. When we blame everything to demons, we do a disservice to the Bible. We may not like what these people did, but we cannot deny that these atrocities happened. What we must do, as good students of the Word of God, is to study these things and then find a better solution. Did you read what I wrote about the solution to this problem?
I understand you apprehension in studying these ugly things in the Bible. However, when you study the Bible, you will find out that there are a lot of things in the Bible that we may not like. As Christians, we must deal with the grace of God and the sinfulness of men. Even when we do not like the things that Menahem did, these things are in the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God and if God allowed these things to be written in the Bible it is because he is trying to teach us some important lesson.
Who are we to reject what God has done? As the Apostle Paul wrote, All scripture [including 2 Kings 15:16] is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
I was just rather shocked by the Headline. Write what you want. I don’t care .
I am sorry you were shocked by the title of my post. However, the title comes out of the Bible itself.
I try to write on biblical topics that are unfamiliar to most people who read the Bible. I am an Old Testament professor and I seek to teach the content of the Old Testament to my students and to those like you who love the Old Testament. My goal is to teach and not to shock people. The problem is that there are many shocking stories in the Old Testament and we had to deal with these stories from a Christian perspective.
If you read some of my posts (you can find them on my Published Posts page), you will discover that I have written several posts on difficult passages in the Old Testament, and I plan to continue to deal with these difficult issues in the Bible. Later this summer I am planning to write a post about the cannibal mothers of the Old Testament. Here is another sad story in the Bible. I hope that story will not shock you as much as this post have done.
Again, I apologize if my post was offensive to you. My goal is always to teach the Bible, not to hurt people through what I write.
Good for you. Best wishes.
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The whole point of Claude’s article is to demonstrate the detestable evil that humans are capable of. And the then to say praise God that we have a Messiah in Jesus who redeems the world from all of these atrocities.
Dear Former Student,
Thank you for your comment. No one ever appreciates these kinds of atrocities. The Bible does not approve this horrible political practice. This kind of behavior reflects the worse kind of human behavior.
Thank you Professor Mariottini. I appreciate the truth. You went into such detail and provided so much insight to the evils of the human heart and God’s sorrow and pain in dealing with His own creation. I do wonder, does biblical history repeat itself, is it possible America can experience such vileness as judgment as did Israel and other nations who chose to deny the one true God. God Bless and God speed.
The practice of removing the fetus from a mother’s womb was a criminal act that was the result of the inhumane treatment of war prisoners.
Today, the practice of removing the fetus from a mother’s womb takes a different form, but it remains a crime against God because it is the murder of a non-yet-born person.
I was involved in my morning devotional time with the Lord and began reading the book of Amos. I ran into chapter 1:13 and felt I should do further studies. This lead me to your article. The article was very helpful towards opening my understanding. It actually brought me to tears. I cried as I asked the Lord why he would anoint anyone to leadership that would do such cruel and evil things? He reminded me that the wages of sin is death! How profound when put in that context. These things confirmed things I recently posted on my radio show page. Thank you for ending the article with the reminder that the Lord will one day put an end to war😄
Thank you for your nice words and thank you for visiting my blog. The practice of ripping open pregnant women is repugnant to us but its was very common in the Ancient Near East. People who live without the fear of God will do these repugnant things. In war people tend to lose their sense of morals and commit many terrible atrocities. Some day people will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks but until then, we have to live with the brutalities of war.
May the Lord bless your ministry.
Amen. Thank you for your reply. God bless you and your work.
You are welcome. And thank you for visiting my blog.
I too, like Diane began my day of devotion with the reading of Amos and also stopped at Amos 1:13 to further research what is meant by “rip open the pregnant women of Gilead”. Yes, so many of the Old Testament stories have such horrible violence that I often find it very difficult to read through them and to be honest, since I read it once I have sometimes skipped parts of the OT when I begin re-reading the Bible again the next time.
Thank you for your explanation and interpretation which helps to be better understand the purpose of these passages in the Bible. God has a reason for all things and a purpose. Mine is to grow and learn and understand even if the passages are disturbing.
All praise and glory to the Lord for His compassion and love…
Thank you for your nice comment. It is true that there are many difficult passages in the Old Testament that cause people to pause their reading to investigate the issue in the text. Others, stop reading the Old Testament because they are unable to understand these difficult passages.
I would like to encourage you to read my book “Divine Violence and the Character of God.” In my book I deal with many of these difficult passages in the Old Testament. In the book I focus on the issue of divine violence. You can find my book on Amazon and most bookstores.
Thank you for visiting my blog.
Thank you. As I read this I could see that in our battle against the spiritual forces in darkness we have a modern similar practice. Abortion not only dismembers an infant but destroys the mom in guilt and rejection of who she is as a woman. surely this is a battle tactic from hell itself on the hearts of people
In my discussion of Assyrian practices, I was not referring to abortion.