The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III is a black limestone Assyrian sculpture with many scenes in bas-relief and inscriptions. It comes from Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), in northern Iraq, and commemorates the deeds of King Shalmaneser III (reigned 858-824 BC). It is on display at the British Museum in London, and several other museums have cast replicas.
It is the most complete Assyrian obelisk yet discovered, and is historically significant because it is thought to display the earliest ancient depiction of a biblical figure - Jehu, King of Israel. The traditional identification of "Yaw" as Jehu has been questioned by some scholars, who proposed that the inscription refers to another king, Jehoram of Israel. Its reference to 'Parsua' is also the first known reference to the Persians.
Tribute offerings are shown being brought from identifiable regions and peoples. It was erected as a public monument in 825 BC at a time of civil war, in the central square of Nimrud, close to the much earlier White Obelisk of Ashurnasirpal I. It was discovered by archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard in 1846 and is now in the British Museum.
It features twenty relief scenes, five on each side. They depict five different subdued kings, bringing tribute and prostrating before the Assyrian king. From top to bottom they are: (1) Sua of Gilzanu (in north-west Iran), (2) "Jehu of Bit Omri" (Jehu of the House of Omri), (3) an unnamed ruler of Musri (probably Egypt), (4) Marduk-apil-usur of Suhi (middle Euphrates, Syria and Iraq), and (5) Qalparunda of Patin (Antakya region of Turkey). Each scene occupies four panels around the monument and is described by a cuneiform scriptabove them.
On the top and the bottom of the reliefs there is a long cuneiform inscription recording the annals of Shalmaneser III. It lists the military campaigns which the king and his commander-in-chief headed every year, until the thirty-first year of reign. Some features might suggest that the work had been commissioned by the commander-in-chief, Dayyan-Assur.
The second register from the top is thought to include the earliest surviving picture of a biblical figure. The name appears as mIa-ú-a mar mHu-um-ri-i. Rawlinson's original translation in 1850 seminal work "On the Inscriptions of Assyria and Babylonia" stated: "The second line of offerings are said to have been sent by Yahua, son of Hubiri, a prince of whom there is no mention in the annals, and of whose native country, therefore, I am ignorant" Over a year later, a connection with the bible was made by Reverend Edward Hincks, who wrote in his diary on 21 August 1851: "Thought of an identification of one of the obelisk captives — with Jehu, king of Israel, and satisfying myself on the point wrote a letter to the Athenaeum announcing it". Hincks' letter was published by Athenaeumon the same day, entitled "Nimrud Obelisk". Hincks' identification is now the commonly held position by biblical archaeologists.
The identification of "Yaw" as Jehu was questioned by contemporary scholars such as George Smith as well as in more recent times by P. Kyle McCarter and Edwin R. Thiele, based on the fact that Jehu was not an Omride, as well as transliteration and chronology issues. However, the name read as "Yaw, son of Omri (Bit-Khumri", see House of Omri), is generally accepted to follow Hincks as the Biblical Jehu, king of Israel.
The stele describes how Jehu brought or sent his tribute in or around 841 BC. Jehu severed Israel’salliances with Phoenicia and Judah, and became subject to Assyria. The caption above the scene, written in Assyrian cuneiform, can be translated: