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Scythian invasion of Middle East in Book of Jeremish

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Scythians by Angus McBride
Scythians by Angus McBride

Most of my readers probably know who the ancient Scythians were, but for those uninitiated, in short, they were a nomadic Iranian people who in the 7th century BCE settled on the Black Sea steppes, displacing the Cimmerian people related to them. Archaeological traces of the Scythians’ presence are also found in the lands of modern Poland, but we can talk about such wonders as the treasure from Witaszków another time. That’s the introduction in a nutshell. However, did you know that the terrifying invasion of the Scythians on the lands of the Middle East is most likely mentioned in the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Jeremiah?

Here I also need to briefly present the historical background (information based primarily on Assyrian sources, because the Scythians themselves were illiterate). Well, in the 7th century BCE, Scythian armies led by a certain Ispakaeus crossed the Caucasus and, in alliance with the Cimmerians and the Mannanites, invaded the Neo-Assyrian Empire (the then superpower). Assyrian sources mention that the Scythians were also then in alliance with the king of Urartu, Rusa II. Unfortunately for the Scythians, the leader Ispakaeus probably died and was succeeded by a man named Bartatua (presumably this is the Akkadian version of his original Iranian name). It is not known whether he was the brother, son or relative of Ispakaeus. Bartatua, instead of continuing to fight the Assyrians, allied with them, probably even marrying a princess who was the daughter of King Esarhaddon. This probably proves that neither of the belligerents could achieve a clear advantage. Madies becomes the next ruler of the Scythians in the Middle East after Bartatui. He helps the Assyrians defeat the hostile Iranian Medes and subjugates them. He later invades Egypt, where Pharaoh Psameticus I gives the Scythians a huge tribute in exchange for sparing him from plundering his country. On the way, the Scythians mercilessly ravage the lands of Palestine. And this is where fragments from the Book of Jeremiah enter the topic, which may refer to the Scythian invasion. God announces to the Prophet punishment for the Hebrews in the form of an attack by a people unknown to them:

4:6 Lift up your standard in Zion, be strong, stand not; for I will bring evil from the north, and great destruction.
4:7 The lion is gone out of his den, and the plunderer of nations is risen: he is gone out of his place, to make thy land a desolation: thy cities shall be overthrown, and they shall be left without inhabitant.
5:14 Thus saith the LORD God of hosts: Because ye have spoken this word, behold, I put my words in thy mouth as fire, and this people as wood, and it shall devour them.
5:15 Behold, I will bring a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel. saith the Lord, a great nation, an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou shalt neither know nor understand what they say.
5:16 His grave is like an open grave, all of them valiant.
5:17 And he shall eat thy crops and thy bread: he shall devour thy sons and thy daughters: he shall eat thy flocks and thy herds: he shall eat thy vineyard, and thy fig tree: and he shall destroy thy fenced cities with the sword, in which thou hast trusted.
6:19 Listen, earth! Behold, I will bring evil upon this people, the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not listened to my words, and have forsaken my law.
6:20 Why do you bring me incense from Sheba, and sweet-smelling herbs from a distant land? your burnt offerings are not acceptable, and your sacrifices have not pleased me.
6:21 Therefore thus says the LORD: Behold, I will fall upon this people, and fathers and sons shall fall upon them, and both neighbor and neighbor shall perish.
6:22 Thus says the LORD: Behold, a people is coming from the north, and a great nation will arise from the ends of the earth.
6:23 He will take an arrow and a shield; he is cruel, and will not have mercy. His voice will roar like the sea, and they will ride on horses, ready as men for battle against you, O daughter of Zion.
50:41 Behold, a people cometh from the north, and a great nation and many kings shall arise out of the ends of the earth.
50:42 They will seize the bow and the transom, they are cruel and unmerciful: their voice will roar like the sea, and they will ride on horses like a man ready to fight against you, O daughter of Babylon!1

Author: Tomasz Gontarz (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  1. Own translation from Polish.

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