🔼The name Tiglath-pileser: Summary
- My Trust Is In The Son Of Ashur
- Those Who Went Into Exile Now Realize That They Will Be In Eternal Bondage
- From the Assyrian phrase Tukulti-apil-Esarra.
- From (1) the verb גלה (gala), to go into exile, (2) the verb פלל (palal), to discern, and (3) the verb אסר ('asar), to bind.
🔼The context of the name Tiglath-pileser
The Hebrew scribes allowed themselves considerable liberties in transliterating foreign names and evidently did so to submit bullet-commentaries on these characters. They were not at all interested in political history or military exploitations and only recorded the evolution of the wisdom tradition — that's the study of science and technology, plus the traditions that created ideal conditions for this study — and any impact the reign of certain kings may have had on that. That's why certain politically important battles may be blatantly omitted by the Bible (for instance the Battle of Qarqar, between Assyria and Israel, fought in 853 BCE), whereas the politically minor kingdom of David and Solomon is described according to the massive effects this kingdom has had on information technology and thus the humanity of all ages including the present one.
The Hebrew alphabet as we know it had been invented around the time of David, about two centuries before Tiglath-pileser, and the Greeks were fiddling with their own adaptation of it when the Biblical story of Tiglath-pileser plays. From the Greek adaptation came the Latin one, which is the one we used to write this article. So yes, contemporary chroniclers may have deemed the reign of the tribal king David too insignificant to mention and rather sang the praises of men like Tiglath-pileser, but Tiglath-pileser's empire has turned to dust while David's efforts is why we have literature and the Internet.
The brilliance and importance of a functional alphabet cannot be overstated, and the arrival of it ignited a revolution in information technology that was easily as profound as the personal computer revolution of the 1980's and 90's. It freed national literary legacies from its feeble, easily corrupted or easily terminated oral traditions, and allowed it to be stored in a medium other than a perishable human brain. So doing, a nation could preserve its histories, its knowledge and in essence its soul and identity and could in effect live forever (Psalm 16:10, Acts 13:37). The alphabet also allowed information technology to no longer be the prerogative of a privileged priestly elite but opened up its pleasures and responsibilities to scores of ordinary people (Exodus 19:6, Isaiah 9:2).
The Hebrew alphabet was a continuation of the Phoenician abjad (consonantal alphabet), and the Hebrew contribution to the development of the modern alphabet was vowel notation, for which the scribes assigned the symbols י (y) and ו (w) and ה (he), which became symbols that could represent both vowels and consonants. Together these letters formed the name יהוה or YHWH — which is unpronounceable because it can be a monosyllabic EEAAUUAA and a quadrisyllabic Ya-Ha-Wa-Ha, and anything in between — that is the name of the deity who was served in the temple that the Hebrew king Solomon and the Phoenician king Hiram had built in Jerusalem. And that's the backdrop against which the Biblical story of Tiglath-pileser is to be understood.
🔼From Israel to Judea in three acts
The Israel of king David became Roman Judea through three main driving forces. The first was Israel's own internal instability, which caused civil wars prior to the reign of David and a permanent partition after Solomon. The partition split Israel into a southern part consisting of the territory of the tribe of Judah (plus populations of Levites and Simeonites within its borders), and a northern and trans-Jordanian part consisting of the eight remaining brother tribes of Judah plus two nephew tribes that came from the sons of Joseph (also with Levite and Simeon populations). The ten-tribe part also appropriated the name Israel.
The second driving force that made Israel into Judea was Assyria, which had been a major power house in Mesopotamia since deep antiquity. Prior to the Assyrian Empire (or more specifically, the Neo-Assyrian Empire), vast people groups had existed in unregulated confederations that effectively created a free trade economy from Norway to North Africa to India. Advances in information technology, however, did wonders for the development of administration, and a properly standardized and centralized administration allowed for the first of the great empires based on coercion.
The Tiglath-pileser mentioned in the Bible is actually Tiglath-pileser III, who usurped the Assyrian throne, killed the incumbent monarch and his family and installed a professional army — this seems like a great idea but earlier this had strenuously aggravated the Bronze Age collapse and would in time bring about the fall of the Roman republic. There's something so devilishly enticing about the military industrial complex that every five hundred years or so some misguided grandioso makes the world-shattering error of creating one.
The events that accompanied and followed Tiglath-pileser's ascent to the Assyrian throne were not unlike the events related to Lenin's rise to power in Russia, and the peoples to the south of Assyria began to have experiences that were closely similar to those of the republics to the south and east of Lenin's Soviet Russia. Like all men of his kind, Tiglath-pileser thought the world of himself and generously insisted that all the world's peoples should be liberated to the level of his greatness, which caused widespread oppression and thus revolts and thus deportations.
🔼Tiglath-pileser and the Very First Reich
When a society becomes sufficiently complex and members have the room to pursue their interests and specialize, this society soon stratifies and produces classes and guilds that consist of clusters and networks of specialists who are specialists not because they have stamps and permits but because they have patiently developed their inherent talents and natural knacks. These spontaneously emerging guilds self-organize and keep themselves in perfect order when peers assess peers. Any faker is quickly recognized and booted out before he can do damage, because the ultimate purpose of any naturally emerging guild is to serve society at large.
A true modern evil, and arguably the darkest evil in the world today, is that of social usurpation, when a class of specialists (doctors, engineers, merchants, scientists) is somehow bypassed by a band of imposters who burden society with tricks and surrogates and charge double.
Assyria was the world's first fascist state and its rot rose like mustard gas from the pit that was its capital. The story of the rise of Assyria in antiquity is like the story of the rise of Nazism in our modern age: it tells not simply of Hitler's early military campaigns, but much rather the "shadow of perverted science" that began to fall across the face of the entire western world, half a century before Hitler was even born, and certainly long before anyone could seriously suspect how bad it was going to get.
The Biblical story of Tiglath-pileser is not about the physical invasion of Israel by Assyrian troops under king Tukulti-apil-Esarra. The Biblical story of Tiglath-pileser is about the world-wide rise of a social disease that allows small groups of liars and thieves to take control over entire populations and harvest them for their labor and productivity. But since it happened most widely in Assyria, and the Assyrian den of robbers subsequently invented the modern empire, this phenomenon is as much associated with Assyria as fascism is with Hitler.
With a masterly sense of drama, the author of the Book of Kings introduces the eruption of the Assyrian phage by the truncated form of the name Tiglath-pileser, namely Pul (פול). In 2 Kings 15:19, we read how king Pul came out against "the land/earth" and the thoroughly unpleasant king Menahem bought him off with a fortune worth of silver levied from Israel's wealth creators (roughly in 750 BCE).
People who truly understand how wealth works don't hoard it, and the first, rightful webs of wealth creators did so by organizing society and forming companies where people with less economic acuity could get a job. And these companies produced the goods that the whole of society willingly and gladly paid for. Wealth was reinvested into society, and any surplus was stored in central temples (the precursors of central banks; see our article on the Greek word ναος, naos), saved for a rainy day, turned into art and infrastructure, or otherwise utilized to provide society with ease, security and identity.
King Menahem appears to have embodied the royal curse foretold in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, as he usurped the natural class of wealth creators, took their stash and gave it to "king Pul", that is the larval state of what would eventually become "king Tiglath-pileser": a predatory self-serving government whose authority comes from a theatrical imitation of a usurped expert class and subsequent propaganda to cover up the facts.
🔼The root of all evil
Money does wonders when the right kind of people handle it, but money in the wrong pockets blinds eyes and hardens hearts. Likewise, political power is a near perfect catalyst for the Dunning-Kruger effect, and entire governments have been known to proclaim that they understand health better than doctors, of history better than historians, or God better than theologians. Some governments are so blasphemously arrogant that they claim to know better what to spend the people's money on than the folks to whom the people willingly entrust it. These, namely, are the folks who listen intently to society and give it what it asks for, long before society learns to put into words what it desires. These are society's righteous governments. Usurper governments, on the other hand, only know how to create inequality and war, and do so by visiting violence first on their own people to extract the money that no one voluntarily surrenders.
What kind of person thinks that mankind's most intimate desires can somehow be imagined or philosophized by a small group of entitled theorists, and aims to direct the people without even asking them where they would like to go? What kind of person, when his son asks for bread, gives him a stone? Or when he asks for a fish, he gives him a snake? And how on earth did these evildoers get so comfortable within our midst that most of us take the situation as perfectly proper? (Matthew 13:27).
In the days of Pekah, the usurper king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser (now spelled fully תגלת פלאסר, tiglath-pil'eser) invaded the north and trans-Jordan territories of Israel and carried off the peoples (2 Kings 15:29). The area Tiglath-pileser overwhelmed was significantly similar to the area that became most Hellenized in the centuries directly preceding the time of Jesus. Much of the friction that existed within Judaism and that caused it to fracture into the familiar sects (including what in time would become Christianity) was caused by the question of how much foreign influence was desirable or even permitted (see Luke 4:25-30).
In the same sense, the Biblical story of Tiglath-pileser tells primarily of the struggle caused by the cultural invasion that piggybacked on the military invasion of the Assyrians. The presence of Tiglath-pileser and his forces caused reactions in client kings, which in turn caused reaction in their own subjects.
In order to obtain military protection, king Ahaz of Judah tried to become best friends with Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 16:7; here spelled תגלת פלסר, , tiglath-pileser), by giving him "gold and silver" from the temple treasuries, which is a euphemism for written texts. Books were rare and all sorts of knowledge was highly prized. Ahaz and Tiglath-pileser engaged in a transfer of valuable information: intelligence doubtlessly concerning the nations surrounding Judah, their levels of technology, methods of warfare and possible sensitivity to incentives that were less costly than a military invasion, and so on.
🔼The great altar
Ahaz went to Damascus to personally meet Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 16:10; here again spelled תגלת פלאסר, tiglath-pil'eser) and saw the "altar" of the Assyrians and ordered his priest Urijah to copy this altar and built it and install it in the temple of YHWH, and inaugurate it for everyday use.
In our article on the word מזבח (mizbeah), meaning altar, we argue that the templar altar was not merely a lifeless thing but rather a manifestation of the collective psychology of the people of YHWH. This is summed up the rarely mentioned "eleventh" commandment, which is actually a sub-clause of the first: "You shall not make other gods besides Me; you shall make an altar of [the] land/earth unto Me" (Exodus 20:23-26). Ahaz didn't merely adopt an inconsequential Assyrian building style; he assumed the Assyrian modus operandi as core principle of his government, with far reaching and deeply felt consequences for the people of Judah and the pursuit of science in which Judah served the whole of mankind (Genesis 22:18).
The author of the Book of Kings doesn't pass judgment on king Ahaz but the Chronicler, who wrote later than the author of the Book of Kings, is less mild (2 Chronicles 28:19). After Ahaz died, king Hezekiah was able to fend off the lures of Assyria but made the mistake of showing a Babylonian envoy all his temple still contained (2 Kings 20:13). The Babylonians responded by becoming the third driving force that made Judea, by invading Judah and carrying off the Judahites.
The big difference between the Assyrian exile and the Babylonian exile is that Assyria was in the business of creating the world in its own image, whereas Babylon (or Persia, rather) was in the business of coaching peoples to grow into whatever they could be. Persia pursued natural diversity; Assyria pursued a synthetic ideal. Assyria was a farm that domesticated all it captured, and stunted and modified its victims to become servants and food for the master class. Babylon was a regulated wildlife preserve that pursued safety from poachers and disease and provided the freedom for all to naturally evolve (Jeremiah 29:5-7).
The people who were taken to Assyria were absorbed into the Assyrian meat grinder, and when Assyria fell to Babylon, the Israelites fell with it and were heard from no more. The Judahites, on the other hand, were taken to Babylon and remained wholly intact until Babylon fell to Persia, the Judahites became the Jews and were charged by the Persian emperor to recreate Judah, restore Jerusalem and rebuild the temple of YHWH (Ezra 6:3).
The Chronicler doesn't used either of the transliterations used by the author of Kings and consistently goes with תלגת פלנאסר (tiglath-pilneser, 1 Chronicles 5:6, 5:26, 2 Chronicles 28:20).
🔼Etymology of the name Tiglath-pileser
As stated above, the name Tiglath-pileser was inspired by (or gives a commentary on) the original Tukulti-apil-Esarra, which means My Trust Is In The Son Of Ashur (Ashur being both the eponymous and chief deity of Assyria, and its capital city). But that's obviously not the meaning of the name Tiglath-pileser in Hebrew. In Hebrew our name is like a mini-poem; a highly condensed intersection of multiple verbs and ideas:
The difference between the spelling תגלת פלאסר (tiglath-pil'eser) that's used in 2 Kings 15:29 and 16:10, and תגלת פלסר (tiglath-pileser) that occurs in 2 Kings 16:7 flirts with the signature difference between Hebrew and Aramaic spelling. That is certainly deliberate as the author of the story deploys the same trick with the name Shebna(h) (שבנא / שבנה), and see our article on that name for a more detailed look at this literary device. The name Shebna(h) belonged to the scribe who withstood the propaganda of the Aramean-speaking Rabshakeh, who switched to Hebrew for the (in)convenience of the people of Jerusalem. At that time these people spoke only Hebrew and no Aramaic, but after their stint in Persia, they only spoke Aramaic and no Hebrew, and Ezra had to instate translators to bridge the gap between the Torah and the people (Nehemiah 8:8). These translators would grow into the modern rabbis.
All three versions of the name Tiglath-pileser consists of the same three elements. The first element can be related to the verb גלה (gala), to expose, remove or go into exile (the letter ת serves as prefix and suffix in several grammatical functions):
The verb גלה (gala) means to expose, uncover, remove or to go into exile. Noun גליון (gillayon) means table or tablet. Noun גולה (gola) means captivity or captive one. Noun גלות (gallut) refers to captives as a group.
The second part of our name relates to the nickname of Tiglath-pileser, namely Pul, which relates to the verb פלל (palal), to distinguish or discern:
Root פלל (palal) is all about distinguishing and discerning, and often emphasizes representation of something unseen or not present. It's frequently used in the sense of to entreat or pray on someone's behalf.
Noun תפלה (tepilla) means prayer. Noun פליל (palil) describes an inspector or umpire and noun פלילה (pelila) refers to the place at which an umpire operates; a judge's office. Adjective פלילי (pelili) means "for a judge" or "to be judged" and noun פליליה (peliliya) means verdict or assessment. Noun פול (pol) means beans (and was probably imported but fits right in).
Verb פלה (pala) means to be distinct or separated. Pronoun פלני (peloni) refers to "a certain person/place."
Verb פלא (pala') means to be extraordinary. Nouns פלא (pele') and מפלאה (mipla'a) refer to extraordinary things or deeds. Adjective פלאי (pil'i) means extraordinary.
Verb אפל ('pl) means to disappear, depart or set (of the sun). Nouns אפל ('opel), אפלה ('apela), מאפל (ma'apel) and מאפליה (ma'pelya) mean darkness. Adjective אפל ('apel) means gloomy. Adjective אפיל ('apil) means late or belated (i.e. long unseen).
Verb נפל (napal) means to fall (down, down to, into or upon). The plural form נפלים (napalim) literally means 'fallen ones' or 'settled ones'.
Noun נפל (nepel) refers to an abortion or untimely birth. Noun מפל (mappal) describes that what falls. Nouns מפלה (mappala) and מפלה (mappela) mean ruin, and noun מפלת (mapplet) refers to a ruined thing or a falling.
The third part of our name comes from the verb אסר ('asar), to bind or tie up. The form נאסר (n'asar), which the Chronicler favors, employs a common grammatical form that expresses a passive verbal voice (it was bound) or a resultative form (to be in a state of bondage). Rather strikingly, the term אסר נאסר ('asar n'asar) means "to bind very tightly" or "to bind certainly" and occurs in Judges 15:13.
The verb אסר ('asar) means to bind or tie up. Nouns אסור ('esur), אסר ('issar), מסרת (masoret) and מוסר (moser) all mean bond or band. Noun אסיר ('asir) describes a prisoner (a bound one) and the similar noun אסיר ('assir) refers to a group of prisoners or their joined bond.
Verb מסר (masar) means to bind in the sense of to incriminate or to attach a charge, mission or misdeed to a person. As such it may be used to mean to deliver up or offer.
The literary name Tiglath-pileser relates to the historical name Tukulti-apil-Esarra the way any fictional discussion of the doctrines of racial purity and survival of the fittest (anything from Heidi to Mary Poppins) relates to the historical figure of Adolf Hitler. The name Tiglath-pileser represents intellectual usurpation, that is the claim to authority by merit of excellence in an unrelated discipline: a nuclear physicist who writes a book that explains why sociologists are wrong about society, an evolutionary biologist who writes a book that explains why theologians are wrong about God, a fast-food company that sponsors a sporting event, a government that makes no money and tells people who do make money how to make money. And so on.
Combating this kind of silliness takes a trick or two, but as Einstein once said, you can't solve a problem by means of the system that caused it, and any aspiring reformers should certainly not succumb to the temptation of embracing the methods used by the system they aim to topple. In order to restore our natural economy based on merit rather than rank, aspiring reformers cannot usurp but must genuinely outperform the usurpers. An economy based on scarcity depends on people being unhappy and willing to spread misery. An economy based on abundance depends on people being happy and willing to spread joy.
The Assyrians were diverted from Judah with the assistance of Tirhakah, the king of Cush, and Judah weathered the storm by hiding within Babylon and Persia. The ten-tribal kingdom of Israel, on the other hand, was sucked into the black hole that is Assyria. The name Tiglath-pileser means Those Who Went Into Exile Now Realize That They Will Be In Eternal Bondage, and represents not merely an Assyrian individual but a caustic mindset of social usurpation that tends to arise naturally within a complex society.