British Museum

Camels, monkeys, an elephant and a rhinoceros, items of tribute that the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III (858–824 B.C.E.) amassed over his long reign, are depicted on the four sides of the Black Obelisk , a 6.5-foot-tall monument to the king’s achievements. On the second register from the top, on the side shown here, Jehu, king of Israel, prostrates himself before Shalmaneser. Jehu paid Shalmaneser tribute in the latter’s 18th regnal year, or 841 B.C.E.; with this date fixed, Biblical scholars can proceed to date other events described in the Bible and even some of the Biblical texts themselves.

Author Baruch Halpern, in the accompanying article, explains how scholars draw on the history of the ancient Near East and on the evolution of certain linguistic factors (such as changes in pronunciation and spelling) to date texts in the Hebrew Bible, including the earliest accounts of the Exodus from Egypt.