How a Jewish Composer Inspired an Unusual Poem by Lord Byron

Once widely known, “The Destruction of Sennacherib” is a poetic account by Lord Byron (1788–1824) of the Assyrian invasion of Judea in the time of King Hezekiah. Joseph Bottum writes:

The anapestic meter of “The Destruction of Sennacherib”—da da DUM, da da DUM—is loud, even for Byron, who loved three-syllable feet. The biblical story is taken at face value. And, very untypically for Byron, the narrator never winks in irony. Instead, we have six tetrameter quatrains, in rhymed couplets: a fast-moving and memorable retelling of the 701 BCE siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrians under King Sennacherib (as described in 2Kings 18–19 and Isaiah 36–37), rendered in galloping anapests like cavalry charging at the city.

The cause of the difference from his other work may be that Byron wrote the poem as part of his 1815 collection Hebrew Melodies. Isaac Nathan (ca. 1791–1864) was a musical con man—it’s hard to know what else to call him—and he came to Byron with a set of melodies he claimed were recreated from music once played in the Temple at Jerusalem, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The melodies weren’t authentic, of course, but Byron found Nathan a charming rogue, even while he recognized the type. Byron gave the composer a few older poems to set to the supposedly ancient music and wrote new verses based on biblical topics, among them “The Destruction of Sennacherib.”

Something in the exercise seems to have released Byron from his usual ironic voice, and the fun of composition overflows the story in Byron’s free-flowing alliteration, exuberant metaphors, and bouncy rhythm: “And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,/ Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!”

Read more at New York Sun

More about: Assyria, English literature, Hebrew Bilbe, Jewish history, Lord Byron, Poetry

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict