The opening verse identifies Nahum, whose name means “comfort” or “consolation,” as being “the Elkoshite” or a man from the town of Elkosh. There is uncertainty about where Elkosh may have been located. One conjecture places it about 3.5 miles (c. 6 kilometers) northeast of Lachish. When Nahum made known the word of YHWH regarding the judgment to befall Nineveh, the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel no longer existed. The Assyrian forces had captured the capital Samaria, the Israelite survivors of the military campaign had been taken into exile, and the Assyrians had brought in peoples from other nations to reside in the conquered Israelite territory. Therefore, one may reasonably conclude that Elkosh was a town in the kingdom of Judah, for that kingdom continued to exist long after the fall of Samaria.
Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, is portrayed in the book of Nahum as a bloodguilty city that merited severe judgment. The kingdom of Judah had experienced the brutality of the Assyrian forces when they invaded during the reign of King Hezekiah. According to the “Prism of Sennacherib,” this monarch laid siege to and conquered “46 strong cities, walled forts,” and many “small villages in their vicinity” and, along with countless horses, mules, donkeys, camels, cattle, sheep, and goats, led “200,150” survivors into exile. (Ancient Near Eastern Texts [ANET], Third Edition, edited by James B. Pritchard, page 288) According to the biblical account, King Sennacherib captured all the fortified cities of Judah during Hezekiah’s reign, but divine intervention stopped him from seizing Jerusalem. (2 Kings 18:13; 19:35, 36) Reliefs on stone panels from the Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh depict the siege of Lachish, one of the fortified cities of Judah. The cruelty of the Assyrian military is clearly in evidence. Captured city defenders are portrayed as being tortured, impaled, and flayed alive. (For pictures and comments about the site of ancient Lachish, see Lachish and for pictures of the Assyrian reliefs of the siege of Lachish, see reliefs.)
At the time Nahum prophesied in the seventh century BCE, the Egyptian city of No-amon (Thebes) had already fallen before the Assyrian forces under the command of Ashurbanipal, the grandson of Sennacherib. (Nahum 3:8) According to his annals, Ashurbanipal, in his second campaign against Egypt, conquered Thebes and carried away abundant booty — “silver, gold, precious stones,” “linen garments with multicolored trimmings,” “fine horses,” and all the “personal possessions” of URdamane who had left Memphis to find safety in Thebes but then had fled to Kipkipi. Ashurbanipal also “pulled two high obelisks” out of their bases at the door of a temple and took them to Assyria. Based on the description, these obelisks, weighing “2,500 talents,” were covered with a bright gold-copper alloy. (ANET, page 295, including footnotes) The reference to the Assyrian conquest of Thebes establishes that Nahum began his service as a prophet after this event and before Nineveh fell before the forces of the Babylonian monarch Nabopolassar and of Cyaxares the Mede in the fourteenth year of Nabopolassar’s reign. When Nineveh was conquered, Josiah, the great-grandson of Hezekiah, ruled over the kingdom of Judah.