Assyrian Arrowheads from Lachish

Assyrian Arrowheads from Lachish

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Several kingdoms in the Levant ceased to pay taxes to the Assyrian king Senncharib. In retribution, he initiated a campaign to re-subjugate the rebelling kingdoms, among them the Kingdom of Judah. After defeating the rebels of Ekron in Philistia, Sennacharib set out to conquer Judah and, on his way to Jerusalem, came across Lachish: the second most important of the Jewish cities.

The battlefield was the walled city of Lachish, situated on a hill. The northern part of the hill is steeper than the southern side and due to that the gate is situated there. On top of the fact that the hill as of itself is quite high, the wall further makes the city hard to breach. Inside the city itself there was a castle with significant walls.

Assyrian army Edit

The Assyrian Army was the most effective force of its time and was divided mostly into three different categories:

  • Infantry, which included both close-combat troops using spears, and archers. There were also hired mercenaries throwing stones (slingers). The infantry was highly trained and worked alongside military engineers in order to breach sieges.
  • Cavalry Assyrian cavalry were among the finest in the ancient Middle East and included both close-combat cavalry units with spears and mounted archers, which could both use the agility of the horses alongside long-range attacks.
  • Chariots, which were not used as much in sieges as in regular land engagements.

Judean army Edit

The Judean military force was insignificant compared to the professional and massive Assyrian army and mostly included local militias and mercenaries. There were barely any cavalrymen and chariots in the Judean army which mostly included infantry, either for close combat (spearmen) or long range combat (archers), they were also significantly less organized.

Due to the steepness of the northern side of Lachish the Assyrian Army attacked from the south, where the Jewish defenders situated themselves on the walls. The Jewish defenders threw stones and shot arrows at the advancing Assyrians the Assyrians started shooting arrows and stones themselves, creating a skirmish between the two armies. Meanwhile, Assyrian military engineers built a ramp to the east of the main gate where Assyrian and Jewish troops began engaging in close combat. The Assyrians meanwhile brought siege engines to the ramp and broke the wall the Jewish defenders could not hold the Assyrian army and retreated, with some attempting to escape from the other side of the hill.

Subjugation Edit

The city was captured by the Assyrians, its inhabitants led into captivity and the leaders of Lachish tortured to death. The town was abandoned, but resettled after the return from Babylonia. [ citation needed ]

Assyrian reliefs portraying the siege of Lachish clearly show battering rams attacking the vulnerable parts of the city. [2]

The siege and capture of the town of Lachish, one of the fortress towns protecting the approaches to Jerusalem, is unique in that it is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (II Kings 18 II Chronicles 32)( MICAH 1:13 ) and in the Annals of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib. Not only that but the event is depicted on the walls of Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh. [3]

The British Museum has a superb set of relief carvings which depicted the siege in some detail. It shows the Assyrian soldiers firing arrows, and slingstones, and approaching the walls of Lachish using mudbrick ramps. The attackers shelter behind wicker shields, and deploy battering rams. The walls and towers of Lachish are shown crowded with defenders shooting arrows, throwing rocks and torches on the heads of the attackers.

The captions for the relief at the British Museum say:

Booty from Lachish" Assyrian, about 700-692 BC

From Nineveh, South West Palace,

Room XXXVI, Panels 8-9

After the capture of Lachish, Assyrian soldiers carry off plunder from the governor's palace: a bundle of scimitars, round shields, a chariot, a throne, and a pair of incense-burners. Below, Judean prisoners move in families, taking their goods and animals with them into exile."

The procession of prisoners from Lachish continues, moving through a rocky landscape with vines, fig trees, and perhaps olives in the background. Officials regarded as responsible for the rebellion against Assyria are treated more severely: two of them are being flayed alive.

Sennacherib, on a magnificent throne, watches as prisoners are brought before him and sometimes executed. There is a tent behind him, his chariot is in the foreground, and his bodyguard are stationed around. The King's face has been deliberately slashed, perhaps by an enemy soldier at the fall of Nineveh in 612 BC.

This panel, which closes the Lachish series, shows the base camp from which the siege was conducted. It is fortified, with a road through the middle. Servants are at work in tents, and two priests are performing a ceremony in front of the chariots on which are mounted the standards of the gods.

The reliefs continues showing the looting of the city, and defenders are shown being thrown over the ramparts, impaled, having their throats cut and asking for mercy. A bird's eye plan of the city is shown with house interiors shown in section.

After he captured the second most important city in Judah, Sennacherib encamped there and then sent his rabshakeh to capture Jerusalem.

The Siege of Lachish is the subject of an eponymous song (and single) by metal band Melechesh.

Archaeology in Israel: Lachish

Tel Lachish, the mound of the ancient city of Lachish, is located in the lowlands of the Judean Hills, some 40 km. southeast of Jerusalem. The abundance of water sources and the fertile valleys of the area favored the existence of a prosperous city over a considerable period of time.

The mound of the city was first excavated during the 1930s. Systematic and in-depth excavations of large areas of the mound were again conducted between 1973 and 1987.

The Canaanite City

A large, fortified Canaanite city was established at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BCE on a hillock dominating the surrounding area. It was fortified by a wall and a glacis, a ramp-like structure of compressed earth with a hard, smooth surface of lime plaster. The fortification was completed by a fosse (moat) at the foot of the glacis.

A large palace of numerous rooms and a courtyard, probably the residence of the Canaanite King of Lachish, stood on the acropolis - the highest part of the city. It could not be completely exposed, as a later Israelite palace was built above it.

From letters sent by the kings of Lachish to their overlords, the pharaohs of Egypt (the 14th century BCE el-Amarna correspondence) it may be deducted that Lachish was an important urban center and the seat of the Egyptian governor of southern Canaan.

Two temples are known from this period at Lachish. Finds from the Fosse Temple, at the western foot of the mound, include cult vessels, offering bowls and imported items of pottery, faience and ivory, all evidence of wealth. The temple on the acropolis, with Egyptian architectural elements, included an entrance chamber, a main hall (16 x 13 m.) and a raised holy of holies. Two octagonal stone columns supported the wooden ceiling, while the walls were decorated with painted plaster.

Canaanite Lachish was totally destroyed by fire at the end of the 12th century BCE. According to one theory, the destruction was wrought by the Philistines of the nearby Coastal Plain according to another, more widely accepted theory, it was wrought by the Israelites, whose capture and destruction of the city is recorded in the Bible. (Joshua 10:31,32)

The Israelite City

Rebuilt as a fortress-city of the Kingdom of Judah, Lachish gained in importance after the split of the kingdom into Judah and Israel. As the largest city on the western border of the Kingdom of Judah facing the Philistines of the Coastal Plain, Lachish was fortified with a double line of massive mud-brick walls on stone foundations. The main city wall on top of the mound was 6 m. wide, with a sloping glacis supported by a revetment wall along the middle of the slope. The city gate, in the southwestern wall, is one of the largest and most strongly fortified gates known of this period. It consists of an outer gate in a huge tower built of large stones which protrudes from the line of defenses. The gatehouse, on top of the mound, consists of three pairs of chambers with wooden doors on hinges.

A palace-fortress was built on the acropolis and probably served as the residence of the governor appointed by the King of Judah. During the 8th century BCE a new wing was added to the palace, enlarging it to 76 x 36 m. Next to the palace was a courtyard with stables and storerooms the whole complex was surrounded by a wall with a gatehouse.

The city of Lachish was destroyed by the Assyrian army during Sennacherib's campaign against the Kingdom of Judah in 701 BCE. The destruction was total the buildings were burned to the ground and the inhabitants exiled. The Assyrian campaign, during the reign of King Hezekiah, and the encampment of the Assyrian army at Lachish are described in detail in the Bible. (2 Kings 18:14-17 2 Chronicles 32:9) The conquest of Lachish is depicted in monumental stone reliefs found at Sennacherib's palace at Ninveh, providing a rare contemporary "photograph" of the battle and conquest. These relief-images of the Assyrian attack have been confirmed by archeological evidence at the site: the attack on Lachish was launched from the southwest the attackers built a siege ramp against the slope of the mound, which according to calculation contained some 15,000 tons of stones and earth! The ramp was covered with plaster to allow the Assyrian battering ram to be moved up to the city wall and breach it. The city's defenders constructed a counter-ramp inside the city, thus raising the city wall, which forced the Assyrians to raise the height of their ramp in order to overcome the city's new defenses. The fierceness of the battle is attested to by the remains of weapons, scales of armor, hundreds of slingstones and arrowheads.

During the reign of King Josiah (639-609 BCE), the city of Lachish was rebuilt and fortified. This much poorer city was captured and destroyed by the Babylonian army in 587/6 BCE. (Jeremiah 34:7) In one of the rooms, which opened onto a courtyard outside the city gatehouse, a group of ostraca were found during the excavations in the 1930s. Now known as the Lachish Letters, they constitute an important corpus of Hebrew documents from the First Temple period. Written in paleo-Hebrew script on pottery sherds, they are messages sent by the garrison commander of a small fortress to his commanding officer in Lachish.

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Assyrian Arrowheads from Lachish - History

Ancient Lachish Sketch

Sketch is of the Siege of Lachish by the Assyrians (Click to Enlarge)

In ancient times Lachish was an important city in Judah, second only to Jerusalem.

The Bible mentions Lachish often:

2 Kings 18:14 - And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying, I have offended return from me: that which thou puttest on me will I bear. And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.

2 Chronicles 32:9 - After this did Sennacherib king of Assyria send his servants to Jerusalem, (but he [himself laid siege] against Lachish, and all his power with him,) unto Hezekiah king of Judah, and unto all Judah that [were] at Jerusalem, saying,

Jeremiah 34:7 - When the king of Babylon's army fought against Jerusalem, and against all the cities of Judah that were left, against Lachish, and against Azekah: for these defenced cities remained of the cities of Judah.

Joshua 10:23 - And they did so, and brought forth those five kings unto him out of the cave, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, [and] the king of Eglon.

2 Kings 18:17 - And the king of Assyria sent Tartan and Rabsaris and Rabshakeh from Lachish to king Hezekiah with a great host against Jerusalem. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. And when they were come up, they came and stood by the conduit of the upper pool, which [is] in the highway of the fuller's field.

Joshua 10:5 - Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered themselves together, and went up, they and all their hosts, and encamped before Gibeon, and made war against it.

Joshua 10:3 - Wherefore Adonizedek king of Jerusalem sent unto Hoham king of Hebron, and unto Piram king of Jarmuth, and unto Japhia king of Lachish, and unto Debir king of Eglon, saying,

Joshua 12:11 - The king of Jarmuth, one the king of Lachish, one

Nehemiah 11:30 - Zanoah, Adullam, and [in] their villages, at Lachish, and the fields thereof, at Azekah, and [in] the villages thereof. And they dwelt from Beersheba unto the valley of Hinnom.

Isaiah 36:2 - And the king of Assyria sent Rabshakeh from Lachish to Jerusalem unto king Hezekiah with a great army. And he stood by the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller's field.

Micah 1:13 - O thou inhabitant of Lachish, bind the chariot to the swift beast: she [is] the beginning of the sin to the daughter of Zion: for the transgressions of Israel were found in thee.

Joshua 10:32 - And the LORD delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel, which took it on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that [were] therein, according to all that he had done to Libnah.

2 Kings 19:8 - So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.

Isaiah 37:8 - So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish.

Joshua 10:33 - Then Horam king of Gezer came up to help Lachish and Joshua smote him and his people, until he had left him none remaining.

Joshua 10:31 - And Joshua passed from Libnah, and all Israel with him, unto Lachish, and encamped against it, and fought against it:

Joshua 10:34 - And from Lachish Joshua passed unto Eglon, and all Israel with him and they encamped against it, and fought against it:

Joshua 10:35 - And they took it on that day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that [were] therein he utterly destroyed that day, according to all that he had done to Lachish.

Joshua 15:39 - Lachish, and Bozkath, and Eglon,

2 Chronicles 11:9 - And Adoraim, and Lachish, and Azekah,

2 Kings 14:19 - Now they made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem: and he fled to Lachish but they sent after him to Lachish, and slew him there.

2 Chronicles 25:27 - Now after the time that Amaziah did turn away from following the LORD they made a conspiracy against him in Jerusalem and he fled to Lachish: but they sent to Lachish after him, and slew him there.

Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ, and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Matt 24:4-8

Anyone who looks into human history can't help but see an entire world shaped by war, where practically every nation's boundaries are established as a result of one army killing another. Why is war such a part of the human fabric? The Scriptures indicate that war is a symptom of a deep spiritual problem. War is the result of man's fallen and evil heart. Not someone else's evil heart. Not the evil hearts of only a greedy oligarchy, or a bloodthirsty aggressor, but our evil heart. All of us. "There is none righteous, no not one." Romans 3:10

After exercising his free will and choosing to rebel against his Creator, man became disconnected from God and His free flowing intimacy. (Genesis 3) Man had to cope with an emptiness that needed filling, guilt that made him angry, shame that made him hide, and fear that made him greedy and controlling. to name a few results.

We are all born from this nature and perhaps if we are honest we can see the war within us at work. How do we respond when cut-off on a highway? How do we respond to an unjust provocation? What was your reaction when you didn't get your way and your spouse, or co-worker did? The true test doesn't manifest when we're comfortable, but rather when we're cornered and provoked. Add to this the Satanic realm where fallen angels manipulate, motivate and drive scenarios, and we should probably be amazed that there hasn't been more war!

God had a plan to solve our 'heart' problem and human history is His Story of redemption where our sin was paid by Someone else in order to legally and righteously connect us back to His intimacy. This is the Gospel story, the good news! Yes, unbelievably, that God vicariously absorbed the condemnation and punishment due to us Himself - through the Person of His Son.

Listen to Isaiah writing about Messiah some 700 years before He came.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. - Isaiah 53:4-6

Once we have peace with God, and are filled with His Spirit, it's easier, though not guaranteed, to pursue peace with others. Sanctification is still a process and we must lay down our battles one argument at a time by turning the other cheek and going the extra mile, though soldiers or Centurions were never commanded to leave their defense of the nation.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. - Romans 12:18

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
Gal. 5:16-18

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:1-3

.For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Eph. 6:12,13

We are promised grace as we struggle with these issues and forgiveness when we fail. We are told nation will continue to rise against nation (Matt. 24:7) until the Day of the Lord when Jerusalem will mourn over the One they have pierced, (Zech 13:10) and He who is called Faithful and True returns to wage the final war and finally rule in peace. Rev. 19:11

S creams of war had had occurred where I stood. Hebrew and Assyrian arrows spraying at each other. Sling stones crushing armor and skulls. Assyrian battering rams methodically picking apart the city’s outer wall. Finally, Lachish fell.

(Photo: Relief from Sennacherib’s Victory Over Lachish, in British Museum)

Of all ancient tells in the Holy Land, the Israel Antiquities Authority owns only one—Tel Lachish. It remained the most important city in the southern kingdom of Judah, except for Jerusalem.

Archaeology abundantly points to the biblical events here as historical.

Lachish, Location, Location

Guarding the southern edge of the Shephelah, Lachish served as both a customs outpost and as Jerusalem’s watchdog over invading Egypt. No one could access the Hill Country via Hebron without Lachish’s knowledge.

  • The ruins atop the tell include a large, flat platform—measuring 35 by 75 meters—upon which a series of building stood from the time of King Rehoboam in the 10 th -century BC.
  • Below the platform rest the remains of a Canaanite temple, dating from the time Joshua destroyed the city (Joshua 10:31-32).
  • By 1200 BC, three consecutive Canaanite temples had been demolished.

Sennacherib’s Invasion and Victory Reliefs at Lachish

That’s why when the Assyrian tyrant, Sennacherib, invaded Judah in 701 BC, he set his sights on Lachish. Having conquered the northern Shephelah, and having pushed Egypt down and out of the way, the Assyrian army faced an open door to Jerusalem.

Only Lachish stood in their way.

Sennacherib was so proud of his victory over Lachish that he commemorated the battle with a series of stone reliefs carved on the walls of his Nineveh palace. Portions of these reliefs are displayed today in the British Museum.

They still reveal the ferocity of the battle.

(Photo: Sennacherib’s reliefs show Hebrews bowing in homage, by Cathy Stiles. British Museum)

Jeremiah’s Note and the Lachish Letters

More than a century later, during the ministry of Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded Judah and laid siege to its most important cites—including again, Lachish.

Jeremiah records that near the end of the invasion, only:

Jerusalem . . . Lachish and Azekah . . . remained as fortified cities among the cities of Judah. —Jeremiah 34:7

The archaeological discovery called the “Lachish Letters” support Jeremiah’s verse.

(Photo: The Lachish Letters, by Wayne Stiles. British Museum)

In 1935, archeologists digging in the guardhouse near the gate discovered eighteen ostraca (inscribed pottery shards) with ancient Hebrew inscriptions. These words included a draft letter to Jerusalem that harmonizes with Jeremiah 34:7:

We are watching over the signal of Lachish . . . for Azekah is not to be seen. —Lachish Letter #4

Today, the Gate Area remains the best way to enter the tell. The ramp ascends slowly to the north and passes an outer and inner gate, the largest extant in Israel. Just inside the gate, an interpretive sign reveals the location of the discovery of the Lachish Letters.

(Photo: Lachish gatehouse where Lachish Letters were found, courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

The Siege Ramp

The earthen siege ramp erected by the Assyrians still leans against the tell today and remains the only excavated siege ramp in near eastern antiquity. The mobile picks from Sennacherib’s battering rams destroyed the outer gate’s western wall.

As the pictures of the slideshow alternate below, compare the photograph of the siege ramp today with the picture of me pointing to the Assyrians scaling the ramp with arrows and the battering ram.

More than a thousand iron arrowheads were discovered at the siege ramp, giving silent testimony to the savagery of the battle.

(Photo: Arrowheads found at the Lachish siege ramp, by Cathy Stiles. British Museum)

Look at the sling stones discovered at Lachish. They are as big as my hand!

Imagine the damage they could do to a skull.

(Photo: Sling stones from Lachish, by Cathy Stiles. British Museum)

The archaeology at Tel Lachish combines perfectly with biblical history to weave a unified story, supporting what the Bible says.

In my next post, I’ll share a devotional about Lachish. In the mean time here’s a question . . .

Tell me what you think: Would our faith still be credible if history didn’t support it? To leave a comment, just click here.

Lachish on the Map:

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Window into the Bible

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

This room at the British Museum has been created to the same dimensions as the room in Sennacherib's palace. The relief depicting the siege measures a total length of around 30 metres.

Assyrian Archers at Lachish

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

Assyrian Spearmen at Lachish

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

The spearmen also carry round wicker shields. This makes them more mobile than the archers who used much larger shields, and shieldbearers, when closer to the wall.

Assyrian Battering Ram and Defenders

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

Notice the flaming torches being thrown from the wall by the defenders. One of these torches has set the Ram on fire and an Assyrian ram operator is trying to put it out using a ladle full of water. In this photo, one can also see the ladders the Assyrians were using to try and scale the wall.

Removing Captives and Spoils of War

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

In the upper part of this photo can be seen Assyrian soldiers carrying away the treasures plundered during the battle. In the lower section, captives

are seen being deported with little children riding in the cart.

Flaying the Rebels

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

Following a seige, some rebel leaders would be punished by torture as a warning to others. This photo shows two men being flayed or skinned alive.

The King's Chariot

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

Assyrian Horsemen

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

Assyrian Battering Ram (close up)

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

Notice the flaming torches being thrown from the wall by the defenders. One of these torches has set the Ram on fire and an Assyrian ram operator is trying to put it out using a ladle full of water. In this photo, one can also see the ladders the Assyrians were using to try and scale the wall.

Assyrian Archers with Siege Shields

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

Lachish Relief Inscription

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

This inscription is located near the image of Sennacherib observing the siege and reads:

Sennacherib, king of the world, king of Assyria, sat upon a (nîmedu) -throne and passed in review the booty taken from Lachish (ANET 288).

Assyrian Spearmen

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

Assyrian Slingers

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

Slingers were a significant sector of the army. A well trained slinger could aim very accurately and hit a target in excess of 100 metres with precision. This meant that they were great for driving defenders off the wall while infantry like the spearmen climbed ladders to try and enter the city.

Assyrian Archers (close up)

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

Like the slingers, the archers were able to force defending soldiers off the wall thereby making it easier for others to enter the city on ladders or by climbing through breaches in the wall. They could also lessen the risk of expensive equipment like rams being destroyed by defenders on the wall.

Assyrian Siege Camp

Place: Room XXXVI, Southwest Palace of King Sennacherib, Nineveh, Assyria.

Photographed at the British Museum, London, England.

This photo shows Assyrian soldiers, tents and other equipment inside their military camp. This camp itself is surrounded by a defensive wall with towers so it may be defended if help arrives for the besieged city. Because of the unsanitary and crowded conditions, at times people in these camps would be hit by plague.

Assyrian Arrowheads from Lachish - History

Forty kilometers south of Jerusalem, Lachish almost disappears into the fertile hills of the Sh'phelah, (land area along the sea coast) but once on top of the tel one gets a magnificent view to Bet Guvrin in the north and the Hebron hills in the east. This strategic stronghold ended its formal history in the second century BCE, when all occupation of the site ended. Long before that, Lachish experienced its famous siege by the Assyrians.

Lachish's earliest history begins with the Canaanites who lived on the tel since the fourth millennium BCE, under their own city-kings. They built one of the mightiest cities in the south of Israel, surrounded by a wall and a ramp, with a moat at its foot. It was the seat of the Egyptian governor who oversaw southern Canaan, as becomes clear from the Egyptian Amarna letters dating to the 14th century BCE.

The Bible describes how Lachish was subsequently conquered by the Israelite warrior-ruler Joshua (Joshua 10:1-32), who had already pacified nearby Gibeon, which had become friendly with the Israelites. In order to ward off the foreign danger, the Amorite king of Jerusalem, Adonizedek, suggested to four other Canaanite rulers in Judea to enter upon a pact. Among these was the king of Lachish, Japhia. The kings consented. The five first marched with their armies to Gibeon and besieged it.

The Gibeonites, worried, dispatched a message to the army camp of Joshua in Gilgal, with a plea to come to their rescue. Joshua answered them, and with the help of G-d, who amongst other feats threw big hailstones upon the enemy that instantly killed them, victory over the Amorites was inevitable. After slaughtering every one of them, Joshua returned to Gilgal.

The five Amorite kings alone had escaped the ambush, and hid in a cave near Makkedah. When Joshua found out about this he ordered his men to roll large boulders in front of the entrance. Afterwards, they were executed. After a daylong exposure of their corpses on poles, they were thrown back into the cave where they had hid, and there they still remain to the present day - or so the story goes.

Immediately following Joshua embarked upon an admirable display of superior military power. On the second day he overcame Lachish and when the king of Gezer, Horam, came to Lachish' assistance, their army was defeated too. After that, Joshua became unstoppable. In reality his conquering and slaying of "Kadesh-Barnea till Gaza, and the whole land from Goshen to Gibeon (Joshua 10:41)" probably took much longer or was less complete. An alternate theory says that Lachish was destroyed by the Philistines.

The defeat of the large Canaanite city by the then still primitive Israelites may sound somewhat overboard, were it not for the archaeological discovery that Lachish was not surrounded by a wall at the time of the conquest, 1200 BCE, and that a destruction did really take place. The Israelites did not inhabit their new prize-city at first. Only in later centuries king Rehobeam of Judah did just that. He built a city wall to protect it against the Philistine enemy and a palace-fort (II Chronicles 11:5-11).
Israelite palace at Lachish

In later generations, Lachish became more important, maybe the second most important city in Judah after Jerusalem. King Amaziah fled there when a rebellion broke out in Jerusalem (II Kings 14:19), but his pursuers found him and killed him.

In 760 BCE there was an earthquake, after which the city partly had to be rebuilt (Amos 1:1, Zachary 14:5).

The next important event was the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BCE, which is also described in the Bible. Their emperor Sennacherib was keen to conquer Lachish. How important the city was for his strategic purposes, is shown by the carved reliefs that were made of the siege and ensuing battle, that were installed in the central room of his new palace in the Assyrian capital of Nineveh. They were discovered in the 19th century when excavations in Nineveh first opened and several palaces of the sumptuous culture of the Assyrians appeared. The reliefs are remarkably detailed and realistic. They show a developed war-machinery on the part of the Assyrians. Upon a ramp that they had built to facilitate the siege, the Assyrian soldiers approach the city walls in neat orders of archers, flanked by infantry, who in their turn defend carts which were used to pound the walls. Supplies were carried by camels. On the bulwarks and towers were the defenders: archers and slingers of stones.

Interior of Sennacherib's palace in Nineveh

After the walls breached, there ensued a terrific fray of flying stones and constructions, which is also portrayed on the battle reliefs. The Assyrians set the city on fire (in some place the archaeologists found 50 centimetres of ashes). Many inhabitants were exiled to Assyria to become slaves and servants. In the Nineveh relief, whole families are carried off, their goods looted men are tortured and the Judean governor is seen kneeling for Sennacherib. Many people also died in the battle, as is witnessed by a mass grave which was later found by archaeologists, with 1500 human skeletons, mainly of women and children, mixed with pottery from the year 701 BCE.

relief from invasion of Lachis

After their Judean campaign, the Assyrians did not live in Lachish, but gave it and the other conquered cities in Judah to divide between the Philistine kings of Ashdod, Ekron and Gaza.

relief from invasion of Lachish

But apparently some Jewish inhabitants must have come back, because later the city was again in Jewish hands. From the next siege, this time by the Babylonians in 587 BCE, eighteen Hebrew ostraca (pottery shards) were recovered. They are now known as the Lachish letters.

One of these has a moving message it was sent from a Judean outpost to the city of Lachish, in warning of the impending Babylonian destruction. It reads: "Let my lord know that we are watching over the beacon of Lachish, according to the signals which my lord gave, for Azekah is not seen." Lachish and Azekah were the last two Judean cities before the conquest of Jerusalem in the same year, says the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 34:7). This pottery inscription is now in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

After the exile in Babylon, Jews returned to Lachish (Nehemia 11:30). A Persian governor lived in a new residence which was built in the place of the Israelite palace-fort. After the Hellenistic period occupation suddenly ceased.

The actual visit to Lachish is somewhat less exciting compared to the stories and legends about it. The site has been last excavated in the eighties, and as it has not been turned into a national park, it is rather overgrown helpful signs or explanations are absent.

To reach Lachish: take the Bet Shemesh road south in the direction of Kiryat Gat. Turn south onto route 3415 till reaching the parking lot.

From the parking lot up there are some loose stones. These belonged to the Assyrian siege ramp. The fierceness of the battle is attested to by the thousands of slingstones and iron arrowheads that were found in this area. The access road is the Israelite entrance road leading to the city's gate. The road was ingeniously built to ward off intruders, as the shield was carried on the left arm, so the right side was exposed to attacks from the city's defenders on the wall.

If the city wall is followed north, one can look into the Canaanite moat here there stood an ancient temple, from which cult vessels and imported Egyptian artefacts were extracted.

Back up the slope there are remains of the Israelite outer and inner walls (there was a double wall) they can also be seen in the Assyrian reliefs. There were also an outer and inner gate. The outer gate was through a huge tower. The inner gate consisted of three pairs of chambers, and is the largest ancient gatehouse known in Israel. Although the outer, western wall of the inner gatehouse was brought down by Sennacherib's battering rams, it was reconstructed by archaeologists the cement line indicates the restorations.

The returning Jews after the exile also rebuilt the outer gate, although they left the inner destroyed gate as it was. The ostraca with the famous inscription was found in the new outer gate guardroom, which since has also been restored.

relief from invasion of Lachis

Right behind the gate is the palace area. It was built on a huge platform, which is still seen. It was built in stages and further extended. Next to the palace were storehouses and stables. The first set-up was by king Rehoboam, who built a square platform. This is excavated, but an older, underlying Canaanite temple that used to have a cedar roof, painted walls and - still visible - stone steps, cuts through the square. A successor king extended the palace to the south. Later it was extended even more to the north and east. The remaining Israelite ruins were cleared for the Persian residence that was built on the same platform the two columns and a door-sill remain of this. In the space between the palace and the western city wall houses of the Israelite period were dug out.

In the city itself, there is a sacred area in the middle towards the east wall, dated to the Israelite period. It consists of a small room with a low bench. In the western corner there was a raised altar, dating from the time of king Rehoboam (10th century BCE). Later it was covered by a terrace. On top of it came a second century BCE temple, which uses the basic plan of the Israelite temple, but with a courtyard and two rooms. It is not clear whether this temple was used for Jewish worship.

Further to the south, there is an overgrown ruin which could also have been an ancient temple. Also there is a deep square shaft in the city. It has been suggested that it was used as a water system or alternatively as a quarry. The precise knowledge of this will be left to later explorations.

History Crash Course #21: Assyrian Conquest

The Assyrians conquer northern Israel and vanquish the nation with exile.

At a time when the Jewish people of the northern kingdom of Israel are weakening spiritually, as well as physically and militarily, the Assyrians are growing stronger.

The Assyrians at this time occupy the territory immediately north -- what is today's Syria, Iraq, and Turkey -- and they are continuing to build their empire.

If you go the British Museum in London, you can see some fascinating Assyrian artifacts from this period.

You can see there the four sided Black Obelisk of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser III. The Obelisk depicts the tribute paid by King Jehu of the northern kingdom of Israel to Shalmanaser III, king of Assyria. You can also see a relief from the walls of the magnificent palace at Nineveh, Assyria's capital city.

That palace belonged to King Sennacherib, and the relief shows the siege of the Israelite city of Lachish it was conquered by Sennacherib, who then boasted about it on his palace walls. The British stripped the relief from the Nineveh palace and brought to the British Museum.

The dates that you will find inscribed in the British Museum (and in other history books and other museums housing Middle Eastern artifacts) do not agree with Jewish dating that we are following in this series. This is because this series relies on the traditional Jewish dating system for ancient history -- that is for the dates "before the common era," -- BCE. The Jewish dating system and the Christian dating system vary by as much as 164 years for the Assyrian, Babylonian and Persian periods, but by the time we get to the Roman period (i.e. the Christian year 1) the discrepancy disappears. (1)Why?

While it is beyond the scope of this book to present a detailed explanation of the various chronologies of the ancient world, we will explain briefly the dominant dating systems used by modern historians.

The Jewish dating system is taken primarily from a book called Seder Olam Rabba, dating back to the 2nd century CE and attributed to Rabbi Yosef ben Halafta. The sources for the dates in Halafta's book come from rabbinic traditions recorded in the Talmud as well as numerous chronologies written in the Hebrew Bible (Tanach).

It is also essential to remember that traditional Jewish chronologies, (since the beginning of the Jewish calendar almost 6,000 years ago) have always been based on absolute and highly accurate astronomical phenomenon: the movement of the moon around the earth (months) and the earth around sun (years). A combination of an unbroken tradition of the Hebrew Bible and an accurate, astronomical, time-based system, gives traditional Jewish chronology a high degree of accuracy, especially when it comes to the major events of Jewish history.

Contrary to what you might think, the chronology used by modern historians is far from exact. It was not until the 20th century that the entire world recognized one universal calendar system -- the Christian calendar (also known as the Gregorian calendar). If we go back in time however, the calendar situation is far more chaotic. Accurate historical records were almost unheard of and every empire used its own calendar system which was often based on totally different criteria. With no unbroken historical traditional and no universally accepted standard for how to calculate time, there is no non-Jewish equivalent to Seder Olam Rabba nor for the Jewish calendrical calculation system passed down from antiquity.

So how do we get the chronology that historians use today?

Historians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries worked backward and pieced it together. This was done primarily through comparing what little historical records survived from ancient Rome, Greece, Mesopotamia and Egypt, together with archaeological finds, various scientific dating methods and major astronomical phenomenon such as a solar eclipse.

Because there are margins of error in virtually all of these methods and much is open to interpretation, significant debates erupted between different scholars which continue to this day. Therefore, the chronologies used by modern historian are by no means 100% accurate and you will often find disagreements amongst various scholars as to the exact dates of major ancient events and dynasties.

Because this series is written from the traditional Jewish perspective, and because Jewish chronology makes a stronger case for historical accuracy, we have chosen to use the traditional Jewish dates.

Today there are a number of renowned scholars also challenging the modern chronology and even attempting to reconcile it with the Jewish chronology. Amongst them is British scholar Peter James who writes:

With that in mind, we can continue the story.


In 6th century BCE, Assyrian king Tiglathpileser III strengthens Assyria and establishes it as a great empire to be reckoned with. (Eventually, Assyria will even challenge the mighty Egypt.) He also introduces a very interesting way of dealing with conquered peoples. It's called exile . To pacify the lands they invade, the Assyrians take the indigenous people, move them someplace else, and bring others to take their place. By the time the exiles figure out where they are, decades pass and they don't remember to rebel any more.

Starting around 575 BCE, as a way of pacifying the northern kingdom, Tiglathpileser takes over the lands belonging to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, and exiles them.

Then, Shalmanaser V, another Assyrian emperor, takes over the lands belonging to the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh, and exiles them.

Finally in 556 BCE Sargan II, one of the great emperors of Assyria, completes the job, and the whole northern part of the country ceases to exist as a Jewish state.

The important and obvious lesson to be learned from this quote is that why the superficial reason for the fall of the Northern Kingdom was linked to the geopolitical realities of the ancient Near East, the real cause was violation of the Torah.

With the Jews driven out, who takes their place?

The Assyrians bring in a bunch of people from someplace else, who -- because they are now living in Shomron or Samaria -- come to be known as Samaritans.

The Samaritans are people who more or less adopt Judaism, but not properly or for the right reasons. Because their conversion is not complete or sincere, they are never accepted by the Jewish people, and they're very resentful.

Indeed, the Samaritans have a long history of animosity towards the Jews, and while many people are familiar with the story of the "good Samaritan" from the Christian gospels, in Jewish consciousness (and history) the Samaritans are rarely considered good.

Today there are only about 600 Samaritans left, their cult site is in Mount Grizim, which is right next to the city of Shechem, called Nablus in Arabic.

Meanwhile the Jewish people of the north have settled in various locations throughout the Assyrian empire. What happens to those ten tribes? They assimilate and are known today as the ten lost tribes.

There are numerous people throughout the world, especially in the Middle East and Asia who claim to be descended from the ten lost tribes. Today there are a number of people who have dedicated much time and effort to locating the lost tribes of Israel. One such person is Dr. Tutor Parfitt of London University. He has made it his specialty to track and trace different exotic peoples who claim to be of Jewish origin. He has written a book called "The Thirteenth Gate," and he's researched the people who claim to have Jewish connections. (2)

It's amazing how many people, many of whom know nothing about Judaism, claim to be descended from Jews. For example, many of the Pathans, Muslim fundamentalists who reside in northern Afghanistan and Pakistan, claim to be descended from the ten lost tribes.

There is a Midrash that says the ten lost tribes live "over the River Sambatyon," which is a mystical river that flows all week with sand and stones but "rests" on Shabbat.

We have a concept that at the end of days, all the lost Jews will come back. The great sage, the Vilna Gaon, taught that converts are lost Jewish souls who are trying to find their way back to the Jewish people.

But for now, the ten tribes are gone.

With the Jewish people dispersed from the northern kingdom of Israel, the Assyrians set their sights on the southern kingdom. But this one will not prove so easy.

1)The classic example is the date given for the destruction of the 1st Temple by the Babylonians. Traditional Jewish chronology gives the date as Jewish year 3338 equal to 422 BCE while secular histories give the date as 586BCE-a difference of 164 years. The source of this discrepancy is the based on conflicting opinions as to the number of kings who reigned during the Babylonian-Persian period. For a much more detailed discussion of this topic see: Jewish History in Conflict (get rest of citation)
2) Tudor Parfitt, The Thirteenth Gate-Travels among the Lost Tribes of Israel. (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson) 1987.

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Lachish was once one of the most important cities in the Kingdom of Judah. Located 50 kilometers southwest of the capital, Jerusalem, it was the main settlement of the Shephelah, the hilly lowlands that were the kingdom&rsquos breadbasket. This importance was reflected in the magnificence of Lachish&rsquos entrance, a towering six-chambered gate, which was one the hallmarks of royal architecture in the First Temple Period.

The gate, along with the rest of the city, was destroyed in 701 B.C.E., when the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, invaded Judah to put down a region-wide revolt led by Hezekiah.

Judean prisoners from Lachish Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP Simulation of Lachish gate, on backdrop of the site Photo by Guy Fitoussi, Israel Antiquities Authority

Gates were common spots for religious activity throughout the ancient Levant: travelers would often make an offering and pray for protection before leaving the safety of the city walls, or give thanks upon returning. Places of worship have been found at ancient gates across the region, from Khirbet Qeiyafa, which is near Lachish, to Bethsaida and Tel Dan in the north, archaeologists note.

Back in 2016, an expedition by the Israel Antiquities Authority excavated the three southern chambers of the gate to Lachish. The innermost of these contained some puzzling finds. It appeared to have been divided into two spaces: an outer and an inner room.

This smaller space housed a niche in the back wall as well as an installation made of large stone blocks, which the archaeologists interpreted as two horned altars &ndash a sort of double altar &ndash the one next to the other.

Horns on the corners of altars were typical of ancient Israelite shrines, but in this case there was only one protuberance that could be said to resemble such a feature. The other seven corners of the two purported altars appeared to have been struck with a blunt object, possibly to eliminate the horns, say lead researchers Saar Ganor, the IAA&rsquos chief archaeologist for the Ashkelon region, and Igor Kreimerman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The final surprise was the discovery, in a corner of this inner chamber, of a pit that housed a large stone, fashioned in the shape of a seat with a hole in the middle.

In the outer part of the chamber the archaeologists also found a layer of destruction, including broken pottery and arrowheads, which dated to the Assyrian attack. But no such signs of violence were found in the inner room, which the archaeologists believe had been sealed before Sennacherib&rsquos onslaught.

All the evidence suggested that this chamber initially functioned as a shrine, with the inner space that housed the altar and niche serving as a diminutive holy of holies, Ganor and Kreimerman concluded.

If you are wondering which deity was worshipped there, we do not know. Archaeological evidence has shown that the ancient Israelites had a main deity, Yahweh, the God of the Bible, but also believed in other gods. One of these other deities, Asherah, was thought to be Yahweh&rsquos wife.

Mark A. Wilson / Wilson44691

Although we can never be sure, the presence of the double altars at Lachish may suggest that this shrine was dedicated to this divine couple who sat at the top of the ancient Israelite pantheon.

And what about the apparent damage to the double altar, the strange stone seat with the central hole, and the sealing of the holy of holies?

These were all elements that could be linked to the reforms of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4), who, like other righteous kings, is described as breaking altars and idolatrous images while focusing the cult of the God of Israel at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Bible states that Hezekiah didn&rsquot just crack down on polytheistic cults, especially Asherah&rsquos, but also removed altars that were dedicated to Yahweh himself, stating that the God of Israel must only be worshipped at the Temple (2 Kings 18:22). So the shrine at Lachish, even if it was solely dedicated to Yahweh, would have been a prime target of this reform.

Removing the horns from the altar was a typical method to deface such an artifact, as described also in the Bible (Amos 3:14), Ganor and Kreimerman reasoned. As for the perforated stone seat, based on similar objects from the same period that were found in Jerusalem, they interpreted it as a toilet seat and suggested it had been installed in the shrine to defile it.

This custom is also documented in the Bible in connection to a campaign against the cult of Baal led by King Jehu, who reigned over Judah&rsquos neighbor, the northern Kingdom of Israel, about a century before Hezekiah&rsquos time. As part of Jehu&rsquos monotheistic reforms, the king&rsquos officials &ldquodemolished the sacred stone of Baal and tore down the temple of Baal, and people have used it for a latrine to this day.&rdquo (2 Kings 10:27).

Arrowheads found at Lachish from the battle with Sennacherib's forces Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Association

The feces-slinging begins

If Ganor and Kreimerman&rsquos theory is correct, the Lachish shrine would be a rare piece of evidence confirming one of the many cultic reforms mentioned in the Bible.

There are several such campaigns ascribed to kings of Israel and Judah &ndash from Jehu to Hezekiah to his successor Josiah &ndash but so far the only archaeological proof unearthed relates to Hezekiah&rsquos reform. An altar at a shrine in Be&rsquoer Sheva was apparently dismantled in this king&rsquos time and some scholars believe the temple in Arad was also closed during his reign.

The Lachish shrine would thus considerably add to this small body of proof attesting to Hezekiah&rsquos religious zeal.

Not so fast, say other scholars. This reading of the site is &ldquounacceptable,&rdquo according to David Ussishkin, a retired archaeology professor from Tel Aviv University, who last month published his own analysis in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

The space excavated by Ganor and Kreimerman cannot be linked to Hezekiah&rsquos reforms because there is no evidence that it was used as a shrine, says Ussishkin. The archaeologist is intimately acquainted with Lachish, since he led a dig there in the 1970s, uncovering the three northern chambers of the gate, which are symmetrical to those that were more recently explored.

In his view, the supposed eight-horned double altar shows no signs of damage from iconoclastic fury &ndash in fact it is not an altar at all, but simply a partition made of roughly dressed stones covered in plaster.

Lachish from the air Guy Fitoussi, Israel Antiquities Authority

&ldquoThe whole link to Hezekiah&rsquos reform depends on this being a shrine,&rdquo Ussishkin tells Haaretz. &ldquoIf there are no altars, there is no shrine.&rdquo

He does not offer a specific interpretation of the mysterious stone seat, but notes that the symmetrical chamber that he excavated in the northern part of the gate also had similar partitions and contained a large stone, albeit one with a deep depression rather than a complete perforation. Ussishkin believes that the two gate chambers were not shrines and may have been used for storage or some purpose connected to water management.

Speaking to Haaretz, Ganor and Kreimerman reject Ussishkin&rsquos conclusions about the altar.

&ldquoIn every corner there are signs that the horns were cut off,&rdquo Ganor says. &ldquoI think Ussishkin didn&rsquot look at the pictures carefully enough.&rdquo

Leaving aside the controversy over the contested double altar, there is still much evidence that the recently discovered room was used as a shrine, Kreimerman maintains. The niche on the back wall was typical of places of worship, likely housing a standing stone or other sacred object, and the excavators uncovered dozens of ceramic bowls and oil lamps in the chamber &ndash a pottery assemblage that also points to cultic activities, he says.

Nothing flushed

Another study, representing a midway view between that of Ussishkin and his colleagues, was published last year by Sabine Kleiman in the Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University.

Kleiman, a researcher at Tubingen University, accepts that the space was indeed a shrine, but does not see evidence that it went out of use before the Assyrian attack or that it was defiled by a toilet.

Several similar perforated stone seats have been found in Jerusalem, but their identification as latrine seats is not necessarily clear, Kleiman writes. In one case, traces of fecal material in the sediments below such an artifact did suggest it was a latrine, she says, but another, similar stone was found surrounded by cultic objects and most probably had a very different function.

Since the sediments in the pit under the stone from Lachish also tested negative for fecal residues, it is possible that here too the artifact was not connected to bodily functions, but was part of the cultic activity of the shrine, perhaps serving to pour a sacred offering of oil or other liquids, Kleiman suggests.

Ganor and Kreimerman reject this hypothesis as well. &ldquoLook at the picture and tell me that it&rsquos not a toilet,&rdquo Ganor tells Haaretz. &ldquoWe are happy that there is a debate because that&rsquos what pushes research forward, but for now we stand by our conclusions.&rdquo

The lack of human leavings under the stone artifact merely suggests that the toilet was installed purely for symbolic purposes and was never actually used, Kreimerman adds. The closure of the shrine was probably imposed by officials sent from Jerusalem and the local inhabitants would have frowned upon doing their business in a place they had considered sacred for so long, he says.

Perhaps, when the Assyrians showed up a few years later and destroyed the town, some of the locals &ldquothought this was happening because that fanatic Hezekiah had defiled their shrine,&rdquo jokes Yossi Garfinkel, a professor of archaeology at the Hebrew University. Garfinkel last month published a study arguing in support of Ganor&rsquos and Kreimerman&rsquos interpretation of the site in Strata, the journal of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society.

Besides academic one-upmanship, the fierce debate is very much about the connection between archaeology and the Bible, and the loaded question of whether the holy text is entirely mythological or not, Garfinkel says.

The Lachish gate shrine doesn&rsquot signal that the Bible should be taken literally, that the story of Jehu&rsquos toilet-aided desecration of the temple of Baal is history or that all the details of Hezekiah&rsquos reforms are accurate, he opines. It does however show that, at the very least, the text correctly reflects the religious beliefs and customs of its time, in this case on what made a place holy, and what one needed to do to make it unholy, he says.

&ldquoThe Bible is not a history book,&rdquo Grafinkel concludes. &ldquoBut this discovery shows us that in the biblical narrative there are echoes of history.&rdquo

Rare ‘smiting gods’ among artifacts found at 12th century BCE Canaanite temple

Amanda Borschel-Dan is The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology editor.

A pair of smiting gods and other rare ritual artifacts are among the fascinating discoveries described in a recently published comprehensive report of the 2013-2017 excavations of the archaeology-rich Lachish site. The report digs deep into 12th century BCE Canaanite worship practices, from the modest temple structure, to ritual items discovered inside.

“This excavation has been breathtaking,” said lead archaeologist Professor Yosef Garfinkel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology in a press release on Monday. The excavation report, “The Level VI North-East Temple at Tel Lachish,” was recently published in the academic journal Levant: The Journal of the Council for British Research in the Levant.

“Only once every 30 or 40 years do we get the chance to excavate a Canaanite temple in Israel. What we found sheds new light on ancient life in the region. It would be hard to overstate the importance of these findings,” said Garfinkel, who led the excavation along with Professor Michael Hasel of Southern Adventist University in Tennessee.

The temple structure, called the “North-East Temple” by the archaeologists, was uncovered in National Park Tel Lachish, near today’s Kiryat Gat, and is similar in plan to contemporary temples discovered in northern Israel at ancient Nablus, Megiddo, and Hazor.

During the middle and late Bronze Ages, the people of Lachish controlled large parts of the Judean lowlands and the city was among the foremost Canaanite cities in the Land of Israel. Mentioned in the Bible, Lachish was built around 1800 BCE and later destroyed by the Egyptians around 1550 BCE. The city rose and fell twice more, “succumbing for good around 1150 BCE,” according to the press release.

The 12th century BCE Canaanite temple, while not a massive compound, is a once-in-a-lifetime find for archaeologists. The Levant article writes that, “in comparison to the plan of other temples of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I, the North-East Temple of Lachish is modest in its dimensions and can be defined as medium-sized.”

According to the press release, the compound was divided into a front area that was marked by two columns and two towers, which led into a large hall. From there, an inner sanctum was delineated by four supporting columns “and several unhewn ‘standing stones’ that may have served as representations of temple gods,” stated the press release. The two “standing stones” are quite large: the bigger of the pair measures 60 cm (some 23 inches) wide and 90 cm long (approximately 35 inches) and the smaller is also 60 cm wide and only 70 cm (nearly 28 inches) long.

In a departure from the typical Canaanite temple structure, the compound also includes side rooms. “The presence of side rooms in that structure is one of the main points that has fueled the dispute over its characterization as a temple or a ceremonial palace,” write the authors. “It is possible that the addition of side rooms to a temple with ‘Syrian’ characteristics is a precursor of Iron Age temples like the temple of Motza and the biblical Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.” The schematic drawing illustrating the Levant article indicates there were some eight or nine areas to the large temple compound, including a “Holy of Holies.”

In addition to the standing stones, the press release lists a plethora of other ritual items that were discovered, such as “bronze cauldrons, jewelry inspired by the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor, daggers and axe-heads adorned with bird images, scarabs, and a gold-plated bottle inscribed with the name Ramses II, one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs.”

Perhaps the most fascinating finds are a pair of smiting gods, which were discovered inside the temple’s inner sanctum, comparable to the Jerusalem Solomonic Temple’s “Holy of Holies.” Labeled Room H in the article, it “is located in the innermost part of the structure and on its central axis, directly opposite the main entrance.”

Smiting gods are found in the Levant in temples from the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age I. The authors write that the figurines are commonly identified with two Canaanite gods, Baal or Resheph, who are both known as war gods, “although it is impossible to identify our figurines with either due to the lack of clear attributes.”

According to the article, the smiting gods measure a scant 10 cm (4 inches) and 8.5 cm (3.3 inches). The two little male figurines are made of bronze and were originally coated with silver. Both are marching with their right hands raised and are wearing short kilts and tall hats, one of which, the article writes, recalls the White Crown of Upper Egypt. One of the gods is still holding a weapon, a mace or club that is attached to the figure’s forehead, writes the article. “Below their feet are pegs that were used to attach the figurines to wooden stands, as attested by the remains of wood.” According to other remains found on one of the gods — beads and indications of a necklace — one may have been worn as a pendant.

The history of Lachish was littered with ups and downs and, according to the Levant article, there are several indications uncovered in the main hall “which represent a secondary phase of construction that seems to reflect a crisis state preceding the destruction of the temple.”

Among the most headline catching finds that were reporting during the excavation is the discovery of what researchers are calling the first known account of the Semitic letter “samech.” Reported in 2015, the letter was found on a “potsherd slightly larger than a business card,” as The Times of Israel wrote then, which was found inside the temple’s ruins.

The inscription, three lines containing nine early Semitic letters, was discovered during excavations at the site in 2014 and is believed to date from around 1130 BCE. It’s the first Canaanite inscription found in a Late Bronze Age context in over 30 years.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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Watch the video: History of Battle - The Siege of Lachish 701 BCE