Tel Lachish is the site of an ancient Near Eastern city, now an archaeological site and an Israeli national park. Lachish is located in the Judean Hills and is first mentioned in the Amarna letters. According to the Hebrew Bible, the Israelites captured and destroyed Lachish for joining the league against the Gibeonites (Joshua 10:31–33). The territory was later assigned to the tribe of Judah (15:39) and became part of the Kingdom of Israel.
Of the cities in the ancient Kingdom of Judah, Lachish was second in importance only to Jerusalem. One of the Lachish letters warns 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.” According to the prophet Jeremiah, Lachish and Azekah were the last two Judean cities to fall before the conquest of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 34:7). This pottery inscription can be seen at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Tel Lachish: Archaeological Finds
Archaeological finds have been discovered in Lachish since the Neolithic period (9,500 to 6,000 BC), and a continuous settlement has existed at the site over the years During the Bronze Age (3300-1200 BC) Lachish was an Egyptian-sponsored city of Persia, like all the cities of the country in Canaan. The Egyptian Bronze Age letters are known as the “Letters of Al-Amarna” include several letters sent by the rulers of the city to Pharaoh king of Egypt (14th century BCE). Finds from this period include Hieroglyphic inscriptions and anthropoids (humanoid Egyptian coffins).
Tel Lachish in the Late Bronze Age
In the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 BCE); Lachish was re-established and developed slowly; eventually becoming one of the large and prosperous cities of the Southern Levant. Then it came under the 18th Dynasty of Egypt who built an Egyptian empire, especially following the military campaigns of Thutmose III.
During the Egyptian Amarna Period (c. 1350 BCE), a number of letters were written to the pharaoh and were discovered as part of the Amarna archive. During the 20th Dynasty of Egypt, the Egyptian Empire started to lose its control in the Southern Levant.
While Lachish had prospered under Egyptian hegemony; it was completely destroyed by fire around 1150 BCE. It was rebuilt by Canaanites who built two temples. However, this settlement was soon destroyed by another fire around 1130 BCE. The site then remained abandoned for a long period of time. The reasons for these destructions may have been rebellions and invasions by the Sea Peoples.
The city was destroyed in the first half of the 12th century BCE – and about 1,500 skulls were found in the layer of destruction. (The conquest of the city by Japhia king of Lachish is mentioned in the book of Joshua 10: 31-34). But no Israeli pottery was found at the site. During this period, the Sea Peoples (including the Philistines) also settled in the Land of Israel. But a typical archeological find was also missing from the tell. So it is not clear who destroyed the city. Moreover, other cities were destroyed at that time in Canaan and the entire eastern basin of the Mediterranean, during the Late Bronze Age Crisis, and in many of them, the identity of the destroyers is unclear.
More About Tel Lachish
The city stood in ruin for about two hundred years and was rebuilt during the monarchy. During this period the importance of the city lay in the fact that it stood on the border of the kingdom in the face of the threat of a Philistine invasion. It is mentioned among the cities fortified by King Rehavam (Chronicles 2, 11: 9); it had a large gate (identical to the one at Tel Hatzor, Tel Megiddo, and Tel Gezer) and a huge palace. In addition, potsherds from the Rehavam period (10th century BCE) were found on the mound and signs of destruction from the journey of the king of Egypt, Shishak I, in 925 BCE.
In the 8th century BCE, the city was fortified and established but suffered severe earthquake damage – known for an earthquake that occurred in the days of King Uzziah, in 760 BCE. The city was rebuilt once again.
Tel Lachish and the Assyrian Rule
In 701 BCE, during the revolt of king Hezekiah against Assyria, it was besieged and captured by Sennacherib despite the defenders’ determined resistance. Some scholars believe that the fall of Lachish actually occurred during a second campaign in the area by Sennacherib ca. 688 BCE. The site now contains the only remains of an Assyrian siege ramp discovered so far.
Sennacherib later devoted a whole room in his “Palace without a rival”, the South-west palace in Nineveh, for artistic representations of the siege on large alabaster slabs, most of which are now on display in the British Museum. They hold depictions of Assyrian siege ramps, battering rams, sappers, and other siege machines and army units, along with Lachish’s architecture and its final surrender. In combination with the archaeological finds, they give a good understanding of siege warfare of the period.
Modern excavation of the site has revealed that the Assyrians built a stone and dirt ramp up to the level of the Lachish city wall, thereby allowing the soldiers to charge up the ramp and storm the city. Excavations revealed hundreds of arrowheads on the ramp and at the top of the city wall, indicating the ferocity of the battle. The city occupied an area of 8 hectares (20 acres).
Tel Lachish Final Fall
Lachish fell to Nebuchadnezzar in his campaign against Judah in 586 BCE. The city was finally destroyed in 587 BCE. Residents were exiled as part of the Babylonian captivity. During Babylonian occupation, a large residence was built on the platform that had once supported the Israelite palace. At the end of the captivity, some exiled Jews returned to Lachish and built a new city with fortifications. Under the Babylonian or Achaemenid Empire, a large altar (known as the Solar Shrine) on the east section of the mound was built. The shrine was abandoned after the area fell in the hands of Alexander the Great. The tell has been unoccupied since then.
Tel Lachish Identification and Exploration
The first to try to identify Lachish was Edward Robinson, who in 1839 surveyed the mounds of the lowlands of Judea and identified Lachish on a hill near the ruins of Umm Likis, because of the sound of its name and location on the road to Gaza. This identification is supported by later scholars. In a survey of Western Israel conducted between 1872 and 1877 by a delegation led by Claude Reignier Conder and his successors Kitchener, the researchers debated the identification of Lachish between Umm Likis, Tel Hesi, and Tell ed-Duweir. Flinders Petrie arrived in Israel to dig up the biblical Lachish. He began digging in Khirbet Umm Likis, but found only finds from the Roman period onwards.
Flinders Petrie toured the area and reached Tel Hesi, where he found potsherds, and following his extensive experience in Egypt, he identified their antiquities. Following this, he decided to accept the identification of Conder that the ancient city of Lachish is located at Tel Hesi. In April 1890, the excavation began, which lasted six weeks. A very thick mud-brick wall was exposed in the excavations. Peter dug 79 test pits, and dated the findings to 1700 BCE. Above this layer he attributed to the Amorites he found a layer with poor fortifications that he attributed to the period of the Judges and above it, he found fortifications that he attributed to Rehavam.
Tel Lachish Letters
Peter’s identification was accepted by many, but in 1924 Albright proposed to identify Lachish at Tel E Dweir and most scholars accepted his hypothesis. In September 1932, James Leslie Starkey began digging at Tel Dvir, one of the largest wires in the Land of Israel, which had already been identified by most scholars as the Lachish. At the end of 1933, the second excavation season began, which concentrated on the period of the kings of Judah and earlier periods. In March 1935, the findings of Lachish’s letters were leaked to the press, a news item described as an “extremely important archaeological discovery.” Starkey had an orderly plan for excavations for 15 years, but these were cut short by his assassination in January 1938. His excavation partners continued the work, but the excavations were stopped at the outbreak of World War II.
Following the discovery of the Temple in Tel Arad, in 1966 Yohanan Aharoni excavated the area of the Persian-Hellenistic Temple in Tel Lachish to find out the time of the Temple, which is similar to the Temple in Tel Arad. Aharoni found an entire urn from the Persian-Hellenistic period beneath the foundations of the Temple, and therefore the Temple was dated as Hellenistic. Under the temple, Aharoni found an older structure, which he identified as a number of storage rooms and an administrative room. Two cisterns and a canal leading out of the city were also found under the temple.
In the years 1973-1994 David Ussishkin excavated the site. In the 1970s, a Canaanite temple from the days of Joshua was uncovered in Lachish. As part of the excavations, the entrance gate to the city was restored.