Lachish

LACHISH (lā'kĭsh, Heb. lākhîsh, perhaps meaning rough). The name of a Canaanite royal city and Judean border fortress that occupied a strategic valley twenty-five miles (forty-two km.) SW of Jerusalem, the southernmost of the five that transect the Palestinian foothills and connect Judah’s central ridge and the coastal highway leading into Egypt. First equated with Tell el-Hesy, Lachish has now been identified by written evidence (see below) with Tell ed-Duweir, a twenty-two-acre mound excavated by J. K. Starkey from a.d. 1932 until his death by violence in 1938.

Even before 3000 b.c. Lachish was inhabited by chalcolithic cave dwellers, but in about 2700 an Early-Bronze city was constructed on the virgin rock. Following a gap occasioned by invaders of calciform culture (c. 2300), Middle-Bronze Lachish arose, exhibiting cultural and political ties with Middle-Kingdom Egypt (2000-1780). This was succeeded by a Hyksos-type community, which provided Lachish with its first observable fortifications, including the characteristic dry moat, or fosse. An inscribed dagger, dated about 1650, furnishes one of the earliest examples of that acrophonic writing from which all modern alphabets derive, two centuries older than the Sinaitic or the five subsequent Lachish inscriptions. After the expulsion of the Hyksos from Egypt and their defeat in Palestine (c. 1578-1573), a Late-Bronze Canaanite citadel gave at least nominal allegiance to New-Empire Egypt. Its king, Japhia, joined with Adoni-Zedek of Jerusalem in a confederacy against Joshua in 1406 (Josh.10.3), only to be defeated and executed (Josh.10.23-Josh.10.26; Josh.12.11). In Joshua’s subsequent sweep through the southwest, Israel captured Lachish (reinforced by Gezer) and annihilated its inhabitants, in accordance with Moses’ ban (Deut.7.2; Josh.10.31-Josh.10.33). Scripture contains no record, however, of its destruction (cf. Josh.11.13); and though assigned to Judah (Josh.15.39), Lachish must have suffered rapid Canaanite reoccupation, for a Late-Bronze temple constructed in the former fosse exhibits little interruption in its use. A generation later, the Amarna Letters criticize Lachish for furnishing supplies to the invaders and for overthrowing the Egyptian prefect Zimridi (Letters 287-288). Lachish was burned in about 1230. Some interpreters have tried to associate this conflagration with Joshua’s campaign, but the excavators themselves attribute the fall of Lachish to the contemporaneous raids of Pharaoh Merneptah or to attacks by immigrating Philistines.


Recent archaeological work at Lachish (Y. Aharoni in 1966 and 1968; D. Ussishkin from 1973 to 1984 and continuing) has demonstrated that Level III represents the city destroyed by Sennacherib in 701 b.c. Ussishkin believes only one defensive wall surrounded the city and a lower revetment wall fortified an embankment between them. Four independent sources document the fall of Lachish: the Bible, Assyrian cuneiform texts, archaeological excavations, and pictorial reliefs found in Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh.

Bibliography: David Ussishkin, The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib, 1982; see detailed bibliography in ZPEB.——JBP


Lachish viewed from the hill from which the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked the city in the 8th century B.C.
Lachish from the east, where the stone-lined well is visible.

LACHISH lā kĭsh (לָכִ֥ישׁ, LXX Λαχίς Josh 15:39, Μαχής), a town of Judah in the foothills of the Shephelah (q.v.) midway between Jerusalem and Gaza, some thirty m. SW of Jerusalem.

Outline

Name and identification.

The town is mentioned over twenty times in the OT, a number of times in the Tell-el-Amarna (q.v.) correspondence, once on a hieratic papyrus from the days of Thutmose III as Ra - ki -ša, once as La-ti-ša on a pottery bowl found in Egypt, and once on a wall relief from Sennacherib’s palace at Nineveh. It is identified today with Tell ed-Duweir, a large mound some eighteen acres in size, fifteen m. W of Hebron and five m. to the SW of Beit Jibrin, the ancient Eleutheropolis. This identification is based on the following considerations. It is the most impressive site in the region and was occupied during the Bronze and Iron Ages as required by historical facts; it suits the description of Eusebius that “Lachish....is still a village today, seven miles from Eleutheropolis, towards the west as one goes to Daroma.” Excavation has revealed a striking resemblance between the Iron Age ruins at Tell ed-Duweir and the city shown on a relief from Nineveh depicting the attack of Sennacherib on Lakisu; the history of the site as revealed from excavation is parallel to what is known from both Biblical and non-Biblical sources.

Biblical history.


Non-Biblical historical references.

Some meager but important references come from Egypt and Assyria. An Egyp. papyrus of the time of Thutmose III (c. 1490-1435 b.c.) refers to Ra- ki- ša and points to Egyp. contact with Lachish. The Amarna (q.v.) correspondence of c. 1400-1360 b.c. mentions Lachish five times in contexts which show that Lachish was an important Egyp. strongpoint in Canaan. The city was involved in intrigue with the Habiru (q.v.) and other cities loyal to Egypt wrote appealing for help. In one letter from Jerusalem, Lachish, Ashkelon and Gezer are blamed for supplying the Habiru with food and oil. Another letter refers to treachery in Lachish in which a certain Zimreda or Zimridi was slain.

A bowl from Lachish dated c. 1200 b.c. or later and inscribed in hieratic refers to the “king of La-ti-ša(?).”

The Assyrian information, though limited, is important. The attack of Sennacherib on Lachish in 701 b.c. is depicted on alabaster bas-reliefs from Nineveh. The town of Lakisu is shown under siege. Some scenes depict Jewish prisoners being marched out, others being flayed, and some begging for mercy before Sennacherib seated on a throne. The inscr. near the throne reads: “Sennacherib, king of Assyria, sitting on his throne, while the spoil from the city of Lachish passed before him.”

Excavation.

The history of Lachish becomes much clearer when the Biblical and non-Biblical records are supplemented by information revealed by the excavation of the town. Tell ed-Duweir and selected areas on the neighboring slopes were excavated by the Wellcome-Marston Archaeological Research Expedition during the years 1932 to 1938. The director, James L. Starkey, was tragically murdered in 1938 by bandits, and the work was brought to completion by Charles H. Inge and Lankester Harding.

It is now clear that the region of Lachish was occupied very early. In Chalcolithic times (before c. 3000 b.c.) and in the first stages of the Early Bronze Age, there was a settlement in the Lachish area. Pottery, stone mortars and querns, stone maceheads and implements of flint and bone were found in natural caves over a considerable area. About 2800 b.c. in the Early Bronze II age the settlement became confined to the present mound. The old cave dwellings then were used as tombs.

There is some disagreement about the actual dates of some of the levels, but in broad outline the following gives a general picture:

Level I 450-150 b.c.

GAP—Mound deserted

Level II 700-586 b.c.

Level III 900-700 b.c.

Level IV 900-700 b.c.

Level V City of David and Rehoboam 1000-900 b.c.

GAP - Mound deserted 12th-11th centuries

Level VI 1300-1225 b.c. Late Bronze

Level VII 1450-1350 b.c.

Level VIII 1567-1450 b.c.

Further excavation is needed to fill out the story of the rest of the Early Bronze and the Middle Bronze Age. It is evident that during the Hyksos period (c. 1720-1550 b.c.) Lachish was a fortified site defended by a deep ditch or fosse and a plaster-covered glacis rising to about one hundred ft. above the valley on top of which was a brick wall. These defenses fell into disuse early in the Late Bronze Age c. 1550 b.c., possibly as a result of Egyp. campaigns which drove the Hyksos conquerors out of Egypt and initiated the great period of Egypt. expansion into Western Asia. A small temple was built over the debris that accumulated in the fosse, the so-called Fosse Temple (see below).

Egyptian influence in Lachish from the twelfth dynasty (c. 1991-1786 b.c.) onward is attested by Egyp. scarabs. The waning of Egyp. power may be marked by the destruction of the Fosse Temple c. 1220-1200 b.c., perhaps by Israelite tribesmen who followed up their earlier successes under Joshua (Josh 10:3, 31, 32). The inscribed bowl written in “year four” and mentioning the “king of Latish(?)” has been interpreted as a tax collector’s memorandum from the fourth year of Merneptah (c. 1224-1216 b.c.). A variety of important inscr. was discovered in the Late Bronze Age city.

After a period of desertion during the 12th and 11th centuries the Israelite Iron Age city was built c. 1000 b.c. A fine palace for the provincial governor rose over the ruins of old Canaanite buildings in the center of the mound. It was built on an earth-filled platform about 105 ft. square and 23 ft. high. This structure is reminiscent of the Millo (lit. “filling”) built by David (2 Sam 5:9) and Solomon (1 Kings 9:15) in Jerusalem. Practically nothing of the original palace remains, but the ruins of a thick-walled brick building with long parallel rooms and high floors have been discovered, prob. originally a granary or storehouse. Similar buildings are known from Solomon’s cities Megiddo (q.v.) and Hazor (q.v.), but their presence at Lachish and Bethshemesh only fifteen miles to the N suggest that David may have had a provincial administration in Judah before Solomon’s organization of the N (1 Kings 4:7ff.). This platform was twice enlarged during the period 900-750 b.c. First it was lengthened to 256 ft. (Palace B), and then a strip ten ft. wide was added on the E side (Palace C). On the stairway leading up to the citadel platform the first five letters of the Heb. alphabet in traditional order were scratched (c. 800 b.c. according to W. F. Albright).

During the late 10th cent. and at various times in the 9th cent. the kings of Judah improved the defenses of Lachish. The OT references to the work of Rehoboam (2 Chron 11:9) and possibly of Asa (14:7) before 900 b.c., then to Jehoshaphat who set garrisons in the cities of Judah (17:12, 13), seem to point to occasions when the defense system of Southern Judah was strengthened against Philistines, Arabs, Egyptians, etc. (11:5-12). Excavation shows that during the 9th cent. Lachish was strongly defended with a double line of defense. The summit was surrounded by a ring wall some nineteen ft. thick, with alternating salients and recesses and a series of defense towers. A further fifty ft. down the slope was a second wall or revetment of stone and brick some thirteen ft. thick with alternate projecting and recessed sections and towers located at strategic points. The walls enclosed an area approximately rectangular in plan. On the W of the city, a roadway led up the hillside, and at the point where it entered the city gate a large square bastion was erected. This was later incorporated into the line of the outer wall. The masonry in the walls was mostly crudely squared boulders with more carefully prepared cornerstones. Inside the city a street lined with shops led to the palace and the storerooms on the platform at the top of the mound. Numerous stamped jar handles dating to the 8th and 7th centuries come from what must represent Levels IV, III, II (see inscrs.).

There is some difference of interpretation about the destruction of Level III. Most archeologists attribute it to the attack of Sennacherib in 701 b.c. but a few like Olga Tufnell attribute it to Nebuchadnezzar in 598 b.c. The bas-relief of Sennacherib and his written record suggest a severe attack on Lachish. In the debris outside the walls scattered arrowheads, pieces of scale armor, sling stones and an Assyrian type helmet were found, and large earth ramps also were found built against the gateway area just as Sennacherib’s relief depicts, so that the assignment of the destruction of Level III to the Assyrian assault is quite plausible.

On the NW slope of the mound was a huge communal grave containing the bones of 1500 bodies in a heap. Many had been burned. On top of the human bones were animal bones, mostly pigs. Large quantities of domestic pottery were scattered through the whole. It is suggested that the confused mass represents a gathering up of debris after the siege of Sennacherib. The pig bones may represent the food of the Assyrian soldiers. Three of the human skulls showed evidence of trepanning, a remarkable testimony to the standard of surgical skill in Judaea in the days of Isaiah.

Another feature of the Iron Age city was a great unfinished shaft on the SE side of the mound. It was a roughly hollow cube some 74 by 84 by 85 ft. in size and about half a million cubic ft. in capacity, prob. intended for water storage.

After the fall of Lachish III the city prob. was governed by an Assyrian governor and became a rallying point for levies from Philistines. Some reconstruction went on and part of the ruined citadel was cleared for the building of a smaller gateway, but the rebuilding of city II was a slow process. Some claim that traces of Scythian warriors have been found in the city in the 7th cent. which may account for the slowness in rebuilding. However, the defenses were eventually restored perhaps by Manasseh (2 Chron 33:11-14). A new stone wall replaced the inner wall, the former outworks were incorporated into the lower revetment as a bastion, and the entrance was by way of two gates, the outer one in the bastion facing S, and the inner one on the line of the upper wall facing W. This device exposed the invader on his right side as he approached the first gate. If he succeeded here he turned right uphill across an enclosed court before he reached the second gate. By the time of Jehoiakim Lachish was once more a formidable city. There is evidence of two destructions early in the 6th cent. The first was no doubt due to the attack by the Babylonian army in 597 b.c. when the city gate and the citadel were partially destroyed. The brick superstructure of the palace collapsed and spread over the courtyard. The inner wall was rebuilt and some restoration undertaken, although the palace was not restored. In Nebuchadnezzar’s second attack in 587 b.c. the full force of the Babylonian army was brought against the cities of Judah, which fell one by one until only Jerusalem, Azekah and Lachish remained (Jer 34:7). Of these, Azekah was the first to fall. Evidence of a huge conflagration at Lachish is found all over the city. It was evidently reoccupied soon after. A fine seal impression was found above the debris reading “Gedaliah who is over the House” (Isa 22:15; 36:3; see Section 6b).

Lachish was abandoned between 586 and 450 b.c. The postexilic city, Level I, had two phases, one Pers. and one Hel. During the Pers. phase a fine palace was built in the N Syrian style for a governor under Geshem (Gashmu) the Arab (Neh 6:1). A small structure which was prob. a temple contained a small limestone altar bearing an inscr. carrying the name “Yah(weh” see Section 6 j). The second phase is attested by a “solar shrine” of the Seleucid period. Lachish was abandoned c. 150 b.c. and was not occupied again.

The Fosse temple.

This lay outside the Late Bronze Age city walls in the Middle Bronze Age fosse. It was in use from c. 1600 b.c. to c. 1200 b.c. and was enlarged on at least two occasions. Essentially it was a large room with an offering table, a hearth in front of the table, and in its final form a mud brick altar in front of the offering table with three steps (cf. Exod 20:26). Votive gifts of ornaments, beads, etc. in ivory, glass, alabaster, etc. lay on the table. Many small dipper flasks lay on the ground at one end of the offering table. Bones of birds, animals and fish were found in the floor debris. The animals were all young, mostly sheep, goats, oxen, gazelles; and the bones discovered were mostly the right foreleg corresponding to the priests’ portion in Israelite sacrifices (Lev 7:32). No statue was found inside the temple but a bronze statuette of a male deity seated was found outside, and an ivory hand was recovered from a pit. Two inscribed pottery vessels, a ewer and a bowl were found outside the temple (see section 6b). The exact nature of the Canaanite worship practiced is not clear, but evidently young animals were sacrificed, the right foreleg was reserved, gifts were placed on a cult table, fire burned in the hearth and libation offerings were poured out. An altar with steps, an offering table and a hearth were features of the temple furniture.

Inscriptions.

A variety of inscrs., many from the Late Bronze Age, have come from the excavation of Lachish. The following list is in chronological order:

a. Four signs on a bronze dagger c. 1600 b.c. One sign, a human head, is possibly the ancient r (rosh).

b. Five fragments with alphabetic signs of the Sinaitic type c. 1350-1200 b.c.—a censer lid with three signs in red; a bowl with eleven signs of which five seem to be lšlšt “for three”; a ewer decorated around the neck with wavy lines and squares and with stylized animals; an inscr. of eleven letters very like those used at Serabit el-Khadim in the Sinai peninsula. The words mtn “gift,” and lt “goddess” have been read.

c. A four-sided seal with the name of Amenhotep II (c. 1450-1425 b.c.) on one side and a representation of Ptah and eight signs on another.

d. A fragment of a clay coffin c. 1200 b.c. or later, with unreadable hieroglyphic signs and two small hieratic inscribed sherds.

e. A pottery bowl with a hieratic text thought to be concerned with taxation including the words “King (of) Latish (?)”, c. 1200 b.c. or later.

f. An inscr. carrying the first five letters of the Heb. alphabet אבגדה in their traditional order (c. 800 b.c.).

g. A jar fragment bearing the letters btlmyk, “the bath of the king,” a volume measure.

h. Several seals or seal impressions with names in the old Heb. script (8th to 6th cent. b.c.). The seal which read “belonging to Gedaliah who is over the household” was possibly an official seal of Gedaliah, son of Ahikam, appointed governor of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 b.c. (2 Kings 25:22).

i. A great number of stamped jar handles (8th to early 6th cent.), some three hundred stamped lmlk “belonging to the king,” followed by the name of a town like Hebron, Ziph, Sochoh or mmšt and carrying a symbol such as a winged scroll.

j. A stone altar inscribed with three lines in Aram. script of c. 5th to 4th cent. b.c. It begins with lbnt’ “incense.” The third line contains the words lyh mr’, “to Yah(weh) Lord (of heaven).”

k. A variety of stone weights inscribed nsp, pym, bqc of the 7th to 6th cent. b.c. One had the letter b, others had numbers inscribed.

l. Twenty-one ostraca from the early 6th cent. b.c. written in black ink—the so-called “Lachish Letters.” (See next section.)

The Lachish Letters.

In 1935 eighteen ostraca inscribed in a cursive Heb. of Jeremiah’s time were recovered from the debris in a small guard room in one of the towers of the outer city gate. Subsequently in 1938, three more ostraca were found, to bring the total to twenty-one. These ostraca represent written documents in the classical Heb. style from the last decade of the Judaean kingdom. They are important historically because of the light they throw on the unsettled conditions in Judah during the Babylonian campaign of 587 b.c. The texts are not always clear and scholars disagree about details of tr. Three of the letters are of special interest. Letter 3 gives the name of the writer, Hoshayahu, a subordinate officer in charge of an outpost of Lachish, within sight of Azekah, and of the recipient, Yaosh, the governor of Lachish. It is partly a complaint about some rebuke the writer had received, and partly a report of military movements including reference to a journey to Egypt by a captain, Koniah son of Elnathan, and a warning message sent in by Tobyahu to Shallum, son of Yaddua, by the hand of an unidentified prophet. Letter 4 reports about commands that had been carried out and indicates that certain people had been detained. It concludes, “Let my lord know that we are watching for the fire signals of Lachish according to the signs my lord has given, because we do not see Azekah” (cf. Jer 34:7). Letter 6 refers to disturbing letters from the king and the princes in Jerusalem “The words of the pr(inces) are not good (but serve) to weaken our hands, (and to slac)ken the hands of the m(en) who are informed about them” (cf. Jer 38:4). Letter 16 refers to a prophet whose name ends in -iah, variously identified with Uriah (Jer 26:20) or Jeremiah, or perhaps some other who is unknown.

Bibliography

Publications of the Wellcome-Marston Archaeological Research Expedition to the Near East 1938-1958, H. Torczyner, L. Harding, A. Lewis and J. L. Starkey: Lachish I, The Lachish Letters (1938); O. Tufnell, C. H. Inge, L. Harding: Lachish II, The Fosse Temple (1940); O. Tufnell: Lachish III, The Iron Age (1953); O. Tufnell etc.: Lachish IV, The Bronze Age (1958); W. F. Albright, “The Lachish Ostraca,” ANET (1955), 321, 322; G. E. Wright, “Judaean Lachish,” BA, XVIII (1955), 9-17, R. D. Barnett, “The Siege of Lachish,” IEJ, VIII (1958), 161-164; D. Winton Thomas, “Letters from Lachish,” DOTT (1958), 212-217.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(lakhish; Septuagint Lachis (Jos 15:39), Maches):

1. Location:

A town in the foothills of the Shephelah on the border of the Philistine plain, belonging to Judah, and, from the mention of Eglon in connection with it, evidently in the southwestern portion of Judah’s territory. Eusebius, Onomasticon locates it 7 miles from Eleutheropolis (Beit Jibrin) toward Daroma, but as the latter place is uncertain, the indication does not help in fixing the site of Lachish. The city seems to have been abandoned about 400 BC, and this circumstance has rendered the identification of the site difficult. It was formerly fixed at Umm Lakis, from the similarity of the name and because it was in the region that the Biblical references to Lachish seem to indicate, but the mound called Tell el-Hesy is now generally accepted as the site. This was first suggested by Conder in 1877 (PEFS, 1878, 20), and the excavations carried on at the Tell by the Palestine Exploration Fund in 1890-93 confirmed his identification. Tell el-Hesy is situated on a wady, or valley, of the same name (Wady el Hesy), which runs from a point about 6 miles West of Hebron to the sea between Gaza and Askelon. It is a mound on the very edge of the wady, rising some 120 ft. above it and composed of debris to the depth of about 60 ft., in which the excavations revealed the remains of distinct cities which had been built, one upon the ruins of another. The earliest of these was evidently Amorite, and could not have been later than 1700 BC, and was perhaps two or three centuries earlier (Bliss, Mound of Many Cities). The identification rests upon the fact that the site corresponds with the Biblical and other historical notices of Lachish, and especially upon the discovery of a cuneiform tablet in the ruins of the same character as the Tell el-Amarna Letters, and containing the name of Zimridi, who is known from these tablets to have been at one time Egyptian governor of Lachish. The tablets, which date from the latter part of the 15th or early part of the 14th century BC, give us the earliest information in regard to Lachish, and it was then an Egyptian dependency, but it seems to have revolted and joined with other towns in an attack upon Jerusalem, which was also an Egyptian dependency. It was perhaps compelled to do so by the Khabiri who were then raiding this region. The place was, like Gaza, an important one for Egypt, being on the frontier and on the route to Jerusalem, and the importance is seen in the fact that it was taken and destroyed and rebuilt so many times.

2. History:


The city was evidently rebuilt after its destruction by Sennacherib, for we find Nebuchadnezzar fighting against it during his siege of Jerusalem (Jer 34:7). It was doubtless destroyed by him, but we are informed by Nehemiah (11:30) that some of the returned Jews settled there after the captivity. It is very likely that they did not reoccupy the site of the ruined city, but settled as peasants in the territory, and this may account for the transference of the name to Umm Lakis, 3 or 4 miles from Tell el-Hesy, where some ruins exist, but not of a kind to suggest Lachish (Bliss, op. cit). No remains of any importance were found on the Tell indicating its occupation as a fortress or city later than that destroyed by the king of Babylon, but it was occupied in some form during the crusades, Umm Lakis being held for a time by the Hospitallers, and King Richard is said to have made it a base of operations in his war with Saladin (HGHL). The Tell itself, if occupied, was probably only the site of his camp, and it has apparently remained since that time without inhabitants, being used for agricultural purposes only.

See further, PALESTINE EXPLORATION, III, 1.