Lachish: The City That Always Thought It Could

    Lachish is dated to about 3200BC. Settlement at Lachish spanned the Canaanite era into the Babylonian period. It is called Tell ed-Duweir, or  Tel Lachish today, and it is owned by the Israel Antiquities Authority. It is situated in the hills of Judea 25 miles southwest of Jesrusalem. The meaning of the word Lachish is uncertain but may mean something like invincible. Only, it never was.


    Lachish is mentioned in the Armana letters. It is mentioned in Egyptian and Assyrian chronicles, and it is shown in inscriptions called the Lachish Reliefs that document Sennacherib's victory. It is mentioned over twenty times in the Bible. The Amorites lived there until it was conquered and given to the tribe of Judah.



    We read about it first in the book of Joshua. Its king, Japhia, joined with four other kings against the town of Gibeon because they had made a treaty with Israel. Joshua attacked and defeated them.  But by the time of  King Hezekiah an Assyrian king named Sennacherib came to attack it. 


    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 (2Chronicles 32:9).


    He swept down the western coast, conquering Philistine cities and defeating an advance by Egypt. Having shown his might and gained the promise of submission to his empire, he turned to Israel attacking and conquering every town. Lachish stood between Sennacherib and Jerusalem. Between Sennacherib and Hezekiah.  It guarded the road from the south and toward the east.


    But Lachish would take some extra effort. It was well fortified and situated on top a high hill with walls at its base. The Lachish Reliefs depict the battle that took place in 701 BC. Sennacherib unleashed his full offense on the lower south side. Battering rams rolled up to the gates while Israelites shot arrows from atop the wall. They reigned down fire upon the Assyrians as they tried to scale the walls. The Assyrians built a ramp near the main gate and used their battering rams to break the wall.


    Lachish is the only place in the region where a siege ramp has been excavated. A thousand arrowheads have been found and over a thousand skulls in a cave nearby. The skulls are evidence of beheading. But understanding the battle would not be possible without the Lachish Reliefs found at Nineveh in 1845.


    The Lachish reliefs 39 feet wide and almost 17 feet long. They covered the wall in Sennacherib's Throne Room. A portion shows Sennacherib on his throne. Above him an inscription reads something like,


    Sennacherib King of the Universe, King of Assyria, set up a throne and the booty of Lachish passed before him.


    You can see the reliefs here



    The scenes show the Assyrian war machine. They show the Israelites throwing flaming torches and chariot wheels over the walls onto the Assyrian soldiers. It is a scene rated for graphic violence and horrific tortures.


    The Lachish Letters are another important find. They were discovered by James Leslie Starkey. The Letters reveal another desperate time in Israel's history and another formidable enemy: the Babylonians. They serve as a source confirming the accuracy of Jeremiah's account of the fall of Jerusalem and the Kingdom of Judah.


    Why Sennacherib considered this victory so highly we can only guess. In the last post we talked about his confusion over his father's death and the fear he held in trying to please his gods. The Lachish Reliefs served for him like some kind of framed certification of his success. While we remember his defeat by the hand of God, he remembered his barbarous acts and gave his god glory for them. The same god who could not save him while he worshipped him. Sennacherib is remembered in history as a great king. But the truth is he was a tragic figure.


    The city of Lachish has certainly had a rocky history. That same violence touched the first man to excavate it and left us with a murder mystery and possible cover up by British authorities. If you're not tired of reading yet, I've included the story below.


    James Starkey led the first excavation at Lachish. He was born in London. An avid reader, his interest in archaeology grew after reading Nineveh and Its Remains by  Austen Henry Layard. His granddaughter says he was especially captivated by the reliefs in Sennacherib's palace. Inscriptions would identify the city in those reliefs to be Lachish. They are known today as the Lachish Reliefs.


    After serving in the Royal Navy Air Service during WWI, he attended night classes on Egyptology at University College, London. By 1922 he began working with archaeologist Flinders Petrie as an assistant. In 1924 he was appointed Field Director of the Karanis Expedition (Michigan University) south of Cairo. He worked with Petrie for ten years before going into the field alone to excavate at Lachish.


    While at Lachish he discovered the Lachish Letters and the Fosse Temple. The Fosse Temple was found to be a Canaanite temple. It included evidence of Canaanite and Egyptian gods as the Bible mentions in the era of Moses and Joshua. Many more discoveries were made during his stretch of six,  six month seasons of excavation there.


    But the political climate was dangerous during 1935 in what was called Palestine (the land of Israel). This event became the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939. Arabs were attacking Jews, their settlements and the British authorities in the region. There were robberies, murders and assaults against the police and those traveling the roads.


    Starkey was questioned in 1937 about the safety of his being at Lachish. He was confident his friendship with the local bedouins was strong. They were his friends he said.


    But his reports detail he may have had enemies among them too. He writes about the haggling between him and the local sheiks over the price of land at Lachish. After a price was agreed upon, some locals wanted more. Others disputed the land, parcels being claimed by two different owners and both demanding to be paid. Some never got money. Starkey was in a tight spot between authorities and the locals.


    His wife, eight year old son, and two younger daughters usually accompanied him into the field. But in 1937 Starkey and his wife were concerned with the two older children's schooling so Starkey came alone to Lachish. They did not admit it publicly but the political tensions, or perhaps the local tensions, were probably a concern also. He had been threatened. On his arrival in November he was met by his colleagues and the bedouins he employed. Everything seemed normal. 


    But in January 1938 he was riding in a car driven by an Arab. They were on their way to Jerusalem. The car was stopped on a narrow, lonely section of road. A group of Arab men ordered him out and killed him. The method by which he was murdered was disputed. The police and British authorities report he was shot. Others say he was attacked with an axe like other murders at the time. Was this an act of revenge over the problems with Lachish farmers or was it an unfortunate result of the Arab uprising? 


    We may never know, but it was a lot more complicated than the news reports told, and it spurned two more murders of Arabs by Arabs because the victims may have helped police find Starkey's murderer.  Sheesh, this was a very violent place.


    Image by DEZALB courtesy of Pixabay




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