Tag Archives: Tel Lachish

July 4th at Lachish

In the previous post I mentioned that several former students and friends are participating in the dig at Tel Lachish this year.

Six years ago on this day I wrote about Lachish on July 4th, 1980. Since we have many more readers now I think it appropriate to re-post that entry here.

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On July 4, 1980, I was participating in the excavation at Tel Lachish in Israel along with three of my colleagues from Florida College (James Hodges, Phil Roberts, and Harold Tabor). There were sizable numbers of participants from Israel, United States, Australia, South Africa, and Germany. In addition to the hard work out in the sun, we had some fun. On the morning of July 4th a few of the guys got an American flag and put together a drum and bugle corp and marched across the tel. Note especially the plastic bucket being used as a drum in this photo.

"Parade" at Tel Lachish, July 4, 1980

“Parade” at Tel Lachish, July 4, 1980

Lachish is identified with Tell ed-Duweir, located in the shephelah (lowlands) of Judah about 30 miles south west of Jerusalem. It is mentioned in Scripture during the period of the conquest (Joshua 10, 12, 15). Lachish served as one of the Judean store cities during the period of the kingdom Judah. Many of the LMLK jar handles have been found here. The city fell both to the Assyrians and the Babylonians.

Excavations were carried out by the British between 1932 and 1938 under the direction of J. L. Starkey. Starkey was murdered in 1938 while en route to the opening of the Palestine Archaeological Museum (later the Rockefeller Museum) in Jerusalem. Professor Yohanan Aharoni of Tel Aviv University excavated the “Solar Shrine” in 1966 and 1968. A new excavation was begun in 1973 under the auspices of The Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University and The Israel Exploration Society. Dr. David Ussishkin served as the director until 1994.

One afternoon while we were in our tented camp a short distance from the tel, a bus load of Arabs from Jordan arrived. They had once lived in the area, prior to the founding of the State of Israel. Some of the older men had worked with Starkey. This photo which I took shows four of the Arab men and three of the Israeli archaeologists, along with one American. See if you recognize Gabriel Barkay, Richard Whitaker, Adam Zertal, and David Ussishkin.


The Arab men enjoyed seeing the old photos from the Starkey excavations and pointing out themselves as much younger men. I think you will see Ussishkin’s head to the left of the Arab, and Barkay on the right.


Update (July 6, 2008). Todd Bolen, at BiblePlaces.com has commented on this blog under the title Reminiscences of Lachish. He says he heard Gabriel Barkay tell about this event, but he includes some additional information that I did not know, including the name of the village where the Arabs previously lived.

The town of Qubeibe was leveled by the Israeli military in the 1960s and the stones of the village, probably many taken from the ruins of Lachish, were sold to building contractors.  Who knows but some ancient inscription was unknowing transferred from Lachish to Qubeibe and is now part of a wall in the area?

I recall that Richard Whitaker was the one best able to converse in Arabic.

Friends and former students at Lachish

The archaeological season is well under way at Tel Lachish. I have several friends and former students who are participating in this new expedition. Wayne Galloway has posted a few nice photos on Facebook and has given me permission to post a couple of these here.

The first photo shows an overview of section B. Wayne says,

The squares are on the right, sifted dirt and rocks removed from the squares on the left. Each special item found (ex. sling stone, arrow heads, special pottery finds, etc.) is carefully documented. Pottery is removed washed and identified, bones are kept, the location, depth, etc.

Tel Lachish, section B, 2014. Photo by Wayne Galloway.

Tel Lachish, section B, 2014. Photo by Wayne Galloway.

I understand that the group Wayne is with are working on the northern side of the tel above the well. He describes the next photo as a “Big Picture” of the square he is working in. Notice a portion of a wall that presumably will extend into the next square when it is opened.

The square where Wayne is working. Photo by Wayne Galloway.

The square where Wayne is working. Photo by Wayne Galloway.

Luke Chandler is posting additional information about the dig on his blog here.

The Lachish letters (ostraca)

The first major archaeological excavation at Tell ed-Duweir (= Tel Lachish) was called the Wellcome-Marston Archaeological Research Expedition, directed by James Leslie Starkey. During that expedition, in 1935 eighteen pieces of broken pottery with writing were found in a room outside the city gate. Three more pieces were found in 1938. J. A. Thompson explains the importance of the letters:

They represent correspondence between the military commander of Lachish, a certain Yoash, and outpost commanders, in the days when Nebuchadnezzar was closing in on Jerusalem. Most of these letters are poorly preserved, but six of them give useful information about the time. (The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology)

The room outside the gate where the "letters" were found. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The room outside the gate where the “letters” were found. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. These letters were written shortly before that time and were in the room at the time of the destruction of Lachish. Take a look at the biblical evidence. The prophet Jeremiah describes a time when only the Judean cities of Lachish and Azekah were left.

when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah, for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained. (Jeremiah 34:7 ESV)

Lachish Letter #4 indicates that only Lachish was left at the time of writing.

“And let (my lord) know that we are watching for *[fire] signals of Lachish, according to all the indications which my lord hath given, for we cannot see Azekah” (Pritchard, The Ancient Near East).

Letter #3 mentions a prophet.

And as for the letter of Tobiah, servant of the king, which came to Shallum son of Jaddua through the prophet, saying, ‘Beware!, thy servant hath sent it to my lord. (Pritchard, The Ancient Near East)

D. Winton Thomas says that this is “the first occurrence in non-Biblical texts of the common Hebrew word for prophet (nabi).”

One of the Lachish letters displayed in the British Museum.

Lachish Ostracon II displayed in the British Museum. The word “Yahweh” [yhwh] is used as the first word (on right) of line 2 in this letter.

The prophet Jeremiah may not be the prophet mentioned in Letter #3, but he was a prophet in Judah at the same time, and he wrote about the same situation. Notice Jeremiah 34:6-7 again.

Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah, for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained. (Jeremiah 34:6-7 ESV)

This example provides wonderful corroborating evidence for the historical trustworthiness of the writing of Jeremiah.