Lachish – The Amarna Letters
Lachish, located at the site of Tell ed-Duweir between the coastal plain and the highlands of Judah, was a Canaanite and then an Israelite city spanning over 1,000 years. The city is mentioned in some of the Amarna Letters, but these did not aid in its precise identification. A cuneiform tablet, one of the Amarna Letters from the Egyptian administration to their Canaanite vassals, was discovered in excavations from the late 19th century at nearby Tell el-Hesi, which was initially identified as Lachish based on the mention of Zimredda (ruler of Lachish known from other Amarna Letters) in the tablet. However, subsequent archaeological research conclusively revealed that Tell ed-Duweir is the site of ancient Lachish, while the ancient name of Tell el-Hesi remains unknown.
Lachish – The Conquest of Joshua
The first evidence for habitation at Lachish comes from 1700 BC, where a Middle Bronze Age Canaanite city fortified by a large wall was discovered. The next city dates to around 1500 BC according to finds of Egyptian scarabs, where remains of an iron blast furnace were found, making it one of the earliest examples of this type of metallurgy. This city was also likely the city that Joshua and the Israelites conquered in Joshua 10.
Lachish – The Empire of Solomon
The next mention of Lachish comes in 2 Chronicles 11:9, when Rehoboam, son of Solomon, did some building at Lachish, and then 2 Kings 14, when King Amaziah fled to Lachish to escape a conspiracy, but was captured and killed.
Lachish – The Assyrians and Babylonians
The most interesting and compelling evidence from Lachish, however, comes from the 8th and 7th centuries BC when first the Assyrians attack, and then the Babylonians. Lachish seemed to be a popular attack point because of its strategic position as a protective city on the route to Jerusalem. The easiest route to Jerusalem, located in the Judean highlands, is a path east, starting from the Mediterranean coast. Lachish guards this path through the mountain passes, and so it was heavily involved in the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests. In about 701 BC, the Assyrians under Sennacherib attacked the kingdom of Judah, laying siege to Lachish, among other cities.
Lachish – The Taylor Prism and Lachish Reliefs
The Taylor Prism records part of this conquest of Judean cities, but even more illustrative of the siege and conquest of Lachish are the Lachish reliefs found at Nineveh and on display at the British Museum. The reliefs show in detail the siege and battle between the Assyrians and the Judeans, and the eventual victory of the Assyrians and capture of Judeans at Lachish. The site also contains much archaeological evidence from the battle. Besides a destruction layer at the site from ca. 700 BC, hundreds of Assyrian arrowheads were found in excavations of the destruction layer, and approximately 1,500 skulls were also discovered in caves near the site. Excavations also reveal that the Assyrians built a stone and dirt siege ramp up the city wall, allowing soldiers to charge up the ramp and into the city. The ramp can be seen today at the site and in the reliefs. Many LMLK (“belonging to the king”) stamp seals were also discovered on jars at Lachish, dating to and associated with king Hezekiah’s reign in the late 8th and early 7th century BC. These LMLK jars have also been found at numerous Iron Age Israelite sites.
In the 7th century BC, the Babylonians had become the dominant power in the ancient Near East and conducted a campaign against the rebelling Judeans.
Lachish – The Lashish Ostraca and Its Final Defeat
To reach the capital of Jerusalem, Lachish had to be defeated once again, as it guarded the path. In the Babylonian destruction layer, the Lachish ostraca were found. They are a series of 21 letters written in black ink on broken pieces of pottery, depicting conditions at the end of the 7th century BC, shortly before the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. Most of the letters are written from Hosha'yahu, a military officer who was in charge of an outpost near Lachish, to Ya'osh, the military commander at Lachish. They describe the situation in Judah just before the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar and also attest to the account of Jeremiah concerning Lachish as one of the last cities to fall to the Babylonians before the siege of Jerusalem. They also mention a warning from “the prophet,” a diplomatic mission to Egypt, and a conspiracy (cf. Jeremiah 37:5 and Jeremiah 38:19). The letters, besides being extremely important historically, are invaluable for the further study of ancient Hebrew, as the corpus of Hebrew documents from this era is extremely limited, so each new find may add significantly to the understanding of ancient Hebrew.