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Lachish (Hebrew: לכיש; Greek: Λαχις; Latin: Lachis) was a town located in the Shephelah, a region between Mount Hebron and the maritime plain of Philistia (Joshua 10:3, 5; 12:11). The town was first mentioned in the Amarna letters as Lakisha-Lakiša (EA 287, 288, 328, 329, 335). According to the Bible, the Israelites captured and destroyed Lachish for joining the league against the Gibeonites (Joshua 10:31-33), but its territory was later assigned to the tribe of Judah (15:39) and became a part of the Kingdom of Israel.
Under Rehoboam, Lachish became the second most important city of the kingdom of Judah. In 701 BC, during the revolt of king Hezekiah against Assyria, it was captured by Sennacherib despite determined resistance (see Siege of Lachish). The town later reverted to Judaean control, only to fall to Nebuchadnezzar in his campaign against Judah (586 BC).
During Old Testament times Lachish served an important protective function in defending Jerusalem and the interior of Judea. The easiest way to get a large attacking army (such as an Assyrian army, see Isaiah 36:2, Isaiah 37:8 and Jeremiah 34:7) up to Jerusalem was to approach from the coast. Lachish was one of several city/forts guarding the canyons that lead up to Jerusalem and greater Judea. In order to lay siege to Jerusalem an invading army would first have to take Lachish, which guarded the mountain pass. During the reign of Hezekiah, King of Judah, the Assyrians, under King Sennacherib, attempted to take Jerusalem, and, in that campaign, succeeded in taking Lachish (see 2 Chronicles 32:9 and Isaiah 36:2). 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 approximately 1,500 skulls in one of the caves near the site, and hundreds of arrowheads on the ramp and at the top of the city wall, indicating the ferocity of the battle.
Biblical references to Lachish include Joshua 10:3, 5, 23, 31-35; Joshua 12:11; Joshua 15:39; 2 Kings 14:19; 2 Kings 18:14, 17; 2 Kings 19:8; 2 Chronicles 11:9; 2 Chronicles 25:27; 2 Chronicles 32:9; Nehemiah 11:30; Isaiah 36:2; Isaiah 37:8; Jeremiah 34:7; and Micah 1:13.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Lachish was identified with Tell el-Hesi from a cuneiform tablet found there (EA 333). The tablet is a letter from an Egyptian official named Paapu, reporting cases of treachery involving a local kinglet, Zimredda.
Excavations at Tell el-Hesy were conducted by Petrie and Bliss for the Palestine Exploration Fund during the years 1890 - 1892, and among other discoveries was the remains of what was identified as an iron blast furnace, with slag and ashes, which was dated to 1500 BC. If the theories of experts are correct, the use of the hot-air blast instead of cold air was known at an extremely early age.
Classical Hebrew ostraca
More recent excavations have identified Tell ed-Duweir as Lachish beyond reasonable doubt. Excavation campaigns by James Leslie Starkey recovered a number of ostraca (18 in 1935, three more in 1938) from the latest occupational level immediately before the Chaldean siege. They then formed the only known corpus of documents in classical Hebrew.
Another major contribution to Biblical archaeology from excavations at Lachish are the LMLK seals, which were stamped on the handles of a particular form of ancient storage jar. More of these artifacts were found at this site (over 400; Ussishkin, 2004, pp. 2151-9) than any other place in Israel (Jerusalem remains in second place with more than 300). Most of them were collected from the surface during Starkey's excavations, but others were found in Level 1 (Persian and Greek era), Level 2 (period preceding Babylonian conquest by Nebuchadnezzar), and Level 3 (period preceding Assyrian conquest by Sennacherib). It is thanks to the work of David Ussishkin's team working at the site from 1973 - 1994 that eight of these stamped jars were restored (Ussishkin, 1983), thereby demonstrating lack of relevance between the jar volumes (which deviated as much as 5 gallons or 12 litres), and also proving their relation to the reign of Biblical king Hezekiah.
- Bliss, Frederick. Numerous artifact drawings, also "Layer by Layer" drawings of Tell el-Hesy. Also an original attempt of the only el Amarna letter found at site, Amarna Letters, EA 333. A Mound of Many Cities; or Tell El Hesy Excavated, by Frederick Jones Bliss, PhD., explorer to the Fund, 2nd Edition, Revised. (The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund.) c 1898.
- Grena, G.M. (2004). LMLK--A Mystery Belonging to the King vol. 1. Redondo Beach, California: 4000 Years of Writing History. ISBN 0-9748786-0-X.
- Ussishkin, David (1983). "Excavations at Tel Lachish 1978-1983, second preliminary report". Tel Aviv 10 (2): 160–3.
- Ussishkin, David; Gabriella Bachi and Jared L. Miller (2004). The Renewed Archaeological Excavations at Lachish (1973 – 1994) Volumes 1 and 4. Tel Aviv, Israel: Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University. OCLC 71663330.
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Lachish
- Photo gallery of Lachish (Tell ed-Duweir)
- Images of the Assyrian Reliefs of Lachish
- Pictures of Tel Lachish