Lachish (Heb. לָכִישׁ) was a Canaanite and Israelite city, identified with a prominent mound (Ar. Tell ed-Duweir) situated to the southeast of Bet Guvrin. The mound was excavated from 1932 to 1938 under the direction of James L. Starkey (with the results published by Olga Tufnell), with the discovery of remains from many different periods, mainly from the Middle Bronze and Iron Ages. The excavations were continued in 1966 and 1968 by Y. Aharoni, who excavated the solar shrine area. Large-scale excavations were renewed at the site by David Ussishkin in 1973 and work lasted there until 1994.
The earliest archaeological remains found belong to the Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Early Bronze Ages. A small settlement and cemetery of shaft tombs from the Intermediate Bronze Age are known on a ridge to the northwest of the site. Lachish appears to have been an important city-state during the Middle Bronze II-III. The city had glacis ramparts with a fosse below. On top of the mound was a large building (palace?) with massive mud-brick walls. Destroyed by fire, the building was subsequently reused for domestic and industrial purposes. A cult place from this period was also investigated, with many finds of votive vessels and animal bones. Outside the site were numerous tombs containing rich finds.
A decline set in during the Late Bronze Age following the destruction of the Middle Bronze Age city, with the settlement decreasing in size and becoming unfortified. However, the settlement rapidly made a recovery, and it eventually became one of the significant city-states of Canaan. Lachish is mentioned in a papyrus from the time of the Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep II (1453–1419 B.C.E.). Among the *El-Amarna tablets from Egypt are several tablets written in cuneiform which were sent by the rulers of Lachish to the pharaohs Amenhotep III and Amenhotep IV. Yet another tablet discovered by Bliss at Tell el-Hesi was apparently sent there from Lachish. A temple was discovered in the fosse to the northwest of the mound, with rich finds, pits, and offerings. Tombs were also found. Level VI consists of the remains of a prosperous Canaanite city that had strong ties with Egypt, particularly at the time of Rameses III (1182–1151 B.C.E.). An acropolis temple was uncovered consisting of an antechamber, a main hall, and a cella, with architectural similarities to temples in Egypt. One of the unique finds is that of a gold plaque portraying a naked goddess. Other finds from this level include a cache of bronze objects, one with the cartouche of Rameses III, and a handful of inscriptions written in Canaanite alphabetic script. The city was destroyed by fire (c. 1130 B.C.E.?) – perhaps by the Sea Peoples who were settling in the region or by the Israelites (cf. Josh. 10:31–32). The king of Lachish, Japhia, is mentioned as having joined the Amorite coalition against Joshua (Josh. 10:3, 5); he was defeated at Aijalon and killed at Makkedah, the city falling to the Israelites (Josh. 10:32). In any case, the site was thereafter abandoned until the tenth century.
Level V represents the renewal of the city at the time of the United Monarchy. Small domestic rooms were uncovered and one of the rooms in the solar shrine contained cultic vessels. It was apparently destroyed at the time of Pharaoh Shishak (Sheshonq) in c. 925 B.C.E.
Level IV was a large city; its massive fortifications may have been erected by King Rehoboam (928–911 B.C.E.; see I Chron. 11:5–12, 23), but this is uncertain. Other candidates are Asa (908–867 B.C.E.) or Jehoshaphat (870–846 B.C.E.). The city gate to the southwest consisted of an outer gate, a roadway, a six-chambered gate, and an outer revetment. A large fortified residence – perhaps a palace – was built in the center of the site. Water for the city was obtained from a well to the northeast. Starkey may have uncovered a rock-hewn water system to the east, but more work needs to be done to clarify this further. Lachish gave shelter to King Amaziah (798–769 B.C.E.) when he fled a rebellion against him in Jerusalem (II Kings 14:19; II Chron. 25:27). What caused the end of Lachish IV is unclear, but it is possible that this was the result of an earthquake in 760 B.C.E., at the time of Uzziah (Amos 1:1; Zech. 14:5).
Lachish III represents a rebuild of the former city and it is surmised that it also saw an increase in population at this time. The palace-fort compound at the center of the site was expanded and the southern annex was modified. This city was destroyed violently in 701 B.C.E. by the Assyrian ruler, Sennacherib, who established a camp nearby (II Kings 18:14, 17; Isa. 36:2; 37:8; II Chron. 32:9). The conquest of Lachish was graphically depicted on reliefs adorning the palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh (kept in the British Museum in London). Remnants of weapons and a mass burial of 1,500 individuals were discovered at the site. Its inhabitants were subsequently deported. Well-dated ceramic assemblages belong to this level, and 403 royal lmlk stamped handles and 63 personal stamps were found.
Lachish II represents the rebuilding of the city following a short period of abandonment, perhaps at the time of Josiah (639–609 B.C.E.). A smaller gate replaced the previous large gate. The Lachish letters – most of which were sent to an army commander at Lachish – were found by Starkey inside this gate. The city was more crowded and less prosperous compared to the previous city. Jeremiah (34:7) referred to the stronghold of Lachish. It was subsequently destroyed by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadrezzar, in 588/586 B.C.E. Level I represents remains from the Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenistic periods.
H. Torczyner, Lachish I: The Lachish Letters (1938); O. Tufnell et al., Lachish II: The Fosse Temple (1940); O. Tuf-nell, Lachish III: The Iron Age (1953); O. Tufnell et al., Lachish IV: The Bronze Age (1958); Y. Aharoni, Investigations at Lachish: The Sanctuary and the Residency (Lachish V) (1975); D. Usshiskin, The Conquest of Lachish by Sennacherib (1982); D. Ussishkin, The Renewed Archaeo-logical Excavations at Lachish (1973–1994), vols. 1–5 (2004).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.