Biblical Tours is a special series highlighting a collection of sites in the Holy Land as told by Israel’s very own tour guide, Gary Littwin. Familiar passages will literally take on new life and new meaning. You will absolutely feel the connection and the tangible, for-real bond which connects modern Israel and all of us to ancient Israel. Be prepared for some surprises as well!
Last week we explored the plains of David and Goliath. Today we’re continuing in the plains of Judea.
What is the Judean plain? It’s actually a rather hilly strip of land in central Israel, about 90 kilometers north to south and 15 to 20 kilometers east to west. It’s bordered to the east by the Judean Mountains, to the west by the coastal plain, in the north by Rosh HaAyin/Afek and southern Samaria, and in the south by the Shikma riverbed just north of Gaza.
Leaving the Elah valley you’ll head south about 11 kilometers where you’ll follow the signs to the site of ancient Lachish, just by the modern Israeli agricultural community of the same name.
Lachish is one of the largest and most important sites from biblical times. As a true Tel, it is an artificial hill which looks completely natural, comprised of multiple layers one built atop the other, each representing a different period in history going back to the time of the Canaanites.
The site was positively identified in the 1920’s and the first extensive dig took place in the 1930’s, led by the British biblical archaeologist and historian, James Starkey. Starkey found the original “Lachish Letters”: ceramic shards inscribed with details of events leading up to the last days of the city during the Babylonian siege of Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. Starkey was murdered by Arab rioters during the Arab Revolt of 1936-1938. The work initiated by Starkey continues today by the archaeology department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Looking at the quiet, peaceful site today, it is sometimes hard to imagine the dramatic events which occurred here in ancient times. However, the wealth of ancient artifacts, such as arrowheads, siege equipment, the famous Nineveh stone relief (a copy of which can be seen in the archaeological department of the Israel museum in Jerusalem) assure us that, indeed, it did happened, just as described in the Bible.
Lachish was traditionally the most important city in the region of the Judean plain, often exceeded in prominence only by Jerusalem. The city was taken by Joshua son of Nun during the conquest of the Land of Israel.
“And Joshua passed from Libnah, and all Israel with him, unto Lachish, and encamped against it, and fought against it. And the LORD delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel, and he took it on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls that were therein, according to all that he had done to Libnah.” (Joshua 10:31-32)
Lachish was later developed and fortified by King Rehoboam the son of King Solomon: “and Adoraim, and Lachish, and Azekah” (2 Chronicles 11:9).
Israelite Lachish was besieged and destroyed twice. The first time was during the Assyrian invasion led by the infamous Sennacherib in 701 BCE.
“Now in the fourteenth year of king Hezekiah did Sennacherib king of Assyria come up against all the fortified cities of Judah, and took them. And Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria to Lachish, saying: ‘I have offended; return from me; that which thou puttest on me will I bear.’ And the king of Assyria appointed unto Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold.” (2 Kings 18:13-14)
The second siege was done at the hands of the Babylonians, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the first temple in 586 BCE.
“When the king of Babylon’s army fought against Jerusalem, and against all the cities of Judah that were left, against Lachish and against Azekah; for these alone remained of the cities of Judah as fortified cities.” (Jeremiah 34:7).
Looking up at the Tel, we see the ramp which led to the city gate the area in which the Lachish letters were found.
We also see some of the original earthen bricks which have somehow survived for over 2500 years! Walking around on top of the site itself is an experience not to be missed; you’ll see remains of the ancient walls, waterworks, traces of major public building and hints of the siege.
A taste of more recent history is available to us at Lachish: graffiti left by Israeli soldiers who fought here in Operation Yoav in October, 1948. This seemingly needless scribble actually provides us with a beautiful, direct, tangible line connecting these events in the Bible with today.
For tours with Gary, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.