Lachish PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
 
  
Article Index
Lachish
Historical outline to 701 BC
The Siege
The long aftermath
Revolt against Babylon
Tour of the Tell
Logistical note

The long aftermath of the battle at Lachish 

Hezekiah's rebellion, the Assyrian response, and the survival of Jerusalem have helped make our world what it is.

 

1. The emergence of the individual as a primary unit of human existence

The spur to this subsection is Baruch Halpern in Halpern and Hobson, Law and Ideology in Monarchic Israel, JSOT Press, 1991. 

Hezekiah's revolt and its catastrophic outcome had major effects. In the time before Hezekiah's revolt, kinship ties were strong – both "horizontally" through extended family, clan and village, and "vertically" through ancestry and posterity; a person did not experience his own being as that of an essentially distinct individual, but rather as a member of  broader units. When confronted therefore with the question of divine justice – if God is just, why do the innocent suffer? – people could answer: "His ancestors must have sinned," or "Someone in his family or clan must have sinned."Such "corporate personality" was expressed in the proverb, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge."  

However, when Hezekiah tore down local shrines and centralized worship in Jerusalem, rural kinship ties began to weaken. They weakened further when he brought the rural populations into the cities of Lachish and Jerusalem, thus depriving the Assyrian besieger of people to work the fields. The Assyrian conquest was the final straw. A Judahite survivor could no longer experience him- or herself primarily as a member of broader units. The main unit now was the individual in a nuclear family—though we should also add another unit: the state, as exemplified in Assyria. The old answer to the question of God's justice could no longer make sense in the new context. We hear this in Jeremiah 31: 29-30:

"In those days they shall say no more, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But everyone shall die for his own iniquity: every man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge."

The entire 18th chapter of Ezekiel is devoted to this transformation. Now the question of innocent suffering becomes much harder to answer. It is of course Job's question – scholars date the Book of Job to a period after Hezekiah. The question will lead to new kinds of solutions: first, apocalyptic eschatology and later, a belief in divine justice after death.

In the Western world, the larger sense of self - larger vertically through the generations, larger horizontally through the community - would never again have priority over the sense of the self as an individual, except in splinter movements.    


2. The effect of Jerusalem's survival

The Assyrian policy was to disperse conquered exiles throughout the Assyrian realm, breaking up national identities. If this had happened to the Jerusalemites, there would have been no one to preserve the texts that became the First Testament. (Not the Samaritans: they first appear in the 4th century BC.) In 597 and 586, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, they followed a different policy, allowing the exiles to remain in their national groups. These groups preserved the texts that became the Bible.   

Why didn't Sennacherib go up and take Jerusalem? See the next section.