Lachish PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
 
  
Article Index
Lachish
Historical outline
The Siege Ramp
Tour of the Tell
Logistical Note

For anyone interested in the First Testament - and how we got to be who we are - you cannot beat Lachish (pron. lah-kheesh). The conquest of this Judean city by the Assyrians under Sennacherib in 701 BC, the chilling record in stone (still with us) that an Assyrian artist made of the battle, the historical and theological consequences (which reach to our time)...all that plus the sheer drama and the landscape make it a tremendous site. In its own day it was Judah's second most important city after Jerusalem. It lay west of Judah's mountain among the hills of the Shephelah, not far from the Great Trunk Road, roughly midway between Ashkelon and Hebron.

As of this writing (February 2018)Lachish is still off the beaten track of tourism. This will soon change, however, because a Visitors Center (with rest rooms!) is being built. At least until it is finished, a group is likely to be almost alone here. Although it is well laid out with paths and markers, there is a feeling of untamed solitary majesty about the place. The story is so demanding that it's best to visit when people are fresh (not at the end of a long crowded day).

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With its 18-acre plateau, the tell rivals those of Galilee, but the surrounding hills hug in so close that we do not see its massive height from afar. We round a bend in the road and suddenly it looms above us.

The history of Lachish stretches back to the third millennium BC. One city followed another on the hill: Early Bronze,   Hyksos, Canaanite, Judean and Persian. The question is why here?

The answer concerns the coordination of several factors: farmland, defensibility, water supply and location.

Of farmland there was plenty: Surrounding Lachish today are fertile valleys where Israel's best table grapes are grown. As for defensibility, the hill is high: 40 meters above the valleys, except at the southwest corner, where it is 27 (and here the Assyrians attacked). 

The question of the water supply is complex. There are no springs in the entire region of the Shephelah, for its surface limestone is waterproof. Beneath the riverbeds (wadis), however, water does collect in winter, and beside the tell runs such a wadi. We would expect to find a water shaft reaching groundwater from safely inside the city, as we do at Beersheba , Gezer, Jerusalem , Gibeon, Megiddo , Hazor and elsewhere. At some point indeed a well of small circumference was dug on the upper part of the northeast slope. It descended at least 140 feet to groundwater. This would have sufficed for the group of administrators who resided on the hill when Jerusalem was in command, while the common folk lived in villages roundabout. However, at the time of Hezekiah's revolt against Assyria (705-701 BC), the villagers moved into Lachish and built houses (ruins of these have been found on the tell's south side). The purpose of the move was not just protection; Hezekiah didn't want them supplying food to the anticipated Assyrian army. Given this increase in population, the well would not have supplied enough. That may explain a large square shaft (about 60 feet per side) within what were then the city walls: Perhaps it was the start of an internal water system which the Judeans had not finished at the time the Assyrians arrived. It could also have been the quarry for the stone used in building the houses.
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The final factor in determining the presence of a city here was location. Lachish lay near the Great Trunk Road connecting Egypt, Damascus and Mesopotamia, but not on it – not, that is, near the plain. Therefore, we would not expect it to become a great mercantile center like Megiddo, Hazor or the nearby Philistine cities. However, any army marching on the Trunk Road – say, an Assyrian army attacking Egypt, or an Egyptian army heading north or east – would have had to reckon with a force stationed at Lachish. It is a long shot, but this fact might explain its name, which may have been an ancestor to the Arabic word lakish: contrary, resistant, itchy.

There is more to say about location: Lachish was vital to the defense of Jerusalem. Starting here, valleys lead east to passes that ascend the mountain of Judah. The two photos below indicate this access. The first is the eastern portion, showing the routes up the mountain to Hebron. The photo below it, farther west, shows the routes from Lachish to the foot of the mountain. 

From the foot of the mountain to Hebron
From Lachish to foot of mountain
The need to protect their mountain led the Judeans to fortify Lachish. They did so first in the 9th century BC. This fortress city lasted until the Assyrians arrived to put down Hezekiah's revolt in 701. Less than a century later, King Josiah partly refortified the hill, but it fell to the Babylonians - or their allies, the Edomites.

Such are the factors explaining the existence of a city here. We shall now take a closer look at the history, connecting it, where we can, with what can be seen at the site.