TELL LACHISH – FACTS AND INTERPRETATIONS
CRITICISMS AND PROPOSALS
BASED ON THE EXCAVATION REPORT (1983)1
[1984, revised 1989, 2000]
Translated from Hebrew
1. The absence of stratigraphic continuity in some of the excavation areas.
2. The simultaneous appearance of finds, ascribed to different periods, in a single stratum or in the same grave.
These problems, as we shall see further on, have not yet been fully solved. The archaeological expedition of Tel-Aviv University under the direction of D. Ussishkin renewed the digging at the tell in 1973. In a preliminary excavation report published in 19783 it was pointed out that the excavations were conducted according to modern methods which stressed quality above quantity4. In an attempt to avoid the problems which Starkey had run into, the Israeli team preferred not to depend on the numbering system for the stratigraphic levels used by the British team. Rather, they would mark anew the strata in every excavation area separately, adopting an objective unbiased approach to their findings. However, as the work progressed, and especially as the different excavation areas began to link with one another stratigraphically, the Israeli team arrived at the conclusion that the old division into levels was reliable and they decided to adopt it once again. Despite their up-to-date excavation methods and their open, objective approach, there appeared in the work of the Israeli team the same problems which plagued the British team, mainly the problem of lack of stratigraphic continuity5.
In this article I shall present some problematic findings and forced
explanations which appear in the excavation reports, and I shall attempt
to clear up the discrepancies through a strict distinction between facts
and interpretations. To this end I shall review the findings at the various
areas of the dig, according to the order which they appear in the reports,
and I will try to analyze and interpret them anew, setting question marks
against certain determinations which are widely accepted today. Below I
shall contrast two models of interpretation. In the interests of clarity
I have used a terminology which differs from both of the models. The periods
965 B.C. to 701 B.C. and 701 B.C. to 586 B.C. are called in one model “the
period of the Early Kingdom of Israel” and “the period of the Late Kingdom
of Israel” respectively, and in keeping with this, the same periods are
called in an alternative model “the Early First Temple period” and “the
Late First Temple period”. Whenever I want to use the conventional name
of an excavation site, I place the name in brackets. Whenever I denote
one of the sites by an unconventional name, I add “according to our hypothesis”.
A. The “Judean Palace-Fort Area”
- Area P
Area P6, because of its location at the highest point in the central region of the tell, is the key site in the stratigraphic understanding of the entire tell. In this excavation area the appearance of the fullest representation of all the settlement strata is of high probability. In the bottom-most stratum of the dig were found remains of massive walls which testified, in the opinion of the investigators, to the existence of a palace. This structure was termed “the Middle Bronze Palace, Level VIII”7. In the rooms of the palace were found destruction debris, among which were ceramic remains, scarabs and the remains of chunks of carbonized wood. The samples of wood were identified as Lebanese cedar, tamarisk, and olive. Signs of a great conflagration testified to the reason for the destruction of the palace. Above the palace were found the remains of a structure which, according to its design and contents, was identified by the excavators as a temple and was called “the Late Bronze Temple, Level VI”8. In it also were found the remains of large beams of Lebanese cedar. In the opinion of the excavators it is likely that the design of the temple served as a prototype for Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem; this on the basis of resemblance in the design of the two temples. This structure was also destroyed in a great fire. Above the temple was found a structure called “the Judean Palace-Fort”. This structure juts out above ground level and was built in three parts. Part A is a square structure. Part B is a U-shaped addition which is attached to the south side of square A. Part C is a wall which continues parallel to the common east wall of the structure AB. The space of the “Judean Palace-Fort” is divided by a system of walls into rooms filled with soil. The investigators surmised that this structure served as a podium9 to a palace built above it, for the following reasons:
1. On the roof of the structure AB was a floor on which were the remains of an additional structure.
2. A set of stairs attached to wall C led to the roof of structure AB.
3. The structure AB is filled with a heap of earth. The sherds within structure AB and in the ramp of soil were found in reverse order to their usual appearance in excavations.
The remains of the structure which was above the roof of structure AB were called “the Residency, Level I”, and were assigned to the last settlement stratum of the tell.
Because of the stratigraphic location of the podium above the Late Bronze stratum, its dating was determined to be the period of the Israelite kingdom. This determination gave rise to problems because:
1. No evidence of Early Iron Age construction was found between the Late Bronze temple and the Late Iron Age podium.
2. No remains whatsoever were found of any Israelite palace above the podium.
3. On the floor of the structure called “the Residency”, which was attributed to the Persian period because of its stratigraphic location, was found Hellenistic pottery. The excavation report of the British expedition had already noted that there is nothing ithe design of the structure or in the potsherds that points to a Persian influence10.
4. No clear Hellenistic stratum was found, despite the appearance of Hellenistic finds. E. Stern wrote: “The excavators overly disregarded the Hellenistic remains especially. Their conclusion that the settlement in Lachish was already largely abandoned in the time of Alexander does not stand up to the examination of finds. The find of coins includes thirty or so from the end of the fourth century and from the third century B.C. (from the days of Alexander until the time of Ptolemy IV). It seems that represented in this find are almost all the kings from the houses of Ptolemy and Seleucus, and Lachish is one of the few places in Israel with such a full continuity”11.
In the manner similar to that used by the Israeli excavation team in approaching the finds with objectivity, free from the constraints of convention, we shall try a new way to settle the problems raised up to now. At this point the reader is requested to accept a temporary working hypothesis, which stands in complete contradiction to all that is known and accepted in the archaeology of Israel. This hypothesis is put forward at this stage as purely an intellectual exercise; in the closing chapter a discussion of its wider implications will be given.
The reader is requesto adopt the hypothesis that the “Middle Bronze Age Palace, Level VIII” is a palace from the Early First Temple period which was destroyed in the days of the Assyrians in 701 B.C. and that the “Late Bronze Age Temple, Level VI” represents an Israelite temple from the Late First Temple period which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The resemblance of the “Level VI Temple” to Solomon’s Temple, the monumental building, the use of Lebanese cedar and the two large destruction strata, lend a certain amount of support to this hypothesis.
On the basis of our working hypothesis the “podium” will now be dated, because of its stratigraphic location above the temple from the Late First Temple period, as a structure from the period following the exile. The determination that this structure, built in three distinct sections (A,B,C), served as a podium in one of the stages of its existence, does not testify to its having been planned a priori as a podium. The opposite is the case. Its three sections represent three phases in the building process which may be reconstructed as follows: Phase A was built first. On the basis of our working hypothesis it was built close to the Persian period and by its shape it is probable that it served as fortress. The addition B is broadening of structure A and was built in the Persian period. In the Hellenistic period the structure AB (apparently after it was partially destroyed and stood neglected for a time) served as a podium for the structure that was built above it. Within the framework of the preparation of the structure AB for its function as a podium, building activities and earth fills took place within it. Its eastern walls were strengthened by addition of wall C. The spaces between its walls had been filled with earth, taken from destruction heaps and mounds that pilled during the period of abandonment of the structure. The roof of the structure AB was straightened and used as a floor, and thus structure AB became a foundation-podium for the building above it (The Residency). Joined to wall C was built a series of steps which led to the Residency building (to the roof of the podium).
It seems that our working hypothesis affords a simple and logical explanation of the finds in area P without the need for complicated explanations:
1. The problem of the non-appearance of the Early Iron age between the “Late Bronze Temple” and the “Israelite Podium” disappears, because according to our hypothesis the podium is a Persian structure which appears in stratigraphic continuity with the neighboring strata.
2. There is no need for the hypothesis of the existence of an “Israelite Palace” which disappeared without a trace.
3. There is no need for the hypothesis of pits12
to explain the find of the Persian sherds and Hellenistic coins in area
P, because according to our hypothesis the find corresponds to its stratigraphic
It seems that in the small section of area P, our temporary working hypothesis allows a simple and logical explanation of the finds and does not raise any problems. Will this hypothesis stand up to the test of the findings in other excavation areas of the tell?
B. The Section Area - Area S
The Section area13 as excavated between the south-west corner of the “Podium” and the edge of the tell. It extends in the east-west direction, its width is about 10 meters and its length about 100 meters. This area serves as the connecting link between area P and the other parts of the tell. The most outstanding find in this area is a massive brick wall that extends from the “Podium” to the edge of the tell and from there at an angle of about 90 degrees, southward in the direction of the city gates. Built onto this wall14 were late building extensions15 . The excavators assumed that this wall, at least in its western part which stretches the length of the edge of the tell16 served as a city wall. The structure of the wall fits in with the structure of the western wall of the “Podium”17 and they appear to belong to one system of construction. This wall, which is called “the Upper Wall”, was built above structures ascribed to the Late Bronze. On the western slope of the tell was a sloped embankment, or glacis, which descended from the “Upper Wall” to an additional wall called “the Lower Wall”. The find of the glacis led the excavators to infer that the “Lower Wall” is nothing but a revetment wall of that glacis18. This conclusion, taken together with the fact that the stratigraphic location of the “Upper Wall” is above the Late Bronze stratum, leads one to an additional inference: that at the end of the Late Canaanite period the city had no wall19.
If we remember that following the temporary working hypothesis we concluded that part B of the podium was built in the Persian period it follows necessarily that the “Upper Wall” - which connects structurally and stratigraphically to that very part - is also from the Persian era.
The extensions above the wall and the heaps of earth that pilled next to it are then from the Hellenistic period. The structures that are beneath the wall are from the two periods of the First Temple. The two fire and destruction layers beneath the wall correspond to the Assyrian conquest and the Babylonian conquest. In the Second preliminary report (p.115) are described the destruction and ruins in structure 3612, which was apparently a public building occupied by refugees on the eve of the conquest, which according to our hypothesis was the Babylonian conquest. The description of the two-year-old armless boy and the description of the child who had been flung to the ground are the most shocking even though written in dry scientific language. They call forth the memory of the phrase: “O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us - he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Psalms 137:9, NIV translation).
The inference of the excavators that Lachish during the Late Bronze period was an unwalled city is not reasonable. It does not make sense that a city of such dimensions and of such wealth would be without a wall. The “Upper City Wall” is, according to our hypothesis, from the Persian era. It follows that the “Lower City Wall” (the “revetment wall”) is the city wall of the First Temple period. And indeed in a trial cut of the “Lower Wall” in area S it became clear that it had a width of 3.5 meters, its remains reached a height of 2.5 meters and it was built of large square stones20. Further finds which shed light on the structure of the “Lower Wall” were din the region of the gate (area G) and in the region of the “Assyrian Siege-Ramp” (area R). A more detailed discussion of the problem of the city walls will be given in connection with the finds in these two locations.
In one of the rooms in the “Late Bronze stratum” beneath the “Upper City Wall” was found a scarab bearing the cartouche of Amenhotep II. This king lived during the years 1436-1413 B.C.21. This find, against which we stumbled, is the first find which stands in contradiction to our temporary working hypothesis and to the reconstruction made in accordance with it. The discussion of this contradictory find and generally of the Egyptian finds at Tell Lachish will be given in connection with the analysis of the finds in the gate area (area G).
The reconstruction of area S according to our working hypothesis determines
that the “Upper City Wall” is from the Persian era while the “Lower Wall”
is from the First Temple period. With the aid of this determination the
problem of the missing wall from the Late Bronze period is solved. New
problems have not appeared, apart from the scarab of Amenhotep II, with
which we shall deal, as stated, later on.
C. City Gate area - Area G
The city gate area is one of the most problematic excavation areas in Lachish22. In this area up to now a very small number of loci were dug into, in most of which the digging reached the intermediate level only. Therefore it is not yet possible to determine the stratigraphic connection between the inner gate and the outer gate. Any attempt to link the finds woube speculative. I will discuss then each gate separately.
Inner Gate Area Here were found two gates, one on top of the other. The lower of the two was called “Gate from Level III-IV”, while the upper was called “Gate from Level II”. The lower gate was built in the well-known pattern of the “Solomonic gates” which were found in Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, i.e., a gateway built with eight pillars between which were six chambers, three on each side of the passageway.
Two trial cuts were dug at this gate. In the probe that was inside the central chamber of the north wing of the gate, two loci were dug23. In both, the diggers descended to beneath the gate’s foundations and there found the remnants of shattered walls and the remains of fire and destruction. In this pit was found a chache of metal artifacts. On one of the artifacts was a cartouche bearing the prenomen of Ramesses III. A short distance from the cache, but at lower level, a scarab was found bearing the name of Tuthmosis III.
The excavators ascribed this gate, from Stratum III-IV, to the period of the Early Israelite kingdom. Above the west wall of Gate III-IV was found a gate of modest dimensions. This upper gate (“The Gate from Level II”) was connected to the stone wall which had been built onto the upper city wall. A road of pressed earth passed over Gate III-IV and at its edges a drainage ditch meandered in disorderly fashion.
The explanation of the finds of the inner gate, according to our working hypothesis, creates the following picture: The structure “Gate from Stratum III-IV” is connected stratigraphically and structurally with the upper city wall24. Since that wall was dated by us as Persian, this gate also must be from the Persian period. This determination stands in apparent opposition to the accepted opinion that the pattern of the gate is that of “Solomon Gate”. The latter has its origin in the well-known proof of Y. Yadin. Yadin compared a certain section having four pillars which appeared in the plans of Macalister’s report of the excavations in Gezer, with the pattern of the gates which had been excavated at Megiddo and Hazor. On the basis of the resemblance of form and on the basis of the biblical verse that Solomon “built Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer”, Yadin anticipated the existence of a gate section in Gezer. In the excavations organized in 1964-1965 in Gezer, that same section was laid bare. That event was accepted as a proof that the gates were from the Solomonic period25.In my opinion, this proof testifies indeed to the simultaneity of the aforementioned gates, but not to their absolute dating. It seems, then, that the “simultaneity” proof of Yadin does not contradict the determination that “The Gate from Stratum III-IV” is from the Persian period, but from this determination there are implications for the explanation of finds at other sites. I shall deal with these implications in the closing chapter of this work.
Let us continue now with our reconstruction of the area of the inner gate: Above “The Gate from Stratum III-IV” which according to our hypothesis is Persian, a gate was constructed and a road laid down in the Hellenistic period. This gate is called by the excavators “The Gate from Stratum II”. At the same period the Persian-period city wall was repaired and renovated and an additional stone wall built on the top of it.
It seems that the Persian city gate (called “The Gate from Stratum III-IV”) was built on the top of the destruction layers of the Israelite city from the First Temple period. The excavations in the pit in loci 4164 and 4584 penetrated in its lowest section to these strata (below the altitude 256.0026). The appearance of sherds from Stratum VI (the “Late Bronze”, which is the stratum from the First Temple period according to our hypothesis) below the foundations of the gate is not “unexpected” (in the words of the excavators27) but is found in its correct place, according to our hypothesis. On the other hand, it is difficult to reconcile the appearance of artifacts (a bronze fragment and a scarab) which bear the cartouches of Ramesses III (1182-1151 B.C.) and Thuthmosis III (1490-1436 B.C.) beneath the base of “The Gate from Stratum III-IV”, with our claim that this gate is from the Persian era. These two finds will now be discussed in greater detail.
The 1983 excavation report devotes much space to the bronze fragment bearing the cartouche of Ramesses III. The identification of the name and the analysis of the find are included in a special article written by the Egyptologist R. Giv’on, who had identified the artifact.
Now, Egyptology is a specialized field which demands many years of training, the study of hieroglyphics, and the study of the Ancient Egyptian language. This science is the preserve of the very few. It is very difficult to put the conclusions of the Egyptologists to the test, and the debates on the subject take place among and between themselves. Nevertheless, since their conclusions on the topic of the cartouche of Ramesses III do not square with the reconstruction according to our hypothesis, I shall take the bull by the horns and present the Egyptologists with a number of questions. According to Giv’on’s article, the bronze artifact discussed here “was badly damaged but easily restorable”28. The work of reconstruction maintained that this cartouche bears the first name of Ramesses III (Usermare) and his title “beloved of Amon” (Meryamun). The completion of the second name (cartouche) - which was not found in the excavations - was accomplished by comparison with a similar artifact in the Cairo museum, an object from the time of Apries of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty. The reconstruction is in the main that of half the hieroglyph “R” (in the name Usermare) and of the hieroglyph “Mery” (in the title Meryamun). A reading of the above article reveals that just last hieroglyph causes problems: “This form of name with the word ‘mry’ in this specific form and position is very rare. It does not occur in the scarabs of Ramesses III or in any of his inscriptions in Canaan (Megiddo, Bet-She’an, Timna). In dated inscriptions it is attested for the years 5-6 of his reign but from his later regnal years there are isolated instances”29.
The first question, if so, is: Is this reconstruction of the missing
data the only one possible?
Gardiner30 claims that Ramesses III, in recognitof his ancestors of the Nineteenth Dynasty, stamped his name (Usermare-Ramesses) in the manner of Ramesses II. In the Twentieth Dynasty we find another three kings who bear the first name Usermare (Ramesses V, VII, and VIII).
The second question is: Is the appearance of the name Usermare sufficient
to identify Ramesses III?
In this connection a third question, that of methodology, arises: Did the identifying investigator do a “blind-identification”, or did he know a priori that the bronze artifact was found under “The Gate from Level III-IV” and make his choice among the various alternatives on that basis? (Incidentally, if other pieces of the inscription should be found, I would not be surprised if it turns out that the cartouche is that of Ramesses II).
Beyond the questions raised above, the main problem with the two finds
under discussion is the problem of their dating. The conventional dates
of Ramesses III and Thuthmosis III stand in opposition to the conclusions
of the reconstruction in this article. An interesting phenomenon is that
the model presented in this article solves the web of existing problems,
and gives a simple and logical explanation for all the finds, until it
comes up against the Egyptian finds. The excavators themselves, and especially
the British expedition, vacillated greatly in their attempts to explain
the Egyptian finds (especially the scarab finds). More and more then, a
picture emerges of two models of interpretation which contradict each other:
the model which is based upon our working hypothesis as against that based
on the Egyptian chronology. At this point I would like to set a question
mark next to the credibility of Egyptian chronology, and to continue with
the reconstruction of the tell. In the closing chapter I shdeal in more
detail with Egyptian chronology.
The Area of the Outside Gate
This area31 was excavated in a very limited number of places. It is still difficult to specify the plan of the gate. The entire area revealed construction in large stones. the “Lower City Wall” (“The Revetment Wall”) reaches, in this area, a height of four meters. The dimensions of the wall and the manner in which it was built are most impressive32. In addition, a well-built drainage system was found, with an outlet in the city wall33.
The outer gate system seems to be connected to the “Lower City Wall”.
We recall that the “Lower City Wall” is, according to our hypothesis, the
city wall of the First Temple period. It follows that the outer gate is
the city gate at the time of the First Temple.
Up to this point I have succeeded, with the aid of our working hypothesis, to explain the existing finds. However, the test of any theoretical model is its ability to make predictions. I would like to submit my proposed model to such a test and attempt to predict the design of the as-yet-unexcavated outer gate. The outer gate of Lachish is, according to my hypothesis, from the First Temple period; and since I identify the First Temple period with the Late Bronze period, I assume that this gate was built in the manner of the gates of the Late Bronze period. To reconstruct the structure of this gate, then, I shall use the gate at Megiddo, Strata VIIb-IX, as an example. This generates the following model in Lachish: The city gate is collinear with the “Lower City Wall”, in the north-south direction. The road which rises from the foot of the tell to the gate leads to an outer city square, and the entrance to the gate is at a 90 degree angle, in the east-west direction. The gatehouse is built of six pillars and four chambers, two on each side of the entrance-way. The width of the gateway is about four meters. On either side are guardrooms. (It was in the south guardroom, according to the above reconstruction, that the “Lachish Letters” were found). Beyond the gate is the gate square. The royal palace is likely to be within it. It is possible that the Persian gate (called by the excavators “the Inner Gate III-IV”) is above the ruins of this palace. A hint of this is given by the plethora of finds concentrated in a very limited area excavated in the middle chamber of the inner gate, including a gold leaf, a scarab, bronze artifacts, and a signet ring.
The Gates and the Problem of Dating of
the Burnt Layers
No stratigraphic or structural connection was found between the outer gate and the inner gate, and in my opinion there is no such connection. The attempt by the investigators to reconstruct the gate system including these two gates caused the appearance of serious problems34. One of them is that of the dating of the destruction layer of Stratum III, which is among the most complex problems in the chronology of Lachish. The burnt layer of Stratum II in the outer gate was dated, on the basis of the “Lachish Letters” to the destruction of the city by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. This stratum was thought by the excavators to belong to the time of stratum II in the entire tell. A logical inference would then be that the destruction layer of Stratum III represents the destruction of the city by Sennacherib in 701 B.C. However, the investigators differ among themselves regarding this inference. Starkey did not accept it because in his opinion there was an obvious similarity in the pottery of Strata II and III. He advanced the hypothesis that Stratum III had been destroyed in 597 B.C., only about ten years before the destruction of Stratum II35. Olga Tufnell, by contrast, argues that there is a great difference between the pottery of Stratum III and that of Stratum II, and thus, in her opinion, Stratum III was destroyed by the Assyrians. The opinion of Starkey was shared by such researchers as Albright, Wright, Kraus, Lapp and Kenyon, while that of Tufnell was supported by such researchers as Barnett, Mazar, Amiran and Aharoni. D. Ussishkin supports the opinion of Tufnell. In his words: “On the basis of scriptural testimony on the one hand, and of the Lachish Relief on the other, it is possible to assume that in the year 701 B.C. Lachish was a strong and fortified city, and that the Assyrian army conquered and destroyed it. And yet, between Stratum VI which is the latest Canaanite city and Stratum II which is the latest city of the period of the Judaic Kingdom, only Stratum III reflects a powerful city destroyed by fire. Thus, Stratum III was destroyed in 701 B.C.36.
In the light of the reconstruction of the inner gate and the outer gate
according to our working hypothesis (see above) a completely different
solution to the problem of the destruction layers of Strata II and III
is drawn up. Stratum II in the area of the outer gate is the stratum from
the Late First Temple period while Stratum II in the area of the inner
gate is from the Hellenistic period. The destruction layer of Stratum II
belongs, then, to the conquest of the city at the end of the Hellenistic
era. Stratum III is, according to our hypothesis, the Persian stratum.
Its destruction layer represents the conquest of the Persian city by the
Hellenists. The Babylonian destruction and the Assyrian destruction, on
whose placements the investigators differed, are represented by strata
found at a depth of two to four meters beneath the destruction layers of
Stratum III. The excavators reached these layers in a very limited area
of the dig, in excavations beneath the foundations of the “Gate of Level
III-IV”, in loci 4164 and 4584.
D. The Area of the Assyrian
Siege-Ramp - Area R
In this area37 the excavators encountered an abundance of unexplainable surprises. A siege-ramp, which began at the foot of the tell and reached the “Lower City Wall”, was discovered. At the foot of this wall were found remains of battle: an abundance of arrowheads, slingstones, bits of armor and more. A destruction and fire layer was also discovered. The siege-ramp continued beyond the “Lower Wall” and reached the “Upper Wall”, but strangely enough no remains of the ramp were found on the top of the “Lower Wall” and the excavators were forced to assume thStarkey in his excavations had removed the ramp stones at that location. The excavators were surprised to find that precisely at this important strategic point, the upper city wall, which was cleared to a depth of 4.60 meters, was built of bricks, and was poorly constructed and clumsily laid38. At the top of the mound which is beyond the “Upper Wall” a ramp of refuse was discovered on which was built the “Stone City Wall - Stratum II”. The excavators assumed that this ramp was built by the besieged to oppose the “Assyrian Siege-Ramp”. This opposing ramp is comparable in magnitude to the siege-ramp. In an excavation of the opposing ramp were found sherds from the Chalcolithic period up to the Late Bronze period. To the surprise of the excavators, no sherds from Stratum III were found39.
According to the reconstruction based upon our hypothesis, the city wall at the time of the Assyrian siege was the “Lower Wall”. During the later First Temple period, the “Lower City Wall” was repaired, to be destroyed by the Babylonians. The line of the Persian wall - the “Upper City Wall” - was built of bricks, and was poorly constructed and clumsily laid. In the course of time, a heap of refuse was accumulated at this remote part of the city. The Hellenistic wall (called by the excavators “Wall II”) was built on this refuse heap. In their attempt to explain the purpose of this refuse heap, the excavators posited that it was an “opposing ramp” to the “Assyrian Siege-Ramp”. This hypothesis is not sensible. It does not stand to reason that a city engaged in battle under heavy siege would carry out such extensive earthwork.
The mistaken attribution of the Hellenistic wall to the period of the
Kingdom of Israel had led the researchers to make two unreasonable theories:
The “opposing earth ramp” and the Late Bronze “unwalled city”. Our temporary
working hypothesis, and the consequent reconstruction of all areas of theexcavation,
have led to a simple, logical, and consistent interpretation of the findings,
free of the need for complex and unreasonable theories as these.
Summary, Discussion, and Conclusions
In this chapter we shall summarize the conclusions of the reconstruction and discuss its implications. According to our reconstruction, most of the Tell Lachish finds which were close to the surface or protruded above it, are from the Persian and Hellenistic periods. In the Persian period a section of the previous city area, destroyed during the Babylonian conquest, was rebuilt to include a fortress and a system of storehouses. The city was surrounded by a thick brick wall with large impressive gate. It appears that the city served simultaneously as a military center and administrative district capital. The abundance of potsherds bearing Hebrew inscriptions of that period shows (in agreement with Nehemiah 11:30) that Judean settlement continued in the tell during the Persian period. With the waning of the Persian rule in the land began the slow decline of the city as well. The frequent rebellions and the various wars caused damage to the structures of the city. The Hellenistic conquest saw the city destroyed and half-abandoned. During the Hellenistic era, a final attempt was made to revive the dying city, and Persian structures which had been destroyed and abandoned were restored. A stone wall was constructed on the foundations of the Persian city wall. A modest gate was built on the ruins of the Persian gate. A governor’s residence was apparently erected over the Persian fortress. In one of the many wars that subsequently passed over the land (perhaps even one of the Hasmonean wars), the city was conquered and destroyed. This destruction of the moribund city was final; The centrality of power and activity passed to neighboring Mareshah.
The most exciting conclusion of this reconstruction is that the second largest royal city of Judah, barely revealed as yet, has been found, and it lies for the most part under a three-meter-thick stratum. This city was found in the same condition it was in on the day of its destruction in the summer of the year 586 B.C. The palaces, the temples, the streets, the stores, and the houses - all are preserved unchanged and await the spade of an Israeli digger to rescue them from oblivion. The abundance of finds at the limited number of points which revealed the nature of life at a stratum of (according to our hypothesis) the First Temple period, provides a hint as to what awaits us as the excavations progress.
A single working hypothesis has led to a simple, consistent explanation of the findings in Tell Lachish, one which avoids all those problems which have plagued excavators since the first expedition at the site. However this explanation, which fits Lachish so well, contradicts everything that is known and accepted in Israeli archaeology. And here we are faced with a dilemma. Do we, in the light of this contradiction, abandon our working hypothesis and with it reject our entire reconstruction of Tell Lachish, or shall we rather continue our investigations into the archaeology of Israel, in the hope of discovering the factors responsible for the problems, similar to those at Tell Lachish, which exist at a large fraction of excavation sites in Israel.
The pattern of strata in Israel was determined at the beginning of the
century by Petrie and Albright. Their absolute dating was determined on
the basis of Egyptian artifacts found during the excavations. Thus, in
fact, the dating of the strata in Israel has been based on Egyptian Chronology.
Despite this chronology having been determined in a tentative manner only,
and in the second half of the nineteenth century, it is accepted at present
as the only authentic chronology of the ancient world. At the same time,
a procession of scholars continues to cast doubt on various of its aspects.
Among these are scientists of renown such as Breasted40,
Gardiner41, and Hall42.
In an article entitled “The Foundations of the Egyptian Chronology”43,
which appeared in 1977, I. Velikovsky argues that the conventional Egyptian
Chronology is in error. He proposes an alternate chronology, one which
differs from the usual one in both relative and absolute terms. One of
the important conclusions which follow from Velikovsky’s alternate chronology
is that the Late Bronze period is in essence the First Temple period. With
this conclusion our argument, which began with a working hypothesis regarding
the “Israelite Palace-Citadel” area (area P), comes full circle. It appears
that the results of the present reconstruction obligate us to conduct a
fundamental investigation of the accepted model, an investigation that
is free of the strictures of convention. We owe this to science, to ourselves,
and to Israel.
1. Ussishkin, D., Excavations at Tell Lachish 1978-1983.
Second preliminary report, Tel-Aviv 10 (2), 1983.
2. Albright, W. F., The Archaeology of Palestine. Pelican Books (1949), p.40.
3. Ussishkin, D., Excavations at Tell Lachish 1973-1977. Preliminary report, Tel-Aviv 5 (12), 1978.
4. Ibid. p. 5.
5. See: Preliminary report (note 3), pp. 25-27 ; Second preliminary report (note 1), pp. 133-134.
6. Preliminary report (note 3), p. 7, table 2; p.11, table 3; p.37, table 8.
7. Ibid. pp. 7-10.
8. Ibid. p. 24.
9. Henceforth the structure “the Israeli Palace-Citadel” will be referred to in short as “the podium”.
10. Tufnell, O., Lachish III: The Iron Age. London 1953, p. 58.
11. Stern, E., The Material Culture of Erez Israel in the Persian period, Mossad Bialik (1973), p. 48. (Hebrew).
12. Preliminary report (note 3), p. 42.
13. Ibid. p.48-49.
14. Ibid. Table 12: W23, W27, W70.
15. Ibid. Table 13: W2, W11.
16. Ibid. Table 12: W23.
17. Ibid. p. 46.
18. Ibid. p. 43.
19. Ibid. p. 45.
20. Ibid. p. 43.
21. Gardiner, A., Egypt of the Pharaohs, Oxford University Press, London (1961), p. 198.
22. Preliminary report (note 3), pp. 56-57, tables 15, 16.
23. Second preliminary report (note 1), p. 112, fig 12, loci 4160, 4584.
24. Preliminary report (note 3), p. 58.
25. Ussishkin, D., Was the “Solomonic” city gate at Megiddo built by King Solomon?, BASOR, 239 (1980), p. 2.
26. Second preliminary report (note 1), p. 122.
27. Ibid. p. 119.
28. Ibid. p. 176.
29. Ibid. p. 176.
30. Gardiner, A., Egypt of the Pharaohs (note 21), p. 282.
31. Second preliminary report (note 1), p. 121, table 11.
32. Ibid. p. 128.
33. Ibid. p. 131.
34. Ibid. p. 135-136.
35. Ussishkin, D., Lachish in the Days of the Kingdom of Judah - The Story of the New Archaeological Excavations, Qadmoniot 15 (2-3), 1982, p. 46. (Hebrew).
36. Ibid. p. 46.
37. Second preliminary report (note 1), pp. 138-139, tables 19, 20; pp. 144-145,
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