Lachish saves Jerusalem

Veteran archeologist David Ussishkin tells us about himself.

Part of a relief on display at the British Museum. (photo credit: MIKE PEEL/WWW.MIKEPEEL.NET/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Part of a relief on display at the British Museum.
In 701 BCE, the Jewish people faced another threat of extinction. King Shalmaneser captured Samaria in the winter of 722-701 BCE, exiled all inhabitants and allowed his successor, Sargon II, to complete the destruction.
“So Israel was carried out of its own land to Assyria” (II Kings 18:11), and was replaced by scores of strangers. Had their successor, Sennacherib, captured Judea and Jerusalem that year, no Jews would be left in their ancestral land.
Sennacherib’s conquest destroyed 39 Judean towns, but he was held up at Lachish, a king’s town and fortress, before reaching Jerusalem. The details of this bloody and prolonged siege may be seen on the reliefs he put in his favorite Lachish room at his palace in Nineveh. One can see them today in the British Museum, and the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.
Having finally captured Lachish, he went back to Nineveh. Jerusalem was safe for a time; many thought a miracle had occurred.
Indeed, Herodotus wrote that mice ate all the leather of the Assyrian army, making it unable to fight. However, King Hezekiah decided not to underestimate the Assyrian might, paid a heavy tribute and became a vassal two years later.
To excavate Tel Lachish was a dream for David Ussishkin, one of our foremost archeologists. In his autobiography, Biblical Lachish: A Tale of Construction, Destruction, Excavation and Restoration, he tells us all about himself.
It certainly wasn’t easy to live with a such a dream – but he graduated, learned how to live and lead an archeological expedition, and finally found money for such a singlehanded and major scientific undertaking. In chapter after chapter, he reveals himself as a guide who explains every step of his research.
Ussishkin is also an enthusiastic teacher who wants the reader to share his knowledge and experience. In this way, the book combines detailed archeological research with personal explanations and guidance for the lay reader.
We learn all about Lachish from the earliest Neolithic settlement of the sixth millennium BCE, up to today’s moshav of Lachish, founded in 1955. Tel Lachish was excavated by John L. Starkey (1932-1936) and Yohanan Aharoni (1967-1968). The author describes their achievements and the circumstances of the tragic death of Starkey, who was friendly with his many Arab workers, yet was cruelly murdered by Arab terrorists and buried in Jerusalem.
The successive occupation levels uncovered the Canaanite town of the second millennium BCE. Letters found at Tel el-Amarna in Egypt tell us how King Zimridu (1375-40 BCE) defended himself against a charge of disloyalty to his overlord, Pharaoh Akhenaten. The Bible tells us how in the 13th century BCE he fought and captured five Amorite kings, including the king of Lachish, in a cave at Makkedah and put them to death (Joshua 10:29).
The Canaanite town was replaced by a huge royal town with a palace, surrounded by two walls and a well-fortified main gateway with a tower where the famous Lachish letters were found. II Chronicles 11:9-11 tells us how King Rehoboam (son of Solomon) fortified the town.
Ussishkin discovered how Sennacherib captured and entered the town in 701 BCE (II Kings 18:13-17). This was done with the help of a huge ramp he built with stones, like at Masada, and made flat to enable his heavy, armored four-wheel tower to reach the wall and allow the Assyrians an attack from above the wall – not though a breach in the wall.
Lachish reliefs illustrate the intensity of the battle, and Ussishkin’s research found details of Assyrian tactics and the strength of the well-planned Israeli defense. This is added to the backdrop of Starkey’s discovery: a pit containing the skeletons of 1,500 men who died in the battle.