Monday, December 22, 2014

Bonus 59 - Lachish Letters

Lachish Letters
Photo by Dr. David E. Graves
Courtesy of the Trustees for the British Museum
Between 1935 and 1938 James L. Starkey1. found 18 pottery sherds (ostraca) written in black ink at the excavations at Lachish (Tel ed-Duweir) and thus became known as the Lachish Letters (Hoshaiah Letters). In 1938 Olga Tufnell found 3 more to make a total of 21 ostraca. They were a series of correspondence written in an ancient form of Hebrew from the time of Jeremiah describing how there were only three cities remaining under Judean control just prior to the fall of Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, to the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. They indicate that the town of Azekah, under the control of Nebuchadnezzar’s rebellious puppet king, had just fallen. This is confirmed by Jeremiah.
Then Jeremiah the prophet spoke all these words to Zedekiah king of Judah, in Jerusalem, 7 when the army of the king of Babylon was fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities of Judah that were left, Lachish and Azekah, for these were the only fortified cities of Judah that remained. (Jeremiah 34:6-7 ESV)
 Shortly after the Lachish letters were written (588 BC) Lachish would also fall along with the capital of Jerusalem. 2.
Mitchell relays that:
The ostraca belong to this time, and are mostly letters written from outposts to a man named Ya’oah, the military commander at Lachish, reporting on the situation.  Most of them use the language of polite formality, rather unexpectedly in view of the critical situation which culminated in total defeat. ‘May Yahweh cause my lord to hear news of peace, even now, even now. Who is your servant but a dog that my lord should remember his servant?’ 3.
Scholars debate where the letter was written from, and where it was sent to since the wording is unclear. The text literally states: “Watching we are Lachish of beacon for/over that.”
Yigal Yadin prefers to translate it “that for the signal-stations of Lachish we are watching”
(watching over / tending) the beacon of Lachish.” According to Torczyner it means “for”.
The Lachish letters are important because they confirm several biblical names that are recorded on these letters. They also help to date the period because of the style of the pottery. They also demonstrate some common Hebrew names of the time period and the chronological order of the destruction of the remaining cities of ancient Judah. The letters also confirm the site of ed-Duweir as the ancient city of Lachish.

Lachish was also excavated by the Tel Aviv University (1973-87).

  • 1. After Starkey was murdered in 1938, local Arabs looted all that was left of the temple at Lachish, including the remains of the lowest level. 
  • 2. T. C. Mitchell, Biblical Archaeology: Documents from the British Museum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).  78-79.
  • 3. T. C. Mitchell, Biblical Archaeology: Documents from the British Museum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).  78-79.

For Further Study
  • Albright, W. F. "Palestinian Inscriptions: The Lachish Ostraca" in The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures. Edited by James B. Pritchard, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010), 292.
  • Aḥituv, Shmuel. Echoes from the Past. Jerusalem: CARTA Jerusalem, 2008.
  • Ganor, N. R. “The Lachish Letters.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 99 No. 2 (1967): 74–77
  • Gordon Cyrus H. “Lachish Letter IV.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 67 (Oct., 1937): 30–32.
  • King, Philip J. Jeremiah: An Archaeological Companion. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1993, 80-84.
  • Lemaire, Andre. Inscriptions Hebraiques I: Les ostraca (Paris, Cerf, 1977).
  • Marston, C. “The Lachish Letters.” Expository Times 46 no. 11 (1935): 502–504.
  • Rainey, Anson F. “Watching for the Signal Fires of Lachis,” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 119 (1987): 149–151.
  • Reider, Joseph. “The Lachish Letters,” The Jewish Quarterly Review New Series, 29, No. 3 (1939): 225-239.
  • Thomas, D. W. “The Lachish Letters.” Journal of Theological Studies 40 (1939): 1–15.
  • Torczyner, Harry. Lachish I: The Lachish Letters. London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1938.

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