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article imageAncient stone toilet bears witness to religious reform in Israel

By Karen Graham     Oct 2, 2016 in Science
A stone toilet unearthed at a large city gate that dates to the Eighth century BC in Tel Lachish National Park in Israel, provides compelling evidence of the Biblical tale of King Hezekiah's religious reforms when he banished all cult worship sites.
Going back in history to ancient Judah, the city of Lachish was second in importance only to Jerusalem. The city's long history began during the Pottery Neolithic period (5500–4500 BCE), with it eventually becoming a fortified city and stronghold that guarded the valleys leading to Jerusalem and the interior of the country.
When Hezekiah assumed the throne in 715 BC, he became the 13th King of Judah. At that time, Judah was under Assyrian subservience and required to pay tribute. But when Sargon II, the king of Assyria, died in 705 BCE, Hezekiah decided to cease paying the tributes, and by 701 BCE, with the revolt fully underway, Lachish was captured by the Assyrians after a long siege.
Ancient arrowheads are evidence of the siege of Lachish by the Assyrians in 701 BCE.
Ancient arrowheads are evidence of the siege of Lachish by the Assyrians in 701 BCE.
Israeli Antiquities Authority
But it was during the siege of Jerusalem in 701 BCE by Assyria that King Hezekiah enacted sweeping religious reforms, including a strict mandate for the sole worship of Yahweh and a prohibition on the worship of other deities within the Temple in Jerusalem.
In the city of Lachish, the same held true, and Hezekiah's orders are evident in the stone toilet uncovered in the excavations by the archaeologists at the city's gates.
You can clearly see the three chambers on either side of the main street at the Lachish city gate.
You can clearly see the three chambers on either side of the main street at the Lachish city gate.
Israeli Antiquities Authority
Present day Tel Lachish and the magnificent city gates
Excavations at Tel Lachish, an 18-acre site atop a dominating mound in the foothills, first began in 1932. But it wasn't until 1973 when David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University renewed excavation work at the site that the city gate complex was further revealed. His work went on until 1987. The city's gates are preserved to a height of 18 feet.
Ussishkin's work is unique and notable because he left parts of the city gate complex only partially unearthed because he wanted future archaeologists to finish the work, giving fresh insight into not only his findings but in helping to complete the full picture of the scope of the city's history.
Jar handles found at the site (pictured) bear marks of ownership that indicate the contents belonged...
Jar handles found at the site (pictured) bear marks of ownership that indicate the contents belonged to the king of Hebron.
Israeli Antiquities Authority
Led by Sa’ar Ganor, director of the excavation, a team of Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists has finished excavating the large city gate of Lachish. It consists of six chambers, three on each side of the main street. Artifacts found in the chambers give us a clearer picture of life in the ancient city.
The present-day excavation of the city gate
According to the Daily Mail, Dr. Ganor said: "The size of the gate is consistent with the historical and archaeological knowledge we possess, whereby Lachish was a major city and the most important one after Jerusalem."
According to the biblical narrative  the cities  gates were the place where  everything took place :...
According to the biblical narrative, the cities' gates were the place where 'everything took place': the city elders, judges, governors, kings and officials -- everyone would sit on these benches.
Israeli Antiquities Authority
"The city elders, judges, governors, kings, and officials – everyone would sit on benches in the city gate. These benches were found in our excavation," Dr. Ganor added.
One chamber has stone benches with armrests, jars, scoops for grain and jar handles stamped with identifying symbols of their owners. The jars are believed to be from that period of time when Lachish was under siege by Assyria in 701 BCE. Seal impressions bear Hezekiah's royal mark and the name of a senior official during Hezekiah's reign.
The shrine at the gate was a room with white-plastered walls with a bench upon which offerings were placed, along with two four-horned altars, and ceramic lamps, bowls, and stands. The horns on the altars had been smashed, evidence of King Hezekiah's religious reforms at the time.
The stone toilet was placed in the shrine room to desecrate it.
The stone toilet was placed in the shrine room to desecrate it.
Israeli Antiquities Authority
Dr. Ganor said: "Steps to the gate-shrine in the form of a staircase ascended to a large room where there was a bench upon which offerings were placed." It was here that the limestone toilet was found. The toilet was placed in the room to desecrate it and prevent the room from being used for religious ceremonies. Tests showed the toilet had never been used and was put there as a symbolic measure.
The practice of destroying cult sites and putting a toilet in them is well documented in the Old Testament. In the Book of Kings, King Jehu's fight against the worshipers of the pagan god Baal is documented: II Kings 10:27 - "And they demolished the pillar of Baʽal, and demolished the house of Baʽal, and made it a latrine to this day,"
More about Archaeology, Tel Lachish, stone toilet, King Hezekiah, 8th century BC
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