Lachish

Summer 2017

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Success!

Summer Public Tanach Tours are over

Public tours will resume shortly, and a schedule will be posted soon.

It has been a long summer, with nearly 20 Tanach and Jewish History tours running at the Met. The summer Public Tanach Tour series is now complete, and we are gearing up for the year.

Follow Torah Intermedia to learn about upcoming tours, lectures and programs, as well as articles and reviews.

Last Tanach Tour Complete
Paying tribute to the “met sticker” tradition.. last one out of the museum today, Sunday, August 27

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Thank you so much for an amazing tour of the MET with my children! You were so engaging with my children and managed to still fill the rest of the tour for us adults with lots of meaningful content! I will recommend you to anyone looking for a great tour guide of the MET and specifically a Jewish tour. You were great!!!

Rabbi Yochai “Yogi” Robkin
Director of outread of DATA at Plano, Texas
Tanach Highlights Tour on August 17
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“Our extended family, ranging in age from 7 to 65, enjoyed a wonderful tour of the Met with Nachliel. He planned scavenger hunts, decryption games, and more to keep the younger crowd interested while engaging the adults with his vast knowledge. The tour brought the museum to life. I highly recommend it!”
J. Robkin, from Atlanta, GA
Tanach Highlights Family Tour, August 17
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Manhattan Jewish Experience, July 30

Thank you Nachliel providing us all a great understanding of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires and their connection to Tanach!

Rabbi Pinny Rosenthal
Manhattan Jewish Experience
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Mechon Hadar, July 21

We so enjoyed having Nachliel as our guide at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our group had been studying rabbinic materials about idolatry and Nachliel helped bring those issues to life through the Met’s collections. His comfort both with the ancient and classic sculpture we looked at as well as his fluency in Bible and rabbinic literature were terrific!

Rabbi Ethan Tucker
Rosh Yeshiva, Mechon Hadar
New York, NY
Tour took place on July 21
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“Fascinating…Truly eye opening into the world we only hear about. The connection of Ancient Artifacts and the Tanach is explained and put into perspective, especially in this troubled time. This tour only reinforces our Historical connection to the Holy Land of Israel”

Jeff and Chery Klein from Monsey, NY. Participated July 23

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This your is a great way to be introduced to the history of the Ancient Near East! It’s very comprehensive and spans a pretty good range of time. I also loved that it was grounded (corroborated) by passages of Tanakh. I loved seeing the intersection between the written record of history and Torah! Personally, I would have loved to spend more time on the text itself, but it’s hard to do it all in under two hours. I recommend this for anyone who’s interested in the A.N.E.!

Malka Rappaport from Crown Heights, NY. Participated Wednesday, July 12

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Powerful presentation of the era of kings – Regional Kingdoms and Empires…the separation of Israel and Judea and eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the beginning of the Babylonian diaspora. Nachliel is a passionate guide and very informed and well traveled in order to present his material.

Notes were very well researched and presented. This tour was made even more powerful during the period of the three weeks between Tammuz and Tisha b’Av.

– Aliyana Wasserman, Rosanne Koenigson from Edison, NJ. Participated Sunday, July 16

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“I’ve lived in New York City my entire life and have been through the Metropolitan Museum of Art…many times. Nachliel made me feel like I was touring these wings for the first time.”
Mrs. Susan Strassburger. Participated Sunday, June 18
“Nachliel is exceptionally knowledgeable and passionate about his twin loves – Torah and Archeology. He showed us the importance of contextualizing II Melakhim and Yirmiyahu in its Ancient Near Eastern setting…We moved at a rapid-fire pace…”
Ms. Sarah Robinson, Tanach Teacher at Kushner Hebrew Academy. Participated Sunday, June 18
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Some action from Sunday, June 18’s tour

Tanach Tour June 18

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Gear up for the summer with a

Tanach Tour at The Met!

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When?

Sunday afternoon, June 18

Group A:

12:00-1:45

Group B:

2:15-4:00

In Short…

Join us at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as we go through the final chapters of the Kingdom of Israel and the Kingdom of Judah, during the First Temple period, until its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

See fascinating artifacts that bring these civilizations to life, learn about the dilemmas we faced during these times, and understand their historic context.

  • Tour is approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes
  • Materials are provided, but bringing your Tanach is recommended
  • Tour is limited to 25-30 participants at a time

FAQ

For your convenience, you may check the FAQ section, which includes information about arrival, parking, kosher food, as well as a link to the source sheet which I hand out at the Met.

Book your reservation now!

Call or text: 929-233-0950                     E-mail: info@torahintermedia.com

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Reviews:

Nachliel put together an interactive and informative program in the MET. It was a great experience to see firsthand some of the artifacts that our biblical ancestors saw, as presented to us in the Tanach. It was especially moving to stand under the Ishtar Gate, the same gate our ancestors entered through as they were exiled from Jerusalem to Babel during first temple period, circa 586 BC.

Jesse Salem, Brooklyn, NY 
Founder of Tanach Study
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Rav Nachliel led my ninth grade Jewish History students on an eye – opening tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Assyrian, Egyptian, and Babylonian wings. It was important to me that my students gain the requisite background knowledge to more deeply understand the Second Temple Period…Rav Nachliel was professional and thorough and provided an enriching and worthwhile learning experience. I highly recommend a museum tour guided by Rav Nachliel.

Mrs. Frieda Cattan
Jewish History Teacher

Magen David Yeshivah Celia Esses High School, Brooklyn, NY 

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Nachliel’s knowledge, energy and understanding of the art was thorough, colorful and rich. Through an intimate knowledge of history as well, he was able to vibrantly relate manifestations of ancient history to modern cultural events. A history lesson through art would have been satisfying enough, but Nachliel’s added touch of historical events as they relate to modern culture, and his willingness to respond to many questions, often tangential, brought the tour to unexpected heights

Ezra and Deborah Safdieh 

Brooklyn, NY

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I went with Nachliel to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on several occasions. Nachliel is enthusiastic about Torah and archaeology, explaining Tanach and teachings of Chazal in a very engaging manner, passionately bringing Torah to life through the history and the archaeology that we explored together.Indeed, I too look forward to join him on future programs…

Dr. Nisan Hershkowitz, A president of the New York State Academy of General Dentistry, Brooklyn, NY
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I really liked going to the MET with Nachliel. We saw lots of amazing things together. We should go again soon!

 Talia, age 4

Taharqa, Sennacherib and Hezekiah – The Untold Story

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Cover image: King Taharqa leads his queens through a crowd during a festival (Art by Gregory Manchess) Source: Draper 2008

Sometimes the Bible can be misleading. Sometimes.

I would like to discuss an example which demonstrates how a well-documented story, with rich archaeological remains, overshadows a major story. A story which seems to be trivial, almost meaningless, when one reads through the Biblical account.

I hope that this article inspires the reader, especially if she/he is a Biblical Studies teacher, to give more weight to the broader context and archaeological remains, which illuminate a very important story.

Many people know the famous story of Hezekiah and Sennacherib, described in II Kings 18:13 – 20:37, as well as in Isaiah 36-37, and II Chronicles 32. In short, Sennacherib attacks Jerusalem, devastates the kingdom of Judah, challenges Hezekiah in Jerusalem, but does not succeed. He ends up returning to Assyria and is later murdered by his sons, who escape to neighboring Urartu (“Ararat”), and his son Esarhaddon succeeds him. That’s just about it.

One of my favorite educational resources for the classroom is the Megalim Educational Institute of the City of David, Jerusalem. They have great videos in both English and Hebrew (with and without subtitles). Here is a sample video about the famous Sennacherib Prism:

But what happened after that? The Bible tells us one thing, and history and archaeology tell us much more. This story has such rich archaeological remains, many of which can be visited, seen and touched in Israel, and in museums around the world. The more prominent of these are:

  • The Broad Wall – which is literally underneath the house I grew up in, in the Old City.
  • Hezekiah’s Water Cistern, aka Hezekiah’s Tunnel – should be included in your next visit to Jerusalem, especially if you are with children.
  • The Lachish Reliefs – and the actual site of Lachish – which I talk about in several of my previous articles.
  • LMLK Jug Handles, as well as a personal seal of King Hezekiah. The connection of these artifacts to the narrative has several approaches, and some (Professor Oded Lipschits, TAU) attribute the LMLK jug handles to Ahaz – the first Judean king to voluntarily become vassal to Assyria.

Assyria and the Black Pharaohs

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There is much more to the story. In a trivial looking verse (found in an almost identical verse in Isaiah 37:7), the Bible tells us as follows:

And [the king of Assyria] learned that King Tirhakah (Taharqa) of Kush (Nubia) had come out to fight him; so he again sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying… (II Kings 19:9)

In short, Sennacherib was sidetracked by a skirmish with a nebulous King of Kush, and sent his messengers to Hezekiah saying “It ain’t over yet!” or “I’ll be back!”

But that did not happen. Sennacherib goes back home, and that’s all we ever hear from Assyria in our area. Indeed?

To better understand what is missing from this story, and the impact it had on the region, we need to backtrack and see who Taharqa is, and what is the Kingdom of Kush. I will indulge for a bit in the Biblical appearance of the Kingdom of Kush, or Nubia – modern day Sudan, south of Egypt and along the Nile. I hope that this will spur enough curiosity for the reader to further look into this and convey it to whomever will be willing to hear.

The Rivers of Eden

The name of the first is Pishon, the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where the gold is. The gold of that land is good; bdellium is there, and lapis lazuli

The name of the second river is Gihon, the one that winds through the whole land of Kush. (Genesis 2:11-13)

What we find here is a primal description of the building blocks of civilization. We have the Nile, which is called here Gihon (See Rashi), along which develops the land of Kush. A fascinating discussion would be, why do we need to hear about Kush in such primal a description?

The other land is called Havilah. If it is correct to say that it is the source of Lapis Lazuli, then it would probably be in the area of Afghanistan. However, Lapis Lazuli was a treasured commodity which in ancient times was only available to the powerful and the rich. It was rare, and came from far away – Afghanistan and then there is the mention of the “gold of that land which is good”. Such a strange thing to mention.

So we have Gold, and Kush, given special attention in a primal description of the fall of Man from Eden.

Kush, the man

Kush is one of the sons of Ham, from the three progenitors of the seventy nations, according to Biblical tradition (Gen. 10:5-12). Another fascinating discussion would be to just compare what we know today, from history and archaeology, with the entire Biblical description there. But that is another article for another time.

From these the maritime nations branched out. [These are the descendants of Japheth] by their lands—each with its language—their clans and their nations.

The descendants of Ham: Kush, Mizraim (Egypt), Put, and Canaan.

The descendants of Kush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The descendants of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

Kush also begot Nimrod, who was the first man of might on earth.

I am tempted to continue the list, because of the fascinating relationships to Canaan, Assyria, Babylon and more. But we have to on point.

Taharqa, Hezekiah and Esarhaddon

When Sennacherib King of Assyria said to Hezekiah “I’ll be back” – he didn’t come back to Jerusalem. But his son, Esarhaddon, came back to the region – big time. Esarhaddon was the first enemy to ever invade Egypt.

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Wall panel depicting soldiers crossing a river floating on inflated animal skins. Assyrians ca 860 BC, Nimrud, northwest palace. British Museum

We will get back to what Assyria did to Egypt. But before that, we need to give the proper attention to Egypt of the time, and how they have to do with the King of Kush.

So what was going on in Egypt? And what does this have to do with Taharqa?

Egypt, leading up to this time, was going through political instability. It is therefore called an “Intermediate” period. This particular period of instability is known as The Third Intermediate Period.

This instability allowed the powerful southern kingdom of Kush, or Nubia, to seize the throne of Egypt. So when the Bible says that “Taharqa King of Kush” came out to fight Sennacherib – he was in fact fighting the adjacent Kingdom of Egypt, under the rule of the Kushites.

Why were they fighting Sennacherib?

The Bible does not tell us much, but archaeology fills in the gaps.

King Hezekiah rebelled against the Assyrian empire, which means that he stopped paying taxes (II Kings 18:7). What we don’t know from the Bible is that Hezekiah not only rebelled by discontinuing his taxes to Assyria. From Egyptian and Assyrian sources, we know that the Egyptian army was led by Nubian crown prince Taharqa (690-664 BCE), who joined the kingdom of Judah against the Assyrians, though the king at the time was Shebitqu (702-690 BC). The confusion as to who was king at the time can be attributed to the fact that the “the existing narrations were drawn up at a date after 690 BC, when it was one of the current facts of life that Taharqa was king of Egypt and Nubia” (Kitchen 2003, 159-60).

Before we continue the story, I would like to show you some amazing things I have seen this past week in an Boston Museum of Fine Arts exhibit. You can read more about the exhibit here.

Gold and the Gods – MFA Exhibit

Gold is a very important commodity in the ancient world, and he who has gold, has power. We saw that the Bible mentions “gold that is good” in the land of Havilah as part of the primal description of the development of civilization. While Havilah may be further south of Nubia, or to the east, gold was definitely a hallmark of the power of Nubia.

The Land of Nubia was an important source of gold, and the Nubians were expert craftsmen, making remarkable jewelry which demonstrates a high level of sophistication, skill and ingenuity (based on the words of Yvonne J. Markowitz, Rita J. Kaplan and Susan B. Kaplan Curator of Jewelry). The exhibit offers around 100 pieces, which constitute the richest exhibit of Nubian jewelry outside of Khartoum, and there is much that can be learned from them: Their usage, manufacturing, fashion and style, as well as intercultural influences. For example, we can see that the Nubians adopted, to varying extent, many aspects of the Egyptian culture, burial ritual and religion. Here are some pictures I took at the exhibit:

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Of course, as a Bible Studies teacher, I went there with the hopes of finding something I can hold onto, put into a Biblical context. I went there hoping to see something from Taharqa – and I was not disappointed. Below are three articles which relate to Taharqa:

  1. (bottom) Nuri, gold foil, Napatan period, reign of Taharqa (690-664 BC).
  2. (top left) Statuette of Taharqa himself. This would probably be the inspiration for the National Geographic illustration above. Since there are several other images of Taharqa in different museums, such as the Louvre, or the Brooklyn Museum – I wasn’t so surprised. But the next piece made the entire visit worth it.
  3. (top right) Personal Ring of King Taharqa.

 

The Invasion of Egypt

Hezekiah made a disastrous miscalculation when he decided to rebel against Assyria, but the Egyptian-Nubians made an even more fatal mistake, because their interference in Assyrian affairs would eventually lead to the collapse of their dynasty. While Sennacherib’s war against the Egyptians was the first of its kind, it was short-lived, and as we know from the Biblical account, he turned back home and was assassinated by his sons, and succeeded by Esarhaddon (680-669 BC). But the story did not end there, and in fact, the Nubian involvement in Assyrian affairs had led to the collapse of their dynasty.

Just a few years later, in 674 and 671 BC, Esarhaddon attempted two invasions into Egypt, the first was unsuccessful, but the second one was. Assyria’s victory was commemorated on an alabaster tablet known as Esarhaddon’s Victory Stele (image below). In the stele, it reads:

“I cut down with a sword and conquered…I caught like a fish (and) cut off his head…I conquered Egypt (Musur), Paturi[si] and Nubia. Its king, Taharqa (Tarqú), I wounded five times with arrowheads and ruled over his entire country…” as well as deporting “all Nubians from Egypt”

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Image by Neithsabes – own work, public domain. Https://commons.wikimedia.org/a/index.pho?curid=5527429

But Taharqa was not an easy person to kill, and he lived on, attempting to seize the throne again. This led to more invasions. Esarhaddon’s successful invasion was followed by two more invasions by his son, Ashurbanipal (668-627 BC), which exacted the heaviest damage and destruction on Egypt in its history. These invasions are documented in numerous Assyrian historical texts. After deporting the Nubians (the Assyrians clearly differentiated between the Nubians and the Egyptians), they appointed Nekau I, who would become the progenitor of the Egyptian Native 26th Dynasty, and beginning the Late Period.

To summarize this article. There is always more than meets the eye. A few innocent looking words can hide within them a treasure of information, which may be critical to understanding the entire story. Here, the text and the archaeology merge to add so much more to a story which we previously thought can’t get any better: Assyria taunts Hezekiah and ends up leaving, and they lived happily ever after…or did they?

The broader geopolitical game had dire consequence on Egypt, and consequently on Judah.

Egypt continued to play an important role with the Kingdom of Judah. As Necho II and Psamtik II venture north to aid Assyria against Babylon in the Battle of Carchemish (605 BC), King Josiah of Judah interferes with Necho II, gets killed, and the Egyptians end up interfering with the Kingdom of Judah. After their loss in Carchemish, Babylon took over what Egypt controlled in the area, and thus took control of Judah, leading to its destruction. Even after its destruction, some Jewish renegades escaped to Egypt, and were killed there (Jeremiah ch. 42-44). There were also better times for the Jews of Alexandria in the time of the Talmud, but it relates to who was in charge in Egypt, and how that came to be.

As for Egypt: Once the Assyrians successfully invaded Egypt, it was just a matter of time until the later nascent Empires learned the trick: Persia, Greece and Rome did the same, and brought an end to one of the world’s most powerful and ancient civilizations.

 

Reference:

Kitchen, Kenneth A. 2003. On the Reliability of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eardmans.

Interview with Professor Yossi Garfinkel

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Moments before our interview. With Yossi Professor Garfinkel at the YMCA, Jerusalem

My visit to Tel Lachish is still fresh in my memory. It was an exciting three days, action packed and exciting. Such a busy time, in fact, that I was unable to sit with Professor Garfinkel for an interview on site.

The first day, there was a lot of setting up to do to kick off the week. There was also a youth team which needed introductions to the site, a visitor group, and finally hosting a private tour with Professor David Ussishkin. The next two days were no less busy. Numerous visitors and groups including VIPs and Israel Antiquities Authorities representatives. All that is on on top of the second to last week of the digging season, which means a lot of work recording the finds, bringing down the ramps, and preparing for preservation of the site until next year.

We finally caught up on a beautiful Friday morning (July 29, 2916), at YMCA in Jerusalem. If you haven’t been there, or sat at their cafe, it is recommended. Great vibe,  beautiful architecture and a nice view of the King David hotel.  Without further due, let us begin the interview:

In your opinion, what is the value of Archaeology in General, and specifically for Biblical studies?

Well, every human society, even the most simple one, has some ideas about its past. What happened? How the world has been created, how our forefathers came, and how our culture has been created. And the ancient Hebrews were the same. We have the Bible – we have Bereshit – and a story of how the world was created in six days. And then you have the history of humankind, and in the end you have the founding father of the Israelite: Abraham, then Isaac, and Jacob. And so, you have a history.

This is how the people of Israel, the ancient people of Israel understood their past. So, this is something very basic.

And today, archaeology is doing the same. But we have modern tools. So we can excavate and find levels and periods; we have radiocarbon accurate dating; archaeology is supplying this kind of curiosity. People want to know the past.

And this is the job of the archaeologist: to submit an answer.

Why did you choose to excavate Lachish?

In the last ten years or so, I’m focusing on the early history of the Kingdom of Judah. According to the Biblical tradition, the kingdom existed for about four hundred years: The 10th century, the 9th century, the 8th century and the 7th century (BCE). And the last centuries are well known, but the first two centuries – the 10th and the 9th, are not very clear, and there are heavy debates about what happened in this time period. So I excavated Khirbet Qeiyafa, and now I’m excavating at Lachish to find Level IV and V, and I think that together, both sites will give us a better picture of this unknown period.

Now that you’ve dug in Lachish several times, what do you know different that you didn’t know before you started digging?

The core of the question is Level V – the first Iron Age settlement at Lachish.  

There are three basic debates:

  1. If this level ever existed, or it is just a mistake of the archaeologists?
  2. If it existed, was it a village or a fortified city?
  3. What is the dating of this level?

Now, after four seasons at Lachish, I know that there is level V, and I know that it is a fortified city, because we discovered a new city wall. And we also uncovered olive pits from this level, which we can send to radiocarbon dating. And once we have the results, we will know what is the exact dating of the fortified city at Lachish.

If it was fortified at about 1,000 BC, or 900 BC, or 800 BC, or maybe 700 BC. All of these ideas have been suggested in the past.

In terms of this site, in general, both in terms of your expedition and previous expeditions, what has been found on the site that would be valuable to a teacher in the classroom? What ideas can be understood better, because of the expeditions?

I think that the best correlation between the site and the excavation on one side, and the biblical tradition on the other, are what we call level II and level III.

Level II has been destroyed by the Babylonians. And at Lachish we discovered the famous Lachish letters, about eighteen letters that describe the city and the people and also the fire signal of Lachish and Azekah.

And in Jeremiah (34:7) we also heard about Lachish and Azekah.

So we have a very interesting correlation between Lachish, the letters of Lachish and the Biblical tradition about the last days of the kingdom of Judah.

When level III is taken into consideration, we know about the Sennacherib campaign (705-681 BCE). It’s mentioned in the Bible in three different books: In the book of II Kings (18:17), in the book of Isaiah (36:2), and in II Chronicles (18:14).

And then in Lachish we have level III, with the Assyrian siege ramp, the city has been destroyed. We can see how life looked like at the time of Hezekiah.

battle-ramps

How would a teacher bring this to life in the classroom?

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The teacher can read with the student the biblical text, then he can look at Assyrian documents: The Sennacherib Royal Inscriptions, and the famous reliefs, now in the British Museum, that describe Lachish, and then he can look at the actual archaeological finds which have been excavated by Professor David Ussishkin and published in numerous books, and also two popular books.

So altogether the student can see the city on the relief, read the text, see the archaeological data, and together you can understand how the Assyrians attacked the city, how the Judeans defended themselves, and so on and so forth.

 

How do the finds in Lachish shed light on the nature of that city, as opposed to what we know from the text itself?

Well, according to the Biblical tradition, Lachish was the second most important city in Judah.

King Amatzia, for example, there was a coup in Jerusalem, and he ran away to Lachish, and he was murdered in Lachish.

And when you excavate and you see the huge fortification of Lachish, the huge gates, the huge palace, you understand why he ran away to Lachish – because it was almost as important as Jerusalem.

What is the relationship between Ancient Gath –  Tel es-Safi, and Tel Lachish?

The major question today is when the Kingdom of Judah spread from the hill country, from Jerusalem region into the lowland, and later into the Beersheba region. Some people believe it took place in the time of David and Solomon. Some people take into consideration the tradition of the Rechav’am fortifications (II Chronicles 11:5-10), which fortified Lachish.

And today, many people would like to say that Judah was able to spread into the lowland only after the site of Gath has been destroyed. And why?

Gath was a huge city. Almost 6-7 times bigger than Lachish. Very dominant center. So people are saying: Judah is a small kingdom. Lachish was a huge kingdom, so Judah could not move into the lowlands until Gath was destroyed. Which means that Gath was destroyed first, and then Judah came into the lowlands. This is one possibility  to understand the sequence.

But, if Lachish was built before, one hundred years earlier, as mentioned in the Bible according to Rechav’am’s fortifications (II Chronicles 11:5-12). Then we have a different scenario: Judah came into the lowlands, took over land and villages and population. Gath became smaller and smaller, weaker and weaker, and then it was possible to destroy it.

But the question is, what is the cause and what is the effect?

Some people would like to say that the destruction of Gath enabled Judah to come in, but   it is possible that while Judah came in, it was possible to destroy Gath. So we have two huge sites one next to the other, and we need to clear the chronological question, when was Lachish built. If Lachish was build before Gath was destroyed, or Lachish was fortified after Gath. This is today the chicken and egg question.

What is your message to teachers and students about coming to an archaeological dig?

I figure that anybody who has interest in the ancient world, or the biblical tradition, if he comes to an archaeological dig, even for a week, or two weeks or three weeks, he is inside the houses, with the pottery, the animal bones and all the artifacts that were left by our forefathers, and he will have a better understanding of how people lived in antiquity. And then he will also understand the biblical texts in the original setting.

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Loom weight which I found, while diggin in Level VI

 

 

Lachish: The Last Stand

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Gates of Lachish, by: Wilson44691 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/license/by-sa/3.0%5D via Wikimedia Commons

וְחֵיל מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל נִלְחָמִים עַל יְרוּשָׁלַם וְעַל כָּל עָרֵי יְהוּדָה הַנּוֹתָרוֹת אֶל לָכִישׁ וְאֶל עֲזֵקָה כִּי הֵנָּה נִשְׁאֲרוּ בְּעָרֵי יְהוּדָה עָרֵי מִבְצָר

ירמיה לד, ז

“When the army of the king of Babylon was waging war against Jerusalem and against the remaining towns of Judah—against Lachish and Azekah, for they were the only fortified towns of Judah that were left.” (Jeremiah 34:7)

 

The last stand. The final moments before the destruction. It’s all over, it seems, and it is just a matter of time before Jerusalem will be destroyed by the Babylonian Empire. Lachish has fallen, and Azekah is no more.

Over one hundred years earlier, those fortified cities fell to the hands of the Assyrian Empire, under the rule of Sennacherib, who went on to lay siege on Jerusalem. In that was unsuccessful, but in his wake he left the kingdom of Judah devastated.

Let us not ignore Azekah: I did participate in The Lautenschläger Azekah Archaeological Expedition a few years ago, and that is another story for a different time. This article is about Lachish, the most famous city in Judah in Assyriology, and for good reason. It is the most well-documented city: It appears several times in Tanach, we have the reliefs describing its destruction in Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh – testimony to how important it was. We have the Annals of Sennacherib, where he boasts about his conquest in Judah, the Lachish letters, describing the last days of Lachish before being destroyed by the Babylonians, which presumably allude to the destruction of Azekah (according to some experts). And of course – Lachish itself.

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Prof. Ussishkin, Mrs. Ussishkin and Prof. Garfinkel surveying the latest excavation

But why Lachish?

Exactly. After my first article about Tel es-Safi, I was asked, “Where does Lachish appear in Tanach?” As an educator, I feel that it is a failure that Lachish is not emphasized enough during studies to make a lasting impact. As early as the book of Joshua (10:3-33), we find Lachish to be an important city which took Joshua two days to conquer. While archaeologists may debate when and if this can be traced in the strata, its Biblical description is unique, for the conquering of all other cities are listed rather matter-of-factly.

Lachish shows up over and over again. A few more prominent examples are: II Kings (14:19, 18:17, 19:8), Jeremiah (34:7), Isaiah (36:2, 37:8), II Chronicles (11:9, 18:14, 25:27).

There is no doubt that when teaching Tanach, one cannot begin to give over the extent of the devastation that Sennacherib (710 BCE), and later Nebuchadnezzar (586 BCE), inflicted upon the Kingdom of Judah, without understanding the power of Lachish. It is somehow a little known fact among many Tanach teachers that Lachish was the second most important city after Jerusalem, a discovery which I myself just recently made. I would like to return the favor and share with educators who may read this some insights into how significant this city is.

 

Visit to Tel Lachish, July 17-19

My goal on this visit was to learn what an educator can do with the existing information about Lachish in the classroom. After being in Tel es-Safi a week before, I was all pumped up and ready to interview anyone I could, and absorb as much information as possible.

To be honest, I took a long time to begin writing this article, simply because I am so humbled by how much there it to say about this site. I was overwhelmed by how much work it would take to narrow it down to the essentials: geography, previous expeditions, main discoveries, current expedition. But I am really here as a passionate educator, not as a historian or an archaeologist, so I will leave the talking to such people, through the interview.

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Prof. David Ussishkin, surveying Tel Lachish

On my first day on the site I had the pleasure and privilege to meet Professor David Ussishkin (TAU), who came with his wife, Lily Singer-Avitz, for a private tour of the site. This was a very special tour because Professor Garfinkel was hosting Professor Ussishkin on his very own site. Ussishkin was the director of the previous Lachish expedition (1973-1994), which raised the bar for Israeli archaeology in technique, publication, and other aspects under his direction, and he is a “grand master” archaeologist. I was honored and humbled by the opportunity to join that very personal tour, even though the level of the conversation overwhelmed me. I received special permission to film the tour, and I met Robert, who volunteered to film it with his equipment. However, the content of this tour cannot be made public at this point, as it contains advance insights that have not yet been published.  I appreciate the trust of the excavation team in letting me record it, and when authorized, will release the transcription and the video.

 

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Prof. Garfinkel and Ussishkin

After three interviews at Tel es-Safi, it seems as though just one interview from Lachish is no big deal, yet its significance is not to be underestimated. An interview which, by the way, was only conducted a couple weeks later, in the YMCA in Jerusalem (image).

photo-on-7-29-16-at-8-46-amI met Professor Yossi Garfinkel (Hebrew University) in March 30th, at the Center for Jewish History, during the symposium called “In the Valley of David and Goliath: Digging up the Evidence of the United Monarchy”. There he invited me to join the dig, and agreed to be interviewed. He had fascinating things to say, and without further ado, I’m going to turn the mic to him to answer the question, so why Lachish, indeed?

Why did you choose to excavate Lachish?

In the last ten years or so, I’m focusing on the early history of Kingdom of Judah. According to the Biblical tradition, the kingdom existed for about four hundred years: The 10th century, the 9th century, the 8th century and the 7th century (BCE). And the last centuries are well known, but the first two centuries – the 10th and the 9th, are not very clear, and there are heavy debates about what happened in this time period. So I excavated Khirbet Qeiyafa, and now I’m excavating at Lachish to find Level IV and V, and I think that together, both sites will give us a better picture of this unknown period.

Now that you’ve dug in Lachish several times, what do you know different that you didn’t know before you started digging?

The core of the question is Level V – the first Iron Age settlement at Lachish.  

There are three basic debates:

  • If this level ever existed, or it is just a mistake of the archaeologists?
  • If it existed, was it a village or a fortified city?
  • What is the dating of this level?

Now, after four seasons at Lachish, I know that there is Level V, and I know that it is a fortified city, because we discovered a new city wall. And we also uncovered olive pits from this level, which we can send to radiocarbon dating. And once we have the results, we will know what is the exact dating of the fortified city at Lachish.

If it was fortified at about 1,000 BC, or 900 BC, or 800 BC, or maybe 700 BC. All of these ideas have been suggested in the past.

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[Author:] When I arrived at the site, I was given a brief tour of the wall in question, though I was already digging in Lachish VI – the Canaanite level, in what is seemingly a temple of some sort. I recall the excitement and buzz around the finding of several things, including a scarab seal – a hallmark of Egyptian trade, and control of the area. I also found a few items, one of which was apparently very rare – a votive vessel which was probably used for worship.

In terms of this site, in general, both in terms of your expedition and previous expeditions, what has been found on the site that would be valuable to a teacher in the classroom? What ideas can be understood better, because of the expeditions?

 

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Lachish Letter III: By NenyaAleks (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I think that the best correlation between the site and the excavation on one side, and the biblical tradition on the other, are what we call Level II and Level III.

Level II has been destroyed by the Babylonians. And at Lachish we discovered the famous Lachish letters, about eighteen letters that describe the city and the people and also the fire signal of Lachish and Azekah.

And in Jeremiah (34:7) we also heard about Lachish and Azekah.

So we have a very interesting correlation between Lachish, the letters of Lachish and the Biblical tradition about the last days of the kingdom of Judah.

When Level III is taken into consideration, we know about the Sennacherib campaign (705-681 BCE). It’s mentioned in the Bible in three different books: In the book of II Kings (18:17), in the book of Isaiah (36:2), and in II Chronicles (18:14).

And then in Lachish we have level three, with the Assyrian siege ramp; the city has been destroyed. We can see how life looked like at the time of Hezekiah.

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Assyrian Siege Ramps, by: Wilson44691 – Own work, CC By-SA 3.0, http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15414507

 

How do the finds in Lachish shed light on the nature of that city, as opposed to what we know from the text itself?

Well, according to the Biblical tradition, Lachish was the second most important city in Judah.

King Amatzia, for example, there was a coup in Jerusalem, and he ran away to Lachish, and he was murdered in Lachish.

And when you excavate and you see the huge fortification of Lachish, the huge gates, the huge palace, you understand why he ran away to Lachish – because it was almost as important as Jerusalem.

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[Author:] Here I will share a brief “aha” moment: Before I came to the dig, I looked up every mention of Lachish in Tanach. I was particularly intrigued by the story of King Amatzia (II Kings 14:19, II Chronicles 25:27), who escaped from Jerusalem and fled to Lachish – hoping that there he would not be captured. How incredible it was to see, on the way to Lachish, a settlement named Amatzia, in the regional council of Lachish. Only in Israel!

How would a teacher bring this to life in the classroom?

The teacher can read with the student the biblical text, then he can look at Assyrian documents: The Sennacherib Royal Inscriptions, and the famous reliefs, now in the British Museum, that describe Lachish, and then he can look at the actual archaeological finds which have been excavated by Professor David Ussishkin and published in numerous books, and also two popular books.

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So altogether the student can see the city on the relief, read the text, see the archaeological data, and together you can understand how the Assyrians attacked the city, how the Judeans defended themselves, and so on and so forth.

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Standing at the city gates, after a long day’s work

 

Megalim Institute video on the Lachish Reliefs:

BONUS:

Since I came to Lachish after digging in ancient Gath, the conversation came up about the connection between the two. And indeed, there is a very important connection between them:

What is the relationship between Ancient Gath – Tell es-Safi, and Tel Lachish?

The major question today is when the Kingdom of Judah spread from the hill country, from Jerusalem region into the lowland, and later into the Beersheba region. Some people believe it took place in the time of David and Solomon. Some people take into consideration the tradition of the Rechav’am fortifications (II Chronicles 11:5-10), which fortified Lachish.

And today, many people would like to say that Judah was able to spread into the lowland only after the site of Gath has been destroyed. And why?

Gath was a huge city. Almost 6-7 times bigger than Lachish. Very dominant center. So people are saying: Judah is a small kingdom. Lachish was a huge kingdom, so Judah could not move into the lowlands until Gath was destroyed. Which means that Gath was destroyed first, and then Judah came into the lowlands. This is one possibility  to understand the sequence.

But if Lachish was built…one hundred years earlier…then we have a different scenario: Judah came into the lowlands, took over land and villages and population. Gath became smaller and smaller, weaker and weaker, and then it was possible to destroy it.

But the question is, what is the cause and what is the effect?

Some people would like to say that the destruction of Gath enabled Judah to come in, but it is possible that while Judah came in, it was possible to destroy Gath. So we have two huge sites one next to the other, and we need to clear the chronological question, when was Lachish built. If Lachish was build before Gath was destroyed, or Lachish was fortified after Gath. This is today the chicken and egg question.

What is your message to teachers and students about coming to an archaeological dig?

I figure that anybody who has interest in the ancient world, or the biblical tradition, if he comes to an archaeological dig, even for a week, or two weeks or three weeks, he is inside the houses, with the pottery, the animal bones and all the artifacts that were left by our forefathers, and he will have a better understanding of how people lived in antiquity. And then he will also understand the biblical texts in the original setting.                                   

 

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Assyrian cavalry. Assyrian, about 700-692 BC. From Nineveh, South-West Palace, Room XLV. WA 124777.

Lachish Relief, British Museum. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

What are you doing in a place like this?

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Ancient Lachish on the 4th expedition, July 2016

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Israel”

“Yeah, but before that”

“Like I said, I’m from Israel”

I was Born in Jerusalem, and raised in the Old City. A true “Rovah boy” (Rovah = jargon for the Jewish Quarter). There are many children with English speaking parents who grew up in the Rovah, so it is quite understandable that people suspect I’m not native Israeli. It also helped that I had a classmate in seventh-grade, from Chicago, who inspired me to work on my English. You’ll catch me in my spelling and gaps in cultural knowledge. Little did I know that would set me on a path that would lead me to the United States, almost fifteen years later.
So now, the conversation usually carries on as follows:

“Where do you live?”

“I live in Highland Park, NJ”

“Wait, you’re from the Rovah? What are you doing in a place like this?” 

Good question. A question I have to ask myself daily. On the days  I don’t, I wonder if I’ve been here too long. But you can’t take Jerusalem out of a Rovah boy. What am I doing in a place like this? In this article, I’d like to share with you some practical thoughts about that.

Here’s another point, which I’ll soon connect to the previous one. After three years of teaching in New York and New Jersey (with the annual visit home), I came to Israel for a month (July-August 2016) – probably the most intensive month I’ve spent in Israel in my whole life. But why should you care? Allow me to explain.

While in the US, I’ve taught in several different settings: From classes and activities in schools and summer camps to presentations and learning groups with communities and college students. At the heart of what I share there is always the deep love for where I grew up: The Rovah, Jerusalem the Land of Israel and even beyond (well, Jordan). Much of my instruction was based on the thrust of having come from Israel, but it was circumstance that lead me to relate those things. I’m an educator, and I teach mostly Tanach and Judaic Studies, so naturally I talk about what I know from home.

Middle School students at the Ancient Near East department in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, learning about Assyria.

 

That thought dawned on me as I contemplated a museum tour I guided in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Let me backtrack. Around November 2015, I prepared a tour for my Middle School, focusing on Assyria and Babylon. My own preparation was laborious, and the students also had to prepare via texts, videos and other media. Since the Tenth of Tevet was coming up (marking the day that Nebuchadnezzar lay siege on Jerusalem), I felt the need to give the students a basic understanding of who is Babylon. They are not merely a nameless villain on the pages of history. Babylon was a culture that changed the world, making a powerful impact on us that lasts until today, from the Babylonian Talmud to the names of the month, and of course – the destruction of the First Temple (586 BCE).

The students were also learning the book of Melachim (Kings), and it felt appropriate to include Assyria as well: Who were the Assyrians, what was their impact on us? Where are the Ten Tribes? And what happened to the Assyrians? Many of us have visited King Chizkiyahu’s (Ezekiah) water cistern, and even seen the defense wall he built – right under my parents’ house (see image below) – against Sennacherib. So who was he, and what was the big deal?

At first, the museum tour was meant to be an out-of-school experience and activity, nothing more. But then I realized how much of an impact it had on the students, and how this can me something much more. That is when I decided to go to Israel, and this time, to consciously invest in learning about the broader context in which Tanach took place.

Ancient Lachish. The second most important city in the Kingdom of Judah, after Jerusalem.

On my short visit, I participated in two archaeological expeditions (Tel Lachish, and Tel es-Safi or Ancient Gat), field-trip conventions for educators, I visit other important sites (City of David, Givati parking lot) and museum exhibits (‘Pharaoh in Canaan’, among others in the Israel Museum and Bible Lands Museum), and met with various experts and educators. On two of the sites, I interviewed archaeologists about how the relevance of what they do to our learning and understanding. So yes, this has a lot to do with us.

 

In the upcoming articles, I will hopefully share with you some of the experiences from those places, as well as the transcription and video of the interviews.

Professor Yossi Garfinkel, gaving coffee before an interview about Tel Lachish, at the YMCA, Jerusalem. All other interviews were on site.

Meanwhile, I am taking all of this, and am going back to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But this time, I am going with a purpose. It is to make the most I can of “a place like this” – a place where we I can find things that will connect us to the text, enhance our understanding of the stories we’ve learned, and hopefully amplify our connection to the Land of Israel, and our Jewish Identity. I am developing a series of tours aimed at enhancing our understanding of things like the Seven Nations, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome. As an artist, I can’t ignore the “Museum of Art” part of “The Metropolitan”, and in the programs I’m developing I intend to make available an art program, as I did with my own Middle School.

In the Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem, with Rabbi Yehuda Landy

Meanwhile, I wish you all a great summer, and I hope to see you one day in the Museum, and even better – in Jerusalem!