Modern day excavations at the ancient city of Lachish
In the mid-19th century the truth of the Bible was often called into question by scholars who pointed to a lack of archaeological evidence for the Biblical accounts. In the century and a half since then, there has been extensive archaeological work done in Israel, and there have been hundreds of finds confirming the Biblical accounts.
This year, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority discovered a 2,700 year old toilet that has an interesting Biblical connection.
The archaeologists are working in the ancient city of Lachish, referred to twenty-two times in the Old Testament. The Lachish city gate, at 80 feet by 80 feet, is the largest known in ancient Israel. It consists of six chambers, three on either side, and the city’s main street that passed between them. Sa’ar Ganor, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, says: “The size of the gate is consistent with the historical and archaeological knowledge we possess, whereby Lachish was the most important city after Jerusalem. 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 benches in the city gate. These benches were found in our excavation.”
Artifacts discovered in the chamber rooms on the two sides give clues as to how they were used 2,700 years ago. For example, in the first chamber there were benches with armrests. At the foot of the benches were many items, including jars, scoops for loading grain, and jar handles bearing the name of the official or a seal impression indicating they belonged to the king. It appears that officials used the room to conduct government business.
Archaeologist Ganor then describes another of the rooms, clearly used for worship: “A staircase ascended to a large room where there was a bench upon which offerings were placed. An opening was exposed in the corner of the room that led to the ‘holy of holies.’ To our great excitement, we found two four-horned altars and scores of ceramic finds consisting of lamps, bowls and stands in this room.”
It was in this room that they found a “seat carved of stone with a hole in the center.” In other words, a toilet.
Why was there a toilet in this sacred room?
Archaeologist Sa’ar Ganor and team with the ancient toilet seat.
To understand the significance of this find, we need to go back to the the reign of King Hezekiah in eighth century before Christ. Hezekiah had initiated series of reforms aimed at eradicating the worship of false gods in Judah. At the heart of these reform efforts was the elimination what the Bible called “high places,” cultic sites that contained an altar. They were usually located, as the name suggests, on a hill or a ridge. Lachish is located in the Judean foothills.
At first these places were dedicated to the worship of Yahweh; but over time they became places to worship the pagan deities of Israel’s neighboring nations, especially the false god Baal. The Bible also tells us that “Asherah poles,” cultic objects dedicated to the worship of the Canaanite goddess of fertility, were often erected at these sites.
This was all clearly forbidden in the first commandment, “Thou shall have other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The prophets were constantly condemning the worship of these false gods, calling on the people to repent and return to the true God. Hezekiah was commended because his reforms called for a return to the worship of Yahweh, and “he removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles.”
That brings us to the discovery at Tel Lachish. The large room that appeared to be a religious shrine contained two four-horned altars, and the horns on these altars did not wear off, but had been intentionally cut off. Excavation leader Sa’ar Ganor believes that the destroyed altars corroborate biblical references to King Hezekiah’s reforms. Ganor believes that this was “unquestionably a desecration of this shrine room.”
Besides cutting off the horns of the altar, Hezekiah apparently had this toilet installed in the ‘holy of holies’ to further signify God’s strong disapproval of this form of worship, and, as the ‘ultimate desecration’ of that pagan place. The story of Hezekiah does not mention the installation of that particular toilet, but it is in a similar story of religious reform from 130 years earlier that we learn of the practice. In 2 Kings 10, we’re informed that following the fall of King Ahab, Jehu and his followers “demolished the pillar of Baal, and destroyed the temple of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day.”
The discovery at Lachish is the first instance of this practice being confirmed by archaeology.
John Stonestreet writes of this discovery: “This latest discovery comes on the heels of other discoveries confirming a great deal of what the scriptures tell us about Hezekiah and his reign. And to think that only a few decades ago, many, if not most, scholars doubted that Hezekiah, along with ancestors David and Solomon, ever actually existed. And now they seem to be popping up everywhere. That should not come as a surprise. The Bible is the best-attested book of antiquity… All of this is another reminder that the biblical faith is firmly rooted in actual human history and not in some mythological ‘once upon a time.'”
Israeli officials were excited about the discovery. Culture Minister Miri Regev said the discovery deepened Israel’s “connection to our ancestors who walked this land… The uncovering of these finds joins a long list of discoveries that enlighten us about our historic past, a past that is manifested in our country’s soil and in the writings of the Book of Books.”
Micah 1:13 — You who live in Lachish… are where the sin of Daughter Zion began, for the transgressions of Israel were found in you.
Hosea 10:8a — The ‘high places’ of wickedness will be destroyed— it is the sin of Israel.
II Kings 10:27-28 — They demolished the sacred stone of Baal and tore down the temple of Baal, and people have used it for a latrine to this day. So Jehu destroyed Baal worship in Israel.
II Kings 18:3-4a — (Hezekiah) did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles.
Almighty God, may we fear, love, and trust in you above all things. Amen.
–Prayer based on Martin Luther’s catechism explanation to the First Commandment