Hezekiah’s religious reforms sought to centralize worship
A millennia-old latrine discovered at Tel Lachish in Israel might reveal some interesting insights into Biblical history. According to Sa’ar Ganor and Igor Kreimerman, who conducted the excavations on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the latrine could be evidence of King Hezekiah’s religious reforms enacted throughout the Kingdom of Judah in the eighth century B.C.E. The archaeologists detail their discovery in the article “Going to the Bathroom at Lachish” in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
The Hebrew Bible has several references to King Hezekiah’s reforms and attempts to centralize worship in Jerusalem. 2 Chronicles 29–32 describes his efforts during the first year of his reign to cleanse and refurbish the Temple in Jerusalem, believing that his ancestors had not worshipped the God of Israel dutifully. 2 Kings 18:4 narrates that “he removed the high places (bamot), broke down the pillars (masseboth), and cut down the sacred pole (asherah).”
Lachish, located in the foothills of Judah (the Shephelah), was regarded as the second most important city in the Kingdom of Judah after Jerusalem. Spanning more than 18 acres on the tell, the Iron Age city boasted a palace-fort, city wall and six-chambered gate complex—within which, Ganor and Kreimerman argue, may be an Israelite gate-shrine.
The excavations at Tel Lachish fully exposed the massive city gate complex, which measures about 80 feet by 80 feet. Discovered at the complex were remnants of storage jars—including some that bore the stamp lmlk (“[belonging] to the king”)—that may be evidence of Hezekiah’s preparations against Assyrian king Sennacherib’s impending attacks. Lachish was completely destroyed in 701 B.C.E.
Part of this gate complex, the archaeological team found, was a large room that appears to have been a shrine. The room contained two four-horned altars, whose horns had been intentionally damaged, and several ceramic lamps, bowls and stands. Ganor and Kreimerman believe that the destroyed altars corroborate Biblical references to King Hezekiah’s reforms: his efforts to centralize worship in Jerusalem and abolish it elsewhere (see 2 Kings 18:4).
Most surprising of all was that in one corner of the room, the archaeologists discovered a seat carved of stone with a hole in the center—what Ganor and Kreimerman believe to be a toilet. This latrine, Ganor and Kreimerman say, was unquestionably a form of desecration of this shrine room—a practice described in the Hebrew Bible: “Then they demolished the pillar of Baal, and destroyed the temple of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day” (2 Kings 10:27).
“This is the first time that an archaeological find confirms this phenomenon,” Ganor explained.
Learn more about Sa’ar Ganor and Igor Kreimerman’s interpretation of the gate-shrine at Lachish in the context of other known archaeological examples of King Hezekiah’s religious reforms by reading the full article “Going to the Bathroom at Lachish” in the November/December 2017 issue of BAR.
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This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on October 4, 2016. It has been updated and expanded.
Hezekiah’s Religious Reform—In the Bible and Archaeology by David Rafael Moulis
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