Ancient Latrine: A Peek into King Hezekiah’s Reforms in the Bible?

Hezekiah’s religious reforms sought to centralize worship

latrine-lachish

The latrine discovered in what may be a shrine at Lachish. Photo: Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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.

lachish-gate-shrine

The massive six-chambered city gate at Tel Lachish. Photo: Guy Fitoussi, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

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.

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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).

lachish-gate-shrine-diagram

The left-most chamber in this isometric reconstruction of Lachish’s gate complex shows where the archaeologists found what they interpret to be an Israelite gate-shrine. In the innermost room, archaeologists discovered two four-horned altars (visible in the drawing). Photo: Sharon Gal, Israel Antiquities Authority.

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).

lachish-altar

The four-horned altar with evidence of intentional destruction—perhaps due to King Hezekiah’s reforms in worship. Photo: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

lachish-latrine

BAR authors Sa’ar Ganor and Igor Kramerman believe this latrine excavated at Lachish was symbolically placed to desecrate the shrine as part of Hezekiah’s reforms. Photo: Igor Kreimerman.

“Laboratory tests we conducted in the spot where the stone toilet was placed suggest it was never used,” Ganor said in an IAA press release. “Hence, we can conclude that the placement of the toilet had been symbolic, after which the holy of holies was sealed until the site was destroyed.”

“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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BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Going to the Bathroom at Lachish” by Sa’ar Ganor and Igor Kreimerman in the November/December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on October 4, 2016. It has been updated and expanded.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Hezekiah’s Religious Reform—In the Bible and Archaeology by David Rafael Moulis

King Hezekiah in the Bible: Royal Seal of Hezekiah Comes to Light

Lachish: Open Access to BAR Articles on Lachish Archaeology

Which Altar Was the Right One in Ancient Israelite Religion?
 


 
Which finds made our top 10 Biblical archaeology discoveries of 2016? Find out >>
 


 

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  • Michael says

    To Nelson – read it again. The Scripture doesn’t say it was used, only that it was “made a latrine.”

  • Nelson says

    But there is a slight inconsistency: the passage from 2 Kings states that people used the room as a latrine, whereas the field tests apparently indicate otherwise. I’m biased in favor of trusting the reliability of scripture, so I suggest the archaeological team test other locations in the room to examine the possibility that the stone toilet had been moved, or that it was not the only location used for the desecration.

  • Richard says

    So, is “the bible myth”, or as far back as we can analyze, do we find “real names,real places, real dates”?

  • ilan says

    As Usual!

  • Joe says

    Wow! Archaeology confirms a Bible passage to be true.

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