The historical significance of Lachish

The destruction of Lachish by the Assyrians is one of the few events in the history of ancient Judah for which we have confirmation from so many sources: the account in Sennacherib’s annals, the depiction of the battle on the reliefs, the Biblical account, and the archaeological evidence from Tell ed-Duweir. They all point to the fact that Lachish was besieged by the Assyrians and burnt to the ground. That’s why the destruction of Lachish is significant far beyond the historical event itself. Yes, it meant a victory by the mighty Assyrian army. Yes, it was part of the destruction of the region of the foothills, the Shephelah. The Assyrian invasion altered Judah’s territory for years to come and had a lasting impact on its economy and the national identification of its people. But from our view, it is even more significant for us. “Yes, this event happened,” we can say with certainty. And we know when it happened. All the historical sources agree.

That allows us to use the pottery found in this destruction level (Lachish Level III) as a means to date pottery in other sites across Judah. For in that destruction layer we find a snapshot of pottery forms. Accepted, fashionable pottery forms changed slowly over time, so much so that pottery forms can be assigned to certain time periods. The pottery of Lachish forms an anchor point in our knowledge of pottery forms. In other sites, and in other levels at Lachish, we see forms that were used earlier, and those that came later. This change in pottery forms is a powerful tool to date sites and features. It allows archaeologists to separate the many finds in Israel and to build up a picture of the landscape across time.

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