An Ancient Latrine Provides Confirmation of a Biblical Narrative

Nov. 14 2017

The books of Kings and Chronicles describe King Hezekiah (late 8th century BCE) as a God-fearing religious reformer who “removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole” (2Kings 18:4). According to most interpreters, this and other passages imply that Hezekiah not only cracked down on idolatry but banned the offering of sacrifices anywhere outside the Jerusalem Temple. Recent discoveries seem to confirm this narrative, as Robin Ngo writes:

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 l-m-l-k (“[belonging] to the king”)—that may be evidence of Hezekiah’s preparations against the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s impending attacks. Lachish was completely destroyed in 701 BCE.

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 [cube-like protrusions on the four corners of an altar’s top surface] had been intentionally damaged, and several ceramic lamps, bowls, and stands. [The scholars overseeing the excavation] believe that the destroyed altars corroborate biblical references to King Hezekiah’s reforms: his efforts to centralize worship in Jerusalem and abolish it elsewhere.

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 [they] believe to be a toilet. This latrine . . . 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” (2Kings 10:27).

[The researchers] believe the latrine excavated at Lachish was symbolically placed. . . . “Laboratory tests we conducted in the spot where the stone toilet was placed suggest it was never used,” [one] said in a press release; “hence, we can conclude that the placement of the toilet had been [merely] symbolic.”

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More about: Archaeology, Hebrew Bible, Hezekiah, History & Ideas, Idolatry

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war