Why a Fourth archaeological expedition to Lachish?

Why undertake a fourth archaeological expedition at Tel Lachish? This is a good question since this site has been previously excavated over a number years, most recently in 1994. What does our new expedition hope to achieve?

Tel Lachish has multiple layers with remains of different civilizations going back thousands of years. Even after previous work at the site, important questions remain about the history of this biblical city. One key debate involves the dating of several Iron Age (biblical kingdom period) levels at the site. Here is a sketch of the most recent levels of the site’s occupational history according to current scholarship. Beginning with the top and working down to earlier periods:

Level 1: Persian (after Babylonian Exile – see Nehemiah 11:30; site permanently abandoned in 2nd century BC)

Level 2: Iron Age (destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon)

Level 3: Iron Age (destroyed by Sennacherib of Assyria)

Level 4: Iron Age (dating disputed)

Level 5: Iron Age (dating disputed)

[Site abandoned for a period of time]

Level 6: Late Bronze (ca. Joshua’s time)

Scholars debate the beginning and end of Levels 5 and 4. Some believe the level 5 city began in the time of David and Solomon (early-mid 10th century BC), but others place its beginning in the time of Rehoboam (late 10th century BC) or the time of Joash (late-9th century BC). Another school of thought proposes that level 5 was more akin to an unfortified village, and that level 4 represents the first true Iron Age city. In short, scholars contest both the date and the character of the level 5 city.

The Bible text states that Rehoboam “built” Lachish and other cities for defense in 2 Chronicles 11:5-9. This indicates major construction in the late-10th century BC but does not rule out the prior establishment of an Iron Age city/town at the site. Does the level 5 city belong to Rehoboam? Was it rebuilt as a much smaller city than the previous one, such as level 10 at Hazor?

Adding to the debate is the incomplete publication of the first large-scale excavations of Lachish in the 1930’s. Some of the excavated areas along the northern slopes were never published. We thus lack a good picture of the site in some important areas.

Our new excavation aims to locate the Iron Age levels and gather evidence, including carbon-14 datable materials, to help resolve the beginning and end of levels 5 and 4. This has implications in the debate over the existence and nature of the early biblical kingdoms. Did a centralized government/kingdom exist in Judah the 10th century BC, in the time of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam? Evidence regarding this lies in ancient sites such as Lachish.

We hope to gain other insights during this project, including the location of the city gate during the Early Iron and Middle/Late Bronze periods. (The current visible gate is linked to levels 3 and 2.) After just a week and a half, we have already collected a substantial amount of new data with (re)dating implications for some of the previously excavated architecture.


The gate associated with levels 2 and 3 at Tel Lachish. The gate for earlier levels has not yet been located. (Photo by Catherine Bishop)

The gate associated with levels 2 and 3 at Tel Lachish. Any gates for earlier levels have not yet been located at the site. (Photo by Catherine Bishop)

More to come in later posts…


About LukeChandler

Luke holds an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History and has been an adjunct professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida. Luke and his wife Melanie have five children. He serves as a minister with the North Terrace Church of Christ and has participated in multiple archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke leads informative, meaningful tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
This entry was posted in 2014 Tel Lachish excavation, Ancient Architecture, Biblical Archaeology, Israel, Lachish and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Why a Fourth archaeological expedition to Lachish?

  1. pithom says:

    Late Bronze (ca. Joshua’s time)

    -I thought it was 12th century.

  2. lukechandler says:

    Some scholars put it as late as 835 BC or after, following the destruction of Tel es-Safi/Gath by Hazael of Syria.

      • lukechandler says:

        Ussishkin, for one, states in his final report (published 2004) that he believes the site was abandoned for some time after the C12 BC destruction of level VI and that Lachish V was established as an unfortified town/village during C10 BC. My notes are not in front of me right now, but there are other proposals out there. I’m home but am prepping for another big project that starts in a couple of days.

        There is a lot of uncertainty on the dating and character of levels V and IV. A principal goal of the new excavation is to clarify these issues. I am writing a paper on this question and will have more details at my fingertips in a few weeks. You many have noticed a new gate was just announced at Tel Lachish. If the preliminary dating holds up under excavation, it should be quite useful in answering some of these questions.

  3. Great write-up, Luke. Thank you. I attend the Littleton C of C in Colorado and graduated from Harding School of Theology. I’ve been following your blogs for quite some time now and just noticed your background. Craig Baugh

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