1943 Guide to Lachish

At the end of last year I acquired a rare little booklet about Lachish published by an illegitimate, now-defunct organization. When I read it back in January, it led me to discover something that I’m sure will surprise many people interested in Biblical archeology.

I wrote a formal article about the subject back in April, & felt it would be of interest to readers of The Bible & Interpretation website. One of the scholars to whom I sent a review copy disagreed about a quotation of his in one of my footnotes, & it delayed the publication, which would’ve been in May, but now will probably be near the end of June, beginning of July.

I felt it would be fitting to publish this out-of-print booklet as a background to my 3rd B&I article, & to intrigue readers with 3 clues about the subject. The formatting below is basically as it appears in the 20-page booklet, though I’m not reproducing any of the 8 figures (which are photos & drawings used by the excavators in later publications).




G. Lankester Harding

Jerusalem, 1943

Price 30 mils


The Department of Antiquities is indebted for this Guide to Mr. G. Lankester Harding, now Chief Curator of Antiquities in Trans-Jordan, who participated for several years in the exploration of the site which he has kindly consented to describe.

Our knowledge of Tell ed Duweir and its history is almost entirely due to systematic excavations carried out by an expedition organized and directed by the late Mr. J. L. Starkey with funds provided by the late Sir Henry Wellcome and Sir Charles Marston.

The expedition started work in the winter of 1932 and continued year by year until 1938 when Mr. Starkey was murdered by bandits on the road just outside Hebron. Readers of this Guide will be able to appreciate the importance of the discoveries which had been made when the work, still at an early stage, was thus deplorably cut short. It is greatly to be hoped that the exploration of this promising site may yet be renewed.

The Department has to thank the Wellcome-Marston Archaeological Expedition for the photographs reproduced in Figs. 1, 2 (inset), 7 and 8.

R. W. Hamilton.
Director of Antiquities


Tell ed Duweir, the “hill of the little monastery”, stands in the foothills of the Judaean mountains, a few miles south-west of Beit Jibrin, and near the modern village of Qubeiba.

It is sufficiently elevated to command from its summit an extensive view across the plain as far as the sea. The mound itself is a magnificent and imposing example of an ancient city site, rising boldly up from a hollow in the hills, from which it is isolated on all sides except the south, where a narrow shoulder of rock connects it with the plateau (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. Tell ed Duweir from the south-west

The identification of Tell ed Duweir with the Biblical city of Lachish is widely accepted and there is strong evidence to support it, but it must be mentioned that Tell el Hesy a few miles to the south-west is a rival claimant. The chief support for the Duweir-Lachish equation is found in the Lachish Letters, about which more will be said later, and the situation ascribed to Lachish in a list of biblical place names compiled by Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, in the 4th century, where it is said to be seven Roman miles from Beit Jibrin on the road to the south. Excavation has shown that a Roman road ran by the mound up the western valley, and the distance is almost exactly right.

It has not been established how many ruined cities are superimposed one on the other to make up the 60 feet of artificial deposit of the mound, as the only excavation which has gone through to bed-rock was a small trial trench on the north face. This revealed that the site was occupied to the full extent of its area from the Chalcolithic period, the age of transition from the Stone to the Bronze Age, about 3,500 B.C., down to about 400 B.C. Further, in the earliest period there was a suburb of some size on the ridge to the west, and excavation there showed that most of the dwellings were caves, which occur naturally in great numbers in the soft limestone. The remains of a few dolmens a little further west may also belong to this time.

In the period immediately following, the Early Bronze Age (3000-2000 B.C.), many of these cave-dwellings were re-used as tombs, and considerable quantities of pottery and sometimes personal ornaments were interred with the bodies. A cemetery of slightly later date, the end of the Early and beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (about 2000 B.C.), was found on the slopes to the north of the Tell, not far from the present village well. Here were single crouched burials in small graves, with a pot or two and occasionally a copper dagger or dart.

The present most characteristic feature of the mound, its steeply sloping sides, is due to the defensive works of the Hyksos in about the 18th century B.C. These people, commonly called the Shepherd Kings, who overran Syria and Egypt about 1750 B.C., used to fortify their towns by making a steep glacis or slope all round, at the foot of which was a wide fosse or dry moat with a vertical return. Here at Duweir they scraped down the rock, and smoothed off the surface with a coating of crushed limestone tightly rammed down. At the top of the glacis there was probably a brick wall, and at the foot the usual moat. The gleaming white slopes of the city must have been an impressive and awesome sight to intending invaders. None the less the Hyksos were driven out, the defence system fell into disuse, the fosse filled up, and on the filling at the north-west corner a small temple was built in the 15th century B.C. (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Canaanite temple in the fosse (inset: offering bowls in wall-cupboard)

The fortunes of the city for the next three hundred years can be traced in the development of this little temple. Staring modestly as a long, narrow room, its roof supported on two wooden pillars, and two smaller rooms, it was soon rebuilt with its main room twice the size, the roof supported on four wooden pillars, and with a suitable entrance hall and a retiring room for priests behind the altar. A second rebuilding added another retiring room and enlarged the altar very considerably; this third building was looted and burnt about 1230 B.C. Around the temple were many pits into which was thrown the rubbish, mostly broken pots, used offering-bowls, and bones; but there were also many oddments of beads, seals, scarabs, gold ornaments, and even a whole ivory hand from a composite statue. On the altar of the last temple was a cache of ivory figurines, glass, faience, beads and scarabs, evidently hidden there by someone who never had the chance to collect them. (A selection of these objects may now be seen in the Palestine Archaeological Museum at Jerusalem). The benches and the floor around the altar were covered with offering bowls when the blazing roof fell in, as though too late an attempt had been made to propitiate the deity and avert the threatened calamity. There is evidence that the city of this period was also destroyed by fire, so the destruction of the temple was not a chance occurrence.

At least four types of writing were known and used at Lachish in the 15th to 13th centuries B.C., for inscriptions have been found in hieroglyphics, the formal pictorial writing of Egypt; in hieratic, the cursive form of hieroglyphs; and in the “proto-Sinaitic” script from which the Phoenician alphabet is thought to be derived (Fig. 3). Besides these a letter written in Babylonian cuneiform from the ruler of Lachish has also been found at Tell el Hesy.

Fig. 3. Ewer with alphabetic signs

Hardly anything is yet known about the site in the Early Iron Age (1200 to 1000 B.C.); only a few graves of the period have been found so far. The great city walls, bastion, gates and palace were most probably constructed in the time of Rehoboam, about 930 B.C., as part of his general plan of fortifying the country (2 Chron. XI,9). It was an impressive and solid piece of defence work, the outer wall resting everywhere on bed-rock, and reinforced with buttresses at points where the slope was very steep. The inner, upper wall was not such a massive affair, but added considerably to the difficulty of assault. These walls seem to have stood until the time of Sennacherib, 701 B.C., for the wonderful picture of the siege of Lachish found in his palace at Nineveh shows walls almost identical in plan and architectural features with the existing remains (Fig. 5). After his complete destruction of the city an attempt was made to patch up the defenses, great lengths of the walls being rebuilt in a very slipshod manner on the old remains.

Fig. 5. Siege of Lachish by Sennacherib

By the 7th century the town was flourishing again, but it suffered another total destruction and burning in 597 B.C. under the first onslaught of Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah XXXIV,7). Several shops of this period were found just inside the inner gate of the city, some full of the crushed remains of oil or wine jars, which had clearly been stacked on the floors when the roof fell in. There was also a weaver’s shop, with loom weights scattered in all directions. A brief recovery followed, but ten years later (588 B.C.) the Babylonians again attacked and destroyed the place, this time carrying off most of the inhabitants into captivity, and once more burning the city to the ground.

In a small guard room just inside the outer city gate, mixed up in the ashes and debris of this holocaust, were found the now famous Lachish Letters, twenty-one documents written in ink on potsherds (Fig. 4). The language and script are ancient Hebrew, and the letters are addressed to a senior official, perhaps the governor of the town, from a subordinate outside. They refer to the activities, mostly subversive, of certain people, and in particular a prophet who, it has been suggested, may have been either Jeremiah or Urijah (Jeremiah XXVI,20-23). Letter No. IV contains additional evidence for identifying the site as Lachish, for the writer says: “- – we are watching the signals of Lachish which my Lord is giving, for we cannot see Azekah”. Read in conjunction with Jeremiah XXXIV,9, this statement assumes a dramatic aspect, for the Biblical account says that in the Babylonian attack on the country Azekah and Lachish were the last of the cities of Judah to hold out. In this letter Azekah has already fallen, for she no longer sends out her signals, and Lachish must have fallen very soon after receipt of the letter.

Fig. 4. A Hebrew letter

The city lay desolate for a long time, and a thick deposit of mud accumulated over the streets and in the ruined buildings. But it was again restored, and in the 5th century B.C. had become a town of some size and importance. The reason for its gradual wane and disappearance is not clear, but there was no more than a village on the site by Roman times, though the road to the south ran beside the mound and the old name of Lachish was still known. But even the name was finally forgotten, and the site of the ancient city was ploughed and cultivated. With the excavations it burst into the light of fame for another brief period, but now seems fated to sink once more into obscurity.


The road to the Tell skirts the foot of the village of Qubeiba and runs down the side of the Wady Ghafr on the east of the mound. Looking across the valley from here you can distinguish the double circuit of the city walls, the inner line skirting the rim of the mound, the outer parallel to it a few yards down the slope. The road then crosses the torrent bed by a bridge and turns sharp right up the hill to the site of the camp house, now demolished. This area, which is in effect a saddle connecting the hill of Lachish to the nearby ridge, was used in the 13th century B.C. as a cemetery, but later the top layer of rock was quarried away, perhaps in the 10th century, for building the city walls and palace, and the tombs were robbed. Still later a group of rather poor dwellings was built here, beside the road leading to the city.

From this point a sloping roadway, of which the old cobbled surface can be seen here and there, leads up to the outer city gate; the road is commanded on the hill side by a stone revetment above which is the outer city wall. At this south-west corner there is striking evidence of the enormous conflagration which destroyed the town in about 588 B.C. The slopes of the mound are completely masked by the debris of limestone masonry from the walls above, smashed and powdered by the intensity of the heat. Many signs of the burning can be seen on the roadway and revetment in the discolouration of the stone. This deliberate destruction was the result of Nebuchadnezzar’s last attack on the country.

As you walk up the road and pass the remains of a rough barrier of uncertain origin which partly bars the approach you are faced by the side of a bastion, built out from the main wall, in which is the outer gate of the city. Within this a short stretch of road leads up sharply to the right, where the inner gate passes through the upper wall. Immediately on your right as you enter the outer gate are the remains of a small guard room; it was here that the Lachish Letters were found. Marks of the final conflagration in which the letters were buried can still clearly be seen. A close look at the rather dilapidated remains of the outer gate will show that is [sic] has been rebuilt once or twice; the present jamb and sill probably belong to the restoration of the town on the return of the Jews from Captivity late in the 6th century B.C.

A long stretch of the original lower city wall built by Rehoboam, with characteristic recessing at intervals, can be seen toward the north from the outer or lower edge of the bastion. The upper wall, which starts from the inner gate, may also belong to Rehoboam’s fortification, but the evidence is not quite conclusive.

Passing through the inner gate, which is seen as reconstructed after the first attack by Nebuchadnezzar, we are on a sloping roadway surfaced with rammed crushed limestone. A drain, probably once covered with stone slabs, passes out under the gate, curving along the side of the roadway in the bastion, and out through the lower gate. About 10 yards inside the gate, on either side of the road, are the remains of mud-brick and stone piers, which represent part of a gateway of some time prior to the 6th century. The continuation of the drain may be seen curving off to the north, with a smaller one joining it from the east.

At this point the excavations have been carried a few feet further down to the level of the earlier road, as it existed before the first siege by Nebuchadnezzar. It was flanked on either side by shops and small houses, wine and oil merchants, a weaver’s establishment, etc., all of which had been hurriedly abandoned and then destroyed and burnt in 597 B.C. Ruinous, but clearly distinguishable when they were first found, the remains of these shops have been still further reduced by the rains and sun of recent years.

Curving to the left the road leads up to the great rectangular sub-structure of the palace which dominates the top of the mound. It is constructed of huge blocks similar to those used in the city wall, with which it must be contemporary. On this artificially raised platform were built a series of palaces, the latest of which, now removed, was in use as late as about 400 B.C., when the country was governed by the Kings of Persia. On the eastern side of the building there is a great open space surfaced with lime plaster; the pits which scar the surface are grain silos, dug in the latest phase of the city’s existence. From this level a flight of steps leads up to the level of the palace. Notice the mounting step (?) beside it. The building to which these steps led, like the rest of the town, had been thrown down and burnt by Nebuchadnezzar; but after the Captivity another great building, perhaps the Persian Governor’s residence, was erected on its ruins (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6. Persian Governor’s Residence

Nothing now remains of this except a few plastered floors, a couple of door sills and the bases of two great columns belonging to two porticoes which faced the courtyard of the palace. Beneath the present steps is an earlier flight, on one of which had been inscribed the first five letters of the Hebrew alphabet. These have been reburied for safety and are no longer visible.

It is clear from changes which may be seen in the structure of the platform, and from the massive walls which project from beneath it on the north, that the form and size of the palace have been changed from time to time. On the west side a trial cutting was made to examine the foundations there. It was found that the builders drove their foundation trench through accumulations of the Late Bronze Age period (1600-1200 B.C.) and dumped the soil against the wall as it grew in height. This soil tells us that there is a rich Bronze Age city beneath, which was also destroyed by fire, and which still keeps its main secrets intact.

A short distance to the north-east of the palace, i.e. toward the village of Qubeiba, are the remains of a building of the Persian period (5th or late 6th century B.C.), perhaps the shrine of a solar cult (Fig. 7). In front is an open courtyard, once flanked on two sides by rooms, of which only the foundations now remain. From here a flight of steps leads up to a rectangular ante-chamber, with a floor composed of lime and shells. Beyond this again, on the main east-west axis of the building, is a small inner room on a higher level, approached by three steps. This must have been the inner sanctuary; it faces the east, and from it the rising sun could have been seen through the open door of the ante-chamber. At the foot of the steps a small limestone altar was found; on one side of it was carved the figure of a man with upraised arms and on another a hand.

Fig. 7. Sun-worshippers’ shrine

Cutting across from here to the south is a path which leads past the ruins of a house with courtyard, also of the Persian Period, to a large depression in the surface of the mound. This marks the position of a huge shaft about 80 feet square and deep, cut into the solid rock. Only one corner of the shaft can now be seen, and that should be approached with caution. What the purpose of this vast undertaking was will never be known, for it was left uncompleted. It was begun some time in the 7th century B.C., and reminds one of the great shafts and galleries which have been found in several early Palestinian cities (Megiddo, Jerusalem, Gezer) leading to sources of water outside the city walls.

From here it is recommended to walk northwards along the edge of the Tell. You are then walking along the top of the upper city wall, parts of which are exposed here and there. Near the north-east corner of the mound there is another depression, the cause of which is not known. Below the rim of the Tell nearby, at the extreme north-east corner, there is an ancient well, some 125 feet deep; though it is finely built, it is advisable not to go too near the edge. It may be seen that the outer wall of the city here was specially built to enclose the well.

Fig. 8. Sketch restoration of Lachish

From this level you may follow the line of the lower city wall by a path which skirts the foot of it, passing round the northern end of the Tell. At the north-west corner is the excavators’ main dump and the sub-structure of their chute built in much the same style as the wall itself. It is necessary to climb down a few yards in order to pass this point. In doing so you can see a piece of the Hyksos glacis still exposed. Notice also the five buttresses which were built to consolidate the Jewish city wall at this steep salient point. In the area now covered by the dump there were found tombs of all periods from the Hyksos (about 1750 B.C.) to the Roman (A.D. 300). The deep excavation beyond marks the site of the Canaanite temple in the earlier Hyksos fosse. From here the path regains the foot of the outer wall and follows it southward again to the Gate Bastion, which projects prominently in front of you as you return to your starting point. The path leads past the lower end of the bastion back to the camp. From it you may see the lower retaining wall which supports the sloping roadway to the gate.


G.M. Grena


One Response to “1943 Guide to Lachish”

  1. George Grena Publishes 1943 Lachish Booklet « Against Jebel al-Lawz Says:

    […] here. He also suggests some clues about the subject of his next BibleInterp […]

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