Archaeologists have discovered a stone toilet (pictured) in a shrine hidden within the city gate at the ruins of the city of Tel Lachish in Israel. It is thought to have been installed as part of a crackdown on religious cults by King Hezekiah (Photo by Igor Kramerman)

We have seen several exciting discoveries this year that have given us tangible evidence of the Bible. Very recently an unusual but very exciting discovery was made. This particular excavation was conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the Tel Lachish National Park. Lachish was ancient Judah’s second largest city after Jerusalem. A gate-shrine from the First Temple period (eighth century BC) uncovered compelling evidence of King Hezekiah’s efforts to abolish idol worship there, as described in the Bible.

And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done. He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah – II Kings 18:3-4 (ESV)

A computerized image of the Lachish city gate by architects Ram Shoaf and Hila Berger-Onn/Israel Antiquities Authority Conservation Department.

The Lachish city gate has a total of six chambers, three on either side and a “main street” that passed between the two sides. All together it is 24.50 x 24.50m (80 x 80 feet) in size and is now completely exposed and preserved to a height of 4m. The IAA states that, “According to the biblical narrative, the cities’ gates were the place where ‘everything took place’: the city elders, judges, governors, kings and officials – everyone would sit on benches in the city gate. These benches were found in our excavation.”

In the first chamber were benches with arm rests as well as artifacts; jars, scoops and stamped jar handles bearing the name of the official or a lmlk (belonging to a king). Two of them have the seal impression lmlk hbrn (belonging to the king of Hebron) who was probably a high official at the time of King Hezekiah.

Artifacts from the First Temple period uncovered in Tel Lachish include oil lamps, arrowheads and seal impressions for identifying jars. (Photo by Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Seal inscription on a jar handle found at Tel Lachish. Photo by Yoli Shwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority

Artifacts discovered in the rooms suggest how they may have been used in the eighth century BC. According to Sa’ar Ganor, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Steps to the gate-shrine in the form of a staircase ascended to a large room where there was a bench upon which offerings were placed.

The excavated site at Tel Lachish matches the Bible’s description of how the city elders, judges, governors and kings sat on benches at the city gate. (Photo by Saʽar Ganor/Israel Antiquities Authority)

An opening was exposed in the corner of the room that led to the holy of holies.” In that chamber, the walls were once covered with white plaster and had two altars decorated with corners, known as horns and to the excitement of the archaeologists they found many ceramic pieces including; lamps, bowls, and stands in the room.

It is most interesting to note that the horns were intentionally truncated. This discovery seems to be evidence of King Hezekiah’s religious reform, “whereby religious worship was centralized in Jerusalem and the cultic high places that were built outside the capital were destroyed.”

Altars found within the hidden shrine show signs that the raised corners, known as horns,
were hacked off (Yoli Shwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah, king of Israel, Hezekiah the son of Ahaz, king of Judah, began to reign… He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). – 2 Kings 18:1,4 (ESV)

The evidence of the truncated horns was an exciting find. However, further proof of the account in II Kings was found in the discovery of a toilet placed in the corner of the room. The stone, fashioned in the shape of a chair with a hole cut in the center has been identified in archaeological research as a toilet. Installing a latrine would have been considered sacrilegious and soiled the religious location. In the case of Jehu destroying the cult of Ba’al in Samaria, the bible states: “And they demolished the pillar of Ba’al, and they demolished the house of Ba’al, and made it a latrine to this day.” (2 Kings 10:27)

Tests on the stone toilet (pictured) and the ground around it suggest it was never used and that its purpose was symbolic

This discovery is the first time evidence of this practice has been found. Laboratory tests on the stone have confirmed that it was not used and that we can assume it was in fact placed symbolically. After which, the holy of holies would have been sealed until it was later destroyed.

Arrow heads found around the gate also reveal the combat that took place the attacking Asyrian army and the forces of King Hezekiah who were defending the city

The excavation revealed layers in the wake of defeat, including arrowheads and sling stones, indicative of the hand-to-hand combat that occurred in the city’s gatehouse. As noted by the IAA, the gate at Tel Lachish was destroyed by Sennacherib, King of Assyria, in 701 BC. Evidence of this is known from II Kings 18 and II Chronicles 32.

MK Ze’ev Elkin, Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage and Environmental Protection summarized the exhilarating find by saying, “Before our very eyes these new finds become the biblical verses themselves and speak in their voice.” He continued by saying, “The fascinating new discovery at Tel Lachish is a typical example whereby excavations and further research of heritage sites show us time and time again how Biblical tales that are known to us become historical and archaeological stories.”

The gate (pictured) was found within the Tel Lachish National Park, which includes the ruins of the ancient city, which is considered one of Israel’s most important archaeological sites. (Photo by Guy Fitoussi/ Israel Antiquities Authority)

At this time the gate is temporarily covered and cannot be seen for conservation purposes. The National and Parks Authority, in cooperation with the IAA, is engaged in the continued development of the site in preparation of opening it to visitors.