Why the Lachish III Assemblage Stays Where It Is

Long ago, when Albright ruled the world of Palestinian archaeology, the Lachish III assemblage was dated to 701-597 BC. It did not bother Albright (or, for that matter, Kenyon) that Lachish IV evidenced no destruction by fire, but only had a collapsed outer wall, gate, and “palace-fort” (see here for site plan, here for gate), since no destruction by fire is mentioned in the texts, neither Assyrian nor Judahite. Also, the Albrightians/Kenyonites saw little difference between the pottery of Lachish III and II, which was destroyed in the Babylonian campaign which destroyed Jerusalem, and, therefore, argued that 10 years’ difference is a sufficient time for the assemblage to have changed the way it did.

Recently, James and Lipinski brought up similar arguments for the Albrightian dating. However, they have not analyzed all the evidence from all sites, and, therefore, their conclusions cannot be substantiated. Firstly, Jerusalem and the Shephelah, the main target of Sennacherib’s campaign, received a major expansion (five-fold) in the early Lachich III phase. If this phase is to be dated in the early 7th century BC, as James and Lipinski want, what would be its catalyst? A few fleeing refugees from Timnah and Ekron cannot cause the area of Jerusalem to expand three-fold, nor could it cause the population of the Shephelah to paradoxically increase, and by such a great amount! Also, the first fortifications on the Western Hill of Jerusalem date to the fully developed part of the Iron IIB. So, who built them under the Lipinski scheme? Josiah? Note, also, that the only occupation at Timnah (Tel Batash) that can be ascribed to Sennacherib (stratum III; IV [Iron IIA]) is too early, II is too late ) dates to the post-Lachish IV phase.

As for the Edomite pottery assemblages, the state of Edom is first mentioned in the very late 9th/very early 8th centuries in the Nimrud Slab of Adad-Nirari III, and certainly could have produced its own pottery by that time. Unpainted Edomite ware is first attested at Tel Beersheba III, with its weak fortifications, and probably was imported before Assyrian intervention. However, it may also have been imported between the 734 BC campaign of Tiglath-Pileser and the 720 BC of Sargon II, making the links with Assyrian chronology and Edomite pottery not the least bit of a problem in any case. It is expected the Lachish III assemblage would still appear at 7th century sites like Tel Aroer and Khirbet ‘Ira; hardly anyone would expect the pottery assemblage of Judah to change in a single year! As for links between the Rosette impressions of the late 7th C BC with the “Top-Register” impressions of the post-Revolt period, 28 Generic lmlks, 6 Hebron, 10 MMST, 7 Socoh (which, themselves somewhat questionably date to the post-revolt period; they might as well belong to mid-701 BC, since they have far more in common with the “Divided” than the other “Top-Register” impressions), and 8 Ziph impressions have so far been recorded by Grena’s lmlk research site, in total, 59, none of them being found in the Shephelah, but only in Greater Benjamin, eastern Judah, Ashdod, or Gezer. The Rosette impressions, meanwhile, number some 161 by Na’aman’s count, and some 250 by Grena’s, the Rosette impressions being found in all regions of the land of Judah, including the Shephelah. While both stem from royal initiative, the relative paucity of Rosettes when compared to the early lmlk assemblage, and their multitude and spread when compared to the Top-Register lmlk assemblage strongly fit the evidence that the preparations for Zedekiah’s revolt were much more poorly planned than Hezekiah’s revolt, but were done in a larger kingdom than that of post-Revolt Hezekiah, but fit the idea the lmlk impressions are to be attributed to the 601-597 BC revolt extremely poorly; would we not expect an even stronger buildup under Zedekiah? It is doubtful, but not disproven, that Timnah/Tel Batash existed after 601 BC, and, if it was destroyed in the 7th century, it is simply impossible to imagine the Rosette phenomenon’s beginning (which may represent Josiah’s efforts to revitalize Judah’s economy or prepare for a presumed invasion of Nabopolassar) dating any later. And, anyway, why wouldn’t Josiah (or some king after him) have used a distribution/production system similar to that of Hezekiah? After all, his choices worked well for him!

Also, while the Lachish relief may not show any destruction by fire, it does represent significant violent conflict, conflict which would be doubtfully resolved by the taking of a few captives and the pulling down of a few structures, the treatment Jerusalem got in 597 BC would hardly be applied to a rebellious non-capital city. In any case, why would Lachish not turn into an Assyrian Palace Ware using provincial capital (Tell el-Hesi, anyone?) if it did get the 597 BC treatment?

In short, the case for not dating the fall of Lachish III to 701 BC is so weak as to not merit any consideration whatsoever. The date of the fall of Lachish III can, like the date of the rise of Arad XII, be a solid chronological anchor, never to be overthrown by those who reject common archaeological wisdom.

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Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

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