Toilet discovered at 2,800-year-old shrine reveals Biblical tale of desecration of religious sites by King Hezekiah of Judah
- The city gate at Tel Lachish in Israel has been found to have once contained a sacred shrine with two altars
- Raised corners once decorated the altars have been cut and a toilet was installed in the corner of the shrine
- Archaeologists believe this was a desecration as part of a religious crackdown on cults and idol worship
- King Hezekiah is said in the Bible to have ‘removed the high places’ and ‘smashed the sacred stones’
King Hezekiah instituted one of the most zealous religious crackdowns in the history of Judaism and saw the numerous cults in ancient Judah smashed to pieces.
Now evidence of the reforms implemented by King Hezekiah, which are described in the Old Testament, around 2,800 years ago have surfaced in a surprising form.
Archaeologists digging at the site of an ancient gate to the ruined city of Tel Lachish in Israel have uncovered the remains of a shrine that was desecrated during the purges in the 8th century BC. The discovery at Tel Lachish, however, is the first time that an archaeological find confirms this practice.
The Lachish city gate, as it is known, consists of six chambers which contain signs of city life at the time. In one of the chambers, however, is a shrine that once had walls covered with white plaster and two altars decorated with raised corners – known as horns.
These, however, appear to have had their tops deliberately cut off, a sign that there had been an attempt to end the spread of religious cults and centralise worship in Jerusalem Putting a latrine at a holy site was considered to be sacrilege as it soiled a religious location that was to be respected. In the case of Jehu who destroyed the cult of Baal in Samaria the Bible states “And they demolished the pillar of Baal and demolished the house of Baal and made it a latrine to this day” (2 Kings 10:27).
Perhaps the greatest sign that the shrine had been the site of one of King Hezekiah’s crackdowns was the installation of the toilet within the inner sanctum of the shrine.
This stone with a hole cut through the centre would have been the ultimate desecration of the holy site.
Sa’ar Ganor, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said: ‘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.
‘An opening was exposed in the corner of the room that led to the holy of holies.
‘To our great excitement, we found two four-horned altars and scores of ceramic finds consisting of lamps, bowls and stands in this room.
‘It is most interesting that the horns on the altar were intentionally truncated. That is probably evidence of the religious reform attributed to King Hezekiah.’ According to the narrative given in the Book of Kings in the Bible, King Hezekiah oversaw a widespread effort to abolish the religious cults and idol worship that had sprung up in Judah.
It states in II Kings 18:4: ‘He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles…’
Tests at the site showed that while the toilet stone appears to have been installed to desecrate the shrine, it was never actually used. Archaeologists instead believe it had been placed there symbolically and the inner sanctum of the shrine was sealed shut.
Dr Ganor said: ‘The size of the gate is consistent with the historical and archaeological knowledge we possess, whereby Lachish was a major city and the most important one after Jerusalem’.
‘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.’
The ruins of the city gate today:
A reconstruction of the city gate: