|Detail of Assyrian archers from wall panels from palace|
of Sennacherib at Nineveh depicting the Siege of Lachish
Having spent many hours studying this series of wall panels, and having tried on numerous occasions to share something of the drama and significance of this event, the prospect of actually visiting the site at which this siege took place and on which these scenes were based was really a very special teat. As the coach approached the tel, the excitement grew, and then the city gate came into view ...
|Looking north east at the remains of the Assyrian siege ramp|
built over 2,700 years ago. The main double gate is to the left
As tempting as it might be to say much more of this site, to recount the strategies of the Assyrians, their subsequent tragic losses preventing them from taking the capital city, the incursions of the Babylonians over a century later and the associated 'Lachish Letters,' I will refrain from doing so for fear of this becoming too much of an exhilarating history lesson. But I will briefly describe what we saw.
The main double gate on the western side is currently being excavated and so was only really observable from above. It being a double gate, the Assyrians must have considered the siege ramp to be more conducive to their ultimate victory, despite the length of time it must have taken to construct.
|Standing atop Tel Lachish - absolutely incredible!!|
Returning across the tel top towards the palace structure, we passed above the double gate to the west in which area the Lachish Letters were discovered in 1935. Passing some later, Persian ruins, we descended the northern side of the tel, arriving at the well. Water supply has always been a significant factor in the lives of humans, for apart from being a necessary ingredient for making tea, it also helps stave off terminal dehydration (to say nothing of having a jolly good bath). Locating a water supply on any site is critical to understanding the lives of those who lived there - but more of this later.
|The upper city Iron Age fortress at Tel Arad|
Founded in the third millennium B.C., Arad is Israel's best example of an Early Bronze Age city. The site is in two parts, one lower than the other. The lower city ruins are extensive and preserve well laid out streets. The houses are mostly of similar structure to each other and there is also evidence of a marketplace and temples. There is little evidence of Middle or Late Bronze Age occupancy, though we do know that the city was conquered by Joshua (as also had been Lachish).
|The Tel Arad temple with the Holy of Holies in foreground|
The intense heat and aridity of Arad were taking their toll and luncheon was most gratefully received. Falafel was the order of the day, a deep fried mash of chickpeas served in pita bread with sauce and whatever other stuff happens to be at hand. It was most palatable and though a cup of tea would have hit the spot, it was enough to keep us going for the next leg of the trip.
|In the Holy of Holies at Tel Arad!|
We drove north along the western shore of the Dead Sea, disembarking at a suitable spot for a dip. The sign actually read 'SWIMMING DANGEROUS!!! NO LIFEGUARD ON DUTY' but we went ahead - after all, this was the Dead Sea in which nothing lives anyway. Further instructions did make it clear that one was not to immerse one's head or drink seawater, so the odds of drowning did seem minimal. Having changed, we made our way to the shore where, after removing shoes, we tentatively negotiated the rocks before entering the water.
|Doing what one does in the Dead Sea|
|Sumptuous fish dinner on Shabbat|
The showers above the shore added a further degree of exhilaration. Relatively cool and rather forceful, they were a welcome treat in the late afternoon heat. A quick change and back on the coach for the short trip to the En Gedi Field Centre which was to be our accommodation for the night. Shabbat began, we dined on fish and all was well in the depths of the earth.