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Lachish Ostraca

LACHISH OSTRACA

LACHISH OSTRACA , a collection of inscribed sherds discovered at *Lachish by J.L. *Starkey. Eighteen were discovered in 1935 in a room adjacent to the city gate, among the ruins of stratum ii, which was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia, and in 1938, three more sherds were found. With the exception of two lists of names (nos. 1 and 19) and a docket (no. 20), the sherds are letters which were sent to Ya'ush, an army commander stationed at Lachish and responsible for the southwestern Shephelah. His correspondent was Hoshaiah, apparently an officer under Ya'ush in command of a garrison stationed in one of the towns between Lachish and Jerusalem. Ya'ush had accused Hoshaiah of reading secret documents sent from Jerusalem to the commander at Lachish and of revealing their contents to others. Hoshaiah denies the charge, humbly appealing to his superior. The usual opening salutation ("May the Lord cause my lord to hear tidings of peace!"; no. 2) is sometimes followed by the self-demeaning question "Who is your servant, a dog that…" (nos. 2, 5, and 6; cf. ii Sam. 9:8; ii Kings 8:13).

Another recurrent theme concerns the activities of a certain prophet, which were detrimental to the soldiers. Letter no. 3 appears to deal with this prophet: "The army commander, Coniah the son of Elnathan, has gone down to Egypt…" This incident strongly resembles the incident of the king Jehoiakim and the prophet *Uriah from Kiriath-Jearim (Jer. 26); according to H. Torczyner (Tur-Sinai), the same event was recorded in both the ostracon and the Bible. In no. 4, Hoshaiah informs Ya'ush that he has carried out his orders, reporting what was done at his command and ending "We are watching for the fire signals of Lachish, according to all the signs my lord gave, because we do not see Azekah" (Tel Zakariyyeh (Tel ʿAzeqah), at the entrance to the Elah Valley, north of Lachish). Hoshaiah's message that he does not see Azekah (or reading אות for את, the signal of Azekah has not been approved) may mean that the letter was sent after the fall of Azekah, in line with the situation described in Jeremiah 34:7: "…When the king of Baby-lon's army fought against Jerusalem, and against all the cities of Judah that were left, against Lachish and against Azekah; for these alone remained of the cities of Judah as fortified cities." A less dramatic interpretation, that visibility conditions were unfavorable, is also possible.

These ostraca constitute the latest corpus of Hebrew documents from the time of the First Temple. They are of great importance for linguistic and orthographic research and for the study of ancient Hebrew script. The biblical style of the letters resembles the prose of the books of Kings and Jeremiah, although terminology and usages otherwise unknown also occur: בית הרפד (no. 4) is probably a lodging house; תסבה (no. 4) is a circling movement, an encirclement, a patrol (cf. Song 3:3 [2]; 5:7). The use of vowel letters א, ה, ו, י is generally found only in final position in the ostraca, but the name Ya'ush is always spelled יאוש; the word ish, איש (3:9–10); and in no. 20 we read "[בתשעית ביו [ם " (contrast "בשת התשעת" in the Samaria ostraca). The Lachish Letters are written in a cursive script, the most developed form of the Paleo-Hebraic (ancient Hebrew) script, whose use was very much restricted after the destruction of the First Temple.

bibliography:

H. Torczyner, et al., Lachish, 1 (1938); idem, Te'udot Lakhish (1940); F.M. Cross, Jr. and D.N. Freedman, Early Hebrew Orthography (1952), 51–57 (incl. bibl.). add. bibliography: A. Lemaire, Inscriptions hébraïques (1977), 87–143; Z. Zevit, Matres Lectionis in Ancient Hebrew Epigraphs (1980); S. Ahituv, Handbook of Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions (1992), 31–54, incl. bibl.; M. Cross, in: idem, Leaves from an Epigrapher's Notebook (2003), 129–32; R. Di Vito, in: abd, 4:126–28.

[Joseph Naveh]

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