It’s not often a toilet is the missing puzzle piece in an ancient story, but archeologists believe a 2,700-year-old toilet could be used to explain a king’s attempt at religious reform.
The Lachish city gate at Tel Lachish National Park was uncovered decades ago by British archaeologists. Earlier this year, further excavation led by the Israel Antiquities Authority completely exposed this 4-meter-tall (13-foot-tall) gate, revealing it had six surrounding chambers that act much like a shrine, the Times of Israel reports.
“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,” Sa'ar Ganor, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement.
But here’s where it gets really interesting. The shrine dates back to the era just before the rule of King Hezekiah. His reign was largely defined by attempts to swat out “false idols” and centralize all worship under one religion.
An altar in one of the smaller rooms at the gate suggests it was used in the 8th century BCE by previous kings as some kind of religious temple. But there’s also a toilet in the temple – not something you’d expect in a place of worship.
Laboratory tests were carried out on the stone around the toilet, finding that it was never actually used. The researchers, therefore, believe the toilet was a symbolic gesture, as a kind of “screw you” from the king himself to the former tribal cults.
According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the Old Testament says there are even written records of installing toilets in structures as a means of disrupting them. A line in II Kings 10:27 reads, “And they demolished the pillar of Ba’al, and demolished the house of Ba’al, and made it a latrine [toilet] to this day.”
"That is probably evidence of the religious reform attributed to King Hezekiah, whereby religious worship was centralized in Jerusalem and the cultic high places that were built outside the capital were destroyed," said Ganor.
The Minister of Jerusalem and Heritage and Environmental Protection, MK Ze’ev Elkin, concluded 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. This discovery, is an illuminating example of the verse that described King Hezekiah: ‘He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles…” (II Kings 18:4).’”