The Lachish Ostraca (Jeremiah 34)

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Illustration: Lachish Ostraca Replicas

In 1935 18 ostraca (broken pieces of pottery used for writing) were discovered in a guard room below the gate tower inside the outer wall at Lachish, a fortified town protecting the southern Judean hill country, and in 1938 three more were found. While a few of the ostraca are unreadable, and four are administrative lists, the remaining are letters dating to the period from 597 to 587 B.C. They are extremely important, not only for their value in studying the development of Hebrew grammar and syntax, but also for their illumination of the political situation and general turmoil as Judah prepared fot the inevitable attack by Nebuchadnezzar.

The most significant of the letters are numbers 3, 4 and 6. Number 3 is from Hoshaiah, a subordinate officer writing to Yaosh, probably the governor or military commander of Lachish. He reported that Coniah, son of Elnathan, had travelled to Egypt to obtain military assistance. Jeremiah 37:6-8 indicates that king Zedekiah had believed that Egyptian forces would come to his aid but that the Lord declared otherwise. The pharaoh’s army would not stave off the Babylonian onslaught. Some suggest that Elnathan might have been the official of Zedekiah mentioned in 26:22 and 36:12, 25. The letter concludes with a warning message from an unnamed prophet.

In letter number 4 the author appears to say that he was watching for the fire signals of Lachish; those of Azekah were not visible. This may indicate that Azekah had already capitulated at the time the ostracon was inscribed. Azekah was the only other fortified city besides Lachisj still standing in Judah just prior to Jerusalem’s fall.

Letter number 6 is concerned with the words of certain princes and officials of the sort intended to demoralize troops facing imminent war. A prophet is mentioned, but the name is illegible except for the ending “-yahu” (i.e. “Yahweh”). It may be that the prophet was either Uriah or Jeremiah (both their names end in “-yahu” in Hebrew), although of course we cannot know. Jeremiah had already prophesied that God would hand over Jerusalem to Babylon; many had thus regarded him as a traitor and a bad influence upon the people.


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