Rockefeller Museum

Lachish Letter Number IV, written just before the Babylonians completed their conquest of Judea in the early sixth century B.C. Most scholars have considered this ostracon, or inscribed pottery sherd, the final form of a letter, which was sent from a military outpost in Judea to the garrison at Lachish. But now, renowned archaeologist-scholar Yigael Yadin is countering both elements of this theory. Yadin calls this ostracon a rough draft for a letter that was later written on papyrus. He further claims that the sender, Hosha‘yahu, wrote this letter from Lachish to his superior officer Ya’ush, who may have been stationed at Jerusalem.

The Lachish ostraca constitute the only collection of Hebrew letters from the time of the First Temple and have thus been scrutinized and argued about almost continuously since their discovery about 50 years ago.

Hosha‘yahu is a direct voice from the past, speaking to Ya’ush, and now to us, with an urgency that reflects the precariousness of his position at Lachish. From his vantage point on the tel, Hosha‘yahu cannot see signal fires from Tel Azekah less than seven miles away. Hosha‘yahu no doubt fears that Azekah has fallen to the Babylonians and Lachish is in direct danger. The text of this sherd, shown clearly in the drawing, reads (from right to left) according to Yadin’s new interpretation:

“ … but (I will send him) tomorrow morning. / And let (my lord) know that we are watching over the beacon of Lachish, according to the signals which my lord hath given, for Azekah is not to be seen.”