Apparently, King Hezekiah meant business when he set out to do away with shrines devoted to gods other than Yahweh, the God of Israel. The historian behind 2 Kings 18:3-4a says that when Hezekiah became king, “He did what was right in the sight of the LORD just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the high places, broke down the pillars, and cut down the sacred pole.” This activity would have taken place across the kingdom, wherever worship to Baal, Asherah, or other gods officially took place.
One of those places, it turns out, was Lachish, a city about 30 miles southwest of Jerusalem. Lachish was second in size and influence only to Jerusalem itself during much of the First Temple period, though it was destroyed during the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s campaigns in 701 BCE, about midway through Hezekiah’s reign (715-687 BCE).
Perhaps it was the Assyrian threat that led Hezekiah to try getting Judah on the road to repentance. Signs
of his reform campaign recently came to light when Israeli archaeologists digging in Lachish’s large city gate discovered that the last of the six gate chambers in the eighth century level contained a shrine almost certainly dedicated to other gods, because the temple in Jerusalem was the only authorized center of worship to Yahweh during that time. Inside the chamber was a plastered bench where offerings to the local deity could be left, and an opening in the back part of the chamber led to a small “holy of holies,” according to Sa’ar Ganor, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Two horned altars were found there, along with lamps, bowls, and stands typical of worship sites.
So where does King Hezekiah enter this picture? The customary “horns” protruding from each corner of the stone altar had been intentionally broken off, rendering it unfit for further use. As if that were not enough, a stone toilet seat was then placed atop the altar.
Samples taken from beneath the toilet suggest that it was not in active use for pit stops: its presence alone was enough to desecrate the shrine and keep would-be Baal or Asherah worshipers away.
Interestingly enough, the Bible records a similar action when King Jehu sought to eliminate the worship of Baal in Samaria a century earlier: “They brought out the pillar that was in the temple of Baal, and burned it. Then they demolished the pillar of Baal, and destroyed the temple of Baal, and made it a latrine to this day” (2 Kings 10:26-27).
The find at Lachish is the first archaeological confirmation of the practice — topping an altar with a stone toilet in an ancient game of thrones.
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.