First, Susan uncovered what first looked like a spear point, but turned out to be the head of a bronze scepter. Everyone gathered around to look at the find, and some dirt near the edge of a baulk was displaced. As soon as the others left, I scooped up the displaced dirt and sifted it, turning up a small bronze image of a “smiting god,” probably intended to depict Baal Resheph. The image was a standard form, showing the god striding with his left foot forward, holding a thunder club in his upraised right hand and a spear or lightning bold in the left. His tall pointed crown was a symbol of divinity. Baal was widely regarded as the weather god, especially of storms.
We were digging at Lachish with a team led Yosef Garfinkel of Hebrew University and Michael Hasel of Southern Adventist University in the summer of 2015, and had been assigned to a square that turned out to be part of a Canaanite temple dating to the late Bronze Age, somewhere around 1200-1300 BCE.
I got permission to tell that part of the story in Baptists Today (before we rebranded to Nurturing Faith) soon afterward, but full archaeology reports take time to be published, and sometimes never are. The Fourth Expedition to Lachish extended from 2013-2017, so publication of the results in the January 2020 issue of the archaeology journal Levant was quicker than usual (“The Level VI North-East Temple at Tel Lachish,” by Itamar Weissbien, Yosef Garfinkel, Michael G. Hasel, Martin G. Klingbell, Baruch Brandl, and Hadas Misgav, published January 16, 2020).
Excavations the year following our participation showed the extent of the temple, where another smiting god, two small altars, jewelry, bronze cauldrons, a nice pottery assemblage, and ritual standing stones were also found.
The story received extensive coverage through an Israeli press release, the Israeli newspapers Haaretz and the Times of Israel, London’s Daily Mail, and many others. You can read more and see additional images there, but remember, you read it here first!
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.