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Following the Exodus from Egypt, Moses passes his leadership of the Israelites to Joshua in the sixth book of the Old Testament, to lead the people across the Jordan River into Canaan – an area that covered most of Israel, Jordan, southern Syria and Lebanon – to take back the land God promised Abraham. Lachish was the second-most-important city in the region after Jerusalem, and the Joshua 10:32 notes: “The Lord delivered Lachish into the hand of Israel, which took it on the second day, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and all the souls therein.” Now, thousands of years on, a team of archaeologists led by Professor Yosef Garfinkel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology have discovered the remains of part of the biblical city said to have been destroyed by Joshua.
In a study published in January, Dr Garfinkel revealed how extensive ruins of a Canaanite temple dating to the 12th century BC uncovered in National Park Tel Lachish, near the present-day Israeli city of Kiryat Gat, are.
Dr Garfinke told the Times of Israel: “This excavation has been breathtaking.
“Only once every 30 or 40 years do we get the chance to excavate a Canaanite temple in Israel.
“What we found sheds new light on ancient life in the region.
“It would be hard to overstate the importance of these findings.”
The layout of the structure is similar to other Canaanite temples in northern Israel, including Nablus, Megiddo and Hazor, and the entrance is marked by two towers leading to a large hall.
Inside, there are four supporting columns and several “standing stones” that may have served as representations of temple gods.
In addition to the temple itself, archaeologists unearthed a trove of artefacts including, bronze cauldrons, jewellery, daggers and axe-heads decorated with bird images, scarabs, and a gold-plated bottle inscribed with the name Ramses II, one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs.
They found a host of other objects buried along with the monument, including two bronze figurines said to be armed “smiting gods” housed near the altar.
Of particular interest was a pottery sherd engraved with ancient Canaanite script, where the 15th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “samek,” appears.
This makes it the oldest known example of the letter and a unique specimen for the study of ancient alphabets.
The site of Lachish, where the temple is located, was first found by William Foxwell Albright in 1929.
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Dr Garfinkel’s team started excavating the site nearly seven years ago in 2013, then spent longer examining the findings.
He told the Jerusalem Post: “We uncovered the temple and we dedicated three or four years to it because it is very rare to find Canaanite sites in Israel.
“This kind of structure was only discovered in Megiddo, Nablus and Hazor.
“But this is the first time we revealed such a large monumental symmetrical kind of temple.”
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