God, Science and the Bible: Naboth’s Vineyard and a Latrine in Lachish

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Naboth’s Vineyard and a Latrine in Lachish

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God, Science and the Bible: Naboth’s Vineyard and a Latrine in Lachish

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Time and again, the accuracy of the biblical record is corroborated by archaeological discoveries. We report here on two recent findings in Israel to that effect, both covered in the November-December 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Reviewone the winepress of a famous vineyard and the other an intentional defilement of a gatehouse religious shrine.

A winepress at Jezreel

The first concerns the property of a man named Naboth during the wicked reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel in Israel in the 800s B.C.

We’re told in 1 Kings 21 that Naboth had a vineyard that sat next to a large building of the king at Jezreel. This building is typically referred to as a “palace,” but more properly seems to have been a military installation—“probably the main mustering station for Ahab’s chariot force” (Norma Franklin, Jennie Ebeling, Philippe Guillaume and Deborah Appler, “Have We Found Naboth’s Vineyard at Jezreel?” p. 52). Ahab wanted the adjoining property, but Naboth refused to part with his ancestral land for money or another vineyard. Jezebel told a sulking Ahab that he was the ruler and that she would gain the vineyard for him—which she did by having Naboth falsely accused and stoned to death. God then sent the prophet Elijah to inform Ahab there would be severe consequences for this crime.

Later in 2 Kings 9 we see mention of this place again. After Ahab died, his son Joram reigned in his place, with Jezebel now the queen mother. Joram, wounded fighting in what is now Jordan, returned to Jezreel. Then God had Israel’s army commander Jehu anointed king and sent him to strike down the house of Ahab. Jehu sped back to Jezreel. He would have been approaching from the east. When watchmen saw him coming, Joram went out to intercept him “and met him on the property of Naboth the Jezreelite” ( 2 Kings 9:21 2 Kings 9:21And Joram said, Make ready. And his chariot was made ready. And Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah went out, each in his chariot, and they went out against Jehu, and met him in the portion of Naboth the Jezreelite.
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).  Jehu slew Joram and had his body cast into Naboth’s field, noting that God said Ahab’s house would be repaid in this plot of land. Jezebel was then killed at Jezreel.

Remarkably, in 2012 archaeologists discovered an area of exposed limestone bedrock next to ancient Jezreel that appeared to be an early winery installation—and excavations that began the next year showed it to have been a large winery complex. “The excavated winery complex covers approximately 130 square feet and consists of a treading floor 34 square feet and two vats each c. 14 square feet and more than 3 feet deep” (p. 54). Excavators stated that “based on comparisons with nearby wineries and the absence of evidence for a beam or screw press (which were later innovations), we believe that it most likely dates to the Iron Age” (ibid.)—fitting with the time of Ahab.

The discovered winery was also on the east side of Jezreel, the side from which Jehu approached, and close to the highway on which he would have traveled. It’s also pointed out that “the rich soil of the agricultural terrace just north of the winery [where the vineyard accompanying the discovered processing area would have been] was recently analyzed and found to be suitable for viticulture [growing grapes], while in contrast the fields to the west were found to be better suited to growing olives” (ibid.).

So archaeology and scientific analysis attest to an Iron Age vineyard on the northeast side of Jezreel—right in line with what’s stated in the Bible.

A toilet in a gatehouse shrine

The second discovery supports what the Bible has to say about religious reforms during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah in the 700s B.C. as well as a method of desecrating shrines in use by Israelites at the time.

In 2016, archaeologists working at Lachish, southwest of Jerusalem, completed the excavation of a six-chambered Iron Age city gate. In one of the gate chambers they discovered a gate-shrine where excavators believe the God of Israel was worshipped. While God called for a central place of worship and sacrifice—the tabernacle and, in later times, the temple—many in Israel and Judah persisted, contrary to God’s instruction, in maintaining various locations of worship and sacrifice throughout the land known as “high places.”

The particular gate chamber at Lachish “was divided into two rooms. “In the smaller room, two stone altars with horns were placed opposite a plastered niche” (Saar Ganor and Igor Kreimerman, “Going to the Bathroom at Lachish,” p. 60). “Each altar had four horns. Seven of the horns had been intentionally cut off with a sharp object” (ibid.).

Excavators found in the room “a large squared stone lying on its side. The stone was well-carved and fashioned into a seat . . . and in the middle is a hole connected to the front with a channel. [The excavators] have identified this to be a stone toilet” similar to others found elsewhere in Israel dating to the period of the kings of Israel and Judah (ibid.).

The defacing of the altar horns and the placement of a toilet in the room were evidently meant to defile the shrine, making it unfit for use. The Bible attests to such practices when King Jehu had the shrine of Baal destroyed in the city of Samaria and made into a latrine: “They smashed the sacred pillar and wrecked the temple of Baal, converting it into a public toilet” (2 Kings 10:27 2 Kings 10:27And they broke down the image of Baal, and broke down the house of Baal, and made it a draught house to this day.
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, New Living Translation).

This desecration at Lachish fits with Hezekiah’s purge of idolatrous worship throughout the land as he sought to centralize worship at the temple in Jerusalem (see 2 Kings 18:4 2 Kings 18:4He removed the high places, and broke the images, and cut down the groves, and broke in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made: for to those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan.
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). Once more, archaeology confirms the history recorded in Scripture. We see that it’s accurate and reliable in every detail. For more such proof, be sure read our free study guide Is the Bible True? There are many reasons for us to trust in all that this greatest of all books has to tell us!