Scatology, Iconoclasm, and Modern Art (This is Not An Ancient Israelite Toilet)


The Israeli press in English has been all over the recent discovery of this toilet at the gate-shrine at Lachish from the 8th C. BCE around the time of Hezekiah’s religious reforms . You can read about it here. I’m using the term “iconoclasm” loosely. The reforms are described in the Bible as an attempt by the king to centralize religious worship in Jerusalem by stamping out worship in other places. Lachish was a major Judean city. City gates were the main site of public affairs. In that capacity, the gate had a shrine. It would seem that the toilet was put there as a rebuke to the religious rites once performed there. Of note is the visible evidence that indicates how what we call religious conflict is reflected as ancient material culture. The entire site was destroyed during the Assyrian invasion when the city was taken –a point of geopolitics that throw further light on biblical theological-politics. On the other hand, one might note a complicating factor. No chemical evidence was found to suggest that the toilet was ever actually used. To paraphrase Magritte’s pipe, “this is not a toilet.” From the article it is made clear, but without noting the irony, that the object is itself a statue –a piece of stone carved in the form of a toilet.


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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