Tel Hazor and its Biblical Associations
Hazor was the largest and most influential city in Israel during Canaanite times. There were at least two major confrontations between the Israelites and the Canaanites of Hazor - at the times of Joshua and during the period of the Judges. Hazor is the largest tel in Israel and it has been extensively excavated. The ruins are explained well with signs and help provide the background to the Biblical narrative.
TEK HAZOR NATIONAL PARK:
Time: You will need a few hours to look around the site.
Directions: Enter “Tel Hazor” into Waze and click on “Tel Hazor National Park.” This will bring you to the lower parking by the park entrance and ticket office. After paying, you can either drive up to the upper parking lot, or leave your car in the lower parking lot and walk up to the ruins on this same road.
Admission: This is a site of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Summer hours are Sunday to Thursday and Saturday 8.00 am to 5.00 pm and Friday and holiday eves 8.00 am to 4.00 pm. In the winter the park closes 1 hour earlier. There is an admission charge. By the side of the ticket office is a path that goes up to a picnic area with a few picnic benches. Their telephone number is 04 693-7290. This is their website.
Public transport: There is a frequent bus service between Safed and Kiryat Shmona that stops at the Ayelet HaShachar Junction. From here it is a 11-minute/900 meter walk to the park.
Archeology at Hazor
The ancient city of Hazor was situated by the Hula Valley at the foot of the Galilee Mountains, and it dominated the Via Maris (“Way of the Sea), an important road that connected Egypt to Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia. Settlement first began at Hazor in the 27th century BCE, in the Early Bronze Age.
The city consisted of an upper city above the Hazor Stream, and a lower city on a large rectangular plateau to its north. The Canaanite city encompassed both parts and had a population of about 15,000 inhabitants. The later Israelite city was smaller than this and included only the upper city.
There are at least six periods of interest at Hazor because of their Biblical associations – the Canaanite period, the Israelite conquest of Canaan, the period of the Judges, the early monarchy under King Solomon, the period of Ahab who was a king of the Northern Kingdom, and the conquest and destruction of Hazor by the Assyrian king Tiglatah-Pileser. This Assyrian attack led to the first of two exiles of the Jews from the Northern Kingdom and their eventual disappearance from history.
Joshua’s conquest of Canaan occurred in four main phases. The first was the capture of Jericho. Joshua then captured the cities of Ai and Beit El, which effectively divided the country into two and prevented the northern Canaanite kingdoms uniting with the southern kingdoms. The Israelites also made a pact with the Canaanites of Givon. Givon was not far from Jerusalem and overlooked important north-south and east-west highways. Appreciating the seriousness of this pact, the five kings of the southern part of the country united to attack the Gibeonites. However, Joshua made a surprise attack on this alliance and defeated it. This saved him from having to besiege and defeat each of these cities individually.
The armies of the northern part of the country now united and gathered under Jabin the king of Hazor. Again, Joshua made a surprise attack on this coalition, destroyed their numerous camps and chariots and burned down Hazor. As related in the book of Joshua - “Joshua returned at that time and captured Hazor and put its king to death with the sword because Hazor was formerly the leader of all those kingdoms. They killed every soul that was there - by the edge of the word were they utterly vanquished – not one soul remained. He burned Hazor with fire. And all the cities of these kings and all their kings Joshua captured and put to death. Only Hazor did Joshua burn” (Joshua 11:10-11, 12, 13).
Evidence has been found of a very significant conflagration in Hazor’s upper city, but not in the lower city. An Egyptian offering table was also found in the rubble with hieroglyphic writing indicating that it was dedicated by a high priest of Ramesses II. The conflagration has therefore been dated to the middle of the 13th century BCE, which was towards the end of the Late Bronze Age. This means that the Israelite invasion of Canaan can now be dated to about 1250 BCE, during the reign of Ramesses II. This date for Joshua's conquest of Canaan is widely accepted by academics and archeologists.
However, there are a number of problems with this. Archeology at Hazor has demonstrated that following this conflagration there was no significant settlement in the city for about the next 100 to 200 years, other than in the upper city where settlement was of a semi-nomadic nature with foundations found for only for tents and huts. This does not accord with the story related in the Book of Judges of a recovery of Hazor following Joshua’s conquest of the land. It also does not accord with the dating of the ruins of Jericho, nor with the Bible itself, from which one can date the Exodus to about 1400 BCE (I Kings 6:1).
Of interest, however, is another Israelite victory over the forces of Hazor. Later in the Book of Judges we read that the Israelites were under great pressure from the Canaanites who had reestablished their city: “And God gave them [the Israelites] into the hand of Jabin, the king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor, and the chieftain of his army was Sisera… And the Children of Israel cried to God, for he had nine hundred iron chariots and he oppressed the Children of Israel mightily for twenty years (Judges 4:2-3). As Deborah had foretold, Sisera’s army was routed by her commander Barak at Mount Tabor following which: “And God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the Children of Israel. And the hand of the Children of Israel prevailed constantly harder against Jabin the king of Canaan until they destroyed Jabin, king of Canaan” (Judges 4:24).
Hence, the conflagration found by archeologists could well have been due to the army of Devorah and Barak. This would explain the minimal settlement of the city following the conflagration, as this was a knock-out blow to Canaanite settlement in the northern part of the country.
Be sure to visit the Solomonic gate and its fortifications from the 10th century BCE (#8). The Israelite kingdom was still united at the time of Solomon and he fortified the upper city with a casement wall and large gate, as at Gezer and Megiddo.
The Israelite kingdom split into two when Solomon’s son Rehoboam came to the throne. Hazor then became part of the northern Israelite Kingdom. It was the Israelite king Ahab who constructed the water system to protect the spring. By this time, the city was double the size than at the time of King Solomon.
Part of the northern Israelite kingdom was exiled by the formidable army of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pilesar in 732 BCE in what became the first of two exiles: “In the days of Pekah, the king of Israel Tiglath-pileser, the king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, the entire land of Naphtali, and he exiled them to Assyria” (II Kings 15:29) There is no archeological evidence of this defeat, although the Assyrians constructed a large citadel. This continued in use into the Persian period.
TOURING THE SITE
Follow the route advised in the brochure, except consider going from point #1 directly to points #8 and # 9 (the cities of Solomon and Ahab and the staircase from the lower city to the upper city), since the stairway will provide you with a perspective on the relationship between the upper and lower cities. With this perspective, you can now go to point #2 (the Solomonic Gate, the wall of which links up with #8) and then to #3, the Palace of the Canaanite kings of Hazor.
Solomonic Gate (#2): The Book of Kings tells us: “And this is the matter of the tax levy which King Solomon raised; to build the Temple of the Lord, and his own house and the Milo [in Jerusalem], and the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer” (I Kings 9:15). This was the entrance gate to the upper city at the time of King Solomon. It had three chambers on each side. Similar gates have been found at Megiddo and Gezer.
Solomonic Gate (#2: The Book of Kings tells us: “And this is the matter of the tax levy which King Solomon raised; to build the Temple of the Lord, and his own house and the Milo [in Jerusalem], and the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer” (I Kings 9:15). This was the entrance gate to the upper city at the time of King Solomon. It had three chambers on each side. As one might have anticipated, similar gates to this have been found in Megiddo and Gezer.
Water system (#4): By the 9th century BCE, during the reign of King Ahab, Hazor was the largest city in Israel. To protect the spring from invaders, he built a water system inside the city consisting of a vertical shaft with rock-cut steps to a depth of 45 meters and at its base a 25-meter sloping tunnel to the water level. Similar systems have been found elsewhere in Israel, such as in Gezer and Megiddo.
Israelite tower (#6): This was the last Israelite fortification built before the capture of the city by the Assyrians in 732 BCE. These people would become part of the Ten Lost Tribes.
The Canaanite palace (#3) functioned during the 14th and 13th centuries BCE. It likely had more of a ceremonial than administrative use. In the center of the complex was the throne room. It had a wooden floor and the upper part of the walls were covered with wood paneling. At the top of the staircase are two large column bases. A bamah or high place is situated outside the palace and to the right in this picture.
Cultic structure (#5): This bamah or high place is from the 11th century Israelite period and was located at a lower level than the citadel. A figurine of a deity was also found here, suggesting that the bamah may have been used for pagan practices.
Private Israelite dwelling (#7): Four-room Israelite houses such as this have been found throughout Israel. They consisted of a courtyard at one end and three adjoining wings at right angles to the courtyard. The family would have slept in an upper floor, and household activities, including cooking, would have been in the courtyard. An olive press is seen in the courtyard just as it was found. This entire building was originally located above the Canaanite palace and was moved intact to allow for excavations of the palace.
An Antiquities Museum at the entrance to Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar shows findings from Hazor. Admission is for groups only and needs to be prearranged.