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Tel Hazor and its biblical associations

Hazor was the largest and most influential city in Israel during Canaanite times. It is now the largest tel in Israel and has been extensively excavated. The ruins are clearly explained by signs and provide a backdrop to this historic period. There were at least two major confrontations between the Israelites and the Canaanites of Hazor - at the time of Joshua and during the period of the Judges.


Time: A few hours will be needed 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. Behind 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

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Archeology and biblical associations at Tel Hazor


The ancient city of Hazor was situated at the foot of the Galilee Mountains by the Hula Valley and above the Hazor Stream and it dominated the Via Maris (“Way of the Sea), the main highway connecting Egypt to Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia. Settlement first began at Hazor in about 3,000 BCE in the Early Bronze Age.


The Canaanite city developed during the Late Bronze Age from the 16th to 12th centuries BCE. It  was the largest of the Canaanite cities with a population of about 15,000 inhabitants. It consisted of an upper city, and a lower city on a large rectangular plateau to the north of the upper city. The later Israelite city was smaller and was only in the upper city.


There are at least six historic 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 king of the Northern Kingdom, and the conquest and destruction of Hazor by the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser. This Assyrian attack led to the first of two exiles of the Jews from the Northern Kingdom of Israel and their soon disappearance from history.


Joshua’s conquest of Canaan occurred in four main phases. The first was the capture of Jericho. The Israelites made a pact with the Canaanites of Givon under the mistaken impression that they were from a distant land. However, Givon was not far from Jerusalem and overlooked important north-south and east-west highways. This effectively divided the country into two and prevented the northern Canaanite kingdoms uniting with the southern kingdoms.  Joshua then captured the cities of Ai and Beth El. Appreciating the seriousness of the Israelite’s pact with Givon, 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 the cities in the southern part of the country individually.


The armies in the northern part of Israel now united and gathered together 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 sword 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. This conflagration has therefore been dated to the middle of the 13th century BCE, which was towards the end of the Late Bronze Age. Carbon-dating of grain storage also accords with this date. 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 tents and huts. This does not accord with the account 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 Conquest of Canaan to about 1400 BCE (I Kings 6:1). 


However, there was another Israelite victory over the Canaanites 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 the prophetess Deborah 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).


There is no mention in the Bible that the city was burned down at this time, but it is very likely. Hence, the conflagration found by archeologists may well have been due to the army of Devorah and Barak. This Israelite attack was a knock-out blow to Canaanite settlement in the northern part of the country and also the end of the Canaanite threat. This would explain the minimal settlement of the city following the conflagration.  


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 now became part of the Northern Israelite Kingdom. The Israelite king Ahab constructed the water system to protect the spring. By this time, the city was double in size compared to the time of King Solomon.


Hazor was captured by the formidable army of the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pilesar in 732 BCE and part of the Northern Israelite kingdom was exiled in what would be 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 there are ruins of a large Assyrian citadel. This continued to be used until the Persian period.


It is advised to follow the route advised in the brochure, except consider going from point #1 directly to points #8 and # 9 (i.e., from the lower to the upper city), since the stairway will provide you with a perspective on the relationship between the two. 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.

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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.

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 (to the right in this picture).

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Water system (#4): By the 9th century BCE, during the reign of King Ahab, Hazor was the largest city in Israel. To protect its 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 reching to the water level. Similar systems have been found elsewhere in Israel, such as at Gezer and Megiddo.

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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.

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Israelite tower (#6): This was the last Israelite fortification built before the capture of the city by the Assyrians in 732 BCE. These exiles would become part of the Ten Lost Tribes.

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Private Israelite dwelling (#7): This is a four-room Israelite house as were built throughout Israel at this time. It had 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.

There is an Antiquities Museum at the entrance to Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar that displays archeological findings from Hazor. Admission is for groups only and needs to be prearranged.

Links to the HOME PAGE and best family activities, hikes and historic sites in the GOLAN, EASTERN GALILEE, UPPER GALILEE, LOWER GALILEE, JORDAN VALLEY & LAKE KINNERET, the SHEFELAH, TEL AVIV-YAFFO and surroundings, NORTH of TEL AVIV, and SOUTH of TEL AVIV.

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