David and I are once again in Israel, the “Beautiful Land,” as the prophet Daniel described it.
A Repeat Experience
When Dave and I talked about our ideas for this trip, we both realized we wanted to visit places we had never seen before. We wanted to spend more time in the Negev, to find out about the Philistines’ story, see some of those well-known Biblical places that do not make it to the Top Ten Tour Destinations.
But we also realized there were a few places we really wanted to visit again, only this time to linger where before we had marched through, trying to see everything and take it all in.
Tel Hazor was one of those places.
King Jabin of Hazor
Unlike the other cities of Canaan, including even Megiddo, Hazor was the master. Like Rome would be millennia later, all roads led to and from Hazor, the largest fortified city in the country. Whoever ruled at Hazor ruled the Fertile Crescent. At least ten Pharaonic statues have been excavated there, a silent testimony to Hazor’s international status. There is a clay tablet now in the British Museum written by King Jabin and addressed to most likely Pharaoh Akhenaten swearing allegiance to the Egyptian king.
“Here, part of the wall was dismantled in order to reveal the basalt stairs which, in the Canaanite period, led from the upper to the lower city. From this point it is possible to see the remains of a large building, in the center of which is a ritual dais of smooth basalt stones daring to the Late Bronze Age. The surface of the dais is made of a single basalt slab, weighing around two tons. There are four indentations in the center of the slab, perhaps for a throne.”
Hazor also maintained commercial ties with Babylon and Syria, imported metals, and seemed to have a robust bronze industry.
Ivory, gold coins, gold jewelry set with precious gems, glass faience, intricately wrought carvings, bronze idols, the list goes on of treasure found in archaeological excavations. Hazor was powerful, influential, wealthy, and a settled presence.
So it comes as little surprise that when King Jabin received news of Joshua’s conquests, he sent for all the regional kings to form a coalition.
They came out, with all their troops, a great army, in number like the sand on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. All these kings joined their forces and came and camped together at the waters of Merom, to fight with Israel.Joshua 11:4-5 (NRSV)
But God had already promised Joshua he would be the victor, and in a stunning turn of events, he was.
Joshua turned back at that time and took Hazor and struck its king down with the sword. Before that time Hazor was the head of all those kingdoms.
And they put to the sword all who were in it, utterly destroying them; there was no one left who breathed, and he burned Hazor with fire.Joshua 11:10-11 (NRSV)
“The ruins of the palace are sheltered by a roof, protecting them from wear. The palace was used by the kings of Hatsor in the 14th – 13th centuries BCE. A ritual dais was uncovered in the palace, and at the top of the stairs leading to the entrance there are two giant basalt pillars. A throne room was found in the middle of the palace.”
The ancient account takes care in noting that none of the other fortified cities that stood on the hills were put to the torch except for Hazor. When archaeologists excavated the ceremonial precinct in 2013, they found evidence of a major conflagration, charred grains, cracked stones, and a thick layer of ash.
Now, thirty-five hundred years later, we can still walk through the ceremonial precinct at the center of the Tel where blackened and shattered stone stand sentinel to that great blaze in antiquity.
The tribe of Naphtali was given Hazor and the surrounding area as its inheritance from the Lord.
Or “Standing Stones” are scattered throughout Hazor. Almost always blank, it is hard to know what they were meant to represent or commemorate. Some scholarly theories (taken from an article in The Torah):
- Memorial stones—to mark the memory of the deceased.
- Legal markers—to mark a legal relationship between individuals or entities.
- Commemorative stones—to commemorate an event and remind people of its honor and glory.
- Cultic markers—to note the exact location where the deity can be found, or to mark the exact location where worship and cultic activities will reach the deity.
The Bible also notes times when Matzebot were raised as a memorial.
- When Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar in testimony to the covenant of peace he made with Laban.
- When Moses installed twelve standing stones representing the tribes of Israel as consecrated before the Lord.
- When Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Jeshanah and named it Ebenezer, for he said, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”
Deborah and the Hazor Coalition
King Jabin’s name comes up again in the story of Prophet Deborah.
Evidently, at some point during Deborah’s tenure the cruel oppression of a later King Jabin reigning in Hazor had become unbearable. The Canaanites had superior military armaments, nine hundred iron chariots, and levied heavy tolls on the people who travelled their roads. The Israelites, living in the hill country, had not yet mastered the art of iron smelting, and were still in the Bronze Age, so they were forced to pay high tariffs on their iron imports from the coast, and tolls on the trade routes. We learn later, in Deborah’s song, they may not even have had much for weaponry.
When the people cried out to the Lord for rescue, God raised up Deborah as judge, and in response to her summons, General Barak raised up an army from the twelve tribes of Israel.
Imagine the courage of these faithful warriors, who trusted God, and trusted Deborah and Barak. Against hopeless odds, they believed Deborah’s prophetic utterance and obeyed Barak’s command to charge down the mountain to the vast enemy army waiting for them below.
God did the rest!
Hazor was one of four cities mentioned in Solomon’s building program (along with Jerusalem, Megiddo, and Gezer) and remained one of Israel’s most important cities, until the Assyrian invasion.
In the days of King Pekah of Israel, King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria.2 Kings 15:29 (NRSV)
Later, the Prophet Jeremiah warned of God’s judgment against Hazor through the advance of King Nebuchadnezzar, and the eventual deportation of Israelites to Babylon.
Hazor shall become a lair of jackals, an everlasting waste; no one shall live there, nor shall anyone settle in it.Jeremiah 49:33 (NRSV)
The city of Hazor is mentioned among many places Nehemiah resettled with those who had returned from exile to Judah to rebuild, although it is unclear whether this was the once-powerful city in northern Israel.
There is still much to come for this archaeological site. So far, not only treasure but ancient letters and archival material have also been found, and there is still a great deal of landscape left to excavate. Maybe, by the end of the summer, the lost library of Hazor will be found.
I will keep you posted!
If you look closely, you can see one or two of the sherds have writing on them. When a bucket of finds makes its way back to the lab, each sherd is carefully cleaned off then “read” by a pottery expert who can tell the type of vessel it came from, and in what era the vessel was made (Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Hellenistic, and so on). In order to register the sherd into the body of data the excavation is collecting, its identification will be written onto it (usually the area and locus where it was found and the bucket it was put into, the year of the excavation, and sometimes the license number for that year).
After that, all the sherds except for “special finds” will be bagged together and stored for later research.
These sherds were sent back to the Tel after all the information they could give the archaeologist was registered and researched, and it was decided they were not museum quality.
I really like that. I like that the sherds are returned to their ancient home, where they belong. And they are lots of fun to find! (But if you do find one, only take a picture. The sherds are meant to remain in situ from here on in).