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Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books
edited by Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson (2011)


The biblical city of Hazor is strategically located some ten miles north of the Sea of Galilee at the foot of the eastern ridge of the Upper Galilee mountains, overlooking one of the main branches of the Via Maris route from Egypt to Assyria. It was the largest and most important city in Canaan during the Bronze Age and an important Israelite center in the Iron Age. Mentioned in Egyptian texts and the Mari documents in the first half of the second millennium, Hazor also plays a prominent role in the conquest narratives in the Bible where it is referred to as the “head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10). Later during the period of the Israelite monarchy the city was rebuilt as a royal citadel and then expanded to become an important administrative center in the north of the northern kingdom. lts decline was rapid after it was destroyed by the Assyrians in the second half of the eighth century BCE, and in spite of an Assyrian presence at the site it never recovered.

1. Historical and Biblical References

Canaanite Hazor’s prominence in international relations in the second millennium BCE is testified to by its appearance in several foreign documents. It first appears in the nineteenth century BCE in the Egyptian Execration Texts and a century later it features in the documents from the archive at Mari in present-day Syria. Hazor is the only Canaanite city mentioned with some frequency in the Mari documents (Dan is mentioned as well) and they testify to the city’s commercial importance, wealth and regional significance.

Later from the fourteenth century three letters from Abdi-Tirshi, king of Hazor, appear in the Amarna archive in Egypt and other references to the city occur in records of military campaigns conducted by Egyptian pharaohs in Canaan in the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries BCE.

According to the biblical account in Joshua 11:1-15 a coalition of northern kings headed by Jabin king of Hazor was defeated by Joshua at the Waters of Merom (Lake Huleh). The account makes clear that Hazor was singled out for special attention by the victorious Israelites, who killed the king, captured the city and burned it to the ground (Joshua 11:10-11). This victory opened the way for the completion of the Israelite conquest of Canaan and Hazor was subsequently included in the territory of Naphtali (Joshua 19:32-36).

A second account is found in Judges 4 where the Israelites come under the influence of Jabin of Hazor [dynastic name] and his army commander Sisera (Judges 4:2). They were delivered from the oppression by Deborah and Barak and Jabin was subdued and later destroyed (Judges 4:24; see also 1 Sam 12:9).

Later in the tenth century Hazor was built up by Solomon along with Jerusalem -- Gezer and Megiddo (1 Kings 9:15). The city is referred to only once more in the Bible, in 2 Kings 15:29, where it is listed as one of the cities conquered by Tiglath-Pileser III in the year 732 BCE.

2. Excavations

The archaeological site of Hazor consists of two parts, an upper and a lower city. The upper city, or acropolis, is a bottle-shaped tell with an area of 120 dunams/30 acres/12 hectares and the large rectangular lower city which extends to the north measures about 700 dunams/175 acres/70 hectares. While the acropolis contains remains from all the periods of settlement at Hazor, excavations have revealed that the occupation of the lower city was confined to about 500 years in the second millennium, from the eighteenth to the thirteenth centuries BCE.

Following a small excavation by J. Garstang in 1928, Hazor has hosted two major projects. The first was the J. A. de Rothschild Expedition which conducted excavations there from 1956 to 1959 and in 1968 and was directed by Yigael Yadin on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Palestine Jewish Colonization Association and the Anglo-Israel Exploration Society. It uncovered twenty-one strata dating from the Early Bronze Age in the third millennium to the Hellenistic Period of the second century BCE and revealed for the first time the magnificence of the archaeological record of the site. The richness and excellent preservation of architecture and finds at Hazor complemented the historical and biblical record of the city’s size, wealth and influence in the ancient Near East. In 1990 the Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin resumed excavations at the site under the direction of Amnon Ben-Tor on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Complutense University of Madrid and the Israel Exploration Society. The project, which is ongoing at the time of writing, has confined its excavations to the acropolis and has continued to reveal the splendor of both the Canaanite and Israelite cities.

3. Middle Bronze Age (circa 1800/1750-1550 BCE)

Following a period of decline that coincided with the First Intermediate Period in Egypt, a new city was built at Hazor in the eighteenth century BCE. The population quickly expanded from the acropolis to cover the entire lower city, ultimately rising to between 20,000 and 30,000 people.

The Canaanite city of the Middle Bronze Age is characterised by monumental architectural features that betray the northern influences from the Syro-Mesopotamian cultural sphere. The most prominent of these were the massive rampart and moat surrounding the lower city, particularly in the west and north, and two city gates. However it is the number and variety of temples that most emphatically indicate the cosmopolitan character of the city. Their different designs and features suggest that a variety of ethnic and religious traditions existed side-by-side at Hazor throughout the Middle and Late Bronze Ages.

At the far northern edge of the lower city the first of a series of four successive temples was built in Area H. The earliest structure, dated to the last phase of the Middle Bronze Age in the late seventeenth and early sixteenth centuries, was a freestanding symmetrical building oriented to the northwest. Built on an artificial platform to raise its profile, the temple was entered from a spacious courtyard through a small lobby flanked by two rooms into a main hall with a small niche opposite the entrance. The building bears some resemblance to the tower temples of the same period at Shechem and Megiddo, though at both of these the central hall was a long room, while at Hazor there was a broad room design. It bears rather more resemblance to the temples at Alalakh in Syria.

A rectangular double temple dating to the same period was found in Area F, also on the lower tell. The entrance on the long western side was reached via an enclosed porch room, and led to two nearly identical almost square shrines situated side by side. Yadin related the design to the Sin-Shamash double temple at Asshur, stressing again the influence from the north (Yadin l972:97).

On the acropolis two separate temples were erected almost side by side in the area of the royal court in Area A. The first, slightly to the north of the second, was exposed below the Solomonic gate by Yadin in 1968. It consisted of a single long hall entered from the east through a narrow entrance lined and paved with basalt orthostats. Opposite the entrance against the west wall was a plastered brick platform. Close by was a second temple of similar design. Yadin exposed a corner of this building in the 1950s and suggested it was the Middle Bronze Age palace. Now excavated more completely by the current expedition, the building is also rectangular with a recessed niche in the center of the western wall. In the middle of the floor was a circular pit that served as a favissa and contained a large number of votive bowls, chalices and incense-burner fragments. Both temples were abandoned at the end of the first phase Late Bronze Age and filled in.

4. Late Bronze Age (circa 1550-1200 BCE)

The Middle Bronze Age city was destroyed by fire in the mid-sixteenth century BCE. After a short interlude characterized by several graves cut into the ashy destruction layer on the acropolis, urban life returned to Hazor. Once again the whole site, upper and lower, was settled and many of the domestic buildings were constructed to new plans. However the material culture shows continuity from before as do several of the monumental features and buildings, such as the ramparts, city gates and the temples in Areas A and H. A more significant change occurred toward the end of the fifteenth century when the temples on the acropolis were decommissioned and a massive new palace was built there in the fourteenth century. This stratum was again violently destroyed by fire at the end of the fourteenth century, perhaps in one of the campaigns of the Egyptian pharaoh Seti I. The Canaanite city was rebuilt for the last time and although there are some signs of decline, Hazor remained by far the largest and most important city in Canaan until its destruction in the thirteenth century BCE.

4.1. Late Bronze Age Temples

The number and variety of Hazor’s temples were maintained in the Late Bronze Age. The two temples on the acropolis continued into the fifteenth century, after which they were buried. A small open-air shrine with stelae and cultic installations was established over the entrance of the northern temple, indicating a continuing sacred regard for the location and the area over the southern temple was not built on for the rest of the Bronze Age.

The temple in Area H also continued into the Late Bronze Age with some alterations but the changes at the end of the fifteenth century were considerably more significant. The entire building was rebuilt on a revised, tripartite design, which was copied when it was rebuilt again in the thirteenth century. The entrance lobby was enlarged into a hall and the rooms that flanked it were transformed into massive towers with staircases. The main hall was entered from the smaller hall by descending two steps and a revised niche with a bench was set into the back wall. Outside an entry porch, probably unroofed, was added to the front of the facade. Two pillars with no structural function stood at the entrance to the porch.

The orthostats found in the final phase of the temple can be assigned with certainty to this phase although they probably originated even earlier, in the Middle Bronze Age. In addition to the finely worked rectangular basalt orthostats, two others shaped like crouching lions flanked the entrance. Their heads are carved in the round, while the bodies are in relief. One was found by Yadin in the ruins of the temple, the other by Ben-Tor on the acropolis, where it had been used as construction material in an Israelite building. Among the finds and cultic paraphernalia found in the temple were altars and figurines carved with the symbol of the Anatolian-north Syrian god Hadad.

In its design, the use of orthostats, the presence of lion orthostats, and in the artifacts representing the storm god Hadad, the temple in Area II shows strong influence from the Syro-Hittite regions to the north and suggests that a proportion of the people living there brought these traditions with them to Hazor.

The double temple in Area F was replaced in the first phase of the Late Bronze Age with a square building of unusual design. Its closest parallels are at Tananir on Mount Gerizim to the south from the sixteenth century and from Amman across the Jordan in the thirteenth century. It was replaced in the fourteenth and thirteenth centuries by an open cult area with a paved piazza dominated by a massive carved stone altar that was 2.4 meters long, 0.85 meters high and 1.2 meters long, and weighed nearly five tons.

In Area C, a residential area in the southwest part of the lower city, just below the western acropolis, a small shrine was built in the fourteenth century against the inner slope of the rampart. In the niche opposite the entrance were ten basalt stelae, a small seated male figurine, a small crouching lion statuette and a small stone offering table. On the central stela was a carving in relief of two hands stretching upward to a crescent moon. Likewise, the figurine had a carved image of an inverted crescent moon on its chest. Both indicate that the deity of this shrine was the moon god Sin.

4.2. The Late Bronze Age Palace

A Late Bronze Age palace that dominates the acropolis has recently been uncovered just to the south of the decommissioned temples. An extensive pebbled courtyard to the east leads up a few steps onto a porch and into a large central hall twelve meters square. The porch is flanked by a room on each side and other rooms lead off the north, south and west sides of the main hall.

The walls of the palace are built of mudbrick on stone foundations and are massive. The eastern facade is nearly 5 meters wide and the rest of the walls are 1.5 meters wide. The porch, the outer walls on the north, south and west and the inner walls of the main hall are all lined with carved basalt orthostats similar to those from the Area H and Area A temples. The main hall, identified by the excavator as a throne room (Ben-Tor and Rubiato 1999:29), had a pebble surface but charred plank fragments of cedar of Lebanon indicate that it was originally covered with a wooden floor. Cedar planks were also set into the mudbrick walls for support.

Once again, the closest parallel for the Hazor palace comes from the contemporary palace in stratum IV at Alalakh in Syria, although the Hazor structure is more than twice the size of its northern counterpart. The same Syro-Babylonian unit of measurement that divides every length into sixty centimeter multiples was used in both buildings. The wooden beams, the orthostats and indeed the plan itself are also indicative of a shared tradition.

Finds in the palace that reinforce its importance include a hoard of decorated ivories second only to one from Megiddo --- also from the thirteenth century BCE --- several cylinder seals, a large statue of a deity, two basalt statue heads and several Egyptian statue fragments. Near the entrance were the broken remains of a basalt human statue, originally nearly 1 metre tall and the largest Canaanite statue ever found in Israel. It was decorated with images of the sun and the moon on its chest.

The palace is dated to the second half of the Late Bronze Age, at least from after the decommissioning of the Area A temples at the end of the fifteenth century BCE. It continued into the thirteenth century BCE, when it was destroyed with the rest of the city. Beneath the eastern part of the courtyard, evidence has emerged of an earlier palace, less well preserved, dating to the Middle Bronze Age, with even larger walls.

4.3. Access from the Lower City to the Acropolis

A principal access point from the lower to the upper city in the Late Bronze Age was built on the north slope of the acropolis. A monumental entrance flanked by two small towers led from the lower city into an impressive basalt-paved plaza dominated by a square podium set into a niche in the rear wall. The podium, also of basalt slabs, was 1.5 meters square. In the upper surface four small holes had been bored into the basalt slab, suggesting that it served as the foundation for the throne of a deity or king. To the west a few steps led up to a street that continued in the direction of the acropolis. An earlier staircase leading uphill was uncovered to the east of the plaza. The excavator has described the area as a cultic center within the gate of the city (Ben-Tor and Rubiato 1999: 32-33).

4.4 The Destruction of Canaanite Hazor

A massive and comprehensive destruction by fire brought an end to the last Bronze Age city at Hazor. The attackers not only burnt the city to the ground but also deliberately attacked and mutilated all statues, figurines and images of deities that they encountered. Following his excavations in the 1950s, Yadin dated this destruction to no later than 1230 BCE and on the basis of the biblical account in Joshua 11, especially verses 10 to 13, attributed the destruction to the Israelites under Joshua (Yadin 1972: 108-9). Ben-Tor cautions that the pottery from the destruction can be dated to any stage in the thirteenth or even late in the fourteenth century BCE. However the preponderance of evidence points to a thirteenth-century date for the destruction and Ben-Tor agrees that the most likely perpetrators were the early Israelites, who settled in the central hill country of Canaan shortly afterward and who were mentioned in the Merneptah Stela in the late thirteenth century BCE (Ben-Tor 1998:465-66; Ben-Tor and Rubiato 1999: 36-39).

5. Iron Age I (circa 1200-1000 BCE)

After the destruction of Canaanite Hazor the site lay abandoned for up to 200 years until the eleventh century. The first Iron Age settlement was identified by the presence of more than thirty circular stone-lined storage pits that cut into the earlier strata all over the acropolis. Other features of this rudimentaly settlement included cooking installations and foundations for tents or huts.

In the west of the acropolis evidence was found of a subsequent smaller settlement whose most important feature was a small building identified as a shrine. Remains of five broken incense stands were found nearby and a pot containing metal objects, including a bronze deity figurine, was excavated below the floor. Yadin concluded that the jar and its contents were a foundation offering placed beneath the floor and the building itself served as an Israelite high place (Yadin 1972: 132-34). However doubt has been cast on this identification, most notably by O. Negbi, who noted that the items in the jar were in poor condition and were probably collected from the ruins of the Canaanite city to be melted down as scrap (Negbi 360-61). Ben-Tor has proposed that a basalt pillar that Yadin identified as a bench served instead as a standing stone in the building (Ben-Tor 1996: 267) and if so, then it rather than the metal hoard offers a more plausible reason for interpreting the building as a shrine.

6. Iron Age II (circa 1000-732 BCE)

The period of the monarchy at Hazor is divided into a further seven strata, X to IV, dated from the tenth to the end of the eighth century BCE. They represent three main periods in the life of the city: the united monarchy and its immediate aftermath in the tenth and early ninth centuries; the Omride dynasty in the ninth century, when Israelite Hazor reached its apex in size, importance and grandeur; and the gradual decline of the city that culminated in its destruction by the Assyrians in 732 BCE.

6.1. Strata X-IX (Tenth to Early Ninth Centuries BCE)

After another gap Hazor was occupied once again in the tenth century BCE during the reign of Solomon. The verse in 1 Kings 9:15 referring to Solomon building up Hazor -- Megiddo and Gezer has been cited in support of this dating, notably by Yadin (1972, 11:1-17). Finkelstein, among others, has sought to ascribe this level to a later period (Finkelstein 1999 and 2000), partly due to his attempts to lower the traditionally accepted dates of Iron Age levels by up to a century. Ben-Tor rejects Finkelstein’s arguments and continues to assign stratum X to the tenth century on the basis of the ceramic record rather than the biblical account (Ben-Tor 2000a; Ben-Tor and Ben-Ami 1998).

The Solomonic city was built from scratch on the acropolis. A casemate wall encircled the settlement, which was entered through a monumental six-chambered gate. Gates similar in plan and size from the same period were excavated at Megiddo and Gezer and the design continued to be appropriated at other cities in Israel in the ninth and eighth centuries BCE.

The Solomonic city only covered an area of some 40 dunams/10 acres/4 hectares in the western half of the acropolis. Few domestic remains were found, though a large building with an area of over 200 square meters was excavated just inside and across a pebbled street from the casemate wall, to the south of the six-chambered gate.

Hazor functioned as a royal citadel in this level. Its impressive and intimidating fortifications, large buildings and limited size, perhaps augmented by a garrison of soldiers, served to remind the population of the new political reality in the land and that although power was centralized in the south its influence extended as far north as Hazor.

Minor changes in stratum IX followed the death of Solomon and the level ended in an early-ninth-century destruction attributed to Ben Hadad of Damascus (1 Kings 15:18-20; 2 Chron 16:4).

6.2. Strata VIII-VII (Ninth Century BCE)

The size of the city doubled when it was rebuilt in the ninth century by Omri or his son Ahab. A solid three-meter-wide city wall, preserved in places to a height of over three meters and with offsets and insets on its outer face, enclosed new buildings in the east of the city. Such massive fortifications are common at sites in northern Israel during the ninth century and are indicative of the constant threat from the north, especially from Assyria.

Among the new buildings in this level was a massive citadel in the west of the acropolis. It was a rectangular building with an area of over five hundred square meters. Separated from the rest of the city and entered through an elaborate gate, its walls were between 1.4 and 2 meters thick and it had at least two stories. Additional buildings constructed in the compound alongside the citadel are identical in plan to royal administrative buildings at Samaria.

Two more public buildings excavated just inside the casemate wall were characterized by two rows of monolithic pillars that divided the space into three long rooms. The design is well known from Iron Age Israel and appears to have had a number of different functions. At Hazor however the pottery and other finds found on the floors indicate they served as storerooms.

The most impressive new building project at Hazor during the ninth century was the water system. A wide shaft was cut from the surface through ten meters of earlier strata until it came to bedrock. The edges of the cut were supported with large holding walls to prevent them from collapsing. A further nineteen meters of bedrock was removed until the shaft was flattened out and a staircase for access was carved around its wall. From the surface of the shaft, a stepped tunnel with a vaulted ceiling extended down another twenty-five meters into the bedrock, to an additional depth of about ten meters. At the bottom of the tunnel was ground water.

The water system greatly increased security as it obviated the need to leave the city to obtain water in a time of siege. It is one of several similar systems that were constructed around the country during the ninth century BCE.

6.3. Strata VI -- V and IV (Eighth Century BCE)

The city was rebuilt again following another destruction in the second half of the ninth century BCE. Many of the earlier buildings were reused and they were augmented by new buildings. However, some of the reused and restored buildings were subdivided and the new buildings were of poorer quality than before. The general impression is of prosperity accompanied by encroaching decline.

Following an earthquake the city was quickly restored but this level, stratum V, was destroyed by Tiglath-Pileser III in 732 BCE in the campaign that saw the conquest and annexation of the northern part of the kingdom of Israel by Assyria (2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chron 5:26). An indication of the pending doom is the military guardhouse built on the western slope of the acropolis, alongside the citadel. Following the destruction of the city a squatter settlement arose in the ruins. The pottery used in this level, stratum IV, is identical to that from the destroyed stratum V, indicating that it was survivors that returned to the site soon after the Assyrian destruction.

Hazor’s decline in importance was complete. Following the destruction of Samaria in 722/721 BCE, prosperity in the new Assyrian province shifted north to Dan and Hazor never recovered.

7. Later Periods

An Assyrian military fort was built in stratum III over the destroyed Israelite citadel and was reused with alterations in stratum II of the Persian period in the fourth century BCE. Other meager buildings and pits as well as a cemetery also testify to this period. Poorly presented remains from stratum I show that the fort finally went out of use in the Hellenistic period and the tell was abandoned.

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