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Biblical Tels in Israel

Holy Land Revealed

Tel Megiddo is one of the three biblical tels in Israel and has a unique continuity of its occupation. The scope of its excavations is unprecedented. Therefore Megiddo is considered as the ‘cradle’ of Biblical Archeology. And the ‘laboratory’ of modern research methods in the field of Archeology. These three first stages of excavations at Megiddo laid the foundations for the entire discipline of Biblical Archaeology.

The Biblical Tels in Israel: First Excavations at Megiddo

The very first excavations at the site were conducted by Gottlieb Schumacher from 1903-1905, on behalf of the German Society for Oriental Research. At the turn of the 20th century; and especially in Germany; the Babel and the Bible controversy had been sparked off by suggestions that the parts of the Bible had been borrowed from Egyptian and Babylonian sources.

On the 13th of January 1902, Friedrich Delitzsch (1850–1922); Professor of Assyriology at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität in Berlin and also the director of the Royal Museums Ancient Near East Department, which was founded in 1899, gave a talk at the Berliner Singakademie (today the Maxim-Gorki-Theater) that would go on to have dramatic effects. In the presence of the Kaiser, he presented the revolutionary thesis that the Jewish religion and the stories contained in the Old Testament could be traced back to Babylonian precursors. Though the Kaiser was initially quite taken by these ideas, he abandoned Delitzsch in the wake of vociferous protests.

All sides in the matter were eager to see excavations of a major tel. With the hope that it would shed new light on the fierce debate. So Gottlieb Schumacher chose Megiddo. For besides the biblical references, the site was also known from extra-biblical sources dating to Canaanite times. For example, in the el-Amarna letters, mentioning Megiddo as an important center.

Biblical Tels in Israel: The Excavations Under the University of Chicago

In 1925, excavations at Megiddo were renewed by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. This large-scale undertaking, financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr. was directed successively by Clarence Fisher, P.L.O. Guy, and Gordon Loud; was ongoing until the outbreak of World War II in 1939.  These thorough excavations, made possible by year-round fieldwork; revealing twenty major levels of occupation, covering the entire site history of the site. The excavators exposed the ‘Sacred Compound’; the monumental fortifications and gates; the impressive water systems; various palaces; and the so-called ‘Solomonic Stables’.

Recent Excavations In Tel Megiddo

To clarify complicated stratigraphic problems related to the Iron Age remains at the site; Yigael Yadin undertook, in the 1960s and early 1970s; a few short seasons of excavation at Megiddo on behalf of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Yadin’s excavations partially uncovered the monumental Palace 6000; which he attributed to King Solomon. However, archaeological methods were still in their infancy; and nearly every layer and a major architectural feature have since become the focus of fierce scholarly dispute.

Megiddo was therefore chosen by The ‘Megiddo Expedition’ for putting new hypotheses to the test. Co-directed by David Ussishkin and Israel Finkelstein from Tel Aviv University and Baruch Halperin from Pennsylvania State University. This fourth archaeological mission has been digging at the site every other year since 1994. Mainly reinvestigating previously excavated remains and opening new areas. The surgically precise digging and soundings by the current Tel Aviv University were supported by the state of the art multi-disciplinary research.

Megiddo and its stratigraphy are therefore at the core of the two most relevant debates in Biblical and Ancient Near East archaeology today. First, the debate about the absolute chronology of the Iron Age strata. Second that concerning the extent and grandeur of the ‘United Monarchy’ of King Solomon; versus the might and prestige of the Omride dynasty of the Israelite Kingdom, at the time of the so-called ‘Davidic Monarchy’.

Tel Hazor: A Canaanite City From the Bronze Age 

In the MBA (Middle Bronze Age) around 1750 BCE., Hazor was the largest fortified city in the country and one of the most important in the Fertile Crescent. It maintained commercial ties with Babylon and Syria and imported large quantities of tin for the Bronze industry. Initial soundings were carried out by John Garstang in 1928. But the reports were never published in detail. Although they hinted about the density of archaeological remains and the importance of the site.

Major excavations were conducted for four seasons from 1955 to 1958 by a team led by Yigael Yadin. He returned for another season in 1968. Yadin and his team employed hundreds of workers spread over the Upper and Lower Cities. All and all, fourteen excavation areas were explored during these seasons. In fact, most of today’s senior archaeologists in Israel worked under Yadin at Hazor. Here, more than any other site, the next generation of Israeli archaeologists got their training.

During his excavations, Yigael Yadin identifies twenty-one levels of occupation. Which stratum 11 is an unfortified 11th century BCE early Israelite settlement. And Stratum 10 is associated with a major rebuilding by King Solomon. His chronology, however, has long been controversial.

A large part of Hazor pottery from the EBA belongs to the Khirbet Kerak type. A petrographic study of these vessels has shown that they were made with local clays and that Hazor played a key role in distributing them across the country. The study also showed that other types of pottery were made of a different source of local clay. This use of two different local clays for two different families of vessels might indicate a technical decision or otherwise the presence of two or more workshops.

The Biblical Tels in Israel: Hazor in the Historical Records

The fact that Hazor was a powerful Canaanite city ruling the area is vividly reflected in historical sources. For example, Hazor is mentioned in the Egyptian Execration Texts dating to the 19th century BCE.  Also, Hazor is the only Canaanite site that is mentioned in the Mari Archive dated to the 18 century BCE. At least 14 Mari tablets refer to Hazor. This clearly illustrates the importance and wealth of Hazor. Moreover, the name of the king of Hazor Ibni-Addad appears several times in the Mari Archives. And was also found on one of the cuneiform tablets found at Hazor itself.

Biblical Tels and The Amarna Letters 

During the Egyptian Second Intermediate Period and early New Kingdoms, Canaan was an Egyptian vassal state; thus 14th-century documents, from the El Amarna archive in Egypt, describe the king of Hazor, Abdi-Tirshi, as swearing loyalty to the Egyptian pharaoh. However, in letter 148 it is mentioned that the king of Hazur had gone over to the Habiru, who were attacking sites in Canaan. In these documents, Hazor is described as an important city in Canaan in the Late Bronze Age.

Excavations Renewed in 1990

In 1990, 35 years after Y. Yadin began excavations at Tel Hazor, a renewed excavation dedicated to his memory commenced at the site; and has been underway continuously every summer. So the excavations have three main objectives: First, they aim at assessing the stratigraphical; chronological, and historical conclusions outlined by the Y. Yadin expedition. Second, they explore several important issues not resolved by Yadin’s excavations. Noteworthy among these are chronological issues. Including the rise of “greater Hazor”. Also the date of the fall of Canaanite Hazor; and the date of the Iron Age II fortifications (gate and casemate wall, the so-called “Solomonic Gate”), attributed by Yadin to the tenth century BCE).

Also, the complete exposure of the structure investigated by Yadin and referred to by him as “the ‘palatial’ building of the Middle Bronze Age II”; the northeastern corner of which was discovered in 1958. The third objective of the renewed excavations was to preserve and partially restore some of the most important monuments uncovered; prevent their further deterioration, and help develop Hazor into an attractive site for visitors.

Therefore, Hazor finds itself at the very center of the scientific debate involving archaeologists; historians; Bible scholars. And even among the general public concerned about the historical value of the Biblical narrative. During the 14 years, hundreds of volunteers from all over the world participated in the dig. Some of them kept returning to Israel summer after summer. In some cases, for seven or eight consecutive years. Just to take part in the excavations and help uncover the remains of the Israelite and Canaanite cities.

The Controversy Regarding the Biblical Account in the Book of Joshua

According to the Book of Joshua, Hazor was the seat of Jabin, a powerful Canaanite king who led a Canaanite confederation against Joshua, but was defeated by Joshua, who burnt Hazor to the ground. According to the Book of Judges, Hazor was the seat of Jabin, the king of Canaan, whose commander, Sisera, led a Canaanite army against Barak, but was ultimately defeated. Textual scholars believe that the prose account of Barak, which differs from the poetic account in the Song of Deborah, is a conflation of accounts of two separate events, one concerning Barak and Sisera like the poetic account, the other concerning Jabin’s confederation and defeat.

 In addition, the Book of Judges and Book of Joshua may be parallel accounts referring to the same events, rather than describing different time periods and thus they may refer to the same Jabin, a powerful king based in Hazor, whose Canaanite confederation was defeated by an Israelite army.

The Tel Aviv School of Thought Headed By Israel Finkelstein  

Israel Finkelstein claims that the Israelites emerged as a subculture within Canaanite society and rejects the biblical account of the Israelite conquest of Canaan. In this view, the Book of Joshua conflates several independent battles between disparate groups over the centuries and artificially attributes them to a single leader, Joshua. One archaeological stratum dating from around 1200 BC shows signs of catastrophic fire, and cuneiform tablets found at the site refer to monarchs named Ibni Addi, where Ibni may be the etymological origin of Yavin (Jabin).

The biblical tel also shows signs of having been a magnificent Canaanite city prior to its destruction, with great temples and opulent palaces, split into an upper acropolis, and lower city; the town evidently had been a major Canaanite city. He theorized that the destruction of Hazor was the result of civil strife, attacks by the Sea Peoples, and/or a result of the general collapse of civilization across the whole eastern Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age.

Biblical Tels in Israel: Amnon Ben-Tor’s View On the Biblical Account

Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem believes that recently unearthed evidence of violent destruction by burning verifies the Biblical account. In 2012, a team led Ben-Tor and Sharon Zuckerman discovered a scorched palace from the 13th century BC in whose storerooms they found 3,400-year-old ewers holding burned crops; however, Sharon Zuckerman did not agree with Ben-Tor’s theory and claimed that the burning was the result of the city’s numerous factions opposing each other with excessive force.

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Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history.

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