The biblical city of Hazor was a site of Canaanite and Israelite settlement. Known as Tell el-Qedah in Arabic, Hazor is the largest biblical era site in Israel. The name "Hazor" may mean "enclosure" or "settlement" and was, therefore, not a unique place name in ancient Canaan. The most important settlement known as Hazor, however, was the fortified site in Naphtali (Joshua 19:36) identified with Tell el-Qedah, which is located about 10 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The site consists of a mound, or tell, of about 30 acres, the area of the acropolis or compound of administrative palaces, and to the north the lower city measuring some 175 acres. Covering roughly 200 acres, Hazor is four times the size of Lachish, Israel’s second largest site.
Tel Hazor hosts large-scale excavations, which began in 1990, with Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem directing the renewed excavations. The current excavations run from the last week of June through the first week of August. The summer of 2000 was the tenth season.
In the Bronze Age, the Canaanite population of Hazor reached an estimated population of some 40,000. This was 20 times more than the estimated 2,000 inhabitants of Jebusite Jerusalem. Archaeological research reveals 22 layers of occupation at Hazor. These span a period of 2,700 years beginning with the Early Bronze Age in the 29th century BCE to the Hellenistic period in the second century BCE.
Hazor lies at the foot of the eastern ridge of the Upper Galilee mountain range 8 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. This location allowed the city to dominate a main branch of the Way of the Sea, or "Via Maris" as known in later centuries. This commercial and military road led from Egypt to Mesopotamia through Syria and the Hittite region (or modern Anatolia). As a major trade route the Via Maris accommodated merchant’s caravans traveling to and from Babylon during the second millennium BCE.
Except for Laish (Dan), Hazor is the only Palestinian settlement mentioned among the 25,000 cuneiform tablets that compose the royal documents of Mari or Tell Hariri located in modern Syria. Most of these documents connect with the reign of Zimri-Lim, a contemporary of the powerful King Hammurapi of Babylon in the 18th century BCE. So far, there are seven tablets related to Hazor. One of them reveals that Canaanite Hazor was so important that King Hammurapi saw convenient to place two ambassadors there. Other tablets associate Hazor with the trade of tin, for before the revolutionary introduction of iron, tin was essential for the manufacture of bronze weapons.
Strategically located to control the point where trade routes from the north, east and west joined to enter northern Canaan, it is no wonder that, in its heyday, Hazor covered more than 225 acres (making it more than twice the size of Megiddo) and its population numbered close to 40,000.
Texts from Mari (dated to the 18th century BCE) reveal that Hazor had close political and economic ties with Mesopotamia. One text refers to an ambassador of the great lawgiver, Hammurabi, as resident at Hazor, while another mentions Hazor's role in the trade of tin. From the time of the Egyptian New Kingdom (the beginning of the powerful Middle Kingdom 18th Dynasty) until the time of Rameses II, Hazor was a major military objective of those pharaohs who campaigned in Canaan.
The importance of Hazor is also reflected in the Bible. When Joshua fought against the alliance of northern Canaanite kings at Merom, Hazor is described as having been the "head of all those kingdoms" (Joshua 11:1-5,11:10). Later, when the northern Israelite tribes were subjected to oppression by their Canaanite neighbors, it was Hazor's military commander Sisera who commanded the coalition of the "kings of Canaan" in their battle at the "waters of Megiddo" (Judges 5:19-20).
The last Canaanite city of Hazor was destroyed at the end of the 13th century BCE. Following this destruction, Hazor was settled by semi-nomads (presumably Israelites), who lived in tents or huts. Although the same temporary settlement was enlarged in the 11th century BCE, the first Israelite building activities (dated to the mid-10th century BCE) are attributed to Solomon who fortified Hazor to control travel along the northern portion of the "Way of the Sea" (I Kings 9:15).
The Solomonic city of Hazor, inherited by the northern kingdom of Israel following the division of Solomon's kingdom, came to a fiery end (in the early 9th century BCE) when Ben-Hadad I of Damascus invaded Israel at the request of King Asa of Judah. When, later in the same century, it was rebuilt by either Omri or Ahab (doubling the size of Solomon's city) in a manner which rivaled the quality of Solomon's construction, a magnificent water system was built to assure the city an adequate water supply in time of siege. In terms of security, it was a distinct improvement on the design used at Megiddo. For the system at Hazor consisted of a rectangular shaft, dug to a depth of over 60 feet, which was connected to a tunnel (15 feet wide and 15 feet high) which sloped down in a series of steps for more than 90 feet until it reached the water table inside the city walls.
Despite its strong fortifications and secure water supply, the city of Hazor fell, for the last time, to the armies of Assyria during Tiglath-pileser's first campaign against Israel in 733 BCE (II Kings 15:29). In succeeding centuries, the vital trade routes were only controlled by "police forts" established by the Persian and Hellenistic rulers of Palestine.
Visit the Hazor Excavations website.
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