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Ancient Hazor, the largest archaeological mound in the southern Levant, is an extensively excavated major Bronze Age (Canaanite) and Iron Age (Israelite) settlement.

Aerial view of Tel Hazor. The Bronze Age monumental buildings are covered by a roofed structure (upper-left part of the photo).

Described in Josh 11:10 as “the head of all these kingdoms,” Hazor is the largest tel, or archaeological mound, within the borders of the modern state of Israel, dominating the upper Galilee region. Its importance is due in part to its strategic location along the ancient route that connected Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Mediterranean Sea. Mesopotamian and Egyptian texts as well as a number of clay tablets with cuneiform script recovered from Hazor itself hint at the existence of a Middle and Late Bronze Age (roughly 18th – 13th centuries, B.C.E.) archive and confirm the ancient site’s importance for much of the second millennium B.C.E., the period of the Canaanites. Best known as the only city that Joshua burned to the ground during the Israelite conquest of Canaan (Josh 11:13) and later as one of King Solomon’s four “royal cities” (1Kgs 9:15), Hazor has been extensively excavated by Yigael Yadin (1955–58, 1968–69) and Amnon Ben-Tor and Sharon Zuckerman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1990–present).

Why was Hazor known as the “head of all these kingdoms?”

These excavations have revealed an extensive and impressive Canaanite urban center of about 200 acres, with an acropolis, or upper city, and a fortified lower city, illustrating the reference in Josh 11:10 to Hazor’s prominent role in the region before the emergence of the Israelites. Among the most noteworthy discoveries uncovered in the Canaanite city are several temples that vary in size and plan. One of these, an impressive tripartite (three-room) cultic structure in the lower city, complete with altars, statues, and many ritual items, resembles in plan the biblical description of the later Solomonic temple in Jerusalem and may be a Canaanite precursor of this architectural type.

Among the more recent spectacular discoveries is a monumental ceremonial complex, identified as either a palace or a temple, in the upper city. With walls built of mud bricks on a stone foundation and floors made of costly cedar from Lebanon, this building exhibits evidence of the wealth that characterized the Bronze Age city, including ivory plaques and boxes, jewelry and cylinder seals, bronze figurines, and more. This large public structure, along with many other Late Bronze Age buildings (circa 1550 – 1200 B.C.E.), was destroyed by fire during the 13th century B.C.E. Interpretations differ regarding the precise date of the 13th-century destruction and its perpetrators. The most recent suggestions include an internal rebellion of disaffected Canaanites (Zuckerman) or an attack by Israel (Ben-Tor), a group that first appears in the late 13th-century-B.C.E. victory stela of the Egyptian pharaoh Merenptah.

Did Solomon rebuild Hazor as described in 1 Kings 9:15?

Following the destruction of Canaanite Hazor, the site was largely abandoned and settlement was confined to a small area in the upper city. During the early first millennium, the upper city was refortified with the construction of a casemate wall and six-chamber gate similar to those built at Megiddo, Gezer, and other sites around the same time. Controversy surrounds the date of the earliest Iron II fortifications and their associated structures. Traditionally, they have been assigned to the 10th-century B.C.E. building program of King Solomon (1Kgs 9:15), a view supported by the excavators of Hazor. Others have challenged this attribution, particularly the so-called minimalists, who question the existence of a united monarchy during the period of Kings David and Solomon. Israeli archaeologists Israel Finkelstein and David Ussishkin follow the “low chronology” Iron Age dating scheme and assign the beginning of Iron Age reurbanization at Hazor to the ninth century B.C.E., most likely during the reign of King Ahab.  

Hazor developed into a major Israelite center during the 9th and 8th centuries B.C.E. In addition to the fortifications, archaeologists have uncovered several large public structures, storage facilities, domestic houses, and an unusual basalt workshop in the upper city. Israelite Hazor was destroyed in 732 B.C.E. by the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III (2Kgs 15:29-30). It is likely that most of the population was deported as a result of the Assyrian conquest. Limited occupation continued on the mound until the second century B.C.E.; however, Hazor never regained its former status as “the head of all these kingdoms.”

  • Ann E. Killebrew

    Ann E. Killebrew is an associate professor of classics and ancient Mediterranean studies, Jewish Studies, and anthropology at the Pennsylvania State University. She has participated in or directed archaeological projects in Israel, Turkey, and Egypt. Her research focuses on the Bronze and Iron Ages in the eastern Mediterranean, ancient ceramic studies, Roman and Byzantine Palestine, and public archaeology. Killebrew is the author of numerous articles and books, including the award-winning Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity (Society of Biblical Literature, 2005), and the co-editor with Gunnar Lehmann of The Philistines and Other “Sea Peoples” in Text and Archaeology (Society of Biblical Literature, 2013).