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The Archaeology of Hazor

Divided Monarchy - Hazor Gate

Tel Hazor is located in the Upper Galilee, about 15 km north of the Sea of Galilee. The site has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005. Hazor is one of the largest and most important biblical tells in modern day Israel.

Biblical texts acknowledge Hazor as a great and influential city (e.g., Josh 11:10, where Hazor is named “the head of all those kingdoms”). Yet, these texts tend to focus on the city’s destruction (Josh 11) and the battle against Hazor’s king and commander (Judg 4). With just that evidence, one might think that Hazor was only important at the end of the Bronze Age, before it was destroyed. Fortunately, nonbiblical textual evidence from the second millennium BCE can shed light on this important royal city. This textual evidence comes from two cities where large archives were unearthed (Mari and Amarna), as well as from mostly noncontextual documents found at Hazor itself. All of these reveal a vibrant city of wealth and prestige. The archaeological and textual evidence support the importance of Hazor in both Middle and Late Bronze Age, but perhaps more so in the Middle Bronze Age.

What do nonbiblical texts say about Hazor?

The archives at Mari, Amarna, and Hazor itself, which date from the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, indicate that Hazor was a large center of production, with a judicial system and political and trade networks throughout the Levant, Egypt, and Syro-Mesopotamia.

Of the thousands of documents found in an archive in the city of Mari on the Euphrates in modern day Syria, which dates to the Middle Bronze Age, about twenty mention the city of Hazor. Indeed, Hazor is the only city in the southern Levant mentioned in this archive. Several tablets suggest a rich trade exchange between the two cities; these list clothes, carpets, covers for chariots or carriages and even leather and linen products as well as precious metals (such as silver and gold) that were sent to Mari from Hazor. These testify to the great textile industry that was thriving at Hazor. In return, Hazor received large quantities of tin as well as wine. In addition, it appears that a music academy existed at Hazor, as musicians from the city were sent to Mari, as well as other sites. The Mari documents, as well as some of the documents found at Hazor, indicate not only the close economic relations that existed between Hazor and Mari, but also the wealth of objects that Hazor was able to produce in order to participate in the Syro-Mesopotamian trade relations.

The second set of textual evidence comes from Amarna, in Egypt, and dates to the Late Bronze Age. The Amarna archive preserves a correspondence from the fourteenth century BCE, among others, between the king of Hazor and the Egyptian pharaoh. Interestingly, the king of Hazor is the only high official or leader in southern Canaan who refers to himself and is referred to by others as “king.” Two of the Amarna letters (EA 22 and EA 25) testify that Hazor was still known for its textile industry in the Late Bronze Age.

Finally, the textual evidence from Hazor itself testifies to its commercial connections with Mari and its flourishing textile and metal industries. Most of the textual evidence from Hazor was found out of context. The documents date from the Middle and Late Bronze Age, suggesting that archives dating to these periods probably existed at Hazor. These documents also include a broken tablet with fragments of five laws in the nature of the Hammurabi Code of Laws, indicating a scribal school at Hazor and that Hazor had its own code of laws. This is also reflected in another tablet, where the king of Hazor acts as judge in a trial of a woman who is sued by three men for a number of assets in the cities of Hazor and Gilead. All these texts are dated to the Middle Bronze Age, not long after Hazor was established.

Does the textual evidence match what we learn from other archaeological finds at Hazor?

The Middle and Late Bronze Age site of Hazor encompasses an area of approximately 84 hectares and consists of an acropolis and a lower city. The city was established in the Middle Bronze Age, where large temples and palaces were built in both the acropolis and the lower city. Therefore, the city of Hazor was a great and wealthy city already in the Middle Bronze Age, long before its destruction in the thirteenth century BCE.

Since 2012 excavations have focused on the Administrative Palace located on the northern slopes of the tel. The rich material culture found here includes Egyptian statues and royal inscriptions, alabaster and basalt vessels, ivory inlays, and more. Archaeologist have also found monumental architecture in the center of the acropolis, such as the Ceremonial Precinct, which comprises of a large cultic building, two wide courtyards, an altar and a temple. Some of the most luxurious objects of Late Bronze Age Hazor were found in the Ceremonial Precinct, for example, a wooden jewelry box decorated by bone inlays, ceremonial bronze blades, Egyptian statues, cuneiform tables, jewelry, bronze statues and figurines, and many more. All of this supports the claim that Hazor was a wealthy city up until its destruction in the thirteenth century BCE.

In sum, Hazor was not only an important city in the Late Bronze Age, as could be understood from the biblical narrative, but some also claim that its heydays were in the Middle Bronze Age. The archaeological remains support its importance in both periods (with monumental architecture and a wealth of luxury goods) while the textual evidence strengthen its significance in the Middle Bronze Age, as a major player in the Syro-Mesopotamian trade and political networks.

  • Bechar-Shlomit

    Shlomit Bechar has been the codirector of the Selz Foundation Hazor Excavations in Memory of Yigael Yadin since 2015; she has been a leading staff member of the Hazor team since 2007. Shlomit received her PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the coauthor of the seventh volume of the Hazor reports, which examine the Bronze Age remains in Area A and is now coauthoring the eighth volume, which deals with the remains in Area M. She will be senior lecturer at the School of Archaeology and Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa, beginning October 2022.