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The Gezer High Place with massebot and basin
Gezer is located in Israel
Shown within Israel
Alternate name Tel Gezer
Location  Israel
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Site notes
Condition Ruin

Gezer (Hebrew: גֶּזֶר) was a Canaanite city-state in the foothills of the Judaean Mountains at the border of the Shfela region.[1] Tel Gezer (also Tell el-Jezer), an archaeological site midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is now an Israeli national park. In the Hebrew Bible, Gezer is associated with Joshua and Solomon.

It became a major fortified city in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. It was later destroyed by fire and rebuilt. The Amarna letters mention kings of Gezer swearing loyalty to the Egyptian Pharaoh. Its importance was due in part to the strategic position it held at the crossroads of the Via Maris (the "Way of the Sea") and the road to Jerusalem and Jericho, both important trade routes.

Discoveries related to biblical archaeology are eight monumental Canaanite megaliths (up-ended stones, each of which is called a masseba or matseva (plural massebot/matsevot) and are found elsewhere in Israel[2][3][4]); a double cave beneath the high place, but predating and not connected to it; 13 inscribed boundary stones, making it the first positively identified Biblical city; a six-chambered gate similar to those found at Hazor and Megiddo; and a large water system comprising a tunnel going down to a spring, similar to that found in Jerusalem.


Boundary of Gezer inscription

Gezer was located on the northern fringe of the Shephelah region, approximately thirty kilometres northwest of Jerusalem. It was strategically situated at the junction of the Via Maris, the international coastal highway, and the highway connecting it with Jerusalem through the valley of Ayalon, or Ajalon.

Verification of the identification of this site with Biblical Gezer comes from Hebrew inscriptions found engraved on rocks several hundred meters from the tel. These inscriptions from the 1st century BCE read "boundary of Gezer."


Bronze age

Water system at Tel Gezer

Inhabitants of the first settlement at Gezer, toward the end of the 4th millennium BCE, lived in large rock-cut caves. In the Early Bronze Age, an unfortified settlement covered the tel. It was destroyed in the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE and abandoned for several hundred years. In the Middle Bronze Age (first half of the 2nd millennium BCE), Gezer became a major city. The tel was surrounded by a massive stone wall and towers, protected by a five meter high earthen rampart covered with plaster. The wooden city gate, near the southwestern corner of the wall, was fortified by two towers.[5]

Cultic remains discovered at the site were a row of ten monolithic stone steles, oriented north-south, the tallest of which was 3 meters high, with an altar type structure in the middle, and a large, square, stone basin. The exact purpose of these megaliths is still debated, but they may have constituted a Canaanite "high place" from the Middle Bronze Age, ca. 1600 B.C.E.[6] The Canaanite city was destroyed in a fire, presumably in the wake of a campaign by the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III. The oldest known historical reference to the city is to be found on an inscription of conquered sites at Thutmose's temple at Karnak.[7] The Tell Amarna letters, dating from the 14th century BCE, include ten letters from the kings of Gezer swearing loyalty to the Egyptian pharaoh. The city-state of Gezer (named Gazru in Babylonian) was ruled by four leaders during the 20-year period covered by the Amarna letters.[5] Discoveries of several pottery vessels, a cache of cylinder seals and a large scarab with the cartouche of Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III attest to the existence of a city at Gezer's location in the 14th century BCE - one that was apparently destroyed in that century - and suggest that the city was inhabited by Canaanites with strong ties to Egypt.[8] In the Late Bronze Age (second half of the 2nd millennium BCE) a new fortification wall, four meters thick, was erected. In the 14th century BCE, a palace was constructed on the high western part of the tel. Toward the end of the Bronze Age, the city declined and its population diminished. Gezer is mentioned in the victory stele of Merneptah, dating from the end of the 13th century BCE.

Iron age

In 12th-11th centuries BCE, a large building with many rooms and courtyards was situated on the Acropolis. Grinding stones and grains of wheat found among the sherds indicate that it was a granary. Local and Philistine vessels attest to a mixed Canaanite/Philistine population. According to the Old Testament, Gezer was rebuilt and fortified by Solomon.[9] A reference to Gezer may appear in a cuneiform relief from the 8th century BCE palace of Tiglath-Pileser III at Nimrud.[7]

During the Hellenistic period, Gezer was fortified by Maccabees and was ruled by the independent Jewish Hasmonean dynasty.[10] Gezer was sparsely populated during Roman times and later times, as other regional population centers took its place.[1]

In 1177, the plains around Gezer were the site of the Battle of Montgisard, in which the Crusaders under Baldwin IV defeated the forces of Saladin.

Sack of Gezer

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The Sack of Gezer reportedly took place at the beginning of the 10th century BC according to the Hebrew Bible, when the city was conquered and burned by an Egyptian pharaoh, most likely Siamun, during his military campaign in Palestine. This anonymous Egyptian pharaoh then gave it to King Solomon as the dowry of his daughter. This campaign and capture of the city was mentioned in the Bible.

The Bible states:

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Pharaoh King of Egypt had come up and captured Gezer; he destroyed it by fire, killed the Canaanites who dwelt in the town, and gave it as dowry to his daughter, Solomon's wife.

— (1 Kings 9:16)

Identifying the Pharaoh

The only mention in the Bible of a Pharaoh who might be Siamun is the text from 1 Kings quoted above, and we have no other historical sources that clearly identify what really happened. As shown below, Kenneth Kitchen believes that Siamun conquered Gizer and gave it to Solomon. Others such as Paul S Ash and Mark W. Chavalas disagree, and Chavalas states that "it is impossible to conclude which Egyptian monarch ruled concurrently with David and Solomon".[11] Professor Edward Lipinski argues that Gezer, then unfortified, was destroyed late in the 10th century (and thus not contemporary with Solomon) and that the most likely Pharaoh was Shoshenq I. "The attempt at relating the destruction of Gezer to the hypothetical relationship between Siamun and Solomon cannot be justified factually, since Siamun's death precedes Solomon's accession."[12]


Replica of the Gezer calendar in Gezer, Israel.
June 3, 2011, ongoing works to clear the Bronze Age water system at Gezer, originally excavated by Macalister.

Archaeological excavation at Gezer has been going on since the early 1900s, and it has become one of the most excavated sites in Israel. The site was identified with ancient Gezer by Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau in 1871. R. A. Stewart Macalister excavated the site between 1902 and 1909 on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund. Macalister recovered several artifacts discovered several constructions and defenses. He also established Gezer's habitation strata, though due to poor stratigraphical methods, these were later found to be mostly incorrect (as well as many of his theories). Other notable archaeological expeditions to the site were made by Alan Rowe (1934), G.E. Wright, William Dever and Joe Seger between 1964 and 1974 on behalf of the Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology in the Hebrew Union College, again by Dever in 1984 and 1990, as well as the Andrews University.[7]

One of the best-known finds is the Gezer calendar. This is a plaque containing a text appearing to be either a schoolboy's memory exercises, or something designated for the collection of taxes from farmers. Another possibility is that the text was a popular folk song, or child's song, listing the months of the year according to the agricultural seasons. It has proved to be of value by informing modern researchers of ancient Middle Eastern script and language, as well as the agricultural seasons.

In 1957 Yigael Yadin identified a wall and gateway identical in construction to remains excavated at Megiddo and Hazor as Solomonic; they have since been identified as dating from the early Israelite kingdom, some centuries later.[13]

Excavations were renewed in June 2006 by a consortium of institutions under the direction of Steve Ortiz (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Sam Wolff (Israel Antiquities Authority). The Tel Gezer Excavation and Publication Project is a multi-disciplinary field project investigating the Iron Age history of Gezer.

Canaanite Water Tunnel

In 2010 a team from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary ("NOBTS") launched an effort to clear a massive water tunnel, discovered first by Macalister over a hundred years earlier.[14] Macalister never fully excavated the tunnel because a strong storm blew debris back into the tunnel and he considered it too expensive and time consuming to re-excavate the site. The NOBTS effort to re-clear and examine the tunnel has been chronicled in multiple sources including the Biblical Archaeology Review[15] and the Baptist Press.[16] In 2011 professor Dennis Cole, archaeologist Dan Warner and engineer Jim Parker from NOBTS, led another team in an attempt to finish the effort.[14] In just two years the teams removed approximately 299 tons of debris from the ancient water system.

In 2010, the team removed approximately 1,040 cubic feet (39 cubic yards – 29 cubic meters) of debris (approximately 50 percent rock and 50 percent dirt), equating to approximately 68 tons. In 2011 the team removed approximately 3,560 cubic feet (132 cubic yards- 101 cubic meters), equating to approximately 231 tons.[17]

In 2012 the Gezer team uncovered a large open cavern at the bottom of the water system. Said Dr. Warner" "Opening the cave is something we have been working toward for three summers wondering if it even existed...It gave me a rush. Once inside it gave us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, but we are not done by a long shot." [18]

In 2013 the team launched a side effort to preserve the ancient Canaanite mudbrick gate and complex near the water system. In the water system: "[m]ost of the first two weeks of the dig were spent searching for the bottom step and cleaning Macalister's causeway. Tons of debris and rocks were removed in the process. When the bottom step was located and the causeway area clear, the team excavated three probes in the pool area. Each of the pool probes reached a depth of more than six feet before the end of the season and the bottom of the pool was discovered in only one probe (Eastern probe) — the one just below the bottom step of the water shaft."[19]

Also in 2011 BorderStone Press launched a "Research Israel" project in cooperation with NOBTS to participate in the dig and to document and publish a book on the findings.[20]

Boundary Stones

13 Boundary stones have been identified at the site, the most recent having been found by archaeologists from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Temple of Amun

One fragmentary but well-known surviving triumphal relief scene from the Temple of Amun at Tanis believed to be related to the sack of Gezer depicts an Egyptian pharaoh smiting his enemies with a mace. There can be no doubt that the person shown on this relief was Siamun as the eminent British Egyptologist, Kenneth Kitchen, stresses in his book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament.[21] Siamun appears here "in typical pose brandishing a mace to strike down prisoners(?) now lost at the right except for two arms and hands, one of which grasps a remarkable double-bladed axe by its socket."[22] The writer observes that this double-bladed axe or 'halberd' has a flared crescent-shaped blade which is close in form to the Aegean influenced double axe but is quite distinct from the Canaanite double-headed axe which has a different shape that resembles an X.[23] Thus, Kitchen concludes Siamun's foes were the Philistines who were descendants of the Aegean-based Sea Peoples and that Siamun was commemorating his recent victory over them at Gezer by depicting himself in a formal battle scene relief at the Temple in Tanis. More recently Paul S Ash has put forward a detailed argument that Siamun's relief portrays a fictitious battle. He points out that in Egyptian reliefs Philistines are never shown holding an axe, and that there is no archaeological evidence for Philistines using axes. He also argues that there is nothing in the relief to connect it with Philistia or the Levant.[24]

The first season of the Gezer excavations concluded successfully and revealed some interesting details. Among other things, is a discovery of thick destruction layer that may be dated to the destruction of Siamun (1 Kings 9:16).[citation needed]

Siege of Gezer by Tiglath-Pileser III

The siege of Gezer was conducted by the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III, between 734 and 732 BC.[25] The city was probably captured by the Assyrians at the end of the campaign of Tiglath-Pileser III to Canaan. The siege had been depicted on a stone relief at the Assyrian royal palace in Nimrud, where the city is called 'Gazru'.

Recent archaeological excavation at the site reveals that not long after the city fell into Assyrian hands it became an Assyrian administrative center.

See also


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  8. "Hidden secret of Gezer: A pre-Solomonic city beneath the ruins" at the Wayback Machine (archived November 27, 2013), Haaretz, published October 24, 2013, retrieved November 27, 2013.
  9. Kings 1 9:15
  10. Maccabees 1 13:43-48
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  14. 14.0 14.1 [1][dead link]
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  19. [2][dead link]
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  21. K.A. Kitchen, William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2003, p. 109
  22. Kitchen, OROT, op. cit., pp. 109 and 526
  23. Kitchen, OROT, op. cit., pp. 109–10
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Further reading

  • William G. Dever, Gezer Revisited: New Excavations of the Solomonic and Assyrian Period Defenses, The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 47, No. 4 (Dec., 1984), pp. 206–218
  • Dever, William G., "Visiting the Real Gezer: A Reply to Israel Finkelstein", Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University, Volume 30, Number 2, September 2003, pp. 259–282(24)
  • "Confronting the Past: Archaeological and Historical Essays on Ancient Israel", Seymour Gitin, (ed), Eisenbrauns, (January 2006), ISBN 978-1-57506-117-7
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External links