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City records - Hazor

This page summarises the history of Hazor, as revealed by the Old Testament, other textual sources, and archaeological surveys. The site is known as Tell el-Qedah. The name Hazor is thought to mean "enclosure" or "settlement".


  1. Old Testament references
  2. Other textual references
  3. Archaeology
  4. Chronological implications

Old Testament references

Joshua 11 relates Joshua's defeat of a northern Canaanite coalition led by Jabin, king of Hazor. Hazor is the only city said to be burnt during the northern campaign, and this can reasonably be supposed to be because of its position of authority - "Hazor had been the head of all these kingdoms". Joshua 19 records that Hazor was assigned to the territory of Naphtali (the two other places named Hazor in Joshua 15 were in the Negev region).

Judges 4 relates the defeat at Megiddo of Jabin, king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The battle itself took place near Megiddo and Taanach, and any subsequent action against Hazor itself is not recorded. Samuel recalls this incident in his farewell speech to the Israelites in 1 Samuel 12:9. It is evident from this that Hazor - like numerous other Canaanite towns - had not been effectively secured by Joshua's campaign, but had been allowed to become strong again.

1 Kings 9:15 records that Solomon carried out building works at Hazor, as well as Jerusalem, Megiddo and Gezer. Evidently Hazor had at some stage been incorporated into Israel, although the time at which this happened is not clear from the Old Testament. Samuel's brief allusion to Barak's victory does not indicate if Hazor was still Canaanite in his (Samuel's) time or not.

2 Kings 15:29 records Tiglath-pileser's capture of Hazor in the time of Pekah of Israel, as part of a systematic capaign in the Gilead and Galilee region.

Other later references in Nehemiah and Jeremiah do not supply any additional historical information to add to the above.

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Other textual references

Geographically, Hazor lies about 8 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, at the foot of a ridge. It is close to a ford over the Jordan, south of Lake Huleh. It was therefore able to dominate part of the "Via Maris" (Way of the Sea), carrying both commercial and military traffic between Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria and the Hittite region of Anatolia.

The city is named in the Egyptian Middle Kingdom Execration Texts and Mari documents. It is clear from the latter that it was a wealthy and important city heavily involved in trade and commerce. It is the only Palestinian settlement other than Laish (Dan) identified by name in the Mari texts - seven tablets refer to Hazor. Amongst other details, we learn that Hazor was associated with the tin trade (a crucial ingredient of bronze manufacture), and that Hammurabi place two ambassadors there.

It is mentioned in city lists of the New Kingdom pharaohs Thutmose III, Amenhotep III, and Seti I, as well as in the Amarna letters at which time Abdi-Tirshi is named as ruler. He is indeed the only Canaanite leader referred to as "king". It was clearly a significant military objective for various of the New Kingdom pharaohs, though it was not held by Egypt for long periods of time.

The last historical reference is in the book of I Maccabees (11:67) in which it is recorded that Jonathan fought Demetrius in the plain of Hazor. This would have been in 147 BCE.

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There are two areas identified by excavation - the main tell, which was consistently occupied, and a lower city with more erratic occupation. It is the largest site in Israel, and is about four times the size of Lachish, the second largest, and has been reckoned to be ten times the size of Jerusalem in Solomon's time.

The main tell was used from the 3rd millennium, based around a large citadel at the southern end of the area. It was abandoned at the end of Early Bronze, then reoccupied at the end of Middle Bronze I.

The lower city was added during Middle Bronze II, and grew to an extensive size. It was built on a grid pattern similar to that used at the same time in Mesopotamia. The site covered some 200 acres, and the population has been variously estimated between 2000 and 40,000 during the Hyksos period. A few fragmentary cuneiform tablets have been found, similar in content to the Mari archive. It is hoped that more tablets will be uncovered to build up a more complete picture. One of these tablets refers to Ibni Addu, a similar name to Jabin (Yavin) from the accounts of Joshua and Judges. A large earthen rampart protected the northern and western parts of the city: the eastern side, with a steep natural slope, had a wall with two rectangular gatehouses. Four successive temples were built one on top of the other - the first was quite modest, and the last, in the Late Bronze, was the largest. It consisted of three large rooms in a row from north to south (a similar basic structure to the temple of Solomon). Among other finds, a basalt relief lion, numerous statues and cult vessels, and a symbol commonly used to represent the Canaanite storm god have been found. Also in the upper city area was a large palace made of brick, stone and cedar-wood , with a variety of debris including Egyptian sculptures, jewellery, ivory and bronze items. The lower city was destroyed by fire at the end of the Middle Bronze Age but thrived again through Late Bronze until the whole area was violently destroyed, again by fire, at the end of this era.

The lower city was not occupied after this to any great extent. The upper city was used in a fairly sporadic way during Iron I, towards the end of which originates a six-chambered gate and casemate wall. A fortress was built at the western end of the city. Fortifications of an identical design have been found at Megiddo and Gezer. Eventually the start of Iron II saw major rebuilding and fortification of the upper areas, to produce a well planned and important city. Another destruction by fire was followed by the construction of several important administrative and private buildings, and a solid wall at the eastern end of the upper city. The citadel was also modified to include an impressive entrance with two stone pillars, and an extensive water supply system was added in an attempt to make the city more secure in the event of siege.

The city was destroyed by the Assyrians under Tiglath-pileser III in 732 BCE but reoccupied to a very limited extent in Persian and Hellenistic times, settlement being restricted to the western end of the upper city.

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Chronological implications

Conventional chronology view of Hazor This city represents an interesting example of how varying chronologies can differently interpret the same underlying data. The interpretations naturally focus on the key changes, namely the occasional destructions and rebuilding periods. The conventional chronology allows for a range of interpretations concerning the Exodus and Conquest periods. Often, the Late Bronze destruction is linked with Joshua's conquest, with the Middle Bronze destruction of the lower city taken to be unrelated to Israelite activity. In this case the Conquest period is after the Amarna letters, in which Hazor was a strong Canaanite city. The sporadic occupation during Iron I represents a gradual settlement by Israelites, with major building initiated by Solomon. After damage caused by Ben-Hadad's invasion into northern Israel, Omri and the later rulers of the Northern Kingdom rebuilt and extended the city.

However, the proposal emerging from the study of the Book of Judges (The Book of Judges) is that Exodus and Conquest are Middle Bronze events. In this case the Middle Bronze destruction is linked with Joshua. It is then presumed that the Israelites did not retain control over Hazor, but allowed the Canaanite inhabitants to recover. The thriving Late Bronze I and IIA city referred to in the Amarna letters and elsewhere is this city. The Late Bronze destruction - whether caused by Israelites or others - weakened the city sufficiently that it became incorporated into the emerging Israelite state at some stage between the Amarna period - the time of Abimelech in this model - and the rise of the monarchy. The remainder of the development matches that of the more typical conventional view of the paragraph above.

New Chronology view of Hazor The New Chronology view is rather different. Although Exodus and Conquest are again Middle Bronze events, these are dated differently to the conventional model. Middle Bronze II is substantially extended in time compared to the conventional view, and Late Bronze and Iron I are moved later in time. The Middle Bronze destruction is therefore attributed to Joshua, though the destruction has to be assumed to have happened a little earlier, since the Conquest would predate most of the Hyksos era. The Amarna period is only shortly before Solomon, so that the incorporation of the city into Israel must have happened very rapidly. The sporadic occupation through the end of Late Bronze and Iron I takes place in the early divided monarchy, and the rebuilding of the city takes place in and after Ahab's reign. It is more difficult to tally the events disclosed by texts outside the Old Testament and archaeology with the New Chronology view of this period of history. It also requires the Old Testament to remain silent about certain key events, such as the capture of Hazor and its inclusion within Israel. On balance the conventional chronological view of the history of this era appears to be more easily reconciled to the Old Testament account.

General chronology