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“Joshua… conquered Hazor and smote its king with the sword… Hazor… The ruler of all these kingdoms. (Only) Hazor he burned in the fire… All the others… Israel did not burn (Joshua 11:10-13).”
“King Solomon (rebuilt) …. hazor (1 Kings: 9:15)”
Biblical Hazor is one of the main archaeological sites in Israel. Many of the most epic events in the Bible have taken place here, and even UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage Site in 2005. Surely such a world-class treasure must feature in the “must see” part of itineraries, is not it ? The shocking truth is that few tourists (even seasoned tourists who know the Bible) have even heard of it. Despite my extensive knowledge of Hazor, I’ve only guided here twice, both times for tourists who visit Israel every year, and only because I recommended it to them. On the first visit, tears rolled down my tourist’s cheeks as she realized she was literally standing in a place where Gd was leading his people into battle.
When people read about the “land of Canaan” in the Bible, they think of a large kingdom encompassing most of modern Israel, but in reality Canaan was made up of city-states with their own kings who were often at war with each other. According to the Bible, Hazor was the most powerful. In fact, excavations have shown Hazor to be Israel’s largest Tel (archaeological site) at 820 Dunams (or over 200 acres). To put that into perspective, David’s Jerusalem was only 61 dunams (15 acres).
The Al Armana Letters (a series of ancient letters written between Pharaoh and other kings) were discovered in 1887 by an Egyptian peasant. These letters support the biblical account that Hazor is the most powerful Canaanite city-state. Egypt controlled the land of Canaan (at the same time the Hebrews were enslaved) and the local kings were tributaries of the Pharaohs. Whenever powerful kings of empires like Pharaoh or the king of Mesopotamia wrote to each other, they always greeted each other as “Brother”, a sign of equality. Each time a Canaanite king wrote to Pharaoh, he began the letter with “To the king, my lord, my god, my Sun, the Sun of heaven, at your feet I bow 7 times forward and 7 times back…”. There was only one Canaanite king who dared to call Pharaoh “brother”: the mighty king of Hazor.
Additionally, Hazor is the only town in the entire Levant (i.e. the modern countries of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Jordan and southern Turkey) mentioned in the famous Mari records. of Mesopotamia.
By G‑d’s command, Joshua will bring the Jewish people to Israel by crossing the Jordan. The Canaanites were aware of Gd’s promise to His people (see Joshua 2:9-13), but the northern city-states of Israel were not yet ready to submit. King Jabin of Hazor was instructed to mobilize an army made up of the citizens of the various cities. He succeeded in recruiting a formidable force of warriors, horses and chariots “As numerous as the sands of the seashore (Joshua 11:4)”. This army was so intimidating that even though G‑d had promised to deliver Israel into their hands, He found it necessary to remind Joshua “Do not fear them (Joshua 11:6).
The battle resulted in a decisive victory for the Jews. In most cases, the infrastructure of conquered cities was not to be destroyed. Instead, fields, workshops, and homes were to be left untouched for the children of Israel to live on. Hazor was an exception, and it was the only city Joshua burned. Indeed, excavations have revealed that it was the only city destroyed in its entirety during this period. Today, when visiting the well-preserved ruins of King Jabin’s Palace, the scorch layer is clearly visible.
G‑d also commanded Joshua to destroy the chariots (and render unfit for war) the mighty war horses he captured. Why would Gd want them destroyed instead of being used by the Israelites in future battles? According to Jewish sources, Gd did not want the Israelites to believe in the power of their weapons, but placed their faith in Gd. It was a supernatural war. If the battles had been fought according to natural law, the Jews could not have won. People needed to know that if Gd was waging this war, additional weapons were not going to be the key to victory.
Centuries after the city was destroyed, King Solomon came and rebuilt it on the charred Canaanite ruins. King Solomon built many fortified cities, but three cities are mentioned by name in the verse: Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer (1 Kings 9:15). In the last 2 cities mentioned, excavators found city gates that were only found in cities built by Solomon. Archaeologists call them “6 Chamber Gates”.
Therefore, while digging Hazor, Yigal Yadin (the famous archaeologist who excavated Masada and also the second IDF Chief of Staff) expected to find a similar door, which he eventually found and unearthed.
The city was finally permanently destroyed during the Assyrian conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel.
Today, the impressive ruins of Hazor can be visited, but people rarely do. The silver lining is that when exploring this treasure you will likely be one of the few visitors here and have this fascinating site mostly to yourself!
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