Viewing it now, you might not believe that Tel Hazor was once known as "the head of all those kingdoms.” Measuring about 200 square acres, the Tel is all that remains of the once bustling city described in the Book of Joshua.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005 along with Tel Megiddo and Tel Beersheba, Tel Hazor is the largest of the three. If you’re not familiar with the term, a Tel is a specific kind of archeological site. Distinct from ruins, Tels are small hills or mounds created over 100s of years of civilization. As mudbricks from buildings built, razed, and rebuilt accumulate along with the refuse, items, and sundries of generations and generations of human lives, the land literally swells with them. It’s an astounding phenomenon. Even thousands of years later when most surface level artifacts have been destroyed, archeologists with a keen eye can still identify the probable presence of a historic site thanks to these swells!
A truly ancient site, the oldest parts of Tel Hazor date back to the early bronze ages, around the 28th and 24th centuries. Back then it was (based on the evidence we have today) a relatively small community. While pottery shards and even an early brass monument from the period have been found, it is suspected that this early settlement was smaller in scope, consisting of only a few hundred people in a dense area.
It isn’t until the era of the New Kingdoms that Hazor would rise to prominence. It is during this period that Hazor would become a major and important hub of trade and where most of the Tel’s most unique and impressive artifacts are sourced.
These artifacts include the Solomonic Gate, a large six-chambered gate which implies a complicated and busy flow of traffic that needed to be carefully managed. What is interesting about these gates is that they are designed and constructed nearly identically as the gates found at both Megiddo and Gezer. This implies a sophisticated level of standardization of construction and trade policies between the sites. An ancient building code designed to make the experience of traveling from one city to another familiar and routine by following similar conventions and queues, not unlike traveling to different airports today.
Then there is the ancient water system we can still observe today. One hundred and thirty feet deep, a massive shaft reaches into the water table below the Tel. An incredible feat given the technology of the time! Imagine trying to dig 130 feet deep with bronze tools and simple pullies. It also shows that this wasn’t just some fly by night city, one of the thousands of nameless sites across the world that once held people and then held none. This was a sophisticated city with infrastructure and civic planning.
This is the Canaanite strong hold we read about in Joshua, the seat of Jabin and the power behind his confederation against Joshua, a bustling and massive city that commanded trade that was home to thousands. This is the Hazor that we can read about in Joshua that was attacked and razed to the ground by the Israelites - an incredible connection to biblical history!
Discovered in 1926 and first excavated in 1955, the mysteries of Tel Hazor are still being explored today. Ongoing excavations are held annually, plumbing the depths of this ancient land and discovering what else it can teach us about Israeli, and biblical, history!