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Tel Gezer is an important archeological site located on the western edge of the Shefela, and overlooking the Ayalon Valley to the east.  The tell is in the shape of an oval and is about ½ mile in length. It contains important finds from the time of the Canaanites and the time of Solomon.

 

Gezer was already inhabited by the Canaanites in the 3rd millennium during the Early Bronze Age and it covered the entire area of the tell. It was then an unfortified city. It was subsequently destroyed and abandoned for several centuries.

The city reached its peak during the Middle Bronze Age (2000-1550 BCE) and was one of the foremost cities in the country. Its importance is testified by many references in Egyptian sources. It was then a fortified city with a massive exterior wall constructed of 4-meter blocks of stone with periodic towers. This wall in turn was protected by a 5-meter-high earthen rampart covered with plaster.

 

Interestingly, Gezer receives no mention in the Bible during the patriarchal period. Interesting because the patriarchs lived during the Middle Bronze Age, which was when this city was at its peak. It could be that Abraham felt he would be able to have little influence on a city like this because of the strong cultural influences around it, particularly its connections with Egypt. Alternatively, he intuited that not being on the mountain range it would play little part in early Jewish history.

At the time of the conquest of Canaan, Gezer was allocated to the tribe of Ephraim (Joshua 21:20-22), and was also one of the ten Levitical cities allocated to the Kohathites. However, the tribe of Ephraim was unable to drive out the Canaanites “but rather the Canaanites lived among Ephraim until this day” (Joshua 16:10). This, despite the fact that Joshua smote the king of Gezer during a battle against Lachish (Joshua 10:33). By the time of David, the city seems to have been taken over by the Philistines. David was able to attack them, but the city probably never became Jewish (2 Samuel 5:25). This remained the situation until the time of King Solomon.

Directions and parking: Enter “Tel Gezer” into Waze. You will pass through the village of Karmei Yosef. From Karmei Yosef there is an asphalt-covered road, but some parts of the road are not in great shape. When you get to the Waze destination, a notice will point you up the hill to the parking lot at the base of the tell reached by a dirt road.

Admission: This is a site of the Israel Parks and Nature Authority. There is no park office, restrooms, or park hours. There is no admission charge. The findings within the park are well described on signs, including in English. There is no map of the site, but you reach the main findings by following the main paths.

Public transport: It is a walk of several kilometers from the nearest bus stop. Enter “Tel Gezer” into Moovit.

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The approach road to Tel Gezer, with the nearby settlement of Karmei Yosef in the distance.

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  • Go around the white gate by the parking lot. Turn right at the fork in the path by the sign “Lookout.” (The left fork goes to the monoliths and you will take this path on your return). The first site is the Gezer Calendar.

 

The Gezer Calendar

The Gezer Calendar is one of the best-known finds in Gezer. It is a 7 x 11 cm plaque about the calendar. It is on display at the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. All we Israelis get is a sign. It was composed in the Israelite period and is one of the oldest examples of the ancient Hebrew script. What it was used for is unclear. It reads:

“Two months of harvest

Two months of sowing

Two months of late planting

One month of hoeing flax

One month of barley harvest

One month of harvest and measuring

Two months of vine pruning

One month of summer [fruit)”

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A model of the Gezer Calendar. The original is in a museum in Instandbul,Turkey.

The Observation Terrace

The strategic importance of this site is because Gezer overlooks the Coastal Plain. Close to Gezer would have been the Via Maris, the main highway between the Egyptian and Mesopotamian empires — now approximately the location of Route 6. On a clear day you can see as far as Ashkelon in the south and far in a northernly direction. The city would thus have had advanced warning of any approaching army.  The city also controlled an east-west road to Jerusalem and the mountain range that passed through the Ayalon Valley and Judean Mountains via the Beth-Horon Pass. Below the terrace you can make out the Canaanite tower and gate. You will soon view this close up. A sign identifies locations from the Ayalon Valley and beyond.

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Overlooking the Ayalon Valley from the observation terrace with the Judean Mountains in the distance.

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The Canaanite tower and gate from the Observation Terrace.

  • Walk down the steps from the Observation Terrace. Just before the wooden bridge is the path to the Canaanite water system on your left.  

 

The Canaanite water system

The Canaanites carved a diagonal tunnel through limestone to reach the level of the water table, about 40 meters below the surface of the tell. Some academics suggest this system was constructed during the Israelite period, but the consensus is more the Canaanite period. At the bottom of the shaft is a cave which reached a pool fed from underground water. This system differs from that at Megiddo and Jerusalem in that the water source is totally within the city walls. Hence, it did not require protection. There have been cave-ins since the system was first exposed, and you will probably not be able to progress beyond the shaft.

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The partially reconstructed Canaanite Gate made of mud bricks.

The shaft to the cave, to about 40 meters below the ground.

The Canaanite city

 

  • Two findings are displayed from the Canaanite period just after the wooden bridge — the base of a tower immediately on your right and the city gates a bit further along on your left.

This tower is the base of one of the 25 watch-towers around the wall. This tower protected the gate which was some 20-meter away. There would also have been another tower on the other side of the gate. This is the largest Canaanite tower found in Israel. The base of the tower is 16 meters wide and the tower would have reached to a height of 15-meter. Mud bricks were used above the stone blocks base, although these have not survived.

The Canaanite gate is on the southern slope of the Western Hill close to the water system. It has been partly reconstructed with new bricks. It has a very typical plan for a gate from this period. The best example is at Tel Dan, which, in contrast to this gate, is completely preserved. It was made of sun-dried mud bricks built on top of a stone foundation. It had a narrow gate made of wood. It was intentionally narrow for defensive reasons. The gates were mounted on three pairs of upright stone structures.

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The base of a Canaanite tower protecting the gate.

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Partially reconstructed Canaanite city gate.

  • Continue along the path to Solomon’s Gate

 

Solomon’s gate

The Israelite period dates from about 1000 BCE during the Iron Age when King Solomon acquired the city from the Egyptians. During this period, a new set of inner and outer walls were built around the city, the outer wall being built on the foundations of the outer wall from the Canaanite period. The inner wall was in the form of a casement wall. In this type of wall there are two parallel inner and outer walls that are connected at intervals creating chambers. A casement double wall was a common design for the Israelites in the 10th century BCE. It was not exclusively Israelite, being first seen in Canaanite cities in as early as the 17th century BCE. This new gate was also built on the southern slope of the tell and about 200 meter east of the former Middle Bronze Age gate.

The identification of this gate was accomplished by the well-known Israeli archeologist Yiga’el Yadin who performed excavations here in the 1950s and 1960s. He noted similarities between this gate and those at Megiddo and Hazor, and sentences in the Book of Kings allowed him to date them to the period of king Solomon: “And this is the matter of the tax levy which king Solomon raised: to build the Temple of the Lord, and his own house and the Milo, and the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer” (I Kings 9:15) “And Solomon built Gezer and the lower Beth Horon” (ibid 9:17)

The gate consisted of a central passageway with three guard rooms on each side. The one closest to the entrance still contains a water trough. Each of the rooms had plastered stone benches along its walls. The floor of the passageway had a rainwater drainage channel covered with large paving slabs. To the right of the gate are the ruins of a large administrative complex, also dated to the period of King Solomon. All its rooms had access to a central courtyard. Some of the rooms formerly contained olive presses, grinding surfaces and clay ovens for cooking.

The circumstances of Pharoah’s gift to Solomon and its long-term consequences are of interest: “Pharoah king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it with fire, and had killed the Canaanites who lived in the city and had given it as dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife” (I Kings 9:15). This marriage would have very much strengthened the relationship between the Israelite kingdom and Egypt, particularly in the areas of security and trade: “And Solomon became allied by marriage to Pharaoh king of Egypt, and took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the City of David, until he had completed building his own house and the House of the Lord and the wall of Jerusalem round about” (I Kings 3:1).

There has been academic discussion as to who this unnamed Pharaoh was. Most likely is Siamun. He reigned from 986 to 967 BCE, which aligns with the early years of Solomon’s reign (Solomon ruled from about 970 to 930 BCE). Siamun may well have conducted military campaigns in Canaan, although there are no historical records to corroborate this.

Over the long term, Solomon’s importation of foreign wives, foreign customs and foreign gods would have an effect on the Jewish kingdom: “King Solomon loved many foreign women and the daughter of Pharaoh, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians and Hittites. Of the nations about which the Lord had said to the Children of Israel: “You shall not go (mingle) among them and they shall come among you, for certainly they will sway your heart after their deities. To these did Solomon cleave to love. And he had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines, and his wives turned away his heart” (I Kings 11:1-3). It may be no coincidence that the daughter of Pharaoh is placed first on this list, as she may well have been the most important, at least diplomatically. Solomon’s deviation from the Torah would result in the splitting of his kingdom under his son Rehoboam to a northern Israelite kingdom and the southern Kingdom of Judah.

 

The gate shows evidence of a major fire, which can probably be attributed to the conquest of the city by Pharaoh Shishak or Sheshonk I in 925 BCE during the reign of Rehoboam, the son of king Solomon. His campaign is described in the Bible, although Gezer is not specifically mentioned (1 Kings 14:25-26 and 2 Chronicles 12:2-4):

 

Gezer continued to be part of a Jewish kingdom until it was captured by the Assyrian Tiglath-Pileser II between 734 to 732 BCE and he completely burnt it down.

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Solomon's gate has a similar plan to those in Hazor and Megiddo, which were also built by Solomon.

Monoliths or matzevot

  • The monoliths are on the western side of the tell. However, there is no east-west path across the tell and you will need to retrace your steps towards the intersection just after the Overlook Terrace.

 

Matzevot (plural of matzeva) or religious pillars were not uncommon in the ancient Middle East, and Gezer has a cultic area with 10 pillars. The presumption is that they were erected by the Canaanites as part of their cultic practices, although their precise function and why there were ten is unknown. Of interest is that by one of the monoliths is a stone basin which could have been used for anointing with either oil or blood.

While not a representation of God or gods, a matzevah represented the direction towards which they could be approached, namely heaven-wards.

In that awareness of the presence of God was a prominent feature of the Jewish forefathers, it is not surprising that the erection of matzevot is mentioned quite frequently in the Torah. They were used particularly to commemorate divine encounters and treaties or promises to God. Hence, Jacob, erected a pillar after his encounter with God on a ladder rising up to heaven in a dream at Beth-el and he poured oil on the stone. He also made a covenant with God that if He protected him in his future travels, he would return to Beth-el and make there a house of God. God clearly approved of this promise when He said to Jacob in Haran: “I am God of Beth-el where you anointed a pillar where you vowed a vow to Me. Now arise, leave this land [Mesopotamia] and return to the land of your birth” (Genesis 31:13). Moses also erected 12 matzevot at the foot of Mount Sinai to commemorate the 12 tribes receiving the covenant of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 24:4).

However, by the Book of Deuteronomy, the Torah had turned completely against matzevot: “You shall not plant for yourself a tree for idol worship, any tree, near the altar of YKVK your God that you shall make for yourself. And you shall not erect for yourself a matzevah which YKVK your God hates (Deuteronomy 16:21-22).

Why this change in sentiment? There may be several reasons. The Torah wished to promote centralized worship, and the elimination of local shrines would make it less likely that the Israelites would be attracted to Canaanite practices. The Israelites were now approaching Canaan, and the Torah wished to keep the Israelites far from all pagan practices. The Torah also wished to emphasize the importance of following the commandments given at Mount Sinai without reliance on physical objects.

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Note the stone stone basin by one of the pillars.

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Why ten pillars? We do not know.

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