Gezer – Ancient Importance to Israel
Gezer is a 33 acre site located on a hill west of Jerusalem in the lowlands, about midway to Tel Aviv (approximately the location of ancient Jaffa), and guards the western entrance of Jerusalem from the coastal plain. It has been excavated regularly over the last century, but Gezer was unverified as a site until nine 1st century B.C. boundary stones, some with Hebrew inscriptions reading “boundary of Gezer,” were discovered around the tel.
Excavations at Gezer indicate it was inhabited almost continually from Stone Age to Roman times. Ten monumental megaliths oriented north-south with an altar type structure in the middle, possibly comprising a Canaanite “high place” from the Middle Bronze Age, ca. 1600 B.C. were built about the same time as the massive tower on the south side of the city. However, the exact nature of these megaliths is still debated.
Gezer – Egyptian Connection
Gezer is first mentioned in Egyptian texts of Thutmose III, and later in Joshua 10:33 when the Israelites defeat King Horam of Gezer and his army when they attempt to aid Lachish. Gezer is also mentioned in the Amarna Letters. The ruler of Gezer writes, “So may the king, my lord, save his land from the power of the Habiru” (Letter No. EA271). There was an obvious attack and takeover of many areas of Canaan by these Habiru. This pattern appears to match the conquest accounts in both Joshua and Judges.
Gezer is also mentioned in the Merenptah Stele commemorating the Pharaoh’s campaign. “Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe. Ashkelon has been overcome. Gezer has been captured. Yano‘am was made non-existent. Israel is laid waste (and) his seed is not.”1 The Canaan campaign mentioned on the stele may also be represented by four battle scenes at Karnak near the Treaty of Kadesh section. In these scenes, there are three city sieges and one battle in an open area. One of the cities is identified in the inscription as Ashkelon—the other names are not preserved. Ashkelon may have been under Israelite control in the early and middle Judges period. One theory argues the open area battle is between Pharaoh Merenptah and Israel and the three cities depicted are those mentioned in the stele, and Gezer may be one of the two unnamed.2 Corroborating this Egyptian record, excavations at Gezer show signs of destruction towards the end of the 13th century B.C.
Gezer – The Period of the Judges
The Israelites did not conquer and inhabit Gezer until the Judges period, and it remained a center of Canaanite influence for hundreds of years, as the Canaanites lived side by side with the Israelites there (Joshua 16:10, Judges 1:29). At the beginning of the monarchy, it was under Philistine rule, and was the last point to which David pursued the Philistines (2 Samuel 5:25, 1 Chronicles 14:16). Excavations also clearly reveal Philistine occupation. During the reign of Solomon, Gezer probably first became truly Israelite, and he is said to have built walls at Gezer (1 Kings 9:15). According to the excavators of Gezer, there is evidence of building from the days of Solomon's kingdom, specifically at the main city gate, which is referred to as a Solomonic gate with six chambers, dating to the 10th century B.C.3
Gezer – The Period of Solomon
Apparently Gezer had fallen completely into the hands of the Canaanites, but an Egyptian Pharaoh during the reign of Solomon attacked the city, killed the Canaanites, and burned it down. Afterward, Solomon rebuilt the city. (1 Kings 9:16-17).4 Excavations at Gezer have revealed a thick destruction layer dated to the 10th century B.C. Although 1 Kings does not give the name of the Pharaoh, it may be referring to Siamun and his daughter. At the Temple of Amun at Tanis, there is a smiting scene of Pharaoh Siamun, who reigned ca. 986-967 B.C., lining up with the early part of the reign of Solomon. Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen believes the scene depicts the Pharaoh smiting Philistines because of the Aegean type axe in the Pharaoh’s hand, linking the scene with the attack by the Egyptians in 1 Kings 9.
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1 Some historians and archaeologists have argued that the hieroglyphic determinative used for Israel on the Stele indicates they were merely a nomadic people without a city-state, and thus the Biblical narratives from this time period must be unhistorical. However, as the book of Judges indicates, Israel was not yet an established monarchy at this time. They are portrayed as a rural society, often living in tents, without a single political center. Further, Egypt believed Israel important enough to mention on the list of political powers in Canaan that were fought against, and the style in which the lines about Canaan are written suggests Israel is the prominent people group in that land.
2 “Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who were living in Gezer; so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them” (Judges 1:29).
3 The same “Solomonic” gate type also has been found at Ashdod and Lachish, which consists of chambers or rooms that had an unknown function, but may have been used as guardhouses. The facades of the gates at Megiddo, Hazor, and Gezer are unique in that they included projecting towers and a wider central passage.
4 “Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it with fire, and killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it as a dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife” (1 Kings 9:16).
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