JERUSALEM -- The period of the United Monarchy has received much press and attention this summer as current excavation projects in Israel have presented sensational results. While much attention has been paid to King David’s activities, archaeologists have been quietly excavating one of the famed cities of Solomon since 2006. A team of nearly 80 staff and students from several countries (U.S., Israel, Palestinian Authority, Russia, Korea, Hong Kong) spent the summer digging at Tel Gezer, located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in a valley that guards the pass that leads up from the coastal road (the "Via Maris") to Jerusalem.
Tel Gezer is known from several ancient Egyptian and Assyrian texts as a major city located on the coastal highway between the kingdoms of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. It is known from biblical texts as a city conquered by an unnamed Egyptian pharaoh and given to Solomon as a wedding gift between the Israelite king and pharaoh’s daughter. Solomon is credited in the Bible with building the walls of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer (1 Kings 9:15-16) -- four major sites that are currently being excavated.
The excavations at Gezer are sponsored by the Tandy Institute for Archaeology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with several consortium schools. The excavations are directed by Steven Ortiz of the Tandy and Samuel Wolff of the Israel Antiquities Authority.
In this, the sixth season of excavation, one goal was to remove a portion of the city wall built in the Iron IIA period (10th century BCE) in order to investigate a Late Bronze age destruction level (ca. 1400 BCE) that lay below it. To the surprise of the team, in the process of excavating the city wall, an earlier wall system dating to the Iron Age I (1200-1000 BCE) was discovered. This wall was one meter thick with several rooms attached to it. These rooms were filled by a massive destruction, nearly one meter in height,that included Canaanite storage jars, Philistine pottery and other items. A fragment of a Philistine figurine was also found this season. The biblical text record that the king of Gezer organized a Canaanite coalition against Joshua and David had a battle with the Philistines where he chased them “all the way to Gezer.” Perhaps the biblical accounts retain a memory of the importance of Gezer and its close relations to the Philistines during this period.
Beneath this city was an earlier city that was destroyed in a fierce conflagration. This city was functioning during the Egyptian 18th Dynasty’s rule over the southern Levant. Within the destruction debris were several pottery vessels along with a cache of cylinder seals and a large Egyptian scarab with the cartouche of Amenhotep III. This pharaoh was the father of the heretic King Akenaton and grandfather of the famous Tutankhamun (King Tut). This destruction corresponds to other destructions of other cities in the region, a reflection of the internecine warfare that was occurring between the Canaanite cites as reflected in the well-known Tell el-Amarna correspondence.
The archaeology of Solomon has been controversial, fueled by various theories over the dating of the archaeological record. The dating of the Gezer Iron Age Gate is at issue. The Gezer expedition is slowly stripping away layers of public and domestic structures of the 8th and 9th centuries BCE in order to reveal the 10th century city plan adjacent to the City Gate. This summer the tops of the 10th century walls began to poke out, making the archaeologists optimistic that in future seasons more of the Solomonic city will be exposed.
The results of the Tel Gezer excavations will be presented at the end of the month at the 16th World Congress of Jewish Studies to be held in Jerusalem. The excavation results will be presented along with other projects in the region in a joint session on the history of the Shephelah region (foothills of Judah).
The Gezer Excavation Project is one of three field projects of the Tandy Institute for Archaeology. Gezer is the flagship archaeological field school of the Tandy Institute including the support of the following consortium schools: Andrews University (2013), Ashland Theological Seminary, Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, Lycoming College, Lancaster Bible College and Graduate School, Marian Eakins Archaeology Museum at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For more information see www.telgezer.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following report is by Steven Ortiz and Samuel Wolff, co-directors of the Tel Gezer archaeological excavations in Israel. Ortiz is professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds and director of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Charles D. Tandy Institute for Archaeology in Fort Worth, Texas. Wolff is senior archaeologist and archivist at the Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem.