In its final season of excavations, the Gezer Excavation Project has arguably found one of its most impressive discoveries to date — material proof of the city’s complete razing, as depicted in the Bible’s Book of Kings, at the hands of the Egyptians 3,200 years ago.
Three torched skeletal remains were discovered this summer at the Tel Gezer archaeological site by a team from the Gezer Excavation Project. The consortium of institutions has dug there since June 2006, headed by Steve Ortiz of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) and Sam Wolff of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Previous dig seasons have uncovered Canaanite treasure troves and a King Solomon-era palace.
“The adult was lying on its back with arms above its head. The child, who was wearing earrings, was next to the adult, to the left. This room was filled with ash and collapsed mud brick,” Ortiz told Haaretz in an in-depth article about the find.
In a second area, other skeletal remains were found under a pile of collapsed stones. “This individual attests to the violent nature of the destruction, as it is clear he experienced the trauma of the event,” Ortiz said.
In 1 Kings 9:15-16, there is an account of King Solomon conscripting workers to rebuild Gezer and other cities, which were burnt to the ground by the Egyptian pharaoh: “Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it down, had killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it as dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife.” (King Solomon’s reign is usually dated to circa 970-931 BCE.)
In Haaretz, Ortiz said Egyptians usually preferred to subdue vassal cities and continue their revenue streams. The widespread conflagration and “heavy destruction suggests the Egyptian pharaoh encountered much resistance from the Gezerites.”
In a follow-up article in the Baptist Press, Ortiz emphasized the significance of this level of resistance, stating that it “does fit in with what we know about Gezer in the biblical period.”
According to Ortiz, who in addition to his work with the SWBTS is a professor of archaeology and director of the Tandy Institute, Egypt’s destruction of the city occurred either during or immediately preceding the period of Israel’s conquest. Scholars have argued the conquest may have occurred during the 14th, 13th, or 12th centuries BCE.
Other items in the torched rooms included a 13th century BCE amulet and cylinder seals depicting war, which, said Ortiz, also provide evidence of Egyptian military campaigns there at the end of the late Bronze Age.
The new discoveries appear to confirm an inscription mentioning the capture of Gezer which is found on the famous Merneptah Stele or Israel Stele. The victory stele, which contains the first mention of the word “Israel,” dates from circa 1208 BCE.
The text of the black granite slab, now displayed at the Egyptian Museum at Cairo, praises Merneptah’s victories over enemies from Libya and their Sea People allies. The final two lines describe a separate campaign in which the ruler defeated and destroyed Ashkelon, Gezer, Yano’am and Israel.
“The Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe:
Ashkelon has been overcome;
Gezer has been captured;
Yano’am is made non-existent.
Israel is laid waste and his seed is not.”
Gezer is located at the crossroads of trade routes linking Egypt with Syria, and Anatolia and Mesopotamia. and the road to Jerusalem and Jericho is also close by. As shown through diplomatic correspondence between Egypt and its vassals found in the Amarna Tablets, the Egyptians ruled over Canaan for hundreds of years. According to scholars, the Israel Stele provides a record of seeds of Canaanite revolt in the region.
Could this revolt be related to Gezer’s depiction in the book of Joshua, where it is presented as one of the more important cities of the region.
“The King of Gezer apparently was one of the leaders [in the region]. In the conquest accounts, we have him organizing other Canaanite kings. So the biblical narrative has this memory of Gezer being an important city,” Ortiz said.
Now that on-site excavation is over, the team of archaeologists is set to begin intensive research of its artifacts and findings.
In light of the newly discovered skeletons, Ortiz already has many unanswered questions, some of which he hopes to answer with more study.
“We can only guess what they were doing in the building on the eve of destruction. Were they hiding? Were they fleeing the Egyptian soldiers? Did they go back into the building to retrieve valuables?” said Ortiz.