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The Gezer Platform

Gezer (Hebrew: גֶּזֶר) was a Canaanite city-state in the foothills of the Judaean Mountains at the border of the Shfela.[1] Tel Gezer (also Tell el-Jezer), an archaeological site midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, is now an Israeli national park. In the Hebrew Bible, Gezer is associated with Joshua and Solomon.

It became a major fortified city in the first half of the 2nd millennium BCE. It was later destroyed by fire and rebuilt. The Amarna letters mention kings of Gezer swearing loyalty to the Egyptian Pharaoh. Its importance was in part because of the strategic position it held at the crossroads of the Via Maris (the "Way of the Sea") and the road to Jerusalem and Jericho, both important trade routes.

Discoveries related to biblical archaeology are eight monumental megaliths (up-ended stones, each of which is called a masseba and are found elsewhere in Israel[2]); a double cave beneath the high place, probably used for divinatory purposes; 13 inscribed boundary stones, making it the first positively identified Biblical city; a six-chambered gate similar to those found at Hazor and Megiddo; and a large water system comprising a tunnel going down to a spring, similar to that found in Jerusalem.


Boundary of Gezer inscription

Gezer was located on the northern fringe of the Shephelah, approximately thirty kilometres northwest of Jerusalem. It was strategically situated at the junction of the Via Maris, the international coastal highway, and the highway connecting it with Jerusalem through the valley of Ajalon. Verification of the identification of this site with Biblical Gezer comes from Hebrew inscriptions found engraved on rocks several hundred meters from the tel. These inscriptions from the 1st century BCE read "boundary of Gezer."


Bronze age[edit]

Water system at Tel Gezer

Inhabitants of the first settlement at Gezer, toward the end of the 4th millennium BCE, lived in large rock-cut caves. In the Early Bronze Age, an unfortified settlement covered the tel. It was destroyed in the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE and abandoned for several hundred years. In the Middle Bronze Age (first half of the 2nd millennium BCE), Gezer became a major city. The tel was surrounded by a massive stone wall and towers, protected by a five meter high earthen rampart covered with plaster. The wooden city gate, near the southwestern corner of the wall, was fortified by two towers.[3]

Cultic remains discovered at the site were a row of ten monolithic stone steles, oriented north-south, the tallest of which was 3 meters high, with an altar type structure in the middle, and a large, square, stone basin. The exact purpose of these megaliths is still debated, but they may have constituted a Canaanite “high place” from the Middle Bronze Age, ca. 1600 B.C.E.[4] The Canaanite city was destroyed in a fire, presumably in the wake of a campaign by the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III. The oldest known historical reference to the city is to be found on an inscription of conquered sites at Thutmose's temple at Karnak.[5] The Tell Amarna letters, dating from the 14th century BCE, include ten letters from the kings of Gezer swearing loyalty to the Egyptian pharaoh. The city-state of Gezer (named Gazru in Babylonian) was ruled by four leaders during the 20-year period covered by the Amarna letters.[6] Discoveries of several pottery vessels, a cache of cylinder seals and a large scarab with the cartouche of Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III attest to the existence of a city at Gezer's location in the 14th century BCE - one that was apparently destroyed in that century - and suggest that the city was inhabited by Canaanites with strong ties to Egypt.[7] In the Late Bronze Age (second half of the 2nd millennium BCE) a new fortification wall, four meters thick, was erected. In the 14th century BCE, a palace was constructed on the high western part of the tel. Toward the end of the Bronze Age, the city declined and its population diminished. Gezer is mentioned in the victory stele of Merneptah, dating from the end of the 13th century BCE.

Iron age[edit]

In 12th-11th centuries BCE, a large building with many rooms and courtyards was situated on the Acropolis. Grinding stones and grains of wheat found among the sherds indicate that it was a granary. Local and Philistine vessels attest to a mixed Canaanite/Philistine population. A reference to Gezer may appear in a cuneiform relief from the 8th century BCE palace of Tiglath-Pileser III at Nimrud.[5] It was sparsely populated during Roman times and remained uninhabited until the 1st century CE.[8]

In 1177, the plains around Gezer were the site of the Battle of Montgisard, in which the Crusaders under Baldwin IV defeated the forces of Saladin.


Replica of the Gezer calendar in Gezer, Israel.
June 3, 2011, ongoing works to clear the Bronze Age water system at Gezer, originally excavated by Macalister.

Archaeological excavation at Gezer has been going on since the early 1900s, and it has become one of the most excavated sites in Israel. The site was identified with ancient Gezer by Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau in 1871. R. A. Stewart Macalister excavated the site between 1902 and 1909 on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund. Macalister recovered several artifacts discovered several constructions and defenses. He also established Gezer's habitation strata, though due to poor stratigraphical methods, these were later found to be mostly incorrect (as well as many of his theories). Other notable archaeological expeditions to the site were made by Alan Rowe (1934), G.E. Wright, William Dever and Joe Seger between 1964 and 1974 on behalf of the Nelson Glueck School of Archaeology in the Hebrew Union College, again by Dever in 1984 and 1990, as well as the Andrews University.[5]

One of the best-known finds is the Gezer calendar. This is a plaque containing a text appearing to be either a schoolboy's memory exercises, or something designated for the collection of taxes from farmers. Another possibility is that the text was a popular folk song, or child's song, listing the months of the year according to the agricultural seasons. It has proved to be of value by informing modern researchers of ancient Middle Eastern script and language, as well as the agricultural seasons.

In 1957 Yigael Yadin identified a wall and gateway identical in construction to remains excavated at Megiddo and Hazor as Solomonic; they have since been identified as dating from the early Israelite kingdom, some centuries later.[9]

Excavations were renewed in June 2006 by a consortium of institutions under the direction of Steve Ortiz (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Sam Wolff (Israel Antiquities Authority). The Tel Gezer Excavation and Publication Project is a multi-disciplinary field project investigating the Iron Age history of Gezer.

Canaanite Water Tunnel[edit]

In 2010 a team from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary ("NOBTS") launched an effort to clear a massive water tunnel, discovered first by Macalister over a hundred years earlier.[10] Macalister never fully excavated the tunnel because a strong storm blew debris back into the tunnel and he considered it too expensive and time consuming to re-excavate the site. The NOBTS effort to re-clear and examine the tunnel has been chronicled in multiple sources including the Biblical Archaeology Review[11] and the Baptist Press.[12] In 2011 professor Dennis Cole, archaeologist Dan Warner and engineer Jim Parker from NOBTS, led another team in an attempt to finish the effort.[13] In just two years the teams removed approximately 299 tons of debris from the ancient water system.

In 2010, the team removed approximately 1,040 cubic feet (39 cubic yards – 29 cubic meters) of debris (approximately 50 percent rock and 50 percent dirt), equating to approximately 68 tons. In 2011 the team removed approximately 3,560 cubic feet (132 cubic yards- 101 cubic meters), equating to approximately 231 tons.[14]

In 2012 the Gezer team uncovered a large open cavern at the bottom of the water system. Said Dr. Warner" “Opening the cave is something we have been working toward for three summers wondering if it even existed...It gave me a rush. Once inside it gave us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, but we are not done by a long shot.” [15]

In 2013 the team launched a side effort to preserve the ancient Canaanite mudbrick gate and complex near the water system. In the water system: "[m]ost of the first two weeks of the dig were spent searching for the bottom step and cleaning Macalister’s causeway. Tons of debris and rocks were removed in the process. When the bottom step was located and the causeway area clear, the team excavated three probes in the pool area. Each of the pool probes reached a depth of more than six feet before the end of the season and the bottom of the pool was discovered in only one probe (Eastern probe) — the one just below the bottom step of the water shaft."[16]

Also in 2011 BorderStone Press launched a "Research Israel" project in cooperation with NOBTS to participate in the dig and to document and publish a book on the findings.[17]

Boundary Stones[edit]

13 Boundary stones have been identified at the site, the most recent having been found by archaeologists from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 31°51′32″N 34°55′08″E / 31.859°N 34.919°E / 31.859; 34.919