A brief stop at the largest Canaanite city . . .

Until recently, visitors have given short shrift at Hazor, because they could see many of the same kinds of things at Megiddo: a huge water system, a Solomonic gate and the foundations of a palace. Given the association with Armageddon, Megiddo has taken precedence.

Thanks to the new excavations at Hazor, this may soon change, especially if archaeologists discover the city archive. There must be an archive! At Mari on the Euphrates, a collection of almost 25,000 clay cuneiform documents turned up, dating to the 18th century BC. Most are commercial in nature. According to the Biblical Archaeology Review (May-June 1999), about twenty of these mention Hazor:

"We read of ambassadors coming and going from Hazor and of caravans, laden with gold, silver, textiles and various other commodities, traveling to and from the city. One tablet informs us that Babylon stationed officials in Hazor: 'Two messengers from Babylon who have long since resided at Hazor, with one man from Hazor as their escort, are crossing to Babylon.' Another tablet records several shipments of tin (used in making bronze) to the king of Hazor." 

If Mari kept its documents, then surely Hazor kept some too. Excavating the Canaanite royal palace in recent years, archaeologists have found a few, but they still seek the big trove. 

Hazor was the land's biggest Canaanite city. Its upper tell (the longer-occupied) includes 20 acres, which is not extraordinary. But from the 18th to the 13th centuries BC, Hazor had a lower city of 180 acres! (Compare Megiddo, with 12 acres above and 18 below.) This size is reflected in the Book of Joshua, which says it "formerly was the head of all those kingdoms." (Josh. 11:10) Why was Hazor so big?

If we stand on the upper tell, looking north and east, we can see part of the answer. 

Stretching away from us to the north is the Naftali ridge.

To the northeast we see Mt. Hermon, rising 9146 feet above sea level. On the dimmer horizon to the east, beyond the canyon of the Upper Jordan, are the volcanic cones of the Golan Heights. Finally (and this is the last element we need) on a line between us and Mt. Hermon we see a large stretch of low-slung country; this was the Hula swamp, drained by Israel in the 1950s.

Suppose we are alive in the time of the First Testament (i.e. before the Romans built bridges in the land) and we want to reach Damascus or the cities of the Euphrates. Encountering a river like the Upper Jordan, we have only two options: to ford it or skirt its headwaters. The river lay in a deep canyon, difficult to cross. Ages ago, however, the volcanoes on the Golan Heights spewed out lava. This flowed into the riverbed, and at a certain point due east of us it cooled and formed a basalt barrier. The river water flowing south encountered this barrier, backed up and formed the swamp.

North of the basalt barrier, then, was swamp. South of it was a deep canyon. But the barrier itself served as a ford, over which one could go, continuing unhindered to Damascus. (The "Daughters of Jacob" bridge, named after the nuns of Jacobus (St. James) who used to collect the toll here for their convent in nearby Safed, lies just south of the old ford.)

The other option was to keep close to the Naftali ridge, skirting the swamp, then head east around the major springs of the Upper Jordan at Dan, continuing around the southern edge of Mt. Hermon and up to Damascus.

If the destination was a city near the Tigris, of course, the traveler would not turn east to Dan. Rather, he would continue north from Hazor toward Aleppo, Carchemish, Haran and Nineveh. 

Both options met at Hazor. It was therefore an essential station on the Great Trunk Road.

In addition, as said, Hazor was within the commercial sphere of Mesopotamia. Only one other Canaanite city is mentioned in the Mari texts: Laish (later called Dan) -- and that only once. It would seem, then, that commerce from the Euphrates did not penetrate south of here in the 18th century BC. (No wonder, since the horse may not yet have been domesticated, or only just, and certainly not the camel.) For Egypt, however, Hazor was accessible and important enough to come in for a curse in the Execration Texts* of the 19th century BC. At that time, then, Hazor alone, among all Canaanite cities, was of interest both to Egypt and Mesopotamia. 

There are remarkable finds from Hazor at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.


Execration Texts:  The Egyptians wrote the names of their enemies on clay figures, which they then smashed or maltreated, hoping that a similar fate would befall those designated.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(r), (c) Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. (www.Lockman.org)

© 2003 Near East Tourist Agency (NET)
Text © 2003 Stephen Langfur