William G. Dever on R.A.S. Macalister’s Gezer “High Place”
Archaeologists working at the 33-acre mound of Tel Gezer identified 26 strata spanning the Late Chalcolithic to the Roman periods. In the Bible, Gezer was sacked by an Egyptian pharaoh and given to King Solomon as a dowry for the pharaoh’s daughter (1 Kings 9:16).
Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister first excavated Tel Gezer from 1902–1909 in one of the earliest large-scale scientific archaeological projects. During this period, Macalister identified what he believed to be a Middle Bronze Age Canaanite “high place” dedicated to child sacrifice. Due to Macalister’s primitive excavation techniques and insufficient record-keeping, G. Ernest Wright, William G. Dever and Joe D. Seger conducted another excavation at Tel Gezer in 1964–1974. Macalister’s “high place” was located and re-excavated in 1968. William G. Dever has recently published the final report of the Tel Gezer “high place” excavations.1 In “Commemorating a Covenant” in the January/February 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, BAR’s editor emeritus examines Dever’s new report and reinterpretation of the Gezer “high place.”
Macalister’s “high place” comprised 10 monumental standing stones—some over 10 feet tall—oriented in north-south alignment and positioned next to a massive rectangular limestone basin. Below the plastered surfaces that surround the standing stones, Macalister discovered several jar burials containing the bones of infants who, in his estimation, were less than a week old when they died. Some of the bodies, he reported, had been burned. For Macalister, this site had to have been a bamah (an open-air altar shrine sometimes located at an elevated height), which some Biblical authors associated with child sacrifice (e.g., Jeremiah 32:35; 2 Chronicles 28:1–4; Ezekiel 20:26–29). According to Dever, however, Macalister’s identification—which continues to generate controversy today—was fraught with flawed analyses of the archaeological evidence: “There is little reason … to probe further through Macalister’s tortuous discussion of his excavation of the ‘High Place.’ It is impossible to glean any significant information from this mixture of fact (?) and fancy.”2
If this puzzling installation of standing stones at Tel Gezer wasn’t part of a Canaanite bamah, what was it? Read a summary of Dever’s proposal in “Commemorating a Covenant” in the January/February 2015 issue of BAR.
BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Commemorating a Covenant” in the January/February 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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1. William G. Dever, “The Middle Bronze Age ‘High Place’ at Gezer,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, No. 371 (May 2014), pp. 17-57.
2. Dever, “‘High Place’ at Gezer,” p. 20.
Tel Gezer Water System Built by Canaanites?
High Places, Altars and the Bamah
Gezer Excavations Uncover Previously Unknown Canaanite City
Cave Found at Bottom of Gezer Water Tunnel
Bilingual Boundary Stone Discovered at Tel Gezer
What’s the Oldest Hebrew Inscription? A Reply to Christopher Rollston
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on January 30, 2015.
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Regarding the geographical description in your opening sentence: The Shephelah and the Judean foothills are in fact one and the same. You meant to say: the boundary between the Judean foothills (the Shephelah) and the coastal plain.
TOM POWERS / Waynesville, NC
Cremated remains of sacrificed infants. Gee, could there be another explanation? Call it the “fall into wholesale apostasy” if you like, but this sickness is in the blood of these desert rats. Ritualistic human and animal sacrifices and body mutilation was/is so whack in Semitic cultures. Modern day cruel kosher animal slaughters, Jewish circumcision, Wahabbi crucifixions. . .the blood rituals continue, protected by big money. The only difference between the Canaanites and the Israelites in the Bible is that the Canaanites were in the way of the goal of land acquisition and had to be demonized.
[…] he continually chooses us to represent Him at the crossroads of our life. He wants us to be like God’s standing stones at the crossroads of Gezer and show the world who He […]
Centers of False Worship. High places, or the sites or shrines where idolatry was engaged in, were to be found not only on hills and mountains but also in the valleys, in streambeds, in cities, and under the trees. (De 12:2; 1Ki 14:23; 2Ki 17:29; Eze 6:3) They were equipped with altars for sacrifice, incense stands, sacred poles, sacred pillars, and graven images. (Le 26:30; Nu 33:52; De 12:2, 3; Eze 6:6) At many of the high places, male and female prostitutes served. (1Ki 14:23, 24; Ho 4:13, 14) Frequently the high places were the scenes of licentious rites, including ceremonial prostitution and child sacrifice.—Isa 57:5; Jer 7:31; 19:5.
There were also houses, or sanctuaries, of the high places where priests officiated and where the images of the deities were kept. (1Ki 12:31; 13:32; 2Ki 17:29, 32; 23:19, 20; Isa 16:12) Thus, the designation “high place” may at times refer to such a sanctuary rather than to an elevated site for worship. This is suggested by Ezekiel’s reference to high places of varied colors. (Eze 16:16) Perhaps these high places were tentlike sanctuaries.
Before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were commanded to destroy the sacred high places of the Canaanites and all the appendages of false worship associated therewith. (Nu 33:51, 52) But the Israelites failed to do this, and after the death of Joshua and the older generation, wholesale apostasy set in.—Jg 2:2, 8-13; Ps 78:58.