“Joshua turned back at that time and took Hazor, and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor was formerly the head of all those kingdoms. And they struck all the people who were in it with the edge of the sword, utterly destroying them … Then he burnt Hazor with fire.”
Thus does the Book of Joshua describe how the Israelites vanquished the Biblical Canaanites at Hazor. But is that what really happened? Many archaeologists have called into question the Book of Joshua’s account of the Israelite conquest of the Biblical Canaanites, saying it is not supported (or is contradicted, in some cases) by the evidence on the ground. Early Hazor excavations, led by the late Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin in the 1950s and 1960s, set out to explore this question about the Biblical account’s historicity. Yadin’s findings seemed to support the theory that the Israelite settlement followed the Biblical Canaanites at Hazor.
Excavations left many questions about the Canaanite city’s destruction unanswered, however.
Enter Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has directed the renewed Hazor excavations since 1990 (with the assistance of codirector Sharon Zuckerman of the Hebrew University from 2006 until her death in 2014). In 25 seasons, the renewed excavations have uncovered more of the Hazor acropolis, which boasted temples, palaces and other public buildings, as well as parts of the lower city, where the commoners lived. Their findings reveal much about the destruction of the Biblical Canaanites’ Hazor.
As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.
The largest structure revealed in the recent Hazor excavations is the so-called “ceremonial palace” in the middle of the acropolis. In the ruins of the palace, Ben-Tor and his team have discovered many rich finds—including bronze statues (see photo above), ivory, jewelry, seals and even a lion-headed rhyton, or drinking vessel—that all point to the wealth of the Canaanite rulers. They also uncovered evidence of the massive fire that destroyed the ceremonial palace and much of Canaanite Hazor—a blaze that would have been memorable for its intensity.
Relying on these finds and much more, Amnon Ben-Tor convincingly concludes that it was indeed the Israelites who conquered the Biblical Canaanites’ city at Hazor.
For more about the Hazor excavations and Amnon Ben-Tor’s theory about the demise of the Biblical Canaanites, read Amnon Ben-Tor, “Who Destroyed Canaanite Hazor?” as it appears in the July/August 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on July 5, 2013.
In Hazor: Canaanite Metropolis, Israelite City, a popular summary of 30 excavation seasons by long-time Hazor dig director Amnon Ben-Tor, discover ancient Hazor’s remarkable history.
Amnon Ben-Tor, “Excavating Hazor, Part One: Solomon’s City Rises from the Ashes,” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1999.
Amnon Ben-Tor and Maria Teresa Rubiato, “Excavating Hazor, Part Two: Did the Israelites Destroy the Canaanite City?” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 1999.
Sharon Zuckerman, “Where Is the Hazor Archive Buried?” Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 2006.
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