Tel Hazor—Canaan’s Largest City Lost in the Minds of Many

I asked the helicopter pilot to fly to Hazor so that I could take video of the site. Before long we hovered over a modern town with houses, streets, and parks. The pilot and I exchanged awkward glances, and I clarified what I wanted: “I meant Tel Hazor.”

He still looked confused.

Tel Hazor—Canaan’s Largest City Lost in the Minds of Many

(Photo: Tel Hazor, courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

After five minutes of searching the area, we finally saw it. Two hundred acres huge, rising from the floor of the Huleh Basin, ancient Hazor looms as Israel’s largest tell.

I had to marvel at how times have changed. What was once Canaan’s most important city has somehow gotten lost in the weeds of contemporary minds.

How could the pilot not have known where it was?

Tel Hazor—Canaan’s Deadbolt in the North

Along the ancient international highway, geographical chokepoints required all travelers to pass well-fortified cities.

Among these, Hazor was the most important in northern Israel.

  • All two hundred acres of Tel Hazor were occupied during the Canaanite period.
  • Hazor stood as the largest city in Canaan during the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (2200-1400 BC).
  • No one entered the land from the north without passing the site. I call it the “Deadbolt of Northern Israel.”

(All pics courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

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The day I was at Tel Hazor, beautiful yellow flowers grew atop the tell. It struck me strange that life would blossom where so many people in history had died.

  • Before the conquest under Joshua, “Hazor formerly was the head of all these kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10). Hazor was the only city Joshua burned in the northern campaign (Joshua 11:1–15).
  • Modern archeologists have uncovered a Canaanite temple with a central niche where a male deity figurine sat on a throne.
  • Stratum XIII of the tell had a large burn layer that corresponds with Joshua’s destruction of Hazor around 1400 BC.
  • Two hundred years after Joshua, Hazor rose again to prominence during the years of the Judges of Israel. Deborah and Barak defeated Hazor’s general, Sisera, in the Valley of Jezreel and burned Hazor once again (Judges 4-5).

Hazor’s Gate—Déjà vu All Over Again

Because of the city’s strategic location, King Solomon later fortified Hazor—as well as Megiddo and Gezer (1 Kings 9:15).

  • The tripartite city gates that Solomon built in these cities still stand.
  • All three gates are nearly identical.
  • During the time of the divided kingdom, the Israelites at Hazor dug a forty-meter deep shaft that reached the water table.
  • The ruins include the Upper and Lower Cities, the stables, the water system, and the remains of Canaanite buildings.
Hazor Solomonic gate

(Photo: Solomon’s gate at Hazor, courtesy of Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Across the street by Kibbutz Ayelet Hashahar, the Tel Hazor Museum offers explanations of the twenty-one occupation levels discovered during the tell’s numerous excavations. You can even volunteer to serve during the seasonal excavations.

The Deadbolt Gets Kicked In

As the first line of defense for the north, Hazor was also one of the first cities to fall when foreigners invaded—like the Assyrians (2 Kings 15:29).

  • In 885 BC, Ben-hadad of Aram invaded Israel via Hazor.
  • Under the boot of the Assyrian leader, Tiglath-Pileser III, Hazor was razed in 732 BC.
  • It never recovered.

By the first century when Jesus passed Tel Hazor on His way north to Caesarea Philippi, Hazor stood as a mere police fort.

Today, even helicopter pilots struggle to find it.

(Tel Hazor isn’t even labeled on Google Maps! See below.)

Question: Taking a high perspective, what can we learn from the fact the most important city of Canaan is now a mere hill with weeds? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Hazor on the Map:

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  • http://www.facebook.com/david.moody.5220 David Moody

    We visited Tel Hazor October 2012. I was impressed by the location of the site, in the north of Israel. I was also impressed that our Israeli guide had very little to say about the site. He simply left us to wander around and discover it for ourselves. The take away lesson for me is not to value my own achievements too highly. Joshua had a tremendous victory there that should be celebrated in Israel today, but is not. Who knows what historians in the future will determine is important? I am determined to be a blessing to those who know me, and let my historical importance be determined by other people.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      David, your takeaways are splendid and insightful. I have to wonder if your guide had little to say because he seldom takes people to Hazor. The new road completely bypasses the tell, unfortunately, and most folks never even get to drive by.
      Your insights are super lessons: humility and allowing others to speak well of you. Thanks for your comments.

  • Shmuel Browns

    I’ve never gotten a request to guide Hazor in the 5 years I’ve been guiding. I did include it in the 12 day archaeological tour I planned. There’s seems to be a hierarchy in archaeological sites – almost everyone visits Masada and Caesarea, people visit Qumran, Herodium, Bet Shean, Capernaum. There are sites like Sussita that hardly anyone visits.

    • http://www.waynestiles.com/ Wayne Stiles

      Wow, Shmuel, that’s pretty amazing. Not one request. Whenever we’re headed up to Tel Dan, I always ask our driver to leave the main road and stop for a few minutes beside Hazor, just for folks to see it and to hear about its significance.
      Maybe one day Hazor will have the visitors centers that other sites have. That makes a difference, I’m sure, but it’s probably a chicken-or-the-egg situation. People first or visitors center first?

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