AS YOU TRAVEL northwards from Galilee on Route 90 in modern Israel, about 8km north of Rosh Pina the road drops down into the Huleh Valley. On a bend in the road the huge mound of Tel-el-Qedah or Tel Hazor suddenly comes into view. This city was strategically located on what was the Via Maris or the Sea Road that connected Egypt in the south to Mesopotamia and Syria in the north.

Archaeological work has been carried out at Hazor, firstly by Professor Garstang, who made trial digs in 1928 and then major excavations from 1955 to 1969 by Professor Yigael Yadin. More recently excavations began again at the site in 1990 and are continuing under the direction of Professor Amnon Ben-Tor, a one-time student of Professor Yadin. All of this work has revealed twenty-one cities built one on top of the other by successive kingdoms. The site is in two parts, with the tell mound covering some 6.1 hectares (15 acres) and to the north a much larger plateau area of 81 hectares (200 acres). This means that Hazor was something like twenty times the size of Jerusalem in the time of King David.

The city is first mentioned in the Bible when news of the Israelites successful conquest of the southern part of Canaan came to the notice of Jabin king of Hazor. (Joshua 11.1) The record tells us that Jabin sent word to all the other kingdoms in the area to mount a challenge to the Israelite armies and it emphasises the importance of Hazor and its ruler as ‘the head of all those kingdoms.’ (Joshua 11.10) These allied forces gathered at the Waters of Merom (todays Lake Huleh) but even these combined armies were no match for the Israelites with God on their side. They were soundly defeated and Joshua took all the cities, singling out Hazor for destruction by fire and killing Jabin in the process.

An amazing find was made in 1992 by the team led by Ben-Tor whilst excavating a palace area that Yadin’s work had only partly uncovered. The renewed dig turned up a broken tablet with the name ‘Ibni’ inscribed on it. The name ‘Ibni’ is the equivalent of the Hebrew ‘Yabin’ or the biblical name of Jabin king of Hazor. The palace, the name of the ruler of Hazor and the tablet are all datable to the king of Hazor killed by Joshua who then burnt the city to the ground.

View of excavations at Hazor looking towards Mount Hermon

The city site was then included in the territory allotted to the tribe of Naphtali. (Joshua 19.36) When we get to the time of the Judges some 200 years later, the Israelites were once again straying from God’s ways and we read that ‘the LORD sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor.’ (Judges 4.:2 NKJV) This time God raised up as deliverers Deborah and Barak, who took on a formidable army commanded by Sisera at Mount Tabor. There ‘the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army with the edge of the sword before Barak.’ (Judges 4.15 NKJV) This victory is celebrated in the ‘Song of Deborah and Barak’ found in Judges chapter 5 and is mentioned by the prophet Samuel at the coronation of Israel’s first king, Saul. (1 Samuel 12.9)

The occurrence of the name Jabin in the books of Joshua and Judges has made some critics question the accuracy of the biblical record. However it is explained by the use of the name as a royal dynastic title (similar to Pharaoh for the rulers of Egypt) and it is quite possible that several kings carried the name Jabin during these historic periods.

The next mention of the name Hazor occurred when King Solomon raised a labour force for a huge construction programme which included the building of the storage cities of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. These cities were effectively army towns or fortress bases and depots with storehouses for Solomon’s chariots and cavalry. (1Kings 9.15,19) When Professor Yadin uncovered the gate at Hazor he immediately compared it with gates previously discovered at Megiddo and Gezer. He found their design and layout so much alike that he believed they were clear evidence of Solomon’s great public works constructed by a powerful central authority, as the Bible record indicates. There is evidence that during his reign, King Ahab later doubled the size of Hazor. In the annals of the Assyrian ruler Shalmanezer III, are records of the participation of ‘Ahab the Israelite’ in a coalition of twelve rulers, with Ahab providing 2,000 chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers.

The Bible confirms that Ahab was a great builder: ‘Now the rest of the acts of Ahab and all that he did, the ivory house which he built (in Samaria) and all the cities that he built, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel?’ (1 Kings 22.39 NKJV) The excavations at Hazor have shown it was one of the cities extended and fortified by Ahab. They also reveal that the city was destroyed and rebuilt a number of times as a result of military campaigns from the north by the armies of Aram and Assyria. These incursions and attacks on Israel were punishments from God for their failure to walk in His ways. The Bible records how the Assyrian armies came down into Israel: ‘In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took.... Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria.’ (2 Kings 15.29 NKJV) This destruction of Hazor took place around 732 BC. and was probably the end of it as an important city.

Hazor is also mentioned in non-Biblical texts. Egyptian texts from the 19th Century BC record Hazor as a Canaanite city that threatened the Egyptian Empire. It is also named in the Mari letters of 1,800 BC and there is a Babylonian text describing Hazor as an important political centre. Hazor is also mentioned in lists of the dominions of the Egyptian kings Tutmosis III, Amenhotep II and Seti I in the 15th and 14th centuries BC and in the Amarna letters of the 14th century BC with the ruler of Hazor still being spoken of as a king. These records and the archaeological excavations all confirm the Biblical importance of Hazor and the historical accuracy of the Biblical accounts about events linked with the city.