By Gordon Franz
What I Did on My Summer Vacation … I Dug Hazor!
A Day at the Dig
The knock came at 4:15 in the morning. Shauel, the excavation trouble-shooter, was knocking on the doors in order to wake up all the volunteers of the Hazor excavation. I must admit, I do not normally get up at 4:15, so I moved a bit slow. But each day was filled with excitement. What would we find today? How hot was it going to be outside? Would we have a breeze? Will we ever find that elusive Canaanite archive?
Before we rode the bus to Hazor, we had a light breakfast of bread and jelly, and sometimes peanut butter, along with coffee, tea or whatever else was put out. At five minutes to five, the bus arrived to take us to the site. It was a short, three-minute ride from our hotel to the dig.
Work began before sunrise. Looking to the east, one could see the silhouette of Mt. Hermon and the volcanic peaks of the Golan Heights. On some mornings we had spectacular sunrises as the sun peaked over the Heights. But with the appearance of the sun, the temperature increased. How hot was it going to be today?
This season the Hazor excavation worked primarily in two locations. The Canaanite palace / temple complex was called A4 and a trench just east of the Solomonic gate called A5. The purpose of this trench is to understand the Israelite and Canaanite fortifications. I was digging in A5.
By seven in the morning we were ready for our first break. We had tea and coffee along with cookies provided by each digger. The tea usually had mint in it. The coffee, well what can I say, when we got down to the bottom of the pitcher, it looked like the Canaanite mud brick from the palace! I do not drink coffee, but I am told it tasted pretty good. After this break, the suntan lotion came out. Even though we had a net over the area that kept out much of the sun, but allowed the breeze to blow through, it was wise to put on the sunscreen.
There was always the constant reminder to drink water. On some days, I would drink between three and four liters of water! One works up a good sweat on an excavation.
Breakfast came around at 9:30. Fortunately A5 was right next to our dining area. This meal consisted of the usual Israeli fare for breakfast: tomatoes, cucumbers, yogurt, cottage cheese, bread, rolls, fish of one sort or another, juice, water and halva. Every once and awhile, Shauel would come through with scrambled eggs cooked in olive oil. It was great!
People sometimes have the wrong impression of archaeology and think it is a treasure hunt. In reality, it is usually tedious “donkey work” of moving dirt. Usually one would use a pick to loosen up the dirt and then scrap it into buckets, all the while looking for any man made objects like pottery, worked flint, or metals. Once all the buckets were filled (in A5 we usually had about 120 of them) the diggers would form a bucket chain and remove all the buckets from the area. Once on top, they were unloaded in wheelbarrows and hauled off to the dump. When a floor level was reached, then the work became a bit more interesting.
A one o’clock, work was over. We piled on the bus with our pottery buckets and returned to the hotel. Lunch awaited us. Since the hotel restaurant was kosher, lunch was the meat meal. After lunch, we would wash the pottery that was uncovered that day. With that task completed, it was time for a nap. Sleeping in a nice air-conditioned room was a welcomed change after working for eight hours in the heat. At 5:30 it was time for pottery reading and supper at 7:30. This meal was the “dairy meal”, or vegetarian meal. After dinner there was usually a lecture or video until about 9 PM. Soon after, one was fast asleep, waiting for Shauel to knock on your door at 4:15 the next morning!
Weekends were free to do as you pleased. Unlike most excavations, the diggers were allowed to stay at the hotel on weekends. Some weekends the diggers just relaxed for the weekend and read a good book, or did laundry in the hotel washing machine. Some diggers would rent a car for a day and visit other archaeological sites in the area, Tel Dan, Caesarea Philippi, Nimrod’s Castle, the Golan Heights, Gamla or the Sea of Galilee. The real energetic diggers would rent a car for the weekend and go further a field, to Jerusalem or Akko.
The excavation had a distinct international flavor. There were a number of Israeli students from Hebrew University as well as other Israelis. There were also people from Romania, the United States, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Denmark, and Australia. Dr. Ben-Tor pointed out to me one week that one area had eleven people in it and nine different languages spoke! The common language was English.
Why Dig Hazor?
Hazor is an important and impressive site. In fact, Hazor is the largest archaeological site in Israel. This 200-acre city consists of two parts, the Upper City, or Acropolis, and the Lower City. The next largest cities, apart from Jerusalem, are Gezer and Lachish at 18 acres. Hazor is eleven times the size of these cities!
For the student of the Bible, Hazor has an impressive amount of Biblical history and the archaeological remains to go along with it.
The first mention of Hazor in the Bible is in Joshua 11. “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. There was none left breathing. Then he burned Hazor with fire. … But as for the cities that stood on their mounds, Israel burned none of them, except Hazor only, which Joshua burned” (11:10,11,13, cf. 12:19). The first Israeli excavator of Hazor, Yigel Yadin, and the present excavator, Amnon Ben-Tor, believes the burn level of the Late Bronze II period is evidence of Joshua’s destruction.
Hazor was allotted to the tribe of Naphtali (Josh. 19:36) and is mentioned in the account of Judges 4 and 5, the story of Deborah and Barak (Judges 4:2,3,24).
Yadin excavated a very impressive six-chambered gate dating to the 10th century BC and built by King Solomon. Similar gates from this period were discovered at Megiddo and Gezer. Yadin connected this phenomenon with a passage in the Scriptures, “And this is the reason for the labor force which King Solomon raised to build: to build the house of the LORD, his own house, the Millo, the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer” (I Kings 9:15).
In the mid-8th century BC an extraordinary earthquake hit the Middle East. Amos (1:2) as well as Isaiah predicted this earthquake (2:19, 21). Yadin discovered evidence for this earthquake in the 1950’s in Area A. This summer, I believe there was more archaeological evidence for this earthquake in A5. Walls were uncovered that tilted to the south or east and floors collapsed. As I looked at those walls, I contemplated the reason for this earthquake. The prophets warned the people to humble themselves because they were proud and haughty. If they did not, the prophets said, God would humble them with an earthquake (Isa. 2). Several years ago I wrote an article on the archaeological evidence for, and the geological implications of, this earthquake with two geologists, Dr. Steve Austin and Dr. Eric Frost. Based on the archaeological evidence, it was determined that the magnitude of this quake measured at 8.2 on the Richter scale! That was a big quake.
Israel, the Northern Kingdom, did not heed the words of the prophets. Amos predicted that a greater judgment would fall on Israel if they did not return to the Lord. That judgment was an invasion by the Assyrians. In 732 BC, the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III invaded Israel. “In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came and took Ijon, Abel Beth Maachah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried them captive to Assyria” (II Kings 15:29; cf. Isa, 9:1).
At one point during the excavation I was clearing a street level, the area supervisor called it a junkyard. Among other things, I found five arrowheads, one spear point and a sickle, all possibly associated with the Assyrian attack on the city in 732 BC. As I was digging, I was wondering to myself, why would God allow the Assyrians to attack Israel? I recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger and the staff in whose hand is my indignation. I will send him against and ungodly nation, and against the people of My wrath” (10:5,6a). God used the Assyrians to chasten Israel in order to bring them back to Himself. They did not respond positively to the message of the prophets so they were taken into captivity (Lev. 26:32-39; Deut. 28:58-67).
Interestingly enough, Yadin discovered partially eaten pigs underneath the Assyrian destruction level. This indicates that the Israelites were eating pork just prior to the destruction of the city, something the prophet Isaiah condemned because the Mosaic Law forbade it (Isa. 65:1-4; 66:17, cf. Lev. 11:7).
There are other Biblical connections that the Bible student would find fascinating and would help to better understand the Scriptures, but these remain for another time.
Hope to see you next summer at Hazor. Shauel would love to wake you up at 4:15!