Amnon Ben-Tor, an Israeli archeologist who has been leading the dig at Hazor, reports in the latest issue of Biblical Archeology Review.
According to Joshua 11, the Israelite leader, Joshua, attacked and burned Hazor as part of the conquest of the promised land. But there are a lot of discrepancies between the text of Joshua about Jericho, Ai, Gibeon and so on and what we know from archeology, history, and common sense. The book of Joshua seems to have had the purpose of inspiring the nation and lifting morale (perhaps when Hezekiah decided to defy the Assyrian Empire). Its purpose was not to provide precise and accurate history.
But that still leaves open the question about Hazor. It was burned in the time of Ramses II. And Joshua 11:11 says that Joshua burned Hazor and killed it inhabitants. Verse 13 goes on to tell us that Hazor was the only city that Joshua burned.
The leader of digs at Hazor in the 1950s and 60s, Yigael Yadin, provisionally claimed that archeology showed that Joshua did destroy the city, just as the Bible said. For more than 20 years now Ben-Tor has been conducting excavations at Hazor. He has some new data.
Previous excavations showed that the last Canaanite occupation of the city ended with the buildings on the acropolis succumbing to intense heat (1300 degree Celsius–enough to melt clay pottery). Also correlating with the report in Joshua may be the fact that Canaanite and Egyptian images of gods and kings (there’s not really a difference between gods and kings in Egyptian thought) had been defaced at the time of the destruction. This would fit with the destroyers having an anti-idol world view such as Israel’s.
However other explanations for the destruction of Canaanite Hazor have been proposed.
An earthquake doesn’t work as an explanation for defaced images.
We know that Ramses II sent a chariot force to fight Hatti in the famous battle of Kadesh. So, because history does record an Egyptian military operation in the area at about the right time, Ramses might have destroyed Hazor. But why would Egyptians deface Egyptian images? Ben-Tor also argues that Ramses’s return route did not approach Hazor.
The Sea Peoples, like the Philistines, ravaged the coastal areas during the reigns of pharaohs after Ramses II and we do not know when they became active on their own (some apparently served as mercenaries for Ramses). However, Hazor is far inland and no Sea Peoples artifacts have come to light there.
A more plausible explanation is that Hazor’s destruction resulted from a civil war. I think of the late 12th century destruction layer at Shechem. If we did not have the story of a kind of civil war at Shechem and the report in Judges 9:45 that Abimelech leveled the city, we would be asking ourselves what foreign power destroyed Shechem. But since a text speaks of an internal conflict at just the right time, we are not looking for somebody else.
So a popular uprising against the elite Egyptian-supported ruler is a recently fashionable explanation. It fits a Marxist social conflict model. The defacement of images that symbolized authority could be the result of the underprivileged raging against the privileged. After the Egyptian-Hittite peace treaty that followed upon the battle of Kedesh, the area would have become a buffer zone or no-mans-land with rulers no longer really backed by the great powers. The people may have revolted against the empty power of their rulers. This could be correlated to George Mendenhall’s old theory that Israel’s roots go back to an egalitarian revolution in Canaanite society.
Ben-Tor makes several arguments against this theory. The one that I find most telling is that Hazor was not resettled after the destruction. It remained abandoned for about 200 years. Why would a local revolt cause this to happen?
So, by a process of elimination, Ben-Tor comes back the likelihood that Israel destroyed Hazor.
Ben-Tor has been able more precisely to date the destruction of Canaanite Hazor. He has discovered part of an Egyptian worship table with a bit of preserved hieroglyphic writing. During the destruction, a mudbrick wall fell on the table and smashed it. The table seems to have been dedicated to Ramses II’s high priest, Rahotep. This would date it to no later than 1250 B.C.E. So Hazor must have been destroyed after that date.
We know from the Merneptah stele that shortly after that time Merneptah considered Israel a power, one of the nine bows. It even seems possible that Merneptah’s invasion was in part prompted by Israel’s destruction of Hazor.
Does this mean the Bible’s story of Joshua destroying Hazor is precisely accurate? Ben-Tor’s results do not require this. The destruction had come with a very impressive fire. And that was remembered. But we know that in the south Hebron was originally taken by the Edomite tribe of Caleb. When the Calebites later became part of Judah, Judah adopted Caleb as their hero and took credit through him for the capture of Hebron. But the book of Joshua credits the capture of Hebron to Joshua. I (not Ben-Tor) suspect something similar happened in the north. Because of the ideology of Israelite unity, the hero of the tribe of Ephraim, Joshua, got credit.
Who knows who actually sacked Hebron? It might have had something to do with Deborah and Barack and the war in the north mentioned Judges 4 and 5.