Tel Gezer (pronounced “geh-zer,” not “geezer”) has been in the news lately. Though it has been excavated off and on (and sometimes poorly) since the early 1900s, recent excavations offer tantalizing evidence that seems to support biblical claims about the city.
Gezer is located in the Shephelah (foothills) of the Judean mountains, about midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It overlooks the coastal plain, but more importantly, was at the junction of a north/south trade route linking Egypt to Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, and an east/west route from the sea to Jerusalem. Archaeologists have uncovered 13 inscribed boundary stones from Gezer — like ancient “city limit” signs — assuring us of its identity.
The city’s history goes back more than 6,000 years, but our main interest begins around 1400 BCE, when Gezer was a Canaanite city with close ties to Egypt, which held at least nominal sway over a number of Canaanite city states in southern Palestine. The relationship didn’t always go well, and Egyptian records brag about having conquered Gezer more than once. Egypt’s final blow, by an unidentified pharaoh, left the city in ruins sometime in the Late Bronze Age, around 1200-1000 BCE.
Here’s where it gets interesting: 1 Kings 9:16-17 describes a time when Egypt’s pharaoh reportedly had conquered Gezer, burned it down, killed its Canaanite inhabitants, and then gave what was left to his daughter as a dowry for her marriage to Solomon, who was known for having sealed many an alliance with a political marriage. Solomon forced Israelite citizens to join a massive labor force (an unpopular move) in order to “build up” Gezer and other strategic cities, according to the preceding verse: “This is the account of the forced labor that King Solomon conscripted to build the house of the LORD and his own house, the Millo and the wall of Jerusalem, Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer.”
As long ago as 1957, Yigael Yadin identified a large six-chambered gate at Gezer, connected to a casemate wall, and similar to those found in Megiddo and Hazor. It was popular at the time to identify all three gates as “Solomonic,” though many scholars believe they were built by a later king.
Recent excavations led by Steve Ortiz of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Sam Wolff of the Israel Antiquities Authority have also clarified the presence of a large building adjacent to the gate. The excavation team calls the building “Solomon’s Palace,” though they doubt that any king ever lived there, and its actual function remains unclear. The building includes two large and long rooms, probably open courtyards, surrounded by up to 15 additional rooms. Based on pottery findings, Ortiz and Wolff have tentatively dated the building to the 10th century BCE: Solomon would have ruled during the early and middle part of that century, about 970 to 940 BCE.
Carbon dating and other scientific analyses should provide a closer approximation of the date. Whether the builder was Solomon or a later king, we cannot be sure, but the size and scale of the city’s gate district suggests that only someone with considerable power and massive resources could have made it happen.
The excavators also confirmed a Philistine connection to Gezer, uncovering a layer of pottery that contained many examples of well-known Philistine ware. Hebrew narratives summarized David’s victories over the Philistines by saying he “broke their power” from Geba to as far as Gezer” (2 Samuel 5:25; 1 Chronicles 14:16). Gezer was located near the border of the Philistines’ main cities, and there was considerable trade with their neighbors.
The excavations at Gezer don’t “prove” that the biblical stories are true, but they offer intriguing clues to the area’s tumultuous past — and fodder for our faith.