ten-monoliths-tel-gezerThis is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Israel, yet it is rarely visited even by aficionados because it is so difficult to get to—unmarked and neglected.

To- Israel Gilad, Director General, Israel National Parks Authority

From- Hershel Shanks, Editor, BAR

You are really missing a good bet!

You are supporting and financing the excavation and restoration of two important Roman-period sites in Israel because they have great tourist potential and because the influx of new immigrants, mostly from the former Soviet Union, provides a labor pool that would otherwise be unemployed. The sites are Caesarea,a on the Mediterranean coast, and Beth-Shean,b in the Jordan Valley just south of the Sea of Galilee.

You have been widely criticized because some scholars feel that tourist potential and the need to employ new immigrants should not bear on decisions to excavate or restore a site. I disagree. I think these are important considerations in the decision-making process of Israel’s vast archaeological enterprise—as long as the excavations and restorations are done scientifically and competently, just as if the work were driven purely by a desire to learn more about the site. Fortunately, the actual excavation of these sites is directed by the Antiquities Authority and led by well-known and highly regarded archaeologists. Besides, tourist potential by another name is public education. That is certainly something that this magazine sup-ports. As for an adequate labor pool, that is always something that is on an archaeologist’s mind. That’s why the extensive volunteer program was developed, not simply to educate the volunteers (a wonderful by-product), but—let’s be honest—because archaeologists need workers to do the actual excavating.

So I see no reason to criticize you for undertaking the projects at Caesarea and Beth-Shean. May they be all that you hope them to be. And may they also tell us a lot about the sites and the life and times of the periods when they were important urban centers.

I hope, however, that you are not simply falling in love with Roman columns. I like them too; they are impressive, especially when lit up at night. But while you are devoting so much of your resources to these two Roman-period (and, to be precise, Byzantine) sites, you are ignoring one of Israel’s most important Biblical sites, one that has an equal, if not greater, tourist potential and that can usefully draw on the same labor pool.

I am referring to the great site of Biblical Gezer, conveniently located for tourists halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A pharaoh’s gift to King Solomon when Solomon married the Egyptian monarch’s daughter (the only time, incidentally, that a pharaoh’s daughter was permitted to marry a foreigner), Gezer has enough magnificent remains to attract even the most jaded tourist. Roman-period amphitheaters and columns are, admittedly, grandiose, but they are all over the Mediterranean world. Gezer’s remains are unique.

Let’s start with Gezer’s famous high place, now, I am told, marred by graffiti painted on the standing stones by soldiers training nearby. This is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Israel, yet it is rarely visited even by aficionados because it is so difficult to get to—unmarked and neglected. The high place consists of ten monumental standing stones dating from the Canaanite period (about 1600 B.C.) that probably retained their now-mysterious religious significance for hundreds of years thereafter. Does each of these huge standing stones represent a tribe? Or a city? Were they placed here as witness to some kind of covenant?

Interestingly enough, Exodus 24-3–8 describes such a ceremony- Moses built “an altar at the foot of the mountain and erected twelve sacred pillars, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel.” After offering sacrifices, Moses “took the book of the covenant and read it aloud for all the people to hear. They said, ‘We will obey and do all that the Lord has said.’”

What else is there to see at Gezer?

• The best-preserved Solomonic gateway in all Israel. Architecturally, this six-chambered gateway is duplicated at Hazor and Megiddo, but not as much is left at those sites. The same architect, however, must have designed all three (see 1 Kings 9-15). Plastered benches line each of the gateway chambers, which were probably used as guard rooms. The foundations of this gateway go down more than 6 feet.

• The largest extant ancient tower foundation in the country. Built in about 1650 B.C., it was once part of a defensive system that probably included more than 25 such towers. This tower is almost 50 feet wide and is attached to a 12-foot-thick stone wall with a mudbrick superstructure. In places the wall still stands to a height of over 14 feet. A massive glacis was later added to this wall.

• An impressive Middle Bronze gateway composed of huge, roughly dressed, rectangular cyclopean stones surmounted by over 3 feet of preserved mudbrick superstructure representing the original gate-tower complex. A fire that destroyed the gate and associated fortification walls baked these bricks into a beautiful mosaic of various colors.

• An extraordinary underground water system that needs to be cleared and that will require considerable labor for this purpose. To get to the water level in this system, you need to climb almost 25 feet down a shaft and then proceed for about 140 feet along a tunnel until you reach a large cavern that provides access to the water.c

• A mercantile and manufacturing area.

• A domestic and storage area.

• Burial chambers.

Gezer was a major metropolis in ancient times. It overlooked and dominated the Via Maris (or Way of the Sea), a major highway between Egypt and Mesopotamia. At 700 feet above sea level, Gezer commanded a magnificent view in every direction. Thus it controlled not only the main highway but also the principal trunkline that branched off to Jerusalem. This was one of the most important crossroads in the country.

Gezer is mentioned frequently in the Bible. Although Joshua defeated a coalition of Canaanite kings, which included the king of Gezer, the Bible does not say that Gezer itself was captured by the Israelites (Joshua 10-33, 12-12). Gezer was allotted to the tribe of Joseph (Joshua 16-1–4), including the Ephraimites (Joshua 16-5–10; see also Judges 1-29; 1 Chronicles 6-67, 7-28), but we are also told that the Israelites “did not drive out the Canaanites” who dwelt in Gezer. Even King David was unable to bring Gezer into the Israelite kingdom.

Finally, when an Egyptian pharaoh (probably Siamun, in about 960 B.C.) gave his daughter in marriage to King Solomon, the pharaoh ceded Gezer to Solomon as part of his daughter’s dowry (1 Kings 9-15–17). In the early years of Solomon’s reign, Egypt had launched an invasion of Palestine and had conquered Canaanite Gezer. Undoubtedly, Solomon then mobilized against an Egyptian attack on his own Israelite kingdom. But Israel must have been the stronger power at this point, because Egypt apparently decided to abandon the invasion, opting rather for a diplomatic rapprochement by marriage and territorial concession. Thereafter, the Bible tells us, Solomon fortified Gezer, along with Jerusalem, Megiddo and Hazor (1 Kings 9-15). These fortifications at Gezer have now been excavated and include a typical Solomonic casemate wall attached to the gateway.

Gezer also has special significance in the history of archaeology. Gezer was the first Biblical city to be identified by an inscription found at the site.

Gezer has been excavated by two of the most important expeditions in Palestinian archaeology—over 50 years apart. Between 1902 and 1909, the Irish archaeologist R. A. S. Macalister excavated Gezer on behalf of the Palestine Exploration Fund. It was the largest excavation ever undertaken in Palestine. Macalister, working alone except for an Egyptian foreman, supervised up to 400 Arab laborers. Macalister’s plan was nothing if not ambitious. His intention was to “turn over the entire mound,” from ground level to bedrock. His method was to dig trenches about 33 feet wide, one after the other, across the entire width of the tell, an unrefined technique known as trenching. The debris from the second trench was simply dumped into the first trench and so on. Even with 400 workmen and a seven-year effort, Macalister was unsuccessful—fortunately—but, he did produce three thick volumes reporting on the excavation.1 They are a mine of information—and misinformation. But even using a methodology that is primitive by today’s standards, his results were impressive.

For ten years, beginning in 1964, Gezer was reexcavated under the sponsorship of Hebrew Union College, with the support of the Harvard Semitic Museum and, indirectly, the American Schools of Oriental Research. Led first by G. Ernest Wright of Harvard, then by William G. Dever of the University of Arizona (Dever also directed the final seasons in 1984 and 1990) and later by Joe D. Seger of the Cobb Institute of Archaeology at Mississippi State University, this reexcavation was a training ground for a generation of American Biblical archaeologists.

For all of these reasons, Gezer must be restored and exhibited to the public. And if not now, when?
Ten years ago, BAR called for the restoration of Gezer so that it could be opened to the public.d We even offered $5,000 in seed money to get the project going, but there were no takers. Since then the site has deteriorated badly.

There are those who say Gezer has not been restored by Israel because it should have been an American responsibility—it was an American dig. It is clear, however, that the American sponsors of this dig do not have the resources to undertake this project. The original excavation funds were supplied by the American government in the postwar era under the program known as PL 480, under which counterpart funds in foreign countries were made available for scientific projects. This program went out of existence long ago. Hebrew Union College, to its credit, has continued to finance the expensive publication of the multivolume final report, now nearing completion.2 It does not have the resources to do more. The Harvard Semitic Museum dropped out long ago.
Only the Israel Parks Authority can undertake this project. It is worthy of your serious consideration.

a. See the following BAR articles- Kenneth G. Holum, “From the Director’s Chair- Starting a New Dig,” BAR 17-01; Lindley Vann, “Herod’s Harbor Construction Recovered Underwater,” BAR 09-03; Robert L. Hohlfelder, “Caesarea Beneath the Sea,” BAR 08-03; Robert J. Bull, “Caesarea Maritima—The Search for Herod’s City,” BAR 08-03.

b. See “Glorious Beth-Shean,” BAR 16-04.

c. See Dan Cole, “How Water Tunnels Worked,” BAR 06-02.

d. See Hershel Shanks, “The Sad Case of Tell Gezer,” BAR 09-04.

1. R.A.S. Macalister, The Excavation of Gezer (London- Palestine Exploration Fund, 1912).

2. The final report so far comprises the following volumes, all published in Jerusalem by Hebrew Union College’s Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology- William G. Dever et al., Preliminary Report of the 1964–66 Seasons (Gezer 1) (1970); Dever et al., Report of the 1967–70 Seasons in Fields I and II (Gezer 2) (1974); Seymour Gitin, A Ceramic Typology of the Late Iron II, Persian and Hellenistic Periods at Tell Gezer (Gezer 3) (1990); Dever et al., The 1969–71 Season in Field IV, “The Acropolis,” (Gezer 4) (1986); and Joe D. Seger, The Field I Caves (Gezer 5) (1988).