A city of great military importance in ancient times, the site of which has recently been thoroughly explored. The excavations at this spot are the most thorough and extensive of any in Palestine, and have not only done much to confirm the history of the place, as known from Biblical and other sources, but have also thrown a flood of light upon the general history, civilization and religion of Palestine in pre-Israelite and Israelite times.
1. The Discovery and Position of the Site:
The long-lost site of Gezer was discovered by M. Clermont-Ganneau in 1873, and his suggestion that the modern name for the place, Tell Jezer (or Tell el Jezereh) was a survival of the ancient name was confirmed by his further discovery of three bilingual inscriptions, in Hebrew and Greek, cut on surfaces of rock by a certain Alkios, apparently once the governor of the city; in one of them occurred the expression "the boundary of Gezer."
The natural features and the position of Tell Jezer abundantly explain the extreme importance of Gezer in ancient times. The buried remains crown a narrow hill, running from Northwest to Southeast, about 1,700 ft. long by 300 to 500 ft. broad. The approach is steep on every side, and in early times, before the accumulation around the sides of the rubbish of some millenniums, must have been much more so. The hill stands, like an outpost, projecting into the great plain, and is connected with the low hills behind it, part of the Shephelah, with but a narrow neck. At the foot of the hill runs a great high road from Egypt to Syria; to the North lies the Vale of Aijalon, across which runs the modern carriage road to Jerusalem, and up which ran the great high road, by the Beth-horons, to the platenu North of Jerusalem; to the South lies the Vale of Sorek, where stood Bethshemesh, and along which went a great highway from the country of the Philistines to the hill country of Judah. Today the Jerus-Jaffa railway, after sweeping some miles away in the plain round the whole western and southern sides of the site, passes along this open vale to plunge into the narrow defile--the Wady Isma`in, which it follows to Jerusalem. From the summit of the Tell, a vast expanse of country is visible between the long blue line of the Mediterranean to the West, and the abrupt and lofty mountains of Judah to the East. That it has been all through history the scene of military contest is fully understood when its strategic position is appreciated; no military leader even today, if holding the highlands of Palestine against invasion, could afford to neglect such an outpost.
2. History of Gezer:
Although the excavation of the site shows that it was occupied by a high civilization and a considerable population at an extremely early period, the first historical mention is in the list of the Palestinian cities captured by Tahutmes III (XVIIIth Dynasty, about 1500 BC). From this time it was probably under Egyptian governors (the Egyptian remains at all periods are considerable), but from the Tell el-Amarna Letters, a century or so later, we learn that Egyptian influence was then on the wane. Three of these famous clay tablets are dated from Gezer itself and are written in the name of the governor Yapachi; he was then hard pressed by the Khabiri, and he appealed for help in vain to Egypt. In other letters belonging to this series, there are references to this city. In one, a certain freebooter named Lapaya makes excuses that he had broken into the city. He "has been slandered. Is it an offense that he has entered Gazri and levied the people?" (no. CCXL, Petrie's translation).
In the well-known "So of Triumph" of Merenptah, who is considered by many to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus, occurs the expression "Gezer is taken." (In connection with this it is interesting to notice that an ivory pectoral with the cartouche of Meren-ptah was unearthed at Gezer.)
In the time of Joshua's invasion a certain "king of Gezer" named Horam (horam, but in Septuagint Ailam, or Elam) came to the assistance of Lachish against the Israelites, but was slain (Joshua 10:33). Gezer was taken, but the Canaanites were not driven out, but remained in servitude (Joshua 16:10; Judges 1:29). The city became one of the towns on the southern border of Ephraim (Joshua 16:3), but was assigned to the Kohath clan of the Levites (Joshua 21:21). In 2 Samuel 5:25 (the King James Version "Gazer") we read that David chased the Philistines after their defeat in the valley of Rephaim "from Geba until thou come to Gezer," showing that this was on the frontier of the Philistine territory; and in 1 Chronicles 20:4 it states, "There arose war at Gezer with the Philistines; then Sibbecai the Hushathite slew Sippai, of the sons of the giant; and they were subdued." In the corresponding account in 2 Samuel 21:18 the scene of this event is said to be Gob, which is probably a copyist's error--g-w-b for g-z-r. According to Josephus (Ant., VIII, vi, 1), at the commencement of Solomon's reign Gezer was in the hands of the Philistines, which may explain 1 Kings 9:16, where it is stated that a certain Pharaoh, whose daughter Solomon married, captured and burnt Gezer and gave the site to his daughter. Solomon rebuilt it (9:17). There are no further references to Gezer during the later Jewish monarchy, but there are several during the Maccabean period. Judas pursued Gorgias to "Gazara and into the plains of Idumaea and Azotis and Jamnia" (1 Macc 4:15); Bacchides, after his defeat by Jonathan, "fortified also the city of Bethsura, and Gazara, and the tower, and put forces in them and provision of victuals" (1 Macc 9:52 the King James Version); a little later Simon "camped against Gazara and besieged it round about; he made also an engine of war, and set it by, the city and battered a certain tower, and took it" (1 Macc 13:43 the King James Version), after which he purified it (1 Macc 13:47,48). From Josephus (Ant., XIII, viii, 2) we gather that Antiochus had taken Gezer from the Jews.
The governor, Alkios, who made the bilingual inscriptions, may come in about this time or a little later; the rock inscriptions, of which half a dozen are now known, give no information regarding their date.
In the period of the Crusades this site, under the name "Mount Gisart," was a crusading fort and gave its name to a family. Here King Baldwin IV gained a victory over Saladin in 1177, and in 1191 the latter monarch camped here while conducting some fruitless negotiations with King Richard Coeur de Lion. In 1495 a skirmish occurred here between the governor of Jerusalem and certain turbulent Bedouin. The history of Gezer, as known, is thus one of battles and sieges extending over at least 3,000 years; from the archaeological remains we may infer that its history was similar for at least 1,000 years earlier.
3. History of the Excavations:
In 1904 the Palestine Exploration Fund of England obtained a "permit" for the excavation of Tell Jezer. The whole site was the private property of certain Europeans, whose agent, living much of the time on the Tell itself, was himself deeply interested in the excavations, so that unusually favorable conditions obtained for the work. Mr. (now Professor) R. A. Stewart Macalister, M.A., was sent out, and for 3 years (1904-7) he instituted an examination of the hidden remains in the mound, after a manner, till then, unexampled in Palestine exploration. His ambition was to turn over every cubic foot of soil down to the original rock, so that nothing of importance could be overlooked. As at the expiration of the original "permit" much remained unexplored, application was made to the authorities for a second one, and, at the end of 1907, Mr. Macalister embarked on a further 2 years of digging. Altogether he worked for the greater part of 5 years, except for necessary interruptions of the work due to unfavorable weather. Some two-thirds of the total accumulated debris on the mound was ransacked, and besides this, many hundreds of tombs, caves and other antiquarian remains in the neighborhood were thoroughly explored.
4. Chief Results of the Explorations:
It was found that the original bare rock surface of the hill was crowned with buried remains, in some parts 20 and 30 ft. deep, made up of the debris of all the cities which had stood on the site during three or four thousand years; on the part excavated there were no remains so late as the commencement of the Christian era, the Gezer of that time, and the crusading fort, being built on a neighboring site. The earliest inhabitants were Troglodytes living in the many caves which riddled the hill surface; they were apparently a non-Sem race, and there was some evidence that they at least knew of cremation. These, or a race soon after--the earliest Semites--enclosed the hilltop with high earth rampart faced with rough stones--the earliest "walls" going back at least before 3000 BC. At an early period--probably about 3000 BC--a race with a relatively high civilization fortified the whole hilltop with a powerful and remarkably well-built wall, 14 ft. thick, with narrow towers of short projection at intervals of 90 ft. At a point on the South side of this was unearthed a very remarkable, massive, brick gateway (all the other walls and buildings are of stone), with towers on each side still standing to the height of 16 ft., but evidently once much higher. This gate showed a strong Egyptian influence at work long before the first historic reference (XVIIIth Dynasty), for both gateway and wall to which it belonged had been ruined at an early date, the former indeed, after its destruction, was overlaid by the buildings of a city, which from its datable objects--scarabs, etc.--must have belonged to the time of Amenhotep III, i.e. as early as 1500 BC.
The later wall, built, we may conclude, soon after the ruin of the former, and therefore about 1500 BC, was also a powerful construction and must have existed considerably over a thousand years, down, indeed, till 100 BC at least, when Gezer disappears from history as a fortitled site. These walls enclosed a larger area than either of the previous ones; they show signs of destruction and repairs, and Mr. Macalister is of the opinion that some of the extensive repairs--in one place a gap of 150 ft.--and the 28 inserted towers are the work of Solomon (1 Kings 9:17). This wall must have existed in use through all we know of Gezer from Bible sources. When, from the ruined remains, we reconstruct in imagination these mighty ramparts, we need not wonder that the' Hebrews, fresh from long wanderings in the wilderness, found it no easy task to capture cities so fortified as was this (Numbers 13:28; Deuteronomy 1:28).
The foundations of a powerful building, which were found inserted in a gap in the southern walls, turned out conclusively to be the palace of Simon Maccabeus--who captured the city (1 Macc 13:43)--a graffito being found upon one of its stones running thus:
which seems to mean, "Pamphras, may he bring down (fire) on the palace of Simon."
Within the city walls the foundations of some seven or eight cities of various successive periods were found, superimposed one above the other. The city's best days appear to have been shortly before the time of Joshua; the next, perhaps, at the time of the Judges. With the period to which we should probably assign the arrival of the Hebrews, there is a great increase in the population, the hitherto inviolate environs of the "temple" being encroached upon by private dwellings:
an interesting commentary on Joshua 16:10.
The great "High Place" which was uncovered is one of unique interest, and its discovery has thrown a flood of light upon the religion of the early Canaanites, that religion--"the worship of Baal and Ashteroth"--which was the great rival of the purer religion of Israel. This [Ba`al] temple, or bamoth, consisted of a row of 8 matstsebhoth or rude stone pillars ranging in height from 5 ft. 5 inches to 10 ft. 9 inches (see HIGH PLACE; PILLAR), together with a curious trough which may have been a socket for the 'Asherah (see ASHERAH), or some kind of altar. The area around these pillars had a kind of rough floor of consolidated earth under which were found a number of large jars containing infant bones, considered to be the remains of infant sacrifice. In close proximity to this "temple" was a double cave, the construction of which strongly suggested that it had been arranged for the giving of oracles. This high place had been used for very many centuries; the matstsebhoth were not all of one period but had gradually been increased from one to seven, and an eighth of a more definitely sculptured form--as a simulacrum priapi--had been added some time later. In the accumulated rubbish around these pillars were found enormous numbers of small stone phallic images, together with pottery plaques of Astarte, made with rude exaggeration of the sexual organs.
See BAAL; ASHTAROTH.
Another monument of great interest--and high antiquity--was the great rock-cut tunnel. It is about 23 ft. high, and 13 ft. wide, and descends by 80 steps, 94 1/2 ft. through the solid rock, to a cave in which there is a spring. It is very similar to the great tunnel known as "Warren's tunnel and shaft" which was clearly constructed by the early Jebusites to reach from within the city's walls to the fountain of Gihon (see SILOAM; ZION). This Gezer tunnel must date at least to 2000 BC; it is evident from the nature of the accumulated debris which blocked its mouth that it was actually abandoned about 1400 BC. Its antiquity is confirmed by the fact that it was evidently excavated with flint knives.
At a much later period in history, in that of the Maccabees, the water supply of the city, in time of siege, at any rate, was largely dependent on an enormous open cistern which Mr. Macalister cleared of earth and found capable of containing 2,000,000 gallons of water. Among the smaller "finds" which throw light upon the Bible history may be mentioned two much broken, cuneiform tablets, both referring to land contracts, which, from the names of the eponyms, can be dated to 651 and 649 BC respectively. They therefore belong to the time of the last, and one of the greatest, of the Assyrian monarchs, Ahurbanipal, the "noble Osnappar" of Ezra 4:10, and they show that he was not only a great conqueror, but that in Palestine he had an organized government and that legal civil business was transacted in the language of Assyria.
The illumination of Old Testament history which the excavations of Gezer have afforded can here be only hinted at, but references to it will occur in many of the articles in other parts of this Encyclopedia.
In Bible Side-Lights from the Mound of Gezer Professor R. A. S. Macalister has described in a poplar form with illustrations some of his most remarkable discoveries; while in the Memoirs of the Excavations at Gezer (1912), published by the Palestine Exploration Fund, Professor Macalister deals with the subject exhaustively.
E. W. G. Masterman