Archaeologists are debating the significance of recent finds in Hazor (pronounced HOT-soar), an ancient Canaanite city in upper Galilee that later became an Israelite stronghold.
Hazor was a major city-state during the second and third millenia, B.C., sometimes called the "Canaanite Period" in Palestine. The city sat on a hill beside the course of the Via Maris, a major north-south roadway that led from Egypt, through Canaan, then across the northern Jordan to Syria and Mesopotamia. Whoever commanded Hazor also commanded the road, which made it a frequent target for attacks.
Excavations have been ongoing at Hazor for years, and participants in study tours we've taken in association with Campbell University Divinity School have been able to observe the dig in progress. In 2009, archaeologists on site told us they were uncovering an administrative or royal area, but had not yet reached the Canaanite levels.
Now they have. Amnon Ben-Tur, an archaeologist and professor at Hebrew University who has been leading the dig, announced this summer that the team had uncovered a storage room containing 14 large clay jars -- and that the jars contained wheat that had been burned when the city was destroyed by fire.
Two different biblical conquest stories claim the Israelites defeated Hazor, whose king was named Jabin. Joshua 11:10-13 says that Joshua led a charge that conquered and burned the city, adding that it was the only city they burned.
A second story in Judges 4, set some years after the initial conquest, says the Canaanite King Jabin of Hazor was defeated after God raised up Deborah as judge over the people, with Barak as her military leader.
While dating of Israel's emergence in the land is highly debatable, one popular view has it sometime in the 13th century (1200-1299 B.C.), and carbon dating of the burned wheat found in the royal Canaanite storage room shows that it was destroyed in ... the 13th century.
There's little evidence at the site to indicate who was responsible for the burning -- a fierce conflagration fed by wood used in construction and vats of oil in the store rooms. Some scholars have argued for the Egyptians or the Sea Peoples as more likely conquerors, but Ben Tor counters that the pharaohs of the time did include Hazor on their monumental lists of conquered cities, and that Hazor was further inland than the Sea Peoples were prone to venture.
But the Israelites did claim to have conquered Hazor -- and to have torched it.
The burned wheat from Hazor may not be a smoking gun, but it may point toward the affirmation of a biblical tradition. For those who study the Hebrew Bible, such discoveries are always interesting news.
[Campbell's next "Bible Lands Study Tour" is planned for May 15-26, 2013. CUDS students have first priority, but there's always room for more, and additional participants are welcome. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll send a brochure when they're ready].