NOBTS team helps preserve biblical city of Gezer

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Before, during and after photos of the gate restoration work at Tel Gezer. Photos by Gary Myers

By Gary Myers

JERUSALEM — When Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan to explore the land, the men returned with a tale of large, fortified cities. The report brought on fear among the people and led to rebellion. Instead of conquering the land, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

The account, recorded in Numbers 13, does not specify which cities the scouting party observed, but their account fits well with the archaeological record of the Canaanite culture from the Bronze Age. Many of the Canaanite cities of this time period were equipped with massive, imposing walls and well-defended gates.

A team from Moskau Institute of Archaeology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) working at Gezer this summer got a first-hand look at the city’s Bronze Age walls and gate system. In addition to the continuing excavation of the ancient water system, the team assisted with conservation efforts on the wall and gate. The NOBTS/INPA excavation is led by NOBTS professors Dan Warner, Dennis Cole and Jim Parker and INPA chief archaeologist Tsvika Tsuk.

The city of Gezer was a part of the ancient Canaanite city-state society which reached its height of importance in the Middle and Late Bronze Age. Much of Gezer’s important came from its location on the crossroads of the Via Maris and the Aijalon Valley both important trade route. The Bible mentions the city 14 times in the Old Testament.

“Preserving the structures of the ancient world conserves the treasures of the world for all to see,” said Daniel Warner, associate professor of Old Testament and archaeology at NOBTS. “It attaches to the culture reality and a real sense of history.”

“They give one an image of the culture and a glimpse of what it was like to live in the past,” Warner continued. “In Israel especially, more times than not, we rarely get a complete picture of structures beyond just foundational walls, here at Gezer, almost the total height and dimensions of these storage rooms associated with the Canaanite period are preserved well enough to actually visualize what it was like to live here over 3500 years ago.”

Israel Nature and Parks Authority chief archaeologist Tsvika Tsuk stands in the Bronze Age gate at Gezer.
Israel Nature and Parks Authority chief archaeologist Tsvika Tsuk stands in the Bronze Age gate at Gezer.

Years before the Israelite Conquest, a wave of urbanization swept through Canaan. A Canaanite city, Gezer emerged during this time and grew into a large urban center. During the Middle Bronze Age, these city-states began constructing massive double walls and multi-chambered gates to defend against other aggressors. The Bronze Age defenses at Gezer were built between 1800 and 1600 B.C.

The stone defensive walls (both outer and inner) at Gezer was reinforced with an external, slopping rampart known as a glacis. The steep glacis at Gezer was made of alternating layers of packed stones and dirt and was covered with a thick layer of limestone plaster. It protects the wall from undermining and the slope made it difficult for invaders to attach the city. Store rooms and living quarters were built in the interior of the wall. This type of construction is mentioned in Joshua 2. The Bible states that Rahab’s house was “part of the city wall.”

The Bronze Age gate was made of mud bricks on a foundation of massive stones. The gate likely included an arched opening and covering constructed on mud brick. Two well preserved examples of this construction type have been found in Ashkelon on the coast of Israel and at Dan in northern Israel. The gate design is also well-attested in ancient relief carvings.

The Bronze Age wall and gate, along with a massive guard tower, were first excavated by R.A.S. Macalister in the early 1900s. The Bronze Age defenses were excavated again beginning in the 1970s by the Hebrew Union College. Over the years occasional conservation efforts by the Israel Antiquities Authority have helped to preserve these structures.

The NOBTS/INPA team, working in rooms that were built into the wall, replaced fallen stones and used lime and mud mortar to stabilize and preserve the remaining structures. The team also cleared weeds and removed many years worth of accumulated dirt and debris from the gate area, exposing the cobblestone floor near the front of the gate. The work resulted in much improved aesthetics and stabilized the delicate ancient structures.

The conservation work was well underway when Shaul Goldstein, general director of the INPA, visited Gezer June 4. Goldstein toured the entire site including the areas currently under excavation by NOBTS and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Currently, Gezer is an undeveloped national park and therefore is not a frequent stop for tour groups. The visit by Goldstein represents an increased interest by the INPA in the future development of the site. Focused conservation will go a long way in assisting with future development at Gezer.

* For information about the 2014 Gezer Water System dig, contact Dr. Dan Warner (dwarner@nobts.edu) or Dr. Dennis Cole (rdcole@nobts.edu) at NOBTS.