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Off the Beaten Track Israel Edition: Tel Gezer

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Tel Gezer National Park, located in the Judean Foothills (the Shephelah) just 45 minutes from Israel’s major cities Tel Aviv and Jerusalem

By JOSH HENDERSON

With so much to do and to see in Israel, it’s no surprise to hear that everywhere I go there is a story. On my way to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, I decided to take a slight detour to explore one of Israel’s lost cities, Gezer.

Tel Gezer National Park, located in the Judean Foothills (the Shephelah) just 45 minutes from Israel’s major cities Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is a breathtaking landscape in between the Coastal Plain to the west and the Judean Mountains to the east. A Tel (mound) is an artificial hill created by many generations of people living and rebuilding on the same spot. Over time, the level rises, forming a mound. Not often does one site have so many histories to tell. 

Some 3,000 years ago, as the Israelites entered the Land of Israel, they began a great conquest led by the Biblical figure Joshua, who was the successor of Moses. In a great battle against the Cannanites, many cities were captured, but Tel Gezer was an exception. This great and fortified city was a strategic location overlooking the fertile Ayalon Valley and a must for any military wanting to take full control of the land. 

Only centuries later, during the reign of the biblical king Solomon, who was the builder of the First Temple, did this city become part of the Israelite Empire. It was a beautiful wedding gift by the Egyptian Pharaoh to the king when he married his daughter, but this was only after he had ransacked and devastated the city.

As you walk on the stones of this Royal Solomonic City, you’ll explore thousands of years of history dating back to the Bronze Age. You’ll find the remains of the fortification of the Canaanite City and most impressively the Middle East’s very own Stonehenge! The Monolith temple which served as a venue where alliances between tribes and city states were forged. 

Reaching the ancient city entrance is always an important indicator of the historical time period – the way it is constructed can tell us a lot. 

The excavations of Tel Gezer National Park in Israel. (Credit: Pavel Bernshtam)
The excavations of Tel Gezer National Park in Israel. (Credit: Pavel Bernshtam/Shutterstock)

Tel Gezer’s first excavations began over a century ago by R.A.S Macalister, who initially thought it was the remnants of a Maccabean palace. But only later, when Israeli archaeologist Yigal Adin came to this site to excavate did he realize it was possibly Tel Gezer. 

Aware of the similarities between this gate and the gate at Megiddo and Hazor, Yadin couldn’t ignore the biblical passage quoted above and dated it back to 920 BCE during the reign of King Solomon. It’s at this very location where biblical history is dramatically confirmed by these archaeological findings.

One of the most significant finds in the country was made on this very Tel – it’s known as the Gezer Calendar and it’s the oldest known text written in ancient Hebrew. 

What makes this text so special is that it lists the eight periods of the agricultural year and also notes the task associated with each one, discussing the very crops farmed today. 

Researchers attribute the famous Gezer Calendar, found in excavations conducted at the beginning of the 20th century,  to be attributed to the 10th Century BCE, which shows that Hebrew was spoken 3000 years ago during King Solomon’s rule

Not only is Tel Gezer deeply immersed in fascinating ancient history, but it is also the location of breathtaking scenery. 

A particularly special time to come is during the spring months with beautiful greenery and flowers surrounding the site.

Next time you are in Israel (hopefully in a post-pandemic world) and find yourself en-route between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem don’t hesitate to go off-the-beaten-track and explore one of ‘Israel’s lost cities’.

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