Remains of a burnt prone adult, presumably from the destruction of Gezer by Egypt’s Pharaoh Merneptah. (credit: Tandy Institute for Archaeology)

Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it with fire, and had killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it as dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife; – 1 Kings 9:16 (ESV)

In the recently completed season of excavation at the Tel Gezer Excavation Project, archaeologists have made a discovery that they have linked to Egyptian history and the Bible’s general account of Gezer being a major city. However, if the proposals of David Rohl highlighted in the film Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus are correct, then these finds may actually give strong confirmation of a specific event recorded in the Bible’s Book of Kings (more on this below). What they found is quite incredible; remains of three humans, two adults and one child were found inside a building. They tell a story with the position of their bodies that scientists believe matches the story of the cities’ destruction. It appears that they suffered a tragic death and were likely burned.

The ancient Canaanite city of Gezer was one of the cities defeated by Joshua in the conquest of Canaan, but afterward reverted to Canaanite control and remained out of reach of the Israelites. Gezer was one of the cites King David fought against. Later, the Bible says an Egyptian pharaoh destroyed the city and offered it to Solomon as a dowry when he married Pharaoh’s daughter. Earlier excavations had uncovered a palace that was connected to the era of King Solomon – in the tenth century BC.

And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them. – Judges 1:29 (ESV)

And David did as the LORD commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba to Gezer. – 2 Samuel 5:25 (ESV)

The combined efforts of multiple institutions have dug at Tel Gezer. Since June 2006, the research has been headed by Steve Ortiz of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) and Sam Wolff of the Israel Antiquities Authority. Ortiz shared, in an interview with Haaretz that “The adult was lying on its back with arms above its head. The child, who was wearing earrings, was next to the adult, to the left. This room was filled with ash and collapsed mud brick.” The other remains were found in another area under a pile of collapsed stones.

Remains of 2nd adult found just outside the industrial room in Gezer. (credit: Tandy Institute for Archaeology)

The building where they were found shows evidence that it was violently destroyed by the Egyptians (pharaoh Merneptah) in the 13th century BC. Based on other historical evidence archaeologists believe that the Egyptians typically did not destroy a conquered city. They instead preferred to keep them alive and use them as a revenue stream, paying taxes. Oritz noted that the “heavy destruction suggests the Egyptian pharaoh encountered great resistance from the Gezerites.”

(Excerpt from Tel Gezer Project brochure)

Tel Gezer is a 33-acre site located on the western flank of the foothills of Judah, overlooking the coastal plain of Israel. It is strategically located at an important crossroad guarding the pass from the coast up to Jerusalem. The ancient city is mentioned in several Egyptian and Assyrian texts. Gezer is mentioned in the biblical account of Solomon’s fortifications (1 Kings 9:15). It was continuously occupied from the Bronze Age to the Hellenistic Period.

The skeletal remains of the three bodies were found in a vast building. Some speculated that it was an Egyptian governor’s domain. However, based on the simple style of the building others believe that it belonged to a Canaanite prince. Ortiz stated, “ This building was probably a typical Late Bronze Age patrician house. Some rooms were used for household industry and others served other purposes.” He went on to say that they hope DNA testing of the remains may shed some more light on whether the three people were related to one another. It is important to note that due to the charred nature of the remains, DNA testing may not prove to be successful.

Tel Gezer Excavation – IA Gate + Field E (credit: Tandy Institute for Archaeology)

Gezer may have proven to be a target due to its location on the travel route that connected Egypt with Mesopotamia. This was the route used for thousands of years for trade and military purposes. We know that the city of Gezer was prominent, based on the many places it’s mentioned in Egyptian records.

Gezer indicated by Red flag. (credit: Google Maps)

One important example is in the Amarna period. The city of Gezer is mentioned at least nine times in the Amarna tablets. These tablets are diplomatic correspondence from vassal princes in Canaan to the Pharaoh. These tablets show that the Canaanite kings were instrumental and big players in this region during the 14th century. Than in the next century Gezer was brutally attacked and burned.

After the death of Ramesses II many cities began rebelling. Some speculate that Gezer may have even led some of the rebellions. Ortiz explains that, “Naturally Gezer would have been a prime target. We can assume that by the time of Merneptah, Gezer was exercising more independence, and this is why it was one of the cities conquered.”

All of this evidence also aligns with another text on the Merneptah Stele, also known as the Israel Stele. The Stele was discovered in 1896 and is now in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It tells largely of the victories over the Libyans. In addition to containing what might be the earliest mention of Israel and the only mention in ancient Egypt, it also tells of Gezer.

Excerpt of inscription from Merneptah Stele:
The Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe:
Ashkelon has been overcome;
Gezer has been captured;
Yano’am is made non-existent.

The Merneptah Stele, in Cairo. (credit: Webscribe, Wikimedia Commons)

Other significant artifacts were found in this layer of excavation and can be read in greater detail here. They all help to give a glimpse to fragments of history that we piece together a little at a time. With the excavation season over, all of the artifacts have been transferred to Jerusalem where they will be studied in greater detail. Ortiz says that they are excited to move to the analysis and gathering results from various experts.

There seems to be no doubt that these finds come from the era of Ramesses and his son Merneptah (whose monuments may have been indulging in the common practice of taking credit for his family’s achievements). The big question regarding the pattern is, was Pharaoh Ramesses II really reigning in the 1200s BC, as most historians think, or centuries later? King Solomon reigned in the 900s BC. If the time-shift seen in the Patterns of Evidence film is correct, then this evidence would go from being a vague confirmation of Gezer as a major city, to amazingly specific evidence of Pharaoh’s dowry gift of the city to Solomon. The Bible’s description matches these finds exactly.

Pharaoh king of Egypt had gone up and captured Gezer and burned it with fire, and had killed the Canaanites who lived in the city, and had given it as dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife; – 1 Kings 9:16 (ESV)

Once again, the pattern of evidence matching the Bible at dates earlier than expected is born out. Could the continuation of this pattern so consistently just be another coincidence? Most scholars would say, yes. If the timeshift were applied, they would have to shift all their thinking for what dates to assign to the archaeological levels, and reassign all the finds they have dubbed as belonging to Solomon to a later era. David Rohl would point to recent trends in the archaeology of Canaan that seem to be indicating that this is exactly what needs to happen. And the result would bring to light a whole new context for the events of the Bible and the evidence that supports it. More on this debate in future episodes of Patterns of Evidence and Thinker Updates. Keep Thinking!