Megiddo: what happened there
role in biblical history is due to its strategic location on
the Megiddo Pass, beside the fertile and well-populated Valley of
has a stone gate from Canaanite times, and a large Bronze Age altar, part of a religious
complex from the third millennium BC. You can see images of both these
earliest of the excavated altars is extraordinarly large, 10meters in
diameter. A staircase leads up to the altar, and small fence surrounds
it. There are large concentrations of animal bones and ashes nearby.
the 9th century BC, King
Ahab, husband of Jezebel, built an enormous
water system with a 30 meter shaft and a 70 meter tunnel (see photograph
at the end of this page). The tunnel was cut through the stone from both ends at the
same time, like Hezekiah's Tunnel in Jerusalem, and the builders were
only 1 foot off when they met in the middle of the cutting.
Megiddo guarded the pass of Wadi Arah, which formed a great defensive barrier across the ancient route connecting
Egypt and Mesopotamia — Africa and Asia. It had an age-long importance as a strategic, military, commercial and
cultural centre between the countries of the Mediterranean and the lands that lay north and east.
The site, 13 acres in area, was dug before the first world war by a German expedition led by Schumacher
and afterwards by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (1925-39).
of the excavations at Tel Megiddo
At first, the American expedition worked
on the Iron Age levels over the whole surface of the tel. Later, efforts were concentrated on three limited areas: "AA", in
the northern quarter, where the town gates had been, together with the palace of the Canaanite kings nearby; "BB", the
"temenos" or sacred area, the only portion to be cleared right down to bedrock; and "CC" on the south side which was
abandoned after a time. The three areas are shown in the model reconstruction
below. The top layers are Israelite; the lower, right, are Canaanite.
reconstruction of the city of Megiddo, showing administrative
and storage buildings,
circling walls, and the sophisticated and intricate gate complex
at the entrance to the city
Twenty layers of continuous occupation were discovered, the earliest being a settlement of the Neolithic
period (which ended around 4000 BC). This was continued in a Chalcolithic village (end of the 4th millenium BCE)
which contained an interesting temple, 4 metres by 12, with an altar facing east
towards the plain of Jezreel, and a doorway opposite it in one of the long sides.
The next three layers (Strata XVIII to XVI) revealed early Bronze Age towns, dated by the excavators between 2500
and 1950 BC, in pre-Patriarchal times. A large altar for burnt offerings which had formed part of a
"bamah" or high place, was discovered in Stratum XVII. The inhabitants of the succeeding city (Stratum
XVI) continued to make use of the bamah, altering it, however, in certain respects.
Megiddo XV belongs to the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age (around the 19th century
of the round stone altar and sacred area at Megiddo.
Notice the depth of accumulated debris that archaeologists had
to dig down to reach the altar.
The excavated round altar at the centre of the image. Megiddo's
strategic position is evident in this photo overlooking the
fertile plain of Esdraelon, with Mount Tabor in the
distance. Nazareth lies in the hills on the left of the
picture. See the depth of the excavations: top
right shows the original height of the tel.
The remains of the temples
are shown with the round "bamah".
The round altar of the "high place" was preserved, probably out of respect for the ancestral cult. It continued to be used
on certain occasions. However, these cities contained three new temples. Two temples were erected first, side by
side. Then a third was erected, at a slight angle to the other two and over the ruined wall of one of them. This is the
best preserved. It consists of two rooms, an altar room and a porch, one behind the other, lying north and south. The
altar is a rough square, about 2.50 metres on each side. It is made of uncut stone reminiscent of the biblical
prescription in Ex. 20:25, although unlike Israelite altars, four steps lead up to the top of it.
Next to this altar and in the same room, stood a much smaller altar, showing that more than one deity was worshipped
in this temple, or that the smaller altar was consecrated to the consort of the principal deity. In front of the altars were
the bases of two columns, both well carved, which suggest that there was a second storey to the temple. The porch,
which was probably uncovered, was reached by a central door. At the outer edge were the bases of two more
columns. Probably these had no architectural function but, like Jachin and Boaz in Solomon's temple, served as
symbols of the god and his power. East of the altar room was a side room and there may have been other rooms in
the second storey.
The very thick walls of the temple suggest that, like the Temple of Jerusalem, this one could also serve as a fortress in
times of emergency.
There are traces of Egyptian
occupation in this and other levels at Megiddo. The best evidence for Egyptian involvement in Canaan is provided by the so-called execration texts of Sesostris 111 (1887-1850
BC) and other Egyptian kings.
These are hieratic (cursive) inscriptions naming the leaders of different cities or
certain groups of people, found on clay pots or statuettes (see an
example of an Egyptian execration figurine found at Sakkara, at right) which
may have been deliberately broken as part of a magic
ritual intended to bring about the destruction of the enemies named. For a period when other sources for the history of
the land of Canaan are very scarce, these texts have significant value.
The most revealing feature of the later level XIII city (Middle Bronze) was found in the area around the town gateway,
where a part of the town wall, the gateway and steps leading up to it were uncovered.
The cities which follow, XII to X, belong to the latter part of the Middle Bronze Age (18th-15th
centuries BC, corresponding to the Patriarchal period) when the Hyksos ruled Egypt and Canaan. They represent a
Golden Age for Megiddo, not again equalled until the time of Solomon.
There was considerable dislocation of life in Palestine in the period immediately following the Hyksos domination
(1720-1570 BC). Conditions continued disturbed until more intensive Egyptian control was established under
Thutmosis III. In the "Annals" which he had
inscribed on the walls of the temple of Ammon at Karnak, he describes the decisive battle at Megiddo in 1479 BCE.
The Egyptians faced a strong coalition of Canaanite princes under the leadership of the Canaanite king of Kadesh-on-Orontes. Their forces were drawn up in the Jezreel Valley awaiting an Egyptian onslaught from the south. Instead,
the Pharaoh took a direct route through a valley near Megiddo which he calls the valley of the
Kenites — an interesting reference to this group very far north of their traditional homeland. (There may be an echo of this group in the story of
Deborah, where the commander of the Canaanite forces, Sisera, was killed by Jael, wife of Heber "the
The Canaanites, on this earlier occasion, abandoned their chariots and fled before the Egyptian army into the walled
city of Megiddo. Victory might have been immediate had not the Egyptian soldiers stopped to plunder. Instead of a
lightning campaign, the king had to organize a siege which lasted for months.
In the end, the town fell and was destroyed. In the Karnak inscription the Pharaoh gloatingly includes a long list of booty of different kinds, a good
indication of the commercial and military importance of the city at that time. It is hardly surprising to read that "his
Majesty appointed princes anew ... now the fields were made into plots and assigned to inspectors of the palace . . . in
order to reap their harvest". The valley of Jezreel very likely remained a royal domain during much of early biblical
history as a result of these administrative measures of Thutmosis (Thothmes)
The gates of Megiddo as
they are today, with human figures showing the scale of the
see another image of this gate further down the page
Drawing of the
successive gateways through which an enemy passed before
entering the city of Megiddo; visitors to the city could be
interviewed and processed in the first courtyard, shown above
sketch of the six-chambered gateway to the city of Megiddo.
impressive photographs of the massive stone six-chambered
gateway, architectural reconstructions of the city, and the
cavernous water storage system that kept the city safe during a
siege at BIBLE
Having destroyed the resistance of the Canaanite coalition, Thutmosis went on to the Euphrates, thus fixing the
borders of the Egyptian empire in western Asia. Megiddo itself was rebuilt (Stratum VIII) on much the same lines as the earlier city IX, and became a key-point of
Egyptian rule, although it was not garrisoned by the Egyptians as was nearby
Beth-Shean. Its well-made gateway (see above) is still visible while, in the old temple-district, a new temple was erected, very simple in plan but with extremely
thick, strong walls.
This temple is of special interest for its evidence about the religion of the
Canaanites. It consisted of one main hall, with a shallow niche in the back wall that presumably housed the cult-object. There is nothing
resembling a "Holy of Holies" and worshippers were apparently admitted directly into the presence of the deity. Two
small rooms on either side of the entrance may have served as priests' rooms or storerooms. This temple was similar
to one built in Shechem at the same time.
Among the pottery found in this layer there is much imported ware from the
Aegean area, indicating that during this period Mycenaean culture made a great impact on Canaan.
Among the Tel el
Amarna letters (which date to the first half of the 14th century BC) are some written by Biridiya, king of Megiddo. These provide a vivid picture of life in the Canaanite city at a time when it was
threatened on all sides, and near-anarchy prevailed in the whole land.
These circumstances help
to explain the hoard of treasure found under the floor of the royal palace in Stratum VIII.
Megiddo, Stratum VIIA, Late
Bronze Age II, 13th century B.C. These
belong to a group of ivories discovered at the site of Megiddo,
ivory plaque found at Megiddo.
A harpist is playing for his
prince, much as David did for Saul (1 Samuel 18:10)
A gaming board found in
Stratum VIIA at Megiddo, from the Late Bronze Age II period,
13th century BC. This is one of four
similarly-shaped gaming boards for the "game of 58
The hoard of gold, precious stones, ivory and cosmetic jars of a familiar Egyptian type also
included personal ornaments (beads, gold headbands) suggesting that it was all the property of one of the ladies of the court. The whole collection is of immense value for the
history of the art and culture of Canaan on the eve of the Hebrew conquest.
The next stratum, Megiddo VII, disclosed the base of a statue of Ramses VI (about 1148-1142
BC) which is the latest dating for this stratum. The treasure house of the royal palace of this city was found to contain a large number of
ivory objects, discarded by the invaders who overwhelmed Megiddo in the mid-12th
century BC. Outstanding among these is an ivory plaque, the "Celebration of
Victory" (see the ivory with a seated figure and a harpist, above).
This shows a Canaanite king twice, once sitting on his throne at
a feast; once leading prisoners who are naked but for their headresses, which are similar to the ones used in Egyptian
representations of the Beduins called Shosu. In an Egyptian letter (Papyrus Anastasi I, of the time of Ramses II) there
is a reference to the Wadi Ara near Megiddo which is "dangerous because of Beduins (Shosu) hidden under the
bushes." The plaque may celebrate a successful raid against them.
Megiddo's Water Supply
Stratum V11 also contained a water system
consisting of a 30 metre shaft, connected
to a tunnel about 60 metres long which led to a spring. This considerable feat of engineering was designed to provide
an emergency supply of water — there are richer springs nearer the town — and was constructed on a plan used in
the water system at Megiddo
leading down into the water supply at Megiddo
The late Bronze Age Megiddo V11 was totally destroyed, a 2-6 foot thick layer of ashes separating
it from the next town which made no use of earlier foundations. This destruction may have been the work of the
Philistines. There is nothing in the biblical record to suggest that it was the work of the Israelites. For some time
Megiddo lay a deserted heap of ruins, a name, hardly remembered. It was apparently no longer a fortified Canaanite
town in the days of Deborah (see Judges 5:19, Song of Deborah).
Eventually another, modest town was built on the site (Stratum VI), its inhabitants following a way of life much like that
of their predecessors. Megiddo remained outside the Israelite commonwealth during the period of the tribal league,
possibly because it was under Philistine control during much of the time. Typically Philistine pottery was found in this
level, although there is no way to be sure whether this reflects Philistine occupation or merely trade with them. Biblical
and archaeological evidence indicates the presence of Philistine garrisons in Beth-Shean and Afulah (Ophel) at the
This occupation level at Megiddo seems to have lasted until it too was destroyed in about 1000
BC and the area left unoccupied once more. There is no evidence that this was due to Israelite activity, although the Israelites may have
taken over control of the territory during the period of its abandonment.
Megiddo in the Israelite
Although it is nowhere recorded in the Bible, the incorporation of Megiddo into the
Israelite kingdom must have taken place during the period of David's expansion northwards. Israelite influence
however, does not seem to have made itself strongly felt in the town (Megiddo V, 10th
century BC). The inhabitants continued their same way of life and a number of Canaanite cult objects were recovered.
Afterwards, Megiddo became one of the "Store cities that Solomon had, and cities of his chariots and cities for his
horsemen" (I K. 9:19). Under Solomon's administrative reform, Megiddo was made the capital of the important 5th
The city's monumental gate
(see more images above) similar to those at Gezer and Hazor confirm the Bible statement that Solomon and his successors employed Phoenician builders.
The gates at
Megiddo; see more images and diagrams of the gate at the top of
In spite of its casemate walls, formidable six-roomed city gate and northern fort, Solomon's (10th
century BC) city was destroyed, at least in part, by Pharaoh Shoshenk I (950-929
BC) as part of his unsuccessful drive to reestablish Egyptian suzereinty in western Asia. A fragment of a stela bearing his name, found at Megiddo
(see below), bears out his claim in the Karnak list, to have conquered Megiddo.
Fragment of a
stela erected at Megiddo by Pharaoh Shoshenk of Egypt,
proclaiming his conquest of the city
The outstanding feature of the city that rose after this (Stratum IV) is a solid city wall of the "offset and inset" type, partly
built on top of the remains of the casemate wall. The acropolis of Megiddo, like Ahab's
Samaria and, perhaps Jerusalem and
Lachish, was occupied by a complex of government buildings which dominated the town. The earlier German expedition found the famous
seal of Shema, servant of King Jeroboam I, with the lion, which belongs to this period.
During the revolt of Jehu against Ahab, Ahaziah, king of Judah, was killed in Megiddo. The destruction of this
city (Megiddo IV A) was probably the work of King Hazael of Damascus.
Megiddo III was a modest city, built after King Jehoash of Israel recovered the cities lost by his father. It remained an
important centre, a large brick-lined grain silo indicates that the peasants of the Jezreel Valley were
expected to pay regular taxes to the city governor.
The conquests of Tiglat-Pileser III included Megiddo (734
BC). A new city (Stratum 11) became the capital of the Assyrian administrative region of Megiddo, from which they ruled Galilee. While the Assyrians were
attacked by the Medes and Babylonians prior to their collapse in 612 BC, Josiah, king of Judah, seized what
seemed to be an opportunity to recover the northern area. Whether or not he actually fortified Megiddo, he chose it as
the spot at which to oppose the Egyptian army which Pharaoh Neco took through Palestine on his way to help the Assyrians recoup their losses. Josiah fell in the battle (609
BC). Again the site lay deserted
until some time after 450 BC (the Persian period). In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, a modest village grew up
Following Alexander the Great's conquests, Palestine became part of his empire and new settlers from Syria and
Macedonia came to Megiddo. As elsewhere, the top of the mound of the old city was too small for extensive
development and a new city was founded a few miles away, at the site of the present Arab village Lajjun (so-called
from the Roman Legion who built their walled camp there). The history of Megiddo had come to an end. But
remained a powerful symbol. In Christian eschatology, the hill of Megiddo (Har-Megiddo in Hebrew) seemed a fitting
place for the last battle on earth. The kings of the earth "will be gathered to the battle of that great day . . . into a place
called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon." (Revelation 16:14, 16).
article is from
G. Cornfeld, Pictorial Biblical Encyclopedia, 1964
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