The Fall of Hazor XIII: Israelites, Sea Peoples, Egyptians, Nearby City-States or Popular Revolt?

The last city at the Lower City of Hazor, Lower City 1A/Upper City XIII, was destroyed with a great and mighty fire. Both Egyptian and Canaanite statues were defaced by the destroyers. According to Israel Finkelstein (TBU, p. 90), Hazor Upper City XIII was destroyed in the mid-13th C BC, since no late 13th Century BC forms were found at the site. This excludes an Israelite cause of Hazor’s destruction since the Israelites were, in Late bronze IIB, nomads, and had not yet even begun to settle by Hazor XIII’s destruction. The Egyptians could not have done it, since they would certainly not have defaced Egyptian statues. No Sea Peoples invasion is mentioned as early as the mid-13th century BC, thus, the Sea Peoples were certainly not the cause of the destruction of Hazor XIII. This leaves us with the ‘popular revolt’ hypothesis and the hypothesis Hazor was conquered by Canaanite armies. While no evidence of weaponry was found in the destruction of Hazor, and the defaced statues are certainly consistent with the idea of a peasant revolt, it is highly unlikely the rebels would burn the city they lived in (!!!). Besides, the most appropriate approach for any army attempting to attack Hazor would be from the southeastern side (near areas P and N in this map), which has been insufficiently excavated to draw any conclusions regarding whether a battle took place there at the destruction of Hazor XIII. After all, Hazor was located on the western end of a series of ‘great powers’ in the Bashano-Syro-Canaanite world which could afford to launch a unified campaign against a city-state, especially one as vulnerable as Hazor (cf. below):

Hazor is in green, the Cities of the Garu (allied with Ashtaroth) are in light purple, Ashtaroth is in Purple, Damascus is in blue and Yenoam (under Damascene influence) is in light blue. The reconstruction is based on the Amarna letters, from the century before Hazor XIII’s destruction. It is clearly not too implausible to imagine an alliance of Ashtaroth and Damascus destroying Hazor, especially since Canaanite city-states were free to expand and maintain territory (cf. the rise of Amurru, Pella’s help in the quelling of the revolt of the cities of the Garu in EA 256). They would likely have no problem with destroying Hazor’s Egyptian statues. Thus, either popular revolt or attack by other Canaanite city-states would be sufficient explanation for the destruction of Hazor XIII.

UPDATE (as of April 5, 2012)- A peasant revolt hypothesis is now considered by me to be more likely than coordinated attack. Many residential areas of the Lower City were not destroyed at the end of Hazor XIII.

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

6 thoughts on “The Fall of Hazor XIII: Israelites, Sea Peoples, Egyptians, Nearby City-States or Popular Revolt?”

  1. In the Merneptah Stele, from around 1208 BC, we see a mention of a group of people called “Israel” who were giving the Egyptians hard time somewhere in the northern parts of Cna’an… Don’t you think it is, at all, possible that this group of people – or some other local sub-group which was somehow related to it – had already been around Cna’an in the time when Hazor was destroyed, and had something to do with its destruction?

    After all, we do have a couple of conflicting stories about an ancient war between the Israelites and Hazor in the Bible – and only one of these (Joshua) is talking about ‘Israel’ as “nomads” coming from the desert, while the other (Deborah) refers to the Israelites as people who are already living in Cna’an for a long time (and I’m sure Finkelstein would have no problem with the idea that ‘Israel’ was in fact a name of a local Canaanite group who was living in Cna’an during the LB)…

    1. Finkelstein places Deborah and Barak in the late 11th/early 10th centuries BC. It should be noted that, contra Judges 4, the Kingdom of Hazor never ruled as far South as Mount Tabor. Thus, Deborah and Barak’s struggle would most likely have been against the city-state of Megiddo, not against Hazor. Though it’s not impossible that Hazor XIII was destroyed by a band of Israelites, this cannot be demonstrated. If it was destroyed by ‘apiru, we would expect the Lower City to be at least looted-I don’t know if this is the case. Most of it was not burnt. Also, the Merenptah stele says nothing about where the Israelites were located in Canaan.

      1. I was not aware of Finkelstein’s opinion regarding the date when Deborah and Barak lived (assuming they both indeed lived and acted at the same time). However, since Finkelstein is excavating in Megiddo, I can easily see how the idea that “Deborah and Barak struggled against the city-state of Megiddo” is more appealing to him than the idea that they struggled against Hazor (in the same way that Prof. Adam Zartal thinks they were fighting against Sisra from al-Akhwat)… :)

        Frankly, I have no idea how many anachronisms – and from which periods – entered the story as we know it today, all I know is that the story of Deborah in Judges 4 presents some explicit memory of a “struggle of the Israelites against the oppression of Yavin, the king of Hazor” – while the song of Deborah mentions a “coalition of Canaanite kings” (Judges 5:19,21) just like the one described in the story of Joshua and his war against Hazor (Joshua 11:1-10). This mentioning of a “struggle of the Israelites against the oppression of Yavin the king of Hazor” in book of Judges, can’t be a simple matter of copying from the story of Joshua as we know it – or vice versa. Anyone can see how these two stories conflict, and how one makes the other superfluous. It seems to me that the reason we have two conflicting versions about the “war against Hazor” preserved in the Bible, is because the late authors and editors of the Bible already had two such conflicting ancient versions – each important enough to preserve – that were laid before them. I believe that each version is reflecting a different perspective which originated in a different group of people who took part in the same war – a war important enough to trigger two different traditions that were preserved separately for a considerable amount of time.

        As recently mentioned in our latest discussion, there are good reasons (at least I think so) to assume that ‘Israel’ in its early stages was not one uniform group that had a shared history, but was rather a coalition of different groups and populations with different backgrounds – who joined together in an alliance – thus the formation of different narratives, from different perspectives, regarding the same historical events, is highly plausible. For example, if we had some military alliance between two groups of people – one of a local population struggling against local rulers such as Yavin king of Hazor, and one of nomadic desert ‘Shasu’ who had just entered Cna’an and joined in on the action – it is reasonable that each of those groups will separately develop its own narrative about the events, reflecting its unique perspective, at least until they are completely fused together many generations later – by which time they will have to deal with two conflicting traditions about their “common” past…

        Moreover, since the story&song of Deborah do, in fact, mention such a grope of nomadic desert ‘Shasu’ called “The heber of the Kenite” (the word “heber/חבר” meaning ‘union of tribes’, it’s not a first name of a person) who had just entered Cna’an and joined in on the action – in parallel to the march of ‘Yahwah’ from the land of Seir and Edom (and, while mentioning the fact that Isra-el “chose a new god” at that time) – I think it’s highly likely that these sort of events had caused us to face two stories about a war against Yavin the king of Hazor, one of which takes place “on the Waters of Merom”, apparently “straight when entering Cna’an”, and one of which takes place “on the Waters of Megiddo”, apparently “long time after living in Cna’an”.

        Anyway, even if leaving my personal hypothesis aside, such alliances between different kinds of population elements – local city rulers, ‘Apiru’ and ‘Shasu’ – are frequently mentioned in the Egyptian sources – from the days of the Amarna letters to the days of Seti I and Ramses II – so I think it is wrong to exclude the possibility that such a local coalition called ‘Israel’ (or groups which later became a part of ‘Israel’) did take part in a war against another local coalition led by the king of Hazor, and played part in its destruction.

        As for layer XIII in Hazor, your article says that although some parts of the Lower City were not destroyed, the destruction which did take place “was followed by a total abandonment of the Lower City” (see there, page 6)… The same thing could have happened no matter who destroyed the city – but I suspect that if it was just a local revolt of people who simply wanted to get rid of the rulers that lived in the upper city, such an abandonment would be less plausible. Don’t you agree?

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