The Mystery of the Gates
MANY people are intrigued by a mystery—a story with a puzzle, with clues that can be read in various ways, and with a surprise ending, maybe the finding of a treasure. If you are, you will enjoy ‘The Mystery of the Gates.’
This mystery began to surface at Megiddo, a strategic city that dominated trade and military routes in the ancient Middle East. Archaeologists uncovered the remains of a monumental defensive gate, which the evidence convinced them was from King Solomon’s time. What was it like? The clues began.
Look to the right at the model of ancient Megiddo, and especially at the highlighted gate area. An ancient traveler or an attacking army ascending the road to the fortified city first came to a foregate. Inside that was a plaza, or courtyard. In it any attackers would be exposed as they advanced and turned left to reach the main defensive gate, which is at the heart of our mystery.
Fortified towers formed the front sides of the gate. The entire gate structure was built, not of fieldstone or of brick, but of the ashlar (carefully hewn stone blocks) that was typical of Solomon’s period. But there was a distinctive style inside the gate. On the sides of a long vestibule were massive pilasters, or masonry piers, that formed six chambers where guards might be stationed. (Compare Ezekiel 40:6, 10, 20, 21, 28, 29.) In normal times, a chariot or group of merchants could easily pass, yet it would be a different matter for attackers who managed to batter through the heavy main doors. The masonry piers would force attackers into a narrow passage, to run a gauntlet of armed men, the cream of Megiddo’s army, in the chambers right and left.
Now the mystery shifts north of the Sea of Galilee to the tell, or mound, of ancient Hazor, where Professor John Garstang excavated in 1928. Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin turned to this huge tell in 1955. He had in mind a Biblical statement that reads: “This is the account of those conscripted for forced labor that King Solomon levied to build the house of Jehovah and . . . the wall of Jerusalem and Hazor and Megiddo and Gezer.” (1 Kings 9:15) It seemed logical that Solomon’s engineers would follow a master plan for similar fortifications in other cities they rebuilt. Did such Solomonic gates exist at Hazor?
As Yadin’s workers progressed in their excavations, they found a casemate wall, a double wall with rooms in between. Then a large structure connected to the walls began to appear. Yadin says: “We immediately realized that we had discovered the gate . . . Furthermore, it was soon evident that the gate’s plan—comprising six chambers and two towers—as well as its dimensions were identical to those of the gate discovered [many years] earlier at Megiddo . . . Excitement in our camp intensified . . . We traced the plan of the Megiddo gate on the ground, marking it with pegs to denote corners and walls, and then instructed our labourers to dig according to the marking, promising: ‘here you will find a wall,’ or ‘there you will find a chamber.’ When our ‘prophecies’ proved correct, our prestige went up tremendously . . . When we read [to them] the biblical verse about Solomon’s activities in Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, our prestige took a dive, but that of the Bible rose sky-high!” —Hazor: The Rediscovery of a Great Citadel of the Bible.
It seemed that the mystery of the gates was being solved precisely as expected according to the clues in the Bible. Yet, what about Gezer, to the south? Yadin knew that Irish archaeologist R. A. S. Macalister, who had excavated there between 1902 and 1909, had found nothing that was assigned to Solomon. Might important clues have been overlooked in what even Yadin called “The Mystery of Gezer”?
He relates: “The discoveries at Hazor and the famous passage in 1 Kings led me to a fresh examination of Macalister’s report in the hope of locating a gate. One can well imagine my astonishment and unbounded excitement when . . . I came across a layout . . . entitled ‘Plan of the Maccabean Castle of Gezer.’” Macalister dated the remains of that “castle” to the rebellion of the Jewish Maccabees (second century B.C.E.). But Yadin thought that he could see in this old drawing ‘a casemate wall, an outer gatehouse, and even more important what looked like half of a city gate, exactly like those found in Megiddo and Hazor.’ Yadin published an article on these clues. Later, Dr. William G. Dever excavated at Gezer. The result? Dever excitedly wrote: “Solomon did indeed re-build Gezer!” Or as Yadin puts it: “Sure enough, not only did Dever’s team find the other half of the gate, but the stratigraphy and pottery demonstrated conclusively that the complex had been built in Solomon’s times.”
So the mystery was solved. Yadin observed in The Biblical Archaeologist (Volume XXXIII, 1970, 3): “With the aid of the brief biblical passage from Kings, the Solomonic fortifications, identical in plan in the three cities, were located and dated.” “Indeed, it seems that there is no example in the history of archaeology where a passage helped so much in identifying and dating structures in several of the most important tells . . . as has 1 Kings 9:15.”
[Pictures on page 25]
Based on 1 Kings 9:15, archaeologists found at Hazor a gate of the same size and shape as that in Megiddo
[Pictures on page 26]
An aerial view of the gate at Gezer. The drawing shows what was first uncovered (solid) and what was found some 60 years later (dotted)
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.
[Picture Credit Line on page 24]
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.