On the route between Beit Shemesh and southern Tel Aviv, there is a turn-off onto an unpaved road that winds its way between vineyards and orange orchards toward a trailhead labeled Tel Gezer.

Today, Tel Gezer is a picturesque hiking trail with several signs pointing out ancient ruins. What the hiker may not know, however, is that this place was actually a gift to King Solomon, and once again rose to prominence in the Second Temple era.

Early History of Gezer

The name Gezer is mentioned in the Amarna letters—the correspondence between the Pharaohs of Egypt and the rulers of the neighboring countries—which span the 15th-14th centuries BCE, around the time of Jacob or when the Jews were already in Egypt.1

Then, in the 13th century BCE, Pharaoh Merneptah boasted of conquering Gezer, along with other Canaanite cities, on his famous Merneptah Victory Stele.

In Jewish sources, Gezer is first mentioned in the Book of Joshua. During the conquest of Lachish, King Horam of Gezer came to fight the Jews but was defeated by Joshua and his army.2 Later, Eglon, another king of Gezer, is listed among the kings defeated by the Jewish people.3 Further on, Gezer is mentioned as one of the border markers of the territory of Ephraim.4 However, the Jewish people failed to chase the Canaanite residents of Gezer out of the land. Instead, the residents were forced to work for the Jews.5 Later, the city of Gezer was given to the Levites.6

Strategic location – the view of the Lowlands and the Judean Hills from Tel Gezer, with the city of Modiin in the background on the left.
Strategic location – the view of the Lowlands and the Judean Hills from Tel Gezer, with the city of Modiin in the background on the left.

Archaeological Excavations at Tel Gezer

Tel Gezer was one of the first sites excavated in the Holy Land by R. A. Stewart Macalister, who began work on the site in 1903 when the area was still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

Macalister’s most exciting discovery was the Gezer calendar, a limestone tablet that lists agricultural activities by month written in ancient Hebrew script, which archeologists believe originated in the days of King Solomon.

In 1958, Israeli archeologist Yigael Yadin, most famous for his work on the Dead Sea scrolls, noted the similarities between Macalister’s discoveries at Gezer and his own discoveries at Hazor and Megiddo. We will come back to that later in this article.

Excavations have continued on and off throughout the 20th and 21st centuries to date.

Unlike many other Biblical sites, Gezer is clearly identified by the 13 boundary stones discovered in the vicinity of Tel Gezer. The stones are dated towards the end of the Second Temple period. British archeologist David M. Jacobson explains:7

Of the thirteen Gezer inscriptions, eleven read “boundary (or limit) of Gezer” in Hebrew, and of these, ten also bear the Greek “of Alkios.” The other two carry the Greek names Archelaos and Alexas. Several of them are on two lines reading “boundary of Gezer” on one line in Hebrew and “of Alkios” on the second line in Greek, in tête-bêche configuration, with the Hebrew portion facing the tel.

Boundary inscription from Hellenistic Gezer, in Aramaic or Hebrew (top) and Greek (bottom).
Boundary inscription from Hellenistic Gezer, in Aramaic or Hebrew (top) and Greek (bottom).

Gezer Becomes King Solomon’s Dowry

Gezer is mentioned briefly in Tanach in connection with King David, who routed the Philistine enemies as far as Gezer8 and later battled them there.9

But the most prominent mention of Gezer in Tanach relates to King Solomon, his son. The Book of Kings10 tells us that the Pharaoh of Egypt conquered Gezer and burned it down, slaughtering its Canaanite residents. When King Solomon married an Egyptian princess, her father, the Pharaoh, gave her the city of Gezer as her dowry.

What was Gezer like before it was rebuilt by King Solomon? Archeologists discovered a large public granary, threshing floor, and two large courtyard houses, as well as unburnished red thin pottery.11

This level of the Tel was covered by “a dramatic destruction level – black ash, chunks of charred timbers, calcined plaster, tumbled stones, and mudbrick debris.”12 American archeologist William Dever who excavated at Tel Gezer in the 1960s presumes that this is evidence of the destruction of Gezer by Pharaoh mentioned in Kings.13

Entrance to the ancient Canaanite water system at Tel Gezer
Entrance to the ancient Canaanite water system at Tel Gezer

Gezer Rebuilt by King Solomon

Once King Solomon took possession of Gezer, it is speculated that he spared no effort in rebuilding it, along with the cities of Hazor and Megiddo.

As mentioned above, the famous Israeli archeologist Yigael Yadin came to Gezer after conducting significant excavations at Hazor and Megiddo. The noticeable similarities between the sites led Yadin to reexamine the ancient gate at Gezer discovered by Macalister and thought to be Maccabean. A comparative analysis led Yadin to conclude that the gate at Gezer was built in the times of King Solomon.14

The gate, built out of large hewn limestone boulders, is an impressive six-chamber structure, with three chambers on each side. The chambers served as guardrooms, supported by guard towers for the lookouts on each side. Inside the chambers, archeologists found plastered benches. The first northern chamber contained a large stone basin. A well-designed water drainage system was also found, with a central water channel running down the center of the street.15

The ruins of King Solomon's six-chamber gate
The ruins of King Solomon's six-chamber gate

The gate and its towers were part of the casemate wall system—a double city wall which likely surrounded the whole city of Gezer. The space between the two walls was divided into chambers which were used for various purposes.

Building on Yadin’s work, Dever excavated the inner wall, 5-6 feet in width. Inside the wall, he found a courtyard with two storage bins and “a continuous build-up of earthen floors,”16 as well as red-burnished ware characteristic of King Solomon’s days. He wrote:17

So Yadin's hunch was correct – Solomon did indeed rebuild Gezer! What is more, our excavations have demonstrated that this rebuilding followed very closely upon the destruction of the Egyptian Pharaoh, for the casemate wall … was founded immediately upon … destruction debris.

According to Steven Ortiz and Samuel Wolff, the gate was later destroyed and then rebuilt as a four-chambered gate.18 It was later reused in the Hellenistic period.

In 2021, Ortiz and Wolff published more of their findings.19 They discovered a large administrative building behind King Solomon’s gate, consisting of at least 15 rooms and three different entrances.

Gezer Destroyed by Pharaoh Shishak

During the reign of King Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, the Egyptian Pharaoh Shishak went up against Jerusalem and “took the treasures of the House of the L‑rd and the treasures of the king's palace, and he took everything; and he took all the golden shields that Solomon had made.”20

The Book of Chronicles adds that Pharaoh Shishak “seized Judah's fortified cities”21 before he got to Jerusalem. Archeologists believe that one of the cities conquered by Shishak was Gezer.22 Ortiz and Wolff state that the administrative building they excavated was likely destroyed by Shishak.23

“Among the noteworthy finds is an exquisite ivory game board,” they report. “This delicately incised board is arranged for the game of Twenty Squares and is decorated with five rosettes.”24

While other game boards were found at Tel Gezer in prior excavations, none of them display the high level of craftsmanship of this ivory board.

Ortiz and Wolff found that Gezer was rebuilt shortly after its destruction. “The previous administrative quarter went out of use and the area became a domestic quarter, as attested by remnants of around five domestic units,”25 they wrote.

Gezer in the Days of the Maccabees

The last known occupation of Tel Gezer dates to the time of the Maccabean rulers, which was when the border stones were made. As recorded in the Book of Maccabees, the Jewish fighters captured the fortified city from the Seleucid Greeks and settled it with loyal Jews.26

Ortiz and Wolff note that “there is also evidence of a possible mikveh that was found in a Jewish home from that period.”27

It was during this time period that the boundary stones were labeled and placed around Gezer, enabling today’s archeologists to identify its location and study its ruins.

View of the area of Tel Gezer that was in use in the days of the Maccabees, with King Solomon's gate in the front.
View of the area of Tel Gezer that was in use in the days of the Maccabees, with King Solomon's gate in the front.