1.  "Archaeology, Religion, and Society in Canaanite Hazor"
2.  Conferences




 by Judd H. Burton, Ph.D.


            Centuries before Joshua and the Israelites destroyed the Canaanite citadel of Hazor, the city had a thriving social and religious life.  Hazor had an ordered society, a regulated economy, and its citizenry practiced in intricate faith.  In view of the methods of cognitive archaeology used to extrapolate information on Canaanite Hazor, the artifactual finds yielded great insight into the city’s social and religious life.

            Archaeology is nothing if it is not an ethnography of past cultures.  The ethnographer has the luxury of interviewing living subjects.  However, the archaeologist must sift through the earth to find his subjects, and even then, they are often not very talkative or forthcoming.  Archaeologists in Israel approach sites in just such a manner.  Hazor is no exception to this technique, as it was a city with a complex people, worthy of careful study.

            In examining the lives of the lives of persons from past societies, it becomes increasingly necessary to recognize the import of the prevailing thought of the time and culture studied.  This matter is most certainly one of cognition at the very least, and on the hand, an often spiritual one.  Cognitive archaeology is a method used to derive information from material remains regarding the range of human thought.[1]  This branch of archaeological analysis is especially useful in discerning beliefs and religion.  Cognitive archaeology reaches a high degree of accuracy when aided by texts.[2]  Certainly, there are a number of contemporary documents available for the study of a Near Eastern site such as Hazor.  Through the utilization of cognitive methodology, archaeologists and historians have been able to uncover much of Hazor’s ideological past.  Thus, cognitive archaeology is a necessity when excavating a site with religious significance.

            The first issue to be addressed concerning the topic of Canaanite Hazor is the broader topic of its occupants—the Canaanites.  The Canaanites were a Semitic people occupying areas from Syria in the north to northern Egypt in the south.  Though the Bible mentions the Canaanites numerous times, they were not a distinct race.  Instead, they were an amalgam of several separate Semitic societies including such peoples as the Hittites and the Amorites.  Canaanites all spoke Semitic dialects and shared similar cultural traits.[3]

            Egyptian and Mesopotamian sources situate Canaan between Sidon in the north and Gaza in the south.  These same texts, such as the Egyptian Amarna Letters, note the Jordan River as the eastern boundary of Canaan.  Canaan occupied the portion of Asia which connected the continent of Asia with Africa, not far from southern Europe.  This geographical location made Canaan a highly valued and much sought-after territory.[4]

            Many sources gave the occupants of Canaan characteristics of a supernatural kind.  The Rephaim of Bashan and Gilead, the Zamzummim of Ammon, the Emim of Moab, and the Anakim of Cisjordania were all purported to be the legendary giants of prehistory.  The Amorites, too, were said to be the descendants of the colossal Canaanites.  They were all of tall stature and immense strength.[5]

            The Canaanites had a highly ordered society and a developed social infrastructure.  The civil metabolism of the system consisted of major city-states with villages and hamlets interspersed between them.  The rulers bore the title “king,” as the Amarna Letters state.[6]  The kings of these city-states were ultimately vassals of Egypt, who ruled Canaan at the time, in the second and first millennia B.C.  However, within the city, a king’s authority was supreme, for he was king, general, and high priest.  The subjects of these kings held their rulers in high esteem, for people connected them closely with the divine world.[7]

            A feudal system akin to those of Medieval Europe governed Canaanite society.  A noble class, inclusive of the king, ruled the populace.  There was also a senate that advised the king and aided him in legislation.  Officials, knights, peasants, and slaves comprised the citizenry, each of whom paid taxes to the local civic body.[8]

            Each of the aforementioned characteristics could be found among the ancient Canaanites.  The urban centers illustrated these traits well.  Hazor was certainly no exception, in that it was typical of Canaanite cities before the Israelite invasion.  Of the other integral features of Canaanite society, religion was paramount.

            Canaanite religion was a polytheistic system.  The Ugaritic texts found at Ras Shamrah, north of Israel, mention more than thirty deities.  Canaanite religion was also anthropomorphic in that its gods were born, lived, were governed by human passions, married, and died as mortals did.[9]

            The religion of the Ugarit was not identical to all aspects of Canaanite religion, but there exist substantial similarities to make valid conclusions about their religion.  The texts remain a supportive source of information on Canaanite religion.  They contain a mythological epic about a pantheon of deities and information on ritual.  Scholars actually know very little about Canaanite religion, but there is enough material on the clay tablets of the Ras Shamrah texts piece together a basic picture of the religion of the Canaanites.[10]

            The Ugaritic texts contain poems that mention many deities honored in Canaan.  Although each city had its own favorite deities, there was a portion of the pantheon that the majority of Canaanites paid homage to.  Several major deities merit note in order to better understand Canaanite religion.[11]

            Among the gods of Canaan, El was supreme.  His name simply means “god” in most Semitic dialects.  El was the father of the gods and had a personal nature to his character.  He was the wise god who lived in a place at the end of the world.  The bull was often the symbol of El to the Canaanites.[12]

            Asherah was El’s spouse and the mother of all the gods.  She bore a myriad of divine offspring to El.  Asherah also acted as a mediator between the gods when feuds or disputes erupted.  She was the calming force amidst their potentially violent fights.  In addition, Asherah was the goddess of vegetation, working directly upon the seasonal cycles.[13]

            The male deity most associated with Canaanite religion was Baal.  The Ugaritic literature contains instructions from Baal to his followers for them to build a temple in his honor.[14]  Thus, in that particular section it is evident that Baal desired, even demanded, to be worshipped.  Baal was the son of El and Asherah.  Other names of Baal include Haddu (as mentioned in the Ras Shamrah texts) and Hadad, the Semitic weather deity.  Fertility and rain were the gifts that Baal bestowed upon Canaanites if they placated him.  He was an omnipotent warrior who bore the titles “Prince,” “Master of the Earth,” and “Rider of the Clouds.”  The unruly Ball, along with his consort Anat, eventually eclipsed El in importance.  Consequently, with the many attributes that Baal had, the Canaanites often divided him into lesser Baals and worshipped them as separate deities.[15]

            Anat was the goddess of love and war.  She was both the sister and the spouse of Baal.  Anat had the capacity to be violent at some times, and conversely, gentle and nurturing at others.  She shared many characteristics with the goddess named Astarte.  Astarte duplicated Anat to some extent, and would eventually totally eclipse her in the Old Testament period.[16]

            The Canaanite pantheon included a host of lesser deities in addition to the aforementioned major gods and goddesses.  Among them were the sun goddess Shamash, the moon god Yarih, and Resheph, god of pestilence.  The adversarial gods of Baal included Mot, death god of the sterile underworld, and Yam, the sea prince and god of turbulence.  These two deities often engaged Baal in combat.  The Canaanite pantheon also contained such primeval monsters such as Lotan (Leviathan) and Tannin.[17]

            In addition to the Ras Shamrah deities, there was one blood-thirsty god worshipped by some Canaanites.  He represented the terminal aspect of nature—death.  This god was none other than the gruesome Ammonite deity Moloch (or Malek, or Melek).  The purpose of the cult of Moloch was originally to assure prosperity for the king.  Parents offered their infants in sacrifice to Moloch.  Priests played drums at these sacrificial rites in order to drown out the cries, not of the infant, but of weeping mothers.  Moloch delighted in this carnage and took pleasure in his followers’ doom.[18]

            As with much of the mythology of the Old World, Canaanite mythology and religion often centered on nature.  Canaanite mythology was based on the seasonal cycles of the year and elements of nature.  These details are evident in the attributes of the deities.  For instance, rain and fertility were traits of Baal.  These aspects dealt with production and fecundity, common traits in Canaanite deities.[19] 

            In regard to the religious acts of the Canaanites, the Ras Shaicmrah texts make mention of the deities being integrally connected with public worship.  Yet, the poems that note these gods do not prescribe a liturgical worship to all the gods.  The texts speak of the manner in which adherents were to give offerings.  Often the gift was in the form of a holocaust, or burnt offerings.  More infrequently, placation came in the form of a human sacrifice, as with the worship of Moloch.  These activities were, of course, closely connected with the clerical order.[20]

            A system of priests provided leadership in the worship of Canaanite deities.  The kings, as previously noted, often served as priests.  However, there were also separate ranks of clerics.  In addition to the priestly leadership there were the priestesses of the “q’dhesim,” or sacred prostitution.  Their duty was to prolong human, animal, and crop fertility through the sexual act.  Cantors, door-keepers, and various servants also served functions of a religious nature at the temples, sanctuaries, and shrines.[21]

            In light of the evidence of the social and religious infrastructure of the Canaanites, the city of Hazor stands out as a major urban center.  Hazor was an epicenter for trade and commerce.  Furthermore, as can be seen from the archaeological evidence, it was a cult center of the Late Bronze Age.  Thus, Hazor, commanded an air of prestige and prominence in the Canaanite world regarding cultural lifeways and religion.[22]

            Hazor was originally settled in the Early Bronze Age (2900-2600 B.C.).  According to the archaeological record, it was a leading Canaanite city in north Galilee during the Middle and Late Bronze Age periods.  Its location on the international overland trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia made Hazor an important economic power.  Strategically centered on a hill, Hazor commanded a much-coveted position in the southwest edge of the fertile Huleh Basin.  In addition to its role[23] as an agricultural producer, the evidence for a temple confirms that Hazor was a religious center.  Thus, the city carried with its name the proud laurels of social, economic, and religious status.

            Merchants and other persons of commerce knew Hazor by its precious commodities of export:  tin and grain.  As the weapons of the Bronze Age contained tin, the metal was a valued component.  Thus, tin was a mainstay in Hazor’s economy.  Grain and fruits gleaned from the surrounding fields also helped make Hazor a trading power.  By these two main exports, Hazor was able to stay competitive, and indeed, dominant.[24]

            J.L. Porter discovered the site of Hazor (Tell El-Qedah) in 1875.  However, it was not until the twentieth that serious excavation efforts were attempted.  In 1928, John Garstand conducted soundings to reconfirm the site.  Yet, the man who is credited with the most significant work at Hazor is Yigael Yadin.[25]  Yadin, a most capable archaeologist, was also a general in the Israeli army at one time.[26]  He conducted his main excavations from 1955 to 1958 and from 1968 to 1972.[27]

            Archaeological finds elaborated much on the culture and especially on the religion of Hazor.  Workers found evidence of massive earthen ramparts, glacis, and a moat.  According to the archaeological record, Hazor had a population between 30,000 and 40,000 people at its peak.  Archaeologists dated these finds to the Middle Bronze Age.[28]

            Among the most striking artifacts at the Hazor were specimens certainly a religious nature.  Workers unearthed stelae and temple areas.  Numerous idols also turned up in the excavation.  Thus, from the archaeological record, it is evident that Hazor was a very religious city.[29]

            Yigael Yadin found much in the way of religious artifacts during his years at Hazor.  One of the most prominent finds was that of several statues holding cups.  The emblem of the weather deity crested the vessels.  This find hinted at the worship of a deity such as Baal.[30]

            Another impressive find was that of a square basalt pillar.  On its face the pillar has the relief of a disc with a four-rayed symbol on its center.  It stands about two meters hig.  Workers found the object on the north side of the site.  The symbol is well known in Near Eastern archaeology as being indicative of the weather god Hadad (a Baal, indeed).  This artifact provided a clue as to which gods the builders dedicated the nearby temple, and religious life in general at Hazor.[31]  The discovery of the basalt pillar and the statues are most certainly related in that the emblem of the weather god is etched on both of them.  Thus, it may be inferred that the people of Hazor did indeed worship Hadad or a weather Baal at some point in their occupation of the site.

            A third significant find was the numerous stelae.  The stelae found near the temple area seem to be of a commemorative nature.  Found in the second dig season, these stelae seem to be indicative of the poles and stones mentioned in the Old Testament.  One stelae is a bas relief on its side depicting outstretched hands reaching to the mean.  This symbol is thought to be representative of the moon, and more specifically, of the moon god, Yarih.  The object displays the crescent and full phases of the moon.  At present, the meaning of the uplifted hands remains unexplained.[32]

            A fourth find at Hazor was that of a jar with the bas relief of a snake goddess.  She is holding a snake in each hand and is bare-breasted.  The jar is believed to have served a cultic function.  The recurring symbol of the crescent is also on the jar and may indicate that she was a consort of the moon god, Yarih.[33]

            Undoubtedly, a cache of masks found at Hazor was related to the jar displaying the snake goddess.  The masks had no nostrils and are thought to depict the snake goddess.  Another theory is that the masks depicted the face of Baal, or the goddess Tanit, and were possibly placed on the face of a moon god statue.[34]

            Expounding on these finds, Yadin posited his contentions concerning the religious significance of the artifacts at Hazor.  Yadin believes that the stelae displaying the outstretched hands are a representation of the god Tanit, a consort of the moon god.  He bases this belief on a comparison with Punic cultic finds from North Africa, which have their origins in Canaanite religion.[35]

            The common symbol of the crescent with a disc in it also was of interest to Yadin.  He conceded that it possibly was associated with Baal Hamman, “Lord of Ammanus.”  Consequently, it may also have been associated with the Ammanus Mountains.  Yadin also believed that since mountains and the moon imagery recur that the moon god (Yarih) could be implied, as he himself is often connected with hills.[36]

            The discoveries of Hazor shed light on the subject of Hadad as well.  Yadin found that the Canaanites possibly associated the bull with Hadad.  He found several bronze statues of bulls in the ruins of Canaanite Hazor.  One of the larger pieces of the bulls contained on its body the emblem of Hadad.[37]

            Eventually, after the Israelite invaxion, the worship of Yahweh became the official religion of Hazor.  Yet the Bible makes mention of the persistence of the cult of Baal and Astarte.  The findings of clay figurines of the fertility goddess Astarte, dated after the invasion period, seem to support this supposition.[38]  Not only did Canaanite religion continue, but a syncretism of the religion of the Hebrews and the religion of the Canaanites ensued.  At any rate, religion in Hazor became all the more diverse after the twelfth century B.C.

            Archaeologist found various other clues of the religious history of  Hazor.  The Canaanites who lived there before the Israelite invasion left such evidence after their occupation.  An interesting find of cult objects lended more evidence to the historicity of the Old Testament.  Workers found these cult objects buried in a layer of ash.  This feature is one which supports the burning of Hazor by Joshua and the Israelites mentioned in the Old Testament.[39]

            Thus, the religious artifacts found at Hazor point to a people with a well-developed religion.  The gods of the Canaanite pantheon show up in several of the finds at Hazor.  Evidence of temples and shrines also add to the argument for an established religion of a Canaanite nature at Hazor.  These validating artifacts survived the destruction of Hazor by Joshua to testify to Hazor’s religious life.  Thus was the condition of religion at the time of the Israelite invasion.

            According to Joshua 11:10, Hazor was the major city of the north at the time of the conquest.[40]  The passage also states that it was the head of an alliance of Canaanite cities in the north.[41]  Archaeological evidence supports the notion that the destruction of Hazor took place in the thirteenth century B.C.[42]  The king at the time of Hazor’s razing was Jabin, who died in the assault.[43]

            Centuries later, King Solomon rebuilt Hazor along with the other Canaanite cities, such as Megiddo.  These Solomonic refurbishments occurred in the tenth century B.C.[44]  First Kings 9:15-17 records these rebuildings.[45]  Solomon installed a new gate and fortifications similar to those of Gezer and Megiddo.[46]

            There is still much to gleaned from the religion of Canaanite Hazor through the use of archaeology, as excavations are ongoing.  Currently, Ammon Ben Tor of the Hebrew University is conducting excavations on the site.  He is focusing on early Israelite occupation.  As the Israelites often succumbed to the local religion of places they occupied, there is potential for new insight into the Israelite involvement in Canaanite religion.[47]

            A new discovery at Hazor has added more historical validity to the Israelite invasion and subsequent Hebrew influences in the religion there.  The find concerns an elements of Hazor’s religious material culture—an idol.  Archaeologists recently found a statue with its head and hands cut off.  The book of 1 Samuel speaks of a Philistine statue of Dagon being treated in a similar manner.  Scholar Rayford Wallace contends that this may have been a trademark technique used by the Israelites to degrade an idol and render it useless.  Thus, if true, the detail adds support for the actual Israelite destruction of Hazor.[48]

            The Canaanites, particularly of Hazor, were a people with a structured society and even more diverse religion.  Their social infrastructure was a testament to the society and religion at Hazor.  The myriad of deities represented in the archaeological record attest that the Canaanite religion at Hazor was well-developed.  Furthermore, sources like the Ras Shamrah texts hint at the complexity of the religious complexity of sites such as Hazor.  Thus, through the focusing lens of cognitive archaeology, it is possible to better understand society and religion in Hazor.

            The use of cognitive archaeology allowed archaeologists like Yigael Yadin to better comprehend the society and religion of Hazor.  Without this vehicle, piecing together elements of Canaanite Hazor’s religion would have been difficult, if not impossible.  For cognitive archaeology examines the very thought of a civilization.  When analyzing the finds, such as statues and stelae, archaeologsts study the artifacts with just that frame of reference.  Yadin, for example, would not have been able to deduce that the statues found at Canaanite Hazor were fertility deities (the majority of them) if he had not known that Hazor was primarily agrarian.  Gleaning details about the cognition of a civilization is central to cognitive archaeology, and thus Hazor’s religion has become a clearer picture through its use.

            There is a broad future for the use of cognitive methodology in Biblical archaeology.  A vast spectrum of cultures provides the backdrop for the stories of the Bible.  Egypt, Sumeria, and the Hittites are simply a few of the many civilizations mentioned in the Bible who come in contact with the Israelites.  Without a proper understanding of the cultures of the Biblical world, readers and scholars will find it hard to appreciate the struggle between Yahweh and the deities of various cultures, such as the aforementioned Canaanites.

            With the increasing amounts of data on Biblical sites that archaeologists are compiling, cognitive analysis will have more material to draw from and with which theorize.  Through this process, a better and clearer understanding of the religions and mythologies of cultures of the Biblical world may be possible.  As scholars study the artifacts of the Biblical sites, more input from a broad range of specialists including cultural anthropologists, sociologists, theologians, and historians will add to the body of knowledge concerning pagan religions.

            The examination of the finds at Hazor included a great deal ofcognitive analysis.  Religion is a very abstract concept, and the archaeologists who studied the religion of Hazor bore this in mind.  When looking at the artifacts, they hypothesized what the deities represented applied to.  This was certainly the case with the stelae, the basalt pillar, the statues, and the bull, as gods and goddesses were assigned to each.

            Within the realm of Biblical archaeology, the use of cognitive analysis is an absolute necessity.  It is crucial in that the artifacts found at the Biblical sites cannot be understood without it.  Furthermore, cognitive archaeology is a useful tool in that it helps scholars assimilate the breadth of factors entailed in the mechanics of society and religion.  The Old Testament, in one sense, is an epic about a struggle between deities and their respective cultures.  By taking information from the archaeological record of Canaanite Hazor, scholars can reconstruct the social structure and religious life of the culture, and thereby increase our understanding of the Bible and that of the culture and religion of cities such as Hazor.

[1] Brian Fagan, Archaeology:  A Brief Introduction (New York:  Longman, 1997), 220.

[2] Ibid., 222.

[3] Stewart Easton, The Heritage of the Past:  From Earliest Times to 1500 (New York:  Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970), 119-20.

[4] Roland DeVaux, The Early History of Israel (Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1978), 126-29.

[5] Ibid., 133-4.

[6] Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land:  An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (New York:  Oxford, 1998), 270.

[7] DeVaux, The Early History of Israel, 140-1.

[8] Ibid., 141-3.

[9] Ibid., 146-7.

[10] Ibid., 145, 150.

[11] Ibid., 146.

[12] Ibid., 147.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Easton, Heritage of the Past, 120.

[15] DeVaux, The Early History of Israel, 147-8.

[16] Ibid., 148.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Kurt Selligman, The History of Magic and the Occult (New York:  Gramercy, 1948), 23.

[19] DeVaux, The Early History of Israel, 148.

[20] Ibid., 150-51.

[21] Ibid, 151.

[22] LaMoine F. DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World (Peabody, Massachusetts:  Hendrickson, 1997), 182-6.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, 270.

[25] DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World, 184-5.

[26] P.R.S. Moorey, A Century of Biblical Archaeology (Louisville:  Wesminster, 1991), 107.

[27] DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World, 185.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 185-6.

[30] Yigael Yadin, Hazor:  The Rediscovery of a Great Citadel of the Bible (New York:  Random House, 1975), 43-4.

[31] Yadin, Hazor, 82-4.

[32] Ibid., 45-7.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., 56-7.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid., 55-6.

[37] Ibid., 84.

[38] Ibid., 181.

[39] Ibid., 87.

[40] DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World, 182.

[41] The Bible, New International Version, (Grand Rapids Michigan:  Zondervan, 1991), Joshua 11:10.

[42] DeVaux, The Early History of Israel, 661.

[43] DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World, 183.

[44] Hershel Shanks, Ancient Israel:  A Short History of Israel from Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:  Prentice-Hall, 1988), 107.

[45] The Bible, 1 Kings 9:15-17.

[46] H. Darrell Lance, The Old Testament and the Archaeologist (Philadelphia:  Fortress, 1981), 83-9.

[47] DeVries, Cities of the Biblical World, 185.

[48] Rayford Wallace, “Hazor:  How to Render and Idol Impotent,” Biblical Archaeology Review 25 (September/October 1999): 8-10.

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