1. "Archaeology, Religion, and Society in Canaanite Hazor"
"ARCHAEOLOGY, RELIGION, AND SOCIETY IN
by Judd H. Burton, Ph.D.
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.
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.
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.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.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 HulehBasin.In addition to its
role 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.
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.
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.Yadin, a most capable archaeologist, was also a general in the
Israeli army at one time.He conducted his main excavations from 1955 to 1958 and from 1968
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.
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
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.
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.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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 AmmanusMountains.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.
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.
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.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.
found various other clues of the religious history ofHazor.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.
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.
to Joshua , Hazor was the major city of the north at the time of
the conquest.The passage also states that it was the head of an alliance of
Canaanite cities in the north.Archaeological evidence supports the notion that the destruction
of Hazor took place in the thirteenth century B.C.The king at the time of Hazor’s razing was Jabin, who died
in the assault.
later, King Solomon rebuilt Hazor along with the other Canaanite cities, such as Megiddo.These Solomonic refurbishments occurred in the tenth century B.C.First Kings 9:15-17 records these rebuildings.Solomon installed a new gate and fortifications similar to those
of Gezer and Megiddo.
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 HebrewUniversity 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 Brian Fagan, Archaeology:A
Brief Introduction (New York:Longman, 1997), 220.