Despite the vast trove of archaeological data that has come to light in the past century in Israel, solid historical evidence of the existence of King Solomon has continued to elude archaeologists. While there are inscriptions indisputably referring to kings such as Hezekiah, Omri, Ahab, Jeroboam II and even some fragmentary mentions of King David, the historical record has been silent on King Solomon. This has prompted some skeptics to assert that Solomon is nothing more than a Jewish fable; in fact, some will go so far as to deny that there ever was a United Monarchy, and this supposition is in turn used to cast doubt upon everything the Bible says of the events prior to the 9th century. Yet, if the name of Solomon has not yet come to light, perhaps archaeology can tell us something about the many great construction projects Scripture attributes to Solomon? In this essay we will look at three such sites: the so-called “Solomonic Gates” of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer.
While David was a king of war, Solomon was a king of peace. It fell to King Solomon to consolidate the kingdom that his father David had won by the sword. Part of this consolidation consisted in fortifying many of the cities of Israel. Three of these cities—Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer—are mentioned explicitly as fortress-cities by the Book of Kings.
1 Kings 9:15 tells us, “This is the account of the forced labor which king Solomon levied to build the house of the Lord, and his own house, and Millo, and the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezer.”
The following verse tells us that the last of these cities, Gezer, was conquered by the Pharaoh of Egypt—probably Pharaoh Siamun—who had “come up and captured Gezer; he destroyed it by fire, killed the Canaanites who dwelt in the town, and gave it as dowry to his daughter, Solomon’s wife” (v. 16). We have written of Gezer elsewhere in this series. Megiddo was taken by the Israelites sometime during the period of the Judges (c. 1150 B.C.) while Hazor had been taken by Joshua during the Conquest. Solomon chose to fortify these cities because of their strategic importance: Hazor, in northern Israel, guarded the roads to Syria and Phoenicia; Megiddo commanded the trade routes that crossed near Jezreel that went up into northern Palestine or south into Philistia and Egypt; Gezer, near the southwest coast, was an old Canaanite city which Solomon used as a bulwark against the Philistines, subdued under David but still considered a threat.
If 1 Kings 9:15 is accurate, we should find fortifications in these three cities dating from the time of Solomon. Thus, two questions need to be answered: Is there evidence of fortifications in these cities? If so, is there compelling evidence that they date from Solomon’s reign (970-931 B.C.)?
The Archaeological Evidence
The first archaeologist to excavate at all three sites was the Israeli Yigael Yadin, who carried out a series of excavations at all three cities between 1957 and 1970. It was Yadin who first noted that the gates in each city were not only of identical construction but almost of identical layout. Some of the similarities include:
All three gates used ashlar masonry, which is a kind of cut block found throughout ancient Israel. Because of the skill of the work and the similarity to other Phoenician sites, Yadin hypothesized that the ashlar masonry at these three sites was executed by Phoenician workmen using blocks quarried in Tyre. This is reminiscent of what the Old Testament notes about the type of masonry used in Solomon’s construction projects. The Tyrian stones used at the temple are described “from foundations to coping and all the way out to the great courtyard…choice stones, hewn according to measure, smooth on all sides” (I Kings 7:9). This is clearly describing the ashlar masonry as seen at Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor. And recall, according to the Scriptures, most of King Solomon’s large building projects were carried out by Tyrian workmen loaned from King Hiram of Tyre and using materials imported from Phoenicia. This would explain the Phoenician connection in some of the building materials and styles.
More telling was the use of casemate construction. Casemate wall construction was a method of reinforcing a wall by building two walls back to back and connecting them with inverted blocks that spanned the depth of both walls at various intervals. Casemate was extremely common in Israel during the 10th century and is believed to be further evidence of Phoenician influence. While casemate is not indigenous to Phoenicia, the style of casemate found at our three cities also points to a Phoenician connection.
The Phoenician connection is strengthened by the presence of what are known as proto-Ionic capitals found in the ruins of Megiddo. A capital is the head of a column, and the proto-Ionic capitals of Megiddo are a kind of voluted design that prefigures the later Ionic capital familiar to students of Greek history. Though there is some debate on whether the proto-Ionic capitals were merely decorative or functional column-heads, there is a strong connection between the volutes found in Megiddo and those in Phoenicia of the same period (1). All of this suggests that the great building projects of the Solomonic era were carried out under the auspices of Phoenician engineers, exactly as Scripture suggests. Though the majority of the capitals were found in Megiddo (thirteen of them), one has also been found in Gezer and two in Hazor.
Each gate is a “six-room” gate; that is, the structure of the gate contains three chambers on each side of the structure, for a total of six rooms. These rooms were presumably store rooms or guard houses of some sort.
Finally, each gate guardhouse measures 48 feet in width. This is particularly impressive. It could easily be imagined that three gates could be built in a similar design by different builders at different times if that design were fashionable in a given period. But to have the structures meet the same dimensions suggests not only that they were built in the same style, but that they were built using the same blue prints. In other words, the gates of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer seem to have been part of the same building project. Whoever designed them seems to have used a single set of plans on all three sites.
Thus far we can surmise that the gates of these three cities were (a) built by a single builder or as part of a single building program, and (b) that their style and design is synonymous with 10th century Israelite architecture, and (c) that there is strong evidence of Phoenician craftsmen and materials at work in these constructions, keeping with the narrative of 1 Kings, which notes that Solomon and Hiram had a treaty by which Phoenicia lent Israel skilled craftsmen, timber, and stone for Solomon’s grandiose building projects, and that this Phoenician oversight of Israelite construction went on “year after year” of Solomon’s reign (1 Kings. 5:11).
Well and good. But is there anything else linking these gates to Solomon’s reign? In fact there is, and it is found in Jerusalem within the old City of David.
The East Wall of Jerusalem
If we return to our original verse, 1 Kings 9:15, we see that Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor were not the only things Solomon fortified: “This is the account of the forced labor which king Solomon levied to build the house of the Lord, and his own house, and Millo, and the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezer.” If Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor were parts of the same building program as Jerusalem, we should see similar construction at Jerusalem as these other cities.
Jerusalem is obviously bigger than these other cities and was already significantly fortified during the time of David. But excavations at Jerusalem’s east wall and East Gate have revealed striking similarities to the fortifications of the other cities we examined.
The east wall of Jerusalem was actually excavated back in the 1860’s by archaeologist Charles Warren. Warren found a heavy wall and courtyard dating from the time of Solomon that subsequently turned out to be identical to the one later excavated at Megiddo. Warren also discovered a tower, which has come to be known as the “Projecting Tower” or also the “Extra Tower.” This tower and the massive wall were part of the ancient East Gate. In the twentieth century, archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon (famous for her excavations at Jericho), identified the type of construction “of the character identified as Phoenician at Samaria, with irregularly projecting bosses having unequal margins on one, two, or three sides.” In other words, casemate construction, as found at Gezer, Megiddo, Hazor and other Solomonic era sites. “Solomon’s use of Phoenician masons is undoubted”, Kenyon added (2).
In addition to this, an example of the proto-Ionic capital was also found at the East Gate, reinforcing its connection to Solomon, the masons of Hiram, and our three other cities.
But was the East Gate a six-chambered gate, identical to the ones at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer? The current East Gate—known as the “Golden Gate”—dates from the time of Justinian, and the gate prior to that, of which only scattered ruins have been found, belongs to the late Second Temple period. There is no known archaeological remains of what this gate would have looked like in Solomon’s time.
That’s not to say there is nothing to go on; there is one strong literary clue to the construction of the old East Gate, and this comes from the Book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel chapter 40, we read the following description of the old East Gate of Jerusalem:
And [the angel] came to the gate that looked toward the east, and he went up the steps thereof: and he measured the breadth of the threshold of the gate…And the little chambers of the gate that looked eastward were three on this side, and three on that side: all three were of one measure, and the fronts of one measure, on both parts. (Ezk. 40:6, 10)
When Ezekiel notes that the East Gate of the Temple of Solomon had three chambers on one side and three on the other, he is describing a Solomonic era six-chambered gate, just like those at Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer. Later on in 40:20-21, Ezekiel describes the north gate as have six chambers as well. It could be objected that these gates are part of Ezekiel’s vision and do not necessarily reflect the historical reality of Solomon’s temple; this is a valid point, but it also must be noted that most scholars, Protestant and Catholic, all hold that the basic structure of the temple in Ezekiel’s vision is patterned on the historical Temple of Solomon. Furthermore, 1 Chronicles 28:19 states that the basic pattern of the Temple design came to David and from him to Solomon “by the hand of the Lord”; hence it makes sense to suppose the vision of Ezekiel would follow this divine pattern.
Of further interest is that the East Gate guardhouse was apparently 48 feet wide, the same size as the Solomonic gates at the other cities in this study. This is based on the size of an early medieval guardhouse that is believed to stand on the foundations of the Solomonic guardhouse.
What does all this mean? The east wall of Jerusalem excavated by Charles Warren in the 1860’s dates from the time of Solomon. This is generally admitted. The construction of this wall matches the construction style and building materials of the gates of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, thus placing them in the mid-10th century as well. The use of Phoenician craftsmen at the three aforementioned cities is also attested in Solomonic Jerusalem, just as the Old Testament asserts; this is proven by the presence of the carven ashlar masonry and the proto-Ionic capitals at all four sites. These common factors, in addition to the measurements of the guardhouses, suggest whoever built the walls of Jerusalem also built the gates of Gezer, Megiddo, and Hazor. Since the east wall and its vanished East Gate (which we know from Ezekiel to have had six chambers like the others) dated from the time of Solomon, it follows that the gates of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer likewise were constructed during the reign of Solomon, which is in fact what 1 Kings 9:15 asserts.
The thesis is not uncontested, however. There is considerable disagreement on whether the gate of Megiddo in particular dates from the time of Solomon. Renowned Israeli archaeologist David Ussishkin considers the ruins of Megiddo’s gate to date from the time of Ahab, based on certain topographical considerations relating to the construction. This would not mean that Solomon did not build the gate of Megiddo, however, only that the current ruins are not Solomonic in origin. While Ussishkin’s argument has some considerable merit, it does fail to address the similarity between the gates of Megiddo and those of Gezer, Hazor and Jerusalem, all of which are generally agreed to date from the time of Solomon.
At this point, perhaps it seems we have strayed into a discussion that is purely academic. When does it really matter when some city gates were built?
It must be recalled that the biblical skeptics, especially those of the Documentary Hypothesis school, tend to see the United Monarchy as a national myth and doubt the existence of Solomon entirely. If the gates of Gezer, Megiddo, an Hazor were in fact built during the mid-10th century, they attest not only to the existence of Solomon (to whom Scripture clearly attributes their construction), but to the existence of a powerful and centralized monarchy in the Israel in the mid-10th century—a political entity with enough wealth to import Phoenician craftsmen and fortify massive cities from one end of the kingdom to the other based on what appears to be a single blueprint.
In other words, it testifies to the existence, power, and splendor of the Solomonic kingdom.
(1) Archaeologist Norma Franklin, who is skeptical of the Solomonic dating of the gates of Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer, and who disputes that the proto-Ionic capitals were ever set atop actual columns, nevertheless admits that the voluted design of these capitals is of Phoenician origin. She says, “The Levantine volute motif also extends to the realm of the dead and it can be traced on Phoenician, and later Punic, funerary stelae.” See: “From Megiddo to Tamassos and Back: Putting the ‘Proto-Ionic Capital’ In Its Place” Fire Signals of Lachish, ed. Finklestein and Na’aman (Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, IN), 2011
Phillip Campbell, “Solomonic Gates: Hazor, Megiddo, Gezer,” Unam Sanctam Catholicam, July 12, 2015. Available online at: http://unamsanctamcatholicam.com/2022/07/solomonic-gates-hazor-megiddo-gezer-html