Places

Jezreel by Jennie Ebeling; Norma Franklin

Jezreel, Hebrew Yizre’el, meaning “God sows,” is mentioned more than 30 times in the Hebrew Bible as the setting for a series of dramatic events during the reigns of Kings Ahab, Joram, and Jehu of the northern kingdom of Israel. In 1Kgs 21, when Naboth the Jezreelite refuses to sell his vineyard to Ahab, Ahab’s wife Jezebel has him stoned to death. This is followed by a visit from none other than the prophet Elijah and the subsequent gruesome death of Jezebel.

Strategically located in Galilee at the intersection of the ancient international highway between Egypt and Mesopotamia—the Via Maris—and the route south to Samaria and Jerusalem—the Way of the Patriarchs—Jezreel was the location of a military compound, a sometime residence for Israelite kings, and an agricultural Eden. 

Tel Jezreel was excavated in the early 1990s by David Ussishkin of Tel Aviv University and John Woodhead of the British School of Archaeology; since 2012 the Jezreel Expedition directed by Norma Franklin of the University of Haifa and Jennie Ebeling of the University of Evansville has explored greater Jezreel, which includes the northern slopes of the tel as well as the Spring of Jezreel below. Both excavations have yielded information that helps us understand the nature of the site from prehistory to modern times, including the period of the kings of Israel (ninth–eighth centuries B.C.E.).

What was the nature of the Israelite settlement at Jezreel?

Although the main royal residence was in the Israelite capital of Samaria, Jezreel may have been occupied for at least part of the year by Ahab and Jezebel. Some years after the death of Ahab, when his son Joram was king of Israel, Jezreel was described as a military center and staging post for battles in the north and east, and the military theme continues with Jezebel’s death by trampling under the hooves of the usurper Jehu’s horses. Jezreel also served as a royal retreat of sorts, as Joram went to Jezreel to rest after being wounded in battle with the Arameans (2Kgs 9).

Excavations at Tel Jezreel in the 1990s revealed the remains of a rectangular compound surrounded by walls, a moat, and a four- or six-chambered gate on the southern side. No domestic structures were found within the compound, strengthening its identification as a military or royal center. The excavators dated the compound’s construction to the Omride dynasty (circa 880 B.C.E.) on the basis of the biblical narrative; a destruction layer in the southeastern tower was accordingly attributed to Hazael and the Arameans in the late ninth century B.C.E. The current excavators have challenged both of these conclusions: the compound may date slightly later, and the destruction in the southeastern tower was too localized to signify the demise of the entire compound.

What made Jezreel such an attractive location?

Located at the narrowest part of the Jezreel Valley, in a position to control the major east–west and north–south highways, Jezreel was surrounded by fertile farmland that attracted inhabitants from prehistoric times. The spring of Jezreel that flowed nearly one kilometer north of Tel Jezreel provided the site and surrounding fields with a constant supply of water; even today, the lush fields surrounding Jezreel are considered ideal for growing two traditional staple crops of the region: grapes, as reflected in the narrative of Naboth’s vineyard, and olives. The perennial spring waters would have attracted commercial and military travelers early on; the earliest biblical event associated with the site is the encampment of the Israelite army at the spring of Jezreel while Saul prepares for battle at Gilboa (1Sam 29:1).

A landscape archaeology project conducted by the Jezreel Expedition has identified evidence of the military character of Jezreel over millennia along with a network of roads and paths that connected different parts of the site from as early as the Roman period. These discoveries underscore the agricultural plentifulness alluded to in the story of Naboth’s vineyard in 1Kgs 21 and the military character of Jezreel described in 2Kgs 9.

Jennie Ebeling, Norma Franklin, "Jezreel", n.p. [cited 22 Aug 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/places/main-articles/jezreel

Contributors

Jennie Ebeling

Jennie Ebeling
Associate Professor, University of Evansville

Jennie Ebeling is an associate professor of archaeology and chair of the Department of Archaeology and Art History at the University of Evansville in Indiana. Codirector of the Jezreel Expedition and a stone artifact specialist, Ebeling has edited volumes on household archaeology and ground stone artifacts and is the author of Women’s Lives in Biblical Times (T&T Clark, 2010).

Norma Franklin

Norma Franklin
Associate Fellow, W. F. Albright Institute

Norma Franklin is a research associate at the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa and an associate fellow at the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. Codirector of the Jezreel Expedition, Franklin is a field archaeologist with a particular interest in the northern kingdom of Israel and its three key cities: Samaria, Megiddo, and Jezreel.

Located in the fertile Jezreel Valley, Jezreel was the setting for the dramatic stories of Naboth’s vineyard and Jezebel’s death in 1 and 2 Kings.

Did you know…?

  • Jezreel has been continuously inhabited from the Neolithic period until the present day.
  • The site of Jezreel gave its name to the valley and not the other way around.  
  • According to the biblical narrative, Jezebel died not from falling from the window but by being trampled underfoot by Jehu’s team of chariot horses.
  • We still do not know where people lived during the Iron Age period when Jezreel functioned as a military center.
  • Jezreel’s strategic location attracted crusaders in the 12th century C.E., and they named the site Le Petit Gerin, in reference to nearby Jenin. A tower and church from the crusader period still stand on the western part of the site.

Dug up, often from an archaeological site.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel during the divided monarchy, or more broadly describing the biblical descendants of Jacob.

The kingdom consisting of the northern Israelites tribes, which existed separately from the southern kingdom of Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, all the tribes were part of a unified kingdom under David and Solomon, but the northern kingdom under Jeroboam I rebelled after Solomon's death (probably sometime in the late 10th century B.C.E.), establishing their independence. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E.

Literally "mound," a small hill-shaped site containing numerous occupational layers of a town or city built on top of one another over millennia.

1Kgs 21

Naboth's Vineyard
1Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria.2And Ahab s ... View more

A sequence of rulers from the same family.

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

2Kgs 9

Anointing of Jehu
1Then the prophet Elisha called a member of the company of prophets and said to him, “Gird up your loins; take this flask of oil in your hand, ... View more

1Sam 29:1

The Philistines Reject David
1Now the Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, while the Israelites were encamped by the fountain that is in Jezreel.

1Kgs 21

Naboth's Vineyard
1Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria.2And Ahab s ... View more

2Kgs 9

Anointing of Jehu
1Then the prophet Elisha called a member of the company of prophets and said to him, “Gird up your loins; take this flask of oil in your hand, ... View more

The stage of development during which humans used iron weapons; in the ancient Near East, approx. 1200 to 500 B.C.E.

An archaeological era defined by the advancement of stone wares and tools; generally a late part of the Stone Age and an early stage in the development of a civilization. In the ancient Near East, the neolithic period lasted from about 8500 to 4300 B.C.E.

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