Stone Circles and Asherah Poles

So, I need to make a confession to you. For the past 22 years, I’ve been a huge Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) fan. When we visited Scotland two summers ago, we even traveled to Orkney to see the stone circles there.That said, I had no idea we have them here in Israel!!!!

Every two weeks we travel up to Hazor to take our son to his bus back to base. And for the past couple years we’ve passed this supposedly phenomenal archaeological site off the main road through the Hula Valley. Every time, I tell my husband, “You know, we should check this place out.” or “It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.” or “One day we should stop off at Tel Hazor.”

Last week, it was a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning, and we needed a bit of a break, so- we did it. And were not disappointed. In the least.

In Hebrew, a Tel is a hill, and this tall mesa just north of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) offered sweeping vistas of the Kinneret, the entire Hula Valley and the rising mountain ridge of the Golan to the east. Easy to see why this was a prime location defensively to build a city.

Hazor has a long history. In the 1750s BCE, it was first settled by (occupying) Egyptians as a vassal state among the Canaanites. It is mentioned several times in the Bible: in Joshua 11:10, Hazor is referred to as ” the head of all the kingdoms.” In the book of Judges, it was the stronghold of King Jabin. The king who sent his army under the command of Sisera to march a day to the South towards Mt Tabor. As the story goes, under Deborah (mother and judge in Israel), the lovely Yael goes into Siseras tent, serves him honeyed milk to lull him to sleep, then drives a tent peg into his temples. Yikes! So much for the invading Canaanite army.

Taken over by the Israelites, the city, built atop the old Canaanite ruins, grew to become the largest fortified city in the land of Israel. Situated between Damascus and Jerusalem, it was right off a main travel route. Hazor was greatly expanded under King Solomon, who added the city gates and place in the 10th century.

You have to really use your imagination at some of these archaeological sites to recreate the actual structures, but the throne room was quite amazing. The walls are made from an earthen straw mixture (aids in dating) and to see the ancient straw pieces still embedded in the bricks is incredible.

And if that’s not enough, there’s an actual footprint left behind in the earthen floor from millennia past!

Under the rule of the Biblical King Ahab (yup, that’s Jezebel’s husband! They lived here!!), an incredibly monstrous water cistern, a temple (pagan?) and citadel were added in the upper city. We hiked to the edge of the cistern. John decided to take the winding (modern/added) stairs down to the bottom of the well and visit the tunnels below while I took photos from above. I have no idea how they accomplished this tremendous feat, but it was a spectacular accomplishment!

That’s a wow!!! Right?? So, the upper city also included a citadel or watch tower, and basic housing.

OK. See the stone standing in the lower right quadrant? Mostly they were made of wood, but this one was stone. In the temple. It’s an Asherah pole. So, these Israelites, especially Ahab and Jezebel, at times worshipped pagan gods. Asherah was a cultic goddess, the partener of Baal. It was a kind of orgiastic fertility cult. To whom sacrifices were offered. Child sacrifices. Pretty creepy.

As if that wasn’t surprising enough, the lower city had the archaeological ruins of a Bronze Age Canaanite civilization. And it was there I discovered the stone circle! Yeah. The one with the pit in front… where bones had been found. So totally creepy! And no, I did not go near this one. Who knew there were stone circles outside of Europe? But supposedly at certain times of the year, astronomical and solar line-ups would occur. Around those stones. And I have no doubt these early superstitious people made sacrifices. And not just animal immolations. Double yikes and totally creepiness felt here…

Besides the palace, temple and city ruins, is a large colunnaded storehouse and great examples of old dwellings. There’s also a small museum with artifacts taken from the site.

In around 732 BCE, Hazor was invaded by the Assyrians. The tribe of Naftali living in the area were taken into captivity along with all the other tribes of Israel living north of Judea and Samaria. It was completely razed and burnt to the ground.

Despite the fact that this year Israel has been having a record-breaking amount of tourists visiting, we had the entire place to ourselves. Not one other person was there, which also added to the ambiance of the place. I’m glad this time we took the opportunity and made the stop.

One thought on “Stone Circles and Asherah Poles

  1. Thanks so much for this post Tamar. I can’t wait to visit Israel for the first time. I’m thinking it will be in a couple of years G-d willing.


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