Solomon’s Monumental Regional Gatehouses

Megiddo Gate
From the Exhibit 2024 Let the Stones Speak Magazine Issue

Prof. Yigael Yadin was one of Israel’s great founders and played a key role in the 1948 War of Independence. Later in his career, he became deputy prime minister as well as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces. Yet for all his impressive military and political accomplishments, he is perhaps best known for his contribution to archaeology. And among his many archaeological discoveries, none were more dramatic and consequential, as Yadin himself expressed, than those that related to King Solomon.

From 1957 to 1970, Professor Yadin excavated tels at two of biblical Israel’s most important and famous sites: Hazor and Megiddo. He meticulously studied earlier excavation reports of a third: Gezer. Yadin marveled at the parallels between the construction and layout of all three sites—parallels specifically prevalent within the stratum associated with the 10th century b.c.e.

Let the Stones Speak

Yadin’s observations were summarized by Kaitlyn Satelmayer in her research paper titled “The Gates of Hazor, Gezer and Megiddo: Their Origin and Distribution”: “The first archaeologist to sufficiently excavate these … [two] sites and specifically note parallels between each city [in connection with Gezer] was Yigael Yadin. … When Yadin was excavating …, he noticed that several features seemed to be extremely familiar. The design, dimension, construction and artistic features remained consistent. There was a casemate wall system at each site, a specific architectural feature prevalent during the 10th century in Israel. Yadin remarked on the fact that each site had a city gate that contained six chambers, three chambers on each side.”

Archaeologically, this is remarkable. It’s also incredibly informative when trying to understand a site and its relationship with other sites from the same period. Here we have three cities, three distinct locations, around 150 kilometers (almost 100 miles) apart—and all three have almost exactly the same design, dimension, construction and artistic features, and all dated to the same time period!

The six-chambered-style gatehouse would famously become known as “Solomonic Gates,” or “Israelite Gates.” At Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, Yadin didn’t merely identify gates that looked similar; in most cases, the dimensions were virtually identical.

Certainly, there is some degree of variation among these measurements, mainly related to Gezer. But this is also not unusual, given that each gatehouse would have needed to be tailor-made to fit the geographical constraints of the site (particularly in Gezer, where the gate sits against a slope).

But what is remarkable is the overall consistency between the gates, in some cases to the nearest centimeter. Take Megiddo and Hazor: The dimensions are practically identical, right down the list. And in all three cities, the width of the inner part is exactly 4.2 meters (13.8 feet), and the width of the walls is exactly 1.6 meters (5.2 feet) (see our article Solomonic Cubits for more information).

“The gates’ dimensions were impressively consistent,” wrote Satelmayer. “Yadin concluded that the gates of Hazor, Gezer and Megiddo were designed in such a way as to have been a part of a massive, unified building project in ancient Israel. Looking at each site’s specific stratigraphy it reveals that within a short period of time, these three cities grow from being relatively small fortifications into huge, fortified cities. All with specific construction pertaining to particular wall systems, and well-built six-chambered city gates, all following a similar construction pattern.”

This data tells us a lot about who built these cities. First, it shows that the same government constructed all three cities; their gates were built using the same blueprint. Second, the archaeological remains of these cities, including the large six-chambered gatehouses, show that they were of a monumental nature. These cities did not belong to a “ragtag” tribal chieftain; they belonged to a significant power. Third, the presence of a single blueprint outlining the construction of large, fortified cities infers the presence of a centralized government in this region in the 10th century.

The situation of these cities in relation to each other is also notable with regard to the last point. They are separated by relatively vast distances, spanning the better part of ancient Israel’s geographic territory. This points to administrative control over a large area.

From the archaeological record, it is logically evident that Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer were built in the 10th century b.c.e. by the same powerful ruler, an individual with substantial regional power and influence.

Who might this have been?

The Bible Answers

In 1 Kings 9, following the account of Solomon building the temple and his own palace, some of his other projects are listed: “And this is the account of the levy which king Solomon raised; to build the house of the Lord, and his own house, and Millo [a location within Jerusalem that is still debated—quite possibly the Stepped Stone Structure], and the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezer” (verse 15).

What was it that Yadin discovered at these three sites? He found evidence of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer emerging suddenly, and in exactly the same pattern, during the 10th century b.c.e.

At all three sites, First Temple Period, early Phoenician-style “proto-Aeolic” capitals were discovered. He concluded that the gates’ construction style—the ashlar masonry—was reflective of a Phoenician style found at sites further north of Israel. There is a biblical connection here, too; the Bible records that Hiram, the Phoenician king of Tyre, assisted King Solomon in his construction projects (verse 11).

Furthermore, the biblical record highlights specific construction methods utilized by Solomon and Hiram. 1 Kings 6:36 says, “And he built the inner court with three rows of hewn stone, and a row of cedar beams.” 1 Kings 7:12 says, “And the great court round about had three rows of hewn stone, and a row of cedar beams, like as the inner court of the house of the Lord ….”

Evidence of this method of construction—rows of hewn ashlar stones topped by a horizontal row of cedar beams (and then topped by another series of ashlar stones)—has also been found. Case in point: Megiddo, which has been heavily excavated and written about by Prof. David Ussishkin. In 1980, he wrote, “In Megiddo, a horizontal gap running along the foundation walls of the gate almost certainly indicates that wooden beams were incorporated here. A horizontal gap of a similar kind was found in Lachish …. Here were placed wooden beams whose remains still could be retrieved when uncovered” (“Was the ‘Solomonic’ City Gate at Megiddo Built by King Solomon?”).

Summarizing the conclusions of R. S. Lamon in Megiddo II, Ussishkin wrote: “The monumental structures of Stratum iv [at Megiddo], including the ‘Solomonic’ gate, were partly constructed with ashlar masonry in ‘Phoenician’ style, in parallel to the biblical descriptions of the Solomonic building enterprises, in particular the descriptions of the ashlar masonry (e.g. 1 Kings 7:12: ‘with three rows of hewed stones, and a row of cedar beams’).”

Remarkable, isn’t it? Archaeological evidence reveals the same construction method as that recorded in the Bible and in association with the administration of King Solomon.

What is the most rational explanation for this? Is it coincidence that the archaeology pertaining to these three cities aligns almost identically with the biblical record? To some at least, the answer is: Yes—it’s all coincidence.

The Minimalist View

In the mid-1980s, a new minimalist school of thought promoting a “low-chronology” theory took root in the field of archaeology. One of the chief proponents of this view is Prof. Israel Finkelstein, who is also one of Megiddo’s chief excavators. (The minimalist position marginalizes the Hebrew Bible as a largely fictional, embellished work written by authors hundreds of years after the events it records.)

Finkelstein, in large part, led the charge in attempting to redate such monumental structures like the gatehouses and all previously identified grand 10th-century structures discovered throughout Israel to the ninth century b.c.e. In the case of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, construction was attributed not to King Solomon but to the later Omride dynasty that reigned from Samaria over the northern kingdom of Israel in the ninth century.

Archaeologically, the minimalists identified the end of the 10th century b.c.e. as the start of the Iron iia period. This relegated the period of David and Solomon—the main part of the 10th century b.c.e.—to the relatively destitute Iron Age i period (a fractious period that aligns with the events recorded in judges). This redating effectively expunged the grand biblical united monarchy from ever having existed!

“Finkelstein’s primary goal in creating this new argument was to look at the archaeological evidence and material culture from King David and Solomon’s reign and suggest that what we think about this period is exceptionally over-exaggerated compared to its actuality,” Satelmayer wrote. “In 1996, Finkelstein developed his main argument in this newly redeveloped concept, indicating that none of the architectural features pertaining to the gate systems found at the sites of Hazor, Gezer and Megiddo date to the time period of Solomon. Instead, they all date much later ….”

Finkelstein’s low-chronology view is based on two primary arguments. “The first of these ideas is the concept of the absence of Philistine pottery in Stratum vi [at Megiddo], and the second has to do with the dating of ceramics at [the nearby] Tell Jezreel” (ibid).

To Finkelstein, Jezreel’s Period i pottery, which was dated to the ninth century b.c.e., appeared to be similar to Megiddo’s Stratum va-ivb pottery (the stratum associated with the Solomonic gatehouse). He also noted the lack of Philistine bichrome pottery ware within the preceding Stratum vi at Megiddo—this pottery served as a standard chronological marker for the preceding 11th century b.c.e., as found at other sites.

Using these arguments, Finkelstein concluded that there is no discernible difference between Israelite pottery types from the 10th to ninth century b.c.e.; therefore, the formerly identified “grand” structures of the 10th century b.c.e. would be better redated and compressed into a tighter ninth-century b.c.e. time frame.

Additionally, Professor Finkelstein necessarily dismissed the discovery of a royal Egyptian victory-stele fragment at Megiddo. This fragment belonged to Pharaoh Shishak, who in the late 10th century b.c.e.—directly following Solomon’s reign—invaded Israel (1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Chronicles 12:1-9).

Shishak’s campaign is detailed on a wall relief in his temple at Karnak. The relief actually mentions Megiddo by name. And although the Megiddo stele fragment was not found in stratigraphic context (instead found in secondary use), it fits with the biblical and Egyptian textual records of the pharaoh’s invasion following Solomon’s reign, and it attests to the presence of a significant fortress that had to have preexisted at Megiddo during the 10th century.

Finkelstein summarized: “Put aside 1 Kings 9:15, and the Shoshenq stele which came from a dump, the only clue for dating the Megiddo strata is furnished by the Philistine pottery” (“The Archaeology of the United Monarchy: An Alternative View,” 1996).

The Dever Is in the Details

Professor Finkelstein’s low-chronology redating of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer caused an earthquake in the archaeological world. Initially, it appeared the biblical minimalist’s case was scientifically reasonable, especially when early radiocarbon dating at first appeared to “prove” low chronology.

Today, the minimalist’s view of the dating of these cities is outdated and passé (a reality perhaps even Finkelstein is beginning to acknowledge; in 2021, he admitted in an interview that “we are in a new phase of attempts to show that archaeology can strike back at the critical approach”). Today, the traditional, biblically aligned theory of the 10th century is asserting itself as the most consistent with the archaeological evidence. This is thanks in large part to the revolutionary work of Prof. Yosef Garfinkel at the “Davidic” sites of Khirbet Qeiyafa and Khirbet al-Ra’i (as well as Rehoboam-era Lachish).

In the debate surrounding low chronology, and particularly the redating of the Solomonic gates at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, one of Finkelstein’s strongest opponents has been American scholar Prof. William Dever. Dever excavated Gezer from the 1960s to ’90s, and he dated the Gezer gatehouse to the 10th century b.c.e.

In a 2021 research piece titled “Solomon, Scripture and Science: The Rise of the Judahite State in the 10th Century b.c.e.,” Dever revealed new carbon-dating results that corroborate the identification of “Solomon’s gates” solidly with the 10th century. “[T]he vaunted C-14 dates that were promised have actually dealt the ‘low chronology’ a death blow,” he wrote, after outlining the carbon data. “We can move on from excessive skepticism to a modest optimism, from fascination with novelty to serious, responsible work as historians.” He noted that of the seven dates provided for Megiddo, “only one of the Megiddo dates as published might support Finkelstein’s ‘low chronology’ (at a 1 percentage of 68.2 percent accuracy),” while “the other five all support our conventional chronology.” (Note that Dever’s article was published before the new radiocarbon dataset for Gezer was released late last year, affirming the same results.)

Dever also highlighted new analysis of prevalent red-wash ware in the Gezer-gate stratum; at other sites, this pottery is conclusively dated as belonging exclusively to the 11th–10th century b.c.e.not the ninth century. With these “relatively new observations on ceramic typology … plus new and better C-14 dates,” Dever wrote, “we now have at our disposal a securely dated ceramic corpus of the late 11th–10th centuries b.c.e. that will enable us at last to define the 10th century b.c.e. in stratigraphic, ceramic and truly historical terms.” According to Dever, using the latest scientific analysis, Gezer is unquestionably dated to the 10th century b.c.e. In other words, it is Solomonic.

And what about the biblical record that aligns so well with the archaeology at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, which minimalists consider largely irrelevant? According to Professor Dever, “We cannot simply dismiss the narratives of the Hebrew Bible, our other source for history-writing, as many revisionists (and even some archaeologists) do ….”

If you’re keeping score, here is where we are at. First, Yigael Yadin excavated all three sites (Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer) and concluded that all three are 10th-century sites. Second, Prof. William Dever has excavated Gezer extensively and concluded that the Gezer gatehouse dates to the 10th century. Third, archaeologist Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor excavated Hazor and dated it to the 10th century. Finally, Finkelstein and Ussishkin excavated Megiddo and, at least according to them, date the city to the ninth century b.c.e., positing that the other cities should be redated likewise. (It’s interesting to note, though, that Ussishkin believed at the time of his above-quoted 1980 article that Dever’s excavation showed Gezer’s gate “was indeed proven to date to the 10th century b.c.e., and it seems quite probable that it was constructed during the reign of Solomon.”)

Regardless, in all the debate and discussion over Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, one crucial topic is often missing—and it’s the key that could unlock it all.

Enter Jerusalem

Yadin’s three gatehouses can be connected with another important gatehouse, the one uncovered by Dr. Eilat Mazar on the Ophel in Jerusalem.

As the walls of the Jerusalem gatehouse began to be exposed, measured and recorded, excavation surveyor Leen Ritmeyer overlaid the emerging series of mirrored chambers, including the passageway, onto a larger plan that included the Large Tower. “When Leen brought his plan to my grandfather and I, we could not believe what we saw,” recalled Dr. Mazar in her 2011 publication Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem. “[T]he symmetry of Building C [the chambered structure], with the Large Tower in front of it, was strikingly evident, and all of a sudden we realized that we were looking at a typical First Temple Period city gatehouse, characterized by four identical [still-preserved] chambers and a large approach tower [similar to that at Megiddo].”

This was a lightbulb moment for Dr. Mazar and her grandfather. “Suddenly everything came together! The lime floor that passed through the passageway of the gatehouse led straight to the Large Tower, physically connecting the two buildings! Our city gate closely resembled those known from such other contemporaneous sites [Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer] …. The realization that we had just discovered an ancient city gate from the First Temple Period was one of the most exciting moments that I shared with my grandfather during our work together.”

The Mazars posited that, based on the location and surrounding particulars, this gatehouse was most likely the one referenced as the “water gate” in the book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 8:1, 3, 16).

David Milson was later brought onto the Ophel team as excavation surveyor and set about measuring the site structures. “Following David’s careful measurements of Building C, we were amazed to discover that the dimensions of the four-chambered Ophel gatehouse were almost identical to those of the 10th-century palace gatehouse at Megiddo,” Mazar wrote.

View of the Solomonic Ophel gate, with overlaid gatehouse outline, looking to the east
Armstrong Institute of Biblical Archaeology

“The overall length of the Ophel gatehouse measured 10.4 meters long and 14.8 meters wide, while the Megiddo gatehouse measured 10.2 meters long and 14.6 meters wide. The passageway of the Ophel gatehouse measured 4 meters wide, while that at Megiddo measured 4.2 meters. Likewise, the walls of the Ophel gatehouse were 1.5 meters thick, while at Megiddo they were 1.6 meters. The similarities between the measurements of the chambers are even more impressive, measuring 2.8 meters long at both sites, 2.4 meters wide at the Ophel, and 2.2 meters wide at Megiddo.

“This discovery was truly fantastic and seemed to indicate that the two gatehouses were built according to an identical blueprint, most likely originating in the same architectural office,” wrote Mazar. Like Gezer, there were certain marginal differences, which, as Dr. Mazar noted, no doubt reflected the geographical situation of the gatehouse, or the specific royal location of this particular gate. The Jerusalem gatehouse is also much more fragmentary than the other three, visible in its lowest foundational courses, with only one chamber still preserved at a significant height.

And while it appears from the remains that this gatehouse had at least four standard chambers, there is some evidence to suggest the presence of somewhat more elongated, fifth and sixth chambers (if this reconstruction is indeed accurate; again, particularly on this northern side of the gatehouse where the bedrock rises, the preservation of material is not great).

Still, several direct parallels, particularly in measurements, do exist between the Megiddo gate and the Jerusalem gatehouse—and by way of association, the gates at Hazor and Gezer. Can this be mere coincidence? Or is it more rational and logical to conclude, as Dr. Mazar did, that the similarities between these gatehouses are the result of a singular “blueprint, most likely originating in the same architectural office”?

After all, 1 Kings 9:15 doesn’t just say that Solomon built three particular cities—Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. It adds an often-overlooked fourth: “And this is the account of the levy which king Solomon raised; to build … Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezer.”

Why Jerusalem Matters

Why is Dr. Mazar’s Jerusalem gatehouse so important? The answer relates to Jerusalem’s association with Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. While these three cities are separated by significant distances, all three are situated within the geographical bounds of the northern kingdom of Israel (as outlined in the Bible, the tribal territories of Naphtali, Manasseh and Ephraim, respectively). Purely from a geographic point of view, a devil’s advocate case could conceivably be made that these three cities were the product of a solely northern administration.

This is what Israel Finkelstein believes. Minimalists argue that the territory of Judah and Jerusalem could not, in any way, shape or form, have been of any significance during the 10th century b.c.e. (and that this region only started to become well established during the late eighth century b.c.e.—the time period of Hezekiah—though this view is now starting to significantly change). Thus, even in the case of incontestably early structures like the securely dated Khirbet Qeiyafa (circa 1000 b.c.e.), they reassign them not to the biblical Judahite-centric monarchy but to the northern-centric kingdom of Saul.

Map of Solomonic Gatehouses

Jerusalem, of course, is famous as the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah and was the headquarters of Judahite administration. But as the Bible reveals—and as archaeological evidence corroborates—specifically during the 10th century b.c.e., Judahite Jerusalem was the administrative capital over all Israel.

The discovery of a monumental 10th-century gatehouse in Jerusalem, then—one with parallels in size and nature to the gatehouses uncovered in Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, all of which have been dated to the 10th century b.c.e.—is the key that unlocks our understanding of this subject. The presence of four strikingly similar gatehouses all built around the same time reveals the presence of a singular, overarching blueprint—and this suggests the presence of a singular, overarching government over an entire, united territory.

Finally, we need to put the archaeological record alongside Bible passages like 1 Kings 9:15 and put aside the overtly unscientific proposition to simply reject this verse. This scripture states explicitly that King Solomon engaged in significant construction projects in exactly the same four cities. When we do this, considering all available evidence in the round, the most obvious and logical conclusion is that these monumental cities were built by King Solomon.