A Study Into King Solomon’s Three FOUR Monumental Gates

Was Solomon a significant king ruling over a vast, wealthy empire? The Bible says he was. What does archaeology say? A journey begins at the gates …
The Solomonic gate at Megiddo
Getty Images/Barbara Gabay
From the November-December 2022 Let the Stones Speak Magazine Issue

Archaeologically, King Solomon is somewhat of an enigma. No ancient inscription bearing his name has ever been uncovered. In spite of this, in modern scholarship today no one really questions Solomon’s existence. After all, we have concrete evidence of his even more legendary father, King David, thanks to the discovery of two (debatably, three) separate inscriptions that refer to him by name.

Today, the debate over King Solomon centers around the significance and might of his kingdom. The Hebrew Bible describes a powerful, extensive and united kingdom, one whose core extended from Beersheba to Dan, and had a wider sphere of influence beginning at the Nile River in the west, encompassing Edom in the south, and extending all the way to Syria (and potentially beyond) in the far north and east.

Biblical minimalists believe this account is wildly overdramatized. They believe 10th-century b.c.e. Israel was a poor, fragmentary collection of generally powerless tribes and that David and Solomon were nothing more than trivial, “ragtag,” geopolitically irrelevant “hill country chieftains.” According to noted minimalists Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, Israel during this century was “at best, no more than a typical highland village … no empire, no palatial cities, no spectacular capital” (The Bible Unearthed).

The above criticism notwithstanding, while we might not have inscriptions bearing his name (which isn’t unusual), archaeology is decidedly not silent about King Solomon and his empire. There is compelling evidence supporting the authenticity of the biblical account of Solomon and the united kingdom. This evidence comes, in part, in the form of four monumental 10th-century b.c.e. city gatehouses.

In this article, we will examine these ancient gatehouses—one of which is often overlooked in this debate, yet represents the most critical piece of the puzzle—and what they tell us about King Solomon’s empire.

Let the Stones Speak

Solomonic Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer

Prof. Yigael Yadin, one of Israel’s great “founders,” played a key role in the 1948 War of Independence as Israel’s head of operations. 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 three of biblical Israel’s most important and famous sites: Hazor, Megiddo and 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. (the period, chronologically, in which King Solomon was on the scene).

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 three sites and specifically note parallels between each city was Yigael Yadin. … When Yadin was excavating at each site, 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” (emphasis added throughout).

Archaeologically, this is remarkable. It’s also incredibly informative. Three cities, three distinct locations, some 150 kilometers apart—and all three have almost exactly the same design, dimension, construction and artistic features, all dated to the same time period!

As for the gatehouses in these three cities: This six-chambered gate style would famously become known as “Solomonic Gates,” or “Israelite Gates” (and rather more dryly in scientific circles, “Six-Chambered Gates”). At Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, Yadin didn’t merely uncover 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 (see the infographic, below). And in all three cities, the width of the inner part is exactly 4.2 meters, and the width of the walls is exactly 1.6 meters (see the sidebar below, “Solomonic Cubits”).

“The gates’ dimensions were impressively consistent,” writes 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. These 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 reveals 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 (as shown on the infographic below). This points to administrative control over a large area.

From the archaeological record, it is logically evident that Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer were built by the same powerful ruler, an individual with substantial regional power and influence. Who might this be?

Magazine infographic (click to enlarge)
Armstrong Institute of Biblical Archaeology

The Bible Answers

In 1 Kings 9, following the account of Solomon building the temple and his own palace, we read about some of his other projects. “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).

Again, 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, Yadin also found First Temple Period, early-Phoenician-style “proto-Aeolic” capitals (ornate royal capstones to large pillars). 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).

That’s not all. 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 a construction method the same 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 school of thought called biblical minimalism 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 largely marginalizes the biblical record. It sees the Hebrew Bible as a primarily 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 (scientifically designated the “Iron iia” period) 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 late 10th century b.c.e. as the start of the Iron iia period (see Prof. Yosef Garfinkel’s article, “The Birth and Death of Biblical Minimalism”). This relegated the period of David and Solomon—the early-to-mid-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.”

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. anyway, and 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 also necessarily dismissed the discovery of a royal Egyptian victory-stele fragment at Megiddo. This fragment belonged to Pharaoh Shoshenq i (biblical Shishak), who in the late 10th century b.c.e.—directly following Solomon’s reign—invaded Israel. (Shishak’s invasion is mentioned in 1 Kings 14:25-26 and 2 Chronicles 12:1-9.) Shoshenq/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 nonetheless 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 pre-existed 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. And 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 passe (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 a’Rai (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 was the chief excavator of Gezer from the 1960s to ’90s, and he dated the Gezer gatehouse to the 10th century b.c.e.

In a recent research piece titled “Solomon, Scripture and Science: The Rise of the Judahite State in the 10th Century bce,” Dever reveals new carbon-dating results that corroborate the identification of “Solomon’s gates” solidly with the 10th century. “[T]he vaunted C14 dates that were promised have actually dealt the ‘low chronology’ a death blow,” he writes, 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 notes 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.”

Dever also highlights new analysis of prevalent red-wash ware in the Gezer-gate stratum, which is pottery conclusively dated at other sites as exclusively belonging to the 11th–10th centuries b.c.e.—not the ninth century. With these “relatively new observations on ceramic typology … plus new and better C14 dates,” Dever writes, “we now have at our disposal a securely dated ceramic corpus of the late 11th–10th century 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 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., 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

Dr. Eilat Mazar was one of Jerusalem’s finest and most experienced archaeologists. Dr. Mazar directed her first excavation on the Ophel in 1986. More specifically, she excavated an ancient royal ascent situated between the City of David (south) and the Temple Mount (north). While excavating on the inside of a monumental tower on the eastern side of the Ophel—the “Large Tower,” still hidden belowground (although revealed by the tunneling efforts of Sir Charles Warren)—Mazar and her grandfather, the renowned Prof. Benjamin Mazar, uncovered a peculiar structure that yielded a series of parallel chambers separated by a limestone-floor thoroughfare.

Jerusalem’s Ophel “Large Tower” and Solomonic gate complex
Julia Goddard/AMIBA

As the walls 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 light-bulb 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 …. 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).

Later that year, David Milson was 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.

“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.

View of the Solomonic Ophel gate from various angles, with overlaid gatehouse outline, looking to the south
Armstrong Institute of Biblical Archaeology

“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 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 certain 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).

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

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. Again, just 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 a fourth: “And this is the account of the levy which king Solomon raised; to build … Jerusalem, and Hazor, and Megiddo, and Gezer.”

Ignorance Is Bliss

One of the most remarkable outcomes from Dr. Mazar’s Jerusalem gatehouse excavation was the lack of attention and debate. Strangely, there was (and in many ways continues to be) a virtual blackout on this subject. It was as if, at least in scholarly circles, the discovery of Jerusalem’s Iron Age gatehouse didn’t even exist!

“I was amazed at how easily our findings at the Ophel were dismissed,” Dr. Mazar wrote. “It is difficult to understand how one could ignore the significance of the discoveries from the Ophel, which, it should be noted, had been published in both academic and popular journals—and especially since they pointed to a relatively early date for royal construction in biblical-period Jerusalem. Something like this should have called for further evaluation, specifically in articles and conferences concentrated on the time frame in question. … Still, none of the publications attracted the needed attention” (ibid). Why the deafening silence?

Conservative Christian scholar Prof. Douglas Petrovich hints at one reason. In a tribute to Eilat following her death in May 2021, Petrovich described his time as a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto. In assigned readings on ancient Israel’s united monarchy, which included articles and books from critical scholars and archaeologists, there was no mention of Dr. Mazar and her excavations on the Ophel. Petrovich asked his professor why, in their study of Solomonic Jerusalem, they were not required to at least consider the archaeology of Dr. Mazar.

The answer from his professor was shocking. “His reply simply was that books by Eilat Mazar are not necessary because her work is motivated by political objectives. He offered no evidence for such an accusation, and we never discussed her findings within our group. This unprofessional response by a scholar who should know better is a perfect example of what an archaeologist faces when he or she attempts to connect monumental architecture or material finds with elements in the biblical narrative.”

Unfortunately, this closed-minded view of Jerusalem archaeology is all too popular today. Too often, we see crucial data or finds from important City of David or Ophel excavations marginalized, ignored and even discarded because they are deemed “political.” Thus, in one convenient fell swoop, the most consequential of biblical cities can be entirely disregarded.

Thankfully, Dr. Mazar’s Ophel excavations are gradually beginning to get the attention they deserve. Just this year, for example, archaeologist Ariel Winderbaum published “The Iron IIA Pottery Assemblages From the Ophel Excavations and their Contribution to the Understanding of the Settlement History of Jerusalem, Vol. 1,” a 500-page dissertation showing, in part, that the Jerusalem gatehouse originates in the 10th century b.c.e.

Solomon’s gates infographic (click to enlarge)
Armstrong Institute of Biblical Archaeology

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). So solely 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). 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.

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 this 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 passage like 1 Kings 9:15, and instead put aside the overtly unscientific proposition to simply “put aside” 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.

Let the Stones Speak


The Use—and Genius—of Chambered Gatehouses

In the ancient world, city gates were hubs of activity. This is where meetings would often take place, where leaders would address residents, where travelers would enter and exit, and where merchants would sell their goods and tradesmen ply their craft.

The parallel chambers, which were situated on both sides of the gate passage, were used for a variety of purposes, including meeting rooms and storage rooms for food, water and other goods.

City gatehouses are prominent in the biblical record. Genesis 23 records that Abraham purchased land “at the gate” of Hebron. Lot was sitting “in the gate of Sodom” when he met the angels who foretold the city’s destruction (Genesis 19). The legalities of Boaz’s marriage to Ruth were hashed out “in the gate” (Ruth 4). It was a place where those guilty of manslaughter were instructed to plead their case (Joshua 20). Saul first encountered Samuel “in the gate” of a city in the land of Zuph (1 Samuel 9). Joab took his rival, the military general Abner, “aside in the gate to speak with him quietly”—and then murdered him in one of the chambers (2 Samuel 3:27). It was within a gate that David was restored as king following the quashing of Absalom’s rebellion (2 Samuel 19). Proverbs 31, the famous passage attributed generally to Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, mentions that a respectable man is “known in the gates” (verse 23). The Prophet Jeremiah was arrested “in the gate of Benjamin” (Jeremiah 37)—the same gate within which King Zedekiah could be found “sitting” (Jeremiah 38). Many more examples could be given.

Besides serving practical day-to-day functions, having a multichambered gate was instrumental to a city’s defense. The weakest point in any fortification is the gate. In the event of a siege, the rooms of a multichamber gatehouse could be filled with rubble; this effectively transformed the gatehouse into a solid continuation of the city wall (and the thickest part of the wall, at that).

In some cases, gatehouses were positioned above a steep drop with a right-angle entrance. This was the case for both Megiddo and Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, a prominent guard tower (known as Warren’s Tower, or the “Large Tower”) was built directly in front of the gatehouse. This prevented an invading army from amassing troops directly at the entrance to the gate. To breach the city, enemy soldiers would first have to approach the gate along a narrow path running parallel to the city wall, where they would be vulnerable to attack from soldiers standing on the city walls above.

Khirbet en-Nahas

Given the fragmentary nature of the Ophel gatehouse, not all agreed with the conclusion that it was a gate. One particular disagreement was regarding the nature of the chambers. The Ophel gatehouse exhibited “closed” chambers that wrapped around four sides (with a narrow opening), rather than the more “open” three-sided chambers of Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer. Jerusalem’s “closed” chambers had no known archaeological gatehouse parallel. “We kept [Prof. Nahman] Avigad’s important critique in mind for many years,” wrote Dr. Eilat Mazar, “as it was the strongest argument that we would receive against our identification …. Though no city gate is completely identical to another, the fact that this was the sole known example whose chambers were intentionally closed off was puzzling” (Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem).

In 2002, a discovery in Jordan shed light on the issue. A four-chambered gatehouse, discovered in Khirbet en-Nahas, featured exactly the same “closed”-style chambers. Not only that, this fortress’s use (as a copper production site) spanned the 10th and ninth centuries b.c.e., as revealed by numerous carbon-14 samples. As Mazar pointed out, this discovery “led the site’s excavators, Prof. Tom Levy and Mohammad Najjar, to raise the possibility that it may have been kings David and Solomon who controlled these mines, since, as noted in 1 Chronicles 18:13, they had also ruled over all of Edom where the site was located.

“This discovery solidified our assertion that Building C was indeed a gatehouse, with an atypical, but still known, construction plan” (ibid).

Solomonic Cubits

In his detailed analyses of the Gezer, Megiddo and Hazor gatehouses (published in part in his 1986 article “The Design of the Royal Gates at Megiddo, Hazor and Gezer”), surveyor David Milson deduced that besides the parallel nature of these structures, the engineers who built them used as their standard the Egyptian royal cubit, or “long cubit” (approximately 0.524 meters).

Milson determined this by comparing the width of the entry passages of all three gates. These all measured precisely 4.2 meters. As it turns out, this is exactly eight lengths of an Egyptian royal cubit, which is 0.525 meters. We know the exact length of a long cubit thanks to several archaeological discoveries. The “Ruler of Maya,” an inscribed cubit rod discovered in Saqqara, Memphis, in the early 1800s, is particularly notable. This measuring rod, which dates to Egypt’s 18th Dynasty (14th century b.c.e.), is currently archived at the Louvre Museum in Paris (Louvre N1538). The fact that this Egyptian measure dates to the 18th Dynasty is interesting given that this is the Egyptian dynasty of the Exodus.

Numerous references to cubit measurements are found throughout the Bible. There are two primary cubits: one “long” and one “short.” The “short cubit” is generally explained as the distance from elbow to tip of the middle finger, otherwise defined as six “hands.” As shown by archaeological discoveries, this standardized measurement is 0.44/0.45 meters. The “long cubit,” or Egyptian royal cubit, is defined as a short cubit “plus a hand”—or, seven hands (standardized as 0.524/0.525 meters).

There are several interesting biblical references to such “short” and “long” cubits. The “short” cubit was evidently used primarily during later monarchical periods. A case in point is Hezekiah’s Tunnel (eighth century b.c.e.): The Siloam inscription states that the tunnel length was cut to “1,200 cubits.” Dividing the known length of the tunnel (533.31 meters) by 1,200, we have 0.44—the exact measure of the short cubit. Further, even the size of the Siloam Inscription sign itself (0.66 meters) and other contemporary burial inscriptions (1.32 meters) are precise multiples of this short, 0.44-meter cubit measure.

2 Chronicles 3:3—a late passage traditionally ascribed to the hand of Ezra during the fifth century b.c.e.—describes Solomon’s temple being constructed with “cubits after the ancient measure,” translated as “the first measure” in the King James Version. Ezra is evidently referring to long cubits, as opposed to the standard “short” measure at the time of writing. Likewise, the book of Ezekiel, written in the sixth century b.c.e., clearly denotes that the prophesied temple would be built after the long-cubit measuring reed—“of a cubit and a hand-breadth each,” or the seven-hands-long royal cubit, paralleling that used for Solomon’s temple (Ezekiel 40:5; see also 43:13—“the cubit is a cubit and a handbreadth”).

Clearly, the examples in 2 Chronicles 3 and Ezekiel show that these cubit measures were a departure from the norm at the time of writing, hence the necessary specification. The same is true on the opposite end of the time spectrum, in early Israel. Deuteronomy 3, for example, records the enormous size of the giant Og’s bed. Verse 11 says “nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man.” This must have been the short cubit, the length of a man’s arm from elbow to fingertip—a measurement that could be more readily and quickly used for measuring mundane items. It is interesting to note, on the other hand, that in the detailed measurements given for the tabernacle (Exodus 25-31) and, later, Solomon’s temple (in 1 Kings 6-7), no specification is given in these earlier accounts for the cubit length (in contrast to the abovementioned later texts). This must have been because the long cubit was the standard being used already at the time.

Milson’s discovery, then, that the Solomonic gates were built using the “long” cubit, is a remarkable fit with the biblical account. It is evident that this was the very measure used by Solomon during his reign—an “ancient measure” that in its own way attests to the antiquity of these structures.

Let the Stones Speak