The Gates of Armageddon

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By: Yadin Roman

The Late Bronze Age Gate

The first gate, the massive entrance to the site today, was built during the Late Bronze Age, a period that extended from 1550 to 1200 BCE. The Late Bronze Age was the first global age in the history of human civilization. It started with revival of the Egyptian Empire under the eighteenth dynasty. The armies of the pharaohs crossed the Sinai Desert to create Egypt’s great eastern empire. The army of Pharaoh Thutmose III consolidated Egyptian rule over Canaan after defeating a united Canaanite front in the battle of Megiddo in 1479 BCE. The local Canaanites were allowed to continue to serve as the ruling class, but were required to pay heavy taxes to Egypt and to demonstrate their loyalty to the pharaoh. In order to prevent any thoughts of rebellion from arising, the Egyptians forbade construction of defensive fortifications, so the massive Late Bronze Age gate through which the site is entered today was actually a ceremonial gate. Purely ornamental, the gate stood on its own with no walls attached to it and served as an impressive monument that all passed through on the way toward the palace located on the edge of a handsome plaza inside the gate.

A record from the Late Bronze Age is the intriguing Amarna letters, which were discovered at Tel el-Amarna in 1887. The letters belong to the royal  archive of Pharaoh Akhenaten, and date to a century after the Egyptians established themselves in Canaan.  Conditions had deteriorated since the grand days of Thutmose III. Local rulers plotted against each other and tribes of roaming nomads began to destabilize the existing order, yet the pharaoh did not or perhaps could not intervene. A handful of letters in the archive are from Biridiya, the ruler of Megiddo. He complained of the withdrawal of Egyptian troops from Megiddo and the attempt of Lab’aya, the ruler of Shechem, to attack Megiddo.

Despite its vassal status, Megiddo prospered under Egypt. Its strategic location between the great empires of the Late Bronze Age allowed it to flourish.

Egypt’s main rival during the beginning of the Late Bronze Age was the mysterious kingdom of Mitanni, located in what is today northern Syria along the upper reaches of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Mitanni had sent troops to support the Canaanites in the battle of Megiddo. Thutmose III responded with a campaign into Mitanni territory, taking his army across the Euphrates. By the time of the El Amarna letters, relations had improved, alliances had been cemented by marriage, and international trade was flourishing. Eventually, Mitanni was taken over by the Hittite kingdom of Hatti, located where north-central Turkey is today. As time passed, conflict developed between Egypt and the Hittite kingdom, culminating in the battle of Kadesh in 1274 BCE followed by a peace agreement between the two ancient superpowers.

The Late Bronze Age, the first global age, concluded with the collapse of empires and world order. It was a global collapse, as changing weather patterns brought about drought and famine, earthquakes racked the land, societies collapsed, people migrated from their homelands in search of food and sustenance, cities were burned to the ground and abandoned, and the total world population declined.

New Canaan

New cultures soon filled the power vacuum created during the Late Bronze Age. The Philistines settled along the southern coast of the Levant and numerous small villages began to sprout up in the central highlands. The villagers cleared forest land for pasture and built terraces on the mountain slopes for agriculture. Scholars believe that these villagers later coalesced into the society which would be identified as the Israelites.

During the last decade, developments in archaeological research have made it clear that the Canaanites too experienced a period of revival at the beginning of the Iron Age. Many of the Late Bronze Age Canaanite cities rose again and Megiddo was no exception. There are signs that part of the city had been destroyed after the Late Bronze Age ended, but by 1100 BCE, Megiddo was inhabited again – for 150 years, until it was destroyed on a massive scale around 950 BCE. Pharaoh Sheshonk, referred to as Shishak in the Bible, may have been responsible. He not only invaded Canaan in 925 BCE, but also left an inscription on his palace announcing that the cities he destroyed included Megiddo.

Megiddo’s Most Famous Stratum: The Gate of Solomon

In the first half of the ninth century BCE, Megiddo began to flourish again. This is reflected in stratum VA-IVB, which has been the subject of heated debate for two decades. One camp dates this stratum to the tenth century, arguing that means its buildings are from the United Monarchy. The rival school of thought assigns it to the ninth century, which would mean it was built by the Omride dynasty, mainly King Ahab of Israel.

Today all research supports the latter school’s theory that this layer is from the heyday of the Omride dynasty and later. This means that Ahab rebuilt Megiddo or at least its two large Iron Age palaces and the gallery of the water system.

In the following period, Iron IIB (800-732 BCE), Megiddo was a flourishing, powerful, and well-fortified city. It had a city wall, an elaborate gate, stables, a tunnel that led to a water source, and many other buildings. This was the city of Jeroboam II and the so-called Solomonic Gate should be attributed to him.

The Last Gate

Assyrian King Tiglath Pileser III destroyed Megiddo in 732 BCE. When his successor, Shalmaneser V, came to power, King Hoshea of Israel allied himself with Assyria’s archenemy, Egypt. Samaria, the capital of the Kingdom of Israel, was besieged. Shalmaneser died during the siege, and the throne passed to Sargon, who very quickly deposed of Samaria and sent thousands of Israelites into exile.

The Assyrians rebuilt Megiddo as a provincial capital of their empire. It was a well-planned city, laid out on a grid plan (stratum III). The third gate dates to this time and a small part of it can be seen above the second so-called Solomonic gate. When the Assyrian Empire waned and declined, Egypt and maybe Babylonia took over Megiddo. This was the city that King Josiah of Judah set out from in 609 BCE in his unsuccessful attempt to prevent the Egyptians from attacking the Babylonians. While the many guides overlook Josiah and the few remaining traces of the third gate on their way to expound upon the Wisdom of Solomon, it was Josiah’s defeat that gave birth to the Armageddon literature.

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