Plain of Jezreel & Tel Megiddo – Israel

From the top of Mt. Carmel, you are presented with a spectacular view of the Plain of Jezreel. This valley is known as the Great Plain or the Plain of Esdraelon  (from the Greek, meaning “God will sow” or “May God Make Fruitful”). This is an appropriate name for it is one of the most fertile spots on earth. Known to actually produce as many as four to five crops a year, this area has been called the ‘Breadbasket of Europe’, due to its rich agricultural exports to the continent.

Running down the center of this valley, is the ancient road known as the ‘Via Maris’ – the Way of the Sea.

This may be the most fought over stretch of road in the history of the world:

  • Assyria invaded Israel along this route
  • Babylon came through here on its way to attack Judah
  • Persian infantry traveled here
  • Alexander the Great’s armies also marched along this plain
  • Roman Legionnaires trod this path
  • Saracen (Arab) forces brought Islam and the sword through this valley
  • Crusaders came here to retake the Holy Land
  • Napoleon and his troops made a foray into this space
  • And, British regulars pushed back the Ottoman Turk on this site

Its significance is that for over 4,000 years, it has been the main trade route between Egypt in the south and Damascus through to Mesopotamia in the north.

Scriptural Significance

The Bible also cites the Plain of Jezreel/Megiddo as the location of a number of key battles:

  • Deborah and Barak led Israel to defeat Jabin, King of Hazor in this area (Judges 4)
  • Gideon, with only 300 men, defeated the Midianites and the Amalekites here (Judges 7)
  • Saul fought the Philistines in this valley as well as on the mountains surrounding it (I Samuel 29, 31)
  • Josiah lost his life here fighting Pharaoh Necho and the Egyptian Army (see both II Chronicles 35: 19 – 25 and II Kings 23: 29 –30)
  • This was the location of Naboth’s vineyard who was later murdered for it by Jezebel and Ahab (I Kings, Acts 21: 8-9)
  • This will be the location of the great end time Battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16: 13 – 16)

At a key juncture, the Via Maris intersects another ancient road known as the King’s Highway. It is at this strategic location that the Tel of Megiddo can be found.

Archeological Significance

Tels are important to the field of archeology. 

The diagram of a typical tel has been provided above. In short, a tel is a mound that has been built up over hundreds, if not thousands of years. In ancient times (just as today), people wanted to live in places that were well situated – locations near a fresh and abundant supply of water, with good agricultural conditions, easy access to caravan or trade routes, and that could provide enough high ground to have strong defensive positions.

In such sites, settlements would naturally grow and in turn, would become more valuable strategically. This would often lead to such spots being attacked and possibly destroyed.  If the new invaders could conquer the settlement, they in general would rebuild on top of the ruins. This cycle could take place over and over again – with towns being built up, destroyed and then rebuilt again. Each time, the site would grow higher and higher until eventually a substantial mound was formed. Those mounds today are called ‘tels’. 

Tels are an archeologist’s dream. As you dig down through a tel, you come across layers and layers of strata – each one representing the different cultures and civilizations of those who occupied the tel at one time or another. Today, there are as many as 20,000 tels found in the Holy Land – of these, only a little over 400 have been excavated. Think of all that yet remains to be discovered.

Tels were already prevalent in the days of the Bible (see Joshua 11:13, Jeremiah 30:18, and Deuteronomy 13:16 as examples).

Pictured here are archeological squares – a technique used by archeologists as they dig down through Tel Megiddo.

Since these locations were so prone to attack, defensive strategy was of the utmost importance when these locations were built/rebuilt. As we have already stated, the builders sought the high ground – as tels were built up, they naturally commanded the plain. Further, thick high walls were also critical for a strong defense. The most susceptible point for any city of ancient times would be its gates.

By viewing the gates of Megiddo, one can see how defensive technology and architecture has advanced over time. Tel Megiddo is perhaps the most striking of tels, and it provides some of the best examples of the advancement in defensive design when it comes to gate architecture.

Digging Deeper

An Israeli archeologist by the name of Yigael Yadin did some noteworthy excavation work at Megiddo in the 1960’s. Actually, Yadin had spent most of his time digging at another tel (also mentioned in the Bible) called Hazor. There he found a triple-chambered gate (also called a ‘six chambered gate because there are three chambers on each side of the gate). A similar gate would later also be found at Gezer.

Yadin knew his Bible well and knew that I Kings 9:15 testified to King Solomon’s having used forced labor to fortify and build three sites – Hazor, Gezer and Megiddo.  Yadin, based off of the reliability of the Bible, therefore predicted that Megiddo would possess a triple chambered gate. Sure enough, Megiddo’s triple chambered gate was discovered shortly thereafter: 

Triple-chambered gate

The triple chambered gate is a 10th Century BC convention and would therefore date to Solomon’s day.  We know this from pottery that is found in the gate’s chambers. 

Don’t worry about the center chamber being filled – this occurred most likely during the reign of King Ahab.  Remember, tels involve people building on top of ruins.

Yadin wasn’t done yet. During, Solomon’s day the convention for building city walls involved a design called casemate. Casemate walls were made up of outer and inner walls of enclosure that are divided into storage rooms using traversing walls. This is a fairly strong design:

Initially however, only inset-offset walls were found connected to the triple chambered gate. This is a later wall design whereby alternating sections of the wall are set somewhat protruding or somewhat receded from other adjacent sections. This is a very strong design and one that dates after the time of Solomon. This called into question the actual age of the gate. 

Yadin, however, knew the Bible would be proven accurate. He was confident that casemate walls would be found underneath the inset-offset walls – and sure enough he was proven correct!

Yadin, in his work, Hazor, (see page 187), later noted: “Our great guide was the Bible; and as an archaeologist I cannot imagine a greater thrill than working with the Bible in one hand and the spade in the other.”

You can’t visit Megiddo without thinking about that which the Bible says will happen here one day in the future.  As you look out across the rich Valley of Armageddon, the thoughts of Revelation 16 come to mind. It is very clear how easy it would be for tremendous armies to stage themselves here. The swath of land is enormous. 

Seeing Israeli fighter jets flying overhead is a regular sight.  The valley actually serves as an underground airbase. Israeli Air Force fighters land and are immediately taken under ground.

Parting Thoughts

At Tel Megiddo, visitors will be confronted with a round platform made of stones.  This was a Canaanite altar where children were sacrificed in the name of Baal. In many ways this altar is the tragic embodiment of the battle that is taking place for the soul of Israel today.  This same false god has blinded the Palestinians to sacrifice their children in the name of Allah. They don’t perform this act on an altar of stone – but on one that consumes the lives of innocents through the scourge of suicide bombings. To be sure, it will be the Prince of Peace alone who can overcome the dire straights in which the world finds itself.