King Solomon, according to the Bible, built the walls of “Hazor, Megiddo [and] Gezer” (1 Kings 10:15). Six-chambered monumental gates very similar in design have been uncovered at Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer (see photos, below). Until recently, archaeologists generally agreed that all of these gates date to the tenth century B.C.E.—to about the time of Solomon (c. 965–928 B.C.E.). Now, however, there are differing opinions. Megiddo excavators David Ussishkin and Israel Finkelstein, for example, have proposed that Megiddo’s gate was built by the dynasty established by King Omri (882–871 B.C.E.) of the northern kingdom of Israel; while the current excavator of Hazor, Amnon Ben-Tor, emphatically dates Hazor’s gate to the tenth century.

William Dever, excavator of Gezer, offers two pieces of evidence for a tenth-century date for the Gezer gate. First, the pottery from Gezer dating to the time of the gate and earlier is all hand-burnished (first photo)—that is, polished by hand with a smooth pebble or bone, producing irregular criss-cross patterns. Hand-burnished pottery is characteristic of the tenth century. Gezer’s destruction levels dating later than the gate, however, contain pottery polished on a wheel, which leaves an even pattern of concentric circles (second photo). Wheel-burnished pottery is characteristic of the ninth century. Dever thus concludes that the Gezer gate dates to the tenth century—though the evidence does not say it was built by Solomon.

Second, Dever suggests that the Gezer gate was destroyed by the late-tenth-century B.C.E. Egyptian pharaoh Sheshonq I during his military campaign in Palestine. After returning to Egypt, Sheshonq, called Shishak in the Bible, carved a victory stela (see the sidebar “The Merneptah Stela: Israel Enters History”) on a wall of a temple of Amun at Karnak. The Bible records that Shishak “took the fortified cities of Judah” (2 Chronicles 12:4). Sheshonq’s own lists claim that he penetrated even further north—conquering, among other cities, Gibeon, Megiddo and Beth-Shean. So it is likely, Dever suggests, that the Gezer destruction—and others—occurred during this invasion.

Does it matter whether these gates date to the tenth century? According to the Biblical minimalists, there is no archaeological evidence of a tenth-century B.C.E. Israelite state. From this lack of evidence, they conclude that the Bible’s account of the united monarchy is mere fiction; the stories of David and Solomon’s “empire” were fabricated centuries later to dignify Israel’s past. But if all or some of these almost-identical, monumental gates were erected in the tenth century, then there likely existed a central administrative apparatus capable of organizing and financing such a building project—that is, something like a tenth-century state.