In Genesis 44, Joseph set up his brother Benjamin, to make it appear that Benjamin had stolen his drinking cup. In 1 Kings 21, the northern Kingdom of Israel’s King Ahab, advised by his wife Jezebel, conspired to take Naboth’s entire vineyard at Jezreel. It was for this act of murder that the prophet Elijah told Ahab that “Dogs will devour Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.” In 2 Kings 9, Jehu went to Jezreel and Jezebel’s officers threw her out the window. She plunged to her death and her body was devoured, fulfilling the prophecy.
Jezreel is located at the northern edge of the Samarian hill country, on a spur in the foothills of Mount Gilboa. The city faces the hills of Mount Moreh and the mountains of the Lower Galilee beyond it. Between the two ranges lie the fertile plain of the Jezreel Valley.
In ancient times, this area of the Jezreel Valley was important for a number of reasons. A perennial spring provided water for agriculture. The region was also important because of its location along the trade routes. The “Via Maris” coastal route connected the major food producing areas of Egypt and Mesopotamia through the Jezreel Valley. Merchants (and armies) could enter through a pass astride Megiddo and then turn east to pass Jezreel, into the Jordan Valley and then north in the direction of Syria, which following the Euphrates and Tigris into Mesopotamia. Jezreel also sat at the edge of the Ridge Route, the north-south road that cut across the central hill country. Importantly, it could also serve as the vanguard to protect the Israelite capital at Samaria.
At the summit of Tel Jezreel, archaeologists unearthed a large rectangular compound enclosed by a casemate wall. Towers were exposed in two corners and are presumed to have been present in the remaining two corners. The entrance featured either a four- or six-chambered gate. The date of the construction is disputed, but pottery dating can support an Iron IIA 9th century BCE date.
The enclosure was further protected by a glacis, an artificial slope created to hinder attackers, that was over 8 feet thick. Below the glacis was a moat along the eastern, southern and western sides that was over 25 feet wide and 15 feet deep. No moat was needed on the northern edge as this naturally sloped down into the Jezreel Valley.
Within the casemate walls, fill dirt was used to flatten the surface. It has been difficult for archaeologists to ascertain the exact degree of development due to erosion and later settlement that disrupted the soil below, but the site appears to have not been densely settled. The lack of densely packed structures suggests that the site was used for state purposes, including as a royal residence, perhaps a second residence for the Israelite kings or a fortress.
Surveys have shown that the area outside of the compound above also appears to have covered a large area and was well settled. And they also demonstrate that the site may have once been the home to vineyards.
Below the structure above, on the eastern side of Jezreel there appears to have been a winery. There numerous wine and olive presses were found, to go along with vats to store wine carved into the bedrock. Soil analysis showed that the land to the east of Jezreel was better suited for grapes, while the land to the west was preferable for olives.
The confluence of evidence validates the idea of an Israelite king, possibly guided by his wife, seeking to control a strategically significant location, with it is wine production, and establishing a royal enclosure on the site.
The image above is of grapevines at Tel Jezreel. A map showing the Via Maris through the Jezreel Valley, which passed Jezreel, can been seen via the following link: http://www.crivoice.org/phototour/pjezreel.html