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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Tirzah (Canaan)

In the mid-third millennium BC, city states began to appear in Syria as people benefited from interaction with Sumer and from improvements in irrigation. Within five hundred years, around 2000 BC, the same process was happening farther south and west, in the Levant, along the Mediterranean coast. Semitic-speaking Canaanite tribes occupied much of the area, creating a patchwork of city states of their own. The Phoenicians (more Canaanites) also occupied parts of this region, eventually founding their own mighty seaborne trading empire.

The ancient city of Tirzah has been linked to the modern archaeological site of 'Tell el Farah (North)' (specifically the northern site rather than a southern one with a very similar name). Although not fully accepted as the correct site, it lies in the Nablus governate of the modern Palestinian West Bank, about eleven kilometres to the north-east of Shechem. Occupation over this eighteen hectare site on a stony plateau dates back to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period, which ended at about 6000 BC.

The settlement gradually expanded through the Chalcolithic period to become a sizable town in the Bronze Age. By about 3000 BC it had ramparts, a western gate which was rebuilt several times, and typical Canaanite domestic houses. However, it was abandoned around the middle of the third millennium BC, not being reoccupied until around 1900-1800 BC. In the twelfth century BC (dating estimated) the Israelites moved in, with the Old Testament describing a series of conquests of Canaanite cities which included this one.

Tirzah was later the original capital of the Israelite splinter state of Samaria, and then its second city. It was considered a beautiful city, having been used in the Old Testament in a simile which described the beauty of the daughters of Zelopehad of the tribe of Manasseh. Having been very modestly occupied since reoccupation around 1800 BC, the Samarians expanded and improved it before abandoning it for reasons which are uncertain.

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), from Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations, A H Sayce, from The Amarna Letters, William L Moran, 1992, from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Tell el-Far'a Palestine, and The Early Days of the Northern Kingdom, Israel Finkelstein (Revue Biblique, Vol 119, No 3, Peeters Publishers, 2012, available via JSTOR).)

c.2000 - 1800 BC

Egypt's 'Middle Kingdom' can be noted at this time for its expansion of trade outside of the kingdom. This includes maintaining a trading presence along the Mediterranean coast while Amorites settle and found the island city of Arvad, almost opposite the inhabited mainland settlement of Sumur.

Map of Anatolia and Environs 2000 BC
At the start of the second millennium BC, a series of small city states in Anatolia which had existed for perhaps a millennium now began to emerge from obscurity (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Tirzah, abandoned since about 2500 BC, is re-occupied during this phase of Canaanite resurgence in which many urban towns are quickly being expanded into cities. In Tirzah's case the new occupants use the old city walls to protect their smaller resettlement area, but a new wall is soon built within the old town footprint to protect this new settlement. Unlike many other locations, it fails to progress in its development.

c.1160s BC

The Jebusites are conquered by the Israelites, as are many other very minor Canaanite city states which are situated in and around what becomes Judah and lower Syria. Dor, Gezer, Megiddo, Shimron-meron, and Tirzah can be counted amongst their number, along with the other Israelite Settlement period conquests.

c.1150s BC


King of Tirzah. Captured by Joshua.

1150s BC

The Israelite conquests are led by Joshua, but they appear to take place over a span of time, probably ten or twenty years if not more. Even referring to many of the conquests as city states may be generous. Many could be little more than obscure settlements and small tribes which are taken over piecemeal. Many also have not been pinpointed by modern archaeology, although educated guesses abound.

Tell el Far'a in Palestine's West Bank
In 1946, Tell el-Far'a was selected by Roland de Vaux, director of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française (EBAF) in Jerusalem, for a series of excavations

Tirzah is taken by the Israelites and is developed into a larger settlement than it has been at any point in the past millennium and-a-half, although it does not match the third millennium BC site for size. A network of villages springs up around it, each handling the local farming and animal husbandry.

928 - 925 BC

The ten tribes of the north of Israel refuse to accept Rehoboam at the confirmation ceremony at Shechem and civil war ensues. Rehoboam is left with just the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south as the kingdom divides into Samaria (Israel) and Judah. Shechem serves as the initial capital of the northern kingdom before it is moved to Tirzah.

It is King Omri who later moves the capital to Samaria. However, in doing so he removes the main reason for Tirzah's existence. It has never managed to replicate its comparative glory days of the first half of the third millennium BC, even under Samarian control.

c.840s BC

Archaeology on Tirzah shows a destruction event around this time, one which can be linked to military action of the period. In 842 BC, Ahaziah of Judah and Joram of Samaria engage Hazael of Damas in battle at Ramoth-Gilead (seemingly a common location for battles in this period). Joram is wounded and retreats to Jezreel where Ahaziah rejoins him. Both are killed there by Jehu, who then seizes the throne of Samaria.

Samaria excavations
This general view of the 1933 excavations of the city of Samaria shows them while looking towards the north

Hazael's own thrust into Samaria may be deeper than previously thought, perhaps not being restricted only to the Transjordan and the northern valleys but reaching Samaria's hill country heartland. Tirzah is abandoned for a time before being occupied on an even more limited basis than previously. In time even that occupation fades to leave the stony plateau site fully abandoned, by which time Samaria has been destroyed by Assyria.

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