Yizreel was a major Biblical city, located on the ancient trade route. It was the northern capital of the Kingdom of Israel. The Bible tells about events around and inside the city.
1 Kings 21:23: "The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel".
* The Tell
Yizreel (Jezreel) was a major Biblical city, and at the 9th C BC it was the northern capital of the Israel Kingdom. The Bible tells about many events associated with the city: the King's palace in the city; the battle of the Gilboa when King Saul was killed; the Naboth vineyard and the plot of Jezebel to posses it; the fate of Jezebel and her son.
Excavations in the 90s found some of the Israelite structures, as well as other periods, but they were not yet fully published.
The ancient city is located on a hill on the western edge of the Gilboa mountain. It is adjacent to the major ancient road from the Galilee to Jerusalem - via Ganim (Jenin). The city was a gateway to the road and hence its importance.
The Tell is located east to the modern Kibbutz by the same name - Yizreel - on the road from the Yizreel valley to the west (Ta'anach/Megiddo/Afula). A parking lot is located on the south side of the Tell, and can be accessed from a service road that starts at the entrance to the Kibbutz. On the south-east side of the Tell are picnic tables and walking trails. One of the trails leads down to the Yizreel spring, which is also reachable by car from a road closer to the junction of Afula / Beth-Shean.
The Tell is roughly a rectangle 170M (north-south) x 350M (east-west).
An aerial photo of Yizreel is shown below, taken in a South orientation, and indicating the major points of interest. The Tell is seen in the center located on a high hill. A dashed blue line indicates the estimated path of the ancient road from the North to Jerusalem.
You can point on the purple points to navigate to the selected point.
Excavations dated the earlier findings to the Calcolithic period (about 40C BC).
According to the excavations, the city was inhabited in the Canaanite/Late Bronze period (starting from the 15th C BC) and Israelite/Iron period. The city belonged to the region of the tribe of Issachar. Its important location on the entrance to the north-south trade route - made the city a gate keeper, just like Megiddo and Yokneam which are located west to here on the other routes to the south.
The archaeological findings from the Iron age include a large enclosure surrounded by a moat, gate with six chambers and large towers. They date to the 10th and 9th C BC, the same time the Biblical events happened.
The city was the center of a great battle: The Philistines, based in the southern Sharon area, planned to expand their territory to the Galilee. King Saul tried to block this move and prepared the Israelite armies near the city. He camped in the Yizreel spring on the foothills of the city.
The Philistines, assisted by Saul's arch enemy (later King) David, set their camp in Shunem (at the foothills of Hamoreh hill, across the valley).
(1 Samuel 29 1): "Now the Philistines gathered together all their armies to Aphek: and the Israelites pitched by a fountain which is in Jezreel".".
The battle was fought in the valley and the Israelites fled to mount Gilboa, where King Saul died together with his 3 sons in this battle. The victorious Philistines held Yizreel and the cities of the valley of Yizreel.
Death of Saul and his sons -by Gustav Dore (French artist, 1832-1883)
Yizreel became a regional capital city during Saul's son, and reached to a higher status after the split of the Kingdoms. It was the northern capital of the Kingdom of Israel, while their other capital city was Samaria (1 Kings 21:1): "in Jezreel... by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria".) The city was protected by high walls and its topographic location gave it a natural defense. The Israeli Kings held a palace here, and it may have been their winter dwelling.
The Assyrians captured the Galilee (732 BC), and destroyed the city. As per the Bible (2 Kings 15:29):" In the days of Pekah king of Israel came Tiglathpileser king of Assyria, and took ... Galilee... and carried them captive to Assyria".
The city returned to its glory at the Hellenistic period, and was part of the Hasmonaim Kingdom.
In Jesus times this was probably the route he took several times, from Galilee to Jerusalem and back via Samaria.
The city prospered during the Roman/Byzantine periods, and was called Izrella or Stradella.
During the Crusaders period the site was a small village and called "Parvum Gerinum" or "Le-Petite Gerin", since Jenin was called "Le-Grand Gerin". In 1183 the Crusaders prepared to launch a strike against Saladin and assembled a force. After their defeat the city was deserted. The recent excavations unearthed some of the Crusaders structures including a church.
An Arab village called Zar'in was established here in 1830 by Ibrahim Pasha by several Egyptian families, and the village was expanded in 1858.
In 1948 the village was a base of the Iraqi and Syrian forces of Kaukji, who blocked the roads and shelled the area. It was attacked by Palmach forces, but forced to retreat. A local monument commemorates their dead. The village was finally captured and destroyed by Israeli forces a month later.
In 1948 a Kibbutz was established on the west side of the Tell, and was named after the Biblical city - Yizreel.
A view towards the east. On the right is Mount Gilboa - the place of the fatal battlefield of the Saul against the Philistines. The ancient road to Jerusalem passes at this point - from left to right - and so the ancient city was the gate keeper from the Galilee to the south and central Israel.
Click on the photos to view in higher resolution...
A view towards the north - the Yizreel valley, named after the city. The trees in the lower center are the place of the Yizreel spring, where king Saul camped before the battle (1 Samuel 29:1 "and the Israelites pitched by a fountain which is in Jezreel"). On the night before he was killed, King Saul rode to Ein-Dor to consult with the witch.
The settlement in the background is Kefar Yechezkel.
A panoramic image of the north-west, north and east (click to see a larger view). The mountain on the left is Givat- Hamoreh, where the Philistines camped before the Giboa battle.
The eastern side of the top of the Tell were excavated, as seen below.
Another section of the excavated ruins, on the northern side.
The defense walls of Biblical Jezreel, the winter palace of the Northern Kingdom, were probably impressive. They are described in several places in the Bible:
The photo below shows an excavated section of the walls, part of the Israelite city (9th C BC).
Death of Jezebel - by Gustav Dore (French artist, 1832-1883)
On the eastern and northern foothills of the Tell are ruins of the Arab village of Zar'in. The name of the village is based on the ancient Hebrew name.
View of the ruins of the "tower" on the west side of the Tell.
On the eastern side of the Tell is a large winepress, among other installations and cisterns. The crushing area is a rectangular pit with a mosaic floor, typical of Roman/Byzantine wine presses.
The wine production process was as follows: the grapes would be placed on the floor, and the workers would crush them with their legs. The extracted grape juice would then pour thru a groove into the collecting vat (not seen). There it passed through a filter and poured into the large pit, which is seen below. Steps lead into the bottom of the pit in order to allow the workers to step down and collect the juice into jars, then store them for subsequent fermentation.
The Bible tells about the vineyard of Naboth in the city of Yizreel (Jezreel), and how Ahab and Jezebel plotted to posses it (1 Kings 21:1): "And it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, ". This winepress may have been located in the famous vineyard.
The spring is located on the north-east foothills of Tell Yizreel. The water from the spring are diverted through a water channel, seen below, to a pond. In the summer time this spring might be dry.
This spring is described in the Bible in the context of the battle on the Gilboa (1 Samuel 29:1): "Now the Philistines gathered together all their armies to Aphek: and the Israelites pitched by a fountain which is in Jezreel". This is a description of the preparation of the Israelites on the eve of the fatal battle with the Philistines and their alley, the future King David. The Israelites, headed by King Saul, pitched their camp near this spring.
The water from the spring fill up a pond, seen below. Eucalyptus trees were planted around the water.
In the center of the pond are foundations of a British-mandate period structure, which used to house a water pump.
In the photo below, webmaster Rotem checks the water.
It is recommended to visit the spring, which easily accessed by car. If you look around, you might visualize King Saul and his army bathing in the water, getting ready for the fatal fight against the Philistines. King Saul, the first King of Israel, who suffered a tragic defeat in the battle, indeed deserves your visit.
Ahab and Jezebel would have never dreamed that a ski park would have been constructed near their winter palace in Tell Yizreel. Snow in Israel is rare, and this region is usually warmer than other sections in Israel. Yet, In 2010 this ski resort was opened along the southeast slopes of the hill.
The Gilboa ski resort, which is open year round, offers training and sports ski tracks, restaurants and stores.
This text describes the region of the Tribe of Issachar:
"And the fourth lot came out to Issachar, for the children of Issachar according to their families. And their border was toward Jezreel, and Chesulloth, and Shunem,"
This is a description of the preparation of the Israelites, headed by King Saul, on the eve of the fatal battle with the Philistines and their alley, the future King David. The Israelites pitched their camp near the spring of Jezreel, north to the foothills of the city. Their tactic was to gain the higher grounds due to their inferior weapons, and set their armies on the hills. The battle was fought in the plains and on mount Gilboa on the next day. King Saul died fighting this battle together with his 3 sons.
"Now the Philistines gathered together all their armies to Aphek: and the Israelites pitched by a fountain which is in Jezreel".
After Saul's death, his son made the city a regional capitol.
"And made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel. Ishbosheth Saul's son was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David".
This is the text on Elijah the prophet and the slaughter of the Baal prophets. King Ahab contested the prophet against his false prophets, and Elijah -with the help of the true God - prevailed. At the end of the contest Ahab returns back to the city, which became the winter capital of the Kings of Israel.
"And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode, and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel".
The texts tells the story of the vineyard of Naboth, and how Ahab and Jezebel wanted to buy or exchange it, but Naboth refused.
"And it came to pass after these things, that Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard, which was in Jezreel, hard by the palace of Ahab king of Samaria".
The wicked queen forged a libel about Naboth, who was then stoned to death, and Ahab possessed the vineyard. This angered God, and Elijah the prophet delivered God's punishment on this cruel plot:
"And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Hast thou killed, and also taken possession? And thou shalt speak unto him, saying, Thus saith the LORD, In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine".
Note that the statement "Hast thou killed, and also taken possession?" is one of the strongest moral lines in the Bible.
God punished Ahab 3 years later, who was killed by an arrow in the battle of Ramothgilead, and the prophecy was fulfilled (1 kings 22):
"And the battle increased that day: and the king was stayed up in his chariot against the Syrians, and died at even: and the blood ran out of the wound into the midst of the chariot.....
So the king died, and was brought to Samaria; and they buried the king in Samaria. And one washed the chariot in the pool of Samaria; and the dogs licked up his blood; and they washed his armor; according unto the word of the LORD which he spake".
Fall of King Ahab and son Yoram - by Gustav Dore (French artist, 1832-1883)
God punished the wicked queen Jezebel, as was promised to Elijah (1 Kings 21 23): "And of Jezebel also spake the LORD, saying, The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel". And another text: "And the dogs shall eat Jezebel in the portion of Jezreel, and there shall be none to bury her".
The fall of Jezebel is detailed in the end of this chapter, when Jehu orders to push her over the wall of Jezreel. He later finds the remains of Jezebel (2 Kings 9 30-35):
"And when Jehu was come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at a window. And as Jehu entered in at the gate, she said, Had Zimri peace, who slew his master? And he lifted up his face to the window, and said, Who is on my side? who? And there looked out to him two or three eunuchs. And he said, Throw her down. So they threw her down: and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall, and on the horses: and he trode her under foot. And when he was come in, he did eat and drink, and said, Go, see now this cursed woman, and bury her: for she is a king's daughter. And they went to bury her: but they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands. Wherefore they came again, and told him. And he said, This is the word of the LORD, which he spake by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of Jezebel: And the carcass of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the face of the field in the portion of Jezreel; so that they shall not say, This is Jezebel".
Jehu finds remains of Jezebel - by Gustav Dore (French artist, 1832-1883)
King Yoram (Joram), son of Ahab, stayed in the palace in Jezreel, recuperating from his wounds:
"And he went with Joram the son of Ahab to the war against Hazael king of Syria in Ramothgilead; and the Syrians wounded Joram. And king Joram went back to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds which the Syrians had given him at Ramah, when he fought against Hazael king of Syria. And Ahaziah the son of Jehoram king of Judah went down to see Joram the son of Ahab in Jezreel, because he was sick".
Jehu conspired against King Joram and killed him outside of the city. The text talks about the watchman on the tower of the city.
"But king Joram was returned to be healed in Jezreel of the wounds which the Syrians had given him, when he fought with Hazael king of Syria.) And Jehu said, If it be your minds, then let none go forth nor escape out of the city to go to tell it in Jezreel. So Jehu rode in a chariot, and went to Jezreel; for Joram lay there. And Ahaziah king of Judah was come down to see Joram. And there stood a watchman on the tower in Jezreel, and he spied the company of Jehu as he came, and said, I see a company. And Joram said, Take an horseman, and send to meet them, and let him say, Is it peace? So there went one on horseback to meet him, and said, Thus saith the king, Is it peace? And Jehu said, What hast thou to do with peace? turn thee behind me. And the watchman told, saying, The messenger came to them, but he cometh not again. Then he sent out a second on horseback, which came to them, and said, Thus saith the king, Is it peace? And Jehu answered, What hast thou to do with peace? turn thee behind me. And the watchman told, saying, He came even unto them, and cometh not again: and the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi; for he driveth furiously. And Joram said, Make ready. And his chariot was made ready. And Joram king of Israel and Ahaziah king of Judah went out, each in his chariot, and they went out against Jehu, and met him in the portion of Naboth the Jezreelite. And it came to pass, when Joram saw Jehu, that he said, Is it peace, Jehu? And he answered, What peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many? And Joram turned his hands, and fled, and said to Ahaziah, There is treachery, O Ahaziah. And Jehu drew a bow with his full strength, and smote Jehoram between his arms, and the arrow went out at his heart, and he sunk down in his chariot".
Etymology (behind the name):
See also an article on the interpretation of names in the story of Ahab and Elijah (in Hebrew).