4,000-year-old Statue of Egyptian Official Found in Israel

Life-size foot, and sphinx also found at Hatzor, are the only monumental Egyptian statues from the era found in the entire Levant.

The historical find in Tel Hatzor.
Shlomit Bachar

The feet of a 4,000-year old monumental Egyptian statue has been discovered in the Canaanite city of Hatzor, in what is today northern Israel.

All that really remains of the limestone carving is the feet, part of the lower legs, and hieroglyphics in ancient Egyptian. But it's enough for the archaeologists to hypothesize that the statue depicts an Egyptian official, not, for example, a pharaoh or a god. The scientists are still working on deciphering the writing.

The archaeologists think the complete statue is about the size of a fully-grown man. The piece with the stone feet is about 45 x 40 centimeters in size and sits on a square base. It was found in the ruins of the same building as a sphinx fragment of the Egyptian pharaoh Menkaure, who ruled Egypt in the 25th century BCE.

The statue probably began its career in the official's tomb or in a temple – possibly a temple of Ptah, the god of craftsmen and architects. The hieroglyphics carved onto the statue's base include praise to the official, and the usual Egyptian funerary formula ensuring an eternal supply of offerings to the statue's owner.

Mutilating the king

Hatzor is a key archaeological site from the Biblical period, says Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has been digging there for over 27 years (UNESCO declared Tel Hatzor a world heritage site in 2005). The figure may have been a gift from the Egyptian pharaoh to the king of Hatzor, who was apparently the most important king in southern Canaan at the time. Certainly, the bible itself says so –

"Joshua turned back at that time and took Hazor, and struck its king with the sword; for Hazor was formerly the head of all those kingdoms." (Joshua 11:10)

In fact Hatzor of the Late Bronze Age had a lot of Egyptian art, though, historians point out, there is no evidence that the Egyptians were ruling the city, that it was an Egyptian stronghold, or in fact that any Egyptian officials sat there.

Even so, fragments of 18 other Egyptian statues, depicting both royal and private individuals, and bits of two sphinxes, have also been discovered at Hatzor, mostly dating to Egypt's New Kingdom - the Late Bronze Age (15th century BCE to the 13th century BCE). This is the largest number of Egyptian statues found anywhere in Israel.

The answer may lie in trading ties. Canaanite Hatzor, which preceded Israelite Hatzor, had an estimated population of 15,000 to 20,000 and maintained cultural ties with Egypt (and with Babylonia).

It was Hatzor's conquest by the Israelites that opened the way to their conquest in Canaan. The city was rebuilt and fortified under King Solomon and prospered in the days of Ahab and Jeroboam II.

Deliberate destruction

However, all the statues found at Hatzor had been shattered, and scattered widely. They seem to have been deliberately smashed, most likely during the city’s final conquest from the Israelites by marauding Assyrians in the 13th century BCE. It was a famous practice at the time, for the conquering army to destroy not only the city but to mutilate statues of kings and dignitaries. Take I Samuel 5:1-4, for instance:

"And the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer unto Ashdod. When the Philistines took the ark of God, they brought it into the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon. And when the people of Ashdod arose early in the morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the earth before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and set it in its place again. And when they arose early the next morning, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. The head of Dagon and both the palms of its hands were broken off on the threshold; only Dagon’s torso was left of it."