Mysteries of the Bible

"Unanswered Questions of the Bible"

The Victory at Merom Waters

Posted by foryourfaith on September 21, 2011


After the conquests of Jericho and Ai, and the subjugation of other parts of the Judean hill country, the Bible tells of Joshua’s campaign in northern Canaan. His route took him from Gilgal, where the Israelite camp was, to Upper Galilee. The Israelites would have had to pass either through the central hill country or along the Jordan valley west of the river.

The kings of the north formed a formidable coalition. The alliance was headed by Jabin, king of the important Canaanite city of Hazor, and included the kings of Merom, Achshaph and Shimron. The Canaanites advanced to meet Joshua “with all their troops, a people as numerous as the sands of the sea, with a huge number of horses and chariots” (Joshua 11:4).



At the “Waters of Mermon,” presumably the water source of nearby Merom city, the Canaanites assembled and set up camp. Clearly the Israelites would be no match for the Canaanites in open battle. The Canaanites were not only better trained and equipped but had the advantage of a large chariot force which could attack with devastating effect. Accordingly, Joshua had to resort to non-conventional tactics. While the Canaanites were still preparing for battle, the Israelites advanced secretly and made a surprise attack on the enemy camp.

The Canaanites were caught completely unawares. Joshua’s forces “hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots” (Joshua 11:9), thus destroying the most effective arm of the Canaanite army. The confounded enemy troops scattered and were pursued by the Israelites, who cut them down “until not one of them was left alive” (Joshua 11:8).

Joshua then turned his attention towards Hazor. The Israelites captured the city, slaughtered its king and the entire population and “Hazor was burnt to the ground” (Joshua 11:11). In a mopping-up operation the other cities of the area were systematically plundered and their inhabitants massacred, “yet of all these towns standing on their mounds, Israel burned none, apart from Hazor” (Joshua 11:13).



There are doubts about the historicity of the Biblical account of Joshua’s northern campaign. One problem is that Jabin, king of Hazor, supposedly killed by Joshua, makes his appearance again at a later period, during the time of Deborah.

Since it is unlikely that there were two kings of the same name, some scholars believe that Jabin, who plays no specific role in Deborah’s battle, did not belong originally to the Deborah story. Others prefer to see the battle of Merom Waters and the destruction of Hazor as having taken place later than Joshua, when the northern tribes were consolidating their hold on Galilee, perhaps after Deborah’s war.

The city of Merom, near which the Israelite victory took place, has not yet been definitely located; but can probably be identified with Tell el-Khirbeh, some eight miles from Hazor. At Hazor, so archaeology has shown, there was a great destruction in the later thirteenth century BC, at the end of the Bronze Age, the period usually associated with the Israelite conquest.



Although no exact date can be fixed for the destruction, nor definite conclusions drawn about who or what was responsible, the evidence conforms well to the Biblical tradition that the city was destroyed by the Israelites. Whether Joshua was at the head of the expedition or whether in fact a later conquest was subsequently associated with the figure of this charismatic leader still remains an open question.

Hazor (modern Tell el-Kedeh), near which the battle of Merom Waters was probably fought, is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Syro-Palestine. It was first settled in the third millennium was a large, flourishing city with a citadel and lower town. It is mentioned in Egyptian records and 18th-century letters from Mari, which show that it was an active center of the important tin trade.

During the 14th-century, its ruler, though a vassal of the Egyptian pharaoh, was called “king.” At this period Hazor was particularly prosperous cities. An interesting discovery was a small shrine, cut into the rampart of the lower town. It contained a statue of a seated man and ten stone stele, once carved with two arms raised to a disc and crescent, suggesting the shrine was dedicated to a moon-god. Buildings adjacent to the shrine included a potter’s workshop with his wheel.

At the battle of Mermon Waters, the Israelites apparently had to contend for the first time with the war chariots of the Canaanites. The Canaanites had had chariots since the 16th-century an probably introduced them into Egypt. From about 1500 BC, chariotry became one of the main arms of the military forces of the Near East. The Israelites, however, did not have a strong chariot force until Solomon’s time and chariots were unknown in the tribal army of the early settlers.

The Canaanite chariots of the “conquest” period were heavier than earlier models and had six-spoked wheels. The axle rod was under the center of the body to avoid putting excessive strain on the horses. Consequently, however, this meant that the chariots were not easy to maneuver on the fast turn.

Chariots were made of wood, covered with leather or some other light material and drawn by two horses. In battle, they carried a charioteer and an archer, whose bow case an quiver were fitted to the chariot body.



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2 Responses to “The Victory at Merom Waters”

  1. ann said

    Thanks for this blog, thanks for these posts! Lot of truth, fun and inspiration!

  2. michele said

    What you’re saying here is completely true. I know that everybody must say the same thing but I just think that you put it in a way that everyone can understand.

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