JEZREEL (Heb. יִזְרְעֶאל), city in ancient Israel. The city of Jezreel (in Heb. Yizre'el, "May God give seed") was founded by Israelites of the tribe of Issachar south of Shunem (abandoned in the El-Amarna period, cf. Josh. 19:18). With the decline of Beth-Shean in the Iron Age, Jezreel became the head of a district in Saul's kingdom (ii Sam. 2:9). It served as the base for Saul and his army before the disastrous battle with the Philistines at Mt. Gilboa; they camped by the spring in Jezreel (i Sam. 29:1). Under Solomon it was excluded from the main Jezreel Valley district and was evidently assigned to the tenth district of Issachar, administered by Jehoshaphat, the son of Paruah (i Kings 4:12, 17). Omri chose it to be the winter capital of the Israelite kingdom and all the kings of his dynasty, down to Joram, resided there. The royal palace at Jezreel was provided with a tower from which the whole vicinity could be surveyed (ii Kings 9:17). The palace bordered on the vineyard of Naboth, whose property passed to Ahab through fraud and a perversion of justice (i Kings 21); according to the biblical tradition the dynasty of Ahab was exterminated at Jezreel in retribution for this deed – Jezebel was thrown to the dogs from the palace window and Joram was killed there along with his courtiers (ii Kings 10:11). According to the Bible, Jezreel at that time contained a wall and a gate and was administered by a council of elders and nobles (ibid., 10:1, 8). After the downfall of the Omri dynasty, Jezreel declined. It appears in Judith in connection with its plain, as Esdraelon (1:8). Eusebius speaks of it as a village between Scythopolis and Legio (Onom. 108; 13ff.); the Bordeaux pilgrim (333 c.e.) calls it Stradela (19:20). The Crusaders called it "le Petit Gerin" to distinguish it from "le Grand Gerin" (Jenin) and built a church there. The ancient remains of the city are located at the site of the kibbutz with the same name (Zarlīn in Ar.; see *Yizre'el), 1½ mi. (7 km.) south of Afulah; they include Iron Age and Roman pottery.
Excavations at the tel were conducted by Tel Aviv University and the British School of Archaeology between 1990 and 1995 by D. Ussishkin and J. Woodhead. Although Early Bronze Age and Iron Age i pottery was found at the site, the first archaeological finds of significance date from the ninth century b.c.e. It appears to have served as a royal center of some importance during the Omride Dynasty (882–42 b.c.e.) and a large rectangular enclosure (332 × 184 m.) was uncovered, surrounded by a casemate wall with projecting towers at the corners and with an outer rock-cut moat. The site was briefly in use during the eighth century b.c.e. and strata from the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Early Islamic periods were also uncovered.
Alt, Kl Schr, 1 (1953), 116, 123, 267; 2 (1953), 388ff.; em, s.v.; G.A. Smith, Historical Geography (193125), 379ff. add. bibliography: D. Ussishkin and J. Woodhead, "Excavations at Tel Jezreel, 1990–1991: Preliminary Report," in: Tel Aviv, 19 (1992), 3–56; idem, "Excavations at Tel Jezreel, 1992–1993: Preliminary Report," in: Levant, 26 (1994), 1–48; H.G.M. Williamson, "Jezreel in the Biblical Texts," in: Levant, 18 (1991), 72–92.
[Michael Avi-Yonah /
Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]