site located approximately 500 m from the northern shore of the Gulf of ῾Aqaba, roughly equidistant between the modern cities of Eilat and Aqaba. Tell el-Kheleifeh was first surveyed in 1933 by the German explorer Fritz Frank, who identified the site with the biblical city of Ezion-Geber (Nm. 33: 35–36; Dt. 2: 8, 1 Kgs. 9: 26–28; 22: 47–48; 2 Chr. 8: 17–18). In 1937, Nelson Glueck conducted a surface survey of this low, mud-brick mound and concluded that the site had been occupied between the tenth and eighth centuries BCE. Glueck directed three seasons of excavation at Tell el-Kheleifeh for the Smithsonian Institution and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) between 1938 and 1940. He discerned six major periods of occupation, which he dated between the Iron I and Persian periods. Glueck wrote a number of articles about Tell el-Kheleifeh (see Vogel, 1970) but never published a final excavation report. He accepted Franks' Tell el-Kheleifeh/Ezion-Geber identification. (For a recent reappraisal of Glueck's excavations, see Pratico, 1985, 1993.)
Two major architectural phases could be discerned in the mud-brick ruins at Tell el-Kheleifeh: the first, and earliest, was a casemate fortress; the later one was a fortified settlement. The former was composed of a square (45 m on each side) of casemate rooms. A large building, constructed on the so-called four-room house plan (Shiloh, 1970) was located in the center of this casemate square. This structure, identified by the excavator as a citadel or granary, measured 12.30 × 13.20 m. It was composed of three contiguous units at the northern end of the fortress. Each of these units, or small rooms, was roughly square. Extending to the south were three larger rectangular rooms (approximately 7.40 m long and 2–3 m wide) whose walls were preserved to a height of 2.70 m. An open space between the casemate fortification and this monumental building was, devoid of architecture and used as a courtyard until the later fortified settlement was built (see below).
In light of the excavated data, the chronology of the casemate fortress cannot be established. The only pottery that can be assigned to this level with certainty is Negevite ware, a handmade Iron Age tradition for which a refined typology has yet to be established. The chronology of Negevite pottery can only be determined on the basis of its association with datable wheelmade forms.
The fortress's plan is intriguingly similar to an architectural tradition well attested in the central Negev southward to the site of Tell el-Qudeirat (Qadesh-Barnea). Recent surveys and excavations have documented an extensive network of early Iron Age fortresses (eleventh and/or tenth centuries BCE) with notable similarities to the Tell el-Kheleifeh fortress, including the casemate construction and nearby buildings exhibiting the four-room plan (Cohen, 1979). Given the fact that Tell el-Kheleifeh's pottery and inscriptional materials do not predate the eighth century BCE (see below), this observation of the striking similarities between the Tell el-Kheleifeh fortress and those of the central Negev must be, for the present, one of comparative architecture and not chronology.
When the casemate fortress was destroyed, a fortified settlement of considerable size (56 m [north] by 59 m [east] by 59 m [south] by 63 m [west] replaced it. This new, larger settlement was surrounded by a solid offset/inset wall with a different alignment that gave access through a four-chambered gate on the south. Unlike the casemate fortress with its open courtyards between the casemate wall and the central structure, the spaces inside the new offsets/insets wall were now occupied with buildings.
In part, the earlier casemate fortress was incorporated into the new plan. The edifice that once stood in the center of the casemate square was now located in the northwest corner of the fortified settlement. Some of the old casemate rooms, primarily those on the southern and eastern sides of the old fortress, continued in use. The casemate rooms of the western and northern sides, however, were now outside the new fortification perimeter.
The chronology of the fortified (offsets/insets) settlement can be established with reasonable certainty on the basis of the wheelmade pottery recovered (c. eighth-early sixth century BCE). The same chronology is also suggested by a small but important collection of stamp impressions that appear on the handles of storage jars. The inscriptions read “belonging to Qaws῾anal, servant of the king” (lqws῾nl῾bd hmlk). The script dates to the seventh or early sixth century BCE.
The offsets/insets settlement represents the last major architectural level at the site. There is fragmentary evidence for later occupation, after the sixth century BCE (a few Phoenician and Aramaic ostraca of the fifth and fourth centuries, a small collection of Greek body sherds and some pottery of the fifth century BCE). The building remains of the later occupation are poorly preserved.
Reappraising Glueck's work at Tell el-Kheleifeh has verified a number of his conclusions, but has also indicated the need for some significant revisions and refinements, particularly for the site's chronology and identification. Reappraisal has suggested later chronological horizons for the site than originally proposed by Glueck. As noted above, Tell el-Kheleifeh's wheelmade pottery is dated to between the eighth and early sixth centuries BCE, creating a problem in terms of the biblical references to Ezion-Geber (see above): the question is whether the ruins of Tell el-Kheleifeh do indeed preserve the story of biblical Ezion-Geber and/or Eilat. The revised chronology provides no clear archaeological evidence for the period of Israel's wilderness traditions (Nm. 33: 35–36) or even for the time of Solomon's reign in the tenth century (1 Kgs. 9: 26–28). Additionally, the site provides only questionable evidence for the ninth century BCE (1 Kgs. 22: 47–48). Assuming the correctness of the revised chronology, the identification of Tell el-Kheleifeh is both an archaeological and a historical problem.
- Cohen, Rudolph. “The Iron Age Fortresses in the Central Negev.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 236 (1979): 61–79.
- Glueck, Nelson. “The First Campaign at Tell el-Kheleifeh.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 71 (1938): 3–17.
- Glueck, Nelson. “The Topography and History of Ezion-Geber and Elath.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 72 (1938): 2–13.
- Glueck, Nelson. “The Second Campaign at Tell el-Kheleifeh (Ezion-Geber: Elath).” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 75 (1939): 8–22.
- Glueck, Nelson. “The Third Season of Excavation at Tell el-Kheleifeh.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 79 (1940): 2–18.
- Glueck, Nelson. “Ezion-Geber.” Biblical Archaeologist 28 (1965): 70–87.
- Glueck, Nelson. “Some Edomite Pottery from Tell el-Kheleifeh, Parts I and II.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 188 (1967): 8–38.
- Glueck, Nelson. “Tell el-Kheleifeh Inscriptions.” In Near Eastern Studies in Honor of William Foxwell Albright, edited by Hans Goedicke, pp. 225–242. Baltimore, 1971.
- Meshel, Zeev. “On the Problem of Tell el-Kheleifeh, Elath, and Ezion-Geber” (in Hebrew). Eretz-Israel 12 (1975): 49–56.
- Pratico, Gary D. “Nelson Glueck's 1938–1940 Excavations at Tell el-Kheleifeh: A Reappraisal.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 259 (1985): 1–32.
- Pratico, Gary D. “Where Is Ezion-Geber? A Reappraisal of the Site Archaeologist Nelson Glueck Identified as King Solomon's Red Sea Port.” Biblical Archaeology Review 12.5 (1986): 24–35.
- Pratico, Gary D. Nelson Glueck's 1938–1940 Excavations at Tell el-Kheleifeh: A Reappraisal. Atlanta, 1993.
- Shiloh, Yigal. “The Four-Room House: Its Situation and Function in the Israelite City.” Israel Exploration Journal 20 (1970): 180–190.
- Vogel, Eleanor K. “Bibliography of Nelson Glueck.” In Near Eastern Archaeology in the Twentieth Century: Essays in Honor of Nelson Glueck, edited by James A. Sanders, pp. 382–394. Garden City, N.Y., 1970.
Gary D. Pratico