Geshur was a territory in the ancient Levant mentioned in the early books of the Hebrew Bible and possibly in several other ancient sources, located in the region of the modern-day Golan Heights. Some scholars suggest it was established as an independent city-state from the middle of the tenth century BCE, maintained its autonomy for about a century until it was annexed in the third quarter of the ninth century by Hazael, the king of Aram.
Geshur is identified with the area stretching along the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee and reaching south to the Yarmuk River, in what is now called the Golan Heights. This location places it on one of the routes connecting the region of Bashan with the Phoenician coast. Tel Dover, located southeast of the Sea of Galilee on the Jarmuk (Yarmuk) River, may have been the kingdom's southern border. Surveys conducted within the Golan Heights have not discovered many settlements within the territory of Geshur.
Excavations of et-Tell have revealed evidence of the Geshurite religious practices including high places, decorated stelae, offering vessels, sacrificial animals and dedicatory inscriptions. This material culture reveals strong influences from neighbouring countries. Their religious worship appears to have centered around worship of the moon-god in the form of a bull which was common in southern Syria, whilst an Egyptian influence can be seen in their art and amulets. The bull stele from the city gate has alternatively been interpreted as either a symbol of the chief god Hadad, in charge of rainfall; the moon god, who brought about the swelling of the rivers; or a combination of the two. The influence of the Israelite religion to the south may be seen in dietary practices and the selection of sacrificial animals.
The name "Geshur" is found primarily in biblical sources and has been taken to mean "stronghold or fortress". The Bible describes it as being near Bashan, adjoining the province of Argob (Deuteronomy 3:14) and the kingdom of Aram or Syria (2 Samuel 15:8; 1 Chronicles 2:23). According to the Bible, it was allotted to the half-tribe of Manasseh which settled east of the Jordan river, but its inhabitants, the Geshurites, could not be expelled (Joshua 13:13).
1 Samuel 27:8 reports that David undertook raids against the Geshurites while stationed in Ziklag in the kingdom of Gath. In the time of David's rule over Israel, Geshur was an independent Aramean kingdom, and David married Maachah, a daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur (2 Samuel 3:3, 1 Chronicles 3:2). Her son Absalom fled to his mother's native country after the murder of his half-brother and David's eldest son, Amnon. Absalom stayed there for three years before being rehabilitated by David (ib. 13:37, 15:8). By the 9th century BCE the kingdom of Geshur had disappeared from history.
Two of the Late Bronze Age Amarna letters (EA 256 and EA 364) identify 'the land of Garu', as a disputed territory in the Golan between the city states of Hazor and Ashtaroth. Some scholars believe that this 'Garu' is identical with the biblical Geshur, although this is contested by others who contend that it is based on a "hypothetical and disputed assumption".
Statue of Shalamaneser III
Some scholars believe the inscription on the broken statue of Shalmaneser III that describes cities captured by him may include the phrase "the Geshurite seized my feet. I received his tribute", although this is by no means certain.
Capital at et-Tell
Archaeologists tend to agree that the capital of the kingdom was situated at et-Tell, a place also inhabited on a lesser scale during the first centuries BCE and CE and sometimes identified with the town of Bethsaida of New Testament fame. Imposing archaeological finds, mainly the Stratum V city gate, date to the post-Geshurite 8th century BCE, but there are indications, as of 2016, that the archaeologists are close to locating the 10th-century BCE, that is: Geshurite, city gate as well. The et-Tell site would have been easily the largest and strongest city to the east of the Jordan Valley during Iron II era.
Tell Hadar is a small site located on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee which archaeological surveys have revealed as containing architectural features distinct from those of ancient Israel. Some archaeologists have suggested the site may have been under the control of Geshur.
This small Iron I-IIa settlement located southeast of Galilee near the Yarmuk River may have marked the southern border of the kingdom.
In 2020, a dig supervised by the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered a massive fortress dating to Iron Age I in the vicinity of Haspin. Artefacts from the site, believed to depict some sort of lunar deity, were found to greatly resemble similar objects found during excavation at et-Tell, which lead the head archeologists to conclude that the two sites were connected in some way. Others remain skeptical, as a concrete connexion between the two sites has not been exhibited by any other evidence found during the excavation, at the time.
- Avraham Negev and Shimon Gibson (2001). "Geshur". Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. New York and London: Continuum. p. 196. ISBN 978-0-8264-1316-1.
- Na'aman, Nadav (2012). "The Kingdom of Geshur in History and Memory". Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament. 26 (1): 92. doi:10.1080/09018328.2012.704198. S2CID 73603495.
- George Ernest Wright and Floyd Vivian Filson (1946). The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible. The Westminster Press. p. 51.
- Moshe Kochavi; et al. (Jul 1992). "Rediscovered! The Land of Geshur". Biblical Archaeology Review.
- Arav, Rami, ed. (2004). Bethsaida: A City by the North Shore of the Sea of Galilee, Vol 3. Truman State University. pp. 17–39. ISBN 978-1-931112-39-0.
- Cultic stele, Bethsaida, Iron Age II, 9th-8th century BCE. From The Israel Museum, Publisher: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2005
- Lawson, K. (2016). A Political History of the Arameans: From Their Origins to the End of Their Polities. SBL Press. ISBN 9781628370843.
- Mazar, B. (1961). "Geshur and Maacah". Journal of Biblical Literature. 80. doi:10.2307/3264563. JSTOR 3264563.
- Philippe Bohstrom (20 July 2016). "Mighty Fortifications Found by Archaeologists Show Kingdom of Geshur More Powerful Than Thought". Haaretz. Retrieved 20 July 2016.
- Kochavi, Moshe (Jul–Aug 1992). "Rediscovered! The Land of Geshur". BAR: 84–85 – via Center for Online Judaic Studies.
- Rapuano, Yehudah (2001). "Tel Dover". Hadashot Arkheologyot: Excavations and Surveys. 113: 19–21.
- Massive 3,000-year-old Fortified Complex Found in Israeli Golan Heights, Haaretz