Gates of Hazor, Plan (based on Keel p.122.)
In the Ancient Near East city gates were neither merely entrances, nor only used for military protection. As a potentially weak point in the defenses, the gates of Israelite walled cities typically had three chambers giving four sets of "doors" and defended spaces between. The gates of Hazor (left - plan above) and Gezer from the time of Solomon show this triple construction.
In the reconstruction (on the right) notice that the chambers are roofed and so available for use as public buildings. It is likely that these chambers served as "offices" for city administration. Among the few Hebrew administrative documents archaeologists have unearthed from the Old Testament period are the Lachish letters most of which were found in a room in the gate complex.
In the space outside the gate, market stalls would have been erected, as they are today. The "gate" was therefore the marketplace where traders and peasants met with city folk to sell and exchange goods.
Inside the gateway too, a space was left without buildings, this served as a communal area for meetings and public justice. Just inside the gate at Dan there is a raised dais that had provision for a canopy to be erected. This would have served for the judge's throne. (left, McMath)
So, when the Bible talks of the "gate" it may mean:
In Amos the Hebrew word for gates (sha'ar) occurs three times 5:10, 12, 15. In verse 15 the gate is explicitly the place of justice. In the other verses this is likely (and some translators render it by "courts") though more general public gatherings could possibly be in view.
Amos' speeches address each of the three main locations of Israelite life:
Yet, although the word "gate" only appears three times, the sorts of business conducted in the gateway is most often the setting his words suggest.
This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.