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Beth Horon

For centuries a strategic route into the heart of Judea went up from Joppa (modern Jaffa) on the coast through the Valley of Aijalon (modern Yalo), ascending through the two Beth Horons to Gibeon (four miles [seven km.] distant) on its way to Jerusalem. It was in this valley that Joshua commanded the sun and moon to stand still while he fought the Amorite kings in his defense of the Gibeonites. He chased these five kings over the pass to Beth Horon (Josh.10.10-Josh.10.13). Along this route the Philistines fled after they had been defeated at Micmash (1Sam.14.31), and it was there that Judas Maccabeus overthrew the army of Seron, a prince of Syria (1Macc.3.13-1Macc.3.24). The importance of the Beth Horon pass as a key route into Palestine explains the fortification of its towns by Solomon (2Chr.8.5). It is no longer important, but great foundation stones can be seen there yet today.


BETH-HORON bĕth hôr’ ən (בֵּית־חוֹרֹ֛ן, LXX Βαιθωρων, KJV Beth-oron, meaning house of caves. The name of two towns located c. ten and twelve m. NW of Jerusalem.

The locale of these two ancient towns is of little doubt since today there exist the villages of Beit-’Ur el-Faqa (Upper Beth-horon) and W of it Beit ’Ur et-Tahta (Lower Beth-horon). The higher and smaller one is c. 1,800 ft. above sea level while the latter is c. 1,100 ft. Excavations have produced evidence of occupation going back at least to the Late Bronze Age. Today one still can see evidences of the Rom. road connecting the two towns which were both located on the important trunk route between Gibeon to the E and the Valley of Aijalon and the coastal plain to the W. Both towns were on the border between Benjamin and Ephraim (Josh 16:3-5 and 18:13f.), and later when the kingdom was divided they became a part of the N (Josh 21:22). Because of their location on a mountain pass, and because they were border towns, they had more than their share of bloodshed. Beth-horon was among the Levitical cities (Josh 21:22; 1 Chron 6:68). The only possible patronymic is Sanballat the Horonite (Neh 2:10).

Sheerah the daughter of Beriah, the son of Ephraim, built both Lower and Upper Bethhoron (1 Chron 7:24). This would have been after the Exile and thus a rebuilding. It is recorded in 1 Kings 9:17 that Solomon rebuilt Lower Beth-horon after Pharaoh of Egypt had raided both it and Gezer. “He also built Upper Beth-horon and Lower Beth-horon, fortified cities with walls, gates, and bars” (2 Chron 8:5).

In addition to the implied Egyp. capture of the towns in 1 Kings 9:17, the famous battle of Beth-horon took place nearby (Josh 10:6-15). An attack on the town by disgruntled Ephraimite mercenaries is recorded in 2 Chronicles 25:12f.

Beth-horon is mentioned in the Pseudep. and the Apoc. several times. A king of Beth-horon, with others, harassed Jacob’s flocks, according to Jubilees 34:4. A description of how the city was alerted against an imminent attack by the Assyrian general, Holofernes, is given in Judith 4:4. Judas Maccabees at least twice won victories near these towns (1 Macc 3:15-26 and 7:39-43). Later Bacchides fortified Beth-horon after a battle with Jonathan in the desert of Tekoa.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(beth-choron (other Hebrew forms occur); Bethoron, probably the "place of the hollow"; compare Hauran, "the hollow"):

1. The Ancient Towns:

The name of two towns, Beth-horon the Upper (Jos 16:5) and Beth-horon the Lower (Jos 16:3), said to have been built (1Ch 7:24) by Sheerah, the daughter of Beriah. The border line between Benjamin and Ephraim passed by the Beth- horons (Jos 16:5; 21:22), the cities belonging to the latter tribe and therefore, later on, to the Northern Kingdom. Solomon "built Beth-horon the upper, and Beth-horon the nether, fortified cities, with walls, gates, and bars" (2Ch 8:5; 1Ki 9:17).

From Egyptian sources (Muller, As. und Europa, etc.) it appears that Beth-horon was one of the places conquered by Shishak of Egypt from Rehoboam. Again, many centuries later, Bacchides repaired Beth-horon, "with high walls, with gates and with bars and in them he set a garrison, that they might work malice upon ("vex") Israel" (1 Macc 9:50,51), and at another time the Jews fortified it against Holofernes (Judith 4:4,5).

2. The Modern Beit Ur el foqa and el tachta:

These two towns are now known as Beit Ur el foqa (i.e. "the upper") and Beit Ur el tachta (i.e. "the lower"), two villages crowning hill tops, less than 2 miles apart; the former is some 800 ft. higher than the latter. Today these villages are sunk into insignificance and are off any important lines of communication, but for many centuries the towns occupying their sites dominated one of the most historic roads in history.

3. The Pass of the Beth-horons:

When (Jos 10:10) Joshua discomfited the kings of the Amorites "he slew them with a great slaughter at Gibeon, and chased them by the way of the `Ascent of Beth-horon.’ " When the Philistines were opposing King Saul at Michmash they sent a company of their men to hold "the way of Beth-horon."

This pass ascends from the plain of Ajalon (now Yalo) and climbs in about 3/4 hr. to Beit Ur el tachta (1,210 ft.); it then ascends along the ridge, with valleys lying to north and south, and reaches Beit Ur el foqa (2,022 ft.), and pursuing the same ridge arrives in another 4 1/2 miles at the plateau to the North of el Jib (Gibeon). At intervals along this historic route traces of the ancient Roman paving are visible. It was the great highroad into the heart of the land from the earliest times until about three or four centuries ago. Along this route came Canaanites, Israelites, Philistines, Egyptians, Syrians, Romans, Saracens and Crusaders. Since the days of Joshua (Jos 10:10) it has frequently been the scene of a rout. Here the Syrian general Seron was defeated by Judas Maccabeus (1 Macc 3:13-24), and six years later Nicanor, retreating from Jerusalem, was here defeated and slain (1 Macc 7:39 ff; Josephus, Ant, XII, x, 5). Along this pass in 66 AD the Roman general Cestius Gallus was driven in headlong flight before the Jews.

Now the changed direction of the highroad to Jerusalem has left the route forsaken and almost forgotten. See PEF, III, 86, Sh XVII.

E. W. G. Masterman

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