Bethel seems to have been a Canaanite city originally, and after the conquest by Joshua was given to the tribe of Benjamin (
Bethel is mentioned in the apocryphal books as being fortified by Bacchides (
Modern Beitin, Bethel was excavated by Albright and Kelso intermittently from 1934 to 1961. City walls from the Middle Bronze Age (2200 to 1550 b.c.), the time of the patriarchs, were found. In the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200) there were well-built houses here with much imported pottery. In the thirteenth century a destruction layer of ashes and burned bricks testifies to its demise that some attribute to Joshua.
2. Another city mentioned in southern Judah (
BETHEL bĕth’ əl (בֵּֽית־אֵ֤ל; Βαιθήλ, and οἰ̂κος θεου̂, lit. house of God).
A town on the great N-S watershed road of Pal. twelve m. N of Jerusalem designated as the modern village of Beitin. The Heb. name, Bethel, has been preserved in the Arab. “Beitin” by the normal shift of consonants. The presence of excellent springs of water near the top of the ridge of hills made the site desirable from early days. Bethel also occupied a key point on the E-W route from Trans-Jordan W by way of Jericho to the Mediterranean either by way of the Valley of Ajalon or via Gophna to the Plain of Sharon and the sea. These circumstances are a partial explanation for the fact that Bethel is mentioned in Scripture more often than any city except Jerusalem.
The bare mountain top at Bethel served as a worship center through the millennia. The Canaanite deity El gave his name to this site. The god Baal, who normally replaced El in the Canaanite pantheon, was unable to dislodge the name of El in Bethel. So this location continued to be known as Bethel, serving as a worship center for nomads. Even Abraham (
The earliest archeological evidence for the occupation of the high place at Bethel is a chalcolithic water jar from 3500 b.c. The lack of structures dating from that period suggests that Bethel was an open-air sanctuary in that age. During the late chalcolithic period (c. 3200 b.c.) Bethel was occupied, as indicated by ceramic evidence found around the high place and S of the sanctuary area. Ai then replaced Bethel as the major town of the area. A second occupation of Bethel was about 2400-2200 b.c. Later that town was abandoned and not reoccupied until the 19th cent. This marked the beginning of an almost continuous occupation of the site. A temple was built immediately above the high place and a town was constructed S of it. A strong defensive wall system may not have been constructed until the 18th or 17th centuries.
It was early in this Middle Bronze period that the accounts of the patriarchs as presented in Genesis fit well into the archeological history of Bethel. The quality of the architectural evidence indicates that Abraham and Jacob found a well-developed town when they visited the site. While Jacob might think of the town as Luz, a place where he could find refuge from his twin brother Esau as he fled toward the E, the Genesis account also reports that Jacob played on the generic name for God which was El. He set up a stone, poured oil upon it, and called the name of the place, “house of God,” Bethel, for God had spoken to him in a dream the night before (
The absence of Late Bronze I material at Bethel suggests that the site was destroyed about 1550 b.c. by the Egyp. drive against the Hyksos who were thrown out of Egypt and Pal.
In the Late Bronze II period (14th and 13th centuries) the city was rebuilt and extended. The quality of the houses was superior to those of the earlier periods. A sewer system, the only one the town ever had, was constructed in this era. The only industry located by the archeologists was an olive oil press. The plentiful evidence of burning which indicates the end of this period in the history of the site suggests that the city was prosperous when the Israelites invaded the region. While both Jericho and Ai present problems relating to the conquest of Joshua, breached walls, ash and brick debris to the depth of 1.75 meters and destroyed houses witness to the destruction of Bethel in the 13th cent. b.c., c. 1240-1235 b.c.
Captured by Joshua (
While Bethel is not mentioned by name in the OT under either David or Solomon, archeological evidence shows that the city was prosperous in that period. Building arts improved, pottery art took on new techniques and forms, and the Israelite control of iron created new opportunities in agriculture.
History after Jeroboam I.
Following the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians, Bethel also suffered destruction. The shrine was revived later so as to offer a religious center for the imported populations settled in the area by the Assyrians (
History after the Exile.
During the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, Bethel was a village of a few crude walls built from material taken from the old city wall. The census records under both Ezra and Nehemiah show that Bethel had only a small population (
Literary references to Bethel in the early Hel. period are missing. Archeological evidence, however, clearly supports the fact that good houses, quality pottery and thriving trade marked the period immediately prior to the Maccabean era. In
There is no specific reference to Bethel in the NT, but Christ must have gone through the city on His trips since it is on the main road from Shechem to Jerusalem. The town increased in population in the 1st cent. a.d. Vespasian captured Bethel just before he left Pal. to become emperor of Rome. Josephus (Wars. IV. ix. 9) mentions that Vespasian established a Rom. garrison at Bethel. So great was the increase of population at Bethel in this period that cisterns were introduced for the first time. The four springs had been adequate for the population until the Rom. occupation. The authorities found it necessary to build large community cisterns close to the largest spring so that they could be filled in the winter.
Eusebius refers to Bethel as a large village in the 4th cent. a.d. It continued to be a holy place. On a ridge E of Bethel, an important Byzantine church was built, perhaps marking an identification of the locale of Jacob’s dream. Another church was built about the 6th cent. This sought to commemorate the site of Abraham’s sanctuary. Near the great spring within the city a third Byzantine church was constructed with possible related monastic structures. Meanwhile about a.d. 500 Bethel erected a new city wall as a defense against the current Samaritan revolts. The city reached its greatest extent and prosperity in the Byzantine period. Only a little Islamic material was found. No explanation for the sudden disappearance of the city is known. The site was unoccupied until about a cent. ago. See Archeology.
W. F. Albright, “First Month of Excavation at Bethel,” BASOR, 55 (Sept., 1934), 24, 25; W. F. Albright, “The Kyle Memorial Excavation at Bethel,” BASOR, 56 (Dec., 1934), 1-15; J. L. Kelso, Excavation atJericho, AASOR, Vol. 29, 30 (1955); W. F. Albright and J. L. Kelso, The Excavation of Bethel, AASOR, Vol. 39 (1968).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(beth-’el; Baithel and oikos theou, literally, "house of God"):
(1) A town near the place where Abraham halted and offered sacrifice on his way south from Shechem.
1. Identification and Description:
It lay West of Ai (
2. The Sanctuary:
The town was originally called Luz (
(2) A city in Judah which in