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DOTHAN (dō'thăn, Heb. dōthān, possibly two wells). A place in the boundaries between the tribes of Manasseh and Issachar, about thirteen miles (twenty-two km.) north of Shechem. If the suggestion is right that the name derives from a Chaldaic word meaning “two wells,” it adds interest to the story of Joseph’s brothers casting him into a dry well-pit there (Gen.37.24). Nearly a millennium after Joseph’s experience, the prophet Elisha (2Kgs.6.13) was dwelling at Dothan when the king of Syria tried to capture him with an army, for he had learned that Elisha was able to tell his plans to the king of Israel, Joram. When Elisha’s servant informed him that a great host surrounded Dothan, Elisha prayed that the Lord would open his servant’s eyes, and the servant saw angelic hosts defending his master. The site, modern Tell Dotha, was excavated by J. P. Free from a.d. 1953 onward. It showed habitation as early as c. 3000 b.c. and in the next millennium was surrounded by a thick wall. At the time of Joseph (2200-1550), it had a well-built fortress and a strong wall. Occupation continued in varying degrees of intensity until the Byzantine period.——ABF

DOTHAN dō’ thən (דֹּתָֽן, two wells) a place located sixty m. by road N of Jerusalem; thirteen m. N of the city of Samaria.

In Biblical history.

The city of Dothan is a focal point in an event of the earlier days of Joseph (c. 1900-1800 b.c.). His father, Jacob, sent him to inquire about the well-being of his brothers. He found them at Dothan, pasturing their flocks (Gen 37:13-17). They put Joseph in a pit, and subsequently sold him to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

A thousand years later (c. 850 b.c.), the prophet Elisha lived at Dothan. The King of Syria surrounded the city with his chariots and horsemen to apprehend the prophet, who was revealing the secret military plans of the Syrian king to the king of Israel (2 Kings 6:8-14).

In extra-Biblical history.

In addition to the two Biblical events in which Dothan figures, the city is mentioned in the inscrs. of the Egyp. king Thutmose III (1490-1436 b.c.) as one of the Palestinian towns from which the Egyptians exacted tribute. Dothan is also referred to several times in the apocryphal book of Judith (3:9, 4:6, 7:3) in the military campaigns of Holofernes in the region of the plain of Dothan during the intertestamental period. In the early Christian period, Eusebius mentions Dothan in listing place names in Pal. (Onomasticon, 76, 13).

Identification of the site.

The mound known as Tell Dotha in modern times was identified as the Biblical site of Dothan in 1851 by Van de Velde.

Excavation of Dothan.

Archeological excavations were begun at the site of ancient Dothan in 1953 by the writer and his wife, and the Dothan expedition staff. A deep sounding the first season at the top of the slope of the mound showed that Dothan began about 5000 years ago (3000 b.c.), and, though destroyed and rebuilt many times, was a thriving town in every main period of Biblical and Near Eastern history from 3000 b.c. through NT times, with evidence of occupation in Byzantine times (c. a.d. 300-500) and the Arab. period (a.d. 600-1100) and Crusader times. A Venetian coin of about a.d. 1600 attested a possible village in this period. For the last half cent. there has been a modern village of about ten houses on the lower slopes of the mound.

The city of Dothan during the thousand years (3000-2000 b.c.) leading up to the Patriarchal period was well attested by seven levels of occupation containing Early Bronze Age sherds (3000-2000 b.c.). This evidence in the deep sounding of the first season implied the destruction and rebuilding of seven towns over this thousand year period, and parallels other such rebuilding and destruction, “when the Amorite was in the land,” as found at other northern Palestinian sites, including Megiddo and Beth-shan. A heavy city wall surrounded the city in this period, still surviving to a height of sixteen ft. after it was uncovered. It prob. was twenty-five ft. high in Biblical times. It measured eleven ft. thick at the base and nine ft. thick in the upper surviving part.

In the Patriarchal period (2000-1600 b.c., Middle Bronze Age), we uncovered ten rooms of a heavily built citadel, with walls four ft. thick (ninth season, 1964). The citadel abutted against the inside of the heavy city wall, near the gateway area. This heavy construction reflected the days of minimal central power and the need for individual defense on the part of each Palestinian city. Outside the wall in this gateway area we uncovered a wide stairway (thirteen ft.) leading up to the city wall. After baring eighteen steps, we came to the edge of our property. It continued under land not ours. In Patriarchal times, water was doubtless carried up these stairs from the well a few hundred ft. down the slope in the plain of Dothan. This was the city of Dothan of Joseph’s time, represented by two Middle Bronze Age levels in our archeological stratification.

The Late Bronze Age (1600-1200 b.c.) was abundantly attested by two main levels which yielded thousands of potsherds from Late Bronze pottery. The citadel of the Middle Bronze period appeared to have suffered partial destruction in the late 17th or the 16th cent. b.c., and after repairs, to have continued in use into the Late Bronze period.

One of the striking discoveries from the Late Bronze period was a tomb on the W slope of the mound, cut into the bedrock of the hill on which Dothan was built. It began as a family tomb about 1300 b.c. or shortly thereafter, and continued in use between 200 and 300 years. In it were found nearly 600 clay lamps and nearly 600 pyxis oil juglets, implying the burial of approximately that number of people. With this number of burials, there was a considerable amount of bones. Over eighty skeletons could be separately identified the first main season of the tomb project, and about the same number the second season. Years later the roof of the tomb had partially collapsed, and tons of bed rock lay on the bones and objects. In places there were several inches of “bone material,” compressed together without individual bones being particularly recognizable, but representing numerous skeletons. This tomb (“Tomb 1”) yielded over 3200 pottery objects—lamps, pyxis jars, craters, bowls, jugs, and almost every type of vessel used in later Late Bronze and earlier Iron I times. Also over 200 bronze objects came from the tomb; daggers, spear points, chisels, and even a bronze lamp in the shape of a typical spouted pottery lamp. All of this type of object would have been familiar to Gideon and the other judges who lived in the period either side of 1200 b.c.

The Iron I period (1200-1000 b.c.), parallel to the later part of the period of the Judges, was represented by two levels. The tomb continued in use during the earlier part of this period and when it was full, another tomb was carved out next to it (“Tomb 2”), which we discovered the eighth season (1962). It yielded 500 objects similar to many found in Tomb 1. These two tombs yielded five pottery lamps which had seven spouts on each lamp, attesting to the earlier date of the concept of the sevenfold light, a concept formerly downdated to about 600 b.c. by the Wellhausen school and subsequent followers.

The Iron II period (1000-600 b.c.) paralleled the period of the Israelite monarchy, and yielded four main levels. The lowest of these represented the Solomonic period (c. 1000-900 b.c.) and contained a large well-built structure which appeared to be the local “administrative building.” In one room we found the remains of ninety-six small storage jars, all the same size, likely standard measures for collecting taxes in oil and other commodities at this local “county seat.” This evidence of administrative procedure parallels the Biblical implications of Solomonic governmental organization.

The heavier walls of the “administrative building” were about four ft. thick. Two drains served the building, providing better sanitation facilities than existed in Elizabethan England nearly three millennia later.

The level representing the third city of Dothan in the days of the Biblical kings, dating to about 725 b.c., was likely the city destroyed at about the same time that the city of Samaria was taken by the Assyrian army (2 Kings 17:5, 6). The fourth city of this period, dating about 700 b.c., continued into the 7th cent. Many of the houses of this period had plaster covered courtyards. The excavation at Dothan and other sites shows that hydraulic lime plaster first came into general use in the 10th cent. b.c., prob. due to the progressive planning and inventiveness of the Solomonic regime.

We have not found a distinct level of the Pers. period (c. 500-300 b.c.), but some Pers. pottery and metal bowls have come to light. Perhaps it was a small settlement, reflecting the desolation of the Exile and postexilic period, and covered only a part of the mound which has not been excavated.

The Hel. period is well attested (c. 300-50 b.c.). The higher part of the mound yielded house walls and sherds which included a number of Rhodian jar handles having stamped inscrs. datable to this period. During the eighth and ninth seasons house walls from the Rom. period were uncovered. One sherd bore a stamp with the letters SC, standing for “Senatus consultus.” This is a reversal of the usual Lat. word order, “Consultus Senatus” (Senate consulted), implying approval of the Rom. senate, and tying in with the Rom. rule over Pal. at this time.

The higher part of the mound yielded Byzantine walls, sherds, and glass (a.d. 300-600); also Arab. period sherds (a.d. 600-1100), and on the highest part of the mound the remains of a medieval fortress-palace (12th-14th cent. a.d.). We uncovered twenty-five rooms of this structure around a courtyard. Five other adjacent depressions imply five more courtyards; if each of them has twenty-five rooms, we have a medieval feudal type structure with 150 rooms for the retainers, the servants, and the rest of a feudal type retinue. Arabic sherds abound on top of the mound. The Venetian coin of about a.d. 1600 has been mentioned, and the modern village of about ten houses on the lower slope.

Shepherds still come from southern Pal. to the region of Dothan to water and pasture their flocks, as they did 4000 years ago in the days of Joseph’s brothers. Some doubt has been expressed (Kraeling) on the Biblical record of shepherds traveling out of “the vale of Hebron” eighty m. or more to the Dothan area. One spring week-end we counted ninety flocks on the road from Jerusalem to the Dothan area; many came from the region between Hebron and Jerusalem.


J. P. Free, “The First Season of Excavation at Dothan,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, October, 1953, 16-20; ibid., “The Second Season at Dothan,” October, 1954. Succeeding seasons are described in the October issues of the BASOR for 1955 and 1956; the Dec., 1958 issue, 1-8; also 1959 and 1960 issues. For a radio-carbon date of an Iron Age level at Dothan, see BASOR, No. 147.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

A place to the North of Shechem whither Jacob’s sons went for pasture for the flocks; where Joseph who followed them was sold to the Ishmaelites, after having been imprisoned in a "pit" (Ge 37:17 ff). Here in later days the eyes of Elisha’s servant were opened to see the mountain "full of horses and chariots of fire," guarding his master from the encircling Syrians (2Ki 6:13 ff). This is certainly to be identified with Tell Dothan, which lies on the East of the ancient road leading from Gilead across Esdraelon to the seacoast, and thence to Egypt. It is about 5 miles to the Southwest of Jenin. There are some traces of old buildings, two cisterns--Dothayin or Dothayin = "two cisterns" or "pits"- -and one copious spring. Excellent pasture is found in the surrounding plain, and on the adjoining slopes.