Tel Dan sign 370.
(photo credit: BiblePlaces.com)
Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or find him at his blog at www.waynestiles.com.
walkways. Cool breezes. Abundant streams. Luxuriant foliage. The Tel
Dan Nature Preserve draws the locals as well as the travelers. It always
In natural beauty, Tel Dan has few rivals in Israel. For the
ancients, it had everything necessary for abundant living. That’s why
tribe of Dan migrated here. That’s why King Jeroboam selected it as a
place of worship for the northern tribes.
Tel Dan in history
a land where water is life, it’s no wonder the ancients venerated this
area as sacred. Tel Dan offers the largest of four tributaries that form
the headwaters of the Jordan River. Only the nearby Banias Spring ranks
Joshua parceled out the Promised Land, the tribe of Dan received a wide
strip that extended west from the Tribe of Benjamin to the coastal
plain at Jaffa (Joshua 19:40-46). But the combination of the local
inhabitants who pushed the tribe into the hill country, as well as the
presence of the International Highway that remained the envy of all
local and foreign powers, the location proved to be more than Danites
could endure (Judges 1:34).
Leaving their allotted land, they
migrated north and conquered Leshem, or Laish, and renamed it Dan
(Joshua 19:47). In addition to abandoning their territory, they also
abandoned the God of Israel and erected a graven image to worship
From days of the Judges, through the reigns
of Saul, David, and Solomon, the phrase, “from Dan to Beersheba,”
represented the practical north-south borders of the united kingdom of
Israel (Judges 20:1; 2 Samuel 24:2;1 Kings 4:25). But after the reign of
King Solomon, the nation divided—and gave rise to a practical problem. Tel Dan’s high place set up
nations—Judah and Israel. Two kings—Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Two
capitals—Jerusalem and Shechem. But there was only one place the
Scriptures allowed for worship—the Temple in Jerusalem.
fear that his subjects would celebrate the High Holy Days in Jerusalem
gave rise to the greater fear that they might also return their
allegiance to the southern kingdom. So Jeroboam made two golden calves
and told his people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem;
behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt”
(1 Kings 12:28). He set up one of the calves at Bethel on the way to
Jerusalem. The other one he set up at Dan.
In addition to the
alternative places of worship, Jeroboam also introduced an alternative
priesthood, and an alternative month to celebrate. While the Scriptures
indicated that the High Holy Days should be celebrated in the seventh
month, Jeroboam instituted worship in the eighth month (1 Kings
12:31-32). Tel Dan’s high place discovered
have uncovered Jeroboam’s High Place at Tel Dan. A large, excavated
podium still sits at the highest point on the tell. Cultic implements
were discovered there, including a small horned altar, an incense
holder, and the only 8th-century incense shovels yet discovered in
Archaeologists also unearthed one horn of the main
altar, the proportions of which betray an altar that once stood ten feet
tall. A massive metal frame represents these dimensions for visitors
today. Remnants of two sets of stairs at the corners show how the
priests accessed the altar.
While the Hebrews in the south
celebrated the High Holy Days in Jerusalem, the natural beauty of Tel
Dan in northern Israel offered an irresistible alternative. It was
picturesque. It was convenient. It was invigorating. And it was a
compromise of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Today, only the locals and
the travelers come to the Tel Dan—just as they always have. Worshipers
come no longer. Instead, what remains are springs that feed the Jordan
River, stories that enrich our understanding of ancient history and
remains that contribute to Israel’s archaeology.Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or find him at his blog at www.waynestiles.com.