Sites and Insights: Historical marvels at Tel Dan

A new column, Dr. Wayne Stiles explores the biblical sites of Israel, the significance behind them and how to make the most of a visit.

By WAYNE STILES
March 7, 2011 14:10
2 minute read.
Mud gate from the Middle Bronze Period

Mud gate from the Middle Bronze Period. (photo credit: Wayne Stiles)

 
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Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at www.waynestiles.com.

Israel's archaeology often offers marvelous vindications to its history and the Solomon-era Tel Dan site is a perfect example of this. Exploring this ancient site reveals some historical treasures relating to biblical kings of Israel.

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The gravel pathways of the ancient site of Tel Dan lead to a large, rock wall—a city gate that dates back to the time of Solomon’s temple. Most likely built by King Ahab in the ninth century BC, this Iron Age entrance helped to fortify the city of Dan. And for good reason as the ninth and early-eighth centuries saw many battles between the kingdom of Israel and the expanding kingdom of Aram.

In the courtyard of Dan’s gate complex, archaeologists unearthed sections of a large engraved stone—an ancient basalt stele. Its Aramaic text reveals the boasting of an Aramean king who erected the stele to commemorate his military victory at Dan. No doubt, a later Israelite king smashed the stele and buried it outside the gate where archaeologists dug it up it in 1993 and 1994.

The celebrated Dan Stele specifically mentions a triumph over the “House of David.” This phrase is the only mention of King David’s dynasty outside of the Bible. The stele - which dates to approximately 100 years  after David’s death - remains problematic for scholars who deny that David ever existed. 

Prior to the stele’s composition, King Jeroboam of Israel’s northern kingdom attempted to dissuade his fellow Israelites from returning to worship in Jerusalem by building an alternative place of worship in Dan. But here’s the irony: Tel Dan actually served to validate the existence and importance of the “House of David” through the inscription discovered there. An additional paradox arises when we realize that an enemy of the Hebrews inscribed the stone!

In other words, the site that Jeroboam intended to minimize David’s dynasty eventually ended up vindicating it - what providential irony.



Jordan RiverTo Get There: Travel Highway 90 north and turn east at Highway 99 to Tel Dan.

What To Do There: Tel Dan offers a beautiful getaway for the day with hiking trails and places for picnicking with family and friends. You can read of Tel Dan’s significance in the Bible in Genesis 14:13-16; Judges 18; 1 Kings 12:26-33; and Jeremiah 4:15; 8:15-16. Also significant to see at Tel Dan is Jeroboam’s high place, the headwaters of the Jordan River, and a mud gate from the Middle Bronze Period (circa. 1800 BC).

Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at www.waynestiles.com.

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