Monday, July 11, 2011

Tel Dan

Jeroboam's High Place

Tel Dan has been one historical location I wanted to visit more than anything else in Israel. In my Ancient Israel class Dan was mentioned quite a bit because of its location in the country, historical importance, and the archeological evidence found at the site.

I convinced my parents Tel Dan was a worthwhile stop, and then two weeks later I visited again with my group while we were traveling north, which gave me some perspective on what I had seen before with my parents.

Ancient Dan was inhabited by the Canaanites as early as 2700 BCE. This site has been identified as the Biblical site of Laish, later captured by the tribe of Dan. Finds from the early Canaanite town include a very well preserved mud brick gate. This gate dates from the 1800 BCE include the oldest intact arch. The gate features three arches, which interestingly come much earlier than when the Romans began using arches in architecture.

Tel Dan has also has architecture dating from the divided monarch period. Tel Dan is known from the Bible as one of the places King Jeroboam of the Northern Kingdom placed one of his golden calves. The story says Jeroboam placed one in Bethel, and another in Dan to rival Jerusalem as a center for worship. Archaeological remains suggest there was a high place located at Dan.

The High Place

A four-chamber gate has also been found; it was used to fortify the city and to as a gathering place for engaging in commerce in. There is evidence of where a chair may have once stood, along with a shade canopy, a place a high official would have sat to collect goods of those coming into the town. An alter has also been found outside the gates, which suggests people could offer sacrifices before entering the city.

The Site of the Officia's Chair

The Alter

Another important archaeological find was the Tel Dan inscription. This is a stele written by King Hazael of Damascus, mentioning the House of David. This is the first outside mention of the House of David from an extra-biblical source, making it extremely important in regards to confirming history of this region.

The site of Dan lies along an ancient travel route connecting Egypt to Damascus, making the land highly contested. The site was also important for safety reasons, and also for the trade passing through the regions.

Through all my stops on this trip, I think Tel Dan is my favorite. This is not actually for the history there (that would probably qualify Masada or Jerusalem). This site is more than another pile of stones on top of a hill. The area is surrounded by a nature reserve; trees surround the archeological site, and the air is filled with a sound not often heard in Israel.

In Israel, trees are used as signals for water, so a forest would signify an excess of water. What Tel Dan has is the Dan Spring providing water to the town, and this spring is one of the five forming the Jordan River, and also the fastest flowing spring in the Middle East.

The Tel Dan Spring

Because the site is inside a nature reserve you hike in to the sites, and the various paths take you through some beautiful places. My mom and I took a wrong turn, and we walked along a path that followed the water, occasionally crossing right into it. The site is spectacular partially due to the contrast of the south where water is so scarce. The other beauty is in the physical landscape. It is honestly unlike anywhere else in Israel.

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