What Happened to Bethel and Ai?

UPDATE (as of May 28, 2012): Anything I have written about Bethel or ‘Ai before late 2011/Early 2012 is ABR-inspired bunk. Read something from this blog’s later months for my present views.

Bethel, as we have seen, was during the Biblical period at el-Bireh and at Ein el Q’asa during the Byzantine period. Beitin (a name without a meaning in Arabic) seems to preserve not so much Beth-aven/Bethaun/Bethar as be a purposeful corruption of Bethel. It is therefore probable that the name “Bethel” was purposefully moved to Ein el Q’asa (or, less likely, el-Q’ada) after one of the Jewish Revolts when el-Bireh was established a Roman military camp (and got its name? Berea?) and, sometime after Eusebius, was moved to Bethar. Ai’s location at Khirbet Maqatir, however, was never forgotten. A Byzantine monastery was built at 31°54’58″N, 35°14’54″E to commemorate Ai, the tent of Abram, or both (NETS: “And from there he withdrew to the mountain east of Baithel and set up his tent there-Baithel towards the sea and Haggai to the east”). However, no Byzantine church or even pot sherds were found at et-Tell.

Sychar and Shechem

Let me get this straight: Shechem (Tell Balata) was destroyed by the Hasmoneans in 108 BC and never seriously inhabited again. The Sychar of John 4:5 might certainly be named after Shechem, but is not Shechem itself. Since Jacob’s Well (32°12’34″N, 35°17’7″E) was near Sychar, Sychar should be sought east or southeast of Tel Balata, near Jacob’s well. The modern village of ‘Askar, was, due to its copious spring, not the village intended. It was, however, certainly the Sychar of the Pilgrim of Bordeaux (Early Byzantine Period),  supporting the idea this was the Sychar of John. However, John 4:15 and John 4:5 together prove Sychar’s only water supply was Jacob’s well.

The Roman Miles of Bethel

Basing my data entirely from this and this article, I locate the Byzantine milestones from Jerusalem to Gophna (with the enormous help of the Survey). We may assume a mile to be roughly .9193 English Miles (1618 English Yards).

0- 31°46’36″N, 35°13’52″E (calculated back from Milestone 3).

1-31°46’34″N, 35°13’51″E (calculated back from Milestone 3)

2-31°48’5″N, 35°14’2″E (calculated back from Milestone 3)

3-31°48’48″N, 35°13’55″E (fixed by continued existence, number unreadable, location certain)

4-31°49’30″N, 35°13′”E (continued existence, number unreadable, exact location unknown to me and therefore extrapolated)

5-31°50’17″N, 35°13’38″E (fixed by continued existence, number readable, location certain)

6-31°51’2″N, 35°13’35″E (fixed by reference to Ramah in Eusebius)

7-31°52’31″N, 35°13’3″E (fixed by reference to Ramah in Jerome)

8-31°52’31″N, 35°13’3″E (extrapolated)

9-31°53’15″N, 35°12’44″E (extrapolated)

10-31°53’56″N, 35°12’35″E (Khirbet esh-She milestone. fixed by continued existence, unknown whether readable or unreadable)

11-31°54’34″N, 35°12’54″E

12- 31°55’2″N, 35°13’36″E

13-31°55’35″N, 35°14’11″E

Livingston has tried to make a map making the Khirbet esh-She milestone the eleventh. However, looking at the Survey’s map of Roman roads, I cannot come to the same conclusion. A check for this conclusion was Eusebius’s placing Gophna (Pharagx) at the 15th milestone and the Peutinger Tables‘ placing it 16 miles from Jerusalem. Indeed, as Livingston himself states, the 15th milestone had been found in the vicinity of Jifna (not, as he would expect, Jalazun).

Bethel, on the east side of the road, 12 milestones from Jerusalem when traveling to Nablus and somewhere near the 12th milestone from Jerusalem when traveling to Jerusalem (suggestively, between the 12th and 13th milestone), one mile away from Bethar/Beitin must be placed at either el Q’ada, 31°55’21″N, 35°13’45″E, or, the site which fits the Pilgrim’s description EXACTLY, Ein el-Q’asa, a two acre site at 31°55’7″N, 35°13’52″E. Since Beitin is at the 13th milestone, not the 12th, it still cannot be Early Byzantine Bethel.

UPDATE (as of May 6, 2012): I now consider Beitin to be Byzantine Bethel, since it is the only major site between the 12th and 13th milestones. The Bordeaux Pilgrim’s notes only state that the almond tree at which a number of events mentioned in the Bible took place was near Ein el-Q’asa, not that any settlement existed there.

“From Geba to Beersheba”

Some (i.e., Benjamin Mazar) claim the Geba in 2 Kings 23:8 is a claim of the maximum extent of the Kingdom of Judah in the reign of King Josiah. However, this is somewhat unlikely. There is no evidence for any Geba outside that of Benjamin in the Bible. 2 Kings 23:8 comes before the verse regarding the destruction of Bethel’s altar and refers only to the purification of the priests of Judah, and seems to refer only to heartland Judah, before any expansion into Mount Ephraim took place. Geba of Benjamin was, indeed, the northeasternmost fort of Judah since the days of Asa (1 Kings 15:22), just as Beersheba was heartland Judah’s southwesternmost fort. Indeed, 2 Kings 23:8 may be paralleled by Zechariah 14:10 (though no one knows quite where Rimmon is).

Is Nasbeh Mizpah?

Throughout the days of modern scholarship, only two sites have been considered serious candidates for Mizpah in Benjamin: Tell en-Nasbeh and Nebi Samwil.

The foremost argument used by proponents of Nasbeh is the 9th century border conflict. Fortifying Nebi Samwil instead of Nasbeh would still lead the main road safe for Baasha to re-fortify Ramah/er-Ram. Nebi Samwil also has no Iron Age remains before the 8th century, while Tell Nasbeh was always an important Iron Age site. The Seal of Jaazaniah (2 Kings 25:23, Jeremiah 40:8) found at Nasbeh also supports its identity as Mizpah. Jeremiah 41:5 also supports placing Mispah on the main road.

The foremost arguments used for Nebi Samwil, identified as Mizpah fifty years before Nasbeh, are the arguments from the Joshua list and the fact Ishmael, planning to cross into Ammon, went through Gibeon on his route (Jeremiah 41:10). These arguments are hardly decisive. Ishmael could simply have taken a less crowded and conspicuous route to Ammon. Joshua 18:25-6 goes from Gibeon to Chapirah East and West in an alternating pattern, if Mizpah is put at Nasbeh (the pattern is broken if Samwil is Mizpah).

In short, Tell en-Nasbeh has clear support of being Mizpah in Benjamin both topographically, geographically, and archeologically.

Chebar and Habor

Habor was a place to where Israel was exiled in 723/722 BC and, according to the Chronicler, in 733 BC. It probably gave its name to the modern Habur, the river of Gozan (36°49’36″N, 40° 2’21″E). Chebar was a river mentioned by Ezekiel as being in Chaldea. This is, according to the Jewish Study Bible, confirmed by the Akkadian records, which call the river of Nippur, “Kabari”. The Habur and Chebar are two separate rivers, confirming the limits of the land of Kasdim in Chaldea and, consequently, providing further evidence of Ur‘s location. Archeological surveys should be done on the River of Nippur to find and excavate the Jewish exilic settlement of Tel Aviv.

That 9th Century Israelite-Judean border conflict…

In 1 Kings 15:16-22, an interesting story of a border conflict is told. According to 2 Chronicles 13, Abjah took Bethel in a conflict with Jeroboam I. This is, however, unlikely, or, if Abjah did take Bethel, he held it for only a limited time period. According to the 1 Kings narrative, Baasha of Israel first fortified Ramah “in order to prevent anyone from going out or coming in to Asa king of Judah”. Was this Ramah er-Ram or, as in Judges 4:5, Ramallah? Geba is surely the present Jaba, and Mizpah is very likely the present Tell el-Nasbeh, on the main road between Bethel and Jerusalem (Nebi Samwil is not on the main road and does not have any Iron I remains to correlate with Samuel). Considering that the fortification of Ramah was meant “to prevent anyone from going out or coming in to Asa”. It was probably er-Ram, south of Geba.

Where is Biblical Bethel, Beth-Aven, and Ai?

UPDATE: A year after the writing of this post, I totally changed my position regarding Beitin and Bethel.

Bethel was located in the hill country of Ephraim (Judges 4:5) and in Benjamin (Josh 18:22). It was said by both Jerome and Eusebius to be at the 12th milestone from Jerusalem, but Beitin (the conventionally accepted Bethel, LB IIB fortress at 31°55’37″N, 35°14’20″E) does not fit, either by size, archaeology, or distance.

Firstly, archeologically, Beitin only had strong activity beginning in the Iron IIB; the 8th century BC. Throughout the entire period of early Iron IIA and late Iron I (from Saul to Omri), there was hardly any sort of settlement at Beitin! Even in the days of Jehu, there is no evidence of any great city at Beitin. After the 8th century, Beitin remained a poor village until the Hellenistic period.

Secondly, Judges 4:5 makes far better sense if a Ramah is placed at Ramalla and Bethel placed at Bireh (there are over five miles between er-Ram, certainly a Ramah, but certainly not the one mentioned in the verse, and Beitin [remember the existence of Mizpah]). Ras et-Tahuneh, 31°54’30″N, 35°12’44″E, the most likely candidate for Bethel’s high place, contains 40% Iron II shreds. We can therefore assume Bethel as el-Bireh, since, if it is not Bethel, it is not mentioned in the Bible (Beeroth is at Biddu according to Eusebius’s distances and the implication of other Bible verses, and at Khirbet al-Burj according to Finkelstein, which, while a fine Iron II site, is too near Jerusalem to fit Eusebius’s distances). Since Bethel was in Benjamin, Beth-Aven must be interpreted in Joshua 18:12 as being north of Bethel. Since Ai was “near” Beth-Aven, Beth-Aven should preferably be to the east of Bethel/Bireh. Beitin is the only site with Iron II pottery Northeast of Bethel that is west of Michmash (1 Sam 13:4). It is therefore the best candidate for Beth-Aven. Since there are only two archeological sites that were ruins during Iron II in the vicinity of Beitin, Kh. Maqatir, 31°54’54″N, 35°14’58″E, and et-Tell, et-Tell being excluded due to its being larger than Gibeon in Joshua 10:2 (Gibeon was 16 acres. et-Tell was 27), Khirbet Maqatir is the only candidate for Ai. This is supported by Genesis 12:8, which says there is a mountain between Bethel and Ai (obviously, the one at 31°54’47″N, 35°13’49″E). Burj Beitin, the conventionally accepted “mountain” is not even a hill, but a modest ridge, and was only inhabited in the Byzantine-Crusader era. The most likely locations of Iron II and Persian Ai are Sites 205 (31°54’45″N, 35°14’51″E) and 204 (31°54’33″N, 35°15’4″E), respectively, on the previously linked Benjamin Survey. Khirbet Nisya, 31°53’48″N, 35°13’45″E, is therefore Zemaraim.

Ur Kasdim=Uru(m) Kaldu

As far as everybody is concerned, Hebrew the “Ur of the Chaldeans” (אור כשדים, “Uwr Kas-deem”), of the Bible is the Sumerian Urim and the Akkadian Uru, that is, the Tell el-Muqayyar (“mound of that which is built of bitumen”), at 30°57’40″N, 46° 6’20″E. However, some people reject the identification of Ur with Urim, mostly due to the fact there were Urs all around the Near East. However, the qualifier, “of the Chaldeans”, which the word “Kasdimdefinitely refers to, proves Ur was located in-where else?-Chaldea (the Chaldeans were not Arameans, and were first mentioned in the marshes of Sealand)! The Bible itself explicitly disproves a W. of the Euphrates Ur by saying that Harran was on the road to Canaan from Ur. Joshua 24:2-3, 14 most definitively proves Ur was to the east of the Euphrates. The “linguistic difficulty” of the missing last vowel is paralleled by the example of the name of Tiglath-Pileser III (Tukultī-apil-Ešarra), or Pul (Pulu, Greek Poros).

The Babylonian World Map

I am referring to this early Persian Period map. Let us begin with the River of Babylon. This is shown coming out of the mountains of Urartu, and is almost certainly the Euphrates. It is unlikely the Euphrates is the Tigris and Euphrates combined-Der, for example, is as far as I know, only identified by the Mesopotamians with the Der near Elam, just N. of settled Badrah. The Bitter River is completely outside and beyond all land, which is not true of the Tigris-Euphrates rivers, and is probably parallel to the Bitter (southern) Sea Bit Yakin, the capital of Chaldea, was said to have been located on. Khabban, which cannot be al-Habbaniyah under the “Bitter River=Tigris/Euphrates” option, can easily be so under the “Bitter River=Legendary Surrounding Sea” option. The Channel Swamp is, therefore, marshes of Iraq, and the larger southern island is the one on which Basra is currently located. The small bitter river branching off from the Euphrates to join the larger Bitter River is, therefore, the Lagash branch of the Euphrates and Shatt al-Arab. By using this reconstruction, Bit Yakin of Sealand should be located between the northern reaches of the marshes and the Urite branch of the Euphrates.