Geographical Skepticism and Byzantine Bethel

Throughout my studies, I have found that it only makes sense to identify an ancient site if one is either certain (Jerusalem, Gezer, Beth-Shean, Rehov, Ashdod, Hazor, Gibeon, Arad, Joppa, Jezreel, Lachish, Mareshah, Dor, Tyre, Byblos, Hamath) or reasonably certain (Megiddo, Shechem, Ashkelon, Gath, Ekron, Shiloh, Dan, Azekah, Hebron, Bethsaida, Beth-Shemesh, Mizpah) about its identification. I consider the identification of Tel Batash as Timnah, for instance, to be reasonably certain due to the fact it fits all the data we have and no one has suggested a better candidate. I consider the identification of Jericho, meanwhile, to only be considered probable, however, no one has come up with a better candidate, and the identification of Jericho might be considered by some to be reasonably certain. I would not think of naming et-Tell as Ai or Tell el-‘Farah N. as Tirzah when writing about archaeological matters. This is largely due to my wish to be wrong as little as possible. I still find it more acceptable to refer to Tell Deir Alla by its modern name then as Succoth, and might possibly consider naming Khirbet Mediniyah on the Wadi Thamud as Jahaz.

This opinion has been strengthened by my reading of Peter James (no Velikovsky)’s papers, which stress the limits of our knowledge about pottery chronology and ancient sites and question our universally accepted axioms quite frequently. He is, in fact, my inspiration for adding the extra paragraphs to my “Iron Age” page. I still, however, find it reasonably certain Shoshenq is to be identified as Shishak and likely that the Conventional Chronology is predominantly correct.

This brings me to the matter of Byzantine Bethel. So far, no certain proof has been shown regarding the location of Iron Age Bethel. It has only been shown by Judges 21:19 to have been on the Jerusalem-Nablus road and by Joshua‘s boundary description as being north of Michmash and Tell en-Nasbeh (very likely Mizpah). There has been quite some debate regarding whether it is to be identified with el-Bireh or with Beitin.

According to Eusebius and Jerome, Bethel lay on the east side of the road, 12 miles from Jerusalem. Also, according to Jerome, Ophrah lay both at the 21st milestone and 5 miles east of Bethel (i.e., at the 18th or 17th milestone). Since el-Bireh, the only candidate for Bethel besides Beitin, is between the tenth and 11th milestones, while Beitin is located closer to the 13th milestone than the 12th, neither of them fit Eusebius and Jerome’s data well, however, Beitin is clearly closer to the 12th milestone and had many churches before their demolition by the Muslims in the 19th century. Also, if Ophrah is to be identified as et-Tayyibeh, as identified by most, or Dayr Jarir, or even Ramun, there is no debate as to the identification of Byzantine Bethel as Beitin.

Author: pithom

An atheist with an interest in the history of the ancient Near East. Author of the Against Jebel al-Lawz Wordpress blog.

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