Biblical History of Bethel

UPDATE (as of May 30, 2012): Most of my views on Bethel before c. October 2011 are outdated. Please read this post after reading the below one.

In here, I shall compare the Biblical account of Bethel and archaeological account of Beitin.

The Biblical Account:

Bethel was a city visited by Abraham twice and Jacob three times. It was the residence of Jacob during his third visit there, Jacob there being named “Israel”, Deborah being buried here. It was an existent city at the time of Joshua, being captured by him and listed in the Benjamin town list. In Judges, Bethel is struck with the edge of the sword by Ephraim and houses the Ark of God, apparently during the lifetime of Shiloh. It was existent when Saul was made king. An altar was built at Bethel and at Dan for a god represented by a golden calf by Jeroboam I. The calf continued to exist throughout the days of the Kingdom of Israel. A small Assyrian-era YHWH-ist priesthood existed there until its cultic structures were destroyed by Josiah. No further mention of it is made until the Persian period.

The Archaeological History of Beitin (from Finkelstein):

Settled intensively in the Middle Bronze, and existent in LB I and IIA, Beitin became the best-fortified city in the Hill Country in LB IIB. It did not survive into LB III, but was re-inhabited during the Iron Age, its first two Iron I phases being destroyed, and its Middle Iron I stratum (the one contemporary with the habitation of Shiloh) did not survive into Late Iron I, when Jerusalem was well-occupied once again. It did not bear any distinctive Early Iron IIa (Jeroboam I era) ware, revealed a poor settlement from the Late Iron IIa, reached a peak of prosperity under the dynasty of Joash, and continued to exist after the fall of Israel, albeit in a state of decline, until it was destroyed, probably by the Babylonian conquest. It contained no building remains and almost no pottery remains of the Persian period.

In short, the scheme fits, even for the Exodus and Patriarchal era, except for the Persian gap (found at plenty of other sites as well) and the fact there is no great Early Iron IIa occupation (probably true at Dan as well). However, there is no indication of the cultic importance of Beitin in the archaeological record. In short, archaeological evidence neither confirms nor denies Robinson’s identification of 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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