Tel Dan – Israel

Tel Dan is part of a nature preserve established by the Israeli National Parks Authority. Upon entering the park, you are confronted with bubbling brooks which feed into winding streams that form the Dan River. Of the sources of the Jordan, the Dan River is the largest. It is fed into by the snow and rain that falls on Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in Israel.  The water seeps into the earth and forms the springs that here serve as the source for the Dan River.

Due to the abundance of water, Syrian Ash trees can reach heights of 50 to 60 feet. Laurel and Alaternus plants also flourish.  An overhead shady canopy covers a trail which leads to the remnants of the old Canaanite city of Laish. 

The Tribe of Dan captured this location from the Canaanites and built on it during the time of the Judges (see Judges 18). Later the Northern Tribes, under wicked King Jeroboam, would set up an Altar of Sacrifice and a Golden Calf to be worshipped on this site (see I Kings 12: 25 ff). In the picture here, a metal frame has been erected to outline the ‘horned altar’ that would have been erected here. The Golden Calf most likely would have been set up on the platform at the top of the stairs located to the upper right.

Canaanite Gate or “Abraham’s Gate”

Just a little ways further on the footpath and you come to another important archeological find. Here can be found the remains of the Canaanite Gate to the ancient city of Laish. This dates back to sometime between 2100 and 1800BC – that is, well prior to the conquest during the period of the Judges. Tour guides have even been known to call this ‘Abraham’s Gate’ as it dates back to the time of the great patriarch.

Digging Deeper

According to Judges 18: 27 – 29, when the tribe of Dan captured Laish, they burned it and then rebuilt it. This dig site confirms exactly that – the city was burned; its gates were clearly buried and then built over.  The ancient mud brick gate has only been unearthed in the past few decades.  Archeologists have confirmed that it dates to the time of Canaanite Laish.  The only way that mud bricks such as these could have been preserved so long is that they must have been buried in at one point in the past.   Yet again, we have more evidence confirming the biblical record!

Israelite Gate

This gate is more recent than the Canaanite one, dating to about 900 BC or so. 

The Gate represented far more in ancient Israeli culture (or for that matter, Mesopotamian), than just an access point to a village. This was a place where important legal transactions would take place.  Kings might hold court here (see II Samuel 19: 8). Judges, town councils, or city elders might also make important rulings here (see Ruth 4: 1-2). It served as a kind of seat of government.

As is often the case with dig sites in Israel, Tel Dan and the Israelite Gate have turned out to be a gold mine for archeologists.  As the overall site was being improved for visitors back in 1992, a collection of debris was removed from this spot. The debris dated to the time of Assyria’s invasion under Tiglath-pileser (@ 732 BC) – see II Kings 15: 29. 

This led to the discovery of the Israelite Gate.  In front of this gate was a courtyard paved with stone. An altar found here that has now been determined to be an ancient ‘High Place’. A ‘High Place’ (as they are referred to in Scripture – e.g. II Kings 23: 5, 8) was often a place of idolatrous worship.  Situated generally on the tops of hills or mountains (hence the term), these altars were used for worshipping either false gods or as part of a polluted system of worship of the True God.  

A High Place

A low stone platform was also found here. History suggests that between 885BC and 855 BC, this ancient city changed hands roughly 4 times as the Syrians under Ben Hadad fought against Israel and King Baasha (see I Kings 15: 20).  Found within this platform was an inscription that today is referred to as the Tel Dan Stele. Written in Aramaic on basalt, the inscription seems to be from Syrian builders who speak of defeating Israelite Kings from the “House of David”. When the Israelites retook the city, they apparently smashed the stele and reused a piece of the inscribed basalt rock for building the town square in front of the gate.

Scriptural Significance

This has proved to be one of the earliest extra-biblical references found refering to David his royal house. This devastated liberal critics of the Bible. Coming into this century, liberals claimed the Bible was a collection of fairy tales – filled with legends similar to those of King Arthur or Robin Hood. This evidence (and there is oh, so much more) has shown the Bible to be a Book of History – with historical figures, places and events! Yet again, the Biblical record is confirmed!