Tel Dan (Anciant city)

Dan (Hebrewדן‎), is a city mentioned in the Bible, described as the northernmost city of the Kingdom of Israel, belonging to the Tribe of Dan. The city is identified with the tel known as Tel Dan (“Mound of Dan” תל דן in Hebrew), or Tel el-Qadi (“Mound of the Judge” in Arabic, تل القاضي, literal translation of the Hebrew name Tel Dan, “Dan” meaning “judge”, or “one who judges”) in Israel.

Gate of Tel Dan

Gate of Tel Dan (Photo: Gila Yudkin)


Dan was first identified by Edward Robinson in 1838, and has been securely identified with the archaeological site of Tel Dan, which the Book of Judges (Judges 18:27-29) states was known as Laish prior to its conquest by the Tribe of Dan, whereas in Joshua 19:47 it is called Leshem.

According to the archaeological excavations at the site, the town was originally occupied in the late Neolithic era (c 4500 BCE), although at some time in the fourth millennium BC it was abandoned, for almost 1,000 years.

Bronze age

According to the Book of Judges, prior to the Tribe of Dan occupying the land, the town was known as Laish, and allied with the Sidonians; This might indicate they were Phoenicians (Sidonians were Phoenicians from the city of Sidon), who may or may not have been Canaanite. The alliance had little practical benefit due to the remoteness of the town from Sidon, and the intervening Lebanon mountains. The town was also isolated from the Assyrians and Aram by the Hermon mountains; the Septuagint mentions that the town was unable to have an alliance with the Aramaeans. The masoretic text does not mention the Aramaeans, but instead states that the town had no relationship with any man – textual scholars believe that this is a typographic error, with adham (man) being a mistake for aram.

The Bible describes the Tribe of Dan brutally defeating the people of Laish and burning the town to the ground, and then building their own town in the same spot. The narrative states that Laish subsequently became known as Dan, after the name of the tribe, and that it housed a sanctuary filled with idols, which remained in use until the time of captivity of the land and the time that the house of God ceased to be in Shiloh. Scholars think that the former refers to the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel by Tiglath-pileser III in 733/732 BCE, and that the latter refers to the time of Hezekiah‘s religious reform; an alternative possibility, however, supported by a minority of scholars, is that time of captivity of the land is a typographic error and should read time of captivity of the ark, referring to the battle of Eben-Ezer, and the Philistine capture of the Ark, and that the ceasing of the house of God being in Shiloh refers to this also.

Tel Dan national reserve

Tel Dan national reserve

The excavators of Tel Dan uncovered a city gate made of mud bricks on top of megalithic basalt standing stones, estimated to have been built around 1750 BC, presumed to be the period of the Biblical patriarchs. Its popular name is Abraham’s gate, because Abraham traveled to Dan to rescue his nephew LotGenesis 14:14:

“And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.”

Iron Age

According to 2 Kings 10:29 and 2 Chronicles 13:8Jeroboam erected two golden calves as gods in Bethel and Dan. Textual scholars believe that this is where the Elohist story of Aaron‘s Golden Calf actually originates, due to opposition in some sections of Israelite society (including the Elohist themselves) to the seeming idol-worship of Jeroboam. However, Biblical scholars believe that Jeroboam was actually trying to outdo the sanctuary at Jerusalem (Solomon’s Temple), by creating a seat for God that spanned the whole kingdom of Israel, rather than just the small space above the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem; the seat for God in the Jerusalem sanctuary was represented by a cherubim on either side, while scholars believe that Jeroboam was using the calves to represent the sides of his seat for God – implying his whole kingdom was equal in holiness to the Ark.

Within the remains of the city wall, close to the entrance of the outer gate, parts of the Tel Dan Stele were found. The basalt stone bears an Aramaic inscription referring to one of the kings of Damascus; the excavators of the site believe that the king it refers to is Hazael (c 840 BCE), though a minority argue that it instead refers to Ben-Hadad(c 802 BCE). A small part of the inscription remains, with text containing the letters ‘ביתדוד’ (BYTDWD), which some archaeologists agree refers to House of David (Beth David in Hebrew. In the line directly above, the text reads ‘MLK YSR’L’, i.e. “King of Israel”. Hebrew script from the era is vowel-less), which would make the inscription the first time that the name David has been found at an archaeological site dating before 500 BCE.

*Text taken from Wikipedia
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