(Heb., “House of [the god] El”),

site located 16 km (10 mi.( north of Jerusalem, on the border of ancient Israel and Judah (31°56′ N, 35°14′ E; map reference 172 × 148), at the juncture of the trunk road from the central hills down to the Jordan Valley. Bethel is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible more times than any site except Jerusalem. It figures prominently not only as a border fortress, but in the patriarchal narratives, in the stories of the period of the Judges, and as an important sanctuary in accounts of the Monarchy.

The site was first identified with the modern Arab village of Beitin by Edward Robinson, the American explorer, In 1838. Excavations were carried out at the site In 1934 by William Foxwell Albright and James L. Kelso for the American Schools of Oriental Research, and again by Kelso In 1954, 1957, and 1960. Kelso published these excavations In 1968 as The Excavation of Bethel, 1934–1960. The report lacks stratum designations and information on provenience and mixes factual description with imaginative interpretations (usually biblically inspired(, making historical reconstruction almost impossible, except in the broadest sense. The following points have been extracted from that report, however.

The site was first occupied briefly in the Late Chalcolithic period (c. 3200 BCE) and then again in the Early Bronze Age III–IV (c. 2400–2000 BCE(—no doubt because of its hilltop location and nearby springs. Kelso's claim for an EB IV “temple” is fanciful, based as it was more on biblical traditions regarding the Patriarchs than on the evidence; the walls in question are no more than the foundations of the Middle Bronze Age city gate.

The Middle Bronze Age occupation witnessed a gradual urban buildup. The MB I (c. 2000–1800 BCE( is attested only by sherds and tatters of walls. Somewhere in the MB II (c. 1800–1650 BCE(, the town was defended by a cyclopean city wall and earthen glacis. The dearth of detail in the report precludes saying anymore. Kelso's description of a north-eastern “gate” in this wall suggests that this particular structure is Roman, or at least was destroyed in the Roman period. A northwest gate may well be MB II, but its plan, as published, is enigmatic. The masonry of the town's MB II domestic structures was excellent. The MB III period (c. 1650–1500 BCE( apparently continued without interruption, with the building of more houses and additions to the defenses. Another “sacred area” (or Ar., haram( claimed for this phase is largely imaginative. The report is ambivalent about a destruction at the end of the MB III, but there does appear to be a gap in occupation in the Late Bronze IA–B (c. 1500–1400 BCE(.

The LB II period (c. 1400–1200 BCE(, with two phases, seems particularly well attested. Domestic structures are very well laid out, with courtyards and drains, and the masonry is excellent. A destruction by earthquake is claimed between the two phases, which might be Claude F. A. Schaeffer's notorious 1365 BCE earthquake, if it has any credence. Kelso makes much of the final “Israelite destruction” of the Canaanites (as Albright had(, but the little evidence presented is neither well dated nor conclusive. The best indication of change may be the new town plan in the Iron Age I, presumably in the early twelfth century BCE. When Kelso published, our knowledge of this transitional Bronze/Iron Age horizon was limited, but today it is possible to show that the Bethel pottery is indeed typical of the Early Iron Age, “proto-Israelite” ceramic repertoire in the hill country. The four Iron I phases (not numbered in the report( apparently extend from the early twelfth to late eleventh/early tenth centuries BCE. No fortifications are mentioned.

The Iron II period (c. 900–600 BCE( is said to have had three phases (also not numbered(. The report offers scant material for the entire period, leaving the biblical accounts of Bethel's importance in the Divided Monarchy without a context. Presumably, occupation at the site ends with the Babylonian destructions in the early sixth century BCE; the report discusses a corpus of sixth-century BCE pottery but without a context. There is some Persian occupation, and the town recovered some of its importance by the Hellenistic-Roman period (the pottery treated by Paul W. Lapp). Travelers mention Bethel in the Byzantine period, from which there are some remains.

Bibliography

  • Albright, William F. “The Kyle Memorial Excavation at Bethel.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 56 (December 1934): 2–15.
  • Dever, William G. “Archaeological Methods and Results: A Review of Two Recent Publications.” Orientalia 40 (1971): 459–471.
  • Kelso, James L. The Excavation of Bethel, 1934–1960. Cambridge, Mass., 1968.

William G. Dever