Dan, Israel – Ancient Laish
The city of Dan, located in upper Galilee near the Golan Heights and the border with Lebanon, was originally a Canaanite city called Laish before the Israelite tribe of Dan conquered it and changed the name. The site was originally inhabited in Neolithic times, before being abandoned and then resettled in the Early Bronze Age. The often used expression “from Dan to Beersheba” indicating the entire territory of Israel demonstrates its place as the northern marker for the land (2 Samuel 24:2, 1 Kings 4:25, etc.). A bilingual Greek and Aramaic inscription found in 1975 and dated to the 2nd century B.C. reads “The vow of Zilas to the god of Dan,” and helped solidify the identification of the site.
Dan, Israel – Ancient Trading Center
Mentioned in the Mari archive in a trade document, Laish, later named Dan, was visited by Abraham (Genesis 14:14) in the Middle Bronze Age. Dan is also mentioned in the Egyptian Execration texts from this same period. The city was a major trading center in ancient times, as is indicated by its position at one of the main sources of the Jordan river, on the trade route between Tyre and Damascus, its mention in text from both Mari and Egypt, and the imported objects from Greece and Cyprus in the Late Bronze Age.
Dan – A Long History
Dan has yielded a number of interesting and important finds, including a Bronze Age gate, the Tel Dan Stele, an Iron Age high place, and destruction layers from the Judges period and the Assyrian conquest of the Northern Kingdom.
In 1980, a Middle Bronze Age gate from ca. 1750 B.C. was discovered that connected to an earlier excavated wall and rampart system surrounding the entire city. When Abraham visited Dan in Genesis 14:14 (Laish in Judges 18:7), it is possible that he passed through an earlier version of this gate. Steps lead up to the gate, which is almost 12 feet high and 17 feet wide, and two towers originally stood on each side. Once through the gate, stairs lead down to a street.
After being a Canaanite stronghold for centuries, Dan was conquered, destroyed, and burned by the Israelite tribe of Dan during the latter half of the period of the Judges. The sons of Dan “came to Laish, to a people quiet and secure, and struck them with the edge of the sword; and they burned the city with fire. And there was no one to deliver them, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with anyone, and it was in the valley which is near Beth-rehob. And they rebuilt the city and lived in it. They called the name of the city Dan” (Judges 18:27-29). By this time, the first part of the Iron Age, apparently Dan had become a less powerful city and not as involved in trade as earlier in the city’s history. The destruction recorded here is something that we would expect to see in the archaeological record. And, evidence of destructions from the 12th century B.C town and mid 11th century B.C. Iron Age town has been uncovered in excavations. The settlers after the 12th century destruction had a more semi-nomadic material culture at first, then became more urbanized. Further, archaeologists discovered in their analysis that 10 of 11 pithoi (gigantic storage jars) found at the destroyed Iron Age site were made with foreign clay. This suggests the new settlers were foreign, and it is most likely that the Israelites destroyed the town in the 12th century B.C. and then settled it, with the 11th century B.C. destruction being attributed to an enemy of Israel, such as the Philistines.
According to 1 Kings 12:26-31, King Jeroboam constructed golden calves and high places at the cities of Bethel and Dan in about 920 B.C. Archaeologists discovered a high place at Dan in the northwestern part of the city, dated to the 10th century B.C. on the basis of pottery. This was a corrupt form of worship, demonstrating the religious syncretism of the Northern Kingdom. This city was destroyed in the middle of the 9th century B.C., which probably corresponds to the conquest of Dan and other cities by the commanders of Ben-Hadad in 1 Kings 15:20.
Dan, Israel – Evidence for David
A Stele, found at Dan in 1994, was discovered in secondary use in the wall near the entrance to the outer gate during excavation at Tel Dan, and thus named the “Tel Dan Stele” (or Tel Dan Inscription. It is a basalt stele, inscribed in the 9th century B.C. The text, written in Aramaic, announces the victory of an Aramean king over Israel. A relevant portion of it reads: “I killed Joram son of [Ahab] king of Israel, and I killed [Achaz]yahu son of [Joram kin]g of the House of David” (Lines 7-9). King Hazael of Aram erected the stele, and the events may be synonymous with Hazael’s attack on Israel mentioned in 2 Kings 10:32. The Tel Dan Stele is suggested by a few skeptics to read “House of Beloved” or some other place name, or to instead refer to Jerusalem as House of David instead of a dynastic title. However, “David” is the only translation that makes sense in the context and “House of X” was a common Aramaean, Assyrian, and Babylonian phrase referring to a state, and this phrase is also found in 2 Samuel 3:1.