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Bet(h)-El, Israel

BET(H)-EL (Heb. בֵּית אֵל), Canaanite and Israelite town, 10½ mi. (17 km.) N. of Jerusalem, located at the intersection of the north-south mountain road along the watershed and the east-west road leading to the plains of Jericho and to the Coastal Plain (cf. Judg. 20:31). At present its site is occupied by the small Muslim village of Baytīn, 2,886 ft. (880 m.) above sea level. Excavations were conducted at Beth-El by W.F. *Albright and J.L. Kelso in 1927 and 1934 and resumed by Kelso in 1954, 1957, and 1961.

Settlement at Beth-El apparently began at the turn of the third millennium B.C.E., when it inherited the position of neighboring *Ai (al-Tell) , which already lay in ruins. In the 16th century B.C.E. the settlement was enlarged and surrounded by an 11 ft. (3⅓ m.) thick stone wall. The biblical account of Abraham's building an altar to the Lord between Beth-El and Ai (Gen. 12:6–8) is usually assigned to this period. Beth-El's main importance, however, is derived from its traditional association with Jacob's dream. Fleeing from his brother Esau, Jacob spent the night there and dreamed he saw a ladder reaching to heaven with angels of God ascending and descending it. A voice then spoke to him and assured him of God's protection and confirmed the promise that the land on which he rested would be given to him and his descendants (ibid., 28:10–22). Arising the next morning, Jacob erected a maẓẓevah ("sacred pillar") over which he poured oil as a thanksgiving sacrifice. The name of the place, which was formerly Luz, was now called Beth-El (i.e., "home of God"; ibid., 5:19; 35:6, 15; 48:3; Josh. 18:13; according to Josh. 16:2, however, Beth-El was east of Luz).

Canaanite Beth-El continued to flourish in the Late Bronze Age (15th–14th centuries, B.C.E.), when it had commercial relations with Cyprus, indicated by the pottery finds. The remains of a house with rooms built around a large courtyard, plastered or stone flooring, and masonry sewage channels belong to this period. A burnt layer indicates that the city was captured and burned down around the first half of the 13th century B.C.E. and resettled by an Israelite population (cf. Judg. 1:22ff.; Josh. 12:16). The city was on the southern border of Ephraim (Josh. 16:1–2; 18:13; I Chron. 7:28), but it is also listed as a Benjamite town (Josh. 18:22). There was a decline in the standard of living at Beth-El during the Israelite period, when the building became cruder, but a recovery is noticeable during the reigns of David and Solomon. The stormy epoch of the Judges is reflected in three building phases, while the relatively calm period of the United Monarchy is represented in a single building phase. The Tabernacle and the Ark were set there for a while, and in the conflict with Benjamin the Israelites prayed, fasted, and offered sacrifices there. They invoked the oracle of the Urim and the answer was provided by Phinehas (Judg. 20:18, 28). Deborah lived near the city (Judg. 4:5), and Samuel visited it periodically to judge the people (I Sam. 7:16). During Saul's war with the Philistines, he concentrated his forces in the mount of Beth-El (I Sam. 13:2).

With the division of the Monarchy, Beth-El passed into the possession of Jeroboam I. In order to wean his people away from making pilgrimages to Jerusalem, he erected one of the two principal shrines of his kingdom there (the other one was at Dan), with its own priesthood. The golden calf he set there was apparently designed to serve as a substitute for the cherubim in the Temple of Jerusalem. In the same spirit he ordered the 15th day of the eighth month to be celebrated instead of the Feast of Ingathering (Sukkot), which was observed on the 15th of the seventh month in Jerusalem as the main pilgrim festival (I Kings 12:29–33). This schism aroused vehement opposition among the prophets (I Kings 13) and caused a rift between Jeroboam and Ahijah the Shilonite (I Kings 14:7ff.). The biblical story of Hiel the Bethelite, who ignored the curse of Joshua and rebuilt Jericho on its ruins (I Kings 16:34), and that of the children of Beth-El who mocked Elisha (II Kings 2:23) may serve as proof of the strained relations existing between the inhabitants of Beth-El and the prophetic circles. This antagonism assumed its most acute form in the days of Amos (3:14; 4:4; etc.) and Hosea (10:15), both of whom call Beth-El Beth-Aven ("The House of Iniquity"; Amos 5:5; Hos. 4:15; cf. Jer. 48:13).

Beth-El and its surroundings were conquered by Abijah, king of Judah, in his war against Jeroboam (II Chron. 13:19), but it was returned to Israel not later than the reign of *Baasha and remained there until the fall of the kingdom. In the eighth century B.C.E., Beth-El was enclosed by a thick wall with towers that was repaired in the following century. Even after the destruction of Samaria (721 B.C.E.), priests still served at Beth-El (II Kings 17:28) until Josiah captured it, broke down its altar, destroyed its high place, and defiled the site (II Kings 23:15). Beth-El was destroyed during the Babylonian invasion (587 B.C.E.) and remained in ruins until the Persian period. In the time of Nehemiah, it was included in the territory of Judah (Ezra 2:28; Neh. 7:32). During the Hasmonean revolt, it was fortified by the Syrian general Bacchides (I Macc. 9:50). Beth-El is not mentioned again until its capture by Vespasian in 69 C.E. (Jos., Wars, 4:551). Coins found there date only from the period between 4 B.C.E. and its capture. In the Byzantine period, Beth-El was a village in the territory of "Aelia Capitolina" (Jerusalem), located 12 (Roman) miles from the capital "on the right, as one goes to Neapolis" (Eusebius, Onom. 192 etc.). The Christian traveler the Pilgrim of Bordeaux (333 C.E.) and the Christian writer Theodosius (c. 503 C.E.) also refer to it. According to Jerome (fifth century) a church was erected at Beth-El. On the Madaba Map "Luzah, which is also Beth-El" is also represented as a village north of Jerusalem. Very few remains of the Roman and Byzantine periods have been discovered at the site.

[Michael Avi-Yonah]

Modern Beit El

Beit El (Heb. בֵּית אֵל) is a settlement in the Judean hills, northeast of Ramallah. The first settlers, numbering 17 families, took over an army base in 1977. Subsequently the community divided into two settlements: Beit El Alef was a residential religious community and Beit El Bet a yeshivah community. Over the years, new religious settlers joined both settlements, until in 1997 the two were united again under a single municipal council. In 2002 the combined population was 4,410. As the seat of a regional council, Beit El provided a variety of social and educational services. There were also some private businesses, stores, restaurants, and light industry, most notably the Beit El tefillin factory.

[Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]


Y. Kaufmann, Religion, index; N.H. Tur-Sinai, Ha-Lashon ve-ha-Sefer, 2 (1950), 307; Alt, in: PJB, 21 (1925), 28ff.; Noth, in: PJB, 31 (1935), 7–29; Albright, in: BASOR, 55 (1934), 23–25; 56 (1934), 2–5; 57 (1935), 27–30; 74 (1939), 15–17; U. Cassuto, La Questione della Genesi (1934), 284–6, 291–7; Galling, in: ZDPV, 66 (1943), 140–55; 67 (1944), 21–43; H.H. Rowley, From Joseph to Joshua (1950), 19, 111, 138; Kelso, in: BASOR, 137 (1955), 5–10; 151 (1958), 3–8; 164 (1961), 5–19; Bright, Hist, index; Aharoni, Land, index.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.