Tel Dan

“And Abram heard that his kinsman had been taken captive, and he armed his trained men, those born in his house, three hundred and eighteen, and he pursued [them] until Dan” (Genesis: 14:14).

By Nosson Shulman

Today we are visiting a wonderful biblical site which, in my opinion, is a contender for the title of Israel’s prettiest spot. This site boasts a perfect combination of nature, including cold water wading pools and a stunning walk through the forest alongside a gushing river. It also has well-preserved, one of a kind biblical archeology (connected to several of the Bible’s most climactic stories) and has long played a major role in the survival of the modern state of Israel. While today’s emphasis is on the biblical aspect, let us first explore the nature together.

Since the weather in Tel Dan is often warm, one of the highlights of visiting is the spray of the water mist, and dipping your feet into the cold, refreshing water!

Now that we have a sampling of some of the natural beauty of Tel Dan, let us now discover the biblical city. In the middle Canaanite period (circa 1800 BCE) an important city developed here. Although little remains from that time period, surprisingly a large, arched gateway was discovered completely intact! Constructed of mud-bricks, the archway is considered by many to be the world’s oldest arch still intact (some say an arch from Ashkelon may be the same age or older).

The first mention of Dan is connected with a dramatic biblical event that could accurately be called the “First World War.” Five local city state (Canaanite) kings, including the rulers of Sodom and Gomorrah decided to rebel against their overlords (four powerful Kings of empires, including the ruler of Babylonia). The four kings sent their troops to Israel, subdued the armies of the 5 city state Kings, and took the entire population of Sodom and Gomorrah as prisoners, including Abraham’s nephew Lot.

When Abraham was informed, he gathered his men and went in pursuit of the four kings who G-d caused to flee from him. When he reached Dan towards the night, he split up his troops to pursue the kings who were on route back to their homes in modern day Syria and Iraq. At first glance, it seems odd that Abraham would use this strategy of dividing the troops rather than keeping them together as a larger unit.

To understand the reason, one needs to understand the topography. Dan is basically at the foot of Mount Hermon (Israel’s highest point). In ancient times, to get to Damascus and the cities of Mesopotamia from Israel, one had to bypass the mountain, as the height made it practically impossible to climb over it. Dan was a fork in the road, with one route going east of the mountain and the other to its west. Abraham didn’t know which route they took, so he divided his troops who pursued and captured them just outside of Damascus. Abraham then freed his nephew and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 14).

ancient archway

This archway is from approximately the time of Abraham. When the Patriarch visited (as recorded in the Bible), he likely would have laid his eyes on this actual building. (Shutterstock)

In the Israelite period (from Judges onwards) Dan is mentioned nine times as being the northern border of Israel in the Bible, using the phrase “From Dan to Beer Sheva.” During the time of the Judges, the town was settled by the Tribe of Dan. Although the heart of Dan’s territory was in the central Israeli coast (today’s Tel Aviv, for example, is here), and because they were unable to take possession of all of it (due to the Canaanites and nearby Philistines) and they needed the living space, five spies were sent to find land they could settle in and happened upon this town, which was called Laish.

The spies then returned to their main Danite cities of Eshtaol and Zorah and gathered 600 fighters who were girded with weapons. They then conquered the city, renaming it Dan. On the way, they had stolen a carved image from Micah and set it up in Dan. As we shall soon see, this would lead to disastrous consequences.

(This is Part 1 of 2. To be continued.)

Nosson Shulman is a journalist and Licensed Tour Guide in Israel specializing in Biblical tours. To allow tourists to experience Israel during the Corona era, he created the new hit Israel tour video series, which brings Israel to the home of viewers by simulating actual tours. To check out his free sneak preview tour videos, click here. To view sample tour itineraries or to inquire about private tour opportunities with a personalized itinerary on your next trip to Israel, click here.