The City of Dan—Judges 18

The city of Dan in the Huleh Valley at the southwestern foot of Mt. Hermon was regarded as the northernmost boundary of the territory of Israel. It first appears in Genesis 14:14 when Abraham pursued the invaders who had captured his nephew Lot as far as the city. Archaeologists have excavated a massive gate that Abraham would have seen and most likely walked through. The fact that later construction of a defensive wall buried it kept the mud-brick structure from being destroyed. Visitors can see it today.

The tribe of Dan, having failed to possess their allotted territory, sought new land to settle, finally captured the city of Laish (“lion”), and renamed it after their ancestor (Judg. 18). During the period of the northern kingdom of Israel, it became a well-fortified city. Its gate complex, the largest one discovered in Israel, dates back to the middle of the ninth century BC during the reign of King Ahab (875–853 BC). The main gate had four rooms and measured 29.5 x 17.8 m. In front of the gate, archaeologists found the bench of the city elders and a platform covered by a canopy. In this area, the king would judge the people when he visited the city.

On a recycled building stone at Dan, archaeologists found an Old Aramaic inscription that most scholars regard as mentioning “the house of David”—the first known extra-biblical reference to King David.

But perhaps the city’s greatest significance was the continuing religious role it has played, especially in the kingdom of Israel. After the breakup of the divided monarchy, Jeroboam I, the new leader of the northern kingdom, feared that the continual worship of his people at the temple in Jerusalem might draw them back into the southern kingdom of Judah. Therefore, he set up a rival religious system with its own cult sites (Bethel and Dan), a different liturgical calendar, and a priesthood not tied to the Levitical priesthood and the Jerusalem Temple.

Archaeologists have been able to recover much evidence of Jeroboam’s sanctuary. They have reconstructed the altar platform. Avraham Biran found an Aramaic inscription that mentions the “house of David,” so far the only extant extra-biblical reference to King David. Also, excavations have revealed the remains of a public building from the Assyrian period, probably the Assyrian governor’s house. Some evidence discovered in the western part of the sanctuary indicates that it remained in use during the Persian period. Much more evidence has survived from the Hellenistic period, mainly the statuettes of the god Bes, the protector of women and children, and 2 coins of Ptolemy III (284–247 BC). But the most important finding is an inscription from the second-century BC: “To the God who is among the Danites Zoilos made a vow.” It shows that Dan long served as an important religious center and would do so throughout the Roman period.


Stern, “Dan,” The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavation in the Holy Land, 32.