Ataroth—Numbers 32:34

It appears as the name of the town rebuilt by “sons of Gad” (Num. 32:34) along with Dibon. Its name in Hebrew may mean “to crown with a wreath.” The Moabite king Mesha mentions the same town on the Moabite Stone, claiming in the time of Ahab and contrary to the biblical narrative (2 Kings 3:1-27), that he had liberated Ataroth from the tribe of Gad: “Now the men of Gad had always dwelt in the land of Ataroth, and the king of Israel had built Ataroth for them; but I fought against the town and took it and slew all the people of the town as satiation for Chemosh and Moab” (ANET).

Early explorers identified Khirbet Atarutz with Ataroth on the eastern side of the Jordan. The site is located about 3 km east of the Herodian fort of Machaerus and about 10 km west of Libb on the ridge of Jabal Hamidah in the modern country of Jordan. After several surveys by the Dhiban Plateau Survey Project, the site began to be excavated under the direction of Chang-Ho Ji of La Sierra University in the summer of 2000. The dig first focused on the acropolis located in the central area of the site. Later excavations expanded into what archaeologists suspect to be residential or administrative areas. The acropolis revealed a cultic complex consisting of several rooms with altars, twin altars, a high place, courtyards, cultic objects, and even evidence of burnt sacrifices. The cultic complex seemed to have been in use beginning in Iron Age I and continued to be expanded during Iron Age II, only to be abandoned during the Iron IIB period.

From Hellenistic times until the Islamic period, the site housed a small settlement, but it never regained the cultic importance it displayed during the Iron Age. The objects found at the site exhibit much diversity in form and use and show that the site was not only important because of its cultic function but also reflects Egyptian and Hittite influences. They indicate the practice of libations and the worship of a deity perhaps represented by the bull since it seems to be the first zoomorphic depiction in the site. All of this shows the eclectic nature of the cult of Atarutz and hopefully might shed light on the religion of the Moabites and the Danites who occupied the site.

Joshua 16:1-7 records a second town with the same name on the border between Benjamin and Ephraim and belonging to the allotment given to Joseph. “Then the lot fell to the children of Joseph from the Jordan, by Jericho, to the waters of Jericho on the east, to the wilderness … then went out from Bethel to Luz, passed along to the border of the Archites at Ataroth … So the children of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, took their inheritance. The border of the children of Ephraim, according to their families, was thus: The border of their inheritance on the east side was Ataroth-addar, as far as Upper Beth-horon … Then it went down from Janoah to Ataroth and to Naarah, reached to Jericho, and came out at the Jordan.”

Scholars debate whether the names of Ataroth and Ataroth-addar represent two separate towns or are references to the same one. Some have tried to associate the Ataroth on the west side of the Jordan with Khirbet Atarat and Tell en Nasbeh, but the evidence does not seem to support such conclusions. Thus we are left with the question of an actual site that we could identified with this Ataroth or two Ataroths.


Franklyn, “Ataroth,” Anchor Bible Dictionary, 510.

Chang-Ho, “Khirbat ‘Ataruz: An Interim Overview of the 10 Years of Archaeological Architectural Findings.”

Rivas, Objects of Light from Khirbet Atarutz.

Rivas, Egyptian Cultic Influence in Transjordan during the Iron Age as Seen in the use of Egyptian Elements in the Local Religion.

Rivas, Cultic Objects of Atarutz: an Analysis of Kernoi, Cup-and-saucers, and a Standing Statue Found in the Central Area of the Temple.