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Dan (biblical city)

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Dan (Hebrew: דן‎), formerly named Laish or Lais in the Douay-Rheims, is a town mentioned by the Bible, in which it is portrayed as the northernmost town of the Kingdom of Israel, and formerly as the main town of the Tribe of Dan. Dan was initially identified by E Robinson in 1838 and has been securely identified with the archaeological site known as Tel Dan.[1]

To the west of Dan are the southern mountains of the Lebanon range, while to the east and north were the Hermon mountains. Melting snow from the Hermon mountains provides the majority of the water of the Jordan River, and passes through Dan making the immediate area highly fertile. The lush vegetation that results makes the area around Dan seem somewhat out of place in the otherwise arid region around it.

Pre Israelite Town

According to the archaeological remains of Tel el Qadi, the town was originally occupied in the late Neolithic era (c 4500BC), although at some time in the fourth millennium BC it became abandoned; the abandonment lasting for up to 1000 years.

According to the Book of Judges, prior to the Tribe of Dan occupying the land, the town was known as Laish, and allied with the Sidonians; this presumably indicates they were Phoenicians (Sidonians were one of the Phoenician groups), who may or may not have been Canaanite.[2] The alliance had little practical benefit due to the remoteness of the town from Sidon, and the intervening Lebanon mountains.[3] As a consequence of the Hermon mountains, the town was also isolated from the Assyrians and Aram;[4] the Septuagint mentions that the town was unable to have an alliance with the Aramaeans. The masoretic text does not mention the Aramaeans, but instead states that the town had no relationship with any man - textual scholars believe that this is a typographic error, with adham (man) being a mistake for aram.[5]

Occupancy by the Tribe of Dan

According to the narrative in Judges concerning Micah's Idol,[6] the Tribe of Dan did not at that point have any Israelite territory to their name,[7] and so, after scouting out the land, eventually decided to attack Laish, as the land around it was fertile, and the town was unmilitarised and did not have practical alliances. Most Biblical scholars now believe that the Tribe of Dan originated as one of the Sea Peoples, hence remaining on their ships in the early Song of Deborah, and not having Israelite land to their name,[8][9] though conservative scholars argue that the Tribe of Dan were migrating due to being forced out of their original lands by the Philistines.

The narrative in Judges goes on to describe the Tribe of Dan brutally defeating the people of Laish and burning the town to the ground, after which they built their own town in the same spot. However, textual scholars believe that the whole narrative concerning Micah's idol is a slur on the sanctuary at Dan, by a writer or writers who were opposed to the presence of idols there, and hence that the apparent brutality may not reflect historic reality.[3] The narrative states that Laish subsequently became known as Dan, after the name of the tribe, and that it housed a sanctuary filled with idols, which remained in use until the time of captivity of the land and the time that the house of God ceased to be in Shiloh. Scholars think that the former refers to the Assyrian conquest of the Kingdom of Israel by Tiglath-pileser III in 733/732 BCE, and that the latter refers to the time of Hezekiah's religious reform;[10] an alternative possibility, however, supported by a minority of scholars, is that time of captivity of the land is a typographic error and should read time of captivity of the ark, referring to the battle of Eben-Ezer, and the Philistine capture of the Ark, and that the ceasing of the house of God being in Shiloh refers to this also.[11]

As part of the Kingdom of Israel

According to the Book of Kings, Jeroboam I set up an idol of a golden calf at Dan, and another at Bethel.[12] Textual scholars believe that this is where the Elohist story of Aaron's Golden Calf actually originates, due to opposition in some sections of Israelite society (including the Elohist themselves) to the seeming idol-worship of Jeroboam.[13] However, Biblical scholars believe that Jeroboam was actually trying to outdo the sanctuary at Jerusalem (Solomon's Temple), by creating a seat for God that spanned the whole kingdom of Israel, rather than just the small space above the Ark of the Covenant in Jerusalem; the seat for God in the Jerusalem sanctuary was represented by a cherubim on either side, while scholars believe that Jeroboam was using the calves to represent the sides of his seat for God - implying his whole kingdom was equal in holiness to the Ark[14]

Dan suffered in the era of expansion by the Aramaeans, due to being the closest city to them in the kingdom of Israel. The several incursions indicated by the Book of Kings suggest that Dan changed hands at least four times between the kingdom of Israel and Aramaeans, around the time that Israel was ruled by Ahab and the Aramaeans by Ben Hadad I, and their successors. Around this time, the Tel Dan stele was created by the Aramaeans, during one of the periods of their control of Dan. When the Assyrian empire expanded to the south, the kingdom of Israel initially became a vassal state, but after rebelling, the Assyrians invaded, the town fell to Tiglath-pileser III in 733/732 BCE.

See also


Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Dan (biblical city). The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

  1. Provan, Iain William, V. Philips Long, Tremper Longman (2003). A Biblical History of Israel. Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 181-183. ISBN 0664220908. 
  2. Peake's commentary on the Bible, passim
  3. 3.0 3.1 Peake's commentary on the Bible
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. Judges 17 and 18
  7. Judges 18:1
  8. Australian Journal of Biblical Archaeology, Yigael Yadin, And Dan, Why Did He Remain in Ships? 1968
  9. Biblical Archaeology Review, When Canaanites and Philistines Ruled Ashkelon, March/April 1991
  10. ibid
  11. Jewish Encyclopedia
  12. 1 Kings ?:?
  13. Richard Elliott Friedmann, Who Wrote the Bible?
  14. ibid

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