The Tel of Dan is considered one of the great Bible archaeological finds in recent years. Located in Northern Israel, near the borders of Lebanon and Syria, the site has been conclusively proven to be the city of Dan, that represented the main city for the Tribe of Dan, one of the 12 sons of Israel.
Before the city was taken over by the Tribe of Dan, it went by the name of Laish (Judges 18:7). When the Tribe of Dan claimed the area, the city was attacked, the inhabitants driven out, and the city was rebuilt and it became synonymous with the tribe.
However, through most of its existence, the Tribe of Dan struggled with idolatry and when Israel and Judah were divided into two kingdoms, Jeroboam, the first King of Israel, set up golden idols at both Bethel and Dan (2 Kings 10:29). This was done in an effort to break the ties of the Jews living in Israel to Jerusalem and the Jewish temple.
But the excavations at the city of Dan, that started in earnest in 1966, has revealed several remarkable discoveries that confirm the Biblical narrative.
In 1976, they found a clay tablet on which was inscribed in both Greek and Hebrew the words “God who is in Dan.” This was important because it firmly established that this was the city of Dan mentioned in the Bible. The inscription was written by a man named Zoilos.
In 1966, they discovered a stela or monument created for an Aramean King where he bragged about defeating the “king of Israel” and the “king of the House of David” which is the earliest reference to the Kingdom of David from outside the Bible.
This find was so remarkable that it made it on the front page of the New York Times because it described an actual event that is mentioned in the Bible. The text, probably written by an Aramean military commander, states his army killed at least 2,000 horsemen and destroyed several (the number is undecipherable) Israeli chariots.
This may be a reference to a battle mention in 1 Kings 15:16-22, when King Ben-hadad, bribed by Judah’s King Asa with gold from the Jewish Temple, attacked Israel. In that confrontation, we are specifically told Ben-hadad captured the city of Dan. The stela found in Dan may be a memorial to that victory.
They also found references to Yahweh, the God of Israel at the Tel.
- In 1986, archaeologists discovered a handle of a jar with the word “immadiyo” inscribed on it. This literally means “God is with me” with the commonly used “Yo” being the shortened version of Yahweh.
- Two years later, they discovered another jar handle with the word “zkryo” enscribed on it, which literally means “God remembers me.” The first letters are an abbreviated form of the name Zechariah which is very common in the Bible. Since the date fell within the time frame of Jeroboam, there is speculation that it may have been the name of King Zechariah who succeeded his father Jeroboam as the King of Israel.
At the outside of the main gate they found an elevated stand complete with four large containers at each corner that were used to hold tent poles that provided a canopy for shade. The Bible has several references to the elders of the city (Joshua 20:4; Ruth 4:1-2) or king (2 Samuel 19:8) sitting at the gate to make judgements.
Other discoveries may reflect the Tribe of Dan’s continual problems with idolatry. They found five stone placed inside a small cut out in the city wall. It is suspected that this may have been one of the high places mentioned in the Bible that Dan struggled with.
These high place also called massebots were often symbolized by standing stones and the discovery of several items at the location associated with the cultic worship of Baal including 25 pots, oil lamps, cups with legs used for burning incense, and several stands add weight to this theory.
- The Tel Dan Inscription: The First Historical Evidence of King David from the Bible: Bible History Daily
- Ten Top Discoveries: Biblical Archaeological Review
- Dan — Israelite City: Bible Walks
- The Tel Dan official excavation website