The city of Bethel is located north of Jerusalem and is identified as what is now the Arab village Bitan. It is first mentioned as a place near which Abraham first settled when arriving in Canaan, and is mentioned throughout Israelite history in the Bible. The archaeological findings date as far back as the 21st century BCE.
According to the Book of Genesis, Bethel, literally “The House of God,” which was originally named Luz, was thus named by the Patriarch Jacob. It was there that Jacob, when sleeping on the road after escaping from his brother, Esau, saw a vision of a ladder reaching up into the heavens and angels ascending and descending on it. It was during this vision that he was promised the land of Israel for his descendants, and he proceeded to make a vow to God: “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going . . . so that I return to my father’s house in peace, then YHWH shall be my God” (Genesis 28:20-21).
Later in the History of Israel, the city was conquered by Joshua and became part of the inheritance of the tribe of Joseph. Bethel was a major city in the times of the Judges and of the prophet Samuel, and an important place of worship. Bethel gained a special status upon the division of the United Kingdom in the days of Jeroboam, and was one of the two major places of worship where the golden calves were placed (along with the northern city of Dan).
Bethel was not destructed during the Assyrian attack against the Israelite kingdom, but it was conquered by the Judean king Josiah, who destroyed the cultic center as part of his religious reformation (circa 622 BCE).
Bethel was resettled after the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile and thrived throughout the Second Temple Period, and was probably still sparsely populated until the Byzantine period.
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