By Nosson Shulman
Today we are visiting a wonderful biblical site which, in my opinion, is a contender for the title of Israel’s prettiest spot. This site boasts a perfect combination of nature, including cold water wading pools and a stunning walk through the forest alongside a gushing river. It also has well-preserved, one of a kind biblical archeology (connected to several of the Bible’s most climactic stories) and has long played a major role in the survival of the modern state of Israel. While today’s emphasis is on the biblical aspect, let us first explore the nature together.
Since the weather in Tel Dan is often warm, one of the highlights of visiting is the spray of the water mist, and dipping your feet into the cold, refreshing water!
Now that we have a sampling of some of the natural beauty of Tel Dan, let us now discover the biblical city. In the middle Canaanite period (circa 1800 BCE) an important city developed here. Although little remains from that time period, surprisingly a large, arched gateway was discovered completely intact! Constructed of mud-bricks, the archway is considered by many to be the world’s oldest arch still intact (some say an arch from Ashkelon may be the same age or older).
When Abraham was informed, he gathered his men and went in pursuit of the four kings who G-d caused to flee from him. When he reached Dan towards the night, he split up his troops to pursue the kings who were on route back to their homes in modern day Syria and Iraq. At first glance, it seems odd that Abraham would use this strategy of dividing the troops rather than keeping them together as a larger unit.
To understand the reason, one needs to understand the topography. Dan is basically at the foot of Mount Hermon (Israel’s highest point). In ancient times, to get to Damascus and the cities of Mesopotamia from Israel, one had to bypass the mountain, as the height made it practically impossible to climb over it. Dan was a fork in the road, with one route going east of the mountain and the other to its west. Abraham didn’t know which route they took, so he divided his troops who pursued and captured them just outside of Damascus. Abraham then freed his nephew and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Genesis 14).
In the Israelite period (from Judges onwards) Dan is mentioned nine times as being the northern border of Israel in the Bible, using the phrase “From Dan to Beer Sheva.” During the time of the Judges, the town was settled by the Tribe of Dan. Although the heart of Dan’s territory was in the central Israeli coast (today’s Tel Aviv, for example, is here), and because they were unable to take possession of all of it (due to the Canaanites and nearby Philistines) and they needed the living space, five spies were sent to find land they could settle in and happened upon this town, which was called Laish.
(This is Part 1 of 2. To be continued.)
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