Tel Dan, Banias/Caesarea Philipi

Tuesday 24th June 2014

Photos uploaded at Ecce Homo in Jerusalem on 25/06/2014.

A couple of weeks ago I was in Beer-sheba in the south of Israel. At that time, I commented that to express the length of the country of ancient Israel from north to south, the Bible uses the expression, “from Dan to Beer-sheba” (e.g. 2 Sam 3:10 and another ten or so places). Well, today I was in Dan in the far north of Israel.

We set off in the morning and travelled north from the Sea of Galilee to the nature reserve and the archaeological site of Tel Dan. From the Tel or “mound” of Dan, we could see across the border to the hills of Lebanon in the north-west.

Hills of Lebanon seen from Tel Dan

Hills of Lebanon seen from Tel Dan


To the east were the Golan Heights. They were part of Syria until the 6-day War in 1967 when they were occupied by Israel and have been administered by them ever since.
Looking east towards the Golan Heights seen from Tel Dan

Looking east towards the Golan Heights seen from Tel Dan


So we were definitely in the far north of Israel. Any further north and we’d have been in Lebanon!

As I walked around the site of Dan I remembered a couple of confreres who are called Dan; I remembered also my Uncle Dan and one of his sons/my cousin, Danny. So during the Mass that evening I prayed for these and for all those who are named after that ancient Israeli patriarch!

Tel Dan is famous for several reasons. There are springs here which form the Dan River, one of the three sources of the Jordan, the largest and the most important. The springs are fed by melt water from the snow on nearby Mount Hermon in the Golan. The springs provide up to 239 million cubic meters of water annually. Because of the plentiful water supply, the area was a settlement from very ancient times, as far back as the fifth millennium BCE. Here is a view of the waters rushing down from the spring towards the Sea of Galilee, whence it will flow down the Jordan River to the Dead Sea.

River Dan

River Dan


Leaf floating on the shallow water of a "wading pool", where we did a reflection on the meaning of water in our lives.  Very artistic photo, if I say so myself!!!

Leaf floating on the shallow water of a “wading pool”, where we did a reflection on the meaning of water in our lives. Very artistic photo, if I say so myself!!!


Later civilisations also settled here, including the tribe of Dan, one of the sons of Jacob/Israel. The story is recounted in chapter 18 of the Book of Judges, the end of which is as follows:

The Danites Settle in Laish

27 The Danites, having taken what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, put them to the sword, and burned down the city. 28 There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with Aram. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. They rebuilt the city, and lived in it. 29 They named the city Dan, after their ancestor Dan, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was formerly Laish.

As we walked through the nature reserve, we came across this magnificent specimen of a tree.

Magnificent tree on a hill on Tel Dan

Magnificent tree on a hill on Tel Dan


Our guide told us its name in Hebrew (which I forget), saying that it has been mis-translated in the Bible. It was in this particular type of tree that Absalom, the son of King David, came to a grisly end. The story is told in 2 Samuel, Chapter 18:

9 Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging[c] between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. 10 A man saw it, and told Joab, “I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” 11 Joab said to the man who told him, “What, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? I would have been glad to give you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” 12 But the man said to Joab, “Even if I felt in my hand the weight of a thousand pieces of silver, I would not raise my hand against the king’s son; for in our hearing the king commanded you and Abishai and Ittai, saying: For my sake protect the young man Absalom! 13 On the other hand, if I had dealt treacherously against his life[d] (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” 14 Joab said, “I will not waste time like this with you.” He took three spears in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom, while he was still alive in the oak. 15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

When you see the tree in the photo, you can easily imagine how one might get stuck in its branches!

We visited the archaeological site of the ancient city of Dan. We entered through the gates of the ancient city.

Entrance gate to the city of Dan

Entrance gate to the city of Dan


There was located the throne of the King. From there, he met the people, heard their complaints and issued orders.
The King's Seat just inside the entrance gate to the city of Dan.  Note the four stones with holes for the wooden poles for the canopy over the king.

The King’s Seat just inside the entrance gate to the city of Dan. Note the four stones with holes for the wooden poles for the canopy over the king.


The practice is mentioned in 2 Samuel 19, the continuation of the above story about the death of Absalom. When King David is grieving for his slain son, one of his military commanders admonishes him that if he does not acknowledge the efforts of his troops they will abandon him. Accordingly, he takes “his seat in the gate”:

1 It was told Joab, “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom.” 2 So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops; for the troops heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” 3 The troops stole into the city that day as soldiers steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. 4 The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 5 Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your officers who have saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, 6 for love of those who hate you and for hatred of those who love you. You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. 7 So go out at once and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now.” 8 Then the king got up and took his seat in the gate. The troops were all told, “See, the king is sitting in the gate”; and all the troops came before the king.

A pretender to the throne sitting on the King's Seat!!  Sadly, this misguided individual is sitting cross-legged on a low-level rock, not upright on a high-level throne.

A pretender to the throne sitting on the King’s Seat!! Sadly, this misguided individual is sitting cross-legged on a low-level rock, not upright on a high-level throne.


According to the Bible, Saul was the first king of Israel, followed by King David, who moved his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem. However, in Jerusalem itself there is not yet any definitive scientific archaeological evidence that confirms that King David ever existed, yet alone established his dynasty in Jerusalem! That is why an archaeological find at Dan is all the more important. From the tourist brochure:

One of the fascinating finds from Tel Dan is a piece of a fossilized tablet from the second half of the ninth century BCE. Carved onto it is an inscription of Hazael, King of Damascus, boasting of his victory over the king of Israel and the king of the house of David. This is the first time that the words “house of David” (= dynasty) were discovered outside the Bible.

In 1 Kings 12 we read how the kingdom of Israel split into two. After King David came his son Solomon. But after Solomon the kingdom was divided into north and south. The story is told in 1 Kings 12:

…. and Jeroboam and all the assembly of Israel came and said to Rehoboam, 4 “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” 5 He said to them, “Go away for three days, then come again to me.” So the people went away.

6 Then King Rehoboam took counsel with the older men who had attended his father Solomon while he was still alive, saying, “How do you advise me to answer this people?” 7 They answered him, “If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.” 8 But he disregarded the advice that the older men gave him, and consulted with the young men who had grown up with him and now attended him. 9 He said to them, “What do you advise that we answer this people who have said to me, ‘Lighten the yoke that your father put on us’?” 10 The young men who had grown up with him said to him, “Thus you should say to this people who spoke to you, ‘Your father made our yoke heavy, but you must lighten it for us’; thus you should say to them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s loins. 11 Now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.’”

12 So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had said, “Come to me again the third day.” 13 The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him 14 and spoke to them according to the advice of the young men, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” 15 So the king did not listen to the people, because it was a turn of affairs brought about by the Lord that he might fulfill his word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam son of Nebat.

16 When all Israel saw that the king would not listen to them, the people answered the king,

“What share do we have in David?
We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse.
To your tents, O Israel!
Look now to your own house, O David.”

So Israel went away to their tents. 17 But Rehoboam reigned over the Israelites who were living in the towns of Judah. 18 When King Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was taskmaster over the forced labor, all Israel stoned him to death. King Rehoboam then hurriedly mounted his chariot to flee to Jerusalem. 19 So Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day. 20 When all Israel heard that Jeroboam had returned, they sent and called him to the assembly and made him king over all Israel. There was no one who followed the house of David, except the tribe of Judah alone.

This account of the division of ancient Israel into a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom is important for another event that happened in Dan. The above story continues in 1 Kings 12 when Jeroboam, the new king of the northern kingdom, plans to consolidate the support of his people:

26 Then Jeroboam said to himself, “Now the kingdom may well revert to the house of David. 27 If this people continues to go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, the heart of this people will turn again to their master, King Rehoboam of Judah; they will kill me and return to King Rehoboam of Judah.” 28 So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. He said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” 29 He set one in Bethel, and the other he put in Dan.

We continued along the stone path into the ancient city, making our way towards the hill at the top, where we saw the ruins of the altar that had been set up in Dan for worshipping the golden calf.

Platform on which was erected the Golden Calf

Platform on which was erected the Golden Calf


High platform/altar to the right on which was erected the Golden Calf; below that to the left is the lower altar for sacrifice.

High platform/altar to the right on which was erected the Golden Calf; below that to the left is the lower altar for sacrifice.


There are some impressive eucalyptus trees growing on the site. I have heard that these were imported from Australia as the eucalyptus is very effective in soaking up the excess water in swampy land. I am not sure if this is credible, as I suspect that the eucalyptus is likely to drown with excess water! I wonder if it is not more likely that the eucalyptus is suited to a hot dry climate, and grows quickly, producing timber and shade quickly.
Eucalyptus on Tel Dan

Eucalyptus on Tel Dan


For more information and photos of Tel Dan see:
http://www.bibleplaces.com/dan.htm
http://teldan.wordpress.com
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_(ancient_city)

After our visit to Tel Dan, we entered the Golan, now administered by Israel, but which the Syrians would call “Israeli occupied Syria”. We had a lovely Middle Eastern lunch of salads in the “Lebanese Restaurant”, which was a former Syrian Officer’s Mess. We were told not to wander off into the fields as there are still mines in the area! Certainly, there were many “danger” signs on the fences advising us not to enter. We were happy to comply!

Then we went on to visit another of the springs, also fed by the snow melt from Mt Hermon, which becomes the Hermon River and feeds into the River Jordan. Like most places with a ready water supply, this too was an ancient settlement. The place was called Banias. It was the site of an ancient pagan temple to the god Pan and was called “Paneas” (but since there is no letter “p” in Arabic it became Banias. King Herod the Great also built a temple there to his patron Augustus.

Ruins of temples in Banias/Caesarea Philipi

Ruins of temples in Banias/Caesarea Philipi


Boards giving explanation and artistic representation of the ancient pagan temples in Banias/Caesarea Philipi

Boards giving explanation and artistic representation of the ancient pagan temples in Banias/Caesarea Philipi


This pagan town, mainly a royal estate, also had another name which will be familiar to many, Ceasarea Philipi. It is in this vicinity that Jesus questions his disciples and Peter makes his confession of faith. The story is told in Mt 16:13:

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Seeing the rocky cliff walls, it is not hard to imagine how Jesus came to use the metaphor of “rock” for Peter!

It was good to be in the place and to reflect on our own confession of faith in Jesus, one that has been handed down from Peter through the generations.

Then we climbed on the bus for a short ride to the Banias Falls, very attractive.

Banyas Falls

Banyas Falls


Pilgrim at Banias Falls

Pilgrim at Banias Falls


For more information and photos of Banias/Caesaria Philipi see:
http://www.bibleplaces.com/banias.htm
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banias

Tired after a long day, we climbed on the bus again and headed back to our lodgings at the Pilgerhaus. After a refreshing dip in the Sea of Galilee and a shower, we had Mass on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Altar at Pilgerhaus, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, looking east across the Sea towards the Southern Golan Heights

Altar at Pilgerhaus, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, looking east across the Sea towards the Southern Golan Heights


It was quite moving to read the Gospel of the call of the disciples along the shore of the Lake in the vicinity of where the event had taken place. We will continue to explore more of the Christian sites around the Lake tomorrow.

Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!

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