Holman Bible Dictionary
2. The biblical city of Dan is often mentioned in the description of the land of Israel, namely “from Dan even to Beersheba” (Judges 20:1 ). It has been identified with modern tell el-Qadi (or tell Dan). The tel, which covers about 50 acres, is situated at the northern end of the richly fertile Huleh Plain at the base of Mt. Hermon. The abundant springs of the site provide one of the three main sources of the Jordan River.
The city was formerly named Laish (Judges 18:7 or Leshem in Joshua 19:47 ) when occupied by the Canaanites. This city is mentioned in the Egyptian execration texts and Mari tablets from the eighteenth century B.C. Later Thutmose III listed Laish among the cities conquered in his 1468 B.C. campaign. The name Dan was applied to the city conquered by the Israelite tribe in its northern migration (Judges 18:1 ).
Excavation of tell Dan has been led by A. Biran of Hebrew University in Jerusalem since 1966. Laish was founded at the end of the Early Bronze II Age (about 2700 B.C.) near the springs and flourished until about 2300 B.C. Significant pottery remains of this era were uncovered along with remains of floors and walls. The city probably remained unoccupied until the Middle Bronze II period (about 2000 B.C.), when a large, well-fortified city was constructed. A massive earthen rampart similar to that of Hazor was built for defensive purposes, and set into the rampart (about 1750 B.C.) was a well-preserved, mudbrick “triple-arched gate.” The fifteen meter square gate system stood twelve meters above the surrounding plain and contained the earliest arched entryways known in the world. The gate was blocked and covered within a century for reasons unknown. The earthen ramparts continued to be the primary defense fortification through several wars and conquests until the Israelite period. Other significant finds from the period include jar burials, tombs, and pottery.
The Late Bronze Age is represented by a richly-supplied tomb containing Mycenaean and Cypriote imported wares; ivory inlaid cosmetic boxes; gold, silver, and bronze objects; and forty-five skeletons of men, women, and children.
Iron Age Laish was rebuilt by local inhabitants in the late thirteenth century B.C. but destroyed about 1100 B.C. by the migrating tribe of Dan. Scripture describes the conquest of the city as if the local people were unsuspecting of the coming invasion. Danites utilized the earlier rampart for defense and built their homes on the ruins of the previous city. The first Danite city, which contained some Philistine pottery remnants, was destroyed a century after its founding. The city was soon rebuilt and became a prominent Israelite city of the Iron Age.
Following the establishment of the Israelite kingdom under David and Solomon, Jeroboam led the Northern tribes in revolt against Rehoboam (about 925 B.C.). As an alternative to worship in Jerusalem, Dan and Bethel were fortified as border fortress/sanctuaries (1 Kings 12:29 ) with temples containing golden calf representations of Yahweh. This may have represented a combination of Baal worship with worship of Yahweh. The extent to which the Baal cult influenced Northern Israel is seen in the reign of Jehu, who did not destroy the altars at Dan and Bethel, despite eradicating the Baal priests from the land (2 Kings 10:32 ). Excavations at Dan have uncovered the “high place” of Jeroboam along with a small horned altar, the city gate (with royal throne) and walls (12 feet thick), hundreds of pottery vessels, buildings, and inscribed objects. This city was soon taken by Ben-hadad of Aram and then recaptured by Jeroboam II in the eighth century B.C. (2 Kings 14:25 ). The Israelite city of Dan fell to the Assyrians under Tiglath-pileser III (Pul of Old Testament) about 743 B.C. (2 Kings 15:29 ). He annexed the city into an Assyrian district. Many Danites were deported to Assyria, Babylon, and Media following the fall of Samaria in 722 or 721 B.C. (2 Kings 17:6 ) to Sargon II. Foreigners were brought in from Babylon, Aram, and other lands to settle Israel's territory. The writer of Kings ascribed the fall of the kingdom to the worship of gods other than Yahweh (2 Kings 17:7-20 ), and Dan was one of the key centers of this idolatry.
As Josiah came to the throne of Judah in 639 B.C., Assyria was on the decline. Josiah incorporated the former Northern Kingdom territories into a united country, restoring the classical borders of Israel to “from Dan to Beersheba.” An upper gate to the city was built during this period, and the inscription found at this level, “belonging to Ba'alpelet,” demonstrates that Baal worship continued to influence this area after the Assyrian destruction. The partially rebuilt city survived until the onslaught of the Babylonian army of Nebuchadnezzar (about 589 B.C.; compare Jeremiah 4:14-18 ).
Dan again was occupied in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine periods. In the area of the high place, statues and figurines of Greco-Roman and Egyptian gods such as Osiris, Bes, and Aphrodite have been excavated. The Greek and Aramaic inscription, “To the god who is in Dan, Zoilos made a vow,” further evidences the religious significance of the city.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Dan'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/d/dan.html. 1991.