Dan (Tel Dan) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Article Index
Dan (Tel Dan)
City and ramparts
Gate of Judgment
Early Danites
Golden calf
Arched gate

The Place of the Golden Calf 
In 1 Kings 12 we read how after Solomon's death, the kingdom split into two parts, Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Before us we have the most tangible sign of that schism: the sanctuary built by Jeroboam the son of Nebat (and added to by his successors) as a rival to the Temple in Jerusalem. The new king of the north set up golden calves and built high places on the borders of his realm at Dan and Bethel. At Dan the excavators found the high place. Biran and his colleagues noticed an area on the tell that seemed especially suitable. There is a good freshwater spring and an open view to the north, with Mt. Hermon on the right and the Naftali Ridge on the left. Jeroboam, rejecting Jerusalem, would likely want to face away from it: to the north.

On the site today one sees an odd aluminum construction, representing the sacrificial altar, as well as a monumental staircase leading up to the high place. Here we can easily distinguish between original stonework and reconstruction. The dressed stones in its wall to the right of the stairs are set in header-stretcher pattern, a technique common to Phoenician and Israelite royal builders. Pottery fragments led Biran to identify the funder as Ahab. It is unclear whether the high place continued in use during the last half of the 9th century BC, when Hazael of Aram had sway in Dan, but much of what we see today is attributed to Jeroboam II (first half of the 8th century BC). It is square, almost 60 feet long on each side, and rose 9 feet above its surrounding courtyard. Probes exposed, beneath it, parts of the original high place built by Jeroboam I, son of Nebat (apparently the first on the spot). A section of this can now be seen immediately east of the staircase. This was the floor of the first platform here.


The monumental staircase was an addition of Jeroboam II, although traces of an older one also turned up. The diggers also found a stone horn of his altar (about 19 inches high and 15 inches long at the base, which is on display in the Skirball Museum of the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem). The reconstructors used it to estimate the size of the altar itself, represented by the present metal contraption. The kings before him also had altars here. We note the steps that would have led to the top (a violation of Exodus 20:26 ). Surrounding the altar is a wall.

The chambers west of this wall yielded smaller finds, including a numbered die whose opposite sides always add up to seven. It may have been used in getting oracles. 

After the Assyrian conquest, the sanctuary probably went out of use, but in the Greek period, four centuries later, it flourished again, and from here we have that happiest of finds, an inscription naming the place. It occurs on stone, in Greek and Aramaic: "To the god who is in Dan."

Discovered in 1976, a decade after the dig began, this was the first positive indication that the site really was Dan. Until then that had been surmise, based partly on the Arabic name for the tell: Tell al-Kadi, the hill of the judge: dan, in Hebrew, is the root for "judge."

Before us, then, is "the sin of Jeroboam", mentioned over and over in the Books of Kings, as in 1 Kings 16:26, 
For he walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and in his sins with which he made Israel to sin, to provoke Yahweh, the God of Israel, to anger with their vanities.

Standing near the spring (located south of the altar, a few yards into the trees near the southern side of the tourist path), we can re-read Psalms 42 and 43. If we put ourselves in the position of one who longed to make the forbidden pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, as in the days before the schism, these songs take on new resonance.