Site-Seeing: Exploring Beautiful Tel Dan

The archaeology bug runs unequally in some families. I have no scientific data to back this claim, but anecdotal evidence abounds, starting in my own home. When planning a trip under these circumstances, the best thing may be finding archaeological sites that appeal in other ways.

Tel Dan fits the bill, boasting both biblical archaeology and unrivaled natural beauty.

Tel Dan’s archaeological credentials are impeccable. Toward the site’s eastern edge, one can see what is said to be the oldest intact archway ever found, part of a Middle Bronze Age (2000–1550 B.C.E.) gate to the Canaanite city—removing yet another architectural achievement for which the Romans are traditionally credited. Just southwest of the Canaanite gate is another gate complex (see image), this one from the Israelite period (1200–721 B.C.E.). It was here that the various fragments of the famous Tel Dan inscription were found, in secondary use. As BAR readers will recall, this ninth-century B.C.E. Aramaic inscription may well preserve the earliest written record mentioning King David.

Duby Tal/Albatross/Alamy Stock Photo
Tel Dan Nature Reserve
Dan, Israel

To the north of the two gates, and elevated above them, is the sacred precinct, a temple complex possibly associated with the shrine constructed by Jeroboam I after the breakup of Solomon’s United Kingdom (1 Kings 12:26-30). Finds from the Hellenistic and Roman periods attest to centuries of ongoing cultic activity. These finds include a bilingual Greek and Aramaic inscription, speaking of a vow to “the god who is in Dan”—an important confirmation that the site is, indeed, Dan. (The inscriptions and other finds are on display at the Israel Museum and the Nelson Glueck School, both in Jerusalem.)

Tel Dan’s long history relates to its spring, which is a principal source of the Jordan River. Visitors to the park will immediately notice the lush greenery and the sounds of rushing water. None of the aforementioned sites can be accessed except by walking 10 or 15 minutes along a network of well-maintained, naturally shaded paths, some of which are even wheelchair accessible.

There is one wading pool where visitors are permitted to cool off (water shoes will help here). But be warned: “Cool off” may be an understatement. It was around 100 degrees Fahrenheit the July day we visited, but our kids could hardly tolerate the frigid spring water on their feet for more than a few minutes. Naturally refreshed, even those who haven’t caught the archaeology bug may be convinced to go back and give one of the two nearby gates another look.

Tel Dan is best reached by car. It’s just over an hour due north of Tiberias and 15 minutes northeast of Kiryat Shmona.

JONATHAN KLAWANS is Professor of Religion at Boston University and author of Heresy, Forgery, Novelty: Condemning, Denying, and Asserting Innovation in Ancient Judaism (2019).

Site-Seeing: Exploring Beautiful Tel Dan first appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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Read more in Bible History Daily:

Site-Seeing: The Hometown of Santa Claus

Learn Unknown Facts About Paul Today

Myra, Turkey: St. Nicholas’s Christian Capital

Paul’s First Missionary Journey through Perga and Pisidian Antioch

Jews in Roman Turkey


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