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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Beth´el, originally Luz, an ancient town which Eusebius places 12 R. miles north of Jerusalem, on the right hand of the road to Shechem, Jacob rested here one night on his way to Padan Aram, and commemorated the vision with which he was favored by erecting and pouring oil upon the stone which had served him for a pillow, and giving to the place the name of Bethel (place or house of God), which eventually superseded the more ancient designation of Luz (Genesis 28:11-19). Under that name it is mentioned proleptically with reference to the earlier time of Abraham (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3). After his prosperous return, Bethel became a favorite station with Jacob: here he built an altar, buried Deborah, received the name of Israel (for the second time), and promises of blessing; and here also he accomplished the vow which he had made on his going forth (Genesis 35:1-15; comp. 32:28, and 28:20-22). It seems not to have been a town in those early times; but at the conquest of the land, Bethel is mentioned as the royal city of the Canaanites (Joshua 12:9). It became a boundary town of Benjamin towards Ephraim (Joshua 18:22), and was actually conquered by the latter tribe from the Canaanites (Judges 1:22-26). At this place, already consecrated in the time of the patriarchs, the ark of the covenant was apparently for a long while, deposited [ARK OF THE COVENANT], and probably the tabernacle also (Judges 20:26; comp. 1 Samuel 10:3). It was also one of the places at which Samuel held in rotation his court of justice (1 Samuel 7:16). After the separation of the kingdoms Bethel was included in that of Israel, which seems to show, that although originally in the formal distribution assigned to Benjamin, it had been actually possessed by Ephraim in right of conquest from the Canaanites—which might have been held by that somewhat unscrupulous tribe to determine the right of possession to a place of importance close on their own frontier. Jeroboam made it the southern seat (Dan being the northern) of the worship of the golden calves; and it seems to have been the chief seat of that worship (1 Kings 12:28-33; 1 Kings 13:1). This appropriation, however, completely desecrated Bethel in the estimation of the orthodox Jews; and the prophets name it with abhorrence and contempt—even applying to it the name of Bethaven (house of idols) instead Bethel (house of God) (Amos 1:5; Hosea 4:15; Hosea 5:8; Hosea 10:5; Hosea 10:8). The town was taken from Jeroboam by Abijah, king of Judah (2 Chronicles 13:19); but it again reverted to Israel (2 Kings 10:29). After the Israelites were carried away captive by the Assyrians, all traces of this illegal worship were extirpated by Josiah, king of Judah, who thus fulfilled a prophecy made to Jeroboam 350 years before (2 Kings 13:1-2; 2 Kings 23:15-18). The place was still in existence after the Captivity, and was in the possession of the Benjamites (Ezra 2:28; Nehemiah 7:32). In the time of the Maccabees Bethel was fortified by Bacchides for the king of Syria. It is not named in the New Testament; but it still existed, and was taken by Vespasian. It is described by Eusebius and Jerome as a small village; and this is the last notice of it as an inhabited place. Bethel and its name were believed to have perished until within these few years; when it has been identified with Beitin, the situation of which corresponds very exactly with the position assigned to the ancient Bethel. The ruins, which are considerable, lie upon the point of a low hill, between the heads of two shallow wadys which unite below, and run off into a deep and rugged valley. The spot is shut in by higher land on every side.





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Bethel'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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