Only 18 kms (11 miles) north of Jerusalem, yet within the territory of Ephraim, Bethel had a long history as an Israelite religious centre. Gen 28:10-22 tells the story of the founding of the temple there. The patriarch Jacob (Israel) had there dreamed of a stairway to heaven with God's messengers ascending and descending. He then saw Adonai standing beside him renewing his promises of the land and of a great "family". When Jacob awoke he recognised how special the place was saying: "It is no other than the house of God (בֵּית אֱלֹהִים), it is heaven's gate" so he renamed it Bethel (בֵּית־אֵל).
Situated at a crossroads, Bethel was one of the centres from which Judges like Deborah and Samuel ruled Israel. When the North under Jeroboam I split from the united kingdom Bethel and Dan were set up as Royal Sanctuaries, alternatives to Jerusalem.
The site has been frequently excavated. The teams (Kelso) claim that the Late Bronze Age town was destroyed and burnt (see Jdgs 1:22ff.), while the early Iron Age (Israelite) houses were poor, but soon (10th C under Jeroboam I?) it was a strong fortified town, and rebuilding was undertaken in both 8th and 7th centuries (just before Amos' time?).
However others (e.g. Dever) complain of lack of careful recording of the evidence for these claims.
This page is part of the Hypertext Bible Commentary - Amos,
© Tim Bulkeley, 1996-2005, Tim Bulkeley. All rights reserved.