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The Location Of Bethel

What was the exact position of Bethel on the map? Already in the life of Abraham we have found the name of Bethel occurring in the Scriptures at the time when the patriarch, arriving with his flocks from the Aramean centre at Haran, was making his first contact with the Promised Land. At that time, leaving the valley of Shechem, he set out towards Mount Ephraim. He pitched his tent, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built an altar to YAHWEH and invoked the name of YAHWEH (Bereshith 12: 8). Of course, it is by anticipation that Bereshith here speaks of Bethel. Abraham's camp -he returned a little later to the same place -was located, it seems, in a part of the open country without any precise name. In addition, we know that the name of beth-EI (house of YAHWEH) was given to this place nearly a hundred years after Abraham by his grandson Yacob.

Both men had halted near the small hamlet of Luz (or Luza) which was surrounded by plantations of almond trees (Luz, in Hebrew). The village of Bethel, built at a later date, is today part of the ancient Luz; these two tiny agglomerations form Beitin where the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is carrying out excavations. But was it really at Beitin that Abraham built his altar to YAHWEH? Was it there that Yacob raised his stone? Following conclusions of several authors I believe that Bethel was situated on a hill very nearly half a mile from Beitin now known as Khirbet el-Bordj. There may be seen an ancient enclosure some three-quarters of which are in ruins. In the centre is a square courtyard in a state of partial preservation. And, as was mentioned in the previous volume, from this magnificent natural position, at a height of 2,700 feet there is an imposing panorama over the valley of the Yardan, against the background of the darkening wall of the mountains of Moab and Gilead, while to the south can be seen the shining white hills of Yahudah.

Yacob Continues His Journey

Bethel is the only halting place mentioned by the Scriptures during Yacob's long journey to Haran. The fact is of some importance for it chronicles the first of YAHWEH's overtures to Yacob, the man of HIS choice. But Yacob, it must be admitted, does not appear to have understood much of YAHWEH’s message. It did not matter. With time, and especially after certain sore trials, he managed to grasp the meaning of his mission. Once again we may observe the continually developing character of Scriptural history.

Yacob At His Uncle Laban's Home

For the next twenty years Yacob was to serve as a shepherd to his uncle Laban, the chieftain of the Aramean tribe. At the end of his journey into exile the fugitive was warmly welcomed by his relations in the Haran region; he was to marry two of his first cousins and, by the exercise of considerable cunning, managed to amass a large fortune in flocks and slaves.

The Territory Of Haran, The Aramean Centre

When Terah in his old age, accompanied by his son Abraham, had left the land of Ur, in lower Mesopotamia, to journey with his whole clan to the land of Canaan near the other extremity of the Fertile Crescent, the migration took place in two phases: first, for a fairly long period, the caravan stopped at Haran in the region of the Upper Euphrates; subsequently, after Terah's death, under Abraham's orders, the little band of shepherds set out for the Negeb.

 What was the reason for halting in this region which forms a sort of elbow between Mesopotamia and the land of Canaan? In the Scriptures, this territory, whose principal city is Haran, is called Paddan-aram (the plain of Aram), or Aram Naharaiim (Aram of the Two Rivers, that is the Tigris and the Euphrates). Sometimes the patriarchs called it the land of the Fathers and, on occasion, the land of the Sons of the East.

These clans of Aramean nomads were scattered, almost everywhere over the immense area of steppe land which extends in a semi-circle from the Persian Gulf to the eastern confines of the Nile delta. Small isolated settlements, jealous of their independence, carefully avoided any possibility of misalliance with other nomads who were 'not of their blood'. There were camps of shepherds continually on the move from one pasture to another, always in search of fresh grass and water. But these wandering shepherds seemed to possess a sort of territorial centre, probably of a spiritual nature. This was Aram Naharaiim, the land of the Fathers. Here the Aramean language was to remain for long in use.

We know that Abraham left Haran on the orders of YAHWEH who had decided to isolate this tiny Hebrew group, to whom the notion of the one YAHWEH had just been revealed, far from the other Aramean groups who practiced idolatry. Shortly after Abraham's departure, Nahor, Abraham's own brother, arrived in this great elbow of the Euphrates. He too had left the region of Ur to settle in the land of the Fathers.

Of course, this branch of Terah's family, unaffected by the Revelation, continued to venerate its Babylonian gods. But it did not prevent Abraham's clan, settled in the Negeb, nearly 500 miles away, from remaining in fairly close touch with the Aramean centre (Bereshith 22: 20-4). And there is proof of these family ties: when Abraham was looking for a wife for his son Yitschaq he sent his confidential slave to Paddan-aram to find one among his cousins; and it was Rebekah, the sister of the patriarch Laban, who was providentially chosen. So now it was the turn of Yacob, Rebekah's son, to return to the land of the Fathers to take a wife, thus enabling him, as the future Hebrew chieftain who had been blessed by his father at Hebron and entrusted with his mission by YAHWEH at Bethel, to preserve the purity of the race, a set apart principle among the Arameans. 

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Yacob Called Yisrael Index  Yacob Sitemap   Scripture History Through the Ages   Yacob Called Yisrael  Yacob and Esau  Theft Of The Paternal Blessing  Flight, The Only Solution For Yacob  Yacob's Dream At Bethel  Yacob Puts Up A Stele Named BethEl  The Location Of Bethel  Importance Of The Well, A Meeting Place  Details Of The Mohar  The Sons Of Yacob  How Yacob Became Rich  Yacob Leaves The Land Of The Fathers  Treaty Between Yacob And Laban  Messages Between Yacob And Esau  Yacob Wrestles With YAHWEH  Two Brothers, Yacob and Esau Meet  Towards The Promised Land  The Departure From Shechem  The Conclusion Of Yacob

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