Bethel is an ancient city and sanctuary on the site of the modern town of Beitîn, 12 miles north of Jerusalem. Archeology has determined that Luza, as the city was originally called (Gn 28.19), was first occupied c. 2200 b.c. When Abraham visited its vicinity about four centuries later (Gn.12.8), it was a flourishing Middle Bronze Age city with heavy fortifications and elaborate buildings. Though it was probably the site of an ancient Canaanite sanctuary, its continuance as an Israelite one was connected with a tradition that both Abraham and Jacob (Gn 35.1–7) had set up altars there to Yahweh. Jacob was credited (Gn 28.19) with renaming the place (Heb. bêt’ēl, house of God; but originally, house of the god El). After a silence of several centuries, the quiet and prosperity of Bethel were shattered by the invading Israelites (Jgs 1.22–25). Clear archeological evidence of a devastation of the Canaanite town toward the end of the 13th century b.c., overlaid by a much less developed occupation, proves the substantial historicity of the account of the Israelite capture of the place as given in Jgs 1.22–25. Modern research has relegated the parallel account of the destruction of Hai as given in Jos 8.129 to an etiologic explanation of the extensive but much more ancient ruins near Bethel. Samuel's annual tour of towns included Bethel (1 Sm 7.16). Bethel's location, so close to Judah's expansion into Benjamin's territory (Jos 16.1–2;18.12–13; 1 Kgs 14.30), made it a constant object of strife in the divided kingdom (2 Chr 13.19). Added to this was the fact that Jeroboam I of Israel chose Bethel as the chief northern sanctuary and the rival of Jerusalem. The temple and golden calf that he established there (1 Kgs 12.26–13.32) were the object of severe censure by Hosea (Osee) (Hos 4.15–19; 10.5). Amos had already accused this sanctuary of luxurious and hypocritical worship (Am 4.4–5; 5.21–25) and had been expelled from it (Am 7.12). The people of Judah often referred to Bethel as Bethaven (bêt 'āwen), "house of wickedness" (Hos 5.8; Jos 7.2;18.12; etc.). During the Assyrian occupation (after 721 b.c.), Bethel escaped destruction. The conquerors even dispatched one of the exiled priests to care for its sanctuary (2 Kgs 17.28). When Josiah controlled Bethel, its altar and High Place were included in the general destruction of all sanctuaries except the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Kgs 23.14). Bethel escaped the common destruction in 587, when the Babylonians ravaged all of Judah. During the exilic period, however, the town experienced rapid decline, and only a few Benjaminites were mentioned as peopling it in the reconstruction period (Ezr 2.28). It regained its former prosperity in Hellenistic (1 Mc 9.50) and Roman times and flourished until late in the Byzantine period. The excavations carried out at Bethel in 1934 by W. F. Albright and J. L. Kelso, and again in the 1950s by the latter, were very successful and fruitful in illuminating the problems and background of the Old Testament.
Bibliography: f. m. abel, Géographie de la Palestine, 2 v. (Paris 1933–38) 2:270–271. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 229230. h. haag, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (Freiburg 1957–65) 2:307–309. l. hennequin, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et al. (Paris 1928–) 3:375–377. The Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 29 (1928) 9–11; 55–58 (1934–35); 74 (1939) 17–18; 137 (1955) 5–10; 151 (1958) 3–8; 164(1961) 5–19. j. l. kelso, "Excavations at Bethel," The Biblical Archaeologist 9 (1956) 36–43.