Beginning as a “rescue operation” to save any archaeological evidence left behind before new building began on the site,[1] uncovering Tel Dan became the “longest-running excavation project ever conducted in Israel.”[2] By the 1990’s Tel Dan had been excavated for over thirty years,[3] revealing some of the most unique discoveries in archaeological history. Now, over fifty years have passed since Avraham Biran began his archaeological work at Tel Dan, and a great amount of evidence for this biblical time period has been uncovered. Findings such as the Tel Dan Stele (pronounced “Stee-lee”), the Mudbrick Gate, and the Israelite Temple are just a few of the many significant discoveries found at this site, all of which correlate to the biblical account of this ancient city.

 

The History of Tel Dan

Originally known as Laish to the Canaanites who lived there, the city of Dan became the nation of Israel’s north-end border during the time in which the tribe of Dan occupied the land.[4] Today, the site of Tel Dan, found at the edge of Mount Hermon, spans approximately 50 acres and is believed to be this ancient biblical city.[5] During the year of 1966, excavations began at Tel Dan under the direction of Avraham Biran. In an interview with Hershel Shanks in 1987, Biran gave an explanation of why he started this archaeological mission:

We went to Dan really as a rescue operation. The army was building fortifications in 1965, 1966, on the site, and there was a danger that whatever remains existed would be destroyed. We went there to see what we could salvage before all the archaeological remains disappeared.[6]

Over the course of several decades of work, he and his team would discover some of the greatest archaeological evidence ever to be found. Under the direction of Biran, these excavations would uncover stele fragments, part of a temple, an intricately designed gate, and multiple other unique finds.[7]

 

Tel Dan Stele: House of Dan Inscription

While various inscriptions have been discovered at other sites,[8] the Tel Dan Stele is very unique. The phrase “House of David” was written on this stele; the first archaeological evidence for king David ever to be found.[9] Soon after, two more pieces were discovered that fit with the text of the first stele piece.[10] The story written on this stele also mentions Joram (king of Israel) and Ahaziah (king of Judah), and it gives an account of their deaths similar to that of 2 Kings.[11]

HouseofDavid
Psalm 122 (NIV)

Though many scholars see this as solid proof of the existence of David, there are some who do not believe that this inscription was correctly interpreted. Philip Davies argues that the interpretation of the letters BYTDWD as “House of David” is an assumption and that they can be translated to mean something else, partially due to a missing word divider between certain letters.[12] However, it can be said that his personal conclusion about the interpretation is not completely impartial since he believes that David “is about as historical as King Arthur.”[13] In response to Davies, Anson Rainy states that his argument does not hold up to the facts of interpretation, and Rainy gives further explanation as to how Biran and his colleague Naveh arrived at the “House of David” translation.[14] Expanding on this, Freedman and Geoghegan explain that while it is a possibility that this inscription could be interpreted differently, they also conclude that Davies does not provide a sound solution based on his approach and reasoning.[15] If it does indeed say “House of David”, then there is now substantial evidence for the king as well as for the reliability of the Bible regarding historical information.

 

Triple-Arched Mudbrick Gate

Another interesting find at Tel Dan was an ancient mudbrick gate dating to the Middle Bronze Age. Until this discovery, it was assumed that the Romans constructed this type of arched gateway for the first time much later in history.[16] Interestingly, another larger Middle Bronze gate was recently discovered at Tall el-Hammam as well, indicating that a large city once stood there.[17] The gate at Tel Dan presents the same evidence, and Biran believed that there was a possibility that Abraham himself passed underneath the arched structure at Dan.[18] If this is the case, then there is yet another clue about the patriarchal times.

 

An Israelite Temple Complex and Mycenaean Tomb

Along with these important finds at Tel Dan, a horned altar and a Mycenaean tomb were also found. The altar is believed to be a part of the temple that Jeroboam built to rival the southern temple during the Divided Monarchy; a very significant contribution to these biblical finds.[19] Similarly, the tomb excavation has been an important part of the work at Tel Dan since many interesting objects were found there that have aided in determining historical facts and dating regarding Late Bronze Age cities.[20] Both reveal more pieces of the puzzle of biblical history.

 

The Present and Future of Tel Dan

These are just a handful of the many discoveries that have come from Dan during Biran’s excavations, and in 2005 a new generation of archaeologists began work once again at the site where he and his team left off. This team digs through history to try to find the answers to many of the remaining historical questions that pertain to building construction and climate conditions of this time period, trade interaction among people groups, what happened to the tribe of Dan, what the religious practices consisted of during their time, and many other inquiries.[21] This team of archaeologists, scholars, and students come together to continue to look for clues left behind, just as Biran’s team did during their first excavation in 1966.

 

Conclusion

For nearly fifty years now, Tel Dan excavations have unearthed some of the most significant finds in the history of biblical archaeology. These finds provid very compelling evidences for the historicity and accuracy of the Bible, as well as painted a detailed picture of the cultures and people of ancient Israel and the surrounding areas. Tel Dan has become a very significant window into the past, a great example of biblical historical accuracy, and one of the most exciting sites ever to be excavated.

 

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Sources used in this article are not necessarily in agreement with or endorsed by the author(s) of this website, but are rather used for the sole purpose of explaining/supporting the topics with which they directly relate.

[1] Hershel Shanks, “BAR Interview: Avraham Biran – Twenty Years of Digging at Tel Dan,” Biblical Archaeology Review 13, no. 4 (1987): accessed September 24, 2014, http://www.basarchive.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/bswbBrowse.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=13&Issue=4&ArticleID=1&UserID=1037.

[2] “Professor Avraham Biran, 1909-2008 In Memoriam,” Israel Exploration Journal 58, no. 2 (2008): 130, accessed September 24, 2014, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27927200.

[3] Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out: What Archaeology Reveals About the Truth of the Bible (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1997), 228.

[4] “10,000 Years of History,” Tel Dan Excavations, accessed September 26, 2014, teldan.wordpress.com.

[5] Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary s.v. “Dan” (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003).

[6] Shanks, “BAR Interview: Avraham Biran – Twenty Years of Digging at Tel Dan”.

[7] Ibid.

[8] For more information on other discovered inscriptions, see Keith N. Schoville, “Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries of the Twentieth Century Relating to the Biblical World,” Stone Campbell Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1 (2002): accessed September 26, 2014. http://biblicalstudies.info/top10/schoville.htm.

[9] Hershel Shanks, “The Tel Dan Inscription: The First Historical Evidence of King David from the Bible.” Bible History Daily: Biblical Archaeology Society, (November 22, 2013): accessed September 26, 2014,  http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-artifacts/artifacts-and-the-bible/the-tel-dan-inscription-the-first-historical-evidence-of-the-king-david-bible-story/

[10] Nadav Na’aman, “Three Notes on the Aramaic Inscription at Tel Dan,” Israel Exploration Journal 50 no. 1/2 (2000): 92, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27926919

[11] “David Inscription,” Tel Dan Excavations, accessed September 25, 2014, http://teldan.wordpress.com/house-of-david-inscription/

[12] Philip R. Davies,  “House of David” Built on Sand: The Sins of the Biblical Maximizers,” Biblical Archaeology Review 20 no. 4 (1994): accessed September 26, 2014,  http://www.basarchive.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/bswbBrowse.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=20&Issue=4&ArticleID=13&UserID=1037

[13] Ibid.

[14] Anson F. Rainey, “The ‘House of David’ and the House of the Deconstructionists: Davies is an Amateur Who “Can Safely be Ignored,” Biblical Archaeology Review 20, no. 6 (1994): accessed September 26, 2014,  http://www.basarchive.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/bswbBrowse.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=20&Issue=6&ArticleID=3&UserID=1037.

[15] David Noel Freedman, Jeffrey C. Geoghegan, “‘House of David’ Is There!” Biblical Archaeology Review 21 no. 2 (1995): accessed September 26, 2014, http://www.basarchive.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/bswbBrowse.asp?PubID=BSBA&Volume=21&Issue=2&ArticleID=7&UserID=1037.

[16] “Mudbrick Gate,” Tel Dan Excavations, accessed September 26, 2014, http://teldan.wordpress.com/mudbrick-gate/.

[17] David E. Graves, “MB Gates Discovered,” Deus Artefacta, March 25, 2012, accessed September 26, 2014, http://smyrnaean.blogspot.ru/2012/03/mb-gates-discovered.html.

[18] Shanks, “BAR Interview: Avraham Biran – Twenty Years of Digging at Tel Dan”.

[19] “Israelite Temple,” Tel Dan Excavations, accessed September 26, 2014, http://teldan.wordpress.com/israelite-temple/.

[20] Shanks, “BAR Interview: Avraham Biran – Twenty Years of Digging at Tel Dan”.

[21] “The Expedition,” Tel Dan Excavations, accessed September 26, 2014, http://teldan.wordpress.com/excavations/.