Touring Biblical Dan

Exploring the Golan Heights

First before talking about the Biblical city of Dan, perhaps I should supply you with some background about the Tribe of Dan. Who was the tribe of Dan in the Bible? So according to the biblical narrative, following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes after about 1200 BCE; Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes. Now Dan was the last tribe to receive its territorial inheritance. Also, the land originally allocated to Dan was a small enclave in the central coastal area of Canaan. Between Judah; Benjamin; Ephraim and the Philistines. To the north, the territory of Dan abutted Joppa, the modern Jaffa. This territory, not very extensive originally, was soon diminished by its dangerous neighbors, the Philistines.

From after the conquest of the land by Joshua until the formation of the first united Kingdom of Israel in c.1050 BCE; the Tribe of Dan was a part of a loose confederation of Israelite tribes. No central government existed, and in times of crisis, the people were led by ad hoc leaders known as Judges. The most celebrated Danite was Samson, a Danaite judge from the period of settlement in the lands allotted by Joshua. As a consequence of the pressure from the Philistines; the tribe abandoned hopes of settling near the central coast; instead migrating to the north of the Philistine territory, and after conquering Laish, refounded it as their capital (renaming it Dan).

Thus their territory, in the end, lay northeast of that of Naphtali, east of the upper Jordan River, near its eastern sources, and defining the northern extent of the land of the Israelites. A number of biblical texts thus refer to “All Israel, from Dan to Beersheba”.

Biblical Dan: From Whom the Tribe of Dan Originates From?

According to the Book of Genesis, Dan (Dan in Hebrew means “judgment” or “he judged”) was the fifth son of Jacob and the first son of Bilhah. He was the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Dan. In the biblical account, Dan’s mother is described as Rachel’s handmaid; who becomes one of Jacob’s wives. (Book of Genesis, Genesis 30:1–6). The text of the Torah explains that the name of Dan derives from dananni, meaning “he has judged me”. In reference to Rachel’s belief that she had gained a child as the result of a judgment from God.

Biblical Dan: King Jeroboam’s Revolt Against The House of David

Following the news of Solomon’s death in 931 BCE, Jeroboam ventured back from Egypt to the kingdoms of Israel, now under the rule of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Rehoboam’s rule had been comparatively less appreciated than his father’s, having been advised to show no weakness to the people and to tax them even more. Jeroboam, as part of a delegation, went before Rehoboam and petitioned for a cap on taxes; which Rehoboam refused. Following the rejection; ten of the tribes withdrew their allegiance to the house of David and proclaimed Jeroboam their king, forming Samaria. So only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to Rehoboam in the new kingdom of Judah.

Jeroboam traveled north and rebuilt and fortified Shechem as the capital of the northern kingdom. Fearing that pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem prescribed by the Torah might be an occasion for his people to go back to their old allegiance, he built two state temples, with golden calves, one in Bethel and the other in Dan. On our tour of the City of Dan, we will see among other interesting finds, that ritual platform.

Biblical Dan: The Famous Abraham Gate At Tel Dan

The Bible Narrates that Abram’s nephew Lot had been abducted by marauders (Genesis 14), and when Abram heard of it:

“He led forth his trained men, born in his house, 318 of them, and went in pursuit as far as Dan.”

A little bit about Lot’s background: we know he and his father Haran were born and raised in Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:28) in the region of Sumer on the River Euphrates of lower Mesopotamia. Then we learn that Lot’s grandfather, Terah, actually arranges for their large family to set a course for Canaan where they could establish a new home. Among the family members that Lot travels with, was his uncle, Abram (later called Abraham), one of the three patriarchs of Israel.

Genesis 12 reveals Abraham’s obedience to the Lord at the age of 75, in continuing his journey to the Land of Promise. Though Abram’s father, Terah, stayed behind; his nephew Lot went with him there isn’t mention of Lot’s having a wife yet. Then they went into the land of Canaan; to the place called Shechem; the present-day West Bank city of Nablus. Later they traveled south to the hills between Bethel and Ai before journeying further toward the south of Canaan.

Biblical Dan: Lot in the Plain of Jordan

After they dwelt in the land of Canaan for a little while; a famine overtook the countryside; they journeyed many miles farther south into Egypt. After having dwelt in Egypt for some time; they acquired vast amounts of wealth and numbers of livestock and returned to the Bethel area.

Genesis 13 helps and discusses Abram and Lot’s return to Canaan after the famine had passed and the lands became fertile again. They traveled back through the Negev to the hills of Bethel. With their constant movement and the sizable numbers of livestock each family-owned requiring pasture, the herdsmen of the two groups began to bicker. These arguments became so troublesome that Abram suggested to Lot that they part ways, lest conflict continues among the “brethren”.

Although Abram gave Lot the choice of going either north (the left hand) or south (the right hand), Lot instead looked beyond Jordan toward a well-irrigated plain and chose that land, for it seemed “like the garden of the LORD”. Alas, ahead Lot could not foresee the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the transformation of the water into a saline sea (the Dead Sea). Abram then headed south to Hebron, staying within the land of Canaan.

Biblical Dan: Lot Goes Living Next to Sodom

Lot camped among the cities of the green Jordan plain and initially pitched his tent facing Sodom. Eight or so years before, the five kingdoms had become vassal states of an alliance of four eastern kingdoms under the leadership of Chedorlaomer, king of Elam. They served this king for twelve years, but “the thirteenth year they rebelled.”

Genesis 14 goes on and says that The following year the four armies of Chedorlaomer returned and at the Battle of the Vale of Siddim, the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fell in defeat. Chedorlaomer despoiled the cities and took captives as he departed, including Lot, who by then “dwelt” in Sodom.

Biblical Dan: And Now the Grand Finale Abram Rescues Lot

When Abram heard what had happened to his “brother” Lot, he armed a rescue force of three hundred and eighteen of his trained servants and caught up to the armies of the four kings in the territory of the Tribe of Dan. Abram divided his forces, which attacked at night from multiple directions, and the four kings fled northeast.

Abram’s pursuit continued and the “slaughter of Chedorlaomer” and the other kings was completed at Hobah, north of Damascus. Abram brought back “his brother Lot” and all the people and their belongings. I have more posts about Lot for example the story of Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Usually, I tell that story when I am on a private tour of the Dead Sea. So I’ll leave that story for another occasion.

In any case, (the Abram Gate) – is the most impressive find of the Tel Dan excavations in the ancient Canaanite Gate. The gate was built of mud bricks and had three arches that are considered to be the earliest of their kind in the world next to the one found in Ashkelon. If you want you can close your eyes and imagine Abram passing under this impressive gate.

Biblical Dan: The Tel Dan Stele 

Nearby there is another gate dated to the Iron Age period (Israelite Period). Within the remains of the city wall; close to the entrance of the outer gate; parts of the Tel Dan Stele were found. The basalt stone bears an Aramaic inscription referring to one of the kings of Damascus; the excavators of the site headed by Avraham Biran believe that the king it refers to is Hazael (c 840 BCE); though a minority argue that it instead refers to Ben-Hadad (c 802 BCE). A small part of the inscription remains; with text which most archaeologists agree refers to “House of David”. Which makes the inscription the first time that the name David has been found at an archaeological site dating before 500 BCE.

Dan suffered in the era of expansion by the Aramaeans. Due to being the closest city to them in the kingdom of Israel. The several incursions indicated by the Book of Kings suggest that Dan changed hands at least four times between the Kingdom of Israel and Aramaeans; around the time that Israel was ruled by Ahab and the Aramaeans by Ben Hadad I, and their successors. Around this time, the Tel Dan stele was created by the Aramaeans; during one of the periods of their control of Dan. When the Assyrian empire expanded to the south; the kingdom of Israel initially became a vassal state. but after rebelling, the Assyrians invaded; and the town fell to Tiglath-Pileser III in 733/732 BCE.

Biblical Dan: The Exposure of the Israelite Gate

In 1992, in order to tidy up the site for presentation to visitors; a heap of debris was removed which dated from the time of the Assyrian destruction of the city by Tiglath-Pileser III in 733/2 BCE. A hitherto unknown earlier gateway to the city was uncovered. The entrance complex led to a courtyard paved with stone with a low stone platform. In the 9th century BCE, the podium was enlarged; and major fortifications were built; a city wall with buttresses and a complex gate. The podium was enlarged further in the 8th century BCE by Jeroboam II; then destroyed by Tiglath-Pileser III. At the Israelite gate, there is a raised square platform reached by two steps. Decorated stone sockets in the corners may have been created to hold canopy poles. It may have been the base of the king’s seat; where he would sit in judgment.

Now let’s turn to the stories of modern Israel, especially stories of heroism from the wars of Israel

The Creation of the New Jew and Modern Zionism

The founder of Revisionist Zionism; Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky. He believed that Zionism would create a new type of Jew. The youth organization that he headed, Betar Youth, used a variety of means to train its members to realize the vision of the “new Jew”. From physical and paramilitary exercises to learning and using the Hebrew language; from a certain code of behavior to making every effort to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael.

Jabotinsky presented three figures as models of the new Jewish character. Firstly, Herzl, who had brought the nation back into history. And Trumpeldor, who personified the pure idea of pioneering and serving the nation. Lastly, Shlomo Ben Yosef, who, when sentenced to death by the British Mandate authorities, demonstrated strength and honor while in prison and went to the gallows with the Betar Song on his lips. These three men symbolized in their lives the idea of the “new Jew” – the antithesis to the figure of the ghetto Jew.

Moreover, the more the conflict between the Jewish Yishuv escalated; the more the fallen were glorified. So myths such as fighting heroism were the main instrument to create a new past for the new nation. The yearning to be respected by the local population; for heroism; in short for a new type of Jew not as the Jews in the diaspora. In other words the pale-looking, Yiddish-speaking Jews that were sitting in the Jewish Yeshivas all day; and did not know what plowing is or working in the fields.

The Historical Roots of the Glorification of Israeli Military Power

The concept of war is written in two different but complete ways in Israeli literature. One glorifies the Israeli soldier; the use of force and military might. And the other emphasizes the tragedy; the bereavement and suffering the war causes. This pendulum movement between these two models increases in each war. In 1948 the writers were astonished by the resilience and the toughness of the Israeli Soldier in combat. But on the other hand, the tragedy inherent in the loss of young men and women; and questions concerning the justification of war and military force are raised. On our tour of the Golan Heights, I will try to talk some more about this subject.

The Battle of Tel Saki in the Yom Kippur War

At the Battle of Tel Saki, one of the first of the 1973 Israeli Yom Kippur War, a handful of Israeli paratroopers and armored soldiers stood their ground, fighting off thousands of Syrian troops for three days. Outnumbered 100 to 1, with barely any weapons, ammunition, or food, the brave young men at the Battle of Tel Saki drew upon their love of one another and for the State of Israel to stop the Syrian army from entering Israel. Amidst the fear and frenzy of battle, they never gave up. We will visit their memorial and honor the fallen by telling their heroic story.

The Battle of the Valley of Tears

On top of Mount Bental where today there is an unmanned IDF bunker; we will be able to see where the famous Valley of Tears Battle took place. They’re one of the greatest armed corps battles that took place in the history of Israel. Just about 100 Israeli tanks were able to fend off an attack of an entire Syrian infantry division, consisting of about 500 tanks and vehicles. We will visit a real tank and also talk about some more in-depth about the famous Yom Kippur War and how it is different from other wars Israel had to deal with.


Hi! My name is Arik Haglili, an Israeli native who decided to dedicate his life to share my knowledge about the Holy Land to those that are interested to know more about this amazing piece of land. My career as a private tour guide started at the International School For the Studying of the Holocaust and the rest is history.

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