Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Bethel - Cause of Israel's Greatest Disaster?

Red routes through Benjamin's land connected west-east, north-south explaining the "quarters" in Joshua 18:14-15
Benjamin's land includes Jerusalem (2Kings23:4), once called Luz or BeitEl (Bethel) it was occupied by Jebusites at the time the Israel's tribal boundaries were allotted. Benjamin's land served as a major traffic junction for people traversing the Judean ridge. The geophysical details are clearly described in the video below:

The precise location of Bethel (which is Luz according to Genesis 28:19  and Joshua 18:13) remains a major point of contention among academics and Biblical scholars. Luz being synonymous with Bethel may not seem that significant, but it has caused and continues to cause Israel's greatest disasters. Rivalry is the heart of this dynamic millennial problem. The problem is relevant because  Bethel in the north significantly distorts our understanding of Torah, especially when it is prioritized over the location of Luz-Bethel-Jerusalem on Judah's boundary. The problem originates on Benjamin's northern boundary with Ephraim (see Bethel in the map). Replace the name "Jerusalem" with "Bethel" and you will immediately notice the mirror image problem for two of Israel's most competitive tribes at their dueling Bethel locations.

What's the big deal you may ask?  Around 250 years before the tribal allotment of land, Jacob had returned to Luz where he made a covenant and took the name Israel (Genesis 35:10).  During Israels ~250 year exile in Egypt and the dessert, the location of Jacob's covenant was obfuscated. Importantly that location would ultimately be the site of the permanent altar and temple, as such it would be extremely prestigious and economically lucrative. But, no-one knew whether it was on the northern or southern boundary of Benjamin.

The Book of Joshua, was completed by the end of his life some ~220 years after Israel took his name. It set the guidance that would demarcate land, but in Joshua's absence it was open to interpretation and became food for rivals. The tribes were preoccupied defending and settling their respective land, but they could not penetrate the fortress that had been built and occupied by Jebusites at Luz. It would be another 300 years before the fortress would be captured by King David. During this long period without rivalry from Luz in the south, Bethel north of Benjamin became entrenched. 

Recent discoveries at Jerusalem's City of David could be southern Bethel-Luz. They include:

High ridge plan[3] at the Gihon Spring in City of David ancient Jerusalem - Oil and grain press, altar, covenant stone
Matzevah or the covenant stone was anointed with oil, perhaps the location of Jacob's assumption of his name Israel

The site that may be Jacob's covenant was obfuscated, but who did it, why was it preserved so well and when? After a decade of research I still have a hard time deciphering the available information. Its clear to me the Jebusites aided by Emorites, Hittites, Amorites and Moabites were motivate to built Israel's tallest fortress over the Gihon Spring. Most likely to prevent Israel returning to Jerusalem. Their plan was successful and lasted ~400 years. Whether King David re-discovered it remains open for debate, however archaeological evidence indicates the entire area (shown in the plan above) was buried with soft soil to preserve it. During sand sifting (from above the bedrock) a bullae was discovered from the Kings period. I hypothesize the area on the bedrock was first re-discovered by Hezekiah at the time he built the stone cut channel from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam.  

Northern Bethel as the site of Jacob's covenant was exploited by Jeroboam who used it to split the entire nation. To do so he played with the historical ambiguity. He built his palace in Shechem, built Peneul (and most likely several other sites) and a temple in Bethel of the north specifically to prevent Israel's northern tribes proceeding south to Jerusalem where his rival, Solomon's son Rehoboam presided (1Kings 12:25). 

Jerusalem's Holy Basis [In chronological order] - [1] Gihon Spring, cave dwelling, Salem (Genesis 7:1) high ridge with altar, oil and grain press. [2] Abraham pitched his tent East of Bethel, West of Ai. (Genesis 12:8) [3] Luz-Bethel high ridge addition of matzevah, upper Gihon pool, fortress and city walls. [4a] Ai destroyed. [4b] Joshua's ambush party (Joshua 8:14) remained in Kidron Valley. [4c] Joshua's troops attack over valley to Ai [5] Palace of King David
The image above describes the features that resolve the ambiguity of Jacob's Bethel. It may turn out that the matzevah (massebah) above the Gihon Spring is truly Jacob's and that the location was indeed obfuscated. If true, it would significantly re-orient scholars to re-consider all they know about the geography that has caused so much confusion. Finally we would restore Jacob to his rightful place, where he originally took the name Israel, where his father was bound by his grandfather who was the link to Israel's ancestral inheritance.