A city famous for its shrine, on the boundary between Ephraim and Judea—the site of the present little village of Bêitîn, on the southern slope of the Ephraimitic mountains. (See illustration on page 120.) Originally the town was called Luz (Gen. xxviii. 19); but this name was displaced by that of the shrine, Beth-el ("house of God"). According to Gen. xii. 8, Abram erected an altar east of Beth-el; but the erection of the shrine—that is, of the holy stone—is ascribed to Jacob (Gen. xxviii. 18; compare Gen. xxxv. 6, 14). Since in these narratives (Gen. xxviii. 19, xxxv. 7) Beth-el, "the holy place," is distinguished from the city Luz, the shrine must have been outside the city. A suitable place would be the hill to the east of Bêitîn, where now are the ruins of a small fort. But Schlatter ("Zur Topographie Palästina's," pp. 236 et seq.), who thinks that the name Beth-aven in the Old Testament (Hosea iv. 15 et seq.) is merely a sarcastic disguise of "Beth-el" (so also the Talmud; Neubauer, "G. T." p. 155), concludes from Josh. vii. 2 (compare Gen. xii. 8) that the shrine must be sought somewhat more to the east at Deir Dîwân. The statement in the text of Josh. vii. 2, and Josh. xvi. 3, also, which places Beth-el, together with Luz, on the boundary-line of Ephraim, can not, for textual reasons (compare the Septuagint reading), be taken as a conclusive proof that the shrine was at a great distance from the city. According to Judges xx. 18, 26 et seq., the shrine was of great importance in the days of the Judges; still more so after the division of the kingdoms, when Jeroboam made it the chief Ephraimitic shrine (I Kings xii. 29 et seq.; compare II Kings x. 29), "the king's chapel," as it is called in Amos vii. 13. At the time of Elisha there was a community of prophets at Beth-el (II Kings ii. 3). The oldest prophets name Beth-el as one of the centers of degenerate Israelite cult (Amos iii. 14, iv. 4, v. 5; compare Hosea iv. 15, v. 8, x. 5). Amos came into the city at a great feast, and raised a storm of indignation among the priesthood and the people by his merciless condemnation of Israel (Amos vii. 10 et seq.).
Even after the conquest of Ephraim the shrine of Beth-el retained its importance (II Kings xvii. 28). When Josiah took possession of this old part of the Ephraimitic dominions he uprooted the illegitimate cult (II Kings xxiii. 15). After the Exile, Beth-el belonged to Judea (Ezra ii. 28). At the time of the Maccabees it is sometimes named as the seat of Syrian garrisons (I Macc. ix. 50). Otherwise, the place is only mentioned by the first Christian topographer, the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, and by Eusebius, as a small country town. In Lam. R. ii. 3 it is stated that Hadrian placed a guard at Beth-el to capture Jewish fugitives.
- F. Buhl, Geographie des Alten Palästina, Index, s.v. Beth-el;
- G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, etc., pp. 250 et seq., 290 et seq.;
- A. von Gall,Altisraelitische Cultstätten;
- Benzinger, Arch. pp. 372-391;
- commentaries of Dillmann, Delitzsch, Strack, Holzinger, and Gunkel on Gen. xxviii. and xxxv.