|High place podium of Jeroboam I|
The Sacred Area or temenos at Dan is a large complex over a half-acre in size. The central open-air platform of the Sacred Area went through three phases during the Israelite period. Biran has identified the three phases of the platform as Bamah A, Bamah B, and Bamah C.
Bamah A is probably the one built by Jeroboam in the late tenth century B.C. (This Jeroboam is known as Jeroboam I to distinguish him from a later Israelite king of the same name.) Bamah A consists of an open-air platform approximately 22 feet wide and 60 feet long constructed of dressed limestone blocks on a base of rough stones. Only two courses of Bamah A have survived. It was destroyed by a fierce fire so hot that it turned the edges of the stones red. From this phase of the sanctuary Biran found the remains of incense burners, a decorated incense stand, the heads of two male figurines, and a bowl decorated with a sign resembling a trident. The bowl contained fragmentary bones of sheep, goats and gazelles which had probably been sacrificed at the sanctuary.
During the first half of the ninth century B.C. the open-air platform was rebuilt and expanded into an almost square structure measuring 60 by 62 feet (Bamah B). The masonry of this bamah, including dressed stones with bosses laid in header and stretcher fashion compares well with the royal buildings from the same period found at Megiddo, and similar buildings from Samaria. This masonry is among the finest found in Israel.See also Bonus 105 - Beersheba Altar
A nearly complete horned incense altar was uncovered in an adjacent court which may come from this time period. The altar, with one horn perfectly preserved, is about 16 inches high and shows evidence of long use. We may assume that many of the activities associated with the bamah, including the burning of incense, took place in courtyards surrounding the open-air platform where this incense altar was found.
The third stage of the bamah’s history (Bamah C) reflects the period of the first half of the eighth century B.C. At this time a set of monumental steps, about 27 feet long, was built against the southern face of the open-air platform. The upper three courses of these steps were added or repaired in Hellenistic or Roman times, indicating that this Sacred Area continued to be used for cultic purposes perhaps to the turn of the era. Other evidence—additions to walls and new rooms—confirms this conclusion….
In any event it is clear that this entire area at Tel Dan was an important Israelite cultic center. Whether it is the beth bamoth referred to in 1 Kings 12:31, as Biran believes, will no doubt continue to be debated by scholars for years to come. Although the Biblical record is silent concerning the specific cultic acts performed at Dan and does not even specify what use was made of the Golden Calf which Jeroboam made, the archaeological evidence suggests that a large, open-air platform was used, that there were altars, incense offerings, votive offerings involving figurines, and some kind of water purification or libation rituals.1.Footnotes
- 1. Laughlin, John. “The Remarkable Discoveries at Tel Dan.” Biblical Archaeology Review 7 No. 5. (1981): 20-37.
For Further Study
- Tel Dan Bibliography
- Official Website for Tel Dan
- Biran, Avraham. “Two Discoveries at Tel Dan.” Israel Exploration Journal 30 no. 1/2 (1980): 89-98. LINK
- Biran, Avraham. “Sacred Spaces: Of Standing Stones, High Places and Cult Objects at Tel Dan.” Biblical Archaeology Review 24, no. 5 (1998): 38-41, 44-45, 70.
- Biran, Avraham. “An Israelite Horned Altar at Dan.” The Biblical Archaeologist 37, no. 4 (1974): 106-107.
- Biran, Avraham. “Tel Dan.” The Biblical Archaeologist 37, no. 2 (1974): 26-51.
- Biran, Avraham. “The Dancer from Dan, the Empty Tomb and the Altar Room.” Israel Exploration Journal 36, no. 3/4 (1986): 179-187.
- Biran, Avraham. “The Discovery of the Middle Bronze Age Gate at Dan.” The Biblical Archaeologist 44, no. 3 (1981): 139-144.
- Biran, Avraham. “The Triple-Arched Gate of Laish at Tel Dan.” Israel Exploration Journal 34, no. 1 (1984): 1-19.
- Biran, Avraham. “Two Bronze Plaques and the Hussot of Dan.” Israel Exploration Journal 49, no. 1/2 (1999): 43-54.
- Biran, Avraham and Joseph Naveh. “An Aramaic Stele Fragment from Tel Dan.” Israel Exploration Journal 43 no. 2, 3 (1993): 81-98.
- Biran, Avraham and Joseph Naveh. “The Tel Dan Inscription: A New Fragment.” Israel Exploration Journal 45 no. 1 (1995): 1-18.
- Davis, Andrew R.. “Tel Dan in its Northern Cultic Context.” The Johns Hopkins University, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2010. Archaeological data from the Iron II temple complex at Tel Dan. Published by Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.