It wouldn’t do to have two emotional, super-charged days in a row, so today’s touring went at a slower pace and with a bit more of an educational purpose.
The weather in Israel was amazing again today: cool, sunny, and clear. And we went to some of the most naturally beautiful places in Israel. Where Jerusalem is radiant due to the buildings and the Jerusalem stone, the upper Galilee and the Golan are splendid because of the green hills, abundant stones, and steep grades. This is an open, rolling paradise.
Tel Dan, the ancient city of Laish which became known later as the city of Dan, is a national park known for its crystal rapids and lush forestation. These waters, the Dan river which feeds the Jordan, come from the melted snow off of Mt. Hermon, rising some 9,000 feet near to the north. The park borders Lebanon and you can stand on the ancient Tel and look into Lebanon. Eucalyptus trees and a few ancient oaks adorn the cultic area.
More interesting to me than the lush wetland forest, which in one section is popularly known as the Garden of Eden, is the history of this place. A gate from the time of Abraham is here. In another part of the Tel there is a complete city gate, rising some 12 feet high, with strong and ancient stone. The gate is so well preserved, the dais outside the city gate is still there upon which a throne could be set for a king or other figure of power. Even the standing stones, a sort of primitive pagan worship area, remain undisturbed having been uncovered in recent decades.
This is the site where an inscription was found, the famous Tel Dan inscription, in which an Aramean king brags about conquering the “house of David,” a king believed in by masses of Jews and Christians but too often doubted by scholars.
And an altar is here, used as late as the Hellenistic period, perhaps up to the first century B.C.E. But the history of this altar goes back further into the past. Remains from the Iron Age have been found here. How did this altar and platform come to be here in the days of Israel’s kings?
The Bible says that Jeroboam, the king who split the twelve tribes into a northern kingdom of ten and left a southern kingdom of two tribes, built two altars: one at Bethel and the other at Dan.
It is no leap of faith to say this is Jeroboam’s altar, a visual confirmation of a Biblical story.
And we sit under the ancient oak, not ancient enough to be the one from Jeroboam’s time almost 3,000 years ago, but perhaps a grandchild of that tree. For ancient cultic sites were often chosen for a location on a hill and near a large oak tree. The majestic oak that sits there now gives off acorns the size of golf balls.
And we sit on this high place, under this tree viewed as cultically relevant, and before an altar built in violation of God’s holy Torah. But we are not here to worship the Golden Calf, but to remember the story. It is a story close to home, for we too make pragmatic decisions to compromise the oneness of God at times.