There is considerable debate these days concerning the inerrancy of Scripture. The authority of God's Word is the main issue. But, if one yields to the authority of Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach), he must, in turn, yield to Christ's view of Scripture itself. Anyone and everyone who claims to be a Christian (a believer under the authority of Christ) must hold to the same view He did!
This section is dedicated to ABR founder, Dr. David Livingston. It contains articles written by David over the years. David's lifetime of work in defense of Scripture is an inspiration to us all.
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- Category: Founder's Corner
There is a presupposition which has hindered Old Testament research for over 150 years. It is that Israel's religion, and thus the Bible, evolved, or is a revision (or improvement) of earlier religious systems to suit the purposes of the biblical writers. We are referring to the Wellhausen documentary hypothesis.
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- Category: Founder's Corner
Unfortunately, Dr. Rainey has presented little for the Beitin = Bethel case that has not already been considered. He has ably restated traditional opinions regarding the location. In spite of the evidence we present in our first article, he obviously concludes we are wrong (which, of course, he has every right to do). However, we urge the reader to look carefully at all the evidence, and lack of it, and decide for himself on the basis of evidence, not votes. We urge serious readers to become familiar with our previous article...
- Category: Founder's Corner
For over a century most scholars have been agreed that the village of Beitin, north of Jerusalem, is the site of biblical Bethel. A large quantity of literature has been published based on this assumption. With such careful and painstaking work, much of it basic to an understanding of Palestinian archaeology and history, it hardly seems possible that Beitin may not actually be Bethel after all. Nevertheless, that is what we purpose...
- Category: Founder's Corner
The correct locations for both biblical Bethel and its twin city of Ai are crucial for chronology (since excavation at the-wrong sites could be completely misleading chronologically), topography (this should fit the detailed biblical description) and geography. The latter is related to the correct location of the border between Ephraim and Judah, as well as the locations of many biblical towns in southern Ephraim and Benjamin.
We present here additional evidence that the generally accepted sites for both Bethel and Ai are incorrect and that both need to be relocated in the vicinity of el-Bireh, 3 km. south of the present locations. But first a summary of the earlier discussion of this problem in the Westminster Theological Journal.
In my first article (1970) I pointed out that the original proposal to locate Bethel at Beitin was made by Edward Robinson, using the references to it in the Onomasticon of Eusebius and Jerome (Robinson 1856, 1.448-51; cf. Klostermann 1904). A century later, without checking the actual distances, W. F. Albright completely agreed with Robinson's location for Bethel and began excavations at Beitin assuming it was Bethel (1928, 9: cf. 1934, 25; 1968, 1-3). Was it really? What did the two Church Fathers actually say?
The Church Fathers were not writing about road measurements. They were referring to specific mile-markers, or milestones. The location of Bethel is fixed by them at the twelfth Roman milestone on the Jerusalem-Neapolis (Nablus) road (see Fig. 1 for mile-markers related to the study below). The wording of the relevant entries in the Onomasticon is as follows (Klostermann 1904, 40-41):
Jerome-- Bethel vicus in duodecimo ab Aelia lapide ad dexteram euntibus Neapolim, quae primum Luza, id est amugdalon vocabatur et cecidit in sortem tribus Beniamin, iuxta Bethaun et Gai, quam expugnavit Iesus, rege illius interfecto.
Anyone using such evidence must know where the '0' milestone was located. Contrary to what many scholars assume, the pillar marked on the Madeba Map at what is now the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem cannot be the '0' milestone. This was made clear by the discovery of the third, fourth and fifth milestones at the turn of this century, all of them allowing measurements indicating that the '0' milestone is in the centre of Jerusalem. (We show below that additional milestone studies and references in other early writers sustain this.) According to Eusebius and Jerome the sixth and seventh milestones straddled Rama (Fig. 1: Klostermann 1904, 144-45, which cites Jerome's commentary on Hosea 5.8 for 'seventh'). The fifth milestone on the road northward from Jerusalem has been found and had clearly inscribed numbers in both Latin and Greek. Its location allows one more, the sixth, to have been located at the road turning into Rama (er-Ram) off the main northward route. The seventh, then, would have been where the road north out of the village joined the main road.
Michael Avi-Yonah, in his Map of Roman Palestine (1940, 44), listed a milestone at Khirbet esh-She, about a mile south of el-Bireh. If, as he said, it is the tenth, then the eleventh was in el-Bireh, which in turn puts the twelfth between el-Bireh and Beitin. Howeve rif the stone at esh-She is really the eleventh milestone, as the location of the earlier milestones requires, then the twelfth milestone was at el-Bireh.
One of Robinson's errors was equating biblical Beeroth with el-Bireh (1856, 1.452: cf. his map).The identification, however, clashes with Eusebius's statement in the Onomasticon, which indicates that Beeroth is seven miles distant from Jerusalem (Klostermann 1904, 48). It is also clear in both Eusebius and Jerome that Beeroth was considered to be on the road to Nicopolis, not on the road to Neapolis (modern Nablus). As for the location of Nicopolis, it is most likely at Imwus in the Valley of Aijalon. Thus the road to Beeroth went mostly westward (and a little north) from Jerusalem, not northward.
Milepost 267 (in the catalogue of P. Thomsen) reads IG in Greek, or 'thirteenth mile', and it was found near Jifna (Thomsen 19l7, 76). However, in a study of the eighteenth milepost at Yabroud (milestone 260) C. Clermont-Ganneau pointed out that Jifna (ancient Gophna) was listed in the Onomasticon as being at the fifteenth or sixteenth milestone (1907, 93-94; cf. Klostermann 1904: 168). We suggested, on this basis, that the reading should be IE (15) instead of IG (13). This accords with Eusebius's distance for Jilha and agrees much better with other road distances. Significantly it further confirms el-Birch's location at the twelfth marker.
A. F. Rainey responded to my article in the following year (1971, 175-88). He argued that toponymy, archaeology and biblical topography all supported the identification of Bethel with Beitin, and claimed that this was also true of the evidence of their Onomasticon once it was realized that the twelfth milestone was, as it is in other locations given there, the point at which one turned off the main road to reach Bethel, not the location of Bethel itself. ln reply to this I pointed out that the evidence appealed to by Rainey was less conclusive than he claimed and that the 'turn off' interpretation, while valid in some cases, need not necessarily apply to the case of Bethel (Livingston 1971, 39-50). I turn now to evidence about the location-of Bethel which has come to my attention since I published my original articles.
1. Bethlehem and the location of the '0' milestone in Jerusalem
Two more opposite towns than Bethlehem and el-Bireh do not exist in terms of direction from Jerusalem. Bethlehem is almost due south and el-Bireh is almost due north. The use of milestones as well as measurements by road (or in a straight line, for the roads to both are relatively straight) should give an indication of the proper location of the '0' milestone. With respect to Bethlehem, Thomsen (1917, 82) records two milestones (section xliii, milestones 295 and 296). Thomsen 295 is milepost IV from Aelia Capitolina, located near modern Tantour. In Thomsen's day the stone was still in the Greek church at Beit Jala, but the number was not readable, so not much can be learned from this milestone.
The more important milestone is Thomsen 296. According to the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (CIL 13591) this milestone does record the distance -- MP VI. Its location, according to both Thomsen and the CIL note, is opposite the Carmelite cloister, beyond or southward from where the road going south divides, the left fork going to Bethlehem and the right to Beit Jala. Eusebius and Jerome both say that Bethlehem is 'at' the sixth milestone on the road leading south to Hebron (Klostermann 1904, 42-43). When measured by car on modern [Page 157] roads, it is about 7 km. from the Zion Gate of Jerusalem to the road fork referred to by Thomsen and the description in CIL of milestone VI. It is 8.5 km. from the Zion Gate to the Carmelite cloister where the milestone was actually located.
Using Bethlehem to establish the location of the '0' milestone in the centre of Jerusalem, one finds some striking correlations when considering the relationship of Bethlehem and el-Bireh to Jerusalem. Whereas it is 8.5 km. from the Zion Gate to the sixth stone at Bethlehem, it is 16 km. from the Damascus Gate to Ras et-Tahuneh in the centre of el-Bireh, and close by was the original location of the twelfth stone as described by the Church Fathers. From the centre of Jerusalem the distance to Bethlehem is almost exactly half the distance to the ancient ruins in el-Bireh at Ras et-Tahuneh. Thus, when we compare the distances and milestones mentioned by the Church Fathers regarding Bethlehem, the '0' milestone must be located in the centre of Jerusalem, and Bethel must be located at el-Bireh instead of at Beitin.
2. The distance from Bethel to Gibeon
Rupert Chapman has pointed out in correspondence (letter to John Bimson, 8 March 1988) that the Onomasticon locates Gibeon four miles from Bethel (Klostermann 1904, 66-67). He was impressed by this while annotating a translation of the Onomasticon into English by G. S. P. Freeman-Grenville. He wrote: 'There is a track shown on the P.E.F. map which leads to el-Bireh via Rafat, a distance of fractionally over four miles.' Thus from this point of view too it appears that in the Byzantine period Bethel was located at el-Bireh, not Beitin.1
3. The Site of 'La Grande Mahomerie'
In the early centuries of the Church some of the European Christians who made pilgrimages to the Holy Land wrote journals about their travels, several of which were published. Since the locations of many biblical sites were still known then, their reports can be helpful in finding correct locations, and they often confirm identifications made by Eusebius and Jerome. An important consideration from one of these reports follows.
In an earlier article I mentioned that el-Bireh was the location of 'La Grande Mahomerie'. (1970:42) The importance of this identification will be expounded in the section below, but first, what was 'La Grande Mahomerie'? The best explanation of its meaning was given by F.-M. Abel (1926, 274-75). He indicated that the Crusaders named it thus because a Muslim sanctuary was prominent there in their time, which afterwards fell into disuse and was forgotten. The remains of a recently excavated Crusader church can be seen today in el-Bireh. Next to it on the south is an ancient Muslim holy place - a 'weli'- built over an even earlier church. W. M. Thomsen noted: 'It is part of the tradition that the ruined church was erected here by the Knights Templars to commemorate that event in the life of Jesus [when his parents returned to Jerusalem to look for him], since el-Bireh is the limit of the first day's journey of pilgrim caravans northward from Jerusalem . . .' (1882, 2.87).
How can the location of La Grande Mahomerie help locate ancicnt Bethel? One problem is that scholars seem unable to 'let go' of the generally accepted location of Bethel at Beitin. The following misuse of evidence is typical of the misinterpretation caused by this error:
Bethel, ancient Luz, where Jacob built his altar, was identified by most Christian travellers of the Crusader period with Kh. Luza on Mount Gerizim. In this way they followed the Samaritan tradition. Only a few identified it correctly with the village of Beitin, north-east of Ramallah. One of them, an anonymous traveller, wrote: 'Mahomerie was first called Luza and afterwards Bethel', identifying Bethel with Mahomerie or al-Bira, two kilometres [actually 3 km.] from Beitin. Burchard of Mount Zion in grand style locates it near Nablus and further on near Ratnallah. (Benvenisti 1970, 318, our emphasis)
Note, to begin with, that Benvenisti equates Bethel with Beitin --- the usual identification. Then he quotes a pilgrim and Burchard who both contradict him! The first traveller quoted above equates Mahomeria with Bethel. Benvenisti himself correctly understands the pilgrim to say that Bethel was at 'Mahomeria or al-Bira', but he then makes a leap of logic and places Bethel at Beitin, apparently just because that is the usual view! Finally he notes that a location for Bethel suggested by the second pilgrim -- the thirteenth-century German monk Burchard -- is near Ramallah (which adjoins el-Bireh). This all supports our contention that early pilgrims understood Bethel to be at el-Bireh.
4. A Potential Identification for Beitin
In the Itinerary of the 'Pilgrim of Bordeaux' (tr. Wilkinson 1981, 155) the pilgrim says:
Twenty-eight miles from there [Nablus] on the left [east side] of the road to Jerusalem is the village called Bethar [in a footnote Wilkinson equates Bethar with 'Bethaun' or 'Bethaven', Joshua 7.2, 18.12], and a mile from there [southward] is the place where Jacob slept on his way from Mesopotamia [fn. 'Bethel'] . . . Jerusalem is twelve miles further on.
Later on a nineteenth-century traveller, John Wilson, misinterpreted this reference when he said: 'The Bourdeaux pilgrim, A.D.333, places it [Bethel] at twenty-eight miles from Neapolis, on the left of the road to Jerusalem, giving it the name of Bethar...'(Wilson 1847, 288). But Bethar is not equated with Bethel by the pilgrim. The pilgrim says plainly says that Bethel is a mile south of Bethar. The point is, there is a little north of 'Bethel' a village named 'Bethar' by this pilgrim.
If el-Bireh is Bethel (being at the twelfth Roman milestone north of Jerusalem), the next village north on the road to Nablus is modern Beitin. It should be clear at this point that the village there was known as 'Bethar' (and possibly 'Bethaun' or 'Bethaven') by this pilgrim in about A.D.333, at almost exactly the same time as Eusebius's Onomasticon was written. In the Onomasticon itself the authors even spell 'Bethaven' as 'Bethaun' (Klostermann 1904, 50-51). The Onomasticon, however, does not give Bethaven's location in miles --- it gives only its biblical description.
As far as this pilgrim's account is concerned, the problem with postulating that modern Beitin was Bethel is that there is no village or ruins along the road north of Beitin itself to equate with 'Bethar'. On the other hand, excavations at Beitin have shown occupation for the times Bethaven is referred to in the Bible. Linguistically speaking, the modern name 'Bcitin' may have derived from 'Bethaven'. Among others, C.R. Conder suggested that Beitin could be either Bethaven, Bethel or just Aven (1879, 334-35).
Besides Bethaven, two other possibilities to consider for Beitin's identification are Ophrah (Josh. 18.23, I Sam. 13.17) and Zemaraim (Josh. 18.22, 2 Ch. 13.4). Y. Aharoni mentions that Zemaraim must be in the vicinity of Ramallah and el-Bireh on the Judaean border (1966, 287). Beitin fits this identification very well. Most scholars place Ophrah at et-Taiyibeh (Aharoni 1966, 110; Baly 1974, 175). However, this may be because Bethel itself has been misplaced. Y. Kaufmann wrote that Ophrah 'may not be at et-Taiyibeh at all', since it is in the lists of both Benjamin and Ephraim (1953, 13-14). Thus Beitin itself might be considered a candidate for Ophrah.
If we take into consideration the mileage measurements and Roman milestone studies outlined above, biblical Bethel should be found in modern el-Bireh. There does not seem to be any substantial reason to continue equating Beitin with ancient Bethel.
Surface surveys at Ras et-Tahuneh have shown evidence of use as early as the Chalcolithic, Early Bronze and Middle Bronze periods (as well as several later periods including the Iron Age (Kochavi 1972, 178)). However, Bethel itself is not likely to be found there, since Ras et-Tahuneh lies on the left (west) side of the road as one travels north to Nablus. It is also too small to be the site of a town as important as Bethel. Ras et-Tahuneh may rather have been the 'high place' for the city. Bethel itself on the other hand, is described as being on the east side of the road. Therefore it should be somewhere between the now excavated Crusader church and the spring at the south end of the town (covered by a small mosque), on the right-hand side of the road as one travels north through el-Bireh.
Finally, Ai should then be east of el-Bireh on the other side of Jebel et-Tawil (Gen. 12.8). Ten seasons of excavation at Khirbet Nisya, our proposed new location for Ai, have clearly shown that the site was occupied during the biblical periods when Ai was in existence. Periods of significant occupation, determined by ceramic, artefactual and architectural evidence are: Early Bronze (possibly), Middle Bronze II, Late Bronze I, Late Bronze IIB, Iron Age I and II, Persian, Hellenistic, Early Roman, Byzantine and Early Arab (Livingston 1987, 1989). A preliminary report on the excavations is in preparation. Furthermore, the topography around the site matches every detail given in the account of the destruction of Ai in Joshua 7-8.
This article was first publshed in Palestine Exploration Quarterly, 126, 154-159. (1994). Posted with permission.
1. Rainey referred to this passage of the Onomasticon (1971, 185) and claimed that the 'four miles' represented the distance from (the turn-off to) Gibeon to Jerusalem. But the context and Jerome's specific statement (in quarto miliario Bethelis) are against this interpretation.
Abel, F.-M. 1926. 'Les deux Mahomerie: el-Bireh, el-Qoubeibeh', Revue Biblique, 35, 272-83.
Abel, F.-M 1938. Geographie de la Palestine II, 2nd ed. (Paris).
Aharoni, Y. 1966. The Land of the Bible (London).
Albright, W.F. 1928. 'A Trial Excavation on the Mound of Bethel', BASOR, 29, 9-11.
Albright, W.F. 1934. 'The First Month of Excavation at Bethel', BASOR, 55, 23-25.
Albright, W.F. 1968. 'The Site of Bethel and its Identification', in J.L. Kelso et. al., The Excavation of Bethel (1934-1960) (AASOR 39: Cambridge, Mass.), 1-3.
Baly, D. 1963. Geographical Companion to the Bible (New York).
Baly, D. 1974. Geogrpahy of the Bible, 2nd ed. (New York).
Benvenisti, M. 1970. The Crusaders in the Holy Land (Jerusalem).
Clermont-Ganneau, C. 1907. 'Section 13: Le milliaire de Yabroud', recueil d'archeologie orientale, viii (Paris), 93-94.
Conder, C.R. 1879. Tent Work in Palestine, 2 (London).
Conder, C.R. and Kitchener, H.H. 1883. The Survey of Western Palestine, 3 vols. (London).
Kaufmann, Y. 1953. The Biblical Account of the Conquest of Palestine (Jerusalem).
Klostermann, E. (ed.), 1904. Eusebius. Das Onomastikon der biblischen Ortsnamen (GCS: Leipzig; repr. Hildesheim, 1966).
Kochavi, M. (ed.), 1972. Judea, Samaria and the Golan. Archaeological Survey 1967-1968 (Jerusalem).
Livingston, D.P. 1970. 'Location of Bethel and Ai Reconsidered', Westminster Theological Journal, 33, 20-44.
Livingston, D.P. 1971. 'Traditional Site of Bethel Questioned', Westminster Theological Journal, 34, 39-50.
Livingston, D.P. 1987. 'Khirbet Nisya--- Is it Biblical Ai?' BAR, 13/5, 48-51.
Livingston, D.P. 1989. 'Khirbet Nisya, 1979-1986: A Report on Six Seasons of Excavation', unpublished doctoral dissertation, Andrews University.
Rainey, A.F. 1971. 'Bethel is Still Beitin', Westminster Theological Journal, 33, 175-88.
Robinson, E. 1856. Biblical Researches in Palestine and the adjacent regions. A journal of travels in the years 1838 and 1852, 2nd ed. (London).
Thomsen, P. 1917. 'Die romischen Meilensteine der Provinzen Syria, Arabia und Palaestina, ZDPV, 40, 1-103.
Thomsen, W. M. 1882. The Land and the Book, 3 vols. (New York).
Wilkinson, J. 1977. Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades (Jerusalem).
Wilkinson, J. 1981. Egeria's Travels to the Holy Land, 2nd ed. (Warminster).
Wilson, J. 1847.The Lands of the Bible (Edinburgh).
- Category: Founder's Corner
|This article was published in the Winter 2011 issue of Bible and Spade.|
Most scholars today locate Old Testament Bethel at the Arab village of Beitin about 11 mi north of Jerusalem. An examination of the evidence, however, indicates that this identification in incorrect. It is important to correctly locate Bethel because Ai is located with relation to Bethel (Gn 12:8; Jos 7:2), and finding Ai has been a major focus of ABR’s research work.
How was Beitin originally identified as Bethel? Edward Robinson was the first to identify it in the 1830's. He equated the modern Arabic name of "Beitin" with "Bethel" (which is feasible, but not compelling). Actually, there was no village at the site in Robinson's day. Apparently, it was an area name rather than a village name. In fact, for over 1400 years the very name "Bethel" had been completely forgotten in the area.
Besides the name, the only other evidence Robinson used in the identification was the distance of Bethel from "Aelia" (Jerusalem) mentioned by the early church fathers Eusebius (fourth century AD) and Jerome (fifth century AD). His measurement of the distance was done on horseback, estimated by the length of time his horse traveled from Jerusalem to Beitin. Is this an accurate way of measuring distance? One hundred years later, W.F. Albright accepted Robinson's identification without even checking the distance, either by horseback or automobile!
On this basis then, Albright, and later James Kelso, excavated Beitin for several seasons. The results were published in 1968 (Kelso). We read the report before it was published looking for archaeological proof that Beitin was truly Bethel. However, we could not find anything in the report to prove it. So, we wrote Dr. Albright and asked to what proof he could point. Albright answered that there was no archaeological proof (no inscriptions or anything specifically confirming that Beitin was really Bethel). He insisted that the identification was maintained by the Biblical and patristic (church fathers) evidence.
With that we restudied the Biblical references and concluded that one could not locate Bethel precisely from them, either. So we wrote again asking about the Biblical proofs, thinking surely we had missed something. His answer was that there was no Biblical proof at all. The identification was made using the archaeological and patristic evidence. But, he had already eliminated the former himself. Now we were left with only the patristic evidence of Eusebius and Jerome. What was it, and how accurately could it be checked?
Roman Milestones Tell the Story
What did the two church fathers actually say? They both said, Eusebius in Greek and Jerome in Latin, that Bethel was located near the 12th Roman milestone north of Aelia (Jerusalem) on the road to Neapolis (modern Nablus). Keep in mind when using this source that the church fathers were not writing about road measurements. They were referring to specific mile markers, or milestones. On the 1883 Survey of Western Palestine map, actual mile markers (found by the map makers) are delineated "RMS," Roman Mile Stone.
Although the church fathers were referring to specific milestones, it is also helpful to use road measurements in trying to determine where the 12th mile marker was located. In terms of distance, one Roman mile is about 1,620 yd; an English mile is about 1,760 yd. For this study, we may consider that 11 modern miles equal 12 Roman miles rather closely. We measured the distance by auto (three times) from the Damascus Gate to the center of El-Bireh. It consistently proved to be slightly over 16 km (10+ mi). This equals a little more than 11 Roman miles. Adding one-half mile, more or less, to reach the zero milestone near Jerusalem's center would put the 12th Roman milestone near the north end of modern El-Bireh.
Mosaic map of the city of Jerusalem (“Aelia”) in the 6th century AD., part of a larger map of the Holy Land in St. George’s church in Madaba, Jordan. Notice the single tall black column on the left, standing in the plaza of the Damascus Gate, the city’s northern gate (1). While there is no trace of the column today, it is remembered in the Arabic name for the Damascus Gate, Bab al-Amud, “Gate of the Column.” The ancient road proceeded north from here to Damascus, passing by Bethel. The city street running south from the Damascus Gate was known as the Cardo (from the Greek word cardia, “heart”), since it went through the heart of the city. Notice the small white columns lining both sides of the Cardo. They were for the covered sidewalks of the Roman city, which archaeologists have now excavated. The large structure opening onto the Cardo from the east (7) depicts the Constantinian Church of the Holy Sepulcher. At the southern end of the Cardo is the Nea (“New”) Church (12) with its long roof running east and west. Somewhere between the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Nea Church stood the actual 0 mile marker of Roman and Byzantine Jerusalem. Unfortunately, that location is not noted in the Madaba map. Other points of interest: (2) St. Stephen’s Gate, (3) Golden Gate, (4) Dung Gate, (5) Zion Gate, (6) Jaffa Gate, (8) Baptistery of the Church of Anastasis (?), (9) Monastery of St Serapion (?), (10) Church of the Sheep Pool, (11) Church of the Pinnacle of the Temple, (13) Church of the Pool of Siloam, (14) Basilica on Mt. Zion, (15) Diaconicon of the Basilica on Mt. Zion (?), (16) Church of the House of Caiphas, (17) Church of St. Sophia (?), (18) Church of St. Cosmas of St. Damianus (?), (19) Tower of David, (20) Patriarchal Quarter (?), Monastery of the Spoudaei (?), (22) Temple Esplanade, (23) Fortress of Antonia (?), (24) Public Baths (?).
Where Was the 0 Milestone Located?
Contrary to what many scholars assume (e.g., Vincent 1901: 100; Magen 1988: 6), the pillar at the Damascus Gate on the Madaba Map cannot be the zero milestone. It is more likely a commemorative column of Hadrian. Columns like this erected by Hadrian and Trajan can be seen to this day in Rome. We do not know the shape of the zero milestone.
But the base of one with the inscription milliarium aureum , “Golden Milestone,” is still visible in the Forum at the Palatinate in the very center of ancient Rome. Another parallel is found in London on Cannon Street.
Further negating the possibility of the zero milestone being at the Damascus Gate was the discovery of the first, third, fourth, and fifth milestones at the turn of this century. Measuring backward from the first milestone clearly indicates that the zero milestone was at least as far south as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and possibly as far as the Nea Church (both on the Madaba Map). This allows us to add several tenths of a mile to our measurements by odometer, putting Beitin almost 14 Roman miles north of Jerusalem and el-Bireh 11.5–12 miles.
The Distance of Rama from Jerusalem
Both Eusebius and Jerome place Rama at the sixth milestone. However, Jerome also mentions that it was at the seventh (Onomasticon,145, n. line 13). It appears that the sixth and seventh milestones straddled Rama, which was slightly east of the ancient Roman road. This presents the possibility that one turned off the main road at the sixth milestone to go in when traveling northward, or turned in at the seventh when traveling southward.
The preceding accords also with milestones discovered and published in the last century. The fifth milestone on the road northward from Jerusalem had clearly inscribed numbers in both Latin and Greek (Avi-Yonah 1940: 44; Thomsen 1917: 70). Its location allows one more, the sixth, to have been located at the road turning into Rama off the main northward route (for an actual milestone comparison, see Clermont-Ganneau 1888: 284). The seventh, then, would have been where the road north out of the village joined the main road. If so, the remaining distance north to El-Bireh puts the 12th milestone in El-Bireh. The 14th would have been at Beitin, ruling it out as "Bethel" according to its placement by the church fathers.
Locating the 10th or 11th Milestone
Michael Avi-Yonah listed a milestone at Khirbet Esh-She, about a mile south of El-Bireh (1940: 44). He called it the tenth milestone. However, in correspondence with him, he replied, "The milestone has probably been assigned to the tenth mile from Jerusalem because of its situation, because if it had an inscription it would have been published, then or later" (1970). If, in truth, it is the tenth, then the 11th was in El-Bireh which, in turn, puts the 12th between El-Bireh and Beitin. This would mean Beitin is at the 13th milestone which does not match the location according to the church fathers. However, if the stone at Esh-She is really the 11th milestone (which it should be by all other considerations), then the 12th milestone was at El-Bireh.
Beeroth Is Not Located at El-Bireh
Having considered the milestones, it may help to review the identification of some ancient towns relative to the location of Bethel. Edward Robinson made a number of amazingly accurate locations of Biblical towns. But he also made mistakes. One of them was equating Biblical Beeroth with El-Bireh (1856, 2: 132). This incorrect location was dealt with in an earlier study (Livingston 1970: 39–41). S. Yeivin agrees that El-Bireh cannot be ancient Beeroth:
As to Beeroth, there is a large divergence of opinion among scholars . . . Abel identified it with El-Bireh . . . (this suggestion has been adopted by many scholars). The identification, however, clashes with Eusebius' statement in the Onomasticon that Beeroth is seven miles distant from Jerusalem (1971: 141–145).
It is clear in both Eusebius and Jerome that Beeroth was on the road to Nicopolis, not on the road to Neapolis (modern Nablus, Livingston 1970: 40–41). Beeroth was only six or seven miles out of Jerusalem, barely half the distance to El-Bireh. Although Edward Robinson recognized that Beeroth was near the seventh mile marker on the road to Nicopolis, he misinterpreted the church fathers by thinking that one could see Beeroth (in his opinion, modern El-Bireh) from a seventh marker located near El-Jib (Gibeon). As for the location of Nicopolis, Avi-Yonah suggests that Emmaus became the Nicopolis referred to by the church fathers in AD 220 (1940: 115). Today it is Imwus in the Valley of Aijalon. Thus the road to Beeroth went mostly westward (and a little north) from Jerusalem, not northward. Beeroth was in the Gibeonite confederation and thus must have been not far from Gibeon. According to Joshua 9:17, it was near Kiryat-Yearim, which is nowhere near El-Bireh. Some have suggested that Beeroth might be located at Biddu.
Site of La Grande Mahomerie
In the early centuries of the church, some European Christians who took pilgrimages to the Holy Land wrote journals about their travels, several of which were published. Since the locations of many Biblical sites were still known then, their reports can be helpful in finding correct locations, and tend to confirm identifications made by Eusebius and Jerome. An important consideration from one of these reports follows.
El-Bireh was the location of La Grande Mahomerie. What was La Grande Mahomerie? The best explanation of its meaning was by F. M. Abel. He indicated that the Crusaders named it thus because a Muslim sanctuary was prominent there at that time, but afterward fell into disuse and was forgotten (1926:274–75). Recently, remains have been uncovered in El-Bireh of a Crusader church. Next to it on the south is an ancient Muslim holy place, a weli built over an earlier church. W. M. Thomsen noted:
It is part of the tradition that the ruined church was erected here by the Knights Templars to commemorate that event in the life of Jesus [when his parents returned to Jerusalem to look for Him], since el Bireh is the limit of the first day's journey of pilgrim caravans northward from Jerusalem (1882: 87).
How can the location of La Grande Mahomerie help locate ancient Bethel? One problem is that scholars cannot seem to let go of the traditional location of Bethel at Beitin. Typical of the misinterpretation caused by this error is seen in the following:
Bethel, ancient Luz, where Jacob built his altar, was identified by most Christian travelers of the Crusader period with Kh. Luza on Mt. Gerizim. In this way they followed the Samaritan tradition. Only a few identified it correctly with the village of Beitin, north-east of Ramallah. One of them, an anonymous traveler, wrote: “Mahomerie was first called Luza and afterwards Bethel,” identifying Bethel with Mahomeria or al-Bira, two kilometres [sic, actually 3 km] from Beitin. Burchard of Mount Zion, in grand style, locates it near Nablus and further on near Ramallah (Benvinisti 1970: 318).
Note in the above that, to begin with, Benvinisti equates Bethel with Beitin, the traditional identification. Then he quotes a pilgrim and Burchard who both contradict him! The first traveler equates Mahomeria with Bethel. Benvinisti himself correctly understands the pilgrim to say that Bethel was at "Mahomeria or al-Bira." If so, this means Bethel is at El-Bireh. But Benvinisti then makes a leap of logic and places Bethel at Beitin, only because that is the traditional view! Finally, he notes that a location for Bethel suggested by the second pilgrim, 13th century German monk Burchard, is near Ramallah (adjoining El-Bireh). This all supports our contention that most pilgrims understood Bethel to be at El-Bireh.
All North-South Roads Go Through El-Bireh
A final consideration is that El-Bireh is the natural crossroads for the whole area. All roads from the north and all roads from the south converge like the waist of an hourglass at the narrow ridge on which the city sits. This is necessary because of the extremely deep and rugged wadis extending east and west of the town.
Taking this into consideration, the high point on which the town sits would be very strategic in controlling travel going north or south. It is the best place to establish a north-south road block. The Israelis effectively did just that in the 1967 war. We believe Jeroboam did the same when he set up a golden calf at Bethel (with a battalion of soldiers?) to deter northern Israelites from traveling south to the Temple. This way he could control the travel of pilgrims from the northern kingdom as they tried to go to Jerusalem (1 Kgs 12:25–33).
This is not true, on the other hand, of Beitin. It lies in a relatively level area and does not seem strategic for controlling travel in the area, although a road to Jericho and another going to Nablus passes through it.
Other Possibilities for the Identification of Beitin
Two possibilities are that Beitin is "Ophrah" (Jos 18:23; 1 Sm 13:17) or "Zemaraim" (Jos 18:22; 2 Chr 13:4). Y. Aharoni (1966:287) mentions that Zemaraim must be in the vicinity of Ramallah and El-Bireh on the Judean border. Beitin fits this identification very well.
Most scholars place Ophrah at Et-Taiyibeh (Aharoni 1966: 110; Baly 1974: 175). However, this may be because Bethel itself has been misplaced. Kaufmann (1953: 13-14) says Ophrah "may not be at Et-Taiyibeh at all" since it is in the lists of both Benjamin and Ephraim. Thus Beitin itself might be considered a candidate for Ophrah.
How to Verify the New Bethel?
Even if our conclusion about relocating Bethel is reasonable, we cannot verify that el-Bireh might be Bethel. It is a heavily populated modern city. One section of the city, however, has a high point called "Ras et-Tahuneh." It was surveyed by the Israel Department of Antiquities in 1969. Surface finds indicate that it was occupied in almost every period of ancient times and as early as the Calcolithic, Early and Middle Bronze Periods (Kochavi, 1972:178). If Bethel is at el-Bireh, this high point is probably not Bethel, but it may be the “high place” at Bethel. It needs to be excavated. However, Ramallah/el-Bireh is very tense politically. So excavation is not feasible for now.
Conclusion: Biblical Bethel Is Located at El-Bireh
Taking into consideration the topography of the area, its strategic placement in controlling the north-south roads, mileage measurements, and Roman milestone studies outlined above, Biblical Bethel should be found under modern El-Bireh. There does not seem to be any substantial reason to any longer equate Beitin with ancient Bethel.
- Category: Founder's Corner
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