Abraham’s Gate and Tel Dan

Series: Israel 2022

Date Visited: February 24, 2022

Drinking at the springs of living water,
Happy now am I, my soul they satisfy;
Drinking at the springs of living water,
O wonderful and bountiful supply.


Once an ancient Canaanite city named Laish (lioness) which was old even when Abraham went there looking for his nephew, Lot.  Old when Joshua referred to it as Leshem (jewel).  Old when it was captured and burned by the tribe of Dan then rebuilt and given a new name more than two thousand years ago.

But Dan the city is not nearly so old as the springs bearing the same name. The Springs of Dan that are fed by winter snowmelt and gush forth from the mountains of Hermon…the springs of crystal-clear living water that have been flowing since time began and, some would pray, will continue to flow forever more.

These springs are the primary source of the Jordan River (along with the Banias Springs at Caesarea Philippi which you can read about here) – first forming the Dan River then joining with two other rivers to form the upper Jordan. The icy cold waters flow out from the Golan Heights at about 2000 gallons per second5 (240-252 million cubic meters per year12) and flows some twelve miles13 to reach the Jordan which flows into the Sea of Galilee. Ultimately, the waters of the Jordan River will end its long 156 mile13 journey at the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth.

Flow from the Springs at Dan

In ancient times, the river flowed into the wetlands that once was Lake Hulah (or Hula or Huleh). The “lake” was drained in the 1950’s14, the fields plowed, and the area became…. well, an agricultural center (Hulah Valley) in northern Israel. But there were always people living there with farming, fishing, and hunting going on. There’s a reason the cows of Bashan as described in Amos 4:1 were so fat and happy. (Of course, Amos was calling the women “fat cows” but that is another story altogether.) This land is not desert like much of southern Israel; the abundant water and rich soil made this land very appealing to ancient peoples and to the Canaanites who settled there and built the city of Laish.

The first permanent settlement in the Valley, Enan/Mallaha, dates from 9000-10,000 years.14 Laish (later Dan) was first occupied from about 4500 BC7 (Before Christ or BCE/Before the Common Era). Archaeological excavations show that it was then abandoned for about a thousand years7. It was then occupied until its capture and destruction by the Assyrians. The site of the city was discovered again by archaeologists and identified as ancient Dan in the mid-1800’s AD (Anno Domini) or CE (the Common Era).

Biblically, we first hear of Laish when Abram (later to be called Abraham) goes there in search of his nephew, Lot. In Genesis 14, Abram’s nephew, Lot and his family, got caught up in a territorial war between four kings fighting five kings in the area around the Dead Sea Valley. The “four” kings ended up attacking and plundering Sodom & Gomorrah (yes, the two cities destroyed by fire later on) and heading north.  Lot and his family got caught up in the scuffle and were captured. Abram, who was living nearby, put together an army of 318 trained men from his family and allies and went in pursuit of the ruffians who had taken Lot and his family.  Abram and his army pursued the kings as far as Dan, all the way to Hobah, north of Damascus. Lot, his family, his possessions, and some others were rescued. 

At the ancient site of Dan, we saw an ancient archway/gate to the Canaanite city that dates from the Middle Bronze Age (@2000-1550 BC)1. The old gate/city entrance is traditionally called “Abraham’s Gate” as it is thought that this would be the gate that Abraham would have entered at Dan.7 

Abraham’s Gate at Tel Dan. You cannot see the arch clearly
due to the scaffolding.

The gate/entrance includes a mudbrick arch on top of megalithic basalt blocks which formed the gateway between two towers that have been preserved at almost 20’ tall.4 This Canaanite city gateway has been dated to about 1750 BC. It is the only existing structure “of its kind”4 in the near East and thought to be the oldest free-standing archway built in the world.5  

After the city was attacked, burned, and then rebuilt by the tribe of Dan (more later), a new and more secure entrance/gate to the city was built to the south and the ancient gateway that Abraham would have known was eventually filled in with dirt.5  

Today, the old gateway is covered with a pavilion to protect it from the elements, but we were told by our tour guide that the mud bricks are so badly and quickly eroding now that the Israeli Antiquities authorities are considering re-covering the structure by filling it again with dirt.  Dust to dust, as it were.

Before I continue with the story, I must note that the city would not have been called “Dan” when Abraham came to rescue Lot. This confused me as I was reading about the city. It is known historically to have been called Laish. That archway and gate was thought to have been built some 700 years before the tribe of Dan arrived and captured the city. At that point, there was no tribe of Dan as Isaac had not been born to Abraham & Sarah and Jacob had not yet been born to Isaac & Rebekah and, of course, Jacob had not yet sired those twelve sons who would become the twelve tribes of Israel, one of which was Dan. Abraham’s Gate is thought to have been built just about the time Jacob was going over to Egypt during the famine to meet back up with Joseph.5

Our tour guide, Olga, pauses for a moment to check the scriptures.

But I read through about ten different Bible translations and every single one of them referred to the city as “Dan” and not Laish. I will chalk that up to Biblical translators calling the city by the name it was at the time of the translator(s) and not at the time of Abraham. I also checked the Hebrew Bible on Biblehub.com and it does not mention Dan at all, just Hobah. I leave it with that.

So, how did the Canaanite city (and springs) become “Dan” anyway.  Back to scripture and it’s a long story that begins with the twelve tribes being allocated territory when the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership arrived and captured the “promised land”.  But that story is way too long and complicated (and confusing!) for a blog…so I’ll hit a few points and jump way ahead to the re-naming of the city. When I say I’m making a long, long story short, believe me, I’m reducing it to down to almost nothing.

Deuteronomy 34:1-4 tells of Moses climbing Mount Nebo and God showing him the promised land – all of it from Gilead to Dan and so on. This was in conjunction with God telling Moses that he [Moses] wouldn’t be going over into the promised land.

Joshua 19:40-48 tells of the land allotments made when the Twelve Tribes took possession of the promised land. The Tribe of Dan was allocated territory in the south across from Joppa. Verse 47 notes that, later, the Danites lost this territory, and they went up and fought against “Leshem” which means “Jewel” and captured it.  Leshem is thought to be Laish.7

Now we move to Judges 18. Some time had passed since the Israelites came to the land and divided it up. There is no king yet in Israel. The Danites (as previously referenced above in Joshua) are now without territory and looking around for some good land to occupy. So, they sent out scouts. The scouts came back with a good report saying the land “is a place where nothing on earth is lacking”. Basically, let’s go take what we want. And so, six hundred Danites went to Laish “to a tranquil and unsuspecting people” (V27) and captured and burned the city.

Israelite Gateway – Ancient Dan. To enter you had to pass through a “bottleneck” by passing through this first gate, then turning left, then right, and passing through a second gate.

They rebuilt the city and named it Dan. At some point, the city was fortified with a double gated entrance in the Israelite fashion – go into one gate, turn left or right, then proceed to the second gate…. sets up a bottleneck that is easier to defend than one wide open gateway.  No more mud bricks – they now use interlocking stones. This was circa 1200 – 721 BC.1

Sun dried bricks were no longer in use when Dan was fortified with thick walls made of interlocking stones.

Now, there is a slight nuance to this story.  When the Danite scouts went up to Laish, they stopped and spent the night at the house of a man named Micah (not the Biblical prophet). There they noticed a Levite/priest serving the house. The scouts reported back to the tribe about the priest and idols at Micah’s house. So, when the Danites came back on their conquest of the city, they stopped at Micah’s, took the idols, the priest’s ephod and teraphim, and convinced the priest to go with them.11 The Danites set up the idols and the priest for worship in their new city of Dan.

Which brings me to the last part of the story found in 1 Kings 12.  Many years have passed. King David has come and gone. After King Soloman (his son) died, the kingdom was divided – Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Jeroboam became the king of Israel, but Judah remained loyal to the house of David under Rehoboam (one of Soloman’s descendants). Jeroboam worried that the northern tribes will turn back to Rehoboam and Judah because the people continue to travel to Jerusalem in the south to the temple (the one Soloman had built) to worship as required by Jewish law. So, Jeroboam had two golden calves made and placed one golden calf at Bethel and the other at, you guessed it, the cultic altar at Dan.

The “High Place” or altar where the Golden Calf was placed by Jeroboam. The stairs lead up to the altar platform. This altar was already in use for pagan worship before the Danites arrived with the idol and priest that had been taken from the house of Micah (not the prophet).

Part one of Jeroboam’s plan was that the people of Israel would worship at Bethel and Dan rather than go all the way down to Jerusalem and then they wouldn’t be tempted to reunite the two kingdoms under the house of David and Rehoboam. Jeroboam appointed his own priests for the “high places” from every class of people and not just from the Levites tribe.7 Since Jewish law allowed that only those from the tribe of Levi (i.e., Levites) could perform duties as priests, appointment of priests from other tribes would have been considered to be an egregious violation of the law. Part two of the Jeroboam’s plan explains the golden calves (which would also have been totally forbidden under the Jewish law) since he wanted to form an alliance with the Canaanites in the area by using idols that they would recognize and accept.5&9

View of the altar platform looking back from the hilltop. Note that archaeological excavations are ongoing.

But with all this idol worship and golden calves, do not think things went well for Jeroboam. They did not. He suffered a series of mishaps while trying to make sacrifices at the altar at Bethel further to the south (see 1 Kings 13). 1 Kings 13:34 finally reports “And this was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its extermination and destruction from the face of the earth.”

The city of Dan continued until 733 BC(E) when it was destroyed by the Assyrians under Tiglath-Pileser III.7 By the time of Jesus, it was already in ruins. It was lost to history altogether until the mid-1800’s when the ruins were positively identified as the Canaanite city of Laish and Biblical city of Dan. One final note of interest. During more recent archaeological excavations, a stone stela was found which included the inscription BYTDWD (House of David) and MLK YSR’L (King of Israel).  This is the oldest written record (9th century BC) that mentions David and validates that he was a real person and the King of Israel some one hundred years after his death.7&2

This area (Golan Heights) was highly disputed during the Six Days War in 1967. The old military bunkers remain at the top of Tel Dan.
Looking across into Lebanon from the Golan Heights.

Today the ruins of the ancient city and the springs are part of the Tel Dan Nature Preserve which was created in 1974. We started our tour with a long, beautiful walk beside the springs, then up the hill to the remains of the ancient “high place” and cultic altar, then around to Abraham’s Gate, and ending down by the ruins of the old Israelite gateway.

I end my story where we began our tour – with the crystal-clear springs. So much history but all that remains today are just ruins and the water – the beautiful free-flowing living waters, – back where everything started.

“How sweet the living water from the hills of God,
It makes me glad and happy all the way;
Now glory, grace and blessing mark the path I’ve trod,
I’m shouting Hallelujah every day.”

Sources for Information:

  1. Site-Seeing: Exploring Beautiful Tel Dan – Biblical Archaeology Society; Jonathan Klawans; October 19, 2022
  2. The Tel Dan Inscription: The First Historical Evidence of King David from the Bible – Biblical Archaeology Society; BAS Staff; June 14, 2022
  3. The Renewed Excavations at Tel Dan – Biblical Archaeology Society; Dan Ilan, Yifat Thareani, & Jonathon Greer; July 29, 2016
  4. The Remarkable Discoveries at Tel Dan · The BAS Library; Biblical Archaeology Review 7:5; September/October 1981; John C.H. Laughlin
  5. Did the Northern Kingdom of Israel Practice Customary Ancient Israelite Religion? – Biblical Archaeology Society; BAS Staff; May 17, 2016; Jonathan Greer
  6. 2022 Holy Land Tour, Journey to the Land of the Bible; Dallas Theological Seminary; 2022; Tel Dan; p18
  7. Dan (ancient city) – Wikipedia
  8. Springs of living water | Hymnary.org; John Willard Peterson; 1950; renewed 1978 by Singspiration
  9. The Holy Land for Christian Travelers, John A. Beck, 2017, www.bakerbooks.com , USA, Dan, pages 189-193
  10. Dan (son of Jacob) – Wikipedia
  11. Micah’s Idol – Wikipedia
  12. Jordan River – Wikipedia
  13. Dan River (Middle East) – Wikipedia
  14. Hula Valley – Wikipedia


Series: Israel 2022

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?2

We’ve come to the river at last. Not just any river. I’m talking about the Jordan River. And I was ready – ready to be baptized in the same river where John the Baptist had baptized the Messiah – Jesus. I was so ready that I had planned my whole trip around that one event. From the time we booked the tour way back in January 2021 right up until the day we got on the plane in February 2022, I had told everybody who would listen that I was going to get baptized in the Jordan River. The Jordan River. It was going to happen.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site where tradition says that John the Baptist baptized Jesus near Bethany. It is on the eastern side of the Jordan River in Jordan. The photo was copied from Wikipedia4.

It wouldn’t be my first baptism. Way back, maybe sixty years ago, I was baptized when I became a believer and joined Watkins Memorial Baptist Church somewhere in northwest Atlanta. Two things I cannot remember (how I wish that I had been smarter and had written it all down). I cannot remember the exact date and I cannot remember the exact location in Atlanta. I cannot find the church no matter how many times I’ve gone to Google and searched. I’ve heard that the name was changed to Oakdale Baptist shortly after mama & daddy moved on to start another church closer to our home…but I cannot find that name on the internet either.

So, old Watkins Memorial remains only in my memory now along with the memory of my getting baptized. This was back in the day before every church had a built-in baptismal and your friends and family had smart phones to record every minute of it. It was back when you got baptized in a creek or a river or a pond or some other natural waterway outside.

It was a creek for me – I wish I knew exactly which one. I know it was by Mrs. Bogazan’s house somewhere near Atlanta. I’m not even sure who Mrs. Bogazan was or even if there was a Mr. Bogazan. She wasn’t a member of our church that I recall. But her house and that creek is a clear picture in my mind – a beautiful place where I wished that I could live back then. The creek ran down through huge granite rocks and had been dammed up right by the house to form a pool – a swimming hole, I suppose, for the Bogazan family. This spot was used by several churches in the area for baptisms. (And, yes, it was a place I wanted to swim and play and explore every single time we were there, but I was never allowed because, of course, we were only there for baptisms, a sacred ritual and not there to play or wade and certainly no jumping off those big rocks into the pool.)

Being baptized in a creek was not particularly a choice on my part at that time. I was very young, maybe 10 years old. I hadn’t a clue that there were some churches that had indoor pools (heated, no less) or that some churches only sprinkled water on the head and that they didn’t actually immerse people completely in water during baptisms. Every denomination has its own traditions, but I didn’t know about any of them. I only knew this was how it was done by our church, and I knew that, when I walked the aisle and asked to be baptized, this was how it was going to be…. the “full dunk” as I’ve heard it called more recently.

I was baptized in Mrs. Bogazan’s creek by our pastor, Reverend Lamar Gentry. I think it was a lovely summer day. The church members were all there standing along the side of the creek with my mama & daddy, brothers & sisters. They all sang Shall We Gather at the River2 as they did at every baptism as we waded into the water. Preacher Gentry had on his church clothes – suit pants and white shirt minus the tie and the suit jacket. My dad might have been there to help, I don’t remember. Knowing him, he probably was… who’s gonna miss the baptism of one of his babies?

I would have been wearing one of my Sunday dresses…. probably just what I wore to church that morning. I think there were others getting baptized, but I cannot tell you who or how many. Afterwards, I was allowed to go into Mrs. Bogazan’s house for just a bit to change out of my wet clothes (we weren’t allowed near or in her house otherwise). It’s a good memory of a very special event for me but a faint one…. like an old blurry photograph that’s tattered and fading around the edges. If I ever got baptized again, I promised myself that I would write everything down and remember…. maybe even take some pictures.

And I was determined. We were going to Israel and going to be near the Jordan River, and I could not think of any good reason why I shouldn’t be baptized there. I am reminded of the eunuch in Acts 8:36 after Philip shared the gospel with him asking Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”  Indeed, where there is water, there can be a baptism and, if Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, then all the more reason that I should be.

Our first look at the Jordan River north of the Sea of Galilee.

The River Jordan is just about 251 kilometers (155.3 miles) long flowing north to south right through the Jordan Rift Valley. The upper course flows from its source springs down to and through the Sea of Galilee. The lower course flows out of Galilee and through the Jordan Valley into the Dead Sea.

Source tributaries are the Hasbani River and the Lyyon Stream that flow out of Lebanon. The springs at Banias (read about Banias and Caesarea Philippi here) and the Dan River (Springs of Dan – future blog coming soon), both at the foot of Mount Hermon, are also major tributaries. Originally, these tributaries ran together to form swampy wetlands called Lake Hula. This lake no longer exists as the land is fertile and has been drained and cultivated for hundreds of years. From “Lake Hula”, the river drops steeply about 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) and flows into the Sea of Galilee. It leaves Galilee at the Degania Dam3 which is about 210 meters (688.97 feet) below sea level. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth at 422 meters (1384.5 feet) below sea level.1

Aerial View of the Jordan River. Photo copied from Wikipedia4

Just below the Degania Dam at the bottom of the Sea of Galilee is the location called Yardenit where you can get baptized today. The Hebrew name for the Jordan is Nahar ha-Yarden – so it makes sense this baptism site is called Yardenit.1

Yardenit Baptism Site on the Jordan River just below Degania Dam. Photo was copied from Wikipedia – Jordan River 1

The Hebrew concept of “living water9 appeals to me. Water that flows naturally from springs in the land. Water that was used for purification and cleansing. Being baptized in a natural setting whether Mrs. Bogazan’s creek or the Jordan River, was, well…just perfect!

I had waited patiently through several days of touring and the day had finally arrived. I had asked and received permission for my husband (an ordained minister – retired) to baptize me. It was going to happen for me and for about 25 others on the tour. In the beginning, it was all pretty well orchestrated. We had planned ahead and wore our “baptizing clothes” – something that could get wet – and something that wouldn’t be transparent when it got wet. We waited in line by the entrance, paid our $20 per person, received a white linen shift, which we put on over our clothes. Then we all went down to sit and wait on stone benches by the water.

Waiting to be baptized. This photo was taken by Rob Young from our tour group.

Drs. Mark Yarbrough6 and Stephen Bramer7 were officiating and had already been in the water to check things out by the time we got changed and down to the baptism site. Jerry and I took a seat at the end of the line and waited as the proceedings began. There was no singing of “Shall We Gather..”2 by the onlookers; I would have been too excited to notice it anyway. Dr. Bramer advised us that the water was cold this year as it was coming from the snowmelt on Mount Hermon and gave us instructions on how things would proceed. There was a handrail (the riverbed was slippery) and 7-8 people at a time would go into the river and wait in line for their turn to be baptized. As an individual was baptized and exited to the right, the line would be replenished with those waiting on the stone benches. We would be in the last group to enter the water.

Dr. Yarbrough prayed asking God’s blessings on the baptisms and then began. As each person was baptized, either Dr. Yarbrough or Dr. Bramer would ask them a question about their belief in God and Jesus. Most just answered “yes” and were then lowered into the water backwards with both men holding them. I thought about what I would say, how I would answer, when asked the question. Of course, I felt like I should say something more than “yes”. Ultimately, I decided that I should just try to be “in the moment” and that “yes” would be quite enough.

Dr. Bramer from DTS giving us instructions. Dr. Yarbrough stands on the left in the photograph just behind Dr. Bramer. This photo was taken by Rob Young from our tour group.

When we finally stepped into the water, it was freezing. I was shivering before I had taken more than three steps in. I was next to last in line. There were about six people in front of me including Jerry. Things moved quickly. Soon it was his turn and then it was mine. Dr. Bramer stepped to one side and Jerry moved into his spot. As I stepped into the now vacant spot between Dr. Yarbrough and Jerry, I was beyond nervous. I felt Dr. Yarbrough’s hand on my shoulders to help support me and I placed my hands on my chest; Jerry laid his hand over mine and then asked me,

“Joan, are you trusting in the finished work of Jesus on the cross as complete payment for your sins? Are you trusting in Jesus alone for your salvation?”

I am not sure where it came from as I had fully intended to just say “yes” just like I’d decided earlier but, in that moment, I answered, “with all my heart and soul”. Then, I was lowered into the river which was like ice water; I gasped as I came back up into the warm air.

Then I raised my hands to heaven. Yes!  After all those months of dreaming about it, I had finally been baptized in the Jordan River. I could not have been happier. This memory and this feeling will be with me for a long time if not forever. (And I have written down the date this time – won’t be forgetting now.)

I was helped out of the river by Jerry and Dr. Bramer, and I turned for a moment to watch the last person being baptized.

Afterwards, we headed into a communal dressing room where everything was wet, and those white robes stuck to our bodies like glue. I thought I’d never get out of it and into dry clothes. But all too soon we were back on the bus and headed to the hotel. It was over way too quickly, and I was exhausted.

Did I need to be baptized a second time? Of course not. My salvation came when I believed. The baptism is just a way of telling the world that I do believe. I like how Dr. Andrew Farley8, from the Grace Message Church in Texas, explains it as being like a birthday celebration. You’ve been born of the spirit and you’re celebrating your “birth” day with all your friends in Christ. Indeed. I might even do it again in another fifty years or so.

Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.”2

Sources for References and Additional Information About the Jordan River:

  1. Jordan River – Wikipedia
  2. Shall We Gather at the River? > Lyrics | Robert Lowry (timelesstruths.org); Robert Lowry; 1864; Public Domain:
  3. Degania Dam – Wikipedia
  4. File:Bethany (5).JPG – Wikipedia (Photo of Bethany Baptism site)
  5. File:The Jordan River loops, aerial view 1938.jpg – Wikimedia Commons (Aerial View of Jordan River from Wikipedia)
  6. Dr. Mark Yarbrough – Dallas Theological Seminary
  1. Dr. Stephen J. Bramer – Dallas Theological Seminary.
  2. The Grace Message with Dr. Andrew Farley
  3. Living Water – Wikipedia