Tel Dan is also known as Tell el-Kadi, Tel el-Kady, Tel/Tell el-Qadi, Antiochia, Daphne, Kefar-Dan, Laish, and Leshem.
Located at the foot of Mt Hermon and the Golan Heights, in the northeastern corner of the Huleh Valley. The largest of four sources of the Jordan River, the Dan Spring emerges at the base of Mt. Hermon next to Tel Dan. It flows for four miles before joining the second largest source of the Jordan River, the Banias Spring. Together the three sources [Hasbani (Hebr. Senir), Banias and Dan] of the Jordan River drain a total area of more than 2700 sq. kilometers. Together these form the largest karstic spring in the Middle East.
These natural advantages and its location on the main trade route from the Galilee to Damascus made Dan the most important city of the northern part of the Kingdom of Israel.
During the Canaanite period the city was known by the name Leshem (Joshua 19:47) or Laish (Judges 18:29). Under this name, it is also mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts already from the 19th century BCE onwards and in Mesopotamian texts. During the 18th century BCE, Laish was fortified with huge man-made earthen embankments, which created ramparts encircling the entire city.
In ancient times, Laish was already a mighty city with bulwarks. It was during this time that the patriarch Abraham and his men pursued the northern kings who had captured his nephew Lot as far as Dan (according to Genesis 14:14). This now became the northernmost dwelling place of the Jews, as we find many a time “from Dan to Be’er Shevah”- Dan was the Northern most point while Be’er Sheva was the southernmost point.
Archeological excavations have revealed numerous findings, the most impressive being a full standing gate. It is dated to the 18th century BCE, and when it was dug out, it reached almost to its original height of 7 meters. It was built of sun-dried mud bricks that used to be covered with white plaster. There are three arches. Stone steps lead to the first gate. The gate is from the same time as Abraham, and approximately 50 years used, buried and preserved by later inhabitants.
The style of the gate is typical for this period; it is a “Syrian gate” with three pairs of piers and four chambers, like those found at Megiddo, Shechem and Gezer.
Above the destruction level of the Canaanite city, a new occupation level was revealed, very different in architectural character and material culture. This new settlement pattern represents the conquest and settlement of the city by the tribe of Dan during the 12th century BCE.
The story of how the city was captured by the tribe of Dan, from the Sidonians, who inhabited Layish, is told in detail in Judges 18. The fertility of the area around Dan is mentioned in the Bible: “For we have seen the Land, and behold, it is very good” (Judges 18:9). They renamed it Dan. Here they also found an expensive stone called Leshem, which was the stone upon which their tribe’s (Shevet’s) name was inscribed upon on the Choshen.
Although the tribe of Dan settled the tel in the 11th century BCE, they did not leave any archeological remains. The city became prominent only after the death of King Solomon (928 BCE) when Israel was divided into two kingdoms. The king of northern Israel, Jeroboam, who wanted to avoid his citizens’ pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem, erected two golden calves for his people to worship. He said that these were their new gods, and put one statue in Beit-El, the other one in Dan (I Kings 12:28-9). These two cities marked the northern and southern borders of his kingdom. The phrase “from Dan to Bethel” showed the markings of the border of the Northern Kingdom.
Jeroboam also added another fortification ring outside the old city wall, which included a monumental gate. This gate was destroyed during the Syrian invasion that the Judean king Asa initiated at the turn of the 9th century BCE (I Kings 15:20).
The second gatehouse, which dates to the Israelite period (9th-8th century BCE) and was built by King Ahab, lies more to the west. The entrance slope led from east to west to a large square gate. The behind-lying building was multi-gated, with seven towers and many different rooms. After a courtyard, there is another gate to a covered rectangular building that comprised four rooms. From this, a wide street leads up to the city, which is protected on its southern side by a high city wall. In contrast to the Canaanite gatehouse, the Israelite gate was not built on top of the rampart, but halfway down.
From II Kings 23:8 we gather that the gate acted as a cult place. This corresponds to another discovery in the square, of five flat cultic stones or massebot, which had an altar-like long table in front of them. King Josiah, who reformed religious practice in Judah, condemned the ‘high places at the gates,’ and smattered them to pieces, but northern Israelite kings were less strict. King Omri and his son Ahab famously dabbled in heathen, especially Phoenician, imported gods.
At the other end of the street, there is an inner gate, which was built at a later date. It is located in the core of the Canaanite rampart. Thousands of foot troddings had polished the street pavement leading to the newer gate.
In the square of the Israelite gatehouse, an inscription belonging to a large basalt slab was found in 1993, making international headlines. It is unique for several reasons: because it is very old; dating to the 9th century BCE, and because it’s the very first time that the house of David is mentioned in a text outside the Bible.
The fragment formed part of the victory stele of king Hazael of Aram (Syria) and is written in Aramaic. It is the only monumental inscription that has been found in Israel so far; apparently the kings of Israel and Judah did not make victory monuments of their own.
However, one eminent Hebrew expert of the University of Rome thinks the inscription is a forgery.