Biblical Tours: The Galilee Panhandle – Dan

March 27, 2016

4 min read

Biblical Tours is a special series highlighting a collection of sites in the Holy Land as told by Israel’s very own tour guide, Gary Littwin. Familiar passages will literally take on new life and new meaning. You will absolutely feel the connection and the tangible, for-real bond which connects modern Israel and all of us to ancient Israel. Be prepared for some surprises as well!

Today we’re heading into the wild north, just about as far as you can go before hitting the Lebanese border, to Tel Dan.

The city of Dan is located in the center of the northern edge of the Galilee panhandle, which is a beautiful, extremely fertile strip of land in Israel’s far north, bordered on the north and west by Lebanon, on the east by the Golan Heights and the Corazim plateau in the south. It’s about 15 miles long and 9 miles wide, just a bit smaller than the Texas panhandle in the US.

The surrounding area is a lush, serene nature reserve well watered by the Dan River and a host of small streams which feed into the Dan. The Dan River is the largest and most important of the sources of the Jordan River.

jordan river
A lookout from the Dan nature reserve overlooking the Hula Valley, the Naftali Ridge in the west and the Golan to the east. Pictured is a Pistachio tree. (Photo: Gary Littwin)

The city is ancient by any standard, and very special from a Biblical viewpoint.

Dan was first established in the early Canaanite era – roughly 4,500 years ago. By the late Canaanite age – between 1550 and 1200 BCE – the city had grown to become the second largest in the Galilee, sprawling over an area of about 55 acres.  The city was surrounded by a massive earthen wall, 150 ft wide at the base and 45 ft high, which is still in evidence today. The monumental Canaanite gate with its amazing mud brick arched entrance way is one of the most ancient ever discovered. The other is in Ashkelon, on Israel’s western coast.

western coast
The Canaanite gate with its amazing mud brick arched entranceway. (Photo: Gary Littwin)

More than anything else, Dan, known to the Canaanites as Leshem or Laish was the northernmost city of the Kingdom of Israel, first conquered by 600 warriors of the tribe of Dan.

“..the children of Dan went up and fought against Leshem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and possessed it, and dwelt therein, and called Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their father”. (Joshua 19:47).

Following the death of King Solomon around 930 BCE Dan became one of the most important spiritual centers of the northern Kingdom of Israel. The intention of the Israelite kings Jeroboam and Ahab, among others, was to create a rival, or counterbalance, to Jerusalem. To this end, Jeroboam built an alter with a golden calf, which reflected the corrosive influence of nearby pagan kingdoms such as Tyre and Sidon.

“Whereupon the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold; and he said unto them: ‘Ye have gone up long enough to Jerusalem; behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.’ And he set the one in Beth-el, and the other put he in Dan. And this thing became a sin; for the people went to worship before the one, even unto Dan”. (I Kings 12:28-30).

Israelite walls
King Jeroboam’s alter (Photo: Gary Littwin)

The massive Israelite walls and gate built by King Jeroboam and reinforced later by King Ahab and King Jeroboam the Second are impressive.

Dan Stele
The Israelite Wall and Gate built by King Jeroboam. (Photo: Gary Littwin)

But strong as the city was, it was not able to stand up to the invading army of Tiglat Pileser the Third, who put it to the torch in 732 BCE along with most of the rest of Samaria.

Possibly the most exciting find at Dan was the “Dan Stele” (inscribed stone) discovered during the excavations in 1993. Attributed to the King of Aram-Damascus, it is a tribute to his victory over the king of Israel and his ally, the king of the House of David. This is the clear archaeological evidence relating to King David outside of the Bible.

The tranquility of the area today seems to contrast a turbulent past which continues to echo in modern times. For example, during the 1960’s, the Tel Dan site was the focus of an attempt by the Syrian army to snatch the waters of the Dan River. Luckily this attempt was foiled by the brave soldiers of the IDF.

For tours with Gary, he can be reached at

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