BETHEL (beth'el), (Heb. bayth-ale', house of God).
1. Originally Luz, an ancient town which Eusebius places twelve Roman miles north of Jerusalem, on the right hand of the road to Shechem. Jacob rested here one night on his way to Padan-Aram, and commemorated the vision with which he was favored by erecting and pouring oil upon the stone which had served him for a pillow, and giving to the place the name of Bethel (place or house of God), which eventually superseded the more ancient designa tion of Luz (Gen. xxviii :11-19). Under that name it is mentioned proleptically with reference to the earlier time of Abraham (Gen. xii :8 ; xiii :3).
It has been supposed that, like many other sanctuaries, such as Jerusalem, Jericho, Shechem, Hebron, etc., Bethel was originally a Canaanite holy place, and that after it had passed into the hands of the Israelites it was adopted into Israel ite traditions, and assigned a patriarchal conse cration. On the other hand, there is no clear evidence that Bethel was a Canaanite sanctuary ; all that the Old Testament knows about its earlier history is that its ancient name was Luz ; so we are justified in concluding that its sanctity was of purely Israelite origin. At the same time, it possessed a sanctity independent of the dedication which Jacob is said to have given it. It was a haunt of angels, a place where a ladder was always fixed between earth and heaven ; and when Jacob passed the night there he saw it. It was not so much that Jehovah found Jacob, as that Jacob was unconsciously guided to find Jehovah there. (G. A. Cooke, Hastings' Bib. Diet.) After his prosperous return, Bethel became a favorite station with Jacob ; here he built an altar, buried Deborah, received the name of Israel (for the second time), and promises of blessing ; and here also he accomplished the vow which he had made on his going forth (Gen. xxxv :1-15 ; Comp. xxxii :28, and xxviii :2o-22). It seems not to have been a town in those early times ; but at the conquest of the land, Bethel is mentioned as the royal city of the Canaanites (Josh. xii :16). It became a boundary town of Benjamin towards Ephraim (Josh. xviii :22), and was actually conquered by the latter tribe from the Canaanites (Judg. :22-26). At this place,
already consecrated in the time of the patriarchs, the ark of the covenant was, apparently for a long while, deposited (see ARK), and probably the tabernacle also (Judg. xx :26 ; Comp. I Sam. x :3). It was also one of the places at which Samuel held in rotation his court of justice (i Sam. vii :i6). After the separation of the kingdoms Bethel was included in that of Israel, which seems to show, that although originally in the formal distribution assigned to Benjamin, it had been actually possessed by Ephraim in right of conquest from the Canaanitcs—which might have been held by that somewhat un scrupulous tribe to determine the right of pos session to a place of importance close on their own frontier. Jeroboam made it the southern seat (Dan being the northern) of the worship of the golden calves ; and it seems to have been the chief seat of that worship (t Kings xii :28-33; xiii :1). This appropriation, however, completely desecrated Bethel in the estimation of the ortho dox Jews ; and the prophets name it with ab horrence and contempt—even applying to it the name of Bethaven (house of idols) instead of Bethel (house of God) (Amos i :5 ; Hos. iv :15; v :8 ; x :5, 8). The town was taken from Jero boam by Abijah, king of Judah (2 Chron. xiii : 19) ; but it again reverted to Israel (2 Kings x :28). After the Israelites were carried away captive by the Assyrians, all traces of this il legal worship were extirpated by Josiah, king of Judah, who thus fulfilled a prophecy made to Jeroboam 350 years before (2 Kings xiii :1, 2; xxiii :15-18). The place was still in existence after the Captivity, and was in the possession of the Benjamites (Ezra ii :28 ; Neh. vii :32). In the time of the Maccabees Bethel was fortified by Bacchides for the king of Syria. It is not named in the New Testament ; but it still ex isted, and was taken by Vespasian. (Robinson, Biblioth. Sac., 1843, p. 456 ff.) 2. A town in the south of Judah (I Sam. xxx :27). Perhaps the same city is designated (Josh. xii :16). The place appears to have borne the names Chesil, Bethul and Bethnel (Comp. Josh. xv :30 ; xix :4 ; I Chron. iv :29, 3o; v:29, 3o)