Dan in the North

Dearest Rachel –

No, this has nothing to do with Daniel being with me as we head to the northernmost point of Israel (at least, not at first); this area was named Dan long before that.

Even before Abraham’s time, in fact. While this mud brick structure here is referred to as ‘Abraham’s Gate,’ as with ‘Solomon’s Gate’ in Megiddo, this actually predates him by a generation or so. It is believed that he likely saw it, however – possibly on the way back from recapturing Lot from the five Canaanite kings.

I should point out that I haven’t been bringing our itinerary with us; since I’m not the one driving, I’ve no control over where we’re going, and have just decided to let things happen as they will – we’ve already had a change to the itinerary this morning with our “church service” taking place today rather than tomorrow, why concern myself with the specifics of our schedule as originally drawn up? Aside from the time zone, I’m willing to bet that my Dad has a better handle on where we are at any given moment than I do, since he has a copy of it, and is more likely by far than I am to consult it.

Anyway, we are in the land known as Dan, but has been inhabited long before the tribe of that name came to this area (and in fact, they never completely claimed it entirely, but rather mixed in a bit with the pagans, much to their own downfall). Some of the area looks unfamiliar…

…including this bridge over the Dan River

And, indeed, it turns out, we’re headed the wrong way; we’re headed through the nature, preserve, rather than for the ancient city.

We do turn around, at Pastor Scott’s urging, and make our way to the ninth century BC ruins.
You climbed up these walls once upon a time…
…do you remember?

Yael mentions how the elders would sit at the gate, and how that position factored into and Absalom’s rebellion. Back in the day, he would sit at one or another city gate, and offer his opinion on various cases. To those whose side he had a favorable opinion of, he would offer condolences that he could not issue a verdict for them. “Oh, but if only I was king!” he would say, in an effort to recruit them to his own cause.

And for a moment, I thought that Junior might pose at the city gate accordingly, but Scott and Paul took over the seat instead. Rebellion averted.

It is here that Denim reads the story of Jehu, and the slaughter of the priests of Ba’al here at Dan.

Idols were placed here and at Bethel by Jeroboam, so that the ten tribes of Israel did not need to cross the border into Judah (and thus potentially defect).

Yael talks about the syncretic take on worship the Jews took upon arriving in Canaan, as they did not drive out everything and everyone from the land before them as the Lord had commanded them; basically, they would worship some of the Canaanite gods as well as Yahweh, just in case. As in any pantheon, each god in the Canaanite religion had their own specialty – Ba’al for rain, for instance, and Ashtoreth for fertility. A Hebrew experiencing difficulties with either of these might consult with these gods, if they determined that Yahweh wasn’t (in their mind) getting the job done. And presumably, it might appear to have worked, otherwise the Hebrews would not have continued to pursue the Canaanite deities.

“But why the calf?” asks Jordan (of all people). In response, Yael expresses a certain level of skepticism that they actually did have calves as idols in these two locations. To her, they were used as a form of literary shorthand in the Scriptures to illustrate the overall apostasy of the ten tribes of Israel, since the mention of a calf referred back to their original fall at the foot of Mount Sinai, when they got impatient waiting for Moses to return with the Ten Commandments.

Now, does it matter whether the northern tribes worshipped a calf idol or not? I’m not entirely sure; would it call into question the scriptures if they didn’t? I’d be more concerned with her assertion that the scripture suggests that Judah was the more important or powerful of the two nations – as if the writers of the books of Kings and Chronicles had an axe to grind against Israel. I happen to know that Omri and his son Ahab were most influential with the nations around them; but that doesn’t mean they were righteous. Far from it, in fact – and that’s what mattered to God.


Leaving Dan, we actually travel further north, near the Lebanese border. In fact, Yael tells a story of a town we pass en route, populated by a sect of Muslims that the Israelis surrounded during the Six Days War that no nation seemed to want – not the Israelis, to whom they tried to surrender; not the Lebanese, who considered them heretical in terms of their Muslim faith; and not the Syrians, who were too far away to take them under their wing (and they were getting curb-stomped by the Israelis, anyway). Eventually, they were incorporated into Israel, but not before being nearly split between Israel and Lebanon.

And as she finishes her tale, we find ourselves outside of Caesarea Philippi

There are a number of niches here, meant to contain this or that pagan god; this is a Roman city, as one might be able to tell from the name, and often visited by Roman and Jew alike as a sort of resort town – Yael indicates that Jesus and the disciples might very well have encountered other visitors and lines very much to the same extent that we are right now.

It’s fitting that, when Jesus and the disciples were here (maybe while they were waiting in line to see everything, even), he asked them who He was.  Interestingly enough, he didn’t start by asking what they thought of Him, but rather what they were hearing from others.  That produced a fairly long list of possibilities, although (those ‘others’ being fellow Jews) none of them were other deities, but rather past notables.

It all seems weird, especially considering that the Jews didn’t believe in reincarnation, any more than they believed in other gods besides Yahweh. To be sure, since Elijah didn’t physically die, but was swept up in a chariot of fire, it might be assumed that he would return to deal with some unfinished business – and of course Malachi says categorically that he would return first to announce the messiah‘s presence – but suggesting any of the rest of them, such as Jeremiah or even John the Baptist, seem puzzling.

The ‘sanctuary of Pan’ also known as the ‘gates of hades,’ which Jesus asserted (upon Peter’s claim that He was the Son of God) are not to prevail against him – or, presumably, us as the church at large.
And one final view of the cliff at Caesarea Philippi before we go, taking in the temple ruins as well as the Gates of Hell.

More to come later, honey. Keep an eye on Daniel and me until then.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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