The High Place and Altar at Dan

The high place at Dan, in northern Israel, dates to 920 BC, when Israel was divided into the northern (Israel) and the southern (Judah) kingdoms.The high place measured 62 feet square and was surrounded by a wall. On top of the high place were buildings that housed the shrine or "idol" that was worshipped there.

Avraham Biran, the archaeologist who directed this excavation, found evidence of three different high places on this site, all built on the same location and each contributing some of what is seen here.

The earliest remains date to King Jeroboam in the tenth century BC. As the new king of the recently formed northern kingdom, Jeroboam needed an alternative to the temple established by David and Solomon at Jerusalem.

Probably built over an existing "religious sanctuary," the high place at Dan focused on a golden calf as the object of worship (1 Kings 12:26-30). The platform at that time was 60 feet long and 20 feet wide and had an altar in front of the steps. In the photograph, an iron frame outlines an altar located in the same place as Jeroboam's; you can see the original steps for the altar. It is amazing to look at this place and recognize the beginning of Israel's drift into pagan practices and values.

At the second stage of development, the platform of the high place was rebuilt to its present size, probably by King Ahab, whose devotion to Baal is well known. Israel continued to sink deeper into pagan practices and values and further away from God.

The third stage of development came during the reign of Jeroboam II (ca. 760 BC). The large staircase and altar in front of the high place were added at that time. Archaeologists found only parts of the altar, including one of the horns that protruded from the four corners and part of the steps leading to it. Based on these finds, archaeologists constructed this metal frame, which shows how massive the altar was. It towered over the altars of earlier times.

During Jeroboam II's reign, Amos predicted the final destruction of the Israelite nation because of its idolatry and pagan practices. His message must have seemed totally out of place because Israel was at the peak of prosperity.

Thirty years later, however, the northern 10 tribes were destroyed by the brutal Assyrian army and ceased to exist as a people. Ashes and burn marks from a great fire were among the remains of this altar and high place, confirming Amos' prediction.