("house of God".)
1. Abram pitched his tent on a mountain E. of Bethel, abounding in pasture (Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:3). The city, near the place, then bore the Canaanite name Luz. Bethel is the name given by anticipation to the place; appropriately so, as Abram virtually made it the "house of God." It was expressly so named by Jacob, when he had the vision of the heavenly ladder, on his way from his father at Beersheba to Harsh (Genesis 28:19; Genesis 31:13). He set up a pillar, and anointed it with oil, to mark the place where God spoke with him. Bethel, the place, is expressly distinguished from Luz, the old Canaanite city. "Jacob called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of that city was called Luz at the first" (Joshua 16:1-2). The naming of Bethel Jacob repeated more publicly on his return home, 20 years later, with his family purified of idols, when God again appeared to him, and confirmed his change of name to Israel (Genesis 35:1-15; Genesis 32:28).
Bethel belonged by lot to Benjamin, but was falcon by Ephraim (Bethel being on his southern border) through the treachery of an inhabitant (Judges 1:22-26). It was about 12 miles N. of Jerusalem. In Judges 20:26 translate for "the house of God" Bethel. During the civil war with Benjamin the tribes took the ark thither to consult God (compare 1 Samuel 10:3). It was one of Samuel's towns of circuit for judging (1 Samuel 7:16). One of Jeroboam's two sanctuaries for the calf worship, selected doubtless because of its religious associations (1 Kings 12-13). There the prophet from Judah foretold the overthrow of the calf altar by Josiah. Abijah, king of Judah, took Bethel from Jeroboam (2 Chronicles 13:19), but it was soon recovered by Israel. Under Ahab the Baal worship at Samaria and Jezreel drew off attention from the calf worship at Bethel. This accounts for a school of prophets of Jehovah being there in Elijah's time (2 Kings 2:2-3).
The existence of "bears," two, near the town, implies that Bethel was then less frequented (2 Kings 2:23-25). Under Jehu, who restored the calf worship, and Jeroboam II his great grandson, Bethel comes again into prominence (2 Kings 10:29). Bethel became the king's chapel" (sanctuary) "the king's court" ("house of the kingdom") (Amos 7:13; Amos 3:14-15). More altars, besides the original one were erected. "Summer and winter houses" too, and "great houses" and "houses of ivory." After the overthrow of Israel, the king of Assyria sent one of the Israelite priests to settle at Bethel, and teach the new settlers from Babylon, Cuthah, Ava, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, "the manner of the god of the land," and "how they should fear Jehovah" (2 Kings 17:27-28). Josiah, as foretold, defiled the altar with dead men's bones, but disturbed not the sepulchre of the prophet of Judab when he discerned its title. It was ordered by God that the votaries of the calf worship at Bethel never dared to violate the sepulchre and title of the prophet who denounced their idol. The worship of Jehovah and of the calves had been all along strangely blended. (See BETHAVEN.)
Among those returning from captivity were men of Bethel (Ezra 2:28; Nehemiah 7:32; Nehemiah 11:31.) The ruins, covering three or four acres, still bear a like name, Beitin, on a low bill, between two wadies, which unite in the main valley of es-Suweinit, toward the S.E. Bethel still abounds in stones such as Jacob used for his pillow and afterward for a sanctuary. On the round mount S.E. of Bethel. Abram doubtless built the altar, and afterwards stood with Lot when giving him his choice of the land (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:10). E. of this mount stands the ruin Tel er Rijmah, "the mound of the heap," answering to Ai or Hai. Ritter makes Medinet Gai answer to Ai.
2. A town in southern Judah (Joshua 12:16; 1 Samuel 30:27). Bethel in Joshua 19:4 answers to Chesil in Joshua 15:30. Bethuel, 1 Chronicles 4:30. Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho under the curse (1 Kings 16:34).