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Bethel

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( Hebrew word meaning "house of God ").

An ancient Cansanitish town, twelve miles north of Jerusalem, not far from Silo on the way to Sichem. The primitive name was Luza. Abram twice offered sacrifice east of Bethel ( Genesis 12:8 ; 13:3 ). In these passages the name of Bethel is used by anticipation, as it was given to the town by Jacob after his vision ( Genesis 28:19 ). When the Israelites entered the promised land, Bethel was allotted to the tribe of Benjamin, but it was taken and occupied by the Ephraimites ( Judges 1:22-26 ). It was a place of importance in the subsequent history. Here the Israelites in the days of the Judges were wont to consult the Lord ( Judges 20:18, 26 ; 21:2 ; the phrase "in Silo" added in these texts by the Vulgate is a mistake) and the Ark of the Covenant was probably here for a time. Samuel was wont to judge in Bethel every year. After the division of the kingdoms Jeroboam desecrated the place by erecting a golden calf and introducing the Egyptian worship of Apis. This continued until Israel was led captive to Assyria ( 2 Kings 10:29 ) and was frequently denounced by the prophets Osee and Amos. Shortly before his assumption, Elias visited Bethel, where there was a school of prophets ( 2 Kings 2:2-3 ); the boys from the town mocked Eliseus on his return and were destroyed by bears (ibid., 23). One of the priests who had been carried away captive was allowed to return somewhat later and dwelt in Bethel to teach the people ( 2 Kings 17:28 ). Great confusion of idolatrous worship sprang up, until Josias finally destroyed the altar and the high place there ( 2 Kings 23:15 ). After the Captivity, the Benjaminites returned to Bethel. In the time of the Macchabees, it was fortified by Bacchides. There is no mention of Bethel in the New Testament, but Josephus records that it was taken by Vespasian (Bell. Jud., IV, ix, 9). Eusebius mentions the place as a village. It is commonly identified nowadays with Beitin. The ruins of several Christian churches on the spot would indicate that in the Middle Ages it had again grown to some importance. The name "Bethel" is also read in Joshua 12:16 and 1 Samuel 30:27 ; it is probably another name for Bethul ( Joshua 19:4 ), a city of the tribe of Simeon, the site of which is uncertain.

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