The Kyle Memorial Excavations at Bethel -- By: James L. Kelso

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 091:364 (Oct 1934)
Article: The Kyle Memorial Excavations at Bethel
Author: James L. Kelso


The Kyle Memorial Excavations at Bethel

James L. Kelso

The Kyle Memorial Expedition has completed the first summer of excavations on the site of ancient Bethel, and the significant findings of the expedition were very numerous over a period slightly antedating the days of Abraham and extending to the time of the Mohammedan conquest.

The southern half of the site of Bethel is today largely occupied by the Arabic village of Beitin. In this occupied area we could do little except to examine the scattered fragments of the Byzantine city wall and the north gateway of the city. These gave all the appearance of hasty work and were doubtless thrown up as an emergency defense against one of those tragic Samaritan revolts which devastated the Ephraim territory in 484 A.D. or 529 A.D. This period of Samaritan history is well worth studying, and a good resume is found in J. A. Montgomery’s work ”The Samaritans,” pages 98 to 124.

A great pool constructed by the Byzantines and repaired apparently by the Crusaders lies to the south of the city. It is one of the largest in Palestine, measuring 314 feet by 217 feet. Crusader ruins of churches and buildings are on the site, but we did not have time to examine these nor the mediaeval remains.

The northern part of the ancient site is today occupied by a fig orchard, and it was in four different sections of this orchard that we excavated. In two of these areas we went down to bed rock: at the other two points, however, the danger of cave-ins upon the

workmen led us to abandon these areas when they were only about halfway down to bed rock. The history of Bethel as told by these excavations is as follows:

In the early bronze age, it was an important camping site for shepherds because of its very excellent water supply. About 2000 B.C., when the early bronze age was giving way to the middle bronze age, the Bedouin tents gave way to fine stone houses, and the camping site became a city. At this period all of Palestine including Transjordania and the Negeb seems to have been under a common culture and in a high state of civilization. It was into this city of Bethel and into this culture that Abraham came sometime after the city’s foundation.

Only a small period of time was available for study of the ridge east of Bethel where the Abraham and Jacob episodes are located. An early bronze age cemetery was located here, situated between Bethel and Ai. This means that the nature of the site was holy, for the cemeteries were normally near holy ground. Thus we had the settings for Abraham’s altar, for Lot’s choice and Jacob’s vision.

The city continued prosperou...

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