Beth Aven: A Scholarly Conundrum -- By: Bryant G. Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 12:4 (Fall 1999)
Article: Beth Aven: A Scholarly Conundrum
Author: Bryant G. Wood


Beth Aven: A Scholarly Conundrum

Bryant G. Wood

The location of Beth Aven is important to ABR research because it was situated adjacent to Ai:

Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel (Jos 7:2).

Ai, Beth Aven, and Bethel were a triad of settlements in close proximity to one another. The Hebrew word translated “near” in Joshua 7:2 is im, which means “close to,” or “beside.” Any serious candidate for Joshua’s Ai, then, must have a candidate for Beth Aven near by.

Scholars have been unable to come up with a viable site for Beth Aven. The reason is clear. Since the inception of historical-geographical research in Palestine, Bethel and Ai have been incorrectly located (Livingston 1998: 77-80; Byers 1999), thus obscuring the location of Beth Aven.

Biblical Requirements for Beth Aven

The first mention of Beth Aven, which means “house of wickedness,” in the Old Testament is in Joshua 7:2. There it states that Beth Aven was close to Ai. Since Ai was east of Bethel, one would expect that Beth Aven was east of Bethel as well. From this passage we conclude that Beth Aven was occupied at the time of Joshua (late 15th century BC), was close to Ai, and was east of Bethel.

Beth Aven is referred to a second time in the book of Joshua in the description of the northern border of the tribe of Benjamin:

On the north side their boundary began at the Jordan; then the boundary goes up to the shoulder north of Jericho, then up through the hill country westward; and it ends up at the wilderness of Beth-aven. From there the boundary passes along southward in the direction of Luz, to the shoulder of Luz (the same is Bethel) (Jos 18:12-13a, RSV).

Here we learn that Beth Aven was north of Bethel. Since it was both east (Jos 7:2) and north (Jos 18:13a) of Bethel, in reality it must have been northeast of Bethel.1

The next reference to Beth Aven is in the account of Israel’s battles with the Philistines recorded in 1 Samuel 13 and 14. In response to Jonathan’s attack on the Philistine outpost at Geba, the Philistines assembled their forces and “went up and camped at Micmash, east of Beth Aven” (1 Sm 13:5b). The Philistines were coming from their territory along the Mediterranean coast, so they evidently first passed by Beth Aven and then continued eastward to Micmash, modern Mukhmas.

Beth Aven was therefore located west of Mukhmas and was occupied at the time of Saul in the mid-11th century BC. Because of Jonathan’s bravery in attacking the Philistine outpost at Micmash, the Israelites were victori...

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