Traditional Site of Bethel Questioned -- By: David Livingston

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 34:1 (Nov 1971)
Article: Traditional Site of Bethel Questioned
Author: David Livingston

Traditional Site of Bethel Questioned

David Livingston

We are pleased with Dr. Anson Rainey’s rebuttal to our previous article.1 We find it difficult to reply to a former teacher. However, we are happy for the opportunity to restate our case. In spite of his careful work, we are still compelled to question the traditional location of Bethel.

The real problem is whether our research will be inductive or deductive. If the former, we do not know of any single fact which clearly and independently demonstrates that Beitin is Bethel. All is questionable and capable of double interpretation. We reiterate once more, and will try to demonstrate, that the burden of proof is still on those who maintain the Beitin = Bethel equation.

If one argues deductively, that is, assuming Beitin is Bethel, then a number of items may be construed as evidence for Beitin, if there were no other possible site in the area. The evidence is not overwhelming yet for Bireh; but, in spite of Dr. Rainey’s contentions, it does not seem overwhelming for Beitin, either. In light of the new possibility we present, we urge alert scholars to reexamine all the facts and, if possible, to discover new data. That is, excavate at Bireh and/or its sister-city.

Unfortunately, Dr. Rainey has presented little for the Beitin Bethel case that has not already been considered. He has ably restated traditional opinions regarding the location. In spite of the evidence we present in our first article, he obviously concludes we are wrong (which, of course, he has every right to do). However, we urge the reader to look carefully at all the evidence, and lack of it, and decide for himself on the basis of evidence, not votes. We urge serious readers to become familiar with our previous article. Many important details will not be reiterated here.


In dealing with topographical evidence, Dr. Rainey does not give adequate consideration to the importance of topographical features mentioned in Scripture. The explicit topographical data given in Scripture are so detailed that one is hard put “to find similar topographical situations at various places in the same general region.” The region is quite limited, and there simply are not many possible choices. If one takes Scripture seriously, the topography at Beitin-at-Tell lacks some important features.

Discussions about the border can be considered after Bethel is properly located. Others have made studies similar to Dr. Rainey’s. But conclusions regarding national and tribal boundaries are of value only after evidence is in hand to demonstrate Beitin is Bet...

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