Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or


1 One of the twelve sons of Jacob, by Bilhah, handmaiden of Rachel (Gen. 30:1-6); he is the ancestor of the tribe of Dan.

2 One of the twelve tribes of Israel assigned a small piece of land west of Benjamin; when they were crowded out, however, they migrated north (Josh. 19:40-48; Judg. 18).

3 A city on the northern border of Israel (‘Dan to Beer-sheba’ expresses the northern and southern limits of Israel). Formerly called Laish, it is mentioned in the execration texts, the eighteenth-century b.c. Mari tablets, and the records of the Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III. It is identified with Tel Dan (modern Tell el-Qadi) covering about 50 acres in the center of a fertile valley near one of the principal springs feeding the Jordan River.

Tel Dan has been excavated by A. Biran since 1966. The earliest occupation, probably the full extent of the tell, goes back to about the middle of the third millennium b.c. A Middle Bronze II rampart (1900-1700 b.c.) surrounds the city and on the southeast a mud-brick gateway with two towers joined by an intact arch of three courses is preserved to a height of 20 feet. A Late Bronze Age tomb with quantities of Mycenaean pottery, gold and silver jewelry, bronze swords, and ivory boxes indicates a prosperous fourteenth-thirteenth century occupation in the vicinity.

A ninth-century b.c. gate and fortifications have been revealed, and biblical sources claim Jeroboam set up a golden calf at Dan to provide the Northern Kingdom with a sanctuary (1 Kings 12:26-30). Archaeologists have uncovered a sacred area, perhaps a bamah (Heb., ‘high place’) on the northwest. Within three phases related to Jeroboam I, Ahab’s rebuilding, and Jeroboam II’s prosperity, cultic incense burners and stands, figurines, and a horned altar have been uncovered. The area continued in use down to Hellenistic and Roman times. A bilingual Greek and Aramaic votive inscription of the late third or early second century b.c. to the ‘god who is in Dan’ identifies the site. An elaborate water installation existed near the spring in Roman times, and the latest coins belong to the time of Constantine the Great (ca. a.d. 325).

For explanations of Jacob's reference to Dan as a snake (KJV: serpent), see


All glossary terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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