Students Brave the Rockets at Tel Dan - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Students Brave the Rockets at Tel Dan

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Dr. Avraham Biran, Director 
Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology

Katyusha rockets fired from across the border cut short the student's dig at Tel Dan this year. Over 30 of our Year-in-Israel students arrived together with our staff bright and ready for a week's archaeological excavation at the end of August. Leaving Jerusalem by bus early Sunday morning, they were greeted at the site by the Director of the excavations who led them on a tour of the remains uncovered in the course of thirty-two years of excavations. The students were most impressed by what they saw and especially by the remarkable eighteenth century BCE Triple Arch Gate of the city then called Laish. They thus echoed Prime Minister Netanyahu's reaction.

A few days earlier, Prime Minister Netanyahu, his wife Sara and son Yair stood in awe in front of this same gate and marveled at the mud brick construction of an arch still standing as originally built some 4,000 years ago. The Prime Minister, who was vacationing with his family in Tiberias, made a special trip to visit the Dan Nature Reserve and I was asked to show them around the excavations. From the Triple Arch Gate, the Prime Minister proceeded to the ninth century BCE Israelite fortifications of Dan, entered the gate built by King Ahab, saw the masseboth-sacred pillars, the canopied structure to the right of the entrance, and continued to the upper gate built by Jeroboam II in the early eighth century BCE. The original remains and restoration made a deep impression.

On their tour, our students followed the Prime Minister's route and studied the archaeological remains, including the sanctuary where Jeroboam I had set the golden calf after the death of Solomon. The students, already in working clothes, then turned to the actual physical work of digging. The area chosen was outside the ancient city wall and gate complex. Here the structures uncovered in the past were identified as hussoth. The term from the Hebrew root hus, meaning 'outside', is mentioned many times in the Bible. One reference is particularly pertinent in our case. In I Kings 20:34, Ben Hadad of Damascus, after his defeat by Ahab, King of Israel, said to him: "The cities which my father took from thy father, I will restore; and thou shalt make hussoth for thee in Damascus, as my father made in Samaria."

It appears that a victor in battle was privileged to establish hussoth (bazaars? duty free shops?) in the land of the vanquished. The structures now discovered at Dan provide a tangible illustration as to what these hussoth could look like. Moreover, it is possible that because of the hussoth, it is here that at the end of the ninth century BCE, Hazael, king of Damascus, had set his victory stele. This stele, uncovered by us in 1993, mentions the king of "Beit David," House of David, i.e. the King of Judah. Our students soon became engrossed in the manual labor and could observe the sequence of the three stages of construction of the hussoth. The pottery collected was taken to our quarters in the settlement of Shear Yishuv where the students were housed. The students washed pottery there and learned how to date it. The students were encouraged in their physical work by last year's discovery of a unique bronze disc with the winged sun at the top, a king or priest in front of a table on which offerings were represented on the right, and a chair where the deity was originally sitting on the left. They anticipated more exceptional discoveries. The reality of life in the Galilee, however, decreed otherwise. On the third night of our stay in Shear Yishuv, a sudden barrage of Katyushas hit northern Galilee.

Although none fell in Shear Yishuv, we could hear them distinctly falling in Kiryat Shemonah, a few miles to the west. Everybody had to spend the night in the shelters provided for just such an emergency. Our students behaved like veterans and were ready in the morning to return to work. We decided not to take any chances and ordered the bus which took them back to Jerusalem. The experience gave the students an opportunity to share the life and tribulations of the inhabitants of northern Israel. As for the treasures of Dan, they will remain underground for future generations to uncover.