Bethel (bĕthˈəl) [key] [Heb., = house of God]. 1 Ancient city of central Palestine, the modern Baytin, the West Bank, N of Jerusalem. According to the Bible, where it is frequently mentioned, it was originally called Luz (see Luz1). The Book of Genesis relates that Abraham built his first altar in Canaan here and that the name Bethel, given to Jacob's sacred stone, was then transferred to the town itself. At the time of the Judges it was a national shrine. It temporarily harbored the Ark of the Covenant. Bethel lost its preeminence as a Jewish shrine to Jerusalem; in 1 Kings, Jeroboam's attempt to establish Bethel as a rival religious capital failed. Bethel thereafter became increasingly associated with heathen worship—hence the denunciations by Amos and by Hosea, who called it Beth-aven [house of wickedness]. Modern excavations have disclosed a temple wall, water gate, and palace complex, indicating the site was once a flourishing Canaanite cultic center. 2 Unidentified place, S ancient Palestine, mentioned several times in the Bible; instances of Chesil, Bethul, and Bethuel in the Bible are thought to be alternate spellings of Bethel.
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