A place in Central Palestine, about 10 miles north of Jerusalem, at the head of the pass of Michmash and Ai.
It was originally the royal Canaanite city of Luz (Gen. 28:19).
The name Bethel was at first apparently given to the sanctuary in the neighborhood of Luz, and was not given to the city itself till after its conquest by Ephraim.
When Abram entered Canaan, he formed his second encampment between Bethel and Hai (Gen. 12:8); and on his return from Egypt he came back to it, and again “called upon the name of the Lord” (13:4).
Here Jacob, on his way from Beersheba to Haran, had a vision of the angels of God ascending and descending on the ladder whose top reached unto heaven (28:10, 19); and on his return he again visited this place, “where God talked with him” (35:1-15), and there he “built an altar, and called the place El-beth-el” (q.v.). To this second occasion of God's speaking with Jacob at Bethel, Hosea (12:4,5) makes reference.
In troublous times the people went to Bethel to ask counsel of God (Judg. 20:18, 31; 21:2). Here the ark of the covenant was kept for a long time under the care of Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron (20:26-28). Here also Samuel held in rotation his court of justice (1 Sam. 7:16).
It was included in Israel after the kingdom was divided, and it became one of the seats of the worship of the golden calf (1 Kings 12:28-33; 13:1). Hence the prophet Hosea (Hos. 4:15; 5:8; 10:5, 8) calls it in contempt Beth-aven, i.e., “house of idols.”
Bethel remained an abode of priests even after the kingdom of Israel was desolated by the king of Assyria (2 Kings 17:28, 29). At length all traces of the idolatries were extirpated by Josiah, king of Judah (2 Kings 23:15-18); and the place was still in existence after the Captivity (Ezra 2:28; Neh. 7:32).
It has been identified with the ruins of Beitin, a small village amid extensive ruins some 9 miles south of Shiloh.