ancient religious gathering, as the golden calves, symbolic of Jehovah, were the same emblems
which had been sanctioned by Aaron in the Wilderness as representing the national deity.
In the later Jewish history the names Bethel, " the House of God," and Beth Aven, " the
House of Nothingness," are used apparently as synonymous terms for a single site. Jewish
commentators state that the two places were identical, and in the name Bethaun we see
perhaps the early corruption whence the modern title Beitin was derived—a form which was
in use at least as early as the fourteenth century.
Barren and stony as the bleak plateau of Bethel is in appearance, it is nevertheless
supplied with water from four good springs. To the east is the ruined monastery called
Burj Beitin ; to the north is Deir Shabib, " the monastery of young men " mentioned in the
Cartulary of the Holy Sepulchre as forming part of the property of that church. To the
south are remains of a fine ancient reservoir about one hundred yards in length, while a
great valley is visible running down toward Michmash, and forming probably the hiding-place
where the Israelite ambush was set between Bethel and Ai.
Close to the village is the ruin of a little church with a single apse, having the appearance
of earlier work than that of the Crusaders, and marking the site where it was supposed that
the patriarch's vision of angels must have occurred (see page 219). North of Beitin is a
curious circle of stones, perhaps so arranged by a freak of nature, but having the appearance
of a rude stone monument. East of the reservoir is a rock-cut tomb, probably that to which
Isaac Chelo refers as the sepulchre of the prophet Ahijah; and, indeed, its position on the
side of the mount is one which might not unnaturally be expected for the sepulchre of the
man of God who testified against the altar in Bethel—a tomb left untouched by Josiah on
the occasion of his destruction of Jeroboam's high place.
In the Middle Ages considerable confusion arose respecting the site of Bethel. In the
fourth century the place was known, and St. Jerome speaks of "the House of God, where
naked upon the bare ground poor Jacob lay, and, placing beneath his head the stone which is
described in Zechariah as having seven eyes, and is called the corner-stone by Isaiah, saw the
ladder stretching even to Heaven."
In the sixth century Theodoras mentions the same site, but the majority of the twelfth-
century pilgrims pass it over in silence, while many of the more important accounts accept
the Samaritan identification of Bethel with Mount Gerizim. Jacques de Vitray, in the thirteenth century, even supposes Jerusalem to be Bethel, and the Sakhra Rock, in the Temple
enclosure, to be the stone that had formed Jacob's pillar, and which is traditionally identified
with the Lia Fail, or " Stone of Destiny," brought from Ireland to Scotland, and by
Edward III. from Scone to Westminster, where it now forms part of the coronation chair.
It seems indeed clear that the true site of Bethel was unknown to the Crusaders, although the
village was sold by Hugh of Ibelin, in the time of Baldwin V., to the Canons of the Holy
A short divergence from the main road eastward brings the traveller to the ruin called