"Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
With me from Lebanon.
Look from the top of Amana,
From the top of Senir,
the summit of Hermon" (Song of Songs 4:8).
In the middle of the Great Rift, the lush green Hula Valley is blessed with abundant spring water, turning it into a paradise on earth!
The main source of water is supplied by melted snow and rain running off Mount Hermon, the highest in the land of Israel at 2814 m (9229 feet).
It is formed with porous limestone that absorbs precipitation like a sponge. The water passes through three springs: Dan, Hermon (Banias) and Snir (Hatsbani). Together, they comprise the headwater of the Jordan River, the largest in Israel. The water is also used for agriculatural needs.
In the 1960s, the springs, tributaries and the surrounding land were designated as a nature reserve by the Israeli government. The Nature and National Park Protection Authority has also preserved the remains of the ancient cities of Dan and Banias.
Tel Dan Nature Reserve is a natural wonder of lush vegetation, mature trees and abundant streams fed by springs, a stark contrast from the normally dry environment of the Land of Israel.
The trees grow around the streams and create a magnificent canopy of branches over head of the paved walking trails. The nature reserve area is 61 acres. When combined with the archeological areas, the park extends over 118 acres. Dan Spring gushes out annually over than 660.4 billion gallons of water. This makes the spring one of the largest in the Middle East and the largest tributary of the Jordan River.
The Dan Spring consists of other springs: Ein El-Qadi (in Arabic Qadi means Judge) and Ein-Lidan (which secured the name, Dan). The water temperature is comparatively cold, around 58 F. The springs and streams of the Dan merge within the confines of the reserve into one river which ranges between 19 to 32 ft wide and 32 to 4.5 ft deep.
There are a variety of trees growing by the banks of the stream including Syrian Ash, willow and Tabor oaks. The Oriental Plane tree is also found here, also known as the sycamore or button tree because of its spherical seeds. There are also true laurel trees whose leaves were used in ancient Greece to make wreaths for the winners of competitions. Poplars were planted by local community farmers. Further from the edge of the water, Christ’s Thorn jujube (Ziziphus spina-christi) are also growing here, although relatively rare. Some traditions claim that Jesus' crown of thorns was made of its branches.
The natural world is also varied in the reserve. The fire salamander is one of the rare animals that live in the stream. These salamanders have black body with yellow or orange spots. There are also many birds but it is difficult to spot them among the leaves and branches of the trees.
The archaeologists say that the low hill of Tel Dan was already occupied in the fifth Millennium BC, Neolithic age.
Numerous artifacts were uncovered during the archaeological excavations carried out at Tel Dan such as household vessels, bones of domesticated animals, inscriptions, a standing stone and other items.
The next settlement was here during the Early Bronze Age (2700-2400 BC). The settlement flourished in the Middle Bronze Age. (18-Th BC). The city then was called Laish, as mentioned both in the Bible and in the famous Mari Inscription.
Tel Dan is frequently mentioned in the Bible as a city of Dan,
''When Abram heard that his relative had been taken captive, he called out 318 trained men in his household and went in pursuit as far as Dan” (Genesis 14:14)
The tribe of Dan was given special territories in the Promised Land in the times of Joshua.
''To the tribe of Dan - Eshtaol, Tsura, Ir Shemesh, Ajalon, Mei Yarkon, Joppia.''
The territory proved to be too small for them and there was strong opposition from the Philistines in the area of Ir Shemesh. The tribe of Dan had been looking for a new dwelling place and their migration is described in the Bible:
“They migrated to the North of the Promised Land, on the way they seized the priest and the holy objects from the house of a wealthy Micah. And then they came to Laish, ''where they saw that the people were living in safety, like the Sidonians, at peace and secure. And since their land lacked nothing, they were prosperous. Also, they lived a long way from the Sidonians and in no relationship with anyone else'' (Judges 18:7).
After split of the United Kingdom of Israel, King Jeroboam (930 BC):
"made two calves of gold and said to the people: 'It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, oh, Israel that brought you up from the Land of Egypt.' And he set one in Dan and the other one he set in Bethel" (1 Kings 12:28-29).
The choice of these two cities as religious centers of the kingdom was important. Bethel was a site of Jacob's dream and later both the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle stood there in the time of Judges. Danites also built an altar at the city of Dan after they had conquered the city. The sacred precinct from the times of Jeroboam was discovered and thoroughly excavated here with dimensions of 150 ft wide and 196 ft long. I Kings 15:20 tells us:
"Ben-Hadad agreed with King Asa and sent the commanders of his forces against the towns of Israel. He conquered Iion, Dan, Abel Beth Maakah and all Kinnereth in addition to Naphtali."
King Ahab is believed to have an honor for rebuilding the altar and fortifying the city in the Iron Age, 860-850 BC.
Then, the tragic end of the Kingdom of Israel came.
At the time, no one could stop an invasion of a powerful king Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria. He conquered the Northern kingdom of Israel in 734 BC and, perhaps the city of Dan along with others.
During the excavations at Tel Dan (1966 to 1990), Professor Biram discovered a part of a fortress.
He was lucky to discover completely intact mud brick gate which was very unusual, because structures built in this manner normally do not last over time.
The gate had three arches which are 44 ft wide. Each arch was built from 3 courses of bricks and the largest of its kind in the world.
The arch’s survival is attributed to being buried in soil and it was blocked off which helped maintain the structure in its current form. Before this discovery, it was commonly accepted that the arch was invented by the Romans. Now we know that arches existed long before the Roman civilization.