Beth Aven: A lesson in the difficulty of Biblical geography (Hosea 4)

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Illustration: Suggested location of Beth Aven

Beth Aven is mentioned seven times in the Old Testament (Joshua 7:2, 18:12-13, 1 Samuel 13:5 14:23, Hosea 4–.15, 5:8, 10:5). In Joshua and Samuel it is an actual place-name, but in the book of Hosa Beth Aven (“house of wickedness”) is a derogatory reference to Bethel (“house of God”). Thus, there appear to have been at least two sites referred to as Beth Aven. But the location of the actual Beth Aven has been a source of confusion.

Joshua 7:2 suggests that Beth Aven was east of Bethel, usually identified as the modern Beitin. Joshua 18:12-13 stipulates that the northern border of the tribe of Benjamin ran from the Jordan past the region of Jericho to the “desert of Beth Aven” and from there on in a southerly direction to Bethel. Based on these description Beth Aven must have been northeast of Bethel, but 1 Samuel 13:5 indicates that Beth Aven was west of Micmash, usually identified with modern Mukhmas. The problem is that Micmash was south of Bethel, and it is of course impossible to see how Betn Aven could have been both northeast of Betlel and west of Micmash, which is south of Bethel.

It may be that there were two sites actually named Beth Aven, the one being the site referred to in Joshua, northeast of Bethel, and the other the one of 1 Samuel, west of Micmash. The situastion is further complicated by the fact that, as mentioned above, Beth Aven was also used as a secondary name for Bethel itself!

Another proposal argues that there was just one village named Beth Aven; however, this propsal depends upon relocating several sites. If Bethel was actually located at a site called el Bireh (near modern Ramalla in the West Bank) rather than at Beitin, then Beitin may have been Beth Aven, as it can be said to be both northeast of el Bireh and west of Mukhmas. The locating of Bethel at el Bireh is not yet widely accepted, however.

All of these sites are in the general area of the hill country north of Jerusalem, and so a general notion of the locations of Beth Aven and the other sites is not in question. Even so, this illustrates the difficulty scholars frequently encounter in precisely identifying Biblical sites. Modern readers of the Bible do well to bear in mind that the exact location of many cities mentioned in the text are uncertain.


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