Gate of Judgement(Israelite Gate)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

Gate of Judgement or the Israelite Gate of Tel Dan (Tel al-Qazi) is an iron age gate built circa 800 BCE. This gate was actually a complex of several structures and portals that allowed entry in to the inner city. “Lot was sitting in the gates of Sodom,” relates the book of Genesis. To modern ears, the description “in the gates” sounds curious, but in biblical times a gate (or "gates") was not just a passageway through the defensive wall surrounding the city. It was typically a massive and often complex structure, consisting of an outer gate and an inner one providing a second line of defense, with a space in between.


The passage through this gate turns left on entry and passes in front of the Judgement Seat and then turns sharply to the right providing entrance to the inner gate. It dates to the Israelite period (9th-8th century BCE) and was most likely built by king Ahab. This gate lies more to the west of the ancient city of Dan. Based on biblical references and archaeological finds, that space served as a combination of town hall, ad hoc law court, Hyde Park Corner, marketplace and park bench.

Significance of Gates in Antiquity

circa 870–750 BCE

During Israelite times the gatehouse was the center of life. II Samuel 19:9 speaks of the gate as a place where the king sat: “Then the king arose, and sat in the gate and they told all the people, saying behold, the king doth sit in the gate. And all the people came before the king”. This area is approached from outside the city, via a cobblestone approach-way that ascends to the outer gate. Remarkably for the period, the Israelite king – almost a constitutional monarch in an age of absolutism – would go out to see and be seen by his subjects.


circa 870–750 BCE

The entrance slope led from east to west to a large square gate. Gate of Judgement, the iron age 4-chambered Israelite gate. It is accessed via an open area in front of it. The plaza it self was accessed through another outer gate located in the south-eastern wall. The plaza, the entrance portal is in the upper left corner and the incense place is to the right along the wall. In contrast to the Canaanite gatehouse, the Israelite gate was not built on top of the rampart, but halfway down.

circa 870–750 BCE

The gate was accessed via an outer gate (1, outer-outer gate) in the south-east wall, this lead in to the plaza (2). The gate of judgement (3, outer gate: pictured above) lead in to the inner section of the gate where the seat of judgement (4, platform) was located. This eventually lead in to the inner gate (6, inner gate) which was built in typical 4-chambered style.

circa 870–750 BCE

The "High Place"
"The high place at the gates" (mentioned in 2 Kings, 23:8) is located just in front of the outer gate (3). These places were very common at the entrance of cities during this period, and may have held divine icons, idols or other religiously significant items.

circa 870–750 BCE

Inner Gate
The well-preserved inner gate can be considered a typical example of what Israelite city gates looked like during biblical times. The two of the four chambers of the inner gate (6) are also visible, with three people entering through the portal. This behind-lying building was multi-gated, with seven towers and many different rooms. After a courtyard there is another gate to a covered rectangular building which comprised four rooms. It was in the city gate, through which people constantly flowed, that agreements were verbally sealed in the presence of witnesses, a necessity in an era before the written contract.

circa 870–750 BCE

"Seat of Judgement"
In the northwest corner of the inner courtyard of the gate archeologists found a platform; maybe this was used to put a throne or alternatively a statue. At its corners were beautifully carved stone bases in the shape of petals that supported the pillars of a canopy; the style of these bases comes from Syrian examples. It was the space between those two gates – sometimes just a corridor with recessed guardrooms, sometimes a more spacious courtyard – that the Bible calls “in the gates.” Much life took place within that gate area.

Tel Dan Stele

circa 870–750 BCE

The fragmented House of David Stele, now in Israel Museum, was found in this area. In the square of the Israelite gatehouse an inscription belonging to a large basalt slab was found in 1993, making international headlines. It is unique for several reasons: because it is very old; dating to the 9th century BCE, and because it’s the very first time that the house of David is mentioned in a text outside the Bible.


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