What is…

also known as: Abel Beth Maacah, Abel Bethmaach, Abel Beth-maach, Tel Avel Beit Ma'akha, Tel Abel Beth Maacah, Avel Bet Ma'akha, Abel-maim, and Tell Abil el-Qameḥ

Meaning: meadow of the house of Maachah

This was the name of an ancient city in northern Israel, in the neighborhood of Dan and Ijon, in the tribe of Naphtali. It is located near the modern city of Metula, Israel.

Location of ancient Abel-beth-maachah (now called Tel Avel Beit Ma'akha) —satellite view

Elsewhere, it is called Abel-maim, meadow of the waters (2 Chronicles 16:4).

It was a place of considerable strength and importance. It is called a “mother in Israel”, i.e., a metropolis (2 Samuel 20:19). It was besieged by Joab (2 Samuel 20:14), by Benhadad (1 Kings 15:20), and by Tiglath-pileser (2 Kings 15:29) about B.C. 734.

The location of the city in such a strategic spot points to it having played a major role in the interaction between the various national groups and political powers in the Bronze Age (Canaanites, Hurrians/Mitannians, Egyptians, and Hittites) and the Iron Age (Israelites, Arameans and Phoenicians).

Abel Beth Maacah was a border town, and as such, was exposed to these influences at the same time that it fulfilled the role of buffering, or bearing the brunt of, foreign invasions. Its proximity to numerous water sources and a rich agricultural hinterland was yet another factor in making Abel Beth Maacah a large and prominent site in antiquity.

Wise woman of Abel Bethmaach

When Joab besieged the city, an unnamed wise woman intervened and saved the city and many lives.

And they came and besieged him in Abel of Bethmaachah, and they cast up a bank against the city, and it stood in the trench: and all the people that were with Joab battered the wall, to throw it down.

Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee.

And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab? And he answered, I am he. Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid. And he answered, I do hear.

Then she spake, saying, They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter.

I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the Lord?

And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.

The matter is not so: but a man of mount Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, hath lifted up his hand against the king, even against David: deliver him only, and I will depart from the city. And the woman said unto Joab, Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall.

Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. And he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king.
—2 Samuel 20:15-22 NKJV


Its site is occupied by the modern Abil or Abil-el-kamh, on rising ground to the east of the stream called Nahal Ayun (a.k.a. Ain ed Derdarah), which flows through the plain of Huleh into the Jordan, about 6 miles to the west-northwest of Dan.

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Article Version: March 19, 2021