The name Mahanaim is found 13 times in the Old Testament. The site is where Jacob and Laban met and made a covenant. Mahanaim seems to mean “two camps” (Genesis 32:2). This is where Jacob’s name was changed to Israel after he wrestled with a man (angel, Hosea 12:4). When morning came Israel crossed over Penuel (Genesis 32:31).
Two large tells face each other and the Jabbok River flows in an S-curve between them. The tells are now named Tall adh-Dhahab East and Tall adh-Dhahab West. These tells are located a few miles east of the Plains of the Jordan and Tell Deir Allah (likely the site of biblical Succoth). Some scholars identify Dhahab West as Mahanaim and Dhahab East as Penuel. Other scholars reverse the identifications.
When Transjordan was divided among the tribes, Mahanaim was located in the territory of Gad on the boundary with East Manasseh (Joshua 13:26, 30). It was one of the cities allotted to the Levites (Joshua 21:38; 1 Chronicles 6:80).
After the death of Saul, Abner made Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, king over all Israel from Mahanaim (2 Samuel 2:8, 12, 29).
When David fled from his rebellious son Absalom he fled across the Jordan to Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:24, 27; cf. 2 Kings 2:8). Absalom met his death in a nearby forest.
A Gileadite by the name of Barzillai took care of King David while he stayed at Mahanaim (2 Samuel 19:32). The city became one of Solomon’s administrative centers (1 Kings 4:14).
Song 6:13 describes gazing upon the Shulammite girl to be like looking on “the dance of the two camps” or “dance of two companies” (CSB, JPS, NAU, NKJ). Other translations use the expression “the dance of Mahanaim” (ASV, NIV, NJPS, TNIV) or “dance of the Mahanaim” (NET).
Recent excavations at Dhahab West, conducted by a German team, have revealed what they believe to be part of a monumental building of Herod the Great. They think this was the Hellenistic and Roman site described by Josephus as Amathus.
Our photo shows both tells. (Tall adh-Dhahab East is on the left. Tall adh-Dhahab West is on the right.) There is a pumping station on the Jabbok to provide agricultural irrigation. The Jabbok continues in the valley separating the two hills and tells.
Click on the photo for an image suitable for use in teaching presentations.
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If Mahanain is the westerly of the two cities, then Israel would have traveled eastward, from Mahanain, crossing over Penuel. Thank you for this thought provoking article.
Thanks, Carl. I think the view is south. David Padfield, whom you know, another friend and I were led here by a man from the antiquities department at Deir Allah (for a sizable tip!). The road is dirt, and with ruts, much of the way from Deir Allah.
You know that the waters of the Jabbok are caught in a reservoir (or lake) a few miles north east. At this point only the amount of water to be used for irrigation is allowed to flow.
Your question prompted me to think others might have interest in these things, too.
Nice image! Given your comments, is the view looking south?