Bethel is mentioned several times in Genesis. It is first mentioned in Genesis 12, but the best-known instance is probably Genesis 28, when Jacob, fleeing from the wrath of his brother Esau, falls asleep on a stone and dreams of a ladder stretching between Heaven and Earth and thronged with angels; Yahweh stands at the top of the ladder, and promises Jacob the land of Canaan; when Jacob awakes he anoints the stone (baetylus) with oil and names the place Bethel. Another account, from Genesis 35 repeats the covenant with God and the naming of the place (as El-Bethel), and makes this the site of Jacob's own change of name to Israel. Both versions state that the original name of the place was Luz, a Canaanite name. The same makes true for Luz in the country of the Hettites (i.e. Luhuzati - Lawazantia) called by the earlier name of Beth-El named in the Karum documents.
Bethel was an important cult-centre for the northern Kingdom of Israel following the break-up of the united kingdom of David and Solomon. The Second Book of Kings describes how Jeroboam, first king of Israel, set up centres for his Golden Calf cult at Bethel on the southern boundary of his kingdom and Dan on the northern boundary, and appointed non-Levites as his priests. Jeroboam's decision to pass over the Mushite priests of Shiloh, the original cult-centre for Israel, deeply offended the Shiloh priesthood and seems to lie behind much of the animosity directed at Jeroboam and the golden calf, which probably emanated from the Mushite priestly clan.
Bethel escaped destruction during the Assyrian conquest of Israel (721 BC), but was occupied by king Josiah of Judah (c.640-609 BC), who, according to the book of Kings, destroyed the ancient Israelite cult centre. The site of this centre has not been located by modern archaeologists.