“So Jacob called the place Penuel, saying ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
— Genesis 32:30
Penuel (modern-day Pella) and Mahanaim, in the northern Jordan Valley where Jacob stopped during his flight from Mesopotamia to Canaan, have traditionally been identified with two sites – Telul ed-Dahab al-Gharbi and Telul ed-Dahab al-Sharqi (the eastern and western hills of gold).
Jacob had reconciled with his uncle, Laban, who had caught up with him at Mizpah in Gilead, but he still feared his brother Esau, whose birthright he had stolen. When Jacob camped at Mahanaim on his way to meet Esau, he was greeted by the angels of God who came to protect him. Nevertheless, a frightened Jacob made the first prayer in the Bible that asks God for personal protection.
Penuel (the face of God) was so named by Jacob after he wrestled there all night with God in the form of a man or angel (Genesis 32:24-30). After Jacob’s struggle with the angel of God, his name was changed to Israel (he who struggles with God). He went on to reconcile with Esau and continued with his family to Canaan to later emerge as the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Esau remained in southern Jordan, where the Bible describes him as the father of the Edomites in the land of Seir (also called Edom).
A massive Bronze and Iron Age temple recently discovered at Pella, is one of the best preserved temples from Old Testament times anywhere in the Holy Land. The discovery strongly indicates that Pella is the site of ancient Penuel.