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Beth Shan

BETH SHAN, BETH SHEAN (bĕth' shăn, bĕth' shē'ăn, Heb. bêth shan, bêth sheān, house of quiet). A town of Manasseh in the territory of Issachar. The people of Israel were not able to drive the Canaanites out of this town (Josh.17.11-Josh.17.12; Judg.1.27). It lay fourteen miles (twenty-three km.) south of the Sea of Galilee, overlooking the Plain of Esdraelon in the Valley of Jezreel. After Saul died on Mount Gilboa, the Philistines fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shan and put his armor in the temple of the Ashtoreths as trophies of their victory (1Sam.31.8-1Sam.31.12). Later the men of Jabesh Gilead stole the bones of Saul and his sons from the street of Beth Shan, but David recovered them and gave them a proper burial (2Sam.21.12-2Sam.21.14).

Today the site of the city is a mound, called Tell el-Husn (“Mound of the Fortress”), located near the Arab village of Beisan (note the similarity to Beth Shan). Excavations by the University of Pennsylvania, a.d. 1921-33, have yielded rich finds, dating the history of the city from 3500 b.c. to the Christian era. A stratification of eighteen levels of debris and ruined houses can be seen as evidence of repeated destructions and eras of rebuilding. Because of its commanding location, it was fortified with double walls and was a strong Egyptian outpost from the fifteenth to the twelfth centuries. Temples and monument inscriptions by three pharaohs were discovered and date back to this time. The excavators have shown that Beth Shan was destroyed between 1050 and 1000, the approximate time of King David, who may have destroyed it. Four Canaanite temples were unearthed at the site, one of which has been identified with the “temple of the Ashtoreths” (1Sam.31.10), and another with the temple of Dagon where the Philistines fastened Saul’s head (1Chr.10.10). In Solomon’s reign Beth Shan was included in one of his commissary districts (1Kgs.4.12).

A Roman theater, erected about a.d. 200, still stands, and the remains of a synagogue from the fourth century have been found.——AMR

Roman part of Bethsan, seen from the tell of the Old Testament city.
Bethshan from the air, looking at the hippodrome.

BETH-SHEAN bĕth she’ ən (בֵּית־שְׁאָ֣ן, place of quiet); BETH-SHAN (בֵּ֥ית שָֽׁן). A city and important stronghold in the valley of Jalud, near the junction of the Valley of Jezreel with the Jordan Valley.

Only a few perennial streams join the Jordan on its W bank, and the most important is the Jalud. Hence this valley was densely settled in the Canaanite and Israelite periods, though the principal city was at Rehob, not mentioned in the Bible, and five m. S of Bethshean. The valley of Jezreel is a minor rift valley leading into the broader Plain of Esdraelon and the Mediterranean coast. The huge pyramid of Tell el-Ḥuṩn, site of ancient Bethshean, is located at a step in the narrow Jezreel trough, in a nodal position of great military importance. It commanded thus the routes S along the Jordan, N to Syria by way of the Sea of Galilee and W to the coast of the Mediterranean. It is situated at c. 350 ft. below sea level, but Tell el-Husn commands a wide prospect on a promontory between Jalud Valley to the N, and a converging valley to the SE, high above the Jordan.


Publications of the Pal. section of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania (1930-40); I. A. Rowe, The Topography and History of Beth-shan (1930); G. M. Fitzgerald, Beth-shan Excavations 1921-23, Arab and Byzantine Levels (1931); G. M. Fitzgerald, Beth-shan, Sixth Century Monastery (1939); A. Rowe, Bethshan, Four Canaanite Temples (1940); See also, D. Winton Thomas (ed.), Archaeology and Old Testament Study (1967), article by G. M. Fitzgerald, “Beth-shan,” 185-196.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

beth-she’-an, beth’-shan (beth-shan, or [beth-she’an]; in Apocrypha Baithsan or Bethsa): A city in the territory of Issachar assigned to Manasseh, out of which the Canaanites were not driven (Jos 17:11; Jud 1:27); in the days of Israel’s strength they were put to taskwork (Jud 1:28). They doubtless were in league with the Philistines who after Israel’s defeat on Gilboa exposed the bodies of Saul and his sons on the wall of the city (1Sa 31:7 ff), whence they were rescued by the men of Jabesh , who remembered the earlier kindness of the king (1Sa 31:7 ff; 2Sa 21:12). In 1Ki 4:12 the name applies to the district in which the city stands. It was called Scythopolis by the Greeks. This may be connected with the invasion of Palestine by the Scythians who, according to George Syncellus, "overran Palestine and took possession of Beisan." This may be the invasion noticed by Herodotus, circa 600 BC (i.104-6). Here Tryphon failed in his first attempt to take Jonathan by treachery (1 Macc 12:40). It fell to John Hyrcanus, but was taken from the Jews by Pompey. It was rebuilt by Gabinius (Ant., XIV, v, 3), and became an important member of the league of the "ten cities" (BJ, III, ix, 7). The impiousness of the inhabitants is painted in dark colors by Josephus (Vita, 6; BJ, II, xviii, 3); and the Mishna speaks of it as a center of idol worship (`Abhodhah Zarah, i.4). Later it was the seat of a bishop.

It is represented by the modern Beisan, in the throat of the Vale of Jezreel where it falls into the Jordan valley, on the southern side of the stream from `Ain Jalud. The ruins of the ancient city are found on the plain, and on the great mound where probably stood the citadel. Between the town and the stretch of marsh land to the South runs the old road from East to West up the Vale of Jezreel, uniting in Esdraelon with the great caravan road from North to South.

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