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Beth Shan, Beth Shean

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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

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