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Beth Shemesh

BETH SHEMESH (bĕth' shē'mĕsh, Heb. bêth-shemesh, house of the sun). 1. A town of NW Judah near the Philistine border (Josh.15.10; 1Sam.6.12). It was a priests’ city given by Judah to the Levites (Josh.21.16; 1Chr.6.50). The Philistines had been plagued for their seizure of the ark of God. Anxious to be rid of it, they put the ark on a cart pulled by two milking cows and tied their calves at home (1Sam.6.1-1Sam.6.21). They expected the cows to return instinctively to their young, but if they left their young behind, this would be a sure sign of guidance by Israel’s God and of his influence on the Philistine’s misery. The animals left Ekron and headed for Beth Shemesh seven miles (twelve km.) away, not turning aside until they came to the field of Joshua the Beth Shemite, where the ark was received and a sacrifice made to the Lord. Here, too, many died for their irreverence toward the ark; but perhaps only 70 were killed instead of 50,070 (1Sam.6.19). The latter figure may be due to an error in later texts.

Beth Shemesh was in a commissary district of Solomon (1Kgs.4.9). It was here that Joash, king of Israel, encountered Amaziah, king of Judah, and took him prisoner (2Kgs.14.11-2Kgs.14.13; 2Chr.25.21-2Chr.25.23). Ir Shemesh (“city of the sun,” Josh.19.41) may be the same city. Today the name is preserved as Ain Shems, SE of Gezer. Beth Shemesh was excavated in a.d. 1911-12 and 1928-33. Six levels of occupation were found. The third level dates to the time of Saul and David (Iron 1, 1200-1000 b.c.). Implements of the late Canaanite and early Israelite period have been discovered here, such as pottery, weapons, and jewelry. Quantities of Philistine pottery indicate their domination of the Israelite population and also suggest a later Philistine occupancy (2Chr.28.18). Copper smelters and houses with underground cisterns were also found.

2. A city of Issachar (Josh.19.22).

3. A city of Naphtali (Josh.19.38; Judg.1.33), from which the Canaanites were not driven.

4. An idol city in Egypt (Jer.43.13), the Egyptian On, the Greek Heliopolis. That there were many cities of this name shows how widespread sun worship was in Egypt.——AMR

BETH-SHEMESH, BETHSHEMESH bĕth shĕm’-ĭsh (בֵּֽית־שֶׁ֖מֶשׁ; LXX has numerous variants, e.g. Βαιθσάμυς, Βεθσαμες, et al.; meaning: house, i.e. temple of the sun [-god]). Place name, apparently applied to towns where a shrine to the sun (-god) was consecrated in pre-Israelite times.

In upper Galilee.


W. F. Albright, “Some Archaeological and Topographical Results of a Trip through Palestine,” BASOR, No. 11 (1923), 12; id., “The Topography of the Tribe of Issachar,” ZAW, XLIV (1926), 233; A. Saarisalo, The Boundary between Issachar and Naphtali (1927), 120; F. M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine, vol. II (1938), 282; Y. Aharoni, The Settlement of the Israelite Tribes in Upper Galilee (1957), 74, 125-129 (Heb.).

In lower Galilee.

Another town by this name appears near the border of Issachar’s tribal territory (Josh 19:22). Of the various suggestions for its identification the most likely is Khirbet Sheikh esh-Shemsâwi (Khirbet Shamsîn) which would place Beth-shemesh on the northern side of Issachar’s district near the border with Naphthali. The commonly accepted suggestion puts Beth-shemesh at el-’Abeidîyeh (el-’Ubeidîyeh) but this latter site is a much more likely candidate for the Yano’am known from non-Biblical sources.


J. Garstang, Joshua-Judges (1931), 367; F. M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine, vol. II (1938), 282; Y. Aharoni, The Settlement of the Israelite Tribes in Upper Galilee (1957), 74-75 et passim (Heb.); Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible (1966), 133, 150, 200.

In Judah.


Eusebius reported that in his day there existed a town “ten miles from Eleutheropolis on the east between it and Nicopolis” (Onomasticon, ed. Klostermann, 54:12, 13; text restored according to E. Z. Melamed). By this he evidently meant that Beth-shemesh could be reached by taking the eastern road to Nicopolis (’Amwâs) instead of the main route which passed further to the W via Tell eṩ Sâfī.

The first to locate the ancient mound of Beth-shemesh was E. Robinson, who noted that the Biblical name was still preserved in the form ’Ain Shems, “the Well of the Sun,” attached to some village ruins where the Wâdī Sarâr (Sorek, q.v.) is joined by the Wâdī en-Najîl from the S and Wâdī el-Ghurâb from the N. Just W of ’Ain Shems is the large mound Tell er-Rumeileh which represents the site of the Biblical city.


The first archeological excavations on Tell er-Rumeileh were conducted by D. Mackenzie under the auspices of the Palestine Exploration Fund during 1911-1912. The site was reinvestigated by the Haverford College Expedition under the direction of E. Grant during the years 1928-1931 and 1933. The comprehensive report of these latter excavations was prepared by G. E. Wright. The resultant division of the finds according to strata distinguishes six levels of occupation:

Stratum VI—pottery remains of MB I and MB IIA found on bedrock.

Stratum V—MB IIB and C, “Hyksos” city 18th-16th centuries b.c.).

Stratum IV—LB, two phases (15th-14th and 14th-13th centuries b.c.).

Stratum III—Iron Age town with strong Philistine influence (12th-11th centuries b.c.).

Stratum IIa—Israelite administrative center (10th cent. b.c.)

Stratum IIb and c—Unfortified town during Judean monarchy, levels not carefully distinguished by the excavators.

Stratum I—The Byzantine monastery on the SE corner of the Tell; perhaps called Sampsō (John Moschus, Pratum Spirituale, ch. 170).

Discoveries from the Late Bronze Age were of special importance for the history of writing in Canaan. One small clay tablet was found bearing an enigmatic inscr. in cuneiform script like that used for writing the language of Ugarit (q.v.); the signs read from right to left as is the case with only a few of the Ugarit texts (where left to right is the rule). Certain peculiarities of the signs also correspond to the right to left texts from Ugarit. Another important inscr. is on a potsherd and represents the “proto-Canaanite” script. Typical small finds from the Iron Age included numerous royal stamped jar handles and one in particular bearing the inscr. “Belonging to Eliakim, the steward of Jehoichin”; two examples of this seal were found at Tell Beit Mirsim and one at Ramat Rahel.

Biblical history.

Beth-shemesh served as a landmark on the northern boundary of Judah (Josh 15:10), but under the name Ir-shemesh its territory was apparently assigned to Dan (Josh 19:41). However, the Danites were pushed back into the hills by the Amorites and were thus unable to occupy the region of Mount Heres (Judg 1:35), which is prob. an allusion to Beth-shemesh (cf. supra). The town itself was given to the descendants of Aaron (Josh 21:16; 1 Chron 6:59).

When the Ark of the Covenant (q.v.) was returned to Israel by the Philistines, it was brought via the Sorek Valley to Beth-shemesh (1 Sam 6 passim). There its reception was accompanied by rejoicing and sacrifices, but afterward some of the citizens were smitten for looking into the Ark (1 Sam 6:19-21). As a consequence, the Ark was transferred to Kiriath-jearim (q.v.).


E. Robinson, Biblical Researches (1841), III, 17-19; C. Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine, vol. II (1899), 209, 210, 218; S. A. Cook, “The Proposed Excavation of Beth-shemesh. Notes on the Site and its Environs,” PEF.QSt (1910), 220-231; D. Mac-Kenzie, “Excavations at Ain Shems, 1911,” APEF, I (1911), 41-94; “Excavations at Ain Shems (Beth-shemesh),” APEF, II (1912-1913); E. Grant, “Beth Shemesh, 1928,” AASOR IX (1928), 1-15; W. F. Albright, “Progress in Palestinian Archeology during the Year 1928,” BASOR, No. 33 (1929), 5, 6; G. A. Barton, “Notes on the Ain Shems Tablet,” BASOR, No. 52 (1933), 5, 6; E. Grant, Ain Shems Excavations, I-III (1931-1934); S. Yeivin, “The Palestino-Sinaitic Inscriptions,” PEQ (1937), 187-192; E. Grant and G. E. Wright, Ain Shems Excavations, IV-V (1938-1939); F. M. Cross and G. E. Wright, “The Boundary and Province Lists of the Kingdom of Judah,” JBL LXXV (1956), 202-226; Y. Aharoni, and R. Amiran, “A New Scheme for the Sub-division of the Iron Age in Palestine,” IEJ VIII (1958), 182; W. F. Albright, “The Beth-shemesh Tablet in Alphabetic Cuneiform,” BASOR, No. 173 (1964), 51-53; H. Tadmor, “Philistia under Assyrian Rule,” BA, XXIX (1966), 88; Y. Aharoni, The Land of the Bible (1967), 151, 162, 251, 286, 287, 298, 299.

In the Land of Egypt.

Jeremiah (43:13) speaks of breaking the pillars of Beth-shemesh (or house of the sun god) in Egypt. The LXX identifies it with Heliopolis (On, q.v.). Perhaps Isaiah 19:18 is a reference to the same place.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

beth-she’-mesh, beth’-shemesh (beth-shemesh; Baithsamus, "house of the sun"): This name for a place doubtless arose in every instance from the presence of a sanctuary of the sun there. In accordance with the meaning and origin of the word, it is quite to be expected that there should be several places of this name in Bible lands, and the expectation is not disappointed. Analysis and comparison of the passages in the Bible where a Beth-shemesh is mentioned show four places of this name.

1. Beth-shemesh of Judah:

The first mention of a place by this name is in the description of the border of the territory of Judah (Jos 15:10) which "went down to Beth-Shemesh." This topographical indication "down" puts the place toward the lowlands on the East or West side of Palestine, but does not indicate which. This point is clearly determined by the account of the return of the ark by the Philistine lords from Ekron (1Sa 6:9-19). They returned the ark to Beth-shemesh, the location of which they indicated by the remark that if their affliction was from Yahweh, the kine would bear the ark "by the way of its own border." The Philistines lay along the western border of Judah and the location of Beth-Shemesh of Judah is thus clearly fixed near the western lowland, close to the border between the territory of Judah and that claimed by the Philistines. This is confirmed by the account of the twelve officers of the commissariat of King Solomon. One of these, the son of Dekar, had a Beth-shemesh in his territory. By excluding the territory assigned to the other eleven officers, the territory of this son of Dekar is found to be in Judah and to lie along the Philistine border (1Ki 4:9). A Philistine attack upon the border- land of Judah testifies to the same effect (2Ch 28:18). Finally, the battle between Amaziah of Judah and Jehoash of Israel, who "looked one another in the face" at Beth-shemesh, puts Beth-Shemesh most probably near the border between Judah and Israel, which would locate it near the northern part of the western border of Judah’s territo ry. In the assignment of cities to the Levites, Judah gave Beth-shemesh with its suburbs (Jos 21:16). It has been identified with a good degree of certainty with the modern `Ain Shems.

It may be that Ir-shemesh, "city of the sun," and Har-cherec, "mount of the sun," refer to Beth-shemesh of Judah (Jos 15:10; 19:41-43; 1Ki 4:9; Jud 1:33,35). But the worship of the sun was so common and cities of this name so many in number that it would be hazardous to conclude with any assurance that because these three names refer to the same region they therefore refer to the same place.

2. Beth-shemesh of Issachar:

In the description of the tribal limits, it is said of Issachar (Jos 19:22), "And the border reached to Tabor, and Shahazumah, and Beth-shemesh; and the goings out of their border were at the Jordan." The description indicates that Beth- shemesh was in the eastern part of Issachar’s territory. The exact location of the city is not known.

3. Beth-shemesh of Naphtali:

A Beth-shemesh is mentioned together with Beth-anath as cities of Naphtali (Jos 19:38). There is no clear indication of the location of this city. Its association with Beth-anath may indicate that they were near each other in the central part of the tribal allotment. As at Gezer, another of the cities of the Levites the Canaanites were not driven out from Beth- shemesh.

4. Beth-shemesh "that is in the Land of Egypt":

A doom is pronounced upon "Beth-shemesh, that is in the land of Egypt" (Jer 43:13). The Seventy identify it with Heliopolis. There is some uncertainty about this identification. If Beth-shemesh, "house of the sun," is here a description of Heliopolis, why does it not have the article? If it is a proper name, how does it come that a sanctuary in Egypt is called by a Hebrew name? It may be that the large number of Jews in Egypt with Jeremiah gave this Hebrew name to Heliopolis for use among themselves, Beth-shemesh. being a translation of Egyptian Perra as suggested by Griffith. Otherwise, Beth- shemesh. cannot have been Heliopolis, but must have been some other, at present unknown, place of Semitic worship. This latter view seems to be favored by Jeremiah’s double threat: "He shall also break the pillars of Beth-shemesh, that is in the land of Egypt; and the houses of the gods of Egypt shall he burn with fire" (save place). If Beth-shemesh were the "house of the sun," then the balancing of the state ment would be only between "pillars" and "houses," but it seems more naturally to be between Beth-shemesh, a Semitic place of worship "that is in the land of Egypt" on the one hand, and the Egyptian place of worship, "the houses of the gods of Egypt," on the other.

But the Seventy lived in Egypt and in their interpretation of this passage were probably guided by accurate knowledge of facts unknown now, such as surviving names, tradition and even written history. Until there is further light on the subject, it is better to accept their interpretation and identify this Beth-shemesh with Heliopolis.

See On.