Beth-Shemesh, Bethshemesh

See also Beth Shemesh

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.


Bibliography 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.).

2. 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.

Bibliography 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.


a. Identification. 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.

b. Excavation. 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.

c. 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.).


Bibliography 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.

4. 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.