A Day in Bet She’an

The ancient city of Bet She’an (Beit Shean, Beth Shean, Beth Shan, Bethshean, etc.) first appears in the Biblical narrative during the period of conquest, when the city was given to Manasseh as part of her territory. The tell is beautifully strategic, located at the junction of the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys and commanding a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside. However, Manasseh allowed this fortress city to slip through her fingers due to the iron chariots of the Canaanite inhabitants.

Bet She'an at the Junction of the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys

Bet She’an at the Junction of the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys, Taken from Gilboa

What Manasseh gave up, the Philistines were happy to take. In I Samuel 29, the Philistines gear up at Aphek for another row with the Israelites. This is where they rather irritably sent David, their supposed ally, away. The battle against Israel was brutal, and, in I Samuel 31, the royal family falls at Mt. Gilboa. In triumph, the Philistines hang the headless bodies of Saul, Jonathan, and the rest on the fortress walls at Beth Shan. The men of Jabesh Gilead recalled Saul’s kindness and removed the bodies in the night—a valiant deed, as they covered miles of open territory and scaled the side of a fortified and guarded city. David would go on to take Beth Shean and Solomon would place the city under the administration of Baana.

Israelite Fortress

Israelite Fortress at the Summit of Bet She’an

Time passed, and Beth Shean eventually came under the control of Alexander the Great, who settled his garrison of Scythians here, thus changing its name to Scythopolis. The city would later be caught in the crossfire between the Ptolemies and Seleucids, and Josephus gives the account that High Priest Jonathan was kidnapped there and later murdered—one of the events leading to the Maccabean Revolt. In 63 BC, Pompey gathered Beth Shean under his wings as a city of the Decapolis. It was beautified, with theaters, amphitheaters, a cardo, bathhouses, and a rather nice public toilet.

Scythopolis

At Look at Scythopolis from the Tell

Beth Shean was never really abandoned over the millennia, though the site of many a bloody conflict, even through the 21st century. Today, the tell can still be seen for miles around, just south of the Spring of Harod.

Bet She'an over Ancient Scythopolis

Bet She’an over Ancient Scythopolis

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One Response to “A Day in Bet She’an”

  1. vanbraman Says:

    Thanks for a great remembrance of our visit there last year. I am sure you saw much more on your return trip.

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