On day five of my trip to Israel we visited the ruins of a city know as Beit She’an or Beth Shean or Scythopolis. Beit Shean is located about 17 miles south of the Sea of Galilee. I was fascinated by the history and the beauty of the excavations at Beth Shean which dated back to Roman-Byzantine times (and some are older).
Beth Shean has an extensive history because it is a place that was occupied throughout the centuries by different people. Because of the attractive location and the fertility of the land it was rebuilt and renamed by the Romans, Scythopolis (The city of the Scythians) around 63 BC.
Colossians 3:11 (King James Version)
11Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
The Romans may have been cruel conquers but to their credit they were masterful builders. Some of the sites we visited are still standing in spite of earthquakes and the passing of 1700-1800 years! We saw an arch constructed out of cut stone fitly joined together and held in place not by mortar but by pressure. The arch has withstood the test of time and remains as sound today as it was when built!
On the top of the hill stand the remains of the ancient city, sometime during antiquity the people moved down from the mountain into the valley and settled there. Our guide said that it is thought that the movement happened around the time of Alexander the Great.
The city today is partly original, reconstructed and restored structures. There is the theater which boasts of seating for approximately 7500 people. The theater has private boxes for the wealthy, built as echo traps as well as private seating. Each box had its own private entrance. While the theater was a central part of the society so was the shopping in the market place along the Cardo Maximus, the main artery or heart of the city (today we would say “Main Street”). There are remains of the temple to Tyche, the goddess of fortune/plenty, the Roman baths and shops. Beautiful mosaics on the floor of Tyche holding the horn of plenty.
Beth Shean was previously settled by the Egyptians, Canaanites and Romans among others. The biblical accounts are:
The settling of the Tribes of Manasseh:
- Joshua 17:11-13 (King James Version)
And Manasseh had in Issachar and in Asher Bethshean and her towns, and Ibleam and her towns, and the inhabitants of Dor and her towns, and the inhabitants of Endor and her towns, and the inhabitants of Taanach and her towns, and the inhabitants of Megiddo and her towns, even three countries.
Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities; but the Canaanites would dwell in that land.
Yet it came to pass, when the children of Israel were waxen strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute, but did not utterly drive them out.
- 1 Chronicles 7:29 (King James Version)
And by the borders of the children of Manasseh, Bethshean and her towns, Taanach and her towns, Megiddo and her towns, Dor and her towns. In these dwelt the children of Joseph the son of Israel.
The death of King Saul and his sons:
- Joshua 17:16 (King James Version)
And the children of Joseph said, The hill is not enough for us: and all the Canaanites that dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron, both they who are of Bethshean and her towns, and they who are of the valley of Jezreel.
- 1 Samuel 31:10 (King James Version)
And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth: and they fastened his body to the wall of Bethshan.
- 2 Samuel 21:12-13 (King James Version)
And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabeshgilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa:
And he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged.
There was a lot to see in Beth Shean! We had a wonderful time in this Roman-Byzantine city!
To see more photos from Beth Shean visit my Flickr page!