Bet Shean valley is located 17 miles (27 km) south of the Sea of Galilee and
lies at the strategic junction of the Harod and Jordan Valleys. The
land is very fertile with an abundance water supply, thus it is not
surprising that the site has been almost continuously settled from the
Chalcolithic period (4th century BCE) up to modern times. The river now
forms the border between Israel and Jordan.
There are many Tel's or mounds in the valley, which
contain cities from the past lying buried within them. However, the most
important is the 80 metre ( 263 feet ) high tel of Beth-shean, which is one
of the oldest cities in Bible Lands. The remains of twenty layers of
settlement have been found going back more than three thousand years B.C.
The Israelites failed to conquer the city in Joshua's time, (Joshua 17:16
Judges 1:27) and the fortified town was still under Philistine control in
the time of Saul, the first king of Israel. When Saul and his sons were
slain in battle their bodies were hung on the walls of this city by the
victorious Philistines ( I Samuel 31.6-13).
Although not conquered, the city was allotted
to the tribe of Manasseh (Josh. 17:11) and finally becoming an entirely
Israelite city in the time of Solomon, being absorbed into his kingdom (I Kings 4:12. Beth Shean was the center of Egyptian rule
in the northern part of Canaan during the Late Bronze Period.
When the Greek empire
dominated the area the city was known as Scythopolis. Pliny, the Roman
author who lived in the first century A.D. mentions the city in his
writings. The city became one of the cities in the Roman
province of Decapolis which was visited by Jesus (Mark 7.31) and
continued to be
prosperous in the Roman and Byzantine periods until it was destroyed in 749
A.D. by an earthquake. Evidence of this earthquake includes dozens of
massive columns that toppled over in the same direction.
The main finds on the tell include a series
of temples from the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, monumental stelae with
inscriptions from the reigns of Seti I and Ramses II, a life-size statue of
Ramses III as well as many other Egyptian inscriptions
and a mosaic featuring the
portrait of a Zebra, an animal not found in Israel. Most of these artefacts
are now in the Rockefeller Museum
The modern Israeli city of Beit She'an, which
lies 120 metres below sea level was founded in 1949, a short time after the
establishment of the State of Israel.