Bet Shean

The 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 in Jerusalem.

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.