Beth Shean PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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Beth Shean
Large portions of the First Testament become comprehensible when we stand on the tell of Beth Shean, within the  modern Israeli city of that name, and look around. In addition, an immense Roman city is being unearthed below, bringing home to us what it signified, physically, when Rome appeared in the land.

What made Beth Shean important? First, its geography. As a result of faulting, the Jezreel Valley - here in the form of the Harod River - branches off to the west from the Jordan. In this area the Jordan has several good fords. (At the time of the First Testament there were no bridges in the land.) One could come down off the King's Highway - say, via Pella - ford the Jordan, and then make a gentle ascent to Beth Shean and thence to Megiddo, there joining the Great Trunk Road to Egypt. Thus the way through Beth Shean was the best road linking the two international routes.

We may put the matter as follows: Whoever controlled the Great Trunk Road and the King's Highway held the land in a pincers. But a pincers requires a screw to join the two pieces. That screw was Beth Shean.


In addition, the city had abundant water. Two streams flowed on either side of the mound, although today there is only one, the Harod. The soil was extremely good. In the Byzantine period Scythopolis became famous for its linen, which it manufactured from the flax it grew in the Jezreel Valley.

Several indicators show that the ancients appreciated Beth Shean's strategic importance:

1. In the mid-second millennium BC, it became the chief Egyptian military base in the area, as indicated by numerous Egyptian finds on the tell, more than anywhere outside Egypt.

2. Under its Greek name, Scythopolis, it was - according to Josephus (War: 3, 446) - the biggest city in the  It was the only Decapolis city west of the Jordan, providing a key link between Caesarea Maritima and the rest of the league.

3. On again organizing the land in 400 AD, the Byzantines made Scythopolis the capital of Palaestina Secunda. Caesarea Maritima became the capital of Palaestina Prima, Petra (though some say Bostra or Elusa) of Palaestina Tertia

Very roughly speaking, two times are represented here: that of the First Testament and that of the Roman-Byzantine period. The usual way of visiting the site brings us first to the Roman-Byzantine city, and we shall follow that order here, moviing back in time to the First Testament and the story of Saul.


If you want to view this material on a live tour guided by Dr. Steve Langfur, please start here .