Glimpses of Israel - Beit Shean

Beit Shean is about thirty kilometres south of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, and it is in a very strategic position. It is situated on one of history's most important trade routes, from Egypt to Mesopotamia via the Via Maris (Way of the Sea), and has been a major marketplace on the key routes up and down the Jordan Valley.

Megiddo and Beit Shean are at either end of the Jezreel Valley on these major trade routes, and they were both highly fortified towns. Beit Shean guarded the trade route between Chaldea and Canaan, so Abraham probably passed by Beit Shean as he journeyed through Shechem to Mamre.

Beit Shean was called Scythopolis in New Testament times, and it was one of the towns of the Decapolis. At its peak its population was about one hundred thousand, and its massive ruins, mostly from Roman times, bespeak a prosperous city of great worth and influence.

It has the best preserved Roman theatre in Israel, indeed in the world, and it has been the centre of archaeological digs over many years, and that doesn't take into account the tel that overlooks the scene of already excavated remains of the Canaanites, Philistines, Israelites, Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Crusaders.

The tel has about eighteen levels of civilizations. It sits, a green hill high above the theatre (once again the venue for outdoor concerts), the mosaic floors, the gymnasium complete with massage parlours, saunas and artificially heated pools, all from antiquity, as well as the massive granite stone slabs imported from Greece and Turkey, and the marble pillars from Egypt.

Perhaps what Beit Shean is most famous for is the event recorded in First Samuel 31:4-10 when the Philistines, having defeated Saul and his army, then proceeded to humiliate Israel. "They cut off Saul's head, and stripped off his armour . . . put his armour in the temple of Ashtoreth, and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth Shean."