Glimpses - Beit Shean, The Ancient

In the fertile Beit Shean Valley, located 30kms south-east of Tiberias, lies the ancient city of Beit Shean. Strategically situated at a major crossroad, where the road north from Jerusalem met the roads from the northern coastal towns (travelling east), with those from beyond the Jordan (travelling west), Beit Shean was the hub of an ancient trade route.

The city is a part of the inheritance of the tribe of Manasseh, allotted in the days of Joshua. However, during that time, Israel allowed the inhabitants to remain "... for the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land". (Judges 1:27)

In the days of King Saul, Israel's first king, Beit Shean was controlled by the Philistines. And it was on the walls of the city that the bodies of King Saul and his sons were impaled following their deaths in a decisive battle with the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:10).

Beit Shean was a significant regional centre, during the days of King Solomon. (1 Kings 4:7-10).

Over the centuries, during the Exile, Gentile invaders destroyed, rebuilt, expanded and finally deserted the city.

In recent times, following the return of the Jewish people, the ancient city has been revived. Meanwhile, extensive excavations have enabled archaeologists to uncover treasures revealing a rich history of continuous civilizations dating back to the days of the Patriarchs.

Today, some of these treasures are on display. Visitors can sit in the huge 7,000 seat amphitheatre from Roman times, or walk the restored Palladius Street lined with columns and paved with original massive stones, or tour the large bath-houses. And then at night a spectacular light and sound show is an experience that brings the entire ancient city to life.

Mark Warren