(behth-sshee' uhn) Place name meaning, “house of quiet.” Beth-shean stood at the crossroad of the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys, commanding the routes north-south along the Jordan and east-west from Gilead to the Mediterranean Sea. Tell el-Husn, site of ancient Beth-shean, stands above the perennial stream of Harod, the city's primary water supply, giving the city a commanding view of the two valleys.
Excavation of tell el-Husn and its surroundings were carried on by the University of Pennsylvania in several campaigns from 1921 to 1933. Settlements at Beth-shean were found to date back to the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods. The city became an important Canaanite site in the Early and Middle Bronze Ages (3300-1500 B.C.), but came under the domination of Egypt's 18th dynasty in the Late Bronze Age. The name Beth-shean (or -shan) is mentioned in the Egyptian texts of Thutmose III (1468 B.C.), the Amarna letters (1350 B.C.), Seti I (1300 B.C.), Ramses II (1280 B.C.) and Shishak (925 B.C.). Excavations have confirmed the Egyptian role in the life of Beth-shean in these periods (for example, through the discovery of scarabs and a cartouche bearing the name Thutmose III).
Biblical references to Beth-shean relate to the period from Joshua until the United Monarchy. The city is listed among the allocations of the tribe of Manasseh, though the city was within the territory of Issachar (Joshua 17:6). Yet Manasseh was unable to control Beth-shean until the Canaanites were subdued in the reign of David (Joshua 17:16;
Judges 1:27). After the defeat of Saul and the Israelite army by the Philistines (ca. 1006 B.C.), the bodies of Saul and his sons were hung on the walls of Beth-shean, where a temple to the Ashtaroth was located. Some valiant men from Jabesh-gilead rescued the bodies from this sacrilege and disposed of them in Jabesh (1 Samuel 31:1). Later the bodies were brought by David's men in Benjamin (2 Samuel 21:12-14). The city is listed among those under the administration of Baana (fifth district) during Solomon's reign (1 Kings 4:12). Though the city is not specifically mentioned in the
1 Kings 14:25-28 account of the invasion of Shishak from Egypt, Beth-shean is listed among the cities plundered. Afterward, the city played little role in Israelite history, though the city was occupied by Israelites of the Northern Kingdom from 815-721 B.C.
The city remained abandoned for the most part until the Hellenistic period (third century B.C.), when it was rebuilt and renamed Scythopolis (“city of Scythians”). This city formed the foundation of a significant Hellenistic and Roman occupation that included temples, theater, amphitheater, colonnaded street, hippodrome, tombs, and many public buildings, which had spread to the northern, eastern, and southern quadrants around the earlier “tell.” Scythopolis was the largest city of the Decapolis (Matthew 4:25;
Mark 5:20), and the only city of the league west of the Jordan River. The city continued to flourish in the Byzantine period until it was destroyed by Arabs in A.D. 636. The modern village of Beisan preserves the ancient name of the city.