(behth-sshee' mehssh) Place name meaning, “house of the sun.” Beth-shemesh is a name applied to four different cities in the Old Testament. The name probably derives from a place where the Semitic god Shemesh (Shamash) was worshiped. 1. Beth-shemesh of Issachar was situated on the tribal border with Naphtali between Mt. Tabor and the Jordan River (Joshua 19:22). Present scholarship identifies the city with either el-Abeidiyeh, two miles south of Galilee, or khirbet Shemsin, east of Tabor. 2. Beth-shemesh of Naphtali was probably located in central upper Galilee because of its association with Beth-anath (Joshua 19:38;
Judges 1:33). This Canaanite town remained independent and unconquered until the time of David. The site khirbet er-Ruweisi has been suggested as a possible location. 3. Beth-shemesh of Egypt is to be identified with Heliopolis (five miles northeast of Cairo) according to the Septuagint or early Greek translation (Jeremiah 43:13). Jeremiah told of the Lord's judgment upon the gods of Egypt by depicting the destruction of the worship centers. 4. Beth-shemesh of Dan is located on the south tribal border with Judah (Joshua 15:10;
Joshua 19:41) overlooking the Sorek Valley about 24 miles west of Jerusalem. The ancient name was preserved in the Arab village of Ain Shems, and the “tell” is identified with tell er-Rumeilah. Beth-shemesh guarded the lush farmlands of the Sorek Valley at the point at which the Shephelah (foothills) borders the Judean hill country. It was also situated in the strategic “buffer zone” between the Philistines and the Israelites during the judges period.
The Danite tribe was unable to control the lands of its inheritance because of the Amorites (Judges 1:34-35) and/or the Philistines. Some were forced into the hills near Zorah and Eshtaol (as was Samson's family,
Judges 13:1-2). Beth-shemesh was apparently controlled by Israel (ca. 1050 B.C.) when the ark of the covenant passed through the city upon returning from the Philistines (1 Samuel 6:13). Around 795 B.C., the city was the scene of a battle in which Jehoash of Israel was victorious over Amaziah of Judah, resulting in the pillaging of the Temple (2 Kings 14:11-14;
2 Chronicles 25:21-24). Beth-shemesh is last mentioned in Scripture during the decadent reign of Ahaz. The Philistines captured Beth-shemesh from Judah (ca. 734), seen as judgment from God (2 Chronicles 28:18-19).
Beth-shemesh was excavated by D. Mackenzie in 1911-1912 and Haverford College in 1928-31,1933. The city was first settled about 2200 B.C. by a relatively small group. The city achieved importance after being conquered and rebuilt by the Hyksos about 1720 B.C. A huge city wall, three defensive towers, and several tombs were uncovered. The Hyksos city was captured by the Egyptians of the Eighteenth Dynasty about 1550 B.C. Beth-shemesh flourished in the Late Bronze Age under Egyptian and Canaanite rule, evidenced by imported wares from Mycenae and Egypt, as well as quality Canaanite finds, including inscriptions. Iron Age I (Judges) finds show that Beth-shemesh was heavily influenced by the Philistines, but the city was in general decline. After David defeated the Philistines, the city was rebuilt. Excavations indicate the Israelite city had olive oil, wine, copper, fabric dyeing, and wheat production industries. After Beth-shemesh was destroyed by the Babylonians (588-587 B.C.) under Nebuchadrezzar, the city was largely unoccupied, except for remnants of the Roman/Byzantine city at Ain Shems (monastery on the corner of the tell).