Beit She’an (spelled also “Beth Shean”) is a city with long and rich history, nestling in an area known for its springs. It is also located on the junction on imortant roads, connecting the Jezreeel valley with the Decapolis, and on the intersection of the roads along the Jordan valley.
History of Beit-She’an
Inhabited since Neolithic times, Beit She’an in mentioned in the battles of Saul vs. the Philistines, and again in the New Testament as a member of the Decapolis. The city was destroyed in a devastating earth quake in 749 CE, and later settled only in parts of the city. The modern city of Beit-She’an is spread around the ruins of the ancient site.
Beit-She’an was excavated by several archaeologcal expeditions, mostly in the 1990’s. Today the site is a national park.
The ruins of Biblical Beth-shean are on top of a prominent tell overlooking the Greek and Roman ruins. In the Roman city archaeologists have uncovered a large theatre seating 5,000 and nearby a Byzantine bath-house covering 1.5 acres.
The colonnaded Byzantine street, paved with black basalt slabs, runs from the theatre to the base of the tell. The street was lined with shops and flanked by 6m wide footpaths. Temples stood at the end of the street, and close by a nymphaeum and a Basilica were constructed. South of the city center the Romans built a Hippodrome, later transformed to an oval amphitheater for gladiatorial and hunting contests.
Today the exposed impressive remains of the city are a popular tourist destination.
Beit-She’an and The Decapolis
Decapolis is a term used to describe a group of supposedly ten cities in the southern Levant that co-existed during the Roman period. These cities were all centers of Greek and Roman culture and supported by the Romans. Some of these cities exist to this day, and some have become archaeological sites. Six of these cities are today in Jordan (Gerasa, Gadara, Pella, Amman, Capitolias, and Raphana). Two are in Syria (Damascus and Canatha), and two in Israel (Beit-Shean and Hippos-Sussita). Non
The Decapolis and Jesus
The Gospels record Jesus visiting the cities of the Decapolis, but none of them mention which ones. Jesus probably visited Beit-Shean (then called Nysa Scythopolis), as it is on the way from the Galilee to Jerusalem.
Gadara is mentioned in Matthew’s version of the story of the miracle of the Swine (8:28), while Gerasa is mentioned Mark’s version to the same story (5:1). In reality, the city of Hippos-Sussita is the closest to the Sea of Galilee, where the event took place. Being so, the swine herders were probably from Hippos-Sussita, or another city (Kursi?) whose name was later forgotten.
Damascus is mentioned in the book of acts, as where Paul converted to Christianity.
Things To Do in the Area
If staying in the area for the night, it is also recommended to book the audio visual night show at Beit-Shean, called Leylot Shean.
Near Beit-She’an are several points of interest. 10 km north of the site is one of the biggest forts from the time of the Crusdares, Belvoir. It had an eye connection with Beit-She’an and guarded the Jordan valley. 5 km west of Beit-She’an is Beth-Alpha. In 1928 a mosaic floor with mysterious symbols were found at the site, which was a jewish village. Near Beth-Alpha is the national park of Sachne, a great retreat for a swim, or along its stream at Nahal Hakibutzim. Christians will also find the site of Aenon near Salim interesting. It is a less familiar site where John the Baptist used to operate.