Daily Archives: March 6, 2013

The theater at Beth-shean — a show of history

Beth-shean is mentioned only a few times in the Old Testament. The English Standard Version uses both Beth-shan and Beth-shean for this town. Other English versions use a variety of spellings including Bethshan.

During one of my recent trips to Beth-shean I sat in the Roman theater and thought about the show of history that passed before my eyes. In the distance was the ancient tell, called Tell el-Husn or Tel Beth She’an, from which one has an impressive view of the area. Occupational levels date back at least to 3000 B.C. Artifacts from Canaan, Egypt, Anatolia, north Syria, and Mesopotamia have been uncovered from the mound.

For many Bible students the first event that comes to mind is the defeat of King Saul at the hands of the Philistines. After his death on nearby Mount Gilboa, Saul’s body was taken to Beth-shean and fastened to the wall of the city (1 Samuel 31).

View of Bethshan from the Roman theater. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

View of Tel Beth-Shean from the Roman theater. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

During the Greek period the city was named Scythopolis (city of the Scythians) and expanded to the foot of the tell.

In 63 B.C. the Romans, under the general Pompey, made the city part of the Decapolis (a league of ten cities; Matthew 4:25; Mark 5:20; 7:21). This was the only city of the Decapolis west of the Jordan River. The city was populated by gentiles, Jews and Samaritans.

The city grew to its largest size during the Byzantine period as a “Christian” city. It came under Muslim control in A.D. 636, and was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 749.

The destroyed Byzantine city lies between the theater and the mound. That’s a lot of history in one small place.