Beit Shean’s Ancient Past
Noted in the Bible as a Canaanite city, the city of Beit Shean is thought to have been part of the ancient Egyptian empire of Thutmose III. Jews came to Beit Shean after King David conquered the area.
For those visiting Israel on a Jewish heritage tour, focus on the city's role in the famous Hasmonean Maccabean Revolt of the second century against the Hellenistic emperor, Antiochus the Fourth. Following a set of restrictions issued by Antiochus forbidding Jewish religious practice within the Hellenistic kingdom, the Jewish liberation movement, known as the Maccabees, set out to combat the Hellenists and win back religious freedom in the formerly Jewish towns. Their victory over the Hellenists in Beit Shean established them as a force to be reckoned with in the region.
The fourth century brought Byzantine rule to Beit Shean, making it into a predominantly Christian city. The city's Jewish population remained small, but well established during this period as well as during the later Muslim, Mameluk and Ottoman periods, when it lost its regional importance and was home to a mostly impoverished population with very few Jews remaining.
Beit Shean’s Excavations
The rich variety of archeological excavations found in and around the city of Beit Shean represent centuries of diversity, from different cultures and peoples. Visit Tel Beit Shean, the national park located just outside the city limits for a breathtaking view of history; fifteen layers of different cities.
Tel Beit Shean houses some of Israel's most important archeological finds, with some of the best-preserved pieces dating back to the Bronze Age. Since excavations got underway in the late 1980s, tourist interest in Beit Shean has grown steadily. Today’s visitors can view the Roman amphitheater, a Byzantine-styled street fully equipped with period columns, several Roman bathhouses, a Byzantine basilica, a Roman temple and numerous mosaics.
Nearby Mount Gilboa
Just 15 miles from Beit Shean rests the incline of Mount Gilboa, with both historical and practical significance to Beit Shean. Mount Gilboa provided the ancient inhabitants of Beit Shean with an ample and durable rock supply with which to build their homes, event halls and fortifications. It was from the same rocky walls of Beit Shean that the Philistines hanged the bodies of King Saul and his sons after defeating them in the battle on Mount Gilboa.
When visiting Beit Shean in the summer months, try to arrive during the early hours of the morning. Israeli summers are hot and the Beit Shean Valley region is a particularly warm part of the country.
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