Also known as Scythopolis, Tel Bet Shean/Beth-Shean, Tel/Tell el-Husn, Tell el-Hosn, ‘As’annu(?), Beisan, Bet Shan, Bet Shean, Beth Shan, Beth-shan, Beth-shean, Bethshan, Bethshean, Nysa, Scythopolis Nysa, Skythopolis
Bisan offers the most extensive archaeological site in the Holy Land, with some of the best-preserved ruins in the Middle East, but its memory will forever be linked to one of the most ghoulish events in the Bible. On nearby Mount Gilboa in 1004 BC, the army of King Saul, Israel’s first king, was defeated by the Philistines and Saul’s three sons were killed. To avoid capture, the wounded Saul fell on his sword. The triumphant Philistines took the bodies of Saul and his sons and fastened them to the wall of Beit She’an. They put Saul’s armour in their temple. David, who was to succeed Saul as king, composed a memorable lament over the tragedy, with the recurring line “How the mighty have fallen . . . ” (2 Samuel 1:17 – 27).
Beit She’an is about 13 kilometres south of the Sea of Galilee. Its location at the strategic junction of the Jezreel and Jordan valleys made it a coveted prize for conquerors. Apart from the Philistines, its rulers included Egyptians, Israelites (though the Canaanite inhabitants initially rebuffed them), Greeks and Romans. In the Roman period — under the name of Scythopolis — it was the leading city of the Decapolis and the only one of these 10 semi-autonomous cities west of the Jordan River. From the 4th century until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 749, the formerly pagan city was a flourishing Christian centre, with a bishop and several churches.