Sunday, April 6, 2014

Beit Shean- Part 1- History and Theater

This National Park covers over 400 acres that includes the
 ancient city of Bet She'an -"Scythopolis" and the imposing
 Tel Bet She'an. Excavations began here in the 1920's. 
Major excavations have been going on since 1986. 
About one-tenth of the city has been excavated at this time.

Overview of the monumental colonnade running along Silvanus Street
and the ancient tel in the background

First settlement began in the fifth millennium B.C. (5000 BC) in this important area, through the Bronze Age. The city profited from the Via Maris and Jezreel Valley location. Its strategic location and abundant springs and fertile lands made it an attractive site throughout history. In the late Canaanite period- the city became the seat of  Egyptian rule- under pharaoh Thutmose III in the 15th century B.C. The most renowned finds on this site- (top of the tel) include three monumental basalt stelae with inscriptions form the reign of Seti I, and Ramsess III,
 and a life -size statue of Ramsess III. 
The Jezreel Valley with Mount Gilboa in the background

The city has had a prominent role in the history of Israel.
Following the Israelite occupation of the Promised Land,
 this area was assigned to the tribe of Manasseh.
But, they feared the Canaanites, who defended themselves with iron chariots, and failed to drive them out of Beit Shean. 
When Saul and his three sons were killed in a battle with the Philistines at Mount Gilboa, their bodies were carried
 to Beit Shean and hung as trophies on the city wall.
The story is in I Samuel 31.
David later captures the city, drives the Philistines out
 and later it is listed as a holding of Solomon.   I Kings 4:12
The Assyrian conquest of northern Israel
 under Tiglath-Pilesar III
in 732 BC destroyed Beit Shean by fire. 
It was not rebuilt until the Hellenistic period.

Corinthian capital bearing the head of the god Dionysos

The Greeks built a city at the foot
 of the ancient tel in 250 BC
 and named it Scythopolis- city of the Scythians. 
The city was destroyed by fire
 at the end of the 2nd century BC. 
 In 63 BC, Pompey made Judea a part of the Roman empire
 and Beit Shean was refounded and rebuilt by Gabinius.
 The town center shifted from the summit
 of the tel to the slopes below.
During Roman rule it became the city of Decapolis, 
a commercial league of free cities organized
 in the 1st century BC. 
 It was the only one of the 10 cities located
 on the west side of the Jordan River.
New Testament story connections include- 
Mark 5:18-20 and Mark 7:31-35

At the time of the great Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-73 AD, the Jewish residents of Scythopolis decided they could trust their non- Jewish neighbors and remained unarmed. Later, they were massacred by their Roman neighbors. The city grew in the Roman and Byzantine eras, and some of the present day ruins include
 the theater, the Bathhouse, and "Palladius Street". 
In the Byzantine period, Beit Shean became largely Christian with a population of 30,000-40,000. A wall was erected around the city with churches and monasteries near it. After the Arab conquest,
 the city declined and the population dwindled.
This great city was destroyed by a severe earthquake in 749 A.D.
There was a rural settlement here in the Medieval and Crusader period, know as Beisan, and continued even under Ottoman rule.




The theater could seat about 7,000 people in three sections.





This theater was built in the 1st century AD and these structures are the work of 2nd century renovations. Behind the stage was an elaborate backdrop of imported granite and marble columns adorned by ornate capitals.





Performances were in the daytime.
 And the theaters were built to have the sun at their backs.
Scientist have tested the acoustics of this theater 
and they are the best in the world. 
Our guide Yossi, treated us with a flute song here.

This ancient site- 4 miles west of the Jordan River
 and 17 miles south of the Sea of Galilee, 
and 45 miles north of Jericho-
certainly gives us a wonderful look
 at the early Roman way of living.


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