Bet(h) Shean, Israel
BET(H)-SHEAN (Heb. בֵּית שְׁאָן), biblical city whose name is preserved in the former Arab town of Beisan (Josh. 17:11, 16; Judg. 1:27; I Sam. 31:10, 12; 2 Sam. 21:12; I Kgs. 4:12; I Chron. 7:29). Written sources mention Beth-Shean as being in a plain close to the Valley of Jezreel (Josh. 17:16) and Mt. Gilboa (I Sam. 31:8, 10), and in close proximity to the Jordan River (Papyrus Anastasi I), Rehov, and Pella (Stele of Seti I). Beginning in Hellenistic times the city was called Scythopolis (II Macc. 12:29–30; Judith 3:10; Josephus, Antiquities V, i:22) or Nysa-Scythopolis in imperial coinage. C.R. Conder and H.H. Kitchener (1883, 101–4) and G.A. Smith (1894, 357–64) were the first to provide historical summaries on the site based on classical, medieval, and early modern sources.
Origin and Meaning of the Name
The origin and meaning of Beth-Shean is obscure. When part of a city name, bet (h) often refers to a sanctuary where a local deity is worshipped. In this particular case, Shean may be the name of such a deity. However, the only god we know to have been worshipped at Beth-Shean is Mekal, a Canaanite deity whose name and seated image was found carved on a small Egyptian stele dating to the 19th Dynasty (13th century B.C.E.). The god is mentioned a second time in a Hellenistic inscription from Cyprus.
During the time of the Diadochi, the successors of Alexander the Great, Beth-Shean took on the name Scythopolis, "City of the Scythians." The origin of the name is obscure, but it may refer to a colony of Scythian mercenaries serving under Ptolemy II. The city was also known as Nysa or Nysa-Scythopolis. According to a legend mentioned by the ancient historians Pliny and Solinus, Dionysus (the Greek god of wine and revelry who the Romans called Bacchus) founded the city in honor of his nursemaid, Nysa, who he buried in this spot. He then apparently settled Scythian archers there to stand watch over her grave. In the Arabic period, following a destructive earthquake in 749 C.E., the name reverted back to its ancient Semitic name in the form of Beisan. This change supports the view that even after decades of Greco-Roman rule the local dialects were still spoken; thus the town's Semitic name was never forgotten.
The town's historical importance derives from its strategic location at the junction of major roads that pass through the Jezreel and Jordan Valleys (Levant Grid 1977.2124). Moreover, throughout much of the Bronze Age, the international trunk road that linked Egypt with Syria and Mesopotamia passed by way of Beth-Shean to continue northwards to the Sea of Galilee region and points further north.
The summit of the mound is c. 10 acres (4 hectares/40 dunams). However, as excavations have shown, the Middle Bronze Age through Iron Age occupation was limited to the highest part of the tell in the south and did not exceed 5 acres (2 hectares/20 dunams). Thus, despite its strategic importance, Beth-Shean remained a small town throughout the biblical period. The main center at this time was at nearby Rehov (Tell ec-Sârem), c. 3.5 mi. (6 km.) to the south.
The site's location on a naturally high hill defended on two sides by deep ravines carved by the Harod (Jalud) and Asi Rivers gave it an advantage that may have influenced its Arabic name, Tell el-Husn, "mound of the fortress." Moreover, an
abundance of water and rich soil made the surrounding region attractive to human settlement throughout history. This may have inspired the comment by Rabbi Shimon ben Lakhish (ca. 350 C.E.) to write that if Paradise is in the Land of Israel, then its entrance is Beth-Shean (Er. 19a). Today, a number of agriculturally oriented kibbutzim dot the landscape.
History of Exploration
Beth-Shean was first investigated in 1921–33 by archaeologists from the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania: C.S. Fisher (1921–23), A. Rowe (1925–28), and G.M. Fitz Gerald (1930–31, 1933). As a result of their work, Beth-Shean became the first tell in Palestine to produce a complete stratigraphic sequence spanning more than 18 layers of occupation from the late Neolithic period (fifth millennium B.C.E.) through medieval times. University Museum archaeologists also explored the Northern Cemetery on the northern bank of the Harod River opposite Tell Beth-Shean, as well as the nearby Byzantine period Monastery of Lady Mary.
For 50 years no work was done on the tell until Y. *Yadin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem returned in 1983 to carry out a short three-week season to explore the Iron I period. This was followed by a longer project in 1989–96 headed by A. Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose goal was to further study the Iron Age and Bronze Age remains.
While the tell saw a cessation of activity for half a century following the University of Pennsylvania excavations, work continued on Late Antiquity remains. At the foot of the mound, S. Applebaum (1961–62) and A. Negev (1962) excavated the second century C.E. Roman theater. A Byzantine-era synagogue known as the "House of Leontis" was excavated by N. Zori (1964) and D. Bahat and A. Druks (1970–72) for the Israel Department of Antiquities and Museums. Exploration of the Roman-Byzantine city of Scythopolis at the base of the tell began on a small scale in 1980–81, and developed into a large-scale project in 1986 under G. Mazor of the Israel Antiquities Authority and G. Foerster and Y. Tsafrir of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Today, Beth-Shean is part of the Israel National Parks Authority.
Beth-Shean in History and Archaeology
THE EARLY PERIODS (LEVELS XIX–XI)
The earliest evidence for occupation on the mound is during the Pottery Neolithic period (Level XIX following E. Braun, fifth millennium B.C.E.) and Chalcolithic period (Level XVII, fourth millennium B.C.E.) at the bottom of Fitz Gerald's deep sounding. Above this, several strata from Early Bronze Age I-III (Levels XVI-XI, 3500–2000 B.C.E.) reach a total depth of 25 ft. (8 m.). This must have been an impressive time of occupation; not only was Tell Beth-Shean occupied, but so was nearby Tell Ictaba directly opposite Beth-Shean on the north, creating twin tells separated from one another by the flow of the Harod River. The end of the Early Bronze Age, now called EB IV by many scholars, is characterized by seasonal occupation on the mound and shaft tombs in the Northern Cemetery.
THE MIDDLE BRONZE AGE (LEVEL X)
Following the end of Early Bronze Age there is a gap in occupation for most of MB I–II (ca. 2000–1750 B.C.E.). Resettlement occurred in the time of transition between MB II–III and continued until the end of the period around 1550 B.C.E. Strangely, at a time when most settlements in Palestine were fortified, it seems that Beth-Shean was not. Renewed excavations on the mound have verified that city walls are missing throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. The well-known gate and city wall at the northwest corner of the mound dates to Crusader times. Either the mound was sufficiently high to protect the inhabitants, or as B. Arubas has argued, any pre-existing fortifications may have been removed by the Roman architects of Scythopolis who quarried away parts of the mound to make room for the grid pattern of streets. Whether with or without city walls, Beth-Shean remained its modest 5 acre size throughout the biblical period.
THE LATE BRONZE AGE (PRE-LEVEL IX–LEVEL VII)
There are five settlement phases on the tell from the Late Bronze Age (1550–1200 B.C.E.). The earliest phase (Pre-Level IX, ca. 1550–1450) belongs to the beginning of the Late Bronze Age (LB IA) before the Egyptian garrison was established in Level IX. The four subsequent phases (Levels IXB, IXA, VIII, and VII) are from when the town functioned as an Egyptian stronghold.
The Hebrew University excavations introduced two important changes to the older Penn stratigraphy. The first is that Level IX comprised not one, but two, phases of occupation – Level IXB (LB IB) and Level IXA (LB IIA). The second is that the initial phase of Late Bronze Age occupation below Level IX was missed by the University Museum, even though some had suspected its existence based on the pottery. In this phase, Mazar revealed a modest tripartite Canaanite temple in a clear stratigraphic context above Level X (MB III) and below Level IXB (LB IB). To date, this is the earliest in a series of five sanctuaries that would continue into Iron Age IB (Upper VI). In this same vicinity, the Roman inhabitants of Scythopolis built a temple to Zeus and the Byzantine Christians a church. As the familiar maxim says, "once a holy place, always a holy place."
THE EGYPTIAN GARRISON (LEVELS IX–LOWER VI)
Level IX (c. 1450–1300 B.C.E., Late Bronze Age IB–IIA) With the establishment of Level IX around 1450 B.C.E., Beth-Shean was transformed into an Egyptian garrison; a role that it would maintain for some 300 years until Egypt pulled out of the country in the second half of the 12th century B.C.E. The key figure in bringing about this change in status from Canaanite settlement of Egyptian garrison was Thutmose III, an 18th Dynasty pharaoh who fought some 300 Canaanite rulers allied with the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni against Egypt. The
showdown between them at Megiddo in the mid-15th century B.C.E. is recorded in the Annals of Thutmose III (Aharoni, 1979, 153–54); the earliest and most detailed record to date of a military campaign.
After his victory at Megiddo, Thutmose III makes a follow-up campaign in which he claims to have subjugated 119 cities. The topographic list is inscribed on the walls of the temple of Amen-Re at Karnak (Aharoni, 1979: 154–65). It is here that Beth-Shean is mentioned for the first time as bt š'ir (No. 110). It is probably after this that Thutmose III built the garrison of Level IXB (ca. 1450–1375 B.C.E.). Dating to a time slightly after this, when the settlement goes through renovations in Level IXA, Beth-Shean is mentioned a second time in Amarna Letter 289:20 (ANET 489) as bit ša-a-ni. The town is described as an Egyptian garrison staffed by Canaanite mercenaries loyal to Tagi the son-(father?)-in-law of Lab'ayu (see other references to these individuals in EA 252–54; 264–66). Additional testimony to these rulers came to light in 1993 when excavators of Roman-Byzantine Scythopolis found a small clay cylinder bearing the names Tagi and Lab'ayu in the spoil heaps of the University of Pennsylvania excavations at the foot of the mound.
Even though the settlement of Level IX in both of its phases was an Egyptian garrison as indicated in the textual references and from the various finds of Egyptian inspiration, the town nevertheless remained largely Canaanite in character. All the buildings, the temple complex, and most of the artifacts were typical of northern Palestine. The well-known basalt slab depicting a lion and dog (lioness?) in combat is regarded by most as a prime example of Late Bronze Age Canaanite art.
Levels VIII–VII (c. 1300–1200 B.C.E., Late Bronze Age IIB) At some point towards the end of the 18th Dynasty, the settlement of Level IX was destroyed and rebuilt on a new plan (Level VIII). This change reflects an intensification of Egyptian control, perhaps beginning with Seti I, ca. 1300 B.C.E. The explanation for this may lie in the growing Hittite threat to the north. To counter this, Egypt not only strengthened its hold on the Beth-Shean garrison, but increased the number of Egyptian outposts and exercised its influence in other ways as well. Level VII probably represents renovations to the original Level VIII settlement in the time of Ramesses II.
As noted above, the Ramesside period settlement was built on an entirely new plan with only the temple in the same location as the earlier sanctuary of Level IX. Residential units organized into city blocks with an orthogonal street configuration stood east of the temple. To the west of the temple were two large Egyptian-style structures that probably served the interests of the garrison – the socalled "Migdol" (fortified building) and the "Commandant's House." The first was probably an administrative building and the second a Three Room House. A third building revealed by Mazar further to the north below Building 1500 of Lower VI resembles in part the square fortress at Deir el-Balah from the same period. This building may have been the residence of a high official. In contrast to the garrison of Level IX where Egyptian-style pottery comprised only 1% of the assemblage, the Ramesside era settlement produced around 25 times that amount.
During this time, Beth-Shean appears in the topographic lists of Seti I and Ramesses II (Aharoni, 1979, 176–83), as well as in Papyrus Anastasi I from the end of the 13th century (ANET, 477). Three stelae were also found in later reuse by the University Museum. Two belong to the time of Seti I and the third to his son Ramesses II. The first stele of Seti dates to the first year of his reign and describes an extensive campaign that included the rescue of Beth-Shean and Rehov (Tell ec-Sârem) from Pella (Pexel) and Hammath (Tell el-Ammeh) (ANET, 253; Rowe, 1930, 24–29). The second stele mentions a skirmish involving the ʿApiru (ANET, 255; Rowe, 1930, 29–30). A third stele from the ninth year of Ramesses II mentions a campaign that probably passed by way of Beth-Shean (ANET, 255; Rowe, 1930, 33–36). A small stone stele dedicated to "Mekal, the god, the lord of Beth-Shean" was mistakenly attributed to Level IX; it actually belongs to the 13th century (James and McGovern, 1993, 240, Appendix, No. 8).
Late VII–Lower VI (c. 1200–1125 B.C.E., Iron IA) The 20th Dynasty, the final stage of Egyptian control in Palestine, begins with an ephemeral phase called "Late VII" (12th century B.C.E.). The main stratum of this period is Level VI, which the University of Pennsylvania divided into "Lower VI" (12th century B.C.E.) and "Upper VI" (11th century B.C.E.). The Level VI temple was rebuilt on the same spot as the Level VII sanctuary, while the Migdol and the Commandant's House were replaced by probable storehouses. The square administrative building of Level VII was replaced in Lower VI by Building 1500, the "Governor's Residence," a square building with a central hall surrounded by rooms. In Egypt, this type of structure is known as a "Center Hall House." Architectural fragments from this and other buildings included lotus-shaped column capitals, inscribed doorjambs, a life-sized statue of a seated Ramesses III which was found in the following level, and inscriptions. The most important inscription was a carved limestone lintel depicting Ramesses-Weser-Khepesh, who is identified as "commander of the troops," with cartouches of Ramesses III next to him. These finds, as well as a high percentage of locally produced Egyptian pottery, attest to an intensive Egyptian presence at this time.
In the Hebrew Bible, Beth-Shean was assigned to the tribe of Manasseh, but they were unable to hold onto it because of the military superiority of the Canaanites (Josh. 17:11, 16; Judg. 1:27). According to the conventional chronology, this period in biblical history would correspond to Lower VI when the Egyptians were in control of Beth-Shean. It is uncertain when the Egyptians finally abandoned the site, but many scholars suggest the second half of the 12th century in the time of Ramesses VI or Ramesses VIII. In the ashes of the destruction of Lower VI were found sherds of Mycenean IIIC
probably imported from Cyprus. This type of pottery is typical to the period of the Sea Peoples migration from the Aegean to the east.
IRON AGE IB (UPPER VI)
With the construction of Upper VI emerges a new material culture typical to the 11th century B.C.E. and lacking the Egyptian component. The plan of the settlement represents a significant departure from that of the Egyptian garrison. Important buildings from this time include the twin temples, identified by the University Museum archaeologists with "the House of Ashtaroth" (I Sam. 31:10) and "the House of Dagon" (I Chron. 10:10). Both temples produced numerous cylindrical and house-like cult stands decorated with snakes and birds. The excavators assigned these two buildings to Level V, but they probably belong to Upper VI.
According to the biblical accounts of Saul's death the Philistines killed Saul and his three sons in a battle at the foot of Mt. Gilboa. They cut off his head and placed it in the temple of Dagon, stripped off his armor and placed it in the "temple of their gods" (Chronicles) or in the "temple of Ashtaroth" (Samuel). Then they fastened his body and those of his sons to the city walls of Beth-Shean (I Sam. 31:10–12; I Chron. 10:9–10), or as I Samuel 21:12 reports, hung them in the public square. Following the original excavators, most commentators have assumed that the two temples were in Beth-Shean, but this is unclear from the text. They could just as easily have been in Philistia. No significant Philistine presence has ever been identified at Beth-Shean, although we can assume on the basis of the biblical narrative that they exercised some sort of political control over the region as the self-declared successors of the Egyptians.
IRON AGE II (LEVELS V–IV)
It is generally assumed that Beth-Shean was brought under Israelite control by David, since by Solomon's time, it was part of the fifth administrative district under Baana ben Ahilud (I Kgs. 4:12). If so, then David may have been the one who destroyed Upper VI. Excavations at the highest point of the tell (Level V) have produced the remains of an administrative complex from this era, hinting to the town's continued strategic importance. The impressive building compound might also explain why Beth-Shean was singled out in the Kings passage with Megiddo and Taanach, since it may have been a regional center for the fifth administrative district.
The severe destruction that characterized the end of Level V is difficult to date with certainty, but one possibility is Pharaoh Shishak (Egyptian, Shoshenq), who lists Beth-Shean on the walls of the temple to Amen-Re at Karnak as one of the cities he conquered. Shishak's campaign took place after the division of the United Monarchy in the fifth year of Rehoboam, ca. 925 B.C.E. (I Chron. 12). While the town's final destruction in Israelite times (Level IV) is not mentioned in any biblical or extra-biblical source, the cumulative historical and archaeological evidence supports its capture by the Assyrian monarch Tiglath-Pileser III in 733/2 B.C.E.
The Hellenistic Period
Following the destruction of the Israelite town there is a gap in settlement until the site is resettled in the third century B.C.E. While there is evidence for settlement on the tell (Level III), for the most part, it seems that the city developed on Tell Ictaba to the north where Hellenistic structures were found, though badly damaged by later Roman ones.
Under the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV, Scythopolis was granted the status of a Greek city (polis). Beth-Shean is also mentioned in the context of the Maccabean wars (I Macc. 5:52; 12:40–42; II Macc. 12:29–31). In 107 B.C.E., during the Hasmonean period, it was conquered by John Hyrcanus I and made into an important administrative center. Later, perhaps after the conquests of the Roman general Pompey in 63 B.C.E. Scythopolis became the chief city of the Decapolis. It was the largest city of this group according to Josephus (Wars III, ix, 7), and the only one west of the Jordan River. The Decapolis is mentioned several times in the New Testament gospels, e.g. Matt 4:25; Mk 5:20.
The Roman Period
By the first century B.C.E., the city expanded around the foot of the mound where a number of remains were uncovered. On the summit of the tell (Level III) which served as the city's acropolis stood a Roman temple probably dedicated to Zeus Akraios, god of the "High Mountain," who is mentioned in inscriptions found in the lower city. The temple to Nysa appears to have been originally constructed in the first century C.E., but continued to stand until the 749 C.E. earthquake. Roman tombs were found in the Northern Cemetery, including a stone sarcophagus inscribed with the name of Antiochus, son of Phallion, possibly a cousin of Herod the Great. When the Great Revolt broke out in 66 C.E., Jewish rebels attacked Beth-Shean. Although the Jewish inhabitants stood alongside the Gentile population in resisting their countrymen, Josephus writes that the Gentiles later became suspicious and through an act of deception massacred around 13,000 inhabitants (Wars II, xviii, 3–5).
The vast civic center that one sees today started to flourish in the second century C.E., though not all of the buildings can be dated with precision. Late Roman period projects of the 2nd–3rd centuries C.E. included the theater, amphitheater, and nymphaeum (water fountain). Behind the nymphaeum, the Hebrew University excavated a basilica built sometime after the first century C.E. Inside the basilica was found a six-sided stone altar dedicated to Dionysus. The accompanying inscription identified him as the founder of the city. Its date in Year 75 of the Scythopolis era translates to 12 C.E. No city wall is known from this time, and it is quite possible that the city remained unfortified. Written sources indicate that Beth-Shean was a key center for making and exporting textiles. The Talmud mentions the manufacture of linen garments from locally-grown flax, farming, and olives as principal occupations (TJ, Pe'ah 7:4, 20a).
The Byzantine Period
In Byzantine times the city reached its greatest extent of 100 hectares. At this time the city was surrounded by a wall and had a population of 30,000–40,000. At the beginning of the fifth century C.E., Scythopolis became the capital of the province of Palestina Secunda, as well as the seat of the commissioner and the tribunal. Scythopolis was also the seat of a Christian episcopate and had numerous churches. The round church on the summit of the tell (Level II) was dated by the University of Pennsylvania to the early fifth century C.E.
Several features of the city first established in the Roman period were refurbished and continued into the Byzantine period. The cardo (main north-south street) averaging 24 ft. (7.5 m) wide and the decumanus (main east-west street) were probably built in Roman times, but what one sees today is Byzantine. Flanking both sides of the cardo were two large bath house complexes. At the crossing point of the main streets stood a temple that may have been dedicated to Nysa; in any case, it would have been part of the cult of Dionysus or Tyche. While its superstructure no longer exists, two of four columns that supported the gabled roof of the facade to a height of 45 ft. (15 m.) still lie knocked down from the 749 C.E. earthquake. A cylindrical limestone pedestal in front of the temple has an inscription indicating that a statue or bust of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (161–180 C.E.) stood on it. The inscription also states how the citizens of Nysa-Scythopolis, a Greek city of Coele-Syria, had dedicated the statue of the ruler. Not far from the temple to Nysa is the Nymphaeum which brought water into the city by means of an aqueduct from the Sachne springs c. 2 mi. (3 km.) to the southwest. The theater, originally built in late Roman times, continued to be used in the Byzantine period and could seat up to 8,000 people. The amphitheater also continued in use and was capable of seating up to 7,000 spectators. At the western end of Tell Ictaba stood the sixth century C.E. Monastery of Lady Mary (in honor of a donor, not the Virgin Mary). A beautiful mosaic inside depicts the 12 months and the sun and moon as human figures. Numerous tombs from the Byzantine period were excavated in the Northern Cemetery.
SYNAGOGUES ON TELL ICTABA
Ancient sources indicate that Scythopolis was a mixed population of pagans, Jews, Samaritans, and Christians. Approximately 200 m northeast of the Monastery of Lady Mary, outside the city wall, is what may be a Samaritan synagogue dating to the 5th–early 7th centuries C.E. It is built in the form of a basilica. Its apse is oriented northwest (not south towards Jerusalem). The floor is covered by a beautiful mosaic depicting geometric and plant motifs, but no human images. The portion of the mosaic in front of the apse depicts a Torah shrine flanked by menorahs, shofars, and incense shovels. There are three Greek inscriptions, one of which refers to Marianos and Hanina, the artists who made the mosaic in the *Bet Alpha synagogue. Another inscription is in Samaritan script, but in the Greek language. Nearby, mosaics from a second synagogue of the sixth century C.E. also has ritual vessels and a menorah, as well as Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic inscriptions.
THE HOUSE OF LEONTIS
A short distance from the civic center of Nysa-Scythopolis and still within the city walls is another synagogue from the Byzantine period known as the "House of Leontis." Based on its plan and a Greek inscription that refers to "Jose the innkeeper," some have suggested that the synagogue was part of an inn. The synagogue is paved with a mosaic floor depicting geometric, animal, and plant motifs, and in the center, a medallion containing a menorah and the Hebrew word Shalom (peace). The mosaic also includes four dedicatory inscriptions – two in Aramaic and two in Greek. One Aramaic inscription refers to the "members of the holy community" who contributed to the synagogue's renovation. The other refers to the unnamed artist who carried out the work. One of the Greek inscriptions invoke divine blessing on all those who names were known to God, while the other refers to "Jose the innkeeper" mentioned above. Another mosaic in the complex from Hall No. 3 depicts scenes from Homer's Odyssey. It is in the center of this mosaic, adorned with birds, that a Greek inscription refers to Leontis and his brother Jonathan, who donated this mosaic and wished to be remembered for their act. Other depictions in the mosaic include a five-branched menorah and Nilotic scenes: the Nile River is personified as a bearded god, a building symbolizing a city that is identified as "Alexandria" in Greek, and a nilometer.
East of the "House of Leontis" is a private house that probably stood two-stories high and contained some 25 rooms. The villa produced a rich collection of pottery and other objects made of stone, metal, glass, and bone.
The Islamic Period
In 636 C.E., Islamic forces conquered the city after the defeat of the Byzantine army at the Battle of Yarmuk. During this time the city ceased to be called Scythopolis and reverted back to its original Semitic name in the slightly altered form of Beisan. To honor their defeat of the Byzantine army, the Arab forces called their day of victory "Beisan Day."
The excavations in Scythopolis have provided ample testimony to continued life in Beisan during the Umayyad period, including occupation on the tell (Level I), until the huge earthquake struck on January 18, 749, bringing this ancient and glorious city to an end. The city was rebuilt in the Abbasid period (750–969), but only as a mere shadow of its former glory.
In Crusader and Mamluk times the city declined in size and clustered mainly along the valley road leading to Tell Ictaba. The Crusaders fortified the summit of the tell (Level I) with a city wall and gate that was mistakenly attributed by the University Museum excavators to the Byzantine period. The Crusaders also built a square fortress south of the tell. It seems that the Crusaders were not too kind to the region. The Muslim geographer Yakut writes that as of 1225, the many date palms that used to exist in the area had been reduced to two.
In the 14th century, Beth-Shean was chosen by Estori ha-Parhi as the center for his historical and topographic research.
[Robert A. Mullins (2nd ed.)]
The Modern Period
In September 1918, Beth-Shean was captured by British forces. In the 1920–1930s Bedouin from the Beth-Shean Valley settled in the town, which numbered 2,000 inhabitants in 1921 and over 3,000 during the Israel *War of Independence (1948). From the beginning of the 20th century, Jews, mainly from Kurdistan and other Muslim countries, also took up residence in Beth-Shean, but temporarily left during the 1929 Arab riots; the Jewish population of Beth-Shean numbered 94 persons in the spring of 1936. Most of them abandoned the town immediately upon the outbreak of the 1936 riots. The town became a headquarters for Arab bands attacking Jewish villages in the neighboring Harod Valley, but the marauders' position was weakened when Jewish *tower and stockade settlements were established on all sides of Beth-Shean in the years to follow. In the War of Independence, Beth-Shean capitulated on May 12, 1948, to Jewish forces, who found it deserted by its former inhabitants. The settlement of Beth-Shean by Jewish immigrants began in 1949. In 1950, the town numbered 1,200 inhabitants, and in 1968, 12,800 – of whom half originated from North Africa (mainly from Morocco), 30% from other Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, and Turkey), while 20% came from Europe or were Israel-born. In 2002 the population was approximately 15,900, occupying an area of 2.7 sq. mi. (7.1 sq. km.). As the town had no industry in the initial phase of its resettlement, the inhabitants had to subsist in the 1950s mainly on small trade and on doing hired farm work in the vicinity. Later, a number of industries were established, the largest being a textile mill, followed by a clothing factory, a plastics plant, and by smaller enterprises. A few factories in Beth-Shean were run by local kibbutzim, while the inhabitants of the town were also employed in industry and agriculture in the rural communities of the Beth-Shean Valley. Social and living standards were not satisfactory, however, particularly during the 1965–67 recession, and income remained considerably below the national average over the years.
After the *Six-Day War (1967), Beth-Shean, exposed to the Jordanian artillery positions beyond the Jordan River, suffered from occasional shelling. In addition, the city suffered from terrorist infiltration from Jordan, but since 1975 the area has been quiet. After the peace agreement with Jordan in 1994, a border station was opened nearby.
[Efraim Orni / Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]
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Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.