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Beit She an, Archaeology in Israel

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By Jacqueline Schaalje

Because of its fertility and convenient location, the Beit Shean Valley has been inhabited since antiquity. It is mentioned several times in the Bible.

The earliest occupation dates back to early biblical times. The valley is a part of the Jordan valley, and stretches in a soft slope towards the Jordan, and in the East the Jezreal Valley imperceptibly links with it. The valley has been on the trade route to the east since the earliest times and Beit Shean was just in the right place to control it. It also has a perennial spring, the Harod River. Characteristic fishponds are scattered through the entire valley.

There are many mounds in the valley, which contain cities from the past lying buried in them. Beit Shean is probably the most important of these. Tel Beit Shean, a part of the National Park on the site, contains 15 subsequent occupation layers. So this means 15 cities jumbled on top of each other! The most important layers are from the Egyptian occupation in Canaan and belong archaeologically to the Bronze Age. The height of the Tel is impressive, 80 meters, but its diameter measures only a few acres. The Tel has been excavated thoroughly from the 1980's and has harvested some Egyptian objects, but the remains from other periods are rather disappointing.

When the excavations in Beit Shean ended, only a few years ago, archaeologists moved to another Tel in the Valley, in search of settlements from the Israelite monarchic period. This Tel, called Tel Rehov, lies 5 kilometres to the south. Its name is not mentioned in the Bible, but the discoveries made in only a few seasons of digs bring to light that it was a main city in the Canaanite and monarchic period. This Tel is much bigger than the one in Beit Shean, in fact it is one of the biggest in Israel. The finds have been very rich: lots of interesting objects of Canaanite, Philistine and Israelite make. There are ample remains of buildings, which date to the times of David and Solomon and the kings of the Divided Monarchy after them, Omri and Ahab (11 th -10 th Centuries BCE).

Tel Rehov was destroyed by the Assyrian invasion in 732 BCE. Traces of the destruction have been found in a tumbled-down mud-brick wall, which defended the city, and also in 8 th Century houses. After this period the Tel was not inhabited anymore.

Tel Rehov has now become the major site for study of the Iron Age (the time of the Israelite monarchy) in Israel. As the excavations are continuing this year, it is a site to watch with interest. A word of warning for the visitor: Tel Rehov and also the Tel in Beit Shean National Park are not very interesting if you're not a professional archaeologist. The Tel of Beit Shean gives a magnificent view of the old lower city, but on the summit you can only see some holes in the ground.

Why then do so many visitors flock to the National Park of Beit Shean? They are not coming for the Tel's, but for the ancient city that was excavated already a long time ago and which forms the best preserved Roman-Byzantine city in the land. Everybody knows the pictures of beautiful white marble pillars lining ancient streets. Also there is a magnificent theatre and some marvellous floor mosaics.

Brief History

As mentioned Beit Shean was controlled by the Egyptians, from the time when Pharaoh Tutmose III (15 th Century BCE) made it an Egyptian administrative centre. The city is mentioned in several Egyptian texts, one of them a list of cities that the Egyptians conquered in Israel under the pharaoh Shishak (he is also mentioned in the Bible). The Egyptian occupation lasted for 3 centuries. During this time a temple crowned the top of the tel.

Thereafter it became a Canaanite city. Its first mention in the Bible is also as a Canaanite city. In Judges 1:27 Beit Shean is mentioned as belonging to the conquered area of the Israelite tribe of Manasseh, but in reality the Israelites were not advanced enough yet to be able to conquer a fortified stone city. Besides that, they would have met with the forces of the Canaanites who had chariots, while the Israelites fought on foot.

The Canaanite city was conquered by the Israelites' eternal enemy, who did ride on chariots, the Philistines, in the 11 th Century BCE. In the famous battle of the Israelites against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, the dead bodies of King Saul and his son Jonathan were hung on the walls of Beit Shean (1 Samuel 31:10). About this mournful event King David sang his lament, which is one of the best known and moving poems of the Bible (2 Samuel 1:27-27). In his poem David pays homage to King Saul, who pursued David to his death (but did not succeed), and to Jonathan, his best friend "whose love [was] more wonderful than the love of women."

After this Beit Shean is listed as one of the cities in the kingdom of Solomon (1 Kings 4: 12). After that nothing seems to have happened anymore (maybe the settlement was moved to Tel Rehov?). There are no sources about Beit Shean until the 3 rd Century BCE, when it was a Greek city with the name of 'Scythopolis'. The name that refers to the Scythes, has not been explained so far.

Probably at this time the city moved to the lower location at the foot of the tel. Under the Syrian king Antiochus IV (the one from the story of Chanukah) the name of the city was changed temporarily again to 'Nysa', this was a reference to the Greek god Dionysos, who was said to have been brought up here by his nymphs.

Josephus writes in his Antiquities that the Hasmonean kings also ruled in the city, and that it was destroyed once and rebuilt again during power struggles. In 63 BCE the Roman general Pompey in his victorious march to power in Israel included Scythopolis in his Decapolis, a band of 10 cities which supported the Greek-Roman influence in the region. When the Jewish inhabitants of the city fell into conflict against their Greek neighbours during the First Jewish War, they were massacred.

The city grew enormously in the second Century CE when the Roman sixth Legion was stationed in Scythopolis. At the same time the city became one of the textile centres of the Roman Empire. The linen from Scythopolis was famous. The plant attracted also Jewish peasants from the countryside, but Jewish leaders warned against the corrupting influence of life in a Roman city. Nevertheless Jews kept immigrating to the city. Later Christians joined them, after the Roman Empire had converted to Christianity.

During Byzantine rule the linen workers were reduced to slaves, as the state had full control of the linen industry and could do what they wanted. This resulted in a drift away of skilled linen workers who were in demand in other places. After the Arab conquest the name of the city was changed to the old 'Beisan.' The Arabs could not halt the decline of the city, before an earthquake destroyed the city in the 8 th Century. Still, a small Jewish community seems to have survived because in 1322 they produced the first Hebrew book on the geography of Israel.

Beit Shean park seems a bit overwhelming at first glance and in the summer it can be very hot as the city lies in the low-lying valley like a frying pan.

The first site along the route is the huge theatre, built around 200 CE. Although the middle tier has been robbed, and the upper tier has blown off altogether, the preservation is impressive. There used to be seats for 7000 spectators. A stairway on the east side gave access to the theatre for VIPs, and besides that there are 8 other entrances for the common folk. The theatre stayed in use until the Byzantine era. At the foot of the VIP stairs are a Roman temple and a fountain house.

At the back of the theatre, across the street, lie the remains of the biggest Byzantine bath in Israel. They show that exercise madness is from all times: there was a huge colonnaded gym which looked like a temple with swimming pools and heated halls to extract sweat from the body on three sides. The northern rooms were unheated and used for socialising. A monumental entrance leads out to the street.

At the northeast corner of the bathhouse there used to be a small Roman tfor musical perfo. However a later Byzantine building is partly built on top of it, and thereby destroyed it. The Byzantine construction is built in a semicircle consisting of an open market with separate rooms (for shops probably), each of which contains a mosaic. One of the rooms holds a marvellous mosaic of Tyche, the Roman goddess of good fortune. Her crown is a walled city (Scythopolis) and in her hand she holds the horn of plenty, full to the brim with riches. In some of the other rooms archaeologists were busy working during our visit. They are not digging for deeper layers, but restoring the mosaics in its original appearance. In the future there should more to see here.

Outside we step onto the main street of the city. It is paved with basalt slabs, in the middle, flagstones cover a drain. On both sides of the street are sidewalks. Along the western side of the street were shops. Leading to the Tel, the street winded along the whole Tel (this cannot be seen today).

At the Tel, stairs led up to the temple of Zeus, which stood at the summit. The remains at the corner of the street are of the temple of Dionysos, the city's patron god. It had four columns of 10 meter high which supported a triangular stone. Inside steps lead up to the temple itself which rests on a podium.

Next to the temple of Dionysos was a nymphaeum, a decorative fountain. The structure is made from basalt lined with limestone.

Next to it along the street leading eastward is a large public building which was used in Roman times as a sort of roofed forum to do the business of the city. In Byzantine times it was renovated and used as a large market or in the Greek word 'agora'. On the sides were covered shops. On one side lies a beautiful mosaic of a lion.

Next to the market lies another street, and on the other side is another (!) Byzantine public bath. North of this bath lie the eclectic remains of a building that was built in Roman times and then renovated in the Byzantine era. The Roman building was a large ornamental stepped pool, decorated with tall columns. Later it was converted to a row of shops.

There is also a Roman amphitheatre dating from the second Century CE outside the National Park, it can be found a little north of Shaul Hamelech street. This served to entertain the Roman sixth legion and showed gladiatorial and hunting contests. To the north of the Tel is also a monastery with well-preserved mosaic floors, which belongs to the Byzantine city.

from the January 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

Other articles

Beit Shturman - Beit Alpha, Israel - s Good Name

Israel's Good Name Voyages and Experiences in Israel Beit Shturman & Beit Alpha

Continuing on with my trip that started on Mount Gilboa where I watched the dawn launch of the Gilboa Hot Air Balloon Festival, I had visited Tel Yizrael and was headed for my next site, Beit Shturman. Located in Kibbutz Ein Harod (of which there are two, side-by-side), Beit Shturman is a museum dedicated towards preserving the wildlife and archaeological remains of Israel. Built in 1941, the museum was one of the very first to be established in to what has become a country full of museums and art galleries, so much so that Israel is the country with the most museums per capita in the entire world.

I parked outside a school and sauntered over to the museum, the front door opening as a museum administrator greeted me by name. My visit began with a short film dedicated to the history of the museum, and more importantly, the personal history of the Shturman family. Named after Chaim Shturman, who was tragically killed by a land mine, the museum hopes to be a living reminder of the things that Chaim held dear as an important member of the settlement projects in the Holy Land. Subsequent members of his family also lost their lives fighting for the same cause and the museum renewed their dedication with each loss.

I then began my tour of the building with a quick look at the small art gallery, where I found something quite unique. I’m not one for modern art, but I found this particular piece to be compelling: a circular display of mold that had grown on a mixture of black coffee and sugar. Heading into the next room, I feasted my eyes on the myriad of stuffed birds, mammals and more – a taxidermist’s dream. I found the collection of stuffed raptors to be most interesting as it gave me a little further information on all the Old World birds of prey that I know too little about. The jars of preserved human and animal fetuses and embryos were a bit much, but the stuffed hyena reinvigorated me, as I had seen only a mere glimpse of one in the wild. I then learned something interesting about the teeth of the nutria (or coypu, an invasive species from South America) which will continue to grow unchecked if the opposing tooth is broken or extracted.

Nutria tooth trivia

Leaving the room of animal wonders, I headed into the exhibition of Orde Charles Wingate, “The Friend”. Without delving too far into pre-Independence history, Wingate was a British officer who, upon reading the Bible, took great interest in helping the Jewish pioneers in their struggle for freedom. In 1938, Wingate established the Special Night Squads that were composed of both British soldiers and Jewish “notrim” or Auxiliary Police who were then trained as mobile ambush units. As the time went on, Wingate would fill his ranks with an increasing percentage of Jewish soldiers and his actions, controversial yet successful, began to show to his superiors in the field and back in London. There was a change of policy towards the Jews in 1939 and the SNS was disbanded, with Wingate being transferred to Burma. The success of the SNS left a deep mark in the Jewish pioneers and the unit itself has been thought of as a forerunner to the elite British SAS that we know of today.

Orde Charles Wingate

Leaving the building, I walked the archaeological garden outside, stocked with pillars, presses, sarcophagi and more, all temporarily unlabeled due to renovations. Bidding farewell to the helpful guides, I took a quick look at the kibbutz’s derelict Founders’ Courtyard with the scattered farm tools and equipment which helped create the kibbutz, and then headed for my next destination: Beit Alpha.

Perhaps the smallest national park, Beit Alpha is only one large room with a reception/gift shop and outdoor covered courtyard. But it’s the contents of that one room that gives the site its importance – the excavation of a 1,500 year old synagogue.

Beit Alpha Synagogue mosaic floor

Notably the first Jewish excavation held in modern times, the synagogue was discovered by members of the Beit Alpha and Hefzi-Ba kibbutzim in 1928. Unearthing was done the following year and the elaborate mosaic floors uncovered are known to be among the most beautiful and best preserved in the country. Prior to seeing the whole floor bathed in light, a video is played with actors recreating the scene of what could possibly have been the thought process behind the synagogue’s design. As several of the mosaic details seem “off”, it is believed that sections or designs were simply copied from the ancient synagogues of nearby Tiberias, which was a centre of Judaism at the time.

Artist’s imagination of the Beit Alpha Synagogue building

The artists who created the Beit Alpha mosaics, Marianos and his son Hanina, were also listed as the ones creating mosaics in neighbouring Bet Shean, which is logical as mosaic floors were all the rage during the late Roman periods. Even seemingly idolatrous constructions of Greco-Roman gods, such as Helios seen here in the centre of the zodiac, were also seen as something acceptable and perhaps even beautiful from a cultural point of view. With the different areas being illuminated by spotlight throughout the video, in-depth explanations of iconographic significance were afforded to the modern spectator. When the show was over, the lights went on and I took a full loop around the room, taking photographs from various angles.

Closer look at the mosaic

With a new group entering to watch the video anew, I headed out and glanced over the information outside concerning ancient synagogues in northern Israel, predominately found in the eastern Galilee and the western Golan. Having eaten my lunch in the national park’s sukkah, I got back in the car and drove off to my next destination: Bet Shean.

Beit Shean Valley: Sightseeing

Beit Shean Valley, Israel Sightseeing Natural spring in the northern part of the valley

  • Beit She'an National Park, +972 6 658-7189, +972 6 658-1913. April-September: 8:00-17:00, October-March: 8:00-16:00. Located in the northern part of the modern city, preserves the extensive remains of the ancient city, both the Caananite and Egyptian city on the dramatic tel or high city-mound, and the extensive, well-preserved Romano-Byzantine city below. Extensively excavated and reconstructed since 1989, this antiquity site is one well worth visiting. adults ₪23, children ₪12.

  • Beit Alfa Synagogue National Park, +972 6 653-2004. April–September 8AM-5PM, October–March 8AM-4PM. An excavated 5th century synagogue with a remarkable mosaic floor, Beit Alfa was the scene of the first native Israeli archaeological excavation, conducted even before Independence. An Aramaic inscription states that the mosaic was laid at the time of the emperor Justin ; the Greek inscription is in memory of the artists who made the mosaic, Marianus and his son Hanina. The highlight of the site is the mosaic floor in the central room of the synagogue, easily one of the most important mosaics discovered in Israel. Each of its three panels depicts a scene - the Holy Ark, the Zodiac (with the names of the 12 signs in Hebrew and a central image of the sun-god Helios - a most unusual addition to a synagogue!), and the story of the attempted sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. The four women in the corners of the mosaic represent the four seasons. A film about life in the ancient village and the making of the mosaic floor is available to view in Hebrew, English and German. adults ₪18, children ₪8.

  • Nharaam, +972 4-6752685. The old bridge across the Jordan river. Closeby a water power station can be visited.

    Valley of the Jordan river, as seen from Kohav-Ha'Yarden ("Star of Jordan" aka Belvoir Castle (Israel)), an ancient fortress near Beit She'an

    There are several Kibbutzim or communal villages in the Beit She'an Valley. Many of them have natural springs that are relatively warm even in the winter and have nice hikes. It is also interesting just to walk around a kibbutz to see how they farm and go about there lives. The kibbutzim are private property so you might have to ask permission before you visit .

  • Sde Eliyahu Has a natural spring and a mini zoo.

  • Ein HaNatsiv. Has a great natural spring ("HaMaayan"/"Ein Yehudah") with clean water, a diving-board and a Tarzan swing. Hold you feet very still and you can feel the tiny fish biting your toes. You might meet other people and maybe get some free food from someone making a bbq. Mostly young people with their friends or soldiers visit the natural spring. No entry on Saturday.

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  • Beit Shean Synagogue Inscription: Center for Online Judaic Studies

    Beit Shean Synagogue Inscription

    Beit She’an is a city in the North District of Israel which has played historically an important role due to its geographical location, at the junction of the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley.

    Above is a mosaic from the proposed study house at Beit Shean.

    The Aramaic inscription above reads:

    דכירין לטב כל בני חבורתה קדישתה דהנון מתחזקין בתקונה דאתרה ]קדי[שה ובשלמה תהוי להון ברכתה אמן . . . רוב שלום חסד בשלום

    Remembered for good all the members of the holy society (ḥavurta qadisha) who support the repair of the holy place and its completion. May they have blessing. Amen . . . in abundant peace, covenant love in peace.

    These mosaics from a small room in Beit Shean, excavated by Dan Bahat in 1970, might be a “study house” based upon its inscriptions. This sixth-century structure is approximately seven meters square, and is located in a complex containing the “house of Leontis” and a bath (itself a complicated complex), both bearing dedicatory inscriptions.

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    Beit She an

    bet shean mosaics art

    • בֵּית שְׁאָן ‎ ‎
    • بيسان ‎

    Beth Shean (unofficial)

    1200 BCE (Canaanite/Israelite city)

      Beit She'an  ( help · info ) ( Hebrew : בֵּית שְׁאָן ‎ Beth Šəān; Arabic : بيسان ‎‎,   Beesān  ( help · info ) , Beisan or Bisan), [2] is a city in the Northern District of Israel which has played historically an important role due to its geographical location, at the junction of the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley . It has also played an important role in modern times, acting as the regional center of the villages in the Beit She'an Valley .

    The ancient city ruins are now protected within a national park, known as Bet She'an National Park.

    History

    Beit She'an's location has always been strategically significant, due to its position at the junction of the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley , essentially controlling access from Jordan and the inland to the coast, as well as from Jerusalem and Jericho to the Galilee .

    Prehistory

    In 1933, archaeologist G.M. FitzGerald, under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania Museum , carried out a "deep cut" on Tell el-Hisn ("castle hill"), the large mound of Beth She'an, in order to determine the earliest occupation of the site. His results suggest that settlement began in the Late Neolithic or Early Chalcolithic periods (sixth to fifth millennia BCE.) [3] Occupation continued intermittently up to the late Early Bronze Age I (3200–3000), according to pottery finds, and then resumes in the Early Bronze Age III. [4] A large cemetery on the northern Mound was in use from the Bronze Age to Byzantine times. [5] Canaanite graves dating from 2000 to 1600 BCE were discovered there in 1926. [6]

    Egyptian period

    After the Egyptian conquest of Beit She'an by pharaoh Thutmose III in the 15th century BCE (recorded in an inscription at Karnak ), [7] the small town on the summit of the Mound became the center of the Egyptian administration of the region. [8] The Egyptian newcomers changed the organization of the town and left a great deal of material culture behind. A large Canaanite temple (39 meters in length) excavated by the University of Pennsylvania Museum may date from about the same period as Thutmose III's conquest, though the Hebrew University excavations suggest that it dates to a later period. [9] Artifacts of potential cultic significance were found around the temple. Based on a stele found in the temple, inscribed with Egyptian hieroglyphs, the temple was dedicated to the god Mekal. [10] One of the Penn. University Museum's most important finds near the temple is the Lion and Dog stela (currently in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem), which depicts two combat scenes between these two creatures. The Hebrew University excavations determined that this temple was built on the site of an earlier one. [11]

    During the three hundred years of Egyptian rule (18th Dynasty to the 20th Dynasty), the population of Beit She’an appears to have been primarily Egyptian administrative officials and military personnel. The town was completely rebuilt, following a new layout, during the 19th dynasty. [12] The University Museum excavations uncovered two important stelae from the period of Seti I and a monument of Rameses II . [13] Pottery was produced locally, but some was made to mimic Egyptian forms. [14] Other Canaanite goods existed alongside Egyptian imports, or locally made Egyptian-style objects. [15] The 20th dynasty saw the construction of large administrative buildings in Beit She'an, including "Building 1500", a small palace for the Egyptian governor. [16] During the 20th dynasty, invasions of the " Sea Peoples " upset Egypt's control over the Eastern Mediterranean. Though the exact circumstances are unclear, the entire site of Beit She'an was destroyed by fire around 1150 BCE. The Egyptians did not attempt to rebuild their administrative center and finally lost control of the region.

    Biblical period

    An Iron Age I Canaanite city was constructed on the site of the Egyptian center shortly after its destruction. [17] Around 1100 BC, Canaanite Beit She'an was conquered by the Philistines, who used it as a base of operations for further penetrations into Israel proper. During a subsequent battle against the Jewish King Saul at nearby Mount Gilboa in 1004 BC, the Philistines prevailed. 1 Samuel 31:10 states that "the victorious Philistines hung the body of King Saul on the walls of Beit She'an". Portions of these walls were excavated on the Mound ("Tel Beit She'an") recently. [18] King David was able to capture Beit Shea'an in a series of brilliant military campaigns that expelled the Philistines from the area, pushing them back to their southern coastal strongholds of Ashkelon, Ekron, Gath, Gaza, and Ashdod.

    During the Iron Age II period, the town became a part of the larger Israelite kingdom under the rule of the Biblical kings David and Solomon (1 Kings 4:12 refers to Beit She'an as a part of the district of Solomon, though the historical accuracy of this list is debated. [19] The Assyrian conquest of northern Israel under Tiglath-Pileser III (732 BCE) brought about the destruction of Beit She'an by fire. Minimal reoccupation occurred until the Hellenistic period. [14]

    Hellenistic period

    The Hellenistic period saw the reoccupation of the site of Beit She'an under the new name "Scythopolis" ( Ancient Greek : Σκυθόπολις), possibly named after the Scythian mercenaries who settled there as veterans. Little is known about the Hellenistic city, but during the 3rd century BCE a large temple was constructed on the "Tell". [20] It is unknown which deity was worshipped there, but the temple continued to be used during Roman times. Graves dating from the Hellenistic period are simple, singular rock-cut tombs. [21] From 301 to 198 BCE the area was under the control of the Ptolemies , and Beit She'an is mentioned in 3rd–2nd century BCE written sources describing the Syrian Wars between the Ptolemid and Seleucid dynasties. In 198 BCE the Seleucids finally conquered the region. The town played a role after the Hasmonean -Maccabeean Revolt: Josephus records that the Jewish High Priest Jonathan was killed there by Demetrius II Nicator . [22] The city was destroyed by fire at the end of the 2nd century BCE. [23]

    In 63 BCE, Pompey made Judea a part of the Roman empire. Beit She'an was refounded and rebuilt by Gabinius . [24] The town center shifted from the summit of the Mound (the "Tel") to its slopes. Scythopolis prospered and became the leading city of the Decapolis , a loose confederation of ten cities which were centers of Greco-Roman culture, an event so significant that the town based its calendar on that year.

    The city flourished under the " Pax Romana ", as evidenced by high-level urban planning and extensive construction, including the best preserved Roman theatre of ancient Samaria , as well as a hippodrome , a cardo and other trademarks of the Roman influence. Mount Gilboa , 7 km (4 mi) away, provided dark basalt blocks, as well as water (via an aqueduct) to the town. Beit She'an is said to have sided with the Romans during the Jewish uprising of 66 CE. [24] Excavations have focused less on the Roman period ruins, so not much is known about this period. The Penn. University Museum excavation of the northern cemetery, however, did uncover significant finds. The Roman period tombs are of the loculus type: a rectangular rock-cut spacious chamber with smaller chambers (loculi) cut into its side. [21] Bodies were placed directly in the loculi, or inside sarcophagi which were placed in the loculi. A sarcophagus with an inscription identifying its occupant in Greek as "Antiochus, the son of Phallion", may have held the cousin of Herod the Great . [21] One of the most interesting Roman grave finds was a bronze incense shovel with the handle in the form of an animal leg, or hoof, now in the University of Pennsylvania Museum . [25]

    Byzantine period

    Copious archaeological remains were found dating to the Byzantine period (330–636 CE) and were excavated by the University of Pennsylvania Museum from 1921–23. A rotunda church was constructed on top of the Tell and the entire city was enclosed in a wall. [26] Textual sources mention several other churches in the town. [26] Beit She'an was primarily Christian, as attested to by the large number of churches, but evidence of Jewish habitation and a Samaritan synagogue indicate established communities of these minorities. The pagan temple in the city centre was destroyed, but the nymphaeum and Roman baths were restored. Many of the buildings of Scythopolis were damaged in the Galilee earthquake of 363 , and in 409 it became the capital of the northern district, Palaestina Secunda . [23] As such, Scythopolis (v.) also became the Metropolitan archdiocese of the province.

    Dedicatory inscriptions indicate a preference for donations to religious buildings, and many colourful mosaics, such as that featuring the zodiac in the Monastery of Lady Mary, or the one picturing a menorah and shalom in the House of Leontius' Jewish synagogue, were preserved. A Samaritan synagogue's mosaic was unique in abstaining from human or animal images, instead utilising floral and geometrical motifs. Elaborate decorations were also found in the settlement's many luxurious villas, and in the 6th century especially, the city reached its maximum size of 40,000 and spread beyond its period city walls. [23]

    The Byzantine period portion of the northern cemetery was excavated in 1926. The tombs from this period consisted of small rock-cut halls with vaulted graves on three sides. [27] A great variety of objects were found in the tombs, including terracotta figurines possibly depicting the Virgin and Child, many terracotta lamps, glass mirrors, bells, tools, knives, finger rings, iron keys, glass beads, bone hairpins, and many other items. [27]

    Important Christian personalites who lived or passed through Byzantine Scythopolis are St Procopius of Scythopolis (died July 7, 303 AD), Cyril of Scythopolis (ca. 525–559), St Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 310/320 – 403) and Joseph of Tiberias (c. 285 – c. 356) who met there around the year 355.

    Arab caliphates

    In 634, Byzantine forces were defeated by the Muslim army of Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab and the city was renamed Baysan. The day of victory came to be known in Arabic as Yawm Baysan or "the day of Baysan." [2] The city was not damaged and the newly arrived Muslims lived together with its Christian population until the 8th century, but the city declined during this period. Structures were built in the streets themselves, narrowing them to mere alleyways, and makeshift shops were opened among the colonnades. The city reached a low point by the 8th century, witnessed by the removal of marble for producing lime , the blocking off of the main street, and the conversion of a main plaza into a cemetery. [28] Some recently discovered counter-evidence may be offered to this picture of decline, however. In common with state-directed building work carried out in other towns and cities in the region during the 720s, [29] Baysan's commercial infrastructure was refurbished: its main colonnaded market street, once thought to date to the sixth century, is now known—on the basis of a mosaic inscription—to be a redesign dating from the time of the Umayyad caliph Hisham (r. 724–43). [30] Abu Ubayd al-Andalusi noted that the wine produced there was delicious. [2]

    On January 18, 749, Umayyad Baysan was completely devastated by the Golan earthquake of 749 . A few residential neighborhoods grew up on the ruins, probably established by the survivors, but the city never recovered its magnificence. The city center moved to the southern hill where a Crusader fortress surrounded by a moat was constructed. [31]

    Jerusalemite historian al-Muqaddasi visited Baysan in 985, during Abbasid rule and wrote that it was "on the river, with plentiful palm trees, and water, though somewhat heavy (brackish.)" He further noted that Baysan was notable for its indigo , rice, dates and grape syrup known as dibs. [32] The town formed one of the districts (kurah) of Jund al-Urdunn during this period. [33] Its principal mosque was situated in the center of its marketplace. [34]

    Crusader rule

    In the Crusader period, the Lordship of Bessan was occupied by Tancred in 1099; it was never part of the Principality of Galilee , despite its location, but became a royal domain of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1101, probably until around 1120. According to the Lignages d'Outremer , the first Crusader lord of Bessan once it became part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was Adam, a younger son of Robert III de Béthune, peer of Flanders and head of the House of Bethune . His descendants were known by the family name de Bessan. [35]

    It occasionally passed back under royal control until new Lords were created, becoming part of the Belvoir fiefdom . A small fort was built east of the defunct amphitheater. [36]

    During the 1260 Battle of Ain Jalut , retreating Mongol forces passed in the vicinity but did not enter the town itself.

    Mamluk rule

    Under Mamluk rule, Beit She'an was the principal town in the district of Damascus and a relay station for the postal service between Damascus and Cairo . It was also the capital of sugar cane processing for the region. Jisr al-Maqtu'a, a bridge consisting of a single arch spanning 25 feet and hung 50 feet above a stream, was built during that period. [2]

    Ottoman era

    During this period the inhabitants of Beit She'an were mainly Muslim. There were however some Jews. For example, the 14th century topographer Ishtori Haparchi settled there and completed his work Kaftor Vaferach in 1322, the first Hebrew book on the geography of Palestine. [37]

    During the 400 years of Ottoman rule, Baysan lost its regional importance. During the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II when the Jezreel Valley railway , which was part of the Haifa -Damascus extension of the Hejaz railway was constructed, a limited revival took place. The local peasant population was largely impoverished by the Ottoman feudal land system which leased tracts of land to tenants and collected taxes from them for their use. [2]

    The Swiss–German traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt described Beisan in 1812 as "a village with 70 to 80 houses, whose residents are in a miserable state." In the early 1900s, though still a small and obscure village, Beisan was known for its plentiful water supply, fertile soil, and its production of olives, grapes, figs, almonds, apricots, and apples. [2]

    British Mandate period

    Under the Mandate, the city was the center of the District of Baysan . According to a census conducted in 1922 by the British Mandate authorities , Beit She'an (Baisan) had a population of 1,941, consisting of 1,687 Muslims, 41 Jews and 213 Christians. [38]

    In 1934, Lawrence of Arabia noted that "Bisan is now a purely Arab village," where "very fine views of the river can be had from the housetops." He further noted that "many nomad and Bedouin encampments, distinguished by their black tents, were scattered about the riverine plain, their flocks and herds grazing round them." [2] Beisan was home to a mainly Mizrahi Jewish community of 95 until 1936, when the 1936–1939 Arab revolt saw Beisan serve as a center of Arab attacks on Jews in Palestine. [37] [39] [40] In 1938, after learning of the murder of his close friend and Jewish leader Haim Sturmann, Orde Wingate led his men on an offensive in the Arab section of Baysan, the rebels’ suspected base. [41]

    According to population surveys conducted in British Mandate Palestine , Beisan consisted of 5,080 Muslim Arabs out of a population of 5,540 (92% of the population), with the remainder being listed as Christians. [42] In 1945, the surrounding District of Baysan consisted of 16,660 Muslims (67%), 7,590 Jews (30%), and 680 Christians (3%); and Arabs owned 44% of land, Jews owned 34%, and 22% constituted public lands. The 1947 UN Partition Plan allocated Beisan and most of its district to the proposed Jewish state . [2] [43] [44]

    Jewish forces and local Bedouins first clashed during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War in February and March 1948, part of Operation Gideon , [2] which Walid Khalidi argues was part of a wider Plan Dalet . [45] Joseph Weitz , a leading Yishuv figure, wrote in his diary on May 4, 1948 that, "The Beit Shean Valley is the gate for our state in the Galilee. [I]ts clearing is the need of the hour." [2]

    Beisan, then an Arab village, fell to the Jewish militias three days before the end of the Mandate.

    State of Israel

    Beit She'an after conquest. 1948

    Beit She'an. Ottoman Saray building used by Yiftach Brigade as company barracks. 1948

    Abandoned property. Beit She'an. 1948

    Beit She'an (Beisan) Police Station. 1948

    Beit She'an. 1948

    After Israel's Declaration of Independence in May 1948, during intense shelling by Syrian border units, followed by the recapture of the valley by the Haganah, the Arab inhabitants fled across the Jordan River. [46] The property and buildings abandoned after the conflict were then held by the state of Israel. [2] Most Arab Christians relocated to Nazareth . A ma'abarah (refugee camp) inhabited mainly by North African Jewish refugees [47] was erected in Beit She'an, and it later became a development town .

    From 1969, Beit She'an was a target for Katyusha rockets and mortar attacks from Jordan. [48] In the 1974 Beit She'an attack , militants of the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine , took over an apartment building and murdered a family of four. [39]

    In 1999, Beit She'an was incorporated as a city. [49] Geographically, it lies in the middle of the Beit She'an Valley Regional Council . [50]

    Beit She'an was the hometown and political power base of David Levy , a prominent figure in Israeli politics.

    During the Second Intifada , in the 2002 Beit She'an attack , six Israelis were killed and over 30 were injured by two Palestinian militants, who opened fire and threw grenades at a polling station in the center of Bet She'an where party members were voting in the Likud primary.

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