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The “Gate of Eden”: Beit She’an

The Gate of Eden: Beit She’an

Beit She’an has a rich history dating to the ancient Egyptian rule over Canaan, as well as to the biblical story of King Saul’s death. Numerous cultures have made Beit She’an home due to its strategically significant location at the junction of the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys. It’s no surprise that this beautiful piece of history still stands today!

Ancient History

Dating back to the 6th millennia BCE, Beit She’an has centuries of occupation under its wing, with the earliest findings being that of the ancient Egyptians. Under the rule of pharaoh Thutmose III in the 15th century BCE, the region became the center of Egyptian administration in the Holy Land. Monuments of Seti I and Rameses II were found at the site, giving archaeologists enough historical clues to understand that the Egyptians ruled the region for hundreds of years. For unknown reasons, the Egyptians lost control of Beit She’an around 1150 BCE, with significant evidence pointing towards a massive fire having occurred.

Biblical Antiquity

Shortly after the destruction of Egyptian rule, a Canaanite city was constructed atop the rubble of the earlier Beit She’an. Having been conquered by the Philistines shortly after its completion, the city is believed to be the site where King Saul’s body was hung after his battle on Mount Gilboa as stated in the Book of Samuel. King David was ultimately able to capture the region in a series of military campaigns, expelling the Philistines from the area entirely. Referenced in 1st Kings, Beit She’an became a district of the larger Israelite kingdom under King Solomon’s rule before being destroyed by the Assyrians in 732 BCE.

First Millenium

Amazingly, even prior to the first millennium and through to today, Beit She’an flourished under many cultures including that of Roman, Jewish, Muslim, Samaritan, Crusader, Arab, Mamluk, Ottoman, British, and modern-day Israeli influence. Under Jewish and Samaritan habitation, the city reached its maximum occupation at roughly 40,000 inhabitants, its geographical boundaries reaching well past the original city walls. The Golan earthquake of 749 CE completely devastated the city, leaving Beit She’an in ruins. It was not until almost the second millennium that the city started to regain momentum.

Modern History

Housing a multitude of artifacts excavated from each historical period mentioned above, the Archaeological National Park, Beit She’an’s main attraction, welcomes tourists eager to step back in time and witness a vivid picture of Beit She’an’s dynamic thousands-year-old history. Public bathhouses, a Roman temple, artisan workshops, as well as original Roman streets are well-preserved, still intact through all of these years. Beit She’an’s multi-layered and colorful, sometimes grim, history comes alive at the incredible sound and light show, a ‘must-see’ while you’re in town. Often overlooked, Beit She’an is a perfect site to visit during your Holy Land travels!

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