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Bet She'an

Dr Alex Tang

Bet She'an is 30 km south of the Sea of Galilee. Its strategic location where the Valley of Jezreel meets the Jordan Valley near Mount Gilboa was where the main roads from Egypt to Damascus intersect making the town a thriving commercial and cosmopolitan centre. Excavations show 20 layers of occupation dating back to the Chalcolithic era (4th century BCE). Presence of Egyptian temples and stelae suggest that this was also an Egyptian administrative town. It was allocated to the tribe Manasseh who were unable to drive out the local Canaanites (Joshua 17:12). Instead they settled among them.

Bet She'an was where the bodies of Saul and his three sons were fastened to the city wall after their death on Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:10). Men from Jabesh-Gilead took them down at night and gave them a decent burial.

Later Bet She'an was taken over by the Greeks and renamed Scythopolis which became one of the cities of the Decapolis in Jesus' times. After the Greek came the Romans who were great city builders. The present ruins were of that of a walled city with the agora, temples, a theatre with a colonnated street that were once lined with shops.

detailed bronze replica of Roman Bet She'an

a closer view


this hill was probably where the original Canaanite city stood




This may be where the bodies of saul and his sons were hung and their bodies were retrieved for burial by the men from Jabesh-Gilead.

the Roman theater

the bath house

pillars to hold the floor and retain the heat for a sauna
colonnaded street which may once be lined with shops
aerial view of the ruins in Bet Shean (source: The Holy Land)


Bet She'an (2): A Good Deed Remembered

Every time I read the account of how the brave men of Jabesh-Gilead went by night and climb the city walls to cut down the bodies of Saul and his sons, I cannot help but wonder why would they do that? Infiltrating an enemy fortified city is dangerous work and all these just to ensure four dead bodies has a decent burial? I also wondered why any of King Saul's mighty men did not attempt to salvage their king's honour?

An incident early in 1 Samuel 11 in Saul's life threw some light on the events.

1 Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to him, "Make a treaty with us, and we will be subject to you." 2 But Nahash the Ammonite replied, "I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel." 3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, "Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, we will surrender to you." 4 When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they all wept aloud. 5 Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, "What is wrong with the people? Why are they weeping?" Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said. 6 When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger. 7 He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, "This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel." Then the terror of the LORD fell on the people, and they turned out as one man. 8 When Saul mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel numbered three hundred thousand and the men of Judah thirty thousand.

Saul and his men defeated the Ammonites and the men of Jabesh Gilead never forgot this deed. I wonder how often we forget the good deeds other people has done for us? We are very adept at remembering the bad 'things' that others have done to us and we never let them or others forget. But we tend to be forgetful of the good others have done us. Our memory are short when it come to this. The men of Jabesh Gilead did not forget how Saul has saved them from being one-eyed and they braved the dangers to repay the deed. May we also never forget the good that others have done us, and by God's grace, one day repay them.


| 24 June 2012 |



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