Beth-she'an (Heb. Beyth Shean', בֵּית שׁאָן, house of security; Sept. Βηθσάν, also [in 1Ki 4:12] Βηθσαάν, and οϊvκος Σαάν, and [in 1Ch 7:29] Βαιθσάν v.r. Βαιθσαάν; in Samuel BETH-SHAN, in the Apocrypha BETHSAN, in Josephus Βήθσανα or Βεθσάνη; in the Talmud Beisan, בֵּיסָן [but see Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 103]; in Steph. Byz. [p. 675] Βαισών; in the Onomasticon, Euseb. Βήθσαν, Jerome Bethsan; also [according to Schwarz, Palest. p. 148, note] in 1Ki 22:39, the "ivory-house" of Solomon, בֵּית הִשֵּׁן hash-Shen', house of the tooth; Sept. οϊvκος ἐλεφάντινος), a city which, with its "daughter" towns, belonged to Manasseh (1Ch 7:29), though within the original limits of Issachar (Jos 17:11), and therefore on the west of Jordan (comp. 1 Maccabees 5:52). It was not subdued, however, by either tribe, but remained for a long time in the hands of the Canaanites and Philistines (Jg 1:27). The corpses of Saul and his sons were fastened up to the wall of Bethshean by the Philistines (1Sa 31:10,12) in the open "street" or space (רחֹב), which — then as now — fronted the gate of an Eastern town (2Sa 21:12). In Solomon's time it seems to have given its name to a district extending from the town itself to Abel-meholah; and "all Bethshean" was under the charge of one of his commissariat officers (1Ki 4:12). From this time we lose sight of Bethshean till the period of the Maccabees, in connection with whose exploits it is mentioned more than once in a cursory manner (1 Maccabees 5:52; comp. 1 Maccabees 12:40, 41). Alexander Jannaeus had an interview here with Cleopatra (Josephus, Ant. 13, 13, 3); Pompey marched through it on his way from Damascus to Jerusalem (ib. 14, 3, 4); Gabinius fortified it (ib. 14:5, 3); and in the Jewish war 13,000 Jews were slain by the Scythopolitans (War, 2:18, 3). It was 600 stadia from Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 12:29), 120 from Tiberias (Josephus, Life, 65), and 16 miles from Gadara (Itin. Anton.; comp. Ammian. Marc. 19:12). In the Middle Ages the place had become desolate, although it still went by the name of Metropolis Palaestinae tertia (Will. Tyr. p. 749, 1034; Vitriacus, p. 1119). We find bishops of Scythopolis at the councils of Chalcedon, Jerusalem (A.D. 536), and others. During the Crusades it was an archbishopric, which was afterward transferred to Nazareth (Raumer's Palastina, p. 147- 149).
Bethshean also bore the name of Scythopolis (Σκυθῶν πόλις, 2 Maccabees 12:29), perhaps because Scythians had settled there in the time of Josiah (B.C. 631), in their passage through Palestine toward Egypt (Herod. 1:205; comp. Pliny, Hist. Nat. 5, 16, 20; Georg. Syncellus, p. 214). This hypothesis is supported by 2 Maccabees 12:30, where mention is made of "Jews who lived among the Scythians (Σκυθοπολῖται) (in Bethshan"); and by the Septuagint version of Jg 1:27 (Βαιθσάν, ἣ εστι Σκυθῶν πόλις). In Judith 3:2, the place is also called Scythopolis (Σκυθῶν πόλις), and so likewise by Josephus (Ant. 5, 1, 22; 12:8, 5; 13:6, 1) and others (Strabo, 16:763; Ptolemy, 5, 15, 23). The supposition that these were descendants of the Scythians in Palestine (comp. Eze 39:11) renders more intelligible Col 3:11, where the Scythian is named with the Jew and Greek; and it also explains why the ancient rabbins did not consider Scythopolis (Beisan) as a Jewish town (comp. Joseph. Life, 6), but as one of an unholy people (Havercamp, Observat. ad Joseph. Antiq. 5, 1, 22). On coins the place is called Scythopolis and Nysa (so Pliny, 5, 16), with figures of Bacchus and the panther (Eckhel, p. 438-440; comp. Reland, p. 993 sq.). As Succoth lay somewhere in the vicinity east of the Jordan, some would derive Scythopolis from Succothopolis (Reland, p. 992 sq.; Gesenius, in Burckhardt, p. 1053, German edit.). It has also, with as little probability, been supposed to be the same as Beth-shittim (Jg 7:22). Josephus does not account Scythopolis as belonging to Samaria, in which it geographically lay, but to Decapolis, which was chiefly on the other side of the river, and of which he calls it the largest town (War, 3, 9, 7). SEE SCYTHOPOLIS.
The ancient native name, as well as the town itself, still exists in the Beisan of the present day (Robinson, Researches, 3, 174). It stands on a rising ground somewhat above the valley of the Jordan, or in the valley of Jezreel where it opens into the Jordan valley. It is on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus, and is about three miles from the Jordan, fourteen from the southern end of Lake Gennesareth, and sixteen from Nazareth. The site of the town is on the brow of the descent by which the great plain of Esdraelon drops down to the level of the Ghor. A few miles to the west are the mountains of Gilboa, and close beside the town, on the north, runs the water of the Ain-Jalud, the fountain of which is in Jezreel, and is in all probability the spring by which the Israelites encamped before the battle in which Saul was killed (1Sa 29:1). Three other large brooks pass through or by the town; and in the fact of the abundance of water, and the exuberant fertility of the soil consequent thereon, as well as in the power of using their chariots, which the level nature of the country near the town conferred on them (Jos 17:16), resides the secret of the hold which the Canaanites retained on the place. So great was this fertility, that it was said by the rabbins that if Paradise was in the land of Israel, Beth-shean was the gate of it, for its fruits were the sweetest in all the land (see Lightfoot, Chor. Cent. 60). If Jabesh-Gilead was where Dr. Robinson conjectures-at ed-Deir in Wady Yabis — the distance from thence to Beisan, which it took the men of Jabesh "all night" to traverse, cannot be much beyond ten miles. The modern Beisan is a poor place containing not more than sixty or seventy houses. The inhabitants are Moslems, and are described by Richardson and others as a set of inhospitable and lawless fanatics. The ruins of the ancient city are of considerable extent. It was built along the banks of the rivulet which waters the town and in the valleys formed by its several branches, and must have been nearly three miles in circumference. The chief remains are large heaps of black hewn stones, with many foundations of houses and fragments of a few columns (Burckhardt, p. 243). The principal object is the theater, which is quite distinct, but now completely filled up with weeds; it measures across the front about 180 feet, and has the singularity of possessing three oval recesses half way up the building, which are mentioned by Vitruvius as being constructed to contain the brass sounding-tubes. Few theatres had such an apparatus even in the time of this author, and they are scarcely ever met with now. The other remains are the tombs, which lie to the north-east of the Acropolis, without the walls. The sarcophagi still exist in some of them; triangular niches for lamps have also been observed in them; and some of the doors continue hanging on the ancient hinges of stone in remarkable preservation. Two streams run through the ruins of the city, almost insulating the Acropolis. There is a fine Roman bridge over the one to the southwest of the Acropolis, and beyond it may be seen the, paved way which led to the ancient Ptolemais, now Acre. The Acropolis is a high circular hill, on the top of which are traces of the walls which encompassed it (Irby and Mangles, Travels, p. 301-303). See also Robinson, Later Bib. Res. p. 329 sq.; Van de Velde, Narrative, 2, 359-363; Thomson, Land and Book, 2, 172 sq.